The avenue looked a little blurry before him, sliding from side to side as he walked, but Dave knew they were nearing the Last Drop. They were nearing the two-block shithole of freaks and prostitutes, everyone gladly selling what Dave had had torn from him.
Torn from me, the Boy said. You grew up. Don't try to carry my cross.
The worst were the kids. They were like goblins. They darted out from doorways or the shells of cars and offered you blow jobs. They offered you fucks for twenty bucks. They'd do anything.
The youngest, the one Dave had seen Saturday night, couldn't have been older than eleven. He had circles of grime around his eyes and white, white skin, and a big bushel of matted red hair on his head, which had only underscored the goblin effect. He should have been home watching sitcoms but he was out here on the street, offering blow jobs to freaks.
Dave had seen him from across the street as he'd walked out of the Last Drop and stood by his car. The kid stood against a street pole, smoking a cigarette, and when he locked eyes with Dave, Dave felt it. The stirring. The desire to melt. To take the red-haired kid's hand and find a quiet place together. It would be so easy, so relaxing, so fucking welcome to just give in. Give in to what he'd been feeling for the last decade at least.
Yes, the Boy said. Do it.
But (and this is where Dave's brain always split in half) he knew deep in his soul that this would be the worst sin of all. He knew it would be crossing a line? no matter how inviting? from which he could never come back. He knew that if he crossed that line, he'd never be able to feel whole, that he might just as well have stayed in that basement with Henry and George for the rest of his life. He would tell himself this in times of temptation, passing school bus stops and playgrounds, public swimming pools in the summer. He would tell himself that he was not going to become Henry and George. He was better than that. He was raising a son. He loved his wife. He would be strong. This was what he told himself more and more every year.
But that wasn't helping Saturday night. Saturday night, the urge was as strong as he'd ever felt it. The red-haired kid leaning against the light pole seemed to know this. He smiled around his cigarette at Dave, and Dave felt tugged toward the curb. He felt as if he stood barefoot on a slope made of satin.
And then a car had pulled up across the street, and after some talk, the kid had climbed in after giving Dave a pitying glance over the hood. Dave had watched the car, a two-toned, midnight-blue-and-white Cadillac, pull across the avenue and come toward him into the rear of the Last Drop's parking lot. Dave climbed into his car, and the Cadillac pulled back by the overgrown trees that spilled over the sagging fence. The driver shut off the lights but left the engine running, and the Boy had whispered in his ear: Henry and George, Henry and George, Henry and George?
Tonight, before he could reach the Last Drop, Dave turned around even though the Boy was screaming in his ears. The Boy was screaming, I am you, I am you, I am you.
And Dave wanted to stop and cry. He wanted to put his hand out against the nearest building and weep, because he knew the Boy was right. The Boy Who'd Escaped from Wolves and Grown Up had become a Wolf himself. He'd become Dave.
Dave the Wolf.
It must have happened recently, because Dave couldn't remember any body-racking instance in which he'd felt his soul shift and evaporate to make way for this new entity. But it had happened. Probably while he slept.
But he couldn't stop. This section of avenue was too dangerous, too likely to be populated by junkies who'd see Dave, drunk as he was, as an easy mark. There, right now, across the street, he could see a car trolling along slowly, watching him, waiting for him to give off the scent of the victim.
He sucked in a big breath and straightened his walk, concentrated on looking confident and aloof. He put a bit of rise into his shoulders, gave his eyes a "fuck you" glare and started heading back the way he'd come, back toward home, his head not any clearer, really, what with the Boy still screaming in his ears, but Dave decided to ignore him. He could do that. He was strong. He was Dave the Wolf.
And the volume of the Boy's voice did lessen. It became more conversational as Dave walked back through the Flats.
I am you, the Boy said in the tone of a friend. I am you.
* * *
CELESTE CAME OUT of the house with Michael half-asleep on her shoulder and discovered that Dave had taken the car. She'd parked it half a block up, surprised to get the space this late on a weekday night, but now there was a blue Jeep in its place.
That hadn't figured into her plans. She'd seen herself placing Michael in the passenger seat and their bags in the backseat and driving the three miles to the Econo Lodge along the expressway.
"Shit," she said aloud, and resisted the urge to scream.
"Mommy?" Michael mumbled.
"It's okay, Mike."
And maybe it was, because she looked back up to see a cab turning off Perthshire onto Buckingham Avenue. Celeste raised the hand that held Michael's bag, and the cab pulled over right in front of her, Celeste thinking she could spare the six bucks for a ride to the Econo Lodge. She could spare a hundred if it got her out of here right now, far enough away to think things through without having to watch for the turn of a doorknob and the return of a man who may have already decided she was a vampire, worthy only of a stake through her heart followed by a swift beheading, just to be sure.
"Where you going?" the cabbie said as Celeste put her bags on the seat and slid in beside them with Michael on her shoulder.
Anywhere, she wanted to say. Anywhere but here.
THE HUNTING FISH
"YOU TOWED his car?" Sean said.
"His car was towed," Whitey said. "Not the same thing."
As they pulled out of the morning rush-hour traffic and down onto the East Buckingham exit ramp, Sean said, "For what kind of cause?"
"It was abandoned," Whitey said, whistling lightly through his teeth as he turned onto Roseclair.
"Where?" Sean said. "In front of the man's house?"
"Oh, no," Whitey said. "The car was found down in Rome Basin along the parkway. Lucky for us the parkway's State jurisdiction, ain't it? Appears someone jacked it, took it for a joyride, then abandoned it. These things happen, you know?"
Sean had woken up this morning from a dream in which he'd held his daughter and spoken her name, even though he didn't know it and couldn't remember what he'd said in the dream, so he was still a little foggy.
"We found blood," Whitey said.
"The front seat of Boyle's car."