A television news crew van squealed into the slush in front of them and stopped before it had completely pulled in, its rump sticking out like a roasted pig’s on the platter, still slightly in the traffic. Officer Joseph searched for an uncovered spot on the snow-dappled windshield to see. The back doors swung open like a popped balloon as a stout man in a blue bubbled coat lacking apparent hinges nearly fell out, trying to maneuver his way free from numerous cords and cables wrapped about his feet while a camera box weighed down one shoulder like a lead safe on an inflatable pool raft.
“What’s going on?” Officer Joseph said, just as a very manicured and polished woman with just the right amount of lipstick, and the latest trend of a haircut, dirty-blonde and highlighted, and stating a bounce in the right place, just above the eye, and another section of hair almost down to a buzz cut at the nape of her neck, stepped out of the front passenger door and then proceeded to become a complete bounce herself as she worked to retrieve a microphone from around her cameraman’s leg. “They’re a little late getting here. Aren’t they?” he said. “What’s the story?” Officer Joseph’s eyes had to zoom back to take it all in: Johnny, and now this. He turned to his son … and knew. “You?”
This new Johnny appeared even more than the old Johnny. Officer Joseph had never heard his son so thoughtful. Johnny had not only come back to reflect his age, but he’d matured beyond it.
“Did you know they’d be here?” Officer Joseph asked, pointing at the bumbling two in front of them who’d been joined by the driver of the van and then … “Oh no.” He hadn’t noticed them before, and how hadn’t he? but now he had. Parked about were what looked like a multitude of vans with their station’s call-letters painted on their sides.
“No, Dad,” Johnny answered. “I’m with you. How would I know that?”
There was a small fleet of them. “I’m sure I don’t know,” he said, “but, but I want to see this, whatever it is.” and quickly pushed open the car door as a cool wind whipped in with a few flakes and the small pile-up of snow from the car exterior fell on his leg. With a better sight of them without the snow-flooded windshield, without question, they were news vans … all of them. “Do you think they know you?” he asked.
“How could they?” Johnny said.
“Right, let’s hope not. Come on.” Officer Joseph and Johnny side-stepped by the police barricade that remained in front of the Lexington subway entrance, no longer accompanied by a guard, and hurried down the stairwell, which slowly uncovered from the trampled snow the further down they went, until there was only the wet remnants fallen from people’s feet … and then none at all and a dimmer light. They could already hear the commotion ahead down on the subway platform.
The dim brightened in the buzz, as a throng of cameras flashed erratically like a rocket bombardment in war.
“Where did this come from?” a woman’s voice asked.
“Is it a ghost?” a man followed her up, trying to push for a better look at the reclining apparition.
“Back now,” a police officer in blue warned.
“Now listen, folks, listen…”
Johnny recognized that last voice. It was Barrister in all his scruff.
“If I knew who was pulling this prank,” Barrister said, “I’d hang him out to dry with your hot breaths all over him. Believe you me.”
“Did I say him?” Barrister backpedaled. “Or her, whoever it might be.”
“… That’s what I said.” Barrister took a step closer to the crowd. “You think I know something?” His question looked more to prompt a fight than an answer. “Think I’m holding something back do you?” He really wanted to hit someone, but his reputation preceded him and no one volunteered to field those questions, nor chanced being struck by opening his or her mouth. The actual reporter the questions, or rather, the threats had been aimed at, faded into the crowd like a tucked scarf under a coat, only his arm sticking out like a loose strand of yarn that had gotten caught in the zipper. “I didn’t think so,” Barrister said, seething with an edge of disappointment, but pleased with himself nonetheless.
Officer Joseph separated himself from the crowd.
“David?” Barrister said when he couldn’t help but notice him.
“Detective,” Officer Joseph replied as he passed, paying him little mind as all his reserves were at once laid upon the sleeping phantom before him. “Oh my God,” he responded while Johnny stepped out of the crowd to join him.
Barrister gazed at Johnny in alarm, and then at the swarm of cameras and recorders … and then back at Johnny. “Johnny,” was all he said. It was a greeting toned with a warning for him not to do anything that would force Barrister to tell them who Johnny was.
Johnny recognized this, and only answered, “Thank you.” which raised Barrister’s brow.
“For what?” Barrister asked.
“For whatever you don’t want me to say thank you for,” Johnny said … and smiled.
“Now who are they?” the woman reporter, who’d been listening, anxiously asked.
“From the precinct,” Barrister answered, “that’s all. Some cops are just as nosy as some bloody reporters, pain-in-the-arses.”
Officer Joseph swung around to tell him off, but in the light of the flashes, was quickly up to speed on the cloak Barrister was trying to throw over them … and so, taming himself, as was appropriate, said nothing. He turned to his son, but he could tell Johnny was already further along in understanding what Barrister’s inclination was. Officer Joseph gazed back at the ghost, at least it looked like one, but it wasn’t moving. “I gather this is what you meant,” he whispered under his breath, “her being here?”
“No,” Johnny said, at an equally low volume. “That’s for you and the other police. I see her outside that.”
“You do?” his father slowly scanned the platform, the tiled walls, the lights above in the cement ceiling. “So is she here?” he again whispered.
“No.” Johnny sounded quite sure of himself.
“And you … you drew this?” Officer Joseph had a race going between his eyes and mouth, on which would open wider. “With what?”
“Crayons,” Johnny answered.
“What? What did he say?” the woman reporter lunged at them as if she’d been goosed.
“Back, mam.” The police officer put himself between them.
“What of crayons?” the woman asked, her microphone still going forward even as she stepped back. “You did say crayons … didn’t you, officer?”
“What’s it to you what my grandchild wants for Christmas?” Officer Joseph replied nearly angry, but it suited the part well enough to do the trick … and she seemed to leave them alone as he turned back to his son. “Okay,” Officer Joseph made sure he was quiet enough this time, “I’m with God on this, Johnny.”
With those words, suddenly the womanly mirage went into a holographic sandstorm, as her features faded and were engulfed by clouds of tannish silt.
“Wh-wh-what’s going on?” Officer Joseph stuttered.
“I don’t know,” Johnny answered.
“See? I shouldn’t have put all the eggs in the same basket. Now they’re going to get cracked.”
“Dad …” Johnny stopped, suddenly occupied, and turned away from his father and stared out over the tracks. “… Wait.” Behind him the storm was settling … and slowly it uncovered … a new image.
“Who the hell’s that?” Barrister erupted, and finished in a more subdued manner by squeezing like a vice between his teeth and nearly closed lips the name “Johnny,” audibly aimed at only its intended recipient … but Johnny didn’t turn if he had heard him or not. Johnny was still gazing out towards the third rail.
“But why thank me?” Johnny asked what looked like nobody. “I didn’t do anything.”
“You would have,” a woman’s voice drifted in his ear … and into his ear alone. “I know this … but see they have already …”
“Johnny!” His father abruptly shook him by the shoulder. “Johnny, look.”
“What?” Johnny snapped, a bit miffed for having been interrupted. He quickly panned up and down the subway, but to no avail, she was gone … she was gone and he hadn’t heard. He hadn’t heard the last words she’d said. “What, Dad?” He turned around to face his father. “She was here.”
“I’m sorry. She-she was here?” his father echoed as his neck and head stammered backwards. “Well what did she say of this? Did she?” He pointed to the image of a man laid out flat on his back where the woman’s ghost had been, but instead of his eyes being closed and sleeping like the woman’s had rested, his were wide and open, wide and open locked in a comatose nightmare. “Did-did she tell you?”
Johnny flinched at the transformed spirit, and wondered where his work had gone. “No,” he answered, and picked at his lip. “She might have, but she left. She might have if you hadn’t …” His words were caught. The hairs in Johnny’s ear swayed with a warm draft, and Johnny paused due to the more gentle interruption … and then … his angst outlook all at once softened as he seemed to look through everything in front of him, unaware of any of it there. “… I see,” he finally said.
“J-Johnny?” his father said, tottering to get picked up in Johnny’s vision. “I’m sorry, Johnny.”
“No,” Johnny replied, and his eyes appeared to accept the surroundings again as he focused more fully on the new ghostly arrival, “it’s all right.” He gazed up at his dad … “She came back.” and his eyes fell once more to the specter.
“What the bloody hell’s going on?” Barrister said, stampeding in between the two of them and forgetting where he was in front of everyone else. “Well, Johnny?”
At Johnny’s name there was a break, as cleanly cut as if cut by a scissor, a break in the speculative talk and impatient prods that’d been mustering. In this gasp of silence, Barrister realized the mistake he’d made by opening his mouth, but it was too late, the woman reporter, more aggressive than the rest, finally remembered what she was there for and probing with her microphone tried to extort an answer, “Johnny … is he the one behind this?” and not only opened the flood gate, but broke every spigot off of its pipe so that the horde of reporters converged on them like a tidal wave.
Barrister pulled out his gun, wanting to shoot into the air, but being underground and both overwhelmed and frustrated, shot it off down the tunnel, ahead of any oncoming train. The boom exploded and continued to explode in descending repetition even after the swarm had frozen from the initial blast.
“Get the bloody hell back!” Barrister bellowed and eyed the uniformed officer at his side, who appeared as quite alarmed as the civilians. “You take your gun out and hold them back. If they don’t stay back, shoot them. If you won’t, tell me and I’ll shoot them. If you won’t tell me, I’ll shoot the bloody hell all of you.” On this last remark he was staring right at the befuddled officer.
“But you won’t shoot me,” Johnny said.
“Why? You think you know me?” Barrister said.
“I don’t have to,” Johnny replied.
“What? … Bloody riddles now?” Barrister said, and pointed at the newly created form. “Who the hell’s that?”
“As if I would know?”
“You do. Who the hell’s that, or I’ll shoot you too and call it a career.” Barrister raised his gun. “Nobody likes me anyhow.”
“Put it down,” Officer Joseph warned. His gun’s barrel was already rested on Barrister’s earlobe.
“Huh … how about that … why don’t we all martyr ourselves for the messiah,” Barrister said, and laughed half-insanely.
“Put … it … down, Barrister,” Officer Joseph repeated, pushing the gun further against the detective’s ear.
Barrister chuckled once more … and cocked his head slightly, but purposely, butting Officer Joseph’s gun as he returned his firearm to its holster. The officer’s finger nudged on the trigger, and he quickly dropped the barrel of the gun. “You, you’re nuts,” Joseph exclaimed, gawking at the detective’s frivolous want to die.
Barrister ignored Joseph’s unsettledness. He ignored everyone and everything around him but Johnny. “So who is it, your prank?” he asked, leaning towards him.
“She told me,” Johnny said, trying to not look unsettled himself, and was aware of the attentive crowd surrounding them.
Barrister leaned even closer still. “Good … what she say?”
“… It’s the perp,” Johnny answered, realizing the avalanche had only begun to fall. “It’s the perp responsible for Johann’s death. There’s your killer.”
(To Be Continued)