2.17: Stories of a Dead Man

Henry was thrown directly into a cell—his cell, as he disturbingly now thought of it. No sarcastic remarks from the sheriff. No interrogation room. He made himself as comfortable as he could on the thin cot, rolled out his aching shoulder, and waited for the first sign of deputy Taylor. If anyone would listen to him, it would be Taylor. He might even be able to provide a clue about Clair’s whereabouts, if their significant eye contact during Henry’s last incarceration had been anything more than the product of a desperate imagination.

But Taylor never materialized. Nobody at all walked down the long hallway that connected the cells to the main body of the station. He was, apparently, forgotten. Night fell, and his stomach grumbled. No food came. For a time, he considered calling out. Certainly somebody was on duty. But it felt undignified, so instead he curled up and fell into fitful sleep.

A slight commotion roused him in the morning. There were a pair of voices arguing in the station. “I have every right to be here,” Kara said.

The sheriff sounded tired. “I get to decide that.” 

“No, you don’t. I’m allowed to be here, and he’s allowed to have visitors. What would the mayor think?”

There was a pause. “Fine. You can have ten minutes.”

Henry managed to sit up and blink most of the bleariness out of his eyes before Kara rounded the corner. “You decent in there?”

“Not really.”

“Well, what’s a little indecency between friends?” Kara pulled a stool from the corner over to sit in front of his cell. She was smiling, and holding a small bundle of white towels and bandages. “How’re you holding up?”

He laughed. “Better in here than a two-star hotel in Greenfield.”

“Yes, well. I made it out to Teresa’s last night.” She handed over the bandages, along with a fresh vial of the ointment. “She figured you might be out.”

“Thanks. Mind blocking the view?”

Kara obliged, turning her back on him to cut off the narrow line of sight from the main room to the cells. Leia didn’t need to know about his shoulder. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that you punched Howie.”

“Seemed like a minor piece of information, at the time.”

She shrugged. “Seems fairly important now. Word on the street is that he’s pissed. Wants to take this thing as far as he can.”

“If that man scared me, I wouldn’t have hit him in the first place.” Henry dropped his shirt back over his head. “Alright, we’re good.”

Kara reached through the bars to retrieve the ointment and the used bandages, and stuffed them neatly under her shirt. “I also come with a present.”

“That wasn’t the present?”

“Of course not.” She fished in her pocket, and after a moment produced another pendant. This one was different from the one currently hanging around his neck, or any of the others that he had ever seen. The metal was a glittering gold. The design was simple: three concentric circles, connected by double bars. “This is a secret,” she said. “I’m serious. Nobody gets to see this. Not even a glimpse.”

Henry nodded. “What is it?”

“I don’t make these. And if anyone asks, even Teresa Bramble, you tell them I wouldn’t even know how.” She sighed, wrapped the chain up in her palm, and handed it over. “It amplifies power. I know you’re curious about whether you’re connected with the magic of the village or not. If you are—even by just a hair—this will make it obvious to you.”

He put it on, and felt the metal sizzle, if only very slightly, when it made contact with his skin. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Thank me by not thinking about it too much. I started work on that charm a few weeks ago, well before you had this idea of yours for a newspaper. You know as well I do that you were brought here. And that wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t needed. I don’t think it matters if you end up having any ‘power’ one way or the other; this thing you’re trying to do is going to be more important.”

“This thing I’m trying to do might never happen, if I can’t get out of here.”

The smile on Kara’s face widened. “I wouldn’t be so sure about that. I’ve been spreading the word around town.”

***

Tod, the most prominently white-whiskered and pot-bellied member of the TBHWAS, was the first to brave the Tortus Bay Police Station to speak with Henry. “I’ve seen Mathas Bernard,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was definitely him. Walking through the park, like he was going somewhere, you know? I didn’t call out to him or anything. Something felt wrong about it. About him, I mean. There’s something the matter with the man, isn’t there?”

Then came Patty, from the cafe. “He tried to get in,” she said. “I haven’t told anybody else. Nobody would believe me, right? It was late at night. I stayed to finish up a load of dishes.” She shuddered. “I haven’t stayed past nightfall since. There was a scuffling from outside, and I figured it was an animal trying to get into the trash. I opened the back door, and there he was: Mathas Bernard, looking exactly like he always did. Except for the grimy clothes, I suppose. He looked up at the light from the door, and jumped at me. I slammed it in his face, ran to hide in the kitchen, and he was nowhere to be seen by the time I got the courage to go look again.”

Jamal was next, beaming from ear to ear and sporting a grease-stained apron. “Knew you’d be back,” he said. “Felt mighty guilty after you left, but I told everyone you wouldn’t be gone long. Shame about this.” He rattled his fingers against the bars, and his smile faltered. “There’s no sense I can see in locking somebody up over a well-intentioned punch. Not like you broke anything. But that’s not my expertise. I only run a bar.

“Anyway, I hear you’re collecting stories. You know I’m good at that. And this one’s true. I was out late a few nights ago, helping… well, helping someone up into their room, and I saw a strange figure sort of loping across the street. Didn’t think too much about it, until I noticed two more figures behind it. Kind of chasing it, I thought. When that first figure passed under a streetlight, and I was that it was Mathas Bernard… let me tell you, it was almost me who needed to be carried to bed.” 

The woman who ran Cycler told him that she had seen Lucy Brihte chasing Mathas Bernard down Main Street. The man who worked at the Pale Moon Buffet swore up and down that Mathas Bernard had faked his death to be with the woman he truly loved—though he had not actually seen the man himself. Just about everyone in the village seemed to have one story or another, and Henry diligently wrote them all down. He had no idea how he was going to go about verifying anything he heard, but he figured that recording it was the right first step.

Sofia and Lola, the daughters of Teresa Bramble, visited him late that night—and had to spend a good amount of time arguing with the sheriff before being allowed in. The concern, it seemed, was both with their number and the time of day, but in the end Leia relented. They were the only ones to visit him that day without a sighting of the not-dead man.

“Our mother wanted to come herself,” Sofia, the elder daughter, said, “but she got caught up. Did you get the ointment?”

“Yes,” Henry said. He eyed Lola, the younger daughter, for signs of distress. The memory of her panicking at bolting at his slight movement was still fresh in his mind, but she seemed fine at the moment. “Tell your mother that I appreciate it.”

“We will. She wants you to come to her as soon as you get out of here. It’s important.”

“I understand. I will.”

The girl hesitated, biting her lip, and Lola spoke up to fill the ensuing silence. “You’re looking for Mathas Bernard.” Not quite a statement, not entirely a question.

“I am.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t think he’s really dead.”

Sofia cleared her throat. “You’ve seen him?”

“I have.”

Her expression was unreadable. “That’s interesting. If we see anything out there, we’ll let you know. Please, try to get out of here as soon as you can.”

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