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Chapter Six: "Sunken Lantern"
By 11 o'clock, the three detectives, the two Lickers and Patchy were all headed south on I-5. This time they were all in one vehicle, three deep in the front and three deep in the back of Thompson's unmarked sedan. Carrasco inquired of the girls as to the whereabouts of the Rollers, as Veronica and Becca, who were noticeably absent from the Plaidens and Lickers event, had apparently gone alone together on a special assignment.
“Veronica woke up from a dream late this afternoon and said she had a lead on Dusty and Rainy Roller,” Sandy answered. “They’re in my Bug. Like us, I believe they were headed south tonight.” Beyond that she didn't elaborate, but Thompson realized she was talking about the girls killed in the initial incident on the Blint Mary.
The radials of the detective’s sedan whirred down the interstate. Sandy, riding in the shotgun position, cut down the radio, and cocked her head, looking out the window to the west. He could sense her intense vigilance. Patchy’s too.
In passing through Olympia, Veronica redirected Sandy's little diesel back in a northerly direction, and they traveled up the east side of Budd Inlet. Becca clicked off the AM radio. “Sandy and Kitty and their boyfriends are on their way out of Tacoma,” she said. “Hmm.”
It takes about 30 minutes to get over to Olympia from Tacoma, and from there it takes about 20 minutes to get back up Budd Inlet to reach the Dofflemeyer Point Light. Dofflemeyer Point is surrounded by a harbor-side residential district, and Veronica and Becca headed that way, in no real rush. They pulled into the nearby Boston Harbor Marina, killed the engine, and sat for about 5 minutes in the seaside silence before exiting the vehicle and quietly walking the short distance to the light.
The two women sat on the beach, quietly, looking out over the water. After about 15 minutes of waiting, the two Bloody Rollers sensed what they had come for. Walking toward them from the direction of the water were two figures. Wet, lean, dark, beautiful creatures, striped and subtly illuminated with the same fluid and cyclical presence of the waves and ambient light scattered among the surf. Some hybrid mix of furry, quadrapedal, sea mammals. Becca and Veronica stood, turned around and began walking back toward the Volkswagen, without looking back once, and the two creatures followed. When they arrived back at the vehicle, they let the creatures into the back seat. Veronica cranked the motor, and wheeled the vehicle back toward Olympia.
The vents in the VW blew the warm air off the diesel block into the cab, and all of the windows were cracked about an inch to keep them from fogging over. Neither of the girls in the front seat turned around to look into the silence of the back seat nor did they glance at the rear-view mirror. Just four warm, alive, comfortable, grateful people feeling but not talking. After about 15 minutes, as they approached the city, Dusty Roller’s voice finally broke the silence. Veronica looked into the rearview and Becca turned around to fully behold, for the first time, their rescued teammates. The two Rollers in the backseat were looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and no worse for the deep and intense wear of their murky journey.
“Hey. You guys are a sight for sore eyes,” came Dusty’s raspy voice.
“For crying out loud,” Becca scolded like a mother. “Y’all have to be more careful. Should I even ask what happened?”
Rainy fielded the question. “The last thing I remember, we were on a fishing vessel, having a go at some of the sewer dwellers, drowning them one after another. But then they put their demon sharks on us. They must be evolving, to be able to control those sharks, or even to contemplate such a strategy. Watch out for those things, y'all. They may be dumb but they can pop out of nowhere. Gored by a shark, and I didn’t even see it coming. That’s all. It’s the last memory I have. Then, next thing I know, we were walking into the shore back there just now, as if from out of a dream.”
The detective’s and Sandy and Kitty’s vehicles passed the Olympia city limit sign. Thompson pointed the vehicle toward Kelly Sammies pub. He parked the sedan, and they skittered through the drizzle into the light of the establishment which contained a good portion of the university campus. Particularly in this kind of setting, it was very noticeable that the girls were different. Their eyes got as big as dishes in the absence of daylight, while their ears elongated, flattened back, and cast constantly moving shadows. They were frisky from their evening skate, the weather, and their precognition of Dusty and Rainy soon to join them. When the group walked into the room, their eyes swung naturally to a booth by the bar where the four Rollers already sat. They added a few loose chairs in order to cram everybody around the table, and the Phoenix girls were introduced to the dishy Patchy Plaiden from Renton while the Lickers did their esoteric ritual with Dusty and Rainy.
“You guys have been through it, then,” Sandy smiled.
“Yes and I suppose that, because we cannot remember being “gone,” we even think of ourselves as lucky,” Dusty returned her warm smile back across the table. An array of oily bean burgers, veggie tacos, and bubbly, sharp, shadowy beverages settled upon their table, and it was good. With that, the lost Rollers were accordingly welcomed back among the living.
Sunday morning about 10:30, Thompson took an incoming call from a number he did not immediately recognize, though the area code was local. He set aside his cold cereal, and took the call. “Hello?” a voice on the other end croaked.
“Yes, hello,” he answered nonchalantly. At first, he was met with silence.
Then, a man’s voice: “Hey, uhh, found your number you left there at the motel up the road,” he said. Though the conversation at hand was between two men, Thompson sensed the caller wasn’t alone.
The detective led the dance from there. “So, ah, you guys OK?” he fished.
“Good, good, we’re good,” the unidentified man on the other end replied. “Uh, you uh, got anything we need?” the stranger asked.
“Sure do,” the detective replied. The character on the other end gave his location, which was apparently a different but somewhat similar and proximous motel, though no less respectable, than the nearby Inland Inn.