Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

Wolfe, Detective Chapter One: The Girl on the Bridge

Chapter One

What I expected was for her to warn me back, not to try and stop her. If I hadn’t happened along when I did, maybe she would’ve jumped and maybe not. With the ‘old school’ trench coat I was wearing casting me as a thug out of a Mike Hammer film; I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d just run away screaming. When she chose none of the above, her apparent lack of interest in my presence was the first clue she suffered from more than a bout of depression. She wasn’t just debating throwing herself to a cold and watery grave; she was emotionally one foot over the rail.

The spell I cast was intended to make her turn and look at me. Once she did that, whatever else she was up to would be put temporarily on hold. To her credit it took a moment longer than usual, but a compel spell is not a thing easily denied. When she finally did, desperation was clearly rampant in her eyes. Boldly green and crazy scared; there was also an element of emerald determination lurking behind that screen of indifference. That left it up to me. I could either intercede, or watch as she took the plunge.

Normally I don’t like drawing attention to myself. That’s why I take these walks at night and keep to the shadows. I could say it’s because the night winds soothe my restless spirit. That would poetic and maybe even partly true, but the fact is most decent people avoid the city’s darker, more dangerous spaces after nightfall. Those that do seek them out are usually hiding something and don’t bother with a lot questions.

Mostly they think I’m just another urban legend stalking the litter-strewn alleyways, but every now and again someone will pause to scrutinize. Seeing through my charade, what they generally recognize is that black cloaked, sickle-bearing archetype they’ve all come to fear.Most people will then run for cover, but not all. Some of them are searching for just such an engagement. Whichever choice they make, once they sense my aura I’m not usually ignored.

When the threat arrives from an unexpected source, even a prospective suicide will acknowledge the fear of death. In that tried and true manner, they’ll either make a stand and fight for their life, or run. Of course if you’re already standing on the edge of a bridge and flirting with the fall, where is there really to run?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I make a habit of interfering with people attempting to escape the horrors of their own minds, because I don’t. That isn’t the kind of fight I tend to attract or look for. Still, there was something special about this situation that piqued my interest and I won’t deny it might’ve been the girl.

Regardless the scenario wasn’t ordinary, not these days anyways, and I’m not a big believer in coincidence. I have a pretty good sense about these things and something about this didn’t feel right. She was scared, real scared and though my guess was she’d been manipulated into my path for reasons yet to be disclosed, it wasn’t me she was afraid of. I could tell because she did something then that no one had managed in a long time, she broke eye contact.

Granted I cast in haste, but even so I wasn’t expecting her to be able to shrug it off. That would take practice and preparation, or possibly one other thing, a natural born talent for the art. Watching her turn away in favor of staring into that slow moving current left me feeling like a marlin with a hook couldn’t throw.

Magnificently cliché, her standing there alone on a bridge potent with dark purpose, meanwhile a specter of unknown quality approaching from out of the night. It had me thinking there should’ve been a film crew somewhere around and a director. Long haired, unshaven and brilliant, he should be pensively fretting over the authenticity of the noir ambiance. How could I turn down an invitation like that?

No matter that in reality she was no Becky Bacall and I hardly a suave, but cynical Bogart. This was just the opening scene and our characters were yet to be revealed. Now we could add to that the first conflict because, fact is we weren’t the only ones challenging fate by being on that bridge. Still, far as I could tell no cameras were rolling.

Her intent was obvious and seemed sadly sincere, but the part I never get is the why. At what, maybe twenty-five, how could life get so gloomy that throwing it away seemed a better option than facing whatever lay ahead? I can truthfully say that the notion has never more than fleetingly crossed my mind and hell, when you’ve lived as long as I have everything imaginable has wandered through your thoughts.

What I do know is that taking your own life is not in the natural order. It’s an unacceptable solution glamorized by an unstable emotional state. My advice? Give it another sunrise and things just might look different. All she needed was a chance to figure that out and maybe a little moral support. I didn’t know yet who was responsible for her being here or why, but from the way she chose to go about it, well it smacked of a set up.

With razor blades always fashionable and over medicating currently in vogue, who would put themselves through the indignity and discomfort of jumping off a bridge? That took guts, facing down the river like that. Maybe even enough to find a reason not to go through with it. That’s what kept me from walking away, because often as not my interference in things that are none of my business backfires on me. Never the less I had a feeling this was my business and I’d already decided it was a game I was willing to play.

By keeping a low profile and letting people do as they will allows for time to pass. When time passes, people forget, legends become myth and are forgotten over the years. If I could just abstain from poking my nose into the business of other’s, the legend of the urban wolf would probably also die. And it’s my own fault really, the stories start up again because I have this terrible habit of not being able to leave well enough alone.

This time though it wasn’t due to my meddling personality. That device in the back of my mind which acts as a warning bell was trying hard to tell me I was intentionally being drawn me here. The animal subconscious is quick to pick up on certain types of emanations. All its needs is a whisper of paranormal activity and Bam! It goes on immediate high alert.

My everyday consciousness can be off on an irregular tangent, or caught up in the swish and sway of a well tossed skirt, but that inner eye is always watching, tuned in to the abnormal. If it happens that I’m not paying attention to what’s happening around me, that tuning fork will home in and walk me right into it anyway. As a stroll by the bridge isn’t usually included in my nocturnal outings, tonight I was paying attention. The fact that the bells were ringing made whatever was going on definitely my business.

I was about twenty feet away from her when I paused to let my presence sink in. I thought about reinforcing the spell so the words would take an immediate and unshakable hold, but I decided to try something else. Only rarely does it work for me, but instead of being tediously subtle, or the opposite and breaking all the China in the shop, I thought I’d just be my cagy old self.

“The river at night seems still. But beneath her warm reflection, her currents are cold as death. Their embrace will rob you of your breath and me of your company. An unworthy shroud for a warm bodied soul, don’t you think?”

Turning to face me as if sensing me there for the first time, thankfully she wasn’t crying. At least no visible tears came rolling forth to trace repentant tracks upon her cheeks. Defeat however dominated her posture and a solemnly sorrowful look of resignation commanded her eyes.

“You’re one of them.”

“Nope. Whatever you think I am, I’m not.”

“Then who are you?”

“A friend if you need one.”

“Is that supposed to be some kind of poem, that stuff you were saying?”

“Did you find it poetic? It was just an observation. Here’s another. There are three young men hiding in the shadows over there. You seem to be their focus and their intent is malicious.”

“What do you want?”

“To satisfy my curiosity about something. Unpleasant an experience as it might prove, I’d like to ask you to read their thoughts.”

“I’m not a mind-reader.”

“The simpler the mind, the easier it is to read. Besides, my suspicion is you have the knack for it.”

“You don’t know anything about me!”

“I understand. Fear clouds judgment and feeling helpless it tantamount to being so. But I don’t think you’re as helpless as you pretend, or the sort of person who easily gives up. Still, it’s your choice to make. I’ll leave you alone if you wish.”

“Wait! If you can read minds, tell me what I’m thinking.”

Inside I was smiling. I just didn’t let it show through. Whatever her prior thoughts were focused on, they were now externalized to include her surroundings.

“How about I tell you what they’re thinking?” I replied nodding my head in the direction of the three young thugs. I didn’t need to look at them to know they’d started their approach, or even to determine what they were thinking, that was just for effect. Sometimes a bit of showmanship enhances the act.

“The tall one on the left is all about the act of rape. He’s driven by a demon that feeds on the fear of women. The stout one in the middle has a different hunger. He’s seeking pain. Without it he languishes, hounded by visions of blood. Of the three, he’s the more dangerous. He’d make sure you didn’t leave here alive, but that’s changed now because he’s seen me. He longs for what he knows I can grant. The third is indecisive, an uncertain follower. He has no will of his own, just the longing to be accepted by the others.”

“So you’re what, psychic or something?”

“The something I suppose. There’s going to be violence. Want to stick around?”

“I… no…” She stuttered and broke off mid-sentence shaking her head. I saw it as the confusion of awakening from a disturbing dream. Absorbed in the prospect of dying, she now had to wrestle with continuing to live.

“Tell you what. Start walking towards that building over there and make your way back to the street. Ignore whatever you hear and just keep going.”

“Hear? Like what?”

“You know, like screaming.”

“Why? What are you going to do?”

“Something mythical.” This time I let the smile peek through. “Look, I’m getting a better sense of what this is all about and I can help if you’ll let me. But for now you better get going. I’ll catch up as soon as I can.”

Seeing the girl walk away behind me triggered tall-boy to step up the pursuit. Reaching beneath his coat, he grasped the hilt of handgun shoved into his waistband and hastened his pace from lackadaisical to approaching panic. It could’ve been a 9mm he was reaching for, a cheap street piece, but I don’t use guns and am bad about keeping up on them.

The beefy guy with blood in his eyes was in less of a rush, but determined. His attention was now fully on me. Fancying himself a blades-man, he produced an antique switch-blade stiletto style knife and began tossing it hand to hand. I suppose this was to impress me with his dexterity and expertise. It didn’t.

Being indecisive, the wimp hung back behind his more self-assured companions. I could tell he was already feeling it; that unnerving tingle of fear that precedes me when my chemistry starts to change. There wasn’t much of a breeze, but I could smell it in his sweat.

It works for me that the chill of these bay nights justifies the cumbersome coat I wear. It makes for secreting the *Yaoguai much easier. The police may pay little heed to a punk concealing a handgun, but a man wearing a trench coat always seems to be worth investigating. If he happens that he’s carrying a sword around? Well, let’s just say they don’t usually buy the self-defense routine.

Still, the Celestial Dragon is eternally a convenient arbitrator; unorthodox perhaps, but quicker, quieter and a hell of a lot easier to explain than shape-shifting. Not to mention that if I fail to undress beforehand my clothes generally get trashed beyond use. The Macintosh comes in real handy then. It might cast me in the role of a flasher, but at least I’m not running naked through the streets.

Not that I mind the occasional three day stay in the behavioral ward. You never know when the next young Jung might come along with some archetypal insight into lycanthropy. They haven’t yet, but I suppose there’s always hope. Stealing my sword back from the police is an entirely different matter and creating a new identity is always a hassle. That comes with the territory and I deal with it upon need. But this time none of that should be necessary. Not unless the girl decided to look back and go total freak out.

If she happened to catch sight of the monster that I am, doling out death with fang and claw she might. Even so, I bet it’d have a sincerely positive effect on her re-emerging appreciation for life. It’d probably also send her running hysterically through the streets drawing unwanted attention. I didn’t need that tonight and fortunately, I had other options.

Tall-boy was looking to get past me, but drew up when I stepped in his way. Pulling free the pistol, he took a step backwards. Deviant he might be, but not stupid. He was right to hesitate.

“You want some of this?”

Most weapons don’t worry me much, but I’m not partial to guns. You never know when the wrong lunatic might be packing the right ammunition.

“I want you to go home and consider the error of your ways.”

Maybe he thought I was joking, but for an instant I think he actually considered it. Still, ego bound to bravado before his fellow soldiers he felt he had to see it through. Wagging his gun casually about I’m sure was intended to intimidate, maybe to show how coolly efficient he was with its use.

I once knew a man who tamed rattlesnakes. He was successful at the craft for many years, and during that time he’d never been bitten. Not until the day he got overconfident and turned his head to smile at a woman in the audience during a performance.

“What are you, some kind’a preacher?’

Self-admiring his attempt at humor the kid chuckled. I guess he thought I was just another member of his audience ’cause it gave me the opportunity to take a step closer. Bad move. Dragging Yaoguai from beneath the mackintosh, I took a second step sideways and struck from an angle. The handgun clattered when it hit the pavement, but his hand just kind of thumped alongside.

“Not even close!”

His scream was just getting starting when my return stroke cut through his windpipe. It was messy. He kind of gurgled and spurted for a minute before falling, but I did my best not get any on my coat. Now the smell of blood was in the air and that’s something that I always find exhilarating. It also tends to bring out the beast in me.

New-boy immediately lost all interest in the proceedings and took off running. I decided if he ran fast enough, I might even let him make it home. His heavyset cohort however, showed more backbone and less prudence.

Intuition’s a funny thing. He could sense without knowing that I had something he desired maybe even more than death. Sometimes I think the bite of the wolf is a gift and other times a curse, but whichever it is, I don’t pass it on. I’ve learned from experience that withholding the transference insures I don’t have to backtrack later to clean up a mess left behind. And as for the wolf, he doesn’t respond well to threats.

Laying the mac and sword aside on the pavement, I stepped away from them so he’d feel a little more comfortable. Even so, for all his presumed expertise with a blade, his lunge was slow and ill aimed. Catching him by the wrist and the throat, I lifted him by his neck. As he struggled to breathe, I whispered a farewell in his ear.

“It’s like the river at night, this darkness they call death.” Compelling the nails on my hand to extend into claws, the soft flesh of his throat tore apart like tissue. When I was done, I tossed his still-twitching mass over the rail. Feeling refreshed, it only took a minute to gather up the remaining parts and send them sailing after knife-boy’s partially eaten carcass. After a brief inspection to insure I left no traces that would incriminate me, I wiped my hands clean of hoodlum blood.

Historically, those I try to help wind up suffering for my attempts at intervention. Maybe it’s the unalterable hand of fate at work, but I suspect it’s more because of my penchant for attracting trouble than anything else. A calm, worry-free existence just isn’t in the cards for me. Like a magnet to violence, if there’s any around it’ll be drawn to me and the damage is too often collateral.

I half-figured I’d be doing her a favor by just disappearing from her life, vanishing into the night like the specter that I am. With a clear conscience I could resign from the affair and let things run their course and might have too if I hadn’t caught the drift of her thoughts. Like I said, I’m not the sort to leave well enough alone.

A sensitive can readily pick up on emotional energies. Someone paying attention to posture, state of mind, a person’s aura and biofeedback responses can readily translate them into probable intent. Sometimes that’s all I do, but when a clearer picture is needed and I put forth the effort, I can see thoughts as images.

Because of the crap most people carry around upstairs, it’s not something I frivolously indulge in. Besides, when I saw her standing alone on the bridge at night it wasn’t a real challenge to guess her intent. Being the nosey fellow that I am however, I did a little poking around in her unguarded psyche to get a peek at what this was about. I didn’t get much due to her emotional state, but I was able to determine she wasn’t suicidal by nature.

She was afraid. Scared enough of something that killing herself seemed a better option than standing up to it. The contact was brief and I only got a glimpse before trying to draw her back to reality, but I have a nose for the supernatural and it was tingling like mad.

I caught up with her just as she was entering a pool of artificial radiance beneath a halogen streetlamp. Partly because her robust head of red hair wasn’t easy to miss.

“Rose?” I called from behind.

Startled, she stopped under the halo of that streetlamp and turned round to face me.

“How do you know my name? Have you been stalking me?”

The scent of her fear was rather intoxicating, but if I wanted to get any information out of her I needed to tread lightly.

“I have a gift for names and no, I’ve never seen you before tonight.”

“I think you’re lying. What happened back there?”

“You’ve nothing to fear from me and I’ve no need to lie, so I usually don’t.”

“What happened to those men?”

“Don’t worry about them. They suffered a change of faith.”

“What do you want with me?”

“I want to know who you’re afraid of.”

She surprised me then for a second time and I can’t even remember the last time anyone did that. What I expected was more rebellious rebuttal, but seeing her face blanch with genuine concern I got some insight into the depth of her fear.

“You’re not a cop.”

“No. You could call me a private detective, of sorts. I have a license if it matters.”

She looked me over hard then, trying to decide if I could be trusted.

“I’m being followed.”

“Do you know by whom?”

“I think it might be some people I met at a party. It was weird and I don’t remember much. Who are you anyway?”

“You can call me Wolfe.”

“Okay Wolfe. What does that mean, of sorts? Are you like a cyber-detective?”

“I’m more of a paranormal investigator.”

“Like the TV shows?”

“Not exactly. First off I’m not fond of cameras, or harassing harmless ghosts. I specialize in dealing with the more hurtful spawn of the supernatural.”

She paused then and I watched her attractive jaw chewing on what I’d given her. I was waiting on the obligatory Ghostbusters joke and a brush-off. When they didn’t come I knew I was on the right track.

“Then maybe we should talk.”

“Do you have a washing machine?”

“I do, but what’s that got to do with anything?”

“I was hoping to wash my clothes before they stained.”

“Stain? With what?”

Pulling open the lapels on the Mac I let her make her own determination.

“That’s blood, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“Those men?”

“Two of them. I let the kid go.” I’m not sure why, but I decided that just this once honesty would be the best tack to take. If it scared her away, so be it.

“You better come with me.”

“I was kind of hoping you’d say that.”

*Chinese mythology- Yaoguai: a fallen celestial being who has acquired magical powers through the practice of
Taoism.

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