You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.
Ausmann had made some progress with the samples he had managed to keep from escaping, although what Simon and Joshua’s had captured from Hollywood and Vine was disappointing.
The best Ausmann could figure, after he’d called in a colleague to translate, is that he was some young kid who had come with his family from Cuba, and he’d been run down by a drunk driver in Boyle Heights about ten years ago. His name was Ramón.
He told Ausmann, mostly through the interpreter, that he had been a busboy at a restaurant, lived with his entire family in a two-bedroom apartment in the Heights, and that his mother and sisters still kept a memorial on the corner where he had died, regularly replacing the flowers and photos, and all of the neighbors helped maintain it, too.
He was nineteen when he was killed. The driver was never apprehended, but Ramón knew that his mother firmly believe that he never would be, because he was someone connected.
Ausmann found the information to be underwhelming. The story he’d heard was that these wandering spirits were echoes of the famous, kept alive precisely because of their fame. It made no sense that some glorified dishwasher who probably didn’t look before jaywalking would be among them.
The kid had tried to manifest in the larger containment several times, but mostly just looked like an inky shadow drifting around in a large, waterless aquarium.
“¿Y ahora puedo irme?” he asked. “No me gusta estar en una jaula de vidrio.”
“What is he muttering about?” Ausmann demanded.
“He wants to leave,” the interpreter said. “He doesn’t like being in a glass cage.”
“Tell him I don’t care what he likes,” Ausmann replied.
“Al jefe, no le importa lo que te gusta,” the interpreter explained. “Lo siento. Pero él es un gran pinche pendejo.”
“I do know a few words in Spanish, Victor,” Ausmann said, dryly. “Do watch it.”
“Let him go if you’re done with him,” Victor said.
“What makes you think I’m done with him?”
“He’s alone and he’s scared,” Victor countered.
“He’s dead,” Ausmann explained.
“But he’s still human.”
“Is he? I’m done interviewing him for now.”
He turned away from Victor and focused on his notes, which was Ausmann’s well-known way of telling people, “Please leave before I turn around and look at you.”
He was generally hated by his colleagues. As Victor’s lab partner, Estelle, a charming woman from Texas, put it, “Wouldn’t no one around here piss down his throat even if his guts was on fire.”
Once Victor had left, Ausmann put Ramón back in the small mirror trap and filed it, making the note, “Probably of no further use.”
Then he took out the trap from Hollywood and Highland, and hoped that this one would be more interesting. He released its contents into the larger holding trap and watched as the inky smoke drifted around.
“Hello,” he said. “Can you hear me?”
“Where am I?” the voice asked. Clearly female, American, and with a strong Boston accent.
“Who are you?” Ausmann asked.
“I’m not sure,” she replied. “I think I’m the… Black Dahlia?”
Well, this was intriguing, he thought, quickly tapping in a search. Some of the details fit. Elizabeth Short was from Boston, so the accent checked, although why she didn’t identify herself that way was a bit of a mystery.
“Do you remember your own name?” Ausmann asked her.
“Do you?” she asked. “Because it’s all kind of foggy.”
Indeed, he thought. And then he checked further details, only to see that she had been buried in Oakland, California, which was well over 300 miles away as the crow flew from Los Angeles. That didn’t match what little data they had compiled at all.
“Does the name Elizabeth Short mean anything to you?” Ausmann asked. The smoke in the box immediately seemed to gather into a corner as if shocked away from the other three sides, and then spun and solidified before it all landed with an audible thunk on the bottom, in the form of the top half of a young woman who had been bisected at the waist, and she wasn’t moving at all.
“Elizabeth? Can you hear me?” Ausmann asked. “Elizabeth? Miss Short…?”
Well, this shit was getting him nowhere. Plus the sight of half of a dead woman lying in the bottom of his holding tank was really disturbing, so he turned the valves to put her back in the original trap, but nothing happened.
“Fuck,” he muttered. He turned his attention to his internet searches for Elizabeth Short and the Black Dahlia, quickly realizing that while she seemed to be aware of her real identity, most of who she was in death had been defined under the nickname.
That gave him a bit of a Eureka moment. Of course. It all started to make sense now. Especially the biggest non-sequitur he’d come across so far with her. Normally, these creatures stayed local. Bury them, and they’d not go too far beyond a hundred kilometers in any direction.
The body of Elizabeth Short had been buried in Oakland, but the memory of the Black Dahlia had been interred in Los Angeles. He shut the valves and spoke into the microphone.
“I’m sorry,” Ausmann announced. “I was mistaken. You are the Black Dahlia, aren’t you?”
The figure of the half body suddenly burst into smoky mist again and drifted to the top of the tank, and then swirled around until it formed a jet-black dahlia, which looked like a bastard cross between a dandelion and a marigold.
“I think I get it now,” Ausmann muttered to himself, then he opened the valves again, and the image of the flower and all that was Elizabeth Short was sucked back into the original trap. He tried to ignore what sounded like screaming, then, as he’d done for Ramón, sealed it up and filed it.
His hunters had better bring him something really interesting next time around. Otherwise, he was seriously considering ending the contract. Possibly with extreme prejudice, as they used to say in old gangster films.
Or was that an old government expression? Who knew? Ausmann was too busy working on his own reality down here.
* * *
Joshua and Simon had stumbled home just before five in the morning, put their latest catches in the vault, then dropped the blackout shades, stripped off, and fell asleep in each other’s arms in about five minutes.
When they woke up, they smiled at each other and snuggled, then grabbed their phones, both of them rather annoyed to see that it was only nine a.m. They both futzed around with email and social media for a bit, then cuddled and went back to sleep.
Both of them went through a bit of sleep, dream, wake, snuggle, repeat, until Simon finally announced, “Fuck. It’s two-thirty.”
“I know the second part was a statement of fact,” Joshua said, “But was the first part an interjection or a request?”
“You know that what they used to call ‘interjections?’” Simon asked, not waiting for an answer. “Ejaculations.”
“So it was a request?” Joshua smiled up at him.
“It’s still two-thirty,” Simon reminded him.
“And it’s the day after a catch, our traditional day off,” Joshua said, “So we don’t have to get up for anything. I mean, we could get up to one thing…”
“Was that a request?” Simon teased him.
“It’s two-thirty,” Joshua said. “Fuck?”
When it came to Joshua — especially when he turned on his ‘cute face’ — Simon had no resistance, so his interjection became Joshua’s request and, eventually, both of their ejaculations. It was about four in the afternoon when Simon finally said, “Okay, I think we have to get up for real now.”
“Shower, supper, and binge watch?” Joshua suggested.
“Right time for the first, too early for the second, and we have more important things than the third.”
“Yes, daddy,” Joshua muttered, faking resentment. “So what’s more important than stream — ”
“What we caught last night.”
“Oh,” Joshua realized. “Right. Well, one of them is interesting, anyway,” he said. “The other one scared the shit out of me.”
“Me, too,” Simon said. “I assume you’re interested in the shadow who seemed like he wanted to be caught, too.”
“Oh, hell yeah,” Joshua agreed. “I sure as hell don’t mean Scary Mary who went all Goth Chick once she got tazed.”
“Yeah, that was a first. But I have a weird feeling that it’s going to get Ausmann to up us a couple of pay grades.”
“Ooh. It makes me so horny when you talk money.”
“Honey, it makes you horny when I breathe. Admit it.”
“Okay. Guilty. What? You’re fucking sex on legs, shut up. What do you say, then? We get brave and let Smoky out of the bottle?”
“Yeah,” Simon said. “Why not? Although we should probably be presentable, right?”
They jumped out of bed, hit the shower, then made coffee, checked social media again, then retrieved the mirror trap from the vault and set it on the granite living room table, all windows now open to let in the sunny view over NoHo.
“So,” Simon said, “You know the general history. Pull the top off, and these… things run away.”
“Right,” Joshua replied, but remember what was different about this one?
“We got caught by Brenda mid-snatch?”
“Eew, don’t say ‘snatch,’ and no. This one wanted to be caught. I mean, wasn’t that obvious?”
“It did feel a bit different.”
“And then Goth Girl showed up, but she seemed more like, oh, I don’t know… an over-protective big sister or, more likely, a super Fag Hag.”
“So, what are you thinking?” Simon asked.
“I’m thinking that the one we’ve got in the vault right now — ”
“Nasty Morticia?” Simon said.
“Ooh, I like. Yeah, her. I think she’s a lot more valuable to Bossman than the one in the mirror.”
“Oh my god, dude. Bossman. That’s new. Did you just think of that?”
“Yeah, it just came to mind.”
“Love you more, dork. So ready to unscrew?” Joshua picked up the trap and held it between both hands.
“I guess so,” Simon replied. “I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“Our place winds up haunted and we could rent it out for a fucking fortune to one of those fake ghost-hunter shows? Maybe this spirit is union? I don’t know. Personally, the worst that could happen is that it flies out the window and goes back home.”
“Well, then,” Simon said, “Let’s unscrew him.”
“Phrasing,” Joshua muttered under his breath as he grabbed the top half of the trap and turned it counter-clockwise while holding the bottom steady. After three turns, the top came off, revealing the mirror, and nothing happened.
“Hm,” Simon said, then, “Shit.” The mirror remained dark as they both stared at it. “You think we killed it?” Simon finally asked.
“I don’t know,” Joshua replied, staring down into the silvered glass and seeing his own distorted face. “Hey, little dude. You okay down there? You want to come out and talk to us, it’s okay. Hell, if you want to come out, you’re free as you want to be.”
Nothing happened, so Joshua tapped the mirror. “Wakey, wakey, eggs and bakey,” he called out, remembering something that his Aussie grandmother had used to wake him up with.
Suddenly, wisps of shadow, looking like black smoke, started to drift up from the mirror. They lazily gathered above the table, eventually drifting into a vaguely human form, although a not very tall one, like a silhouette painted in the air, with a clear head, arms, legs, and torso.
The arms reached out, one toward Joshua and one toward Simon. They looked at each other, not sure what to do.
“I… I don’t think he’s dangerous,” Simon finally said.
“Neither do I,” Joshua replied.
They gave each other the secret look they always did before agreeing to do something dangerous and stupid — silent eye contact, a half smile, and then a very subtle nod of the head that said “One, two, three,” and then each of them reached out and grabbed one of the inky-smoke hands reaching for them.
As soon as they did, they both felt a sharp but harmless static shock through their bodies, and then the vague and smoky form on the table resolved itself into a quite visible human being.
He’s not tall — maybe 5’7” — but he does have a wide, smiling face with a lupine nose, and eyes that are almond both in shape and color. His hair is a russet chestnut, a little shaggy without being long. He’s also completely nude, not that Simon or Joshua have any complaints, but it only takes one look at the ass and face before they look at each other and gasp.
“Preston LeCard?” they say in unison.
“What?” Preston replies.
Neither Simon nor Joshua knows what to say. They never expected to have trapped one of their favorite porn stars while hunting, and certainly not one who’d only been dead for a few years, and not for any of the usual porn star reasons.
“So… what brings you here?” Simon finally asks.
“I’d like to lie and say two hot nerd daddies like you,” Preston tells them, “But, sadly, no. Honestly, it was my control freak mother.”
“Do we know her?” Joshua wondered.
“Know her?” Preston laughed. “You met her last night.”
“Are you sure?” Simon asked.
“Anabel Chanler LeCard. Does that ring any bells.”
“No,” Simon said. “But do you want us to let her go?”
“You caught her, too?”
“Right after you surrendered to us,” Joshua explained. “But if you think we’re letting her go — ”
“Oh, hell no,” Preston said. “You can keep her for now.”
“So what do you want, really?” Simon asked.
“I have no fucking idea,” Preston replied, “Except that I seem to be the prisoner of two hot daddies, and whatever you want to do, just go on and fucking do — ”
Before he could finish that sentence, Joshua slammed the lid on the trap. It was a crapshoot, but it managed to suck everything back in and shut up Preston. Joshua casually walked into the bedroom, dropped the trap into the vault, and came back out to the living room.
“What the actual fuck?” Simon muttered.
“Never mind,” Joshua replied. “Maybe we toss both their asses to Ausmann next Tuesday. Meanwhile… supper-time. What do you want to eat? And shut up, I’m not on the menu until dessert.”
“Oh, you cock-teasing asshole,” Simon replied, smiling. “Then how about… Victory?”
“Pussy!” Joshua smiled and walked away.
“Never!” Simon called after him, but he could only smile in admiration before trembling in fear. What if they hadn’t defeated that Preston thing? And then he had another awful thought as he headed after Joshua.
“Shit, Joshie. Do you think that Preston wanted us to… fuck him?”
“Seemed like it,” Joshua replied.
“Wouldn’t that be… necrophilia?”
“Hm,” Joshua mused. “No… necrophilia is when a living person wants to fuck a dead body. So when a dead person wants to fuck someone alive…? Hm. I wonder what that would be.”
“Vivephilia?” Simon offered.
“That’s a new one,” Joshua said. “I wonder if it’s just as icky to most of them as other way around is to most of us.”
“One could hope,” Simon replied. “Wait… what did he say Anabel’s full name was?”
“Anabel Chanler LeCard,” Joshua replied.
“So they’re related?” Simon wondered.
“The name sounds really familiar,” Joshua said, tapping on his phone. “Ah. Apparently, her family was quite the thing around here early last century… oh. Check this out. She died in childbirth but her son survived. Her son Preston.”
“So he is her son?” Simon said.
“Now I remember why the name sounded familiar,” Joshua said, scrolling. “We had a gig at her family tomb last year, didn’t pan out but… sure. Here it is… holy shit. Well, that can’t be right?”
“What?” Simon asked as Joshua showed him the screen. It was a photo of the rosette in the center of the family mausoleum. “So?” he asked.
“Died 1926,” Joshua explained.
“You do know that your difficulty with math is one of those traits I find really endearing, right?”
“Fuck you, silly. What?”
“Okay. How old is… was Preston LeCard when he died?”
“Twenty-three,” Joshua reminded him. “So he was born in… 1997.”
“And Anabel is his mother?”
“That’s what he…” Simon stopped mid-sentence and started at the photo. “Aw, fuck.”
“Exactly,” Joshua continued. “Unless that was the longest labor ever, or he was born way, way post mortem — ”
“His ’mom’ died more than sixty years before he was born.”
“Bingo! So, Simon, what does this tell us?”
“Preston LeCard is not who he says he is?”
“No,” Joshua replied. “He’s not who he thinks he is. He’s who we think he is. Oh, of course! Oh my god. This could change everything.”
“Really?” Simon asked.
“Really,” Joshua replied before doubling over in laughter.
“Okay, this is evil, but hear me out. We keep Preston on ice, as it were, until we can figure out who he really is, but we toss Anabel to Ausmann.”
“And why do that to her?” Simon asked.
“Because she does know who she is, and I have a feeling that she’s the first of their kind we’re going to toss down his rabbit hole who does.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because… she was never a celebrity to anyone,” Joshua explained.
“Shit,” Simon replied, getting it. “So there really is more than one type of these things running around?”
“Oh yeah,” Joshua answered. “I’d bet my left nut on it.”
“Please don’t,” Simon said. “That’s my favorite one.”
“Hyperbolic metaphor, honey,” Joshua replied. “Anyway, we need to figure out who Preston really was, and maybe get some dirt on Anabel, so grab your sunscreen, because we’re going to have to drop in on my uncle Brent and his husband Drew.”
“Do we have to?” Simon asked.
“Yes,” Joshua insisted. “What? Drew’s only ever grabbed your dick once.”
“Yeah, but he’s 97,” Simon replied.
“So… who better to ask about ancient shit like this?”
Simon wanted to resist, but the look Joshua gave him made him relent. They’d stumbled on the biggest mystery of their careers, after all, one that might even be bigger than anything Ausmann could handle and, as they would have said in character as their steampunk ghost-hunters, “In for a penny-farthing, in for a pound sterling.”
Or… whatever. Josh was the one with actual Brits in his background. Simon was stuck with Portuguese and Danes.
* * *