Velvet Rain - A Dark Thriller, page 1
Velvet Rain is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Names of real public persons, living or dead, and news headlines that include and/or reference the names of actual newspapers are used for fictive purposes only.
Copyright © 2012 by David C. Cassidy
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This work may not be copied or redistributed without the sole written consent of the author.
This life we all live—this reality of ours—is a work of fiction.
We make it up as we go.
There’s no road map. No life atlas. No stars to guide our soul.
So we take that first breath from the womb, that first suckle from our mother’s breast … that first step from our father’s guiding hand.
And we pray we don’t fall.
But we do.
Is it all real? Our eyes and our hearts assure us. It must be real.
~ what really happened
New York Times, April 16, 1912
RMS Titanic STRIKES BERG, THIRTY-TWO PERISH
Captain, Crew Of Carpathia Praised As Thousands Rescued
New York Times, October 2, 1927
BABE FALLS SHORT OF 60
Ruth’s Last At-Bat Ends In Strikeout, 4–2 Loss For Yanks
Detroit Free Press, May 4, 1930
MAN DROWNS WIFE, EIGHT CHILDREN, HANGS SELF
Battle Creek Teacher “Such a nice, quiet man”
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1937
AROUND THE WORLD! EARHART TRIUMPHANT
Aviatrix Lands Electra In California Amid Wild Reception
Boston Globe, February 7, 1938
AUSTRALIAN WILDFIRES OUT OF CONTROL, 22 DEAD
Melbourne Hero Saves Twin Girls From Deadly Blaze
Washington Times-Herald, May 1, 1945
Third Reich Crumbles, Hitler Captured By Russians
Los Angeles Times, August 20, 1945
U.S. DROPS THIRD A-BOMB
Kokura Destroyed As Japan Remains Defiant
Montreal Gazette, October 14, 1946
HITLER EXECUTED, GOERING NEXT FOR NOOSE
I.M.T. Delivers Its Own ‘Final Solution’
San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 1951
VIOLIN Wunderkind, 14, VANISHES AFTER PERFORMANCE
Gerhardt Schenck Abducted At War Memorial Opera House
New York Times, March 9, 1951
TIME GONE WRONG
What’s Happening In Newark?
New York Times, June 16, 1954
GRISLY MASS GRAVE FOUND IN NEVADA DESERT
Monkeys, Dogs Burned, Buried With Torched Human Remains
Chicago Daily Tribune, February 4, 1959
FLIGHT OF TERROR ENDS IN MIRACLE
Buddy Holly Survives Crash In Iowa Field
London Times, August 20, 1960
FIERY COLLISION CLAIMS LIVERPOOL MUSICIANS
Four Brits Perish In Hamburg
Drunk Driver, Son Of Titanic Survivor, In Coma
Now the cheating prick had drawn a knife.
Probably shouldn’t have kicked him in the balls, the drifter thought. Especially since his large friend here had him tied up in the stranglehold of a full nelson. It hurt like hell, but it was nothing compared to that spike of static driving right through that splitting headache he had. It felt as if it were cutting into his brain like some impossible electric blade.
“Hold him, Cal.”
It wasn’t the fat man. One of Cal’s buddies had piped up. All of a sudden, the place was just crawling with rats.
The fat man met him squarely, still wincing from the throb in his jewels. The heady mix of bar smoke and brew had him swaying a little, and just when you thought he might rethink this madness, he returned the favor with one solid shot from his steel-toed boot. Pain rippled through the drifter’s groin and into his skull. Still, he’d endured far worse than these boys could dish out, and he wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction. He swallowed the agony. His lips slid into a cockeyed grin.
Outside the packed roadhouse—this stinking pisshole that stank like all the others—the thunderstorm raged. Somewhere down that cold and lonely road that had brought them here, lightning struck a power line, and the lights flickered.
“No more tricks,” the trucker told him, uncertain as the lamps. Clearly he was rethinking this; trying to get a grip on just what the hell had happened here tonight. Trying not to lose that grip.
An attractive redhead, sculpted nicely in a white top and a flirty black skirt, sat in a booth beside the coin-op pool table. All by her lonesome, the forty-something was ashen, her head down, a hand cupped to her abdomen. She’d been drinking heavily, and while it was possible her bouts of nausea were a result of overindulgence, the drifter knew better; how well he did. She’d fought the good fight twice in the last thirty minutes, first throwing up in the ladies’ room, only to go down in the second round, right here at the edge of her seat. A waitress was on her knees cleaning the mess. The fat man had slipped in it, his cue almost, but not quite, breaking his fall, and when he had hit the floor in that little spiral the way he had, looking like some overweight stripper round a pole, half the place had exploded in drunken laughter. His big butt was slick with vomit. He was ripe.
Sweat beaded the man’s forehead. One tiny bead broke rank and slipped along his sunburned skin. Skin that had, until tonight, been utterly pasty. His puzzled eyes—yellowed and bloodshot, like so many of the others now—lingered on the strange thin scars on the drifter’s temples. You could almost hear the wheels of confusion spinning in his head.
“Cut him,” someone said. It wasn’t Cal, but what did it matter.
The fat man hesitated. He didn’t want to do it, that much was clear. Some guys had it in them. This one didn’t. Returning serve on that swift kick to the nuts was one thing. Any one of these fine gents would have reacted that way. But this? This was lunacy. If Cal hadn’t egged him to pull it, the knife would still be tucked away in his back pocket. No, the poor bastard wasn’t thinking about cutting him. He was all messed up, wondering how things had gotten so crazy, so quickly. Wondering what was real anymore. What was real.
“Do it,” Cal said.
Despite the nelson driving his head down at an insufferable angle, the drifter could see Cal’s bulging forearms plainly enough. Sunburned. Like the fat man’s face; like the fat man’s hands. Like most of the others. He supposed he should have been thankful for dim lights and drink. Either no one noticed, or no one cared.
Still, he should have known better. The bitch of it was, he did.
The fat man looked to Cal and considered his play. Cal, a man of few grunts, drove him to the edge with another Do it. It would take but a nudge to push him over.
The man drew closer. Close enough to suffer the fist of his stale beer-breath. He was breathing laboriously. Trembling. He looked like he might have a heart attack.
Slowly, most unwillingly, he brought the tip of the blade to the drifter’s chin.
The fat man swallowed. “… I want what’s mine, sir.”
Sir. That’s the way he talked. Respectfully. And here he was, shitting where the man ate. Still, he didn’t start this. He never did.
He eyed the name tag stitched on the man’s wrinkled brown jacket. Owner-operator of Most Truck For Your Buck, Ron was a regular one-rig shipping magnate from Willow Springs, a lov
Oh, yes. He’d fallen into a deep hole, quickly—a little too quickly. He’d been a mark from the get-go, the guy sharking him at precisely the right moments. A cough here, some chatter there, just enough to distract him. And the guy was good. One of the best he’d seen, and he’d played some pretty good players. So rather than take it up the ass any deeper, he’d clawed back to black and was up a good twenty or so. But now the guy was on to him. The man hadn’t a clue how he’d been hustled—well, he supposed the man had ideas, crazy ideas—but he knew he’d been screwed right back, right up the old poop shoot. Thing was, he wasn’t a cheat—until now, at least—but dammit, the guy had had it coming. You don’t cheat at poker, you don’t cheat at stick … an unwritten law among men.
He should have bolted when he’d had the chance. It had been right there in front of him, but he’d had too much, far too much, to see it, and coupled with his foolish and dangerous indiscretions, had no one to blame but himself. How many times had he Turned? Small wonder his head was pounding. He had to wonder how many had seen the mist.
And that damn static. What the hell was it? It was coming in fits now, like a circling pack of wild, growling dogs. It steered his mind into a spin, and he steeled against it. Dizzied, trying to keep it together, he held dead still against the tip of the knife.
His sluggish gaze wandered, piercing the smoky filth that filled the place. The thick foul sickened, but didn’t he crave a cigarette, suddenly. Still, after all these years. He didn’t really want one, of course, but what he wouldn’t do to ease the agony in his head.
He sought the barkeep in the slim hope of a hand. Polishing a tall glass, the man had regarded the goings-on with but a cursory glance, clearly more concerned with that looker at the end of the bar, chatting her up the way he was. In fact, save this intimate little gathering around him, most of this questionable clientele seemed entirely disinterested. Not good.
If only Dick the Bruiser would let up on the nelson. All he needed was a chance.
“Come on,” Cal said. “Bleed this cheatin’ bastard.”
Here we go, the drifter thought. Over the edge. Over a couple of sawbucks.
The fat man—to see that haggard, bewildered face, you really wouldn’t have believed he had it in him—slit him with a quick flick of the blade. It stung. Blood dribbled down his throat to his chest. The grip round his arms tightened, that throb in his neck crushing like a boatload of bricks coming down on him. If the Turn had given Cal a case of the body aches, he sure wasn’t showing it. The man was a bull.
He shook it off, still groggy. He looked up, past the knife, past the looker, to the glowing GUYS AND DOLLS sign that led to the restrooms. There was a jukebox on the way, a big rounded Wurlitzer, “Big Bad John” blaring out of its speakers for what must have been the tenth time tonight. Jimmy Dean had been all over the radio these days, would likely hit the top of the charts, and while the man had undoubtedly penned a great song, by this—the twenty-seventh of October, 1961, the biting wind howling hell’s breath beyond the gloom of this place—he had pretty well had his fill. And more than enough of this night.
“Twenty and we’re square, sir,” the hauler told him, politely as sin. His voice held a touch of that approachable Missouri, but that honest smile had long since fled. His searching eyes narrowed. “I figure it’s likely more. But we can’t know for sure now, can we. Can we?”
At this the man glanced round to garner agreement. Not a word was spoken, but some of the patrons, the rats, mostly, seemed to concur. The eyes—sickly or not—never lie.
The drifter capitulated. His arms were aching, and the incessant pressure from the nelson was grilling him almost as deeply as the static. His long chestnut hair, cradling the shoulders of his weathered denim jacket, slipped down in front of his face. He held a menacing look, and the looker, long since bored with the barkeep, stirred on her high bar stool. She bit down teasingly on her lower lip, handing him a breathless gaze with those perfect green gems. She had no idea how lucky she was; the redhead’s eyes were creepy little pissholes now.
“You win,” he said, feigning exasperation. He shook his head for good measure.
“No more tricks,” the fat man reiterated, with obvious suspicion—and more than a hint of relief. He really wasn’t a bad seed, in his way; he was probably a good husband, a good father, a good provider. But nobody hustles a hustler.
The man drew the knife back with a step. Nodded to Cal. Cal let him go.
The drifter gathered himself. He regarded the looker with a small smile, and with an innocent gesture of settling up, reached for his breast pocket, figuring to give old Cal here an elbow to the gut before he snatched up his knapsack and bolted for the exit. He was just about to when thunder rumbled, and the place went black. Mild chaos turned to utter chaos when the lights didn’t come, and amid the ruckus of shouting, shuffling, and confusion, the drifter, like a finely tuned magician, the audience astir, waved his magic wand.
And popped the rabbit out of the hat.
The bright neon clock above the bar, a Budweiser, ticked six minutes to one; give or take a few precious seconds, roughly three minutes it had lost, to the black and chilling chasm of time. Jimmy Dean was just getting started (for what was in fact the ninth time), and when the looker crossed her legs the way she did, bouncing one upon the other so sexily, the drifter, not a scratch on his sculpted chin, called for another round. Some joker was still playing a crazed kind of pinball inside his head, flipping bricks about his skull. And the static, all over him like a tiger, clawed into his brain.
He tried to tell himself that if the lights hadn’t failed when they had, he might have made it. But in all the confusion, stumbling through blackness and bodies, he hadn’t been able to find his knapsack. Some bastard had lifted it. He didn’t have much, nothing more than a few clothes, but there was his dark secret, tucked safely inside. He had had no choice.
And now here he was—here they were—again.
He considered making a run for it right then and there, but they’d be all over him the moment he went for his things. He might make it past one of them, but not both. Even if he managed to pull off that minor miracle, fat chance their cronies would let him escape. And wouldn’t there be fireworks then. Particularly when it came to light that, after the brewskis he’d bought, he had exactly three dollars and sixty-two cents in his pocket.
He only prayed he could pull this off.
The leggy looker smiled coyly at him. Her wild eyes were still those fine sparkling emeralds, and he was thankful for that. But he had to admit, her new tan flattered, from pretty head to pretty toe. The redhead, despite being spared the sunburn, hadn’t fared as well. Her eyes burned with all the look of an infection. She was chalky. Looked as sick as a dog. He felt for her, he really did.
He slipped a coin into the steel slot of the table. His new buddy Ron, nodding to his other new buddy, Cal, watched him like a hawk as he racked. Their skin had deepened, their sunburn an even greater tell. Their eyes were thick with bloodshot. Sick with the color of butter.
He glanced at his weathered boots. A faint dusting of fine powder clung to them. Maybe this time it was just ordinary dust. But he knew. Too white.
He studied the fat man carefully. Rather than drawing his cue as he had expected, the trucker took a swig of his draft instead, deferring the break to him with a nod. It was a little thing, not taking his cue this time, but how well he knew how such a trivial change in the way of things could ripple into chaos. The good news was, the man hadn’t taken the break; he had feared that might happen, and his chance would be los
This would have to work. His mind was out of gas, sucked dry from his mental exertions. Another Turn would likely leave him unconscious. And with these boys, he’d likely find himself in a ditch wearing nothing but the clothes God gave him when he came to.
He chalked his cue. Then, before old Ron changed his mind, he stepped round the table and positioned himself for the break.
“No tricks, sir.”
The drifter looked up.
You calling ME a cheat? he’d snapped before, and hadn’t that worked out well. He kept his big mouth shut.
Cal, the big bastard, looked more like a tanned surfer from California than a pale barfly from the Midwest. The man belched, took a deep swig of his draft, then shifted from his perch at the bar to the table. So far, so good. But now that he knew Ronnie-boy had a knife, there was no telling what might happen this time round. If things got dicey again—and they would, if the puzzle pieces scattered about the man’s brain suddenly assembled into a nice neat picture—a little slit on the chin could turn to a six-inch gash across the throat. You just never knew.
“Tell you what,” he said warmly. “Double or nothing?”
“What do you take him for?” Cal barked. “A goddamn fool?”
“Fine as a feather,” the trucker said after some deliberation, clearly intent on collecting, win or lose. He was stone. Maybe he knew. Maybe he knew, and his mind had snapped. God knew he had seen it before. And now, maybe the guy was waiting for his chance. His chance to gut him.
But then the man moved up a step, and the nauseous redhead, already listing in her seat into the narrow aisle, bless her, gave it her all.
Too fat and too drunk, the hustler stepped gamely, but not gamely enough. His left leg slid out from under him in the slick vomit, and gravity did the rest. His drink soaked one of the rats as he flailed, his big ass hitting the hardwood like a sack of cement, and Cal, laughing it up like most of the shit-faced others, didn’t notice a thing. The drifter took up his knapsack and slipped away, gave a wink to the looker as he passed her—great legs, this one—and hurried to the restroom and nearly got stuck as he shimmied through the narrow back window. Thunder cracked, a lasting report of deafening soul, and as he looked up from his knees and into the driving rain, saw lightning strike a power line not twenty feet from the roadhouse. The lights failed, far longer than before, and by the time they returned, the trucker bolting from the front door and into the storm with bloodshot eyes the size of golf balls, the drifter, like that finely tuned magician, had vanished.