Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices. Alfred A. Montapert
By the time Hank and John returned to their home base, Erika and Porfirio had already taken to their respective mattresses. Hank and John decided to stay up for a few hours, rearranging things around the large open room on one end of the building in preparation for tomorrow's jam session. John was able to find an old broom and sweep the remaining debris out a back door while Hank took a look around the nearby area and returned about ten minutes later with a dirty drum carpet.
Where do you even find this sh*t? John asked.
I have a way of doing things, John. Hank replied swiftly. You'll learn soon enough.
With things in order, Hank stepped outside to light a cigarette. He didn't really smoke that often, but in stressful times, the nicotine would help. Yes, he thought warmly, that ever-calming poison coursing through my veins.
John soon poked his head out and reported he was off to bed. Hank peered at John's leather wristwatch. 2:08. A good time to nod off. He nodded, and John retreated into the house.
Hank took a long drag on the cigarette and sighed out the smoke. He watched as it dissipated in the night air, polluting the earth. What was one more puff of smoke in the dark sands? What could it do?
He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the concrete step with his heel.
Not much, he thought. Not much at all.
The next morning began as if the four were a part of an average American household: breakfast and talk of the day's plans. Hank and John had managed to scrounge up some discarded boxes of stale cereal from the nearby supermarket. Erika ate in silence as the boys talked, staring longingly out the window. She downed her cereal quickly and took off for her room as the three boys spoke. A door slammed.
She really is a Hopeless, eh? John snickered, turning back from watching her leave.
Not part of the proposition. Hank replied, swallowing a mouthful of cereal. Regardless of her state, I need her voice.
Her voice is that of the angels. Porfirio added quietly.
Exactly. Hank said, pointing at Porfirio. And that's why she needs to learn that we're not perfect. This is our life now.
John snorted. For how long? he asked.
As long as necessary. Replied Hank. I've managed to steal some recording equipment on my way into this f*cking place, so we can get to work immediately.
Good. John said. I want to get this done.
Why so quickly? Porfirio asked from across the table.
Yeah, what, are you going to go back to drugs once we're finished?
No. John replied, sounding offended. But I do have my own agenda, you know?
An agenda. Hank stated plainly. Sure. We all have agendas. But what you don't understand is that I saved you. Your soul belongs to me now.
My soul? John asked, sounding rather amused. Okay, sure. You saved me, but my soul?
Yes. Hank answered with a nod. I've saved you from the darkness I was talking about. Would you rather be strung out right now?
No, but what kind of soul are we talking? I thought you were an atheist.
I am. But that doesn't mean there isn't evil out there, wanting to eat you up and spit you out!
Alright, fine. John sighed. You're right, then.
Don't give me that. Hank grumbled. I want your dedication.
You have my dedication, man! John spat back. You saved me from myself. The end.
Right. Hank nodded. Now, Porfirio, do I have you to rely on?
Of course. Porfirio answered.
Good. Hank finished, standing and pushing himself away from the table. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some equipment to set up.
Detective Hoff sat upright at his desk, smoking a cigarette. The ashes had piled upon his desk. He had taken to chain-smoking. Sure, it was killing him from the inside out, but he had to have the nicotine in his system to prevent any outbursts. It was his calming agent. His immunity to the world's troubles.
He had gotten nothing in regards to leads at this point. Not a single call. But there was one small instant of a mysterious text message that read nothing more than the address of a small-town diner. The force had investigated, only to find nothing. Not a single fingerprint. No sign of Hank C. Bison Gracer.
At this point, Hoff was ready to give up the search. This guy, if he had anything to do with the murder at the Oasis, had vanished off the face of the Earth. And where was Hoff in all this? He was a medium in his own mind. He wasn't the hero; he was just the justice figure: a bounty hunter with no bounty.
Enough. He sighed, swiping the ashes off his desk. They fluttered seamlessly toward the floor, like angels fallen from heaven. Hoff ashed his cigarette in the small black ashtray on his desk with a sneer.
No more f*cking delays. He growled, turning to his computer. He stared deeply into the blank screen, waiting for it to make a move. Make my day, he thought, send me something to work with.
At that moment, the door creaked open and detective Ford entered, dressed in an obnoxious yellow dress shirt and carrying two cups of coffee. He looked down at Hoff, who was still in an unwinnable staring contest with the monitor.
You all right there? Ford asked, setting the cups down with a grin.
Fine. Hoff said, staring a moment longer, then turning to face Ford. Just fine.
You don't look fine. Ford argued, taking his cup and peeling back the small tab.
I guess that's your opinion. Hoff replied harshly, taking his cup from Ford. And at this point, opinions ain't solving sh*t.
It's speculation, Hoff. Ford sighed, leaning against the wall. All we got in this case is your obsession. Nothing solid. Nothing to mold into a theory. Just a body and some empty space where a teenage girl used to be.
That's the thing! It's eating me alive! Imagine the sick things some twisted little f*ck could do to that girl. You saw the photo. She was young and pretty. Prime bind, rape and kill material. The usual routine.
Man, you gotta stop watching Law and Order. It's givin' you some messed up thoughts.
Ford sighed and leaned back in his chair, gently massaging his temples.
The black desk phone on Hoff's desk suddenly cried out with a dull ring; a desperate cry for attention. Hoff straightened. His phone never rang. It never rang. A massive layer of dust had settled upon it, smothering the visage of the informant. Ford looked to Hoff, who looked to the phone, intrigued. Slowly, he moved his hand toward it, almost afraid that it would jump out and bite him.
The receiver clicked as Hoff raised it to his ear. Ford watches in half-intrigue, half-horror. This was the outrageous event he had feared. The status quo had changed. All theory of a calm conclusion would die, and he could feel it like the caffeine in his veins. It was a sick game about to begin.
Hoff listened for a few moments, then calmly placed the dusty phone back on the port. He stood slowly, pushing himself away from his desk, and walked past Ford, head down.
What? Ford asked as Hoff reached the door.
Hoff turned back to Ford, a wicked smile upon his face.
We got him.
The lights are what had gotten to him. A dimly lit Texas rest stop messes up the young mind, especially one so fragile as the one belonging to Charlie. He coughed, sending a bit of mucus onto the tile floor of the bathroom. The fluorescent lighting flickered softly in the night, waking him from his stupor. It had happened again. The nightmares were coming back; the hallucinations he thought he had defeated with the death of the Shredder's identity.
Christ. He muttered, picking himself up off the floor. Luckily, the public bathroom had been empty throughout his entire ordeal. But what had he seen? What had taunted his brain with false sights?
He stumbled over to a sink and looked at himself in the mirror. No scratches, so he hadn't hurt himself this time. Good. He ran a hand along his neck and chin, feeling the small chin-beard that had developed over the coarse of the last few weeks. Some stubble had grown in around his neck since he had left with Amber.
Goodness, he thought, she was hot. But he knew to restrain himself. They were looking for the same person: Anson. For so long, Charlie had wondered where he had gone. And as of yet, no answers. But they had a lead: the sight of a lone teen wandering the desert roads, seemingly impervious to thirst and hunger. Charlie smirked. So Anson had become a god.
There came a knock on the bathroom door. Amber's voice cried out Charlie, you okay in there?
Yeah, just fine. Charlie fibbed, looking back at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror. What had he become in the fallout of Becker's demise? The formerly good-looking boy had become a grizzled, bitter man. And he had no one to thank but himself. Fate, perhaps, but otherwiseonly himself.
He reached slowly into his right pocket, withdrawing a medicine bottle with a faded label. He untwisted the cap and shook it toward his palm, expecting the usual sensation of the lovely pills that stopped the hallucinations. But in this instance, he didn't. The bottle was empty. No more lithium.
Charlie gasped. This was it. He was about to disappear along an illusion road. The hallucinations were about to get worse.
Come on, Charlie! I want to get to California by tomorrow!
The lights flickered. Sweat poured down his face. The night was creeping in under the door. And suddenly, he had no idea what to do.
The rickety old building shook with the power of the bass, rattling little things left on the counter in the kitchen. They had begun work, and from what Hank was hearing, it would be a good session. They had already gone and recorded at least five ideas for songs. All it needed was a little refinement, much like minerals. It's already valuable, but it would bring in a lot more buyers with some polish and shine.
Then came Hank's moment in the sun: his solo. His quickly moved from his upper necked power-chord to a mellow, C minor flourish, his fingers dancing across the surface of the Gibson Les Paul studio John had locked away in his house. How anyone could let it go to waste was beyond Hank, who finished sublimely and led back to the main melody before ending with a fade.
Ah, said Hank, closing his eyes and holding his power stance. That's what I started this up for.
John nodded, checking his tone knobs and adjusting the sound accordingly.
See? Hank cried. This is what it's about! Four weirdos, out in the desert, making sweet music.
I get your point. Erika said quietly. But really, how long will this go on?
Hank froze. He had no idea. Until he could save them, he supposed. But from what? The blatant evil present in the lawlessness of the southwest? Not likely. He was but one man, and the desert was a machine, churning out the rebels he had always heard about in western movies back home, wherever home was.
Til we finish the album. Hank lied. He placed his guitar down on the nearby sofa and walked into the kitchen, wishing he could be anywhere else at this point. He had tossed himself into something far bigger than he had planned. They were here, he was here, and nothing was changing. The staggering darkness he once knew had not shown up. It had a mother, and it slept here, in the shifting sands of Imperial County.
He moved to the small refrigerator and removed a beer. With one swipe, he slammed the cap against the rough edge of the counter, and it popped right off. As he brought the lid to his lips, he heard it: the distant sound of a siren. Several sirens, at that. A whole squadron of blaring drones. He paused, bringing the bottle back to the counter and setting it there.
What? he began, but John entered the room, looking rather concerned.
Look out the window. John said plainly, but with a worried shrug in his brow.
Hank complied, moving for the recently-shuttered window. He pulled down two shutter lengths and peered into the sunset-lit desert. Outside, he could see the red and blue flashing lights of patrol cars heading closer. He stepped back and looked to John.\
They're coming for us. Hank announced.
No, they're coming for you. John stated, sighing. Sh*t.
Jesus Christ, did you tell them?! Hank accused, grabbing John by the collar and tossing him back into the counter. John's lower back struck the marble with a sickening sound. He groaned, but managed to squeeze out No, I promise.
How can I believe you?! Hank screeched, pulling John back, then throwing him into the counter again.
I'll find a way. John said curtly.
What's going on? Hank heard Erika yelp from the next room. He turned on his heel to see Porfirio entering the kitchen, arms folded.
What is this? he asked, pointing to the window.
I don't know. Hank lied, sounding defensive.
What have you done? Porfirio said as Erika came bounding into the room from behind him.
Thisis a long story. John said, trying to cover for Hank, but then, a loud voice, coming right from a megaphone, echoed through the house from outside.
Hank Gracer, we have a warrant for your arrest and questioning in the murder of Isabelle Montierre. Come out unarmed, with your hands behind your head.
F*ck. Hank muttered, knowing the ensuing response. He didn't even look at Erika to see her sudden realization, but he did feel her jump on his and proceed to knock him to the ground and lay into him with a round of fists. He felt something in his nose crack, and the warm sensation of blood melted onto his face.
You f*cking murderer! You conniving, *sshole, motherf*ckin
Porfirio, as if in bog brother mode, pulled Erika off and restrained her, but she still struggled to get to Hank, who struggled to his feet.
John looked to Hank, and Hank could see it: that golden desperation. The feeling of destiny afoot, John coughed to get the room's attention, then turned away, moving for the front door of the house.
Hey, Hank. Consider this my proof of dedication.
He then turned back to look at his comrades, a look of pure rage in his eyes.
Run, you stupid motherf*ckers!
Hank didn't need a second wearning, he quickly stood and shoved Porfirio toward the back door. The drummer didn't second-guess it, but kept Erika in confinement in his arms as he ran for the back door. Hank turned to close the door quietly, as Porfirio and Erika took off into the dark sands, leaving Hank to catch up.
Meanwhile out front, John emerged, closing the door behind him slowly.
Alright, then. He said, staring into the bright flashing lights of at least ten patrol cars. Who should I talk to?
That'd be me, son. Came the reply from a jubilant detective Hoff.