(Just joining us? You may want to start at the beginning.)
JD watched the image fade. He turned and silently went for the stairs. A second later, the others followed behind. He pulled the chain at the top of the stairs so they could see and wouldn't stumble, and the sudden stab of light on their retinas made them squint and shield their eyes.
In a moment, they were in the house. JD went unerringly through the kitchen, foyer and directly to the parlor. He dropped into a seat in front of the computer, his face set and serious. As Wendy and Dillon came in behind him, he played back the horrible, soul-chilling wail of the Jenkins shade, recording it onto the PC at the same time. Then he launched the sound program Dillon had used to accelerate the sound before. He tweaked it, with the speakers turned very low, adjusting until he was satisfied with what he heard.
He sat back then and looked at them seriously.
"What?" Wendy asked, concerned. "What is it?"
He shrugged, shaking his head. "It's nothing new. The same general message, just more of it."
"What message, dude?"
"Listen for yourselves," he said, and positioned the mouse on the screen and clicked the playback button.
The voice was higher-pitched from the acceleration, but came through clearly, once again reminiscent of the Alvin and The Chipmunks sound.
"The note ... in the garage."
Wendy wrapped her arms around herself and shivered sharply. "God, I hate that sound."
"Dude, I'm so gonna have nightmares if you keep playin' that."
"Sorry. But we had to know what it said."
"Now we know. We can't do anything about it until tomorrow, though."
"The significance is that the note is in the garage, definitively. According to this ..."
"Ghost, home-boy. It's a GHOST, okay?"
"... whatever. The message indicates that I never needed to go hunting in the ground to find that note Jenkins buried the day he committed suicide. It's been in the garage the whole time. I think."
"You think?" Wendy said, incredulous. "Come on, Jaded -- you hear what the ghost is saying! How can you still wonder?"
"Remember, Wendy," JD slowly, patiently spoke to her, "the events we're seeing are 35 years old in most cases. I don't know how long ago Jenkins committed suicide, but that didn't happen recently either. That note was underground. Who found it? How? When? And why is it in the garage now? What happened?"
She sighed. "You're right. You've got a point. How do we know when it came up? Is it still in the garage? How many people have owned this house in that time period? Any one of them could have found it. And why wouldn't you throw something like that away? What value would it be to anyone else?"
"Maybe it was one o' them time-pill thingies," Dillon said, dropping into a chair on the other end of the table.
"A what?" JD said, trying to decipher Dillon-ese.
"You know, one o' them things where they put a bunch o' crap inside an' bury it so they can dig it up later an' shit. See what's changed, what thing were like back then, that kinda crap."
"A time capsule?"
"That's what I said, a time-pill."
JD chuckled. "If someone thought it was a time capsule, wouldn't they have opened it to see what's inside?"
"How d'ya know they didn't, brainiac?"
JD froze. "What?"
"How d'ya know they didn't open it already? They coulda; whoever found it pro'ly was interested, right? Curious an' whatnot, right? So mebbe they DID open it."
"JD, if someone opened that pipe, how're we going to find the note?"
JD shook his head slowly, processing. "Let's hope that didn't happen. Because if it did, there's no way to know what became of the contents."
"Ghost's sayin' the note's inna garage, pencil-neck. So it's there."
"How would you know that?"
"Ghosts ain't dumb. Why tell us t'look there if it ain't there?"
"Because the message was part of a 35-year-old --"
"Nope. No it ain't."
"Sheesh, you goin' deaf over there, Helen Keller? Think about it, genius -- if the stuff we seen where Robbie gets whacked an' all that stuff is stolen an' his bod's moved an' buried an' crap -- if all that's 35 years ago, why's a ghost back then talkin' 'bout a note that ain't been written yet?"
JD dropped his head backwards and groaned.
"God. God, I'm an idiot."
"I been tryin' t'tell ya that for years, dude."
"Wow, Dilly ... you're like Rainman, you know that?"
"Oh, thanks, Wen, I -- hey! Is that a slam?" Dillon knit his brows thinking about it, staring at his shoes. "I ... that mighta been a slam. Once I'm sure it was, I'm so not talkin' to you no more."
Wendy giggled and kissed his cheek playfully.
"That's good news, then, lover. The ghost is showing us the playback AND giving us hints about where to find the stuff we need to blow this case wide open."
"'Blow this case wide open'? Wendy, what on earth ...? How did you come to that?"
"Oh, c'mon -- the man killed himself. You don't think he told the whole story in the note?"
"How could he? His sister would be in no less danger than before."
"'Less ol' Migs is dead by then. Or dyin'."
JD shook his head. "Well ... for the second time in a couple of minutes, I'm ... amazed by you."
"Yeah, but ... you can be amazed by shiny things too. It's no biggie."
"Let's get someplace where we can find out for sure, baby. Someplace with the Internet. We can search."
"Uh-uh," Dillon said firmly, "no frickin' way. Nobody does NOTHIN' 'til I get some damned FOOD, y'all."
"Oh, that's right!" Wendy exclaimed. "Poor Dilly -- you were hungry a while ago weren't you? Okay, let's stop and get something on the way and after we eat, we can start trying to find out if Migo is still alive."
"What about Stanton? He was the one that actually killed Brown. He's just as much a threat as Migo is ... or was."
"I don't know," Wendy contemplated, staring off. "I didn't get the impression that Jenkins was as concerned with him. He was more like ... a lackey, I guess. Kind of a henchman."
"Yeah. He didn't seem long on brains, y'know?"
"And who would know better about that than you?"
"Besides, it's no harder to look them both up. We can do all of that when we get home."
"Or tomorrow," JD said, yawning. "We've had a lot of stuff thrown at us without very much sleep over the weekend."
"Dude, did you slam me? Was that a slam?"
"See? We're all very tired."
"But we have to find that pipe tomorrow JD ... or at least the note." Wendy was firm. "We can't spend all day goofing off and not get out here to look for it."
"I guess we could stay --"
"Don't say it, bean-breath," Dillon cut him off gravely. "We are NOT sleepin' in THIS house. No frickin' WAY."
JD sighed. "All right, all right ... let's get home. We can do a bit of research tonight and finish up tomorrow, but we really need to get some sleep. We'll need to have sharp eyes and minds tomorrow."
They gathered their things and headed out, JD making sure the house was locked up behind him. They decided to take a single car rather than two. Wendy would drop JD and Dillon off at home and then pick them up at 10 a.m. the following morning. From there they would come back to the brooding old mansion to search the depths of the leaning, shoddy garage for the note the apparition stressed was there.
The exhaustion of the day began to set in as the quiet car rolled easily over the blacktop ribbon lacing through the woods. JD kept expecting the night to be swallowed in fog at each bend, every curve, but only the blackness and still embraced them. At long last they reached the edges of their own town, more alive and awake than the sleepy little hamlet they'd left behind. They went through a drive-through and got Dillon as many tacos as he had cash for and a drink that seemed to be the size of a trash barrel. When Wendy finally pulled to the curb in front of their house, he realized none of them had spoken except to order food.
"Well," she said, turning in her seat to face JD as Dillon clambered out of the back, "I guess this is good-night."
"Yes," he said shyly. He wondered if he was supposed to invite her in, but was embarrassed to handle the situation insensitively. "Unless ... unless you're too sleepy to drive ..."
"I'm fine, baby-doll," she said, flashing her heart-stopping smile at him. "It's just a couple of minutes away. Besides, I need fresh clothes for tomorrow. I can't keep borrowing yours."
"Oh, I don't mind --"
"I know, sweetie," she giggled, "but I do. I want to look my best for you. And wearing your clothes ain't it."
JD blushed. "Are you sure?"
"Yep. I'll be fine."
"I ... I'm going to miss you. It was ... it was really special to wake up with you -- you know. There. Feeling you. Hearing you. Smelling you ..."
"Smelling me?? Lord, did I stink?"
"No! No, that's not ... I like your scent. It's intoxicating. And ... comforting somehow. I don't know how to explain it. I'm -- I'm not very good at this, I'm afraid."
She laughed then, earnestly and from her soul, and he smiled with her, blushing deeply.
"Baby, you're doing just fine. I'm going to miss you too. Dream of me?"
"I always do. Well ... I'd like to think that, anyway. I don't always remember my dreams, of course, but when I do I usually --"
"Just an expression, lover," she interjected, then quickly leaned forward and kissed him deeply, warming him to his core. He entwined his fingers in her hair and tried to return the kiss, uncertain, but wanting more of the sensation that came with it. When they finally parted, Dillon was approaching from behind JD.
"Dude. I can't get in."
"What do you mean, you can't get in?"
"Which word didn't you understand, rocket-scientist? I can't get in. Unlock the door."
Wendy giggled wildly. "Good night, Dilly. See you tomorrow."
"'Night, sexy-lady. See ya." He winked at her and strode off toward the door again.
"How can he be so insightful one moment and dumb enough to be unable to get in a locked house -- that he's got the KEYS FOR -- the next?"
"That's the paradox of our Dilly-boy," she grinned.
"I ... I love you, Wendy."
"I love you too, JD. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll be on bated breath."
She winked at him, and he reluctantly climbed out and shut the door behind him. He stood at the curb while she drove away, until she turned a corner and was gone. Sighing, he turned back toward the door, where Dillon was tapping his foot impatiently.
"Today, dude. I'm starvin'."
"The news is gonna be your body, which they'll find when I kills yer ass. Unlock the door so I can eat."
"Why didn't YOU unlock the door?"
Dillon held his hands up, one filled with a large, bulging plastic bag of tacos, the other clutching an enormous drink cup.
"Some of those are mine, you know," JD gestured to the bag as he pulled the keys out of his pocket to open the door.
"I had to eat yours to survive while you were gettin' laid in the car, dude."
"You're just jealous."
"Hellz yeh I'm jealous. Wendy's too hot for you."
"But not for you?"
They stepped inside, and Dillon made a B-line for the kitchen table. "Well, DUH. She's too hot for anybody but, like, Brad Pitt an' shit. Still -- I'm better 'n you."
JD laughed. "Yeah. Right. Keep telling yourself that -- eventually you'll start to believe it. Like any good lie."
"Hmph." Dillon couldn't respond as he pounded down a taco, picking the fragments dropping from it from the paper wrapper spread on the table as a place mat.
JD took one from the stack and folded the paper partially back, nibbling delicately at it as his brain began to wander. "I really should do some research tonight before going to bed. I should have some background before too much time passes."
"Hmm, mm-hmm," Dillon hummed, never breaking his chewing motion. He slurped a huge swallow of soda pop from the enormous cup and went back to his food. He opened a second taco before the first was gone so that the eating process would be uninterrupted. JD watched in wonder.
"You're going to choke on that if you don't slow down."
"Mm-mm," Dillon shook his head.
"How'd you come up with that stuff back at the house, Dill? You spend a lot of time thinking about this without saying anything to us?"
Dillon seemed to pause. His mouth continued to chew, but at a slower pace, and he sat back and stared off into the kitchen wall, thinking.
"Y'know," he said, swallowing the last of his taco and sipping his drink to clear his throat, "I don't know, really. I just ... it just came t'me, I guess. Weird, huh? I don't really ... THINK about it. It just sorta ... pops clear, I guess."
JD leaned forward, resting his chin on his palm. "Just 'pops clear'? Like clairvoyance? Or a sense of communication?"
"Do you feel you're getting messages from the ghosts, maybe?"
"Dude, if anybody's gettin' messages from dead people, it's you, bro."
"True. I can't argue that ... unfortunately."
"Why's that bug you?"
JD shook his head. "I don't know. I really didn't want this to be supernatural, and I don't know how to rationalize it away. I really don't."
"Yeah, I figgered."
"So -- are the ghosts telling you things?"
"Nah. I guess I just sorta see it clear for some reason in my head. But nobody's givin' me nothing."
JD sat back, and Dillon leaned forward, both of them eating at their respective paces. JD had one more taco and left the remainder of the sack for Dillon to mash through. He went upstairs and closed his bedroom door behind him, dropping heavily into his comfortable high-back chair, and launched his web-browser to search.
What he found frightened him.