Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Fight Song Chapter 13

Last week on Fight Song, Callie and her roommate had a revelatory heart-to-heart after Uhjin decided that she couldn't keep quiet about what she knew any longer. This week, Callie finds inspiration and half a plan . . . unfortunately, it's the half that sounds slightly impossible to pull off. As always, comments, critiques, suggestions, and questions are welcome! Thanks for reading!

 Chapter 13: Breakage

Church that morning and work the next day were both full of people constantly asking if I was ok when they saw how bruised and scraped up I was. I assured everyone that yes, I was fine, and no, nothing serious happened; I was just kind of clumsy and banged into some stuff. Rebecca, unsurprisingly, was one of the most concerned, checking on me throughout my shift to make sure I was all right. Near the end of my shift, she outright hugged me and told me to feel better soon and to let her know if I needed anything. I thanked her bemusedly— but maybe concern had some kind of healing effect, because my injuries felt much less painful after she let go.

Throughout most of those few days, Starlight’s words and the stories of Ana and Uhjin consumed my thoughts. I knew Starlight was right. I knew I needed to make a choice. And, deep down, I thought I knew what my choice needed to be— but I couldn’t admit it, couldn’t take that leap. Not yet. Not until I knew what to do about Welsh.

And that was the question— what could I do? I had three eyewitness testimonies against him, but that wasn’t enough. A judge and jury could call my and Uhjin’s accounts into doubt. And as for Ana, I wasn’t sure she’d even be willing or able to testify in court, however compelling her story might be.
Something about Uhjin’s story, too, kept niggling at the back of my mind— as if the answer were in there somewhere. But for all my thinking while stocking yarn and running the music store register, I couldn’t figure out what it might be. My frustration with the situation left me tossing and turning all Monday night, and Tuesday I couldn’t even settle down long enough to try to sleep. Instead, I sat in my room with my guitar, toying with notes and melodies and chords.

Eventually, I turned to trying to recreate the song I sang for Ana, transferred now to the strings of my instrument. I recalled the notes I’d used, how they’d interacted with the ambient music of the apartment and the street outside. How some of those ambient songs had shifted in response to mine. As I thought back, I realized there had been another song too, one that didn’t belong. I’d heard the Death Song in Ana and Julián’s apartment— heard it faintly, yes, but still.

That wasn’t much of a surprise. Ana was dying, after all. And yet . . . mentally, I compared the version of the song I’d heard there to the song I’d heard the night Lacey died and both of those to the versions I’d heard too many times on the streets. As I did, I realized: Welsh’s version is different. Harsher, yes, but also more ordered somehow. More defined. I could almost, maybe, pick out the individual anti-notes and figure out what they corresponded to. If I played or sang the true notes in time with Welsh’s song, what would happen? Would the two cancel out? I couldn’t think of any way to test it, but it seemed likely.

I strummed a random chord on my guitar, sending tiny dots of light out into the dimness of my room. So I had a potential defense if and when Welsh and I met again. That was good. But it wasn’t proof.  
I mentally reviewed the testimonies— mine, Ana’s, Uhjin’s— trying to think what would make them stand as more than hearsay. The hotel records from the night of Lacey’s death would help, like Jonathan had suggested.  Or . . . I smacked myself in the forehead. Duh. Uhjin rewatched the security feed to confirm what she saw! I had to ask her if that video still existed and if she could get ahold of it. If she could, maybe we’d start to have a chance. And I could ask Jonathan— maybe he could figure out if any of the other deaths might’ve been caught on film too somehow. That would link Welsh to the victims, at least.

And . . . the first hints of a new idea started to weave together in my mind. Maybe we could catch something on camera ourselves. Something that would confirm Welsh’s guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt.
I set my guitar aside and lunged across the room to grab my phone from the dresser. No way Jonathan would be up at this hour, but I couldn’t wait. My fingers flew over the keypad, typing and backspacing and retyping as I tried to keep up with my thoughts and figure out what to say. Finally, I settled on “Idea— camera feeds! & New lead! Meet at café soon? Important!” Maybe that wasn’t the clearest text, but mingled tiredness and exhilaration conspired to keep me from thinking up anything better. Satisfied, I hit send.

I had to talk myself out of sitting up and waiting for a response. Jonathan would, of course, be asleep, like any sane person. And Dad had always said to sleep on a big idea before you shared it— especially a late-night genius idea. And since sleeping on his own late-night genius ideas was how he’d gotten us into a nice house on the good side of town and put me through music lessons and into college, I figured he probably knew what he was talking about.

Jonathan didn’t respond until nearly noon the next day, but after a couple more texts, we agreed to meet at the café at seven that evening. For once, I arrived first. I considered returning his weeks-ago favor by ordering him coffee— but I couldn’t remember what he normally drank. So I got myself a cup of plain black and claimed a corner booth, glad that the café was so empty.

Ten minutes later, Jonathan slid onto the bench across from me. He carried no coffee, but he had a Canon camera bag slung over one shoulder, a leather satchel over the other, and a look that said he hadn’t gotten much more sleep than I had. “Do you commonly send cryptic text messages to people in the wee hours in the morning, or am I just special?”

“You’re special. And it wasn’t that cryptic.” I sipped my coffee. “And hello to you too.”

“Sorry.” Jonathan slumped in his seat. “I’ve crossed the city three times already today working on an article, and I still have another two people to interview tonight. Unfortunately, the Herald won’t pay me to track down murderers until I actually write the articles about them.”

“For shame.” I leaned forward, elbows on the table. “So— I found another witness, one like me, who saw Welsh do the deed. She’s from out in California, so I don’t think you would’ve thought of looking for her.”

“Nice work.” Jonathan nodded approvingly. “But you said something about camera feeds?”
“Yeah. See, Uh— the witness, after what happened, she went back and checked the store’s security camera feed, and it showed Welsh go after the victim. So, I thought, maybe some of Welsh’s other kills have been caught on camera too. And if we could get ahold of those, it would make our case a lot stronger.” I paused, waiting to see Jonathan’s reaction.

“Well, it’s not a bad idea.” But, to judge by Jonathan’s face and tone, it’s not a great idea either. “You could ask your witness if she still has access to the security feeds and if she can get us a copy. But even if Welsh was filmed other times, neither of us has authority to get to the feeds to find out. We’d need police with a warrant, which means . . .”

“Actual evidence.” I sighed. “I’m going to ask tonight. But, I had another thought too. What if . . .” Just say it, Callie. This part of my idea is only half-formed, but talking it out with Jonathan should fill in the holes. “Ok, I know it sounds crazy, but what if we got a video of our own of Welsh attacking someone?”

“Crazy is right.” Jonathan shook his head in disbelief. “Have you noticed something I haven’t, Callie? Can you predict when and where he’ll kill next? Because I can’t. Or do you just want us to follow him around with a camera and hope he doesn’t notice? Because I think he will notice— and anyway, last time I checked, we both have jobs. It’s not going to work.”

Well. That wasn’t the response I expected. “I didn’t say it was a perfect plan! Just that it was a thought! And I didn’t say anything about following him around with a camera. Because, yeah, he would notice— he’s already noticed me.” Darn. I didn’t mean for that to slip out like that. Too late now, though; I’ll just have to run with it. Not like it’s the most shocking thing I’d considered revealing tonight. “But we can use that. Lure him into some kind of confrontation, maybe.”

“And then what?” Jonathan demanded, arms crossed. “So we draw Welsh out, film the meeting, but it’s only going to help us if we either trick him into confessing or he actually tries to kill you. He’s too smart to admit anything, and if he actually tried anything— best case, you’d end up like Ana. Worst case, you end up dead. That’s not going to solve anything.”

Definitely not telling him. I balled my hands into fists, resting them knuckles-up on the table. “Look. You don’t know that. And I know what I’m doing.”

“You know what you’re doing? I don’t think so, Callie,” Jonathan spat back. “How do you think you’re going to stay alive if Welsh attacks you? We have no idea how long you have to be under his power before it affects you long term. And how would you get away? Welsh can control people with his voice, apparently. Odds are, he can control multiple people. You wouldn’t be able to run; I wouldn’t be able to pull you out.”

“You don’t know any of that for sure.” I glared, shoulders back. “Anyway, I don’t hear you coming up with any great ideas.”

“I’m also not suggesting any suicidal ones.” Jonathan stood and grabbed his bags. “I need to go. Let me know if you come up with any ideas that don’t involve killing yourself, but as long as you’re stuck on this plan, count me out. I’m not interested in being party to your death.”

“If that’s the kind of attitude you’re going to have, then fine. I’ll do it without you, and I won’t die. Wait and see.” I didn’t look at him, just stared at my coffee and my clenched fists. “And when I’m done and Welsh is behind bars, I’ll— I’ll— I won’t say a word to you, or anyone else from the Herald. You’ll have to find a way to write your big story without my input.”

“Fine. I will.” I waited, but Jonathan didn’t say more. His footsteps retreated towards the door; the bell over the frame jingled as he left.

Well. So much for that.

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