(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
They ate in near silence. What little conversation they did have was about things other than the case. It had grown out of control, and all three of them knew it. They did what they could to keep their minds off of it for one meal. But as the waitress cleared their plates away, and JD and Wendy sat sipping coffee while Dillon gulped soda, they knew they would have to face it again.
They stared at their bill, laid on the Formica table top pitted with scars and scrapes from decades of abuse, as if it were a viper.
JD finally collected the money and the courage to go pay the tab. He slumped back into the worn vinyl seat that gasped for breath as he sat. He sighed, and looked at them. Dillon seemed contented enough, having been fed. Wendy tilted her head to one side, and gave him a mirthless smile.
"Can't avoid it anymore, love."
"No. No, I suppose not."
As they got up from the table and moved to the door, Dillon looked outside.
"It's rainin'," he said absently.
They got into the car quickly, and as they drove toward the old Victorian with such a long history and so many unspoken secrets, carried so long in its annals, JD took his time. He didn't realize how uneager he was to see the old house and to hear its stories again. He had a growing sense of dread as they approached the mansion, not because of what he'd seen, but because he began to feel something he didn't expect to have to feel.
He felt that it was being placed squarely upon him to act on the information he now had. He wondered if, in some way, he was being asked by those accused but innocent to right a wrong nearly four decades old. He wondered if he were the first to see these events in their entirety. He wondered what he was supposed to do without being able to convey the information evidentially.
He pondered all of these things as he pulled up the winding old street toward the house that seemed so innocuous, so ordinary among the others in the neighborhood. The tall trees, silent witnesses to what transpired, seemed to be more jagged and harsh, stabbing at him with limbs like pointing fingers, singling him out as the one charged with the house's sinister enigmas.
He parked in front of the Victorian as he had for the last two days, and watched the water roll from the windshield in sheets. The constant, steady tattoo of the rainfall on the car's roof drummed a background of noise to his thoughts. He shut the car off and sat in the silence, for a moment forgetting his companions.
"Dude," Dillon's voice rattled in the quiet, "who's that?"
JD and Wendy turned to look out the passenger window simultaneously, both of them suddenly keenly awake and aware.
There was a man standing in the yard, alongside the house.
Near the parlor windows.
"I ... I don't know."
"JD, what's he doing?"
"I don't know, Wen. I really don't have a clue."
"Dude's got a pipe or somethin'."
"How can he smoke in the rain?"
"Naw, man ... like that white plastic pipe stuff y'get t'fix your toilet an' stuff. Y'know, like under the sink."
"PVC? He has a PVC pipe?" JD leaned forward trying to see more clearly through the rivulets of water that trickled down the sides of the car. The rain wasn't driving, but it was relatively heavy, and steady, and he couldn't see clearly through the windows and over the tops of the dense hedges surrounding the yard.
"He's goin' t'get somethin' off the porch, too, but I can't see what."
"JD, what should we do? Call the police? He's not the homeowner, is he?"
"No," JD answered without hesitation. "No, not the homeowner. I have no idea who the hell that is."
"Should we ... go see?"
"Dude, why we always gotta do the opposite of what they tell ya t'do in those 'Be Safe'-type BS workshops an' stuff?"
"I'll check it out. Stay here. And Wendy, I mean stay here this time, okay?"
She looked at him.
"Seriously, Wen," he reiterated. "You can see if anything happens, but until then, just stay in the car, all right?"
She sighed. "Okay. This time."
"Dude, I so ain't goin' witcha."
"I wasn't counting on it. I want you to stay here with Wendy anyway."
"Oh. Whew! I thought you was gonna make me go with you."
JD ignored him and got out of the car. The rain pelted him immediately, pounding against his head and shoulders. He hunched slightly, reflexively, and trotted toward the gate. Pushing it open, he started around the house to his right, toward the windows of the parlor. He saw the figure standing there, with what looked like a section of PVC pipe sticking out from the pocket of his overcoat.
Propped in one hand was a handle, but his body obscured the rest of the object.
JD slowed his approach. "Hello? Can I help you?"
The stranger did not answer. He didn't acknowledge JD at all.
"Hello?" JD repeated, moving slowly now. He finally stopped.
The man wiped his sleeve across his heavily-shadowed face, hidden beneath a broad-rimmed hat and his upturned collar. Finally, he swung the handle in front of him, and JD saw it was a small garden spade.
He froze. "Excuse me -- who are you?"
The man continued to ignore him. JD was less than 15 feet away now. He stood still, but tensed to run if the strange man did anything sudden.
He stabbed the spade head into the soft, moist ground and pushed it in to the ferrule with his booted foot. He bent slightly and tore a large, deep divot from the bed of plants just below the windows of the parlor. He held up that hunk of mulch and top soil with the spade in one hand. With the other he worked the PVC pipe out of his pocket, and then seemed to hesitate. His body convulsed for a moment, and again he wiped his face with the sleeve of his coat, still holding the section of pipe in his hand. After a moment, he tossed the pipe into the divot.
He pulled the spade out from beneath the pile of earth and it fell back mostly into place. He began to tamp the bulge down with his foot, the soft, squishy mud oozing around the deep treads of his shoe. He skirted some of the loose, wet mulch from the surrounding ground over the area, and when he finished he seemed to inspect his work. He took the shovel, and started back toward JD.
JD panicked, a rush of adrenaline burning through his veins, and he stepped back. The darkly shadowed man walked with a purpose toward the front of the house and JD stepped quickly to one side, reaching out to catch the stranger's arm as he passed.
He gasped loudly when his hand passed right through the arm of the passing man.
He stared at his own hand for a moment, as the man walked back through the gate and around the corner. JD chased him for a moment, and caught sight of Wendy and Dillon racing out of the car after him. The stranger stopped at a car parked across the street and nearly half a block farther up, opened the trunk of the vehicle, and took something out. He dropped it into his pocket, slammed the trunk closed and walked back toward the gate. Wendy and Dillon stopped, but JD stood directly in the man's path as he headed back for the old Victorian.
He passed directly through JD unfettered.
Wendy yelped, covering her mouth with her hands. Dillon backed up a step. JD followed as the figure went through the gate, and propped the spade against part of the porch. JD turned to Dillon.
"Is that where he got it?"
Dillon dumbly nodded, in slow motion.
"I thought so. Come on!"
He trotted to follow the strange man back around the house.
"JD ... what's going on?" Wendy said quietly. "Is this ... is he ...?"
"Yes," JD said, and moved into a position just a couple of yards away from where the figure stood, staring down at his muddy footprint in the soft dirt just beneath the window of the parlor.
"That's the footprint we saw the first night," JD stated, more to himself than to the others.
"JD, what's happening??" Wendy was terrified, and she moved to cling to his arm as he stood watching. Dillon pressed himself against JD's back, watching from over his shoulder.
"We're about to see Darren Jenkins commit suicide."
"Oh crap, dude ..." Dillon muttered, and pressed his forehead into JD's shoulders. "... I so can't watch this, man."
"Oh my God, JD ... we've got to do something ..."
"We can't. This is different than the other playbacks, Wendy. It always has been. Jenkins is the silhouetted figure in the house we saw. He's always in shadow, and never interacts with us. I don't know why. He completely ignored me before when I spoke to him."
The shadowy figure stood for a moment, then tipped its head back.
That blood-curdling, bone-chilling wail swelled from somewhere indistinguishable, echoing and vibrating them. Wendy let go of JD to cover her ears. Dillon did the same. JD wanted to hear it. The terror it evoked in them was visceral, animalistic. He fought his panic, gritting his teeth, but he was whimpering and nearly collapsed when it finally died away, ringing off in the rainfall's constant thudding.
He shuddered violently, goose-flesh raised all over his body.
The man fished into his pocket, and pulled out an automatic pistol.
Wendy smashed her face against JD's arm. Dillon's hands fell back onto his shoulders.
The figure raised the gun under his chin, tilting his head back slightly.
JD shut his eyes.
The bang! made them all jump sharply.