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22 April 2012 @ 08:37 am
Go Outside [4/11]  


Chapter 04

“Katie?”

Dan’s voice rasped; his dry tongue made his mouth feel like something had crawled into his throat and died there. His hand shook against the pay phone, the quarters dug from the tattered remains of his jeans imprinting dead presidents on his fingers. Everything seemed fuzzy around the edges; distant, including Katie’s voice in his ear.

“Oh my God, Dan, are you alright?”

There was relief in her voice, interwoven with a tint of relief. Dan looked down at his torn arm, his bloody chest and his destroyed jeans, and tried not to hiss at the pain that tiny little movement sent spiraling through him.

 “I…I don’t think so.”

“Where are you?” Katie’s voice went all-business, the worry and relief vanishing, hidden beneath her strong, determined tone.

“I don’t know,” Dan confessed. When the present had returned, just a few minutes ago, he’d been laying on his back on the packed sand, scrubby tree branches spread out overhead like reaching arms. He’d thrashed against the air as if it was the hands still holding him down before he’d grasped what happened.

It was dusk. He could see the moon rising out over the bay, leaving a path of silver light on the calm sea, soothing when compared to the frenetic lights of the city. It had taken an unfair amount of effort to get to the payphone. “I’m not…not sure.”

“…not sure?”

“I can’t…” Thinking was hard. Rolling over and falling asleep sounded a lot more manageable. “I’m not in the city, I’m on the beach, but…” Beyond that…

Katie’s voice changed again, the next time she spoke.

“Dan, don’t hang up. I’m going to call Jack, he can…”

“Track the phone?” Dan offered weakly. He could hear Katie’s soft bark of laughter through the ringing in his ears and the chirping of the crickets.

“Glad to see you’re as sharp as ever.”

“Hurry, Katie.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, Dan,” Katie said, and in the background he could hear Zack’s voice, tone questioning though Dan couldn’t hear his words. “I am.

Twenty minutes later, the sound of screeching brakes filled the air, scaring the crickets into silence. Dan swallowed as he blinked out into the darkness, watching the glow of headlights glaring into the scrub, and flashlight beams play along the rocks.

“Dan?” Jack’s voice hit his ears first, loud over the low rush of the constant waves. “Dan, where are you?”

“I’m-” his voice cracked when he raised it, and he shivered against the evening chill as the flashlights converged on him, the sound of shifting gravel coming closer and closer. “I’m r-right here.”

One of the beams hit his face and he held his hand up to block the brilliant light. His skin was darker than it should have been, smeared and sticky, and as the spots faded from his eyes and he could see his wife and his brother, he tried not to react to their open, dismayed stares.

“It’s…a l-long story,” he murmured, trying – and utterly failing – to stand under his own power. His legs throbbed at the mere idea of standing, but there was no way he was going to let them try to carry him out. He kept his hand up until Jack took it, hauling him upright. His knees almost buckled at that simple motion.

Jack caught him before he could fall. “Easy there,” he said as Katie caught his other arm, ignoring the red Dan left behind on her shirt. “You can tell us at the hospital.”

Dan wasn’t much help on the way to the car. The world kept spinning around him, the sky and the ground switching places, and he was glad that it was so dark. He didn’t want to look at how much blood had soaked into his clothes. It was a sign of just how disconnected he was that he stalled when he got to the car, pulling against their leading arms.

“…the Mustang?” Jack, I…”

“Shut up and get in the car.”

He didn’t have the strength to argue.

Once they hit the city proper, the Mustang took the corners so quickly that Dan – in his hazy, disconnected blur of pain – would not have been surprised if it had risen on two tires each and every time.

The seats were starting to turn an odd shade of pinkish red beneath his legs, but Katie’s lap was warm; her exercise sweats soft against his lacerated skin. Dan clung to her and tried very hard not to whine as the traffic lights and street lights spun in his eyes. He could hear her and Jack talking above his head, their voices tight with stress, but the numbness and pain in alternating waves fuzzed their voices like a badly tuned radio.

An abrupt stop in a fresh squeal of breaks jolted him back awake, and he couldn’t swallow the yelp that sprang from his lips. Katie murmured something low; her hand – red-tinged and sticky – brushed his jaw soothingly.

“Almost there,” he heard Jack say, and the back door jerked open. “Sorry, man…”

“Sor-”

The rest of the questioning word dissolved into a gagging gasp of pain when Jack grabbed his shoulder and pulled him out of the car. His brother held him up on one side, his wife on the other, and their staggering shamble through the parking lot was a blur. His eyes only focused on the glass in the door, and his bloody face.

I look like something out of a horror movie…

When they made it through the big double doors, there was an explosion of movement around them as emergency room security converged on them. Jack flashed his badge and blurted something Dan couldn’t comprehend through the sudden ringing in his ears. 

“Jack?” His voice sounded loud in his ears, and the room swam again. Jack looked back over just as Dan’s knees gave out.

*

He never hit the floor; they caught him first, but he was already out.

He didn’t hear the doctors leaning over him, didn’t see Katie’s worried faces, or Jack’s earnest explanations.

He just slept, but his sleep was shallow, uneasy; filled with knife blades and hellish skies and pain.

*

“It could have been worse.” Jack’s words, floating through his head, were the first that processed clearly in what felt like several days. “At least it’s only sixty-four…”

Dan’s eyes fluttered open. Everything felt distant. There was a tugging sensation on his arms, his shins, his face, but it held no pain. He lifted his hand to look, and was not surprised to find his arm wrapped in bandages clear to his elbow.

“Hnh?”

Jack sprawled in Katie’s vacated chair, feet over one armrest, his shoulders against the other.

 “Sixty-four stitches.” He clarified, waving at Dan’s bandaged arm. Dan looked at it again, flexed his fingers. He could still clench his hand in a fist, but it ached the whole time.

“…ow?”

“Yeah? Well, whoever did that knew what they were doing.” Jack rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Missed the arteries, didn’t cut any tendons…you lost a lot of blood, but….” Dan thought back to his bloody reflection in the windows and reached up to touch his jaw. His fingers brushed against another long bandage. Jack watched him, head tilted to the side.

“Like I said. It could have been a lot worse.”

Dan’s hand shifted, almost of its own accord, to touch the hollow of his throat. The skin was whole, but he could almost feel the razor edge of the knife pressed there, almost still taste the salt-tang of his own blood. He swallowed hard.

“I’m…sorry about the car.”

Jack snorted. “Don’t worry. I had to take the thing in to the body shop anyways; the LoJack’s not working. Might as well get it cleaned at the same time…” He faltered under Dan’s stare. “What? You have to test it every now and then…anyways. What happened to you? I told them it was hush hush and all under investigation, which was a big, big lie, so I don’t suppose you can tell me what it really was?”

“Actually…yeah. I can.” Dan laughed, just a bit, letting his hand drop back to the bed at his brother’s double-take. “I can tell you, but anyone else…”

“Ah.” Jack shook his head. “I kinda thought it’d be something like that.” He paused for a second, and then looked back at Dan. “So…?”

“I was very nearly one of Jeremy Kaplan’s sacrificial lambs.” He tried to keep his words light, but from the stunned horror on Jack’s face he didn’t entirely succeed.

“…oh wow.” Jack finally said. “Wow. Really?”

Dan nodded. “Yeah, really, and let me tell you he’s about as charming back then as he is now.” He rubbed his finger across one of the bandages up his arm, pushing the memory of Kaplan leaning over him and gently sliding the knife across his forearm out of his head.

“You wrote an article on him, didn’t you?” Jack asked. “Back in 2006, right? It was about him spending, like…twenty-five years in prison. People made that big deal about it, ‘cuz it was like a follow-up to Dad’s series...”

Dan blinked. Kaplan had spent thirty years in jail, hadn’t he? He opened his mouth to correct his brother, and the rest of Jack’s words caught up with his befuddled brain.

“Dad’s series?”

Frank Vassar would have been the type to cover a cult if given a chance, before he’d disappeared out of their lives all those years ago, but Dan had gone over all the research and all past articles. He would have found anything his father had written in his search.

Except you went back and kept Kaplan from killing someone that night. His mind shied away from the incidentals – like how closely he had come to being that someone. If there was no screaming, there was no raid. If there was no raid…

“Yes?” Jack said, giving Dan a strange look. “He wrote, like. Five articles? Started in ’76 or somethin’. You always said it was one of the things that made you follow in his footsteps…” Blue eyes narrowed. Jack reached out to touch Dan’s forehead gingerly. “Are you sure they didn’t hit your head?”

Can I change my own past that much? He could still remember the conversation with Jack that he’d erased on accident, even though it had never happened for Jack. He pushed away the hand.

“I think….it might be one of those things.” He struggled a little more upright, elbowing a pillow out of his way. “Can you get me a laptop? They should have a lending library or something here…”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Jack protested. “I mean…” Dan gave him a look. His older brother sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

                                                                                  

*

“So, Jack, what do you know about the Court of the Ninth Star King?”

Dan typed the name into Finder Spyder one handed, absently rubbing the bandages up his arm. Jack, successful in his laptop search, again sprawled in the chair next to the bed, waiting for Katie to return.

Jack shrugged. “What’s there to know?”

“Humor me.” Dan eyed him until Jack threw up his hands in exasperated surrender.

“Alright, um. Let me think. It started in, like. 1970…”

Jack’s voice was a reassuring tether while Dan paged through article after article. There were far more stories about the Kaplans and the Court this time around, probably because there had been no raid on that summer night in 1974. Instead, the Court carried on; gaining members by the dozen while keeping its core membership in place.

Congratulations, you made it bigger.

The thought made his arm twinge. He flexed his fingers, shook off the thought. Jack kept talking.

“So, like…I guess in ’78, Brian turned traitor.”

The words grabbed Dan’s attention from his latest article. He looked up, startled.

“Brian? Brian Fleming?”

Things kept coming back to Fleming, but Dan still didn’t have that feeling associated with him, that instinct of rightness that Hannah caused.

Maybe your instincts are screwed up on this one.

Jack shrugged again. “Yeah. Kaplan’s right hand man. He wrote a book, after. Really interesting stuff. He talks abut sneaking people out of the compound before they were in too deep, claims he started that in 1974…the house is still there and everything. People keep buying it and selling it, but nothing’s managed to start up there…too many bad associations.”

The last article Dan looked at claimed the core membership included the man whose place Dan had taken on the table, that he had continued Kaplan, even though he had shown no qualms about ordering his death. It hadn’t seemed to make sense. Now, though, the puzzle piece clicked into place.

He stayed to get other people out.

“But anyways. I guess Fleming got tired of savin’ them in ones and twos, because a month after Jonestown, he went to the F.B.I. Told them that he’d pass on information, let them know if Kaplan planned anything illegal. They offered to get him out immediately, but I guess his wife refused to come at first…”

No wonder he stayed.

“So the Bureau worked with him for awhile, I guess. Took them three years, but they finally took out the whole compound.” Jack thought for a second as Dan stared at the computer screen, not really seeing the search results he was starting at. He added, begrudgingly, no love lost between police and the Feds, “It’s one of the best raids they ever did; I hear they still teach recruits about it at the Academy. Only one person died, and she was friendly fire from the cultists.”

One person.

One was a vast improvement on the previous numbers, but Dan still had to ask, still had a suspicion that he knew exactly what Jack was about to say. “One person?”

Jack looked pained. That was all the confirmation Dan needed, even before Jack said the words.

“Yeah. Kaplan’s eleven year old daughter.”

*

Jack left shortly after that cheery piece of news, chased out by the nurse. He took the laptop with him on the young, pushy lady’s insistence that Dan needed his rest. He had to make do with the television playing softly in the corner, local news and weather and badly made commercials.

Katie finally returned after seeing Zack safely to the babysitter’s; interrupting the monotony that settled after the nurses came in and kicked Jack out. Her hand was warm in his, and he kept tightening his fingers, just to reassure himself that she was there. Every now and then, her grip called to mind the people holding him down, but every time his mind tried to tread that path, he fixed his eyes on her tired face, and the feeling faded.

He wanted to take that worry away, but he didn’t quite know how to do that. Not with the worry still sunk deep in his gut.

You have to talk.

“You know I’m going back, right?” Dan’s words turned Katie’s frown into an all-out scowl.

“Yeah, I know, but I don’t want you to!” She snapped back, eyes narrowing. Dan winced, kept himself from even looking at his bandages.

“I know you don’t want me to go. I don’t want to go. But…that’s not how it works. You should know that by now.” Katie’s fingers tightened and Dan fought the urge to jerk away; stared at her resolutely so he wouldn’t see bloody light and flashing blades. “I’m not done yet.”

She met his eyes, glare fierce, and he held it with all the confidence he could muster. Some of the tension faded from Katie’s shoulders after a moment. The flicker of firelight at the corners of Dan’s eyes faded with it. He offered her a tired smile.

“I’ll come back when I’m done. I always do, don’t I?”

“Yeah.” Katie agreed, running her hand through her hair. “You said…Livia said the trips would get longer and longer?”

This is not a good time for this conversation.

Dan inhaled slowly, blew out his breath in a long sigh. “…yeah. Yeah, she did.”

“I don’t think that’s started yet.” Katie sniffed, rubbing her hand across her nose. “For what that’s worth. They’ve all been…about the same as always.” She offered him a watery smile. “You’re not getting away from me that easily this time.”

Dan crooked a smile at her. Katie looked like she was about to say something else when the television flashed bright, drawing both of their attentions. Huge words appeared on the screen: “JEREMY KAPLAN – ESCAPED?”

“…what on earth…?” Dan stared. Katie dove for the remote, turning the volume up quickly as her coworker onscreen frowned, his expression appropriately grave and miles away from the laughing man who pulled him out of poker games.

“In a bizarre turn of events, Jeremy Kaplan – San Francisco’s famed cult mastermind – appears to have escaped during a routine check-up.” Dan’s stomach clenched; his fingers tightened around the bed’s railing. Kaplan’s picture – closer to how he’d looked when Dan had interviewed him – blinked onto the screen. The reporter went on.

“Kaplan, arrested in 1981, is serving three consecutive life sentences for multiple murders in San Francisco and the surrounding areas. He is believed unarmed, but should still be considered dangerous. The police are asking anyone with information on Kaplan’s whereabouts to call this special tips hotline.” The number spun onto the screen, making Dan’s head swim.  

“Local crime buffs will remember that Kaplan had a compound to the north of the city that still stands today. We can’t help but speculate that maybe the police will focus their search on those areas… We’ll have more on this story after the break.”

Katie looked at him as the special-report music faded away to commercials again, though the number continued to tick along across the top of the screen.

The room suddenly felt very cold. Dan shivered, drawing the blanket closer to him.

Katie’s voice, when she finally spoke, was tight. “Tell me again that you’re going to be alright?”

He told her, more than once, and she slid up the bed to sit next to him when the commercials ended, arms wrapped carefully around him, reassuring with her warmth…

But even though she stayed with him until he drifted back off into an uneasy sleep, he couldn’t make himself believe it.



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