Dark Rumbles in Town
The next day dawned bright. As the sun’s rays warmed the car, Elian and Bramble roused and looked out on a leafy park carpeted with a thick lawn. He heard lawnmowers in the distance and decided it was time to move the car. It was going to be a good day. His new job as an evening janitor would start at 5:00 and came with the promise of a paycheck that Friday. Now he thought he’d head back to Sue’s. He hoped that she and the boyfriend weren’t angry and if they had partied last night, there was a good chance they’d forget all about the cat. Then he could get a shower and some clean clothes for the day.
As he approached the train station, he saw a faded red Honda pull up to the curb. His sister got out. “Oh, oh,” he thought, “she looks mad.” Hoping to keep Sue and Bramble separated, Elian pointed to a park bench under a shady tree. Sue followed him, demanding, “Why didn’t you come home last night? You can’t stay out like that.”
Elian looked uncomfortable then said, “I did go to your house but no one was home. I didn’t want to hang around. It’s rough on your street.”
“Well it ain’t Brentwood, but I’d look out for you. Jeeze, Elian, are you still such a wuss? You should have waited.”
Elian felt his spirits plunge but with a glance at the train station, he took a breath and said, “When you and Rob go out, you always come home drunk and there’s always fighting and yelling…I can’t deal with that.”
“Don’t give me that,” Sue sputtered, “And don’t think you’re too good to stay with us. Your fancy professor friends kicked you out and you got no place to go. Rob was willing to let you stay.”
“Aw Sue, don’t be mad. I got a job and anyway, I want to keep the cat.”
“That cat? You can’t keep it! Rob doesn’t like cats but what do you care? You should be grateful he’ll let you stay. I had to beg and argue with him to let you stay! But did you even think of that? You only think about yourself, even when Mom died…she suffered because you were out running wild!”
Elian felt the old familiar shock begin to take hold of his mind but he tried again, “Sue, I can’t move in with you and Rob. I want to get back to school and I want to stay clean.”
“So you can’t do that with us? Sure we like to go out. You gonna hold that against us? We work hard all day and we deserve a little fun.” Sue’s eyes filled with tears.
“No,” Elian whispered. “But I can’t go back to that right now. I’ll call you when I have a place and a phone. Hey, how did you find me here?”
“A little birdie told me,” Sue said wryly. “Okay, I tried. I gotta get to work. I hope you don’t get jumped out here. At least be careful, huh?”
Elian felt as if he had just cut his last tie to safety. He dropped his head in his hands and thought, what have I done? He had never refused Sue’s help though it usually came attached to an unpleasant boyfriend or roommate. And Sue had never refused to give him a place to stay. He began to feel light-headed again and his insides threatened to seize the throttle.
Bramble suddenly appeared and rubbed his knee, telepathing, “You had to do that. Sue’s not right. Rob’s not right. You’ll twist if you stay with them.”
“I know Rob is poison but she sticks with Rob because he likes to get high. She’s the only one who cares about me and she’s turning into a drunk. She still blames me for mom’s death. She’ll never let that go.”
“Let’s go get some breakfast,” Bramble ‘pathed, “Things always look better on a full stomach.”
Later, Elian told Homer, “I don’t know how she knew I was here,” They were finishing their coffee and he added, “She said a little birdie told her.”
“If you need a place to stay, there’s a boarding house a mile from here that will rent to you week to week. You just have to wait till you get paid Friday. The weather’s going to be good this week so you could sleep in your car.”
“Are you homeless too?” Marcy asked, coming by with a carafe for warm ups.
“Thanks Marcy,” Homer murmured.
“I think I can afford to pay until Friday, if they’ll let me.”
“If you can tell them you’re related to someone who has a job, it would help,” Marcy said. “Maybe you should go talk to Sue and ask her if she can vouch for you.”
Elian thought uncomfortably, “I need Sue’s recommendation so I can stay at some flop house?” but he said, “Yeah. She’s a blow -hard and bitchy, but she’s probably the only one I can count on. I should go say I’m sorry and maybe she’ll help me get that room.”
Just before his shift started, Elian braced the cat saying, “Bramble you have to stay down and be quiet while I talk to Sue. I really want to have a bed to sleep in tonight, so don’t get us in trouble.” The cat flattened his ears but ‘pathed, “Right.”. As he drove up to their house, Elian saw both car and motorcycle parked.
“Go to sleep, kitty,” he said nervously trying to stroke the cat’s head.
Cautiously, he left the car and softly climbed the stairs to the front door.
“Hello,” he called. And then knocked. No one answered, so he called again. He climbed down the stairs and walked around the driveway to the back yard. The cat leaped from the car to follow. The back door was wide open. Elian walked slowly through the dried weeds and detritus of the last windstorm. When he got to the door, he saw blood on the kitchen floor.
Elian stared at the blood. “Elian?” the cat ‘pathed. “It might be dangerous to stay, we should go.”
But he wouldn’t move and he whispered, “What did he do to her?”
“Elian! Move! Please?”
But Elian walked slowly into the room, looking fearfully into the dark hallway beyond and calling, “Hello? Sue? Are you all right?” The cat followed him, sniffing carefully and realized that the blood on the floor was not Sue’s. The cat ‘pathed to Elian, “The blood’s not Sue’s but where’s Rob? He might still be around. Let’s get out before the cops come …”
“Why would they come,” he whispered, “this is the worst part of Murlock…They never come when you need help.”
A door slammed. Bramble disappeared and Elian jumped, stumbled out of the back door and raced to the car. Noisily, he climbed in and tore out of the driveway, tires squealing, gravel flying. But Elian couldn’t leave. His eyes were wide and wild and he was breathing heavily but he braked hard and pulled to the curb half a block away. He turned to see if Rob was following, but the street was quiet. He could see nothing moving at the house, no one came out.
“Elian,” the cat, who had been on the front seat, said, “You need to get back to the train station. Your shift starts at 5:00.”
“I can’t leave Sue…she might need me. Where is she?”
“There’s nothing you can do right now. Go to work and look out for yourself first,” Bramble urged. Elian’s face had gone pale, his dark eyes haunted with worry.
Bramble ‘pathed, “Okay, we’ll give it 5 more minutes. You watch the street to see if anyone comes by. I’ll teleport to the house and check it out top to bottom. We’ll solve this mystery together.”
“What? Teleport? You’re talking about magic…”
“You just have to stay here for five minutes. Can you give me five minutes?” And then the cat disappeared. Elian blinked, then got out of the car and ran toward the house. He was pretty sure Rob was not there. They had made enough noise to raise the dead when they left.
The house was dark and quiet. The fading sunlight did not reach into the hallway beyond the kitchen but there was enough to see by. Elian saw Bramble carefully sniff his way down the hall and into the large room that made up most of the house. Nothing but domestic smells, alcohol and grease from Rob and Sue. The room was furnished with what had once been knotty pine chairs and a large table. Cabinets filled with guns lined one wall. Magazines, tools and oily rags littered one corner and empty beer cans soldiered their way from the table to the floor. It was messy but not from violence, Elian thought. A small bedroom lay off the living room. The bed had been made but clothes were strewn about and the room had a sour smell from well worn clothes and socks. Again, a mess but no sign of violence.
Elian spotted a large woman’s handbag and a set of keys on the table mixed in with the beer cans. The car and the motorcycle were still parked outside, so they might have left the house on foot.
Bramble ‘pathed, “IsSue the type to leave her handbag behind? Would she go for a walk without her keys?”
“No, she wouldn’t.”
“There’s no sign of a fight or a struggle and the blood on the floor doesn’t belong to either Sue or Rob.”
Bramble said, “That blood bothers me. This might be more than just a bad fight. It could be as simple as Rob and Sue going off with a friend who cut themselves or it could be as complicated as, well as complicated as a world where people disappear suddenly.”
“We have to look for them, maybe they’re in the neighborhood, maybe they need help…we should go to the cops.”
“No,” Bramble ‘pathed slowly, “I don’t think the cops will take this seriously because there’s no sign of anything bad except the blood.”
“But we have to find her! She might be hurt!”
“Elian, you have to get to the station and start your job. Remember Homer said they wouldn’t hold it for you if you’re late? Well, they won’t understand about Sue and Rob being missing, either.”
“But they might need help!”
“Tell you what, I don’t think you can do anything except wander around Murlock tonight. I can help you search but only if you look out for yourself first. You need this job and you need to make some money.”
“Yeah,” Elian sighed.
“So, drive to the station and tomorrow we’ll look together. We’ll find Sue.”
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