The ghoul of westside
Christmas eve, 1975
He stared at the bodies on the ground, at the girl covered in blood.
Her eyes narrowed as she stood up.
Three months earlier:
Carlos took a deep breath as the sun shone on his face, the ends of his ragged hair clinging to his cheeks, his entire face red and perspiring. What a sight. He could feel the gaze of the passerby’s burning through him, the endless flickering of eyes and the sudden jerks of head as they registered his face- the hurried, almost SQUIRRELLY way they glanced away, and then the subtle (or so they liked to think) ‘looking’ at him, the hushed whispers as they informed their friends or whoever the hell they were with what they had seen, as he if was some sort of circus animal, some sort of display they were simply allowed to look at, the goddamn bl__y EXPRESSIONS on their faces, the way they just LOOKED at him-
He took another deep breath, as he realised he had started grinding his teeth again. For f__s sake.
The glances only lasted for a few seconds before the eyes dropped, ashamed, to the rough concrete of the courtyard. But those split-second stares were enough to observe the eyepatch over Carlos’s right eye and the strange, almost ghoulish expression on the right side of his face, his lips pulled into, what seemed to be a painful half-smile.
The left side of his face, however, was largely attractive. Carlos was not an ugly man- in fact, he had once made for a rather handsome one. His eyes were a deep blue and his hair was swept to the side- into one of those pretentious, modern-day haircuts that he felt made him look like a complete and utter poster boy for some sort of magazine cover- and was a light brown. His skin was the color of ___ and if you ignored the creepy half-smile on the left side of his face- well, he was quite attractive. Quite attractive.
As he made his way through the crowded courtyard, he couldn’t help but continuously shake the sleeves of his frayed coat every few seconds to reveal the monstrosity of a watch on his left wrist, continuously checking the time, even though he knew he was late. Pam was going to kill him.
he practically threw himself at the yellow cab that was rushing past him. He hated making a spectacle of himself, and resented people who thought it to be normal, humane behaviour to be public nuisances, quite like his own brother, that little bast–d – but this couldn’t wait. He could not be late.
”The hell are you doing?”
he was struggling to open the cab door, briefcase in one hand, the other desperately clawing at the handle, when a sharp voice behind him made him turn around abruptly.
The source of the voice was a five-foot-eleven giant of a woman, her hair cut into a short neat bob, with bangs that looked as if she’d done them herself. She was wearing what could only be described as the ugliest blazer Carlos had ever seen, and a pair of chunky black glasses framing a very, very pissed off face.
”Hell, don’t you ever check your phone?”
Carlos grimaced. A tiring habit of pam’s was to include the word ‘hell’ into almost anything and everything she said. He bit back a sharp retort, instead raising the hand that had been clutching the handle of the cab, as a form of greeting. The cab driver, as if waiting for this signal, sped off, but not before cussing at Carlos. Loudly.
Pam smirked, shaking her head slightly.
”Damn hell, you deserved that.”
He was gritting his teeth again but was somehow able to let loose a painfully wan smile.
”Pam. I was just coming to see you.”
She sniffed, looking at him through her long camel-like eyelashes- probably the only attractive feature that sullen face held.
”Hell, I knew you were. Why do you think I drove out all the way over here? I’m not stupid, knew you were going to be late.”
She stepped closer to him, and Carlos inadvertently took a step back.
”Especially on this day.”
Carlos forced a smile again. This time, it came more naturally, and the events of the morning faded away as he became ‘work Carlos’, slipping into the mask he wore everyday once he left the small, dingy apartment that he hesitated to call his own.
His voice smoother, he spoke again, maintaining a carefully neutral tone.
”Ah, of course. Trust you to think ahead of time.”
Pam eyed him suspiciously but said nothing.
”Look, I won’t mention it again if you don’t. One of these cafes is probably open. Hell, I need a coffee.”
She turned away, not beckoning Carlos to follow her- she knew he would do it anyway- and he did, cursing at her under his breath all the way. Pam was huge next to him- he was only 5’3, minuscule for a man of 35, and he felt nothing short of a complete dwarf next to her. Her strides were difficult to match, and by the time her highness had come upon a place that wasn’t as shoddy as the rest, Carlos was ashamed to admit that he was sorely out of breath.
”Ah. This will do. This will do nicely.”
She pushed open the door of the quaint little restaurant. It was barely eight AM, and the place was relatively empty- save a college student nursing his hangover with a ginormous cup of coffee, holding his head in his hands, letting out a groan occasionally. The walls were covered in an unusually bright blue colour, which hurt carlos’s eyes as he surveyed the area taking into account the old, cracked wallpaper and the dusty wool carpet that was beneath their feet. This place was long overdue.
Pam seemed to be friendly with the cafe owner, who was a mousy little man of forty. his moustache covering half of his worn-out face. He had an irritating way about him although Carlos couldn’t point out exactly what made him wary of the man. Perhaps it was the strange way he squinted and tilted his head to the side while looking at the two people in front of him, or perhaps it was the open trusting expression on his face. Too trusting, and those kinds of people got nowhere.
“Morning yourself, Pam. How are them kids getting along?”
“Getting along fine, quite fine, yessir. Teddy just took his first steps, a few weeks ago- you should’ve seen the poor thing, wobbling on his knobby feet…Dave just got his report card back- straight A’s, at that. Don’t know where he gets it from, couldn’t be me, I barely scraped by. Probably his useless bum of a father, but, you know what they say…..”
As they chatted on, Carlos felt some of the frustration he had experienced earlier creeping back. Although Gunther seemed quite animated, responding to pams questions, asking his own, Carlos could FEEL his gaze on him, scrutinizing him judging him, he could almost-
”But we better be getting along now, Gunther, load of business to do. Two black coffees, extra sugar- hell, extra of everything, even the coffee.”
Carlos let out a gentle cough, feeling irritatingly like an infant, pam being the boisterous mother. Pam glanced at him, and back at Gunther, shaking her head.
”Ay, slipped my mind. This is Carlos, my partner down at the precinct. He came all the way from newyork city- hell knows why he’d want to leave a city like that. Carlos, meet Gunther. Gunther, Carlos.”
He was almost seething with anger, though he knew his face was still pulled into a painfully PAINFULLY neutral expression. Who was pam trying to kid? she knew why he left, she knew he had gone insane (figuratively. Of course.) in that ghost of a house, the house where he had lost everything.
Carlos squeezed his eyes shut gently, willing the memory of the night to go away. Instead, he extended his hand, and shook Gunther’s, murmuring polite greetings.
”We’ll be on our way up, then Gunther. You make those coffees fast.”
Pam lead the way (as always) up the rickety wooden staircase that led to a smaller, cosier part of the cafe. It was still so hot, hotter than it had been outside, and pam switched on the cooler as she settled herself onto one of the couch cushions, beckoning Carlos to join her on the other.
“Trust you to be late…I waited down at the precinct till about 7:30, but I bumped into the sergeant while he was getting a morning cup of coffee….he worked himself up into a fit of laughter when I said I was waiting for you, that’s when I made my way to the courtyard….”
she paused, playing with her fingers awhile, and shifting in her seat slightly. She cleared her throat, but she wasn’t meeting his eyes, why wasn’t she meeting his eyes?
”I’m sure you must be confused as to why I called you down to the precinct so early.”
He wasn’t confused, no. He was angry, frustrated, that Pam would do this to him on the one day he got off, the one day he was supposed to be grieving.
As if reading his thoughts, she gave him a small, sad smile.
”I know I shouldn’t have disturbed you today, Hon. It was quite wrong of me. Quite wrong. But I wouldn’t have called you if it wasn’t important.”
She stopped, but all Carlos could latch onto was that one word, ”hon”, don’t call me that, SHE called me that, don’t-
”But P.C Jones found a body down in the basement.”
she looked at him pitifully.
”It was that young lad, the intern. What’s his name? wanted to become a police officer. Alex something.”
“Ah. Of course.”
An awkward silence followed, broken only by the arrival of Gunther and the two black coffees. Pam sipped hers, slowly. His remained untouched.
”I take it you two were close, quite close….”
” Close is an overstatement. I merely helped him around a bit, that’s all”
”But that’s clearly not what he thought…”
This caught his attention.
”What do you mean?”
Pam set her coffee down, entering ‘police mode’, a mode he had seen her transform into a thousand times, when she had to deliver bad news.
”He….he wrote a note, see…”
“A suicide note?”
“Yes…. he overdosed. Stole a bunch of pills from his mom, apparently- probably thought that the basement was the safest place to do it, it’s like a meat locker, too cold for anyone to go down there.” she shook her head, and carlos dimly registered the fact that she was crying. “It’s bad news for the precinct, sure, we’ll be called in for questioning….that sort of stuff. But he was so young, so young, only nineteen”
“What’d it say?”
Pam looked surprised, a little apprehensive about the blank, emotionless expression on Carlos’s face- but he didn’t care about the kid who offed himself with his mothers Xanax, or whatever pill he had swallowed, not at the moment. His only concern was why this involved him, and why pam had dragged him out of his bed by calling him at 6 am in the morning on the anniversary of his wife’s death.
Pam hesitated. In all of the seven years, he had worked with her, she had never looked more uncertain.
she looked pointedly at him.
“Oh, Carlos. It said that you were the reason he killed himself.”