The worst part about it was that she hated music.
Ms. Corrine Daniel was the stereotypical corporate climber: young, attractive in a wolfish sort of way, uninterested in a family for at least another ten years and very smart-looking in a business suit. At the age of thirty-one she had already secured a position at Addington & Coplin, a large law firm that handled any number of important cases in the course of an average year. The firm was well-established, and had a tradition of giving women a chance at the top positions (of the eight major lawyers, three were women not much older than Ms. Daniel herself), so she thought A&C would be the place to start. She had an expensive apartment, a new Mercedes-Benz, and a bright future.
The trouble for Ms. Daniel began in late 1990, when she was given the task of handling a sticky probate case. A man (Edward Loomis by name) had passed away, leaving an extensive music library to the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, his daughter contested the will on the grounds that her father had not been of sound mind (complicated by the fact that many of the recordings were unique, and worth quite a lot of money). The resulting legal struggle had been long and costly, but the university had gotten their music, and the daughter nothing but a large legal bill to pay.
After the ruling, Ms. Daniel, always the pragmatist, had examined the collection that had been piled up all over the elder Loomis' home; dozens of boxes of phonograph records and ancient reel-to-reel tapes cluttered every available space, even the kitchen cupboards and bathroom counter. Looking around with the moving crew that was carefully labelling and packing the various recordings, she could not help but be impressed by the care the man had given his collection. The recordings were perfect, mint condition, even though they had obviously been listened to often.
The man in charge from the museum had given her a tape recording that day, a Debussy performance made in 1904 that was worth some $20,000 to the right people. He said it was 'a token of appreciation' (and the UC music library already had a duplicate), and that she would enjoy it more than any CD recording. Ms. Daniel had thanked him, gone home to her boyfriend, eaten a good meal, made love... then, after he left, she had taken the tape from its heavy cardboard box and threaded it past the heads of the massive reel-to-reel player she had been given by the museum as well, all without knowing why.
They found her the next morning hanging from the balcony railing, a lamp cord tied around her neck and the tracks of tears staining her cheeks. The police investigation turned up little of use, but what little they found pointed to suicide: stressful job, no forced entry and a history of depression in Ms. Daniel's family. Had she been alive to tell them why she had hung herself, none of them would have believed her... but she was dead, and to them the reason didn't matter.
Nobody noticed that the recording was gone.
December 23, 1990
"All right, Jack. I'll make sure everything's done. Now, you're sure you don't need any help? Okay. See you soon, Jack." Micki hung up the telephone and looked back over the table at her opponent. "Where were we?"
"Your bet." Joan Kelleigh picked up her cards and pretended to examine them closely; she had nothing, not even a pair, and she knew it... but there was no point in telling Micki that. She watched as Micki chewed her lip again (a sure sign of trouble with her hand), and then as the redhead dropped three cigarettes onto the pile between the players. "Call."
"Damn." Joan revealed her cards and watched Micki's face break out into a grin as she realized she had won another hand. Micki had a pair of sixes, enough to beat her pants off. As she raked in her winnings, Micki said "I haven't played poker since college. I didn't think I'd pick it back up so fast."
"Like riding a bike; you never forget." Joan took another drag and blew the smoke above her in little rings. "So is it always like this?"
"What do you mean?" Micki shuffled the deck and began dealing the cards again.
"You know - seven minutes of sheer terror, followed by seven weeks of boredom." Joan had thought Jack was crazy when he had asked her to help them recover the cursed antiques, but she had agreed nonetheless... and nothing had happened in the intervening space of time. Their leads had seemed to just dry up, at least in Chicago and the nearby area; Jack and Johnny were currently in Montreal, tracking down a pewter beer stein. Nothing unusual had occurred at Curious Goods, no strange series of disappearances or murders had cropped up... it was, for lack of a better term, boring.
"Sometimes. Then when it gets busy, all you wish for is that it gets boring again soon." Micki drained the last of her coffee and picked up both cups to refill them. A glance at the clock told her that it was getting very late, and she could not help yawning when she sat back down. "The quiet never lasts."
Joan's look changed as she spoke the words, an expression of concern surfacing. "I can't see how you keep from going crazy, dealing with all this..."
"Sometimes I think we're all crazy for staying here. We all deal with it in our own ways; Johnny gets angry and lashes out, Jack throws himself into research and tracking down more antiques... and I drink. Not as much as I was for a time, but some days I need a little support." Micki stirred her coffee listlessly, watching the spoon disappear into the thick brew. "I think I stay because of Ryan, mostly."
"Your cousin sounds like a good guy... and I don't think he'd want to see you like this."
Micki heard her voice rise without realizing she was doing it. "What the hell do you mean? And where the hell do you get off talking like that about Ryan? You didn't know him."
"No, and I don't have to. You've been tearing yourself apart inside, Micki, ever since the day I met you. The drinking, avoiding what's really hurting you... you've got to face it. Believe me, I know all about running away from the real problem." Joan set down her cup and stared into the murky depths of the coffee it held. "You love him, don't you?"
"Of course I do. Ryan's very special to me -"
"I don't mean like that, Micki," Joan quietly interrupted. "I mean that you're in love with him."
Micki stood and, without a word, walked through her bedroom and out onto the balcony. The two women looked across the decaying cityscape before them, covered in snow that glowed with reflected streetlight, for several minutes before Micki spoke. "I think I am, even now... but I'll never know. Ryan doesn't remember anything about what happened here, and that's probably for the best... but it hurts me, knowing that I loved him, that I wanted to be with him... and never told him so."
The recording was taken by a rescue technician named Darryl Simms, a young man with a bright future as an EMT and the bad habit of taking small items from the places he visited. Simms knew he had kleptomania and he had seen several counselors in an effort to alleviate the compulsion and had taken nothing for several months. Still, the reels of black tape encased in clear plastic had seemed innocuous enough; they couldn't be worth much, not being so old, and they surely wouldn't be noticed.
Nothing was ever made of the missing tape, and it almost ended up in the pile that Simms kept in a cardboard box in his bedroom closet, reminders of all the other thefts he had accomplished. In the box were dozens of trophies taken during his three years driving an ambulance: rings, small bracelets, handkerchiefs, computer diskettes, anything nearby that was small enough to fit into a good-sized pocket. He did nothing with his trophies, he didn't even look at them... it was enough just to know that he had them.
But the tape was different. Sitting on the edge of his bed that night, he was going to set the reels in the box before going to sleep... but he left the reels there on the nightstand, gleaming in the reflected streetlight. The next day he walked into Tony's Pawn Shop and purchased a Motorola reel-to-reel tape player / recorder for fifty-five dollars (far more than the device was worth, but Tony knew the guy would pay whatever it took just by the look in his eye). After lugging it up four flights of steps, Simms plugged it into a wall socket, threaded the tape across the heads and pressed 'play'.
The presence of a large puddle on the ceiling of Apartment 4C brought the building superintendant to Simms' door at eight the next morning. Al Darrowby was a large, hulking man, with stringy black hair that cascaded around his shoulders no patience for most of the problems the tenants brought upon themselves. "Simms? You in there?" he yelled, pounding on the door for good measure. There was no answer, so the super yelled and pounded again... to the same silent response. "Goddamn it," he muttered as he pulled the giantic keyring from its place at his side. "You better be dead in there."
Swinging open the door, Darrowby was assaulted by several smells at once; the heaviness of stagnant water, the acrid odor of alcohol... and a bitter, metallic twinge that was vaguely familiar. Surveying the room, Darrowby could see a dark stain slowly spreading across the carpet starting from the bathroom door; with a few steps he was there, his shoes squishing across the carpet. He saw the door was standing ajar, and a chill passed through him. "Simms?"
And then he pushed the door open and saw what remained of Darryl Simms. His body was submerged in the bathtub; the tap was still running, sending crimson-stained water spilling over the sides and across the floor. A large butcher knife was still jammed into the flesh of Simms' right arm, embedded so deeply that the man's hand had almost been severed.
By the time Darrowby had recovered from fainting, the reels of the tape player were bare once again.
Micki and Joan had come in from the cold fairly quickly, but the chill that Joan felt did not leave her as they shared another pot of coffee; something in Micki's voice disturbed her deeply for some reason she could not understand. "Why didn't you tell him?" she asked, watching as Micki sat at the table, cradling her head in her hands.
"I wasn't sure, not for a long time. I don't even think I realized it myself until after Ryan was... until it was too late to make a difference. We were cousins, and we were friends... and I didn't want to jeopardize that by making things complicated. I refused to let myself think about him and I in those terms." Micki stood and poured the rest of her cup down the sink. "And now he'll never know, or understand."
"What if you told him? I mean, maybe it's not so much that he understands, but that you say the words to him. Maybe that's all it will take..."
Even before Joan finished the first sentence, Micki was shaking her head 'no'. "I thought of that, but it would never work. No, it's too late for that." She walked into her room and flipped on the light, exposing the normal furnishings of the bedroom... and the large gray mass of the tape player she had lugged up from the basement earlier that day. Resting on the posts were the two reels... and the black tape was situated across the heads.
Earlier that day, Micki had gone to the apartment building to speak with Joseph Lieb, who had purchased an electric fan from Lewis in 1985. Lieb had sold the fan a year earlier, and Micki, feeling dejected by the loss of yet another antique, had trudged down the steps instead of taking the elevator. On her way down, she heard a loud thump from the end of the hallway. Carefully walking up the hall, Micki eventually came to Apartment 5C... Darryl Simms' apartment, where a large man had apparently fainted. Micki knelt beside him, making sure he was all right, and then she peeked into the bathroom.
Backing away from the blood, Micki turned and caught sight of the tape player... and had walked over to it, a strange glaze cast over her eyes. Her gaze was lost in the blackness of the tape itself as the reel spun on the post, the end of the tape hanging limply as it spun around... and around... and around...
Micki did not remember grabbing the tape or the empty reel, nor did she remember turning off the tape player and walking out the apartment door. She had gotten into a taxi and was soon back at Curious Goods, carefully rewinding the tape by hand, watching as the black surface reflected the sunlight. The player had been in the basement, just one of several items that had been bought by Johnny and Jack that might be able to be sold. It had been dirty and needed three hours of cleaning, but eventually it was ready... and she played the tape.
The sound was glorious and tragic at the same time, ethereal voices filling the small space of her bedroom, music from the mouths of angels. The music started softly, gently, at the very edge of her perception, a single voice alone in the darkness of existence. The singer was joined by a second, and a third, and finally a multitude of voices that grew into a pillar of emotion, ebbing and flowing through her mind, bringing back to her all the things she thought she had left behind. Regrets, of course; sorrows unthought of for many years; guilt over things left undone. And, of course, Ryan.
All the while, all Micki could think of was the fact that she had loved Ryan dearly... and that now he was gone. Her cheeks had been covered in tears as she worked, all the while reliving memories that she would never forget, knowing that her future would never be as happy as she wanted because it would always be without Ryan. And so, knowing what she had to do, she had made preparations - she had cleaned the store, dressed in one of her favorite outfits and then laid down in her bed.
She knew where the gun was.
But then Joan had shown up as she had promised, and the thoughts of suicide had faded for a time (Micki was almost unaware that she had been holding a pistol to her temple, and that fact did not seem out of place anyway, given her current state of mind). She had turned off the tape, sat and played poker for a while... but the voices lingered in the back of her mind. She could pretend that everything was normal talking to Joan, even talking to Jack... but she knew that what she planned had to be done. It was the only logical thing to do.
"Maybe you should go. I don't think you should see this," Micki said, her gaze falling on the ancient Webley revolver that was hidden by the bulk of the tape player.
"See what, Micki?" When the other woman did not answer, Joan repeated, "See what?"
The tape had been almost to the end when Joan arrived. Micki switched it back on, and suddenly the room was filled with the voices of a thousand angels crying out in pain, as if begging to know why God had abandoned them when they needed His love the most. Joan had followed her through the doors and now stood transfixed as the music filled her soul, watching as Micki picked up a large, heavy shape. A revolver. "What... what are you doing?" she stammered through the music that echoed through her mind.
"I'm finishing it, Joan. Ryan never deserved the torment of this place. None of us did. I can't be with Ryan here... so I'll wait for him in the afterlife." With that Micki raised the pistol and pulled the hammer back, fully intending to redecorate the wall with her brains.
"Micki, wait! Please... don't..." Oh, God, how can I stop this from happening? she thought, hoping to get enough of a grip on what was happening to keep things from going any further. "Is this what Ryan would want? Would he want to see your brains sprayed all over the wall? Would he want to see you dead by your own hand? You told me that you love him... but this isn't love. This is pure selfishness. All you want is for your pain to end; you aren't thinking about Ryan at all."
"I'm doing this for him!" Micki shouted, her voice temporarily rising above the music. "I'm doing this so he won't have to see me dying, I'm doing this so that he'll never have to know how horrible this place is."
"Lies! Just bullshit, that's all it is, Micki!" The voices began to fade now, one by one falling out of tune and dying away. "Ryan would never want that, and neither would Jack and Johnny. You're alive, and you've come too far to give up now. This isn't you, Micki... maybe it's the booze, maybe it's just some part of you that wants this all to be over... but this is not you."
Micki gazed into Joan's eyes as the voices faded into three... then two... then a single cry in the darkness. And she knew there was a decision to be made.
There was a terrible noise in the room.
Then there was silence.
December 24, 1990
The Vault doors ground heavily to a close as Joan turned the brick that activated the mechanism. Trudging upstairs, she contemplated the sleepless night she had just faced... but at least she had not faced it alone. Micki was sitting behind the desk, reading a particular entry in the Manifest over and over again. As Joan sat down across from her, Micki looked up, her eyes still rimmed with red and full of tears. "It's safe?"
"Yeah, it's safe. Micki, are you okay?"
"I... don't know. I remember part of what happened yesterday... but then, most of what I remember is like a TV show. I remember seeing everything, but there was no conscious control over what I said or did. It was like I was a puppet."
"You were, I think. You were under the spell of that damn tape." Joan paused for a moment. "What do you think people got out of it?"
"Maybe someone used it to remove their enemies... or their lover. Maybe it was to get back at the people who wronged you. Or maybe... just maybe... it gave no benefits. Maybe it was made just to drive people to suicide, to add to the misery and pain already in this world." Micki glanced at the wall clock. "I don't want to do this, Joan."
"You don't have to... but I think it's a good start if you want to ever be free of all this. Go on, call him."
Micki nodded, then picked up the telephone handset and dialed the number she had known for years but had been too terrified to call. As she waited for a response, she caught sight of a garbageman picking up something just outside the front door of the store. He was struggling with the heavy gray mass, and Micki turned away before she could focus on it... for she already knew what it was, having dragged it outside several hours before from her bedroom.
It was a large tape player... with a bullet resting inside.
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This page was created on August 20, 2000.
Last modified on February 10, 2005.