He came back one year later. Kelly wasn't sure it hadn't been longer than that. It hadn't been long enough though. He opened the door just enough to not be rude, and stared out at the man in front of him.
‘Here to arrest me, officer?’ Zaph almost smiled at him, the way he would have before.
‘No…. I've got a problem.’ At least he was upfront about it.
‘Then you should go take care of it.’ Zaph held the file out to him warily, like Kelly might bite him. It made him feel like shrinking back into the smoky dark.
‘You know I can’t.’
‘Then find someone who can.’ Kelly’s eyes glittered in the shadows. Zaph thought he looked older, a bit frayed maybe.
‘It’s like the last time. And I don’t know anyone else.’ Kelly’s eyes slid away from his. His face was blurred by the dark, and Zaph was relieved he couldn't see that look. ‘Just look at the file.’ The fluorescent light in the stairwell hummed and flickered nervously, the light uncertain.
‘Kelly-’ He closed the door.
The whole thing gave him the vague uneasy feeling that he was watching himself.
It was the way it started- the disappearing. And then the bodies piling up. Most of the people were found, but some… some slipped through the cracks. Children, mostly.
There was nothing new here. His chest hurt. He stared at the reports and photographs scattered across the stained carpet, drew his knees to his chest and knuckled his brow.
He didn't remember getting up off the floor. He couldn't remember how he’d go about handling this either. The fridge and the freezer were both empty, so he started opening cabinet doors like he’d find an answer there. Of course he wouldn't. He needed to breathe. He found his mind in the sink with the unwashed glasses and empty bottles, his hands braced on the counter. He looked up slowly at the world outside the small window, pale and blue, the jagged horizon just barely touched by sun. It was early. There was a name he should check on…. Was it ‘should’ already?
He grabbed his coat off the back of the couch, checked the pockets for his cigarettes and matches. He lingered there a moment, trying not to see the mess all over the floor. He couldn't sleep now. He glanced over his shoulder at the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. He couldn't sleep now- even if he wanted to. He exhaled slowly, drew a cigarette from the pack in his pocket, and stalked to the door.
It was too early for this.
He walked most of the way. There weren't any cabs around, and he’d be damned if he took the bus. The things moved too much, like they’d fall apart beneath his feet. The pavement was cracked and uneven, but it didn't give. He liked that. Or maybe he’d just got used to walking everywhere.
The North Branch of the Wickfield Memorial Hospital was a broad concrete structure, lower than the other buildings around it and more brutal looking, except on the south side, which is where he approached it from. The concrete had been painted and papered over as high as the vandals could reach. It gave the place some character, he thought. It was darker back down the street, but the lights in the place were on, and the doors slid open when Kelly walked up to them, so he slipped in, past the empty desk, and down a hall. It wasn't unusual for the place to be empty. It was unusual that he had to use the signs tacked up on the walls to find his way. At least there wasn't anyone around to ask questions. That would be awkward.
He found the stairs through swinging stainless doors, behind a big service elevator, exactly where they’d always been. The lights below were sickly and uninviting, and he could see through the pane in the door that the morgue lights were on. He almost turned around and walked out, but at the same time found himself halfway down the stairs. The door to the morgue was halfway down the hall, and reaching it, Kelly found it half-open. He stepped into the room warily, tensed for some confrontation, but the place was empty. That didn't assure him. Someone had been here. He caught a trace of coffee beneath the strong chemical smell that seeped from the tiled walls. He wondered if his coat still had the smell, or if it had been overcome by smoke.
He walked brusquely around the steel tables to the counter along the far wall, and the filing cabinet beside it. The drawers were still organized the way they had been- last time. The coffee smell was new though. He focused on that as he opened the top drawer, sifted through the folders, and pulled one out:
Elijah Cokes, 47 years old. He'd been found with most of his skull’s contents painting the alley wall behind him. The only unusual part about the thing- Cokes having blue eyes, and the body having gold ones. He’d been identified and autopsied, and no one could explain the eyes. And they didn't really care to. Best to just get it over with and move on to the next mess on the list. Kelly glanced sideways, giving the wall of refrigerated boxes opposite him a look.
‘You don’t have permission to be down here.’ The coffee smell was stronger. Kelly tried not to grimace, and turned around slowly. The woman looked up at him, like most people had to, but she looked him in the eye. ‘Get out, or I’ll call security.’
‘Sure you will.’ He frowned at the folder in his hands. ‘Are you the one who wrote this up? Cokes, Elijah…?’ She shifted uncomfortably and set her coffee on the far end of the counter.
‘Yeah. But that’s all you’re getting. Now put that back and leave.’ Her chin was tilted at a funny angle, like she had to look down her nose to understand him. She seemed tense, and he almost believed she’d walk over and take the file from him if she felt she had to.
‘Fine.’ That did it- she looked surprised, and ran a hand through her mane of hair before her eyes slipped to the floor. Kelly slid the folder back into its drawer, gave the freezers another once-over, and walked to the door, skirting around the woman and her coffee. He wished he had Zaph’s card with him. No- not for a one-time thing. He stopped at the doorway like he was waiting for something, inhaled the formaldehyde and coffee. The place was silent though, and then he was gone back up the stairs, down the hall and out the lobby into the morning. The sunlight felt strange on his skin, and his gold-tinted breath clouding in the air was strange too. He lit a cigarette and started walking back down the street, south, where he needed to be, and tried not to remember what it had been like in the sun before.
Elijah Cokes was special. Not that the man had known it. Kelly had seen the files though. What made him special was that he hadn't disappeared, like all the others had. He’d been taken impulsively, with no meditation or any intentions. And then he’d died.
Kelly would've bet Cokes had been the one to do himself in- most of them did, one way or another. Most of those were adults. The children always handled the change better. In the dark of the apartment, Kelly lit another cigarette and stared down at the map spread out on the floor in front of him. Pins and markered points marched like an army across the paper. For some time, he wondered if he couldn't just tell Zaph where the problem was and be done with it.
But Zaph wouldn't handle it. He hadn't handled these problems in the past, and the only reason Kelly was working on this was because Zaph wasn't handling his problems now. This feeling- he almost didn't recognize it. It rushed through him hot and heavy, turned his knuckles white. His head hurt.
That wasn’t new. He should move while the sun was still out. His hastily scrawled notes and plans were pushed to the side along with the map and burned-out cigarettes. It was down the narrow hall off the living room that he looked when he went to leave. There were two doors there, in the dark. He’d put everything behind the one on the left. Everything except the map, and the nightmares that had crawled out from under the door. He should probably have taken something- one of the knives, or the gun under the bed. He went back out into the light with nothing though, his pulse pounding at his temples. If things were any worse, he’d have got a ride.
The place was further south than he was. He couldn't remember ever walking this street before. Rusting metal and broken glass were nothing new- just the shapes they took here. Kelly glanced over his shoulder and crossed the street, standing still for a moment. Elijah Cokes had died in the alley across from him. That wasn't where the problem was though. Which building was it…? He scanned the crumbling tenements across from him, then the ones at his back. There… the windows were all covered- that would probably be it. The hardware on the door was locked by rust, so he went around the back. The space was close and choking, but the door there opened, inviting him over the threshold and into the dust and shadows. The rough planks beneath his feet groaned disturbedly, light tapping overhead echoing in the silence behind. Kelly froze, the air in his lungs still. He took another cautious step forward into the building, found the place’s wrecked guts- tangled wire, broken plaster and wood splinters, and lead piping.
The staircase was tucked away like a guilty secret, in a far corner. The air moved there, like something living, stirring the dust. Kelly looked up the steep flight, and from the murk above, golden eyes gleamed back.
Kelly took the bus back. He walked from the stop to the edge of the side-walk across the street from the apartment, but crossed the street to the other corner. The door made a flat tone when he walked in the store, and the kid at the counter looked up.
‘Hey, mister K.’ Kelly hid the scarlet staining his shirt beneath his coat as he walked past the counter to the back of the place, the kid watching him go. ‘Your stuff came earlier.’ Kelly walked back to the counter with two bottles, pushed them forward and turned to dig the cash from the pack in his pocket. The kid bagged the bottles, eyeing the man across the counter. ‘You alright mister K?’ Kelly slid the bills toward the kid, stashed the small paper bag the kid had kept for him in his pocket, and grabbed the bottles.
‘Long day.’ The kid glanced quizzically at the clock and back at Kelly, who was already out the door.
The air in the apartment was cool and dark, the smoke creeping into his lungs and chasing out the chill he’d been feeling since walking back out of the tenement building. The bottles went on the kitchen counter before he walked into the bathroom. The orange plastic bottle in the bag in his pocket joined the others like it in the medicine cabinet. He took two tablets from the one open bottle and closed the mirror, starting at a streak of gold in the reflection. The only thing he saw in the mirror were his own bruised eyes looking back at him.
That was enough for one day. He’d call Zaph later. Right now, he just wanted to sleep.
Outside, golden eyes were focused on the apartment door. It was locked. He couldn't enter- not really, not right now. But he had time. Corson ran his hands over his neat white blazer, eyes flickering like fire back to the apartment. He had time. And this time, he would finish what he started.