Fiction Friday - Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences: The First Case Part 2: A Good Friend

Here I am, back with the fifth installment in this short story series, this one the conclusion to the two-parter that started last week. Last night I plotted the "meta-arc" of the story out to a full twenty short stories. I'm pretty excited about the stories I have planned, as well as what I have planned to do with them after they're done. If you want to read the previous installments in case you've missed them... well, I'm too tired to make up any links for you; just click the "Fiction Fridays" tag and scroll down, the newest one is on top, the oldest one is on bottom. And remember, feedback is not just appreciated, it's desired!

Biggs and Wedge Occult Occurrences:
The First Case Part 2:
A Good Friend

            “They’ve definitely been down there a long time.”
            I couldn’t help but smile at the hint of concern in Lexy’s voice, holding a bottle of beer to my lips to hide the smile from her. Alexa Fogel, manager of the Haunted Hops, had set up an interview with a reporter from Weekly World Now Magazine for me and my partner, Henry Biggs. She thought it would be a good way to bring more business to both the bar me and Biggsy owned, as well as to our occult business. Biggs’ interview had been first, and had been going on for over a half hour now.
            She looked back at me from behind the bar as I shifted on my barstool. “What do you think is taking so long, Wedge?”
            Wedge was my nickname; Aldredge Thompson was my full name. And yes, I know Aldredge is a ridiculous name. That’s why I had the nickname. “I don’t know, Lexy. Knowing Biggs, he probably took a few swigs of that fancy scotch he has down there and it getting as honest as he possibly can, whether he thinks it’s a good idea or not.”
            “Why would he do that? He didn’t even want to do the interview in the first place.”
            I looked at her meaningfully as I took a long drink of my beer. “Because you asked him to.”
            “Like that matters to him,” she said, laughing and shaking her head.
            I shrugged. Whatever; if they both wanted to keep pretending they were too stupid to see what was happening right in front of them, it was none of my business.
            We heard the sound of someone coming up the stairs from the basement where Biggs and I had the office for the occult business. It sounded like heels, so it had to be the reporter.
            “Here she comes,” Lexy whispered to me. “I wish you’d have worn a tie like I asked you to!”
            “Yeah, I bet you also wish I wasn’t on my fourth beer already,” I teased. I knew from the look on her face she had a response for me, but the reporter had just come upstairs and was walking over to us, so Lexy stifled herself.
            “Hello, I’m Melissa Adaire,” she announced with a big smile as she held her hand out to me. “You must be Mr. Thompson.”
            “Wedge,” I said as I took her hand.
            “Do you have an office you’d like to go to for the interview?”
            I reached over and pushed out the neighboring barstool for her. “This is my office.”
            As Adaire sat down, Lexy said, “I should probably leave you two alone to get to it.”
            “Stay,” I told her. “I’m going to need a few more of these before this is all over.” I gestured to the nearly empty beer in front of me.
            The reporter took all this in stride as she placed her tape recorder in front of me on the bar. “Well, to start off, I don’t suppose I could get you to tell me the story behind that, could I?” Her eyes went to the large replica of the Millennium Falcon hanging from the center of the bar’s ceiling.
            “The Skywalker Ranch case? Nice try, lady,” I laughed, “but Biggsy would have my ass if I told you about that.”
            She smirked. “But I’ve heard that you’ve told that story to dozens of women in the bar before.”
            “Sure, but there’s a difference between telling a drunk girl in the bar you’re trying to score with, and telling a reporter.” I finished my beer and grinned at her. “Unless, that is, you’d like to go somewhere more private and let me tell you off the record once this is over?” I ignored Lexy’s disapproving scowl as she put another beer on the bar in front of me.
            “Well, if we can’t talk about that,” she said, sidestepping my pass completely, “let’s talk about you. You were in the Marines, right? What can you tell me about that?”
            “I was in the Marines, served a bunch of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can’t tell you much more than that; some things stay classified long after they’re over.”
            “And in my research I saw you were dishonorably discharged. What led to that?”
            I tipped my beer back, drinking deep before answering. “Like I said, some things stayed classified. I served my country and did what I was told, up until I didn’t, and I got tossed. Anything more than that is up to someone way, way above my pay grade to reveal. Call the Pentagon if you want, but I don’t think you’ll get anywhere.” I didn’t like talking about my time in that pretty little corner of Hell. “Besides, this is supposed to be about what me and Biggsy do for a living. Let’s get back on track here, lady.”
            “Fine,” she said, unable to hide a sigh. “How do you know your partner?”
            “We grew up in the same neighborhood. I wouldn’t say we were friends, though; I was part of the crowd that picked on the other kids, and he was definitely one of the kids that got picked on. At least, he was, until that thing with my sister. Then no one picked on him anymore, at least not while I was around.”
            She looked at me curiously. “What thing with your sister?”
            “Biggs didn’t mention anything about my sister?” I shrugged, but the truth was that was just like him; he’d never spill someone else’s stories. “When I was thirteen, my younger sister died. She had been sick since birth. Cancer. She fought it off until she was nine, and then she passed away peacefully in her bed. Except, the death might have been peaceful, but the aftermath wasn’t. Her spirit stuck around for awhile, not really hurting anyone, but, like, appearing in front of us, crying. It was killing my parents, and it wasn’t too pleasant for me either.” I took another long drink to wash the memory away.
            Adaire didn’t say anything, she just watched, waiting for me to continue. I could feel Lexy waiting, too. She had never heard this story before.
            “After a couple weeks of that,” I continued, “I was out on my stoop crying my eyes out, and Biggs walked by. Even after how mean me and my friends had been to him for years, he came over to ask what was wrong. That’s just the kind of guy he’s always been. And I told him. I didn’t mean to at first, but none of my friends had believed me so I had shut up about it with them, but I had to talk to somebody. So I told him all about it. He told me he believed me and he understood, and then he asked if he could come inside because he thought he could help. I laughed at him, I thought he was crazy. But I let him in anyway; what did I have to lose? So he walked in, walked right up to where the ghost of my sister was standing there in tears like he could see her… which, of course, he could… and talked to her for a few minutes quietly. Then she waved at all of us sadly and we never saw her again.”
            “He told me his grandmother was the only ghost he had ever talked to,” she said, almost whiningly.
            “Yeah, well, he would have said that. Telling other people’s stories isn’t his style. But after that, we were inseparable, and you can bet your ass no one ever picked on him again. At the time I had no idea what he had done, but I knew it was the best thing anyone had ever done for my family. Biggsy told me later all he did was ask her to stop upsetting us, so she did; once we got full-swing into the banishing game we went back and sent her to her rest just like we did his grandmother.”
            “Today is just full of surprises,” I heard Lexy say from behind the bar. I turned to look at her and saw surprise mixed with understanding on her face, and I realized she had never heard anything about Biggs’ grandmother before. Fuck.
            “Alright, we’re going to do this a little differently now.” I didn’t want to get my ass in any more trouble than it already was. “Before I let out another state secret, why don’t you just tell me what you and Biggsy were talking about?”
            Melissa Adaire smiled, knowing she had caught a scoop already. “He was telling me about the first banishing he attempted for a rich family and how wrong it went; how it was the first time he came across a poltergeist and how the weapon he had was a fraud and he had to ran away, and he said you were what happened next.”
            “He didn’t run away,” I snapped defensively, some of my old military resentment of that word creeping up, “it was a tactical retreat.” From behind the bar, I heard Lexy giggle, but I ignored her. “Anyway, I had gotten my discharge a few weeks before that happened. I had been kicking around at home, working an odd job here and there, but shit wasn’t coming together the way I wanted. I had talked to Biggs a few days before that night and he offered to give me a job on his security team.” I stopped to laugh and take another drink. “He told me it was a cushy, well-paying job, so I jumped on it. Truth is, I’d have said yes either way, because it was Biggs asking. I had flown in to meet him the night before and was drinking in the hotel bar when he came and found me after the banishing went pear-shaped.”
            “So he came to you and told you what happened?”
            “Yeah.” I finished my beer and signaled Lexy to pass me another. “I could have killed him for doing something like that without me to watch his back in the first place, but Biggsy can be a little bull-headed sometimes. I had no idea how banishings worked at the time. He explained to me about needed a blade that had been anointed in innocent blood to do the job and how the axe was a fraud. Luckily for us, I had an answer. I took him upstairs to my hotel room, pulled out my duffel bag, and grabbed a bowie knife from my time in the desert that I had hidden in a secret pouch that I knew would do the job.”
            Lexy and Adaire were both staring at me; it was the reporter who spoke. “You had a knife from the army that was already anointed in innocent blood?”
            “Some things stay classified.”
            The look on my face must have gotten the message across, because she quickly changed the subject. “So you gave him the knife to take back to the house?”
            “Hell no. I took the knife back to the house with him. There was no way I was letting him go back there without back-up. And it’s a good thing, too, because when we got back there, it really hit the fan.”
            “What happened?”
            “His clients must have gotten tired of waiting to hear from him, or just got curious or something, because they went back to the house. When we got there, the front door was wide open, and the poltergeist was in the middle of the room, juggling an arm and two legs, the rest of the couples’ body parts arranged around him like a star while he splashed around in their blood.” I had to take a drink to chase down the memory, like a foul-tasting shot. “I saw a lot of fucked up things in the war… hell, I did a lot of fucked up things in the war, but this was the worst thing I had ever seen. It still is. I looked at Biggs and told him to stay outside, and I charged in at the poltergeist. It saw me coming and charged me right back, so I stopped, waited, and once it reached me, I jabbed the knife right into it, and boom. It let out the most horrible sound I had ever heard and disappeared. Biggs walked in after me and just stared at the dead bodies. The next day, he canceled his medium tour and told me he was going to start doing banishings full-time, and asked me if I wanted to help.”
            “Did you? Want to help, I mean,” the reporter asked.
            I looked at her like she was crazy. “Are you out of your mind? I never wanted to see something like that again. No one in their right mind would ever want to see that shit again. But I damn sure couldn’t let Biggs do it alone.”
            “If no one in their right mind would want to see that again, why do you think Biggs wanted to start doing banishings professionally?”
            “It’s the Spider-Man Effect: power and responsibility.” That got me a couple of blank stares. “Women,” I sighed. “Long story short, Peter Parker gets superpowers, uses them for personal gain, doesn’t stop a robber when he has the chance… and that robber goes on to kill his Uncle Ben, the man who raised him. He learned about power and responsibility from that; if you have the power to help people, it’s your responsibility to do it. Seeing those dead bodies there was Biggs’ ‘Uncle Ben moment.’ He felt that if he had taken things more seriously then, he might have banished that poltergeist before it killed those people. I don’t think he’s ever stopped feeling guilty about that, and he’s been making up for it since?”
            I heard a muffled sound from Lexy and, when I looked over at her, I saw there were tears in her eyes. I was about to say something, but Adaire had another question. “Is that why you help him, then? Responsibility?”
            “Hell no,” I answered. “If I learned anything in the Marines, it’s that shit happens sometimes. Good people, bad people… shit happens to everybody. But what kind of person would I be if I let my best friend, the person who kept my family together when it might have broken apart, go down that road alone? Listen,” I said, leaning forward, “you want to hear something, off the record?” I waited until she nodded reluctantly. “I’m not the sharpest knife in the tool shed, but I’m not the fool I pretend to be, either. This job? What we do? It’ll kill Biggs without me. Either a banishing will go wrong when I’m not there watching his back, or he’ll sink so far into one of the funks he gets into over the shit we see that he’ll drink himself to death… or worse. So I keep him safe, and I play the fool and try to keep things as light as I can for my friend, the best person I’ve ever known.”
            I chugged the rest of my beer and looked at the two silent faces looking back at me, first Lexy, and then the reporter. “Any other questions, or are we done here?”
            “I think I’ve got everything I need,” she answered quietly as she took out what looked like a business card and scribbled something down on it. She looked up at Lexy as she put her tape recorder in her bag. “Thank you for setting all this up, Ms. Fogel. I’ll be in touch with details about when the magazine will come out.”
            “You’re welcome,” Lexy answered softly, obviously thinking about what she had heard.
            Melissa Adaire walked over to me on her way out and slipped me the card she had written something down on. “In case you want to tell me more, off the record, like you suggested before,” she whispered, her hand lingering on my shoulder a second before it slipped away and she walked out the door.
            I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the back of the card and saw what he had written there: her home number. I looked back up at Lexy to ask for another beer and saw her watching me. “Oh, don’t judge me,” I said with a laugh.
            Instead of answering, she turned away and walked out from behind the bar to over where I was sitting. She slipped her arms around me and hugged me tight before kissing me on the cheek. “You’re a good friend, Aldredge,” she whispered, giving me another kiss on the cheek before walking away.
            “That’s me,” I muttered as I watched her walk away. “The good friend.”