LifeGames Corporation

By Michael Smorenburg All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Chapter 31

Petals rained in a shower of beautiful purple and white hues. They settled onto the lid of the plain pine coffin that was already being absorbed into the thick mud at the pit’s base.

Lilacs had been Leon’s favorite flower and these petals were all from his own private garden.

Today was Friday the thirteenth, the same-day funeral honoring the dictates of Leon’s Jewish heritage.

Catherine surveyed Ken from the privacy of her largest pair of sunglasses. The certainty of his presence at the funeral had been a good part in her selecting this pair, the balance of her reason had been to screen her eyes; her eyes resembled a boxer’s at the end of brutality, swollen and bloodshot from crying.

Ken circulated through the milling crowd like a forlorn hyena, searching for an opportunity to close with his prey; but Catherine had been far cannier than his skulking could match, and she kept him at bay with her deliberately unpredictable movements among the mourners.

The dominating topic among the crowd centered on the mysterious circumstances of Leon’s death.

Although it had been raining hard, police detectives did not link the cause of the accident directly to the weather. The stretch of road where the crash had occurred had been flat, straight and well lit. In addition, it had been very well drained, with no puddles or drifts.

Skid marks on the road surface had indicated heavy braking and swerving by the driver, and finally, the vehicle had body damage that would be consistent with an impact from a medium sized animal, the hair caught in the front grill of the car had been coarse and had evidently matched with the description that Leon had made to paramedics before he had died.

“A goat!”

The revelation had stunned Catherine; the entire area was suburban with no chance of livestock for dozens of miles in any direction. Besides, it was not the ideal climate to rear goats and the appearance of one would be a mystery.

“He was evidently quite insistent, Cath,” Nancy had told her. “He wouldn’t hear of it being a dog. To be certain, they’re going to analyze the hair and a sample of blood that they also found.”

“Let me guess... no trace of the animal?” Catherine had asked cynically.

“No,” Nancy had confirmed.

A shudder of fear had gripped Catherine and she’d tried to act blasé about the details; “Perhaps he saw a goat and ran it down for me... to save me from my fate.”

Nancy had taken the comment for what it was, the reaction of a brave but terrified woman.

The strain and circumstances of Leon’s death plaited with the fresh prophesy for Catherine were too haunting to hear verbalized; she’d held Catherine close and omitted a yet more disturbing enigma to Leon’s closing chapter.

The district coroner had been perplexed. The vehicle had only light damage; damage consistent with a slow speed collision into a mid-sized mammal. The airbags should not even have deployed and there should have been no injuries, much less a fatality.

“...59-year-old male suffering acute death resulting from upper cervical spinal cord injury caused by cervical hyperextension—cervical spondylosis suspected.

Victim attended within 11 minutes of collision report; police report indicates collision with unknown mammal approx. 75 kilograms mass.

First responder Paramedics report victim alive and able to talk, unresponsive physical animation below line of clavicle. Victim reports horned possibly goat-like mammal appearing in roadway in wet stormy conditions. Vehicle airbags deployed.

Intensive care immediately provided, victim became comatose, remained in unconscious state for further 12-minutes until cardiac arrest.

Findings of autopsy: Externally, excoriation on the forehead and the left eyebrow and slight subcutaneous hemorrhage in the dorsum of the nose observed. The intervertebral disk and the anterior longitudinal ligament between the 5th and 6th cervical vertebrae severed with hemorrhaging in the region of the injuries observed. The 6th cervical spinous process fractured in the direction to the major axis. A part of the posterior root filaments torn and the bleeding points could be observed on front of the 6th cervical spinal cord. On the histopathological examinations, in C2, C5-C6 regions marked ischemic changes and hemorrhagic necrosis could be observed. From these post-mortem results, we diagnosed that the victim died from upper spinal cord trauma due to a stretching consequence of the hyperextentional injury...”

The funeral was at its end and the mourners drifted solemnly toward their cars, departing sporadically as the dwindling groups splintered.

As Catherine steered cautiously through the parking lot, Ken moved into her vehicle’s path. Her initial instinct was to run him flat, but sense took a hold over her and she halted.

Wearing his most disarming smile, he began moving toward the driver’s window. Not wishing to create a furor at a funeral, she cracked it open a fraction, leaving a letterbox slit for him to speak through. An army of ants ran over her body.

Ken removed his sunglasses and Catherine did not reciprocate. She noted with distaste that his glasses served as a mask to hide clear eyes reflecting no evidence of sorrow.

“Hi, Cath... very long time, no see...”

“It’s hardly the time or place,” her foot holding the brake shook violently, wanting to kick the accelerator to the floor.

“Don’t be silly, Cath. We’re adults. Let’s get over this. Let’s have a drink. It’s what Leon would have wanted.”

The emotional blackmail made her want to vomit. Her wrath was detonated, weeks of terror and grief turned violent in an explosion of hatred. Not even the decorum of a funeral could brook the tsunami of her derangement.

“The only thing Leon wanted was YOU behind bars... or preferably dead, you pig-headed bastard...”

Like something that didn’t belong to her, the tirade had begun as a low rumble boiling from deep inside her chest, but her rebuke rapidly built in volume and pitch to a haranguing assault;

“...We’ve turned out your filthy trough, you fuck, and found the drugs that you’re using for your fucking Time Dilation. You, my evil friend, will in future talk to me only through my lawyers!”

The last of her words were drowned by the howl of spinning tires as she roared away.

In the silent wake of her car’s departure, all stunned attention was focused on Ken. He re-donned his glasses and shrugged. At a glance he saw that none within earshot could contradict him, so he pitched his voice to reach only them;

“So sorry, lover’s quarrels... she’s taking the split rather badly. Bit of a drug habit I’m not prepared to fund anymore.”

His friends and work colleagues were some distance away and out of voice range. Ken breezed over to them, preparing an amended story for their ears.

Ken’s sexual appetite had been dormant for weeks, but something in Catherine’s aversion had re-strummed it.

She was a real challenge, and he loved nothing more than dominating a defiant woman.

On the drive home he decided it was time to view Catherine’s recording again. The ritual of reliving his possession over her was the only relief for the charging sexual tension he felt building within.

She would be his, no matter how hard she’d struggle.

Catherine drove directly from the funeral to D. Edelstein & Partners, her company’s Law Firm.

En route she’d called ahead to ensure David was still available, she predicted she’d be there in half an hour.

It was a little after four in the afternoon when she parked.

“Miss Kaplan, how’re you doing?” The receptionist greeted her as she came like a whirlwind through the door, “That was quick, you must have driven like the devil was after you.”

“You have no idea, Jean... can I go through?”

“Go ahead, Mr. Edelstein’s expecting you.”

As Catherine tore down the corridor, Jean buzzed David, and he met her at his door.

“Hello, Cath... Good God, Jean’s right... You look like death. Let me get you something?”

He led her by the elbow to his desk and pulled out a chair for her; “...Jean... Tea for me, coffee, milk and two sweeteners for Catherine, there’s a darling.”

Catherine had always been entranced watching David’s double chin as it jiggled when he spoke.

Standing a head taller than her and with the presence and character of a hulking bloodhound, he was a bear of a man.

Usually Catherine hated bumper stickers, yet she couldn’t resist the one that David gave out to his clients: “My Lawyer Can Beat Up Your Lawyer!”

No truer statement could be written in jest, so she’d affixed it inside her desk drawer to look at when life looked bleak.

David reached across his table and engulfed both of her wringing hands with one of his great hairless paws.

“What is it, Darling?”

His voice rumbled through the folds of his jowls. Though his doe eyes brimmed with gentleness and concern for her, she knew that a raw savagery lurked in their depths, reserved for whoever was bringing suffering to one of his flock. Today he was like an all-protecting father figure;

“…Tell Papa...” he coaxed—it was precisely what she needed to hear.

She broke into monologue, summarizing the previous months, while the great bunch of bananas that was his left hand held both her hands in a communion of solidarity, his right hand scribbled notes and facts.

When she’d finished her untouched coffee was cold so a second round was ordered.

Although Catherine was exhausted, David fired a new spark of life into her with his rousing can-do attitude;

“When will the blood results be available?”

“I only had specimens taken this morning, I guess it’ll still be another week.”

“What’s your doctor’s name? We’ve got to get this ball rolling.”

Expecting that she would have the chance to first brief Doctor Johnson of what to expect when David reached him, Catherine gave the name and number, but it was too late for intervention; David was already dialing.

“Good day... Doctor Johnson?... good... David Edelstein here, I represent Miss Catherine Kaplan in legal matters, she’s sitting with me now... we have a favor to ask...”

His words were crafted and voice carefully modulated to tolerate no question to his authority, there could be no doubting his habit of getting results and matters resolved without fanfare or delay.

The conversation finished with him recording the telephone number of the pathologists who were analyzing Catherine’s samples—he dialed again;

“Good day, my name is...”

Catherine sipped her coffee and watched David implement a blend of persuasive requests and cloaked threats to cut a swathe through the bureaucracy of the laboratory’s administration;

“...I appreciate these are not the standard tests, ma’am, that you’ve had to fly the samples to Germany, but my client’s situation is dire... it is life threatening. I cannot disclose the details, but there is implication here of an international incident...”

His applied pressure reduced the wait from twelve more days to a firm promise of a result by late Monday.

“So far, so good...” he reported with a smile, the receiver in his hand looked like a toy from a child’s playpen, the index finger of his other hand held down the cutoff button. “Now, this Kevin fellow... how do I contact him?”

The boom of David’s admonishment, threatening and coaxing the pathologists was still ringing in Catherine’s ears, so before giving the number, she made him promise to be gentle and go easily;

“Please, David... he is a good friend, it’s a favor in his spare time.”

David was enjoying himself and grinned like a giant naughty schoolboy as he jabbed at the telephone digits with his sausage fingers;

“Good day. Kevin Langley, please. Oh... Kevin? Super... my name is...” he gave Catherine a thumbs up and a shrug, asking if his approach was right.

She nodded affirmation.

He ran through the introductions in a voice more befitting a koala than the grizzly that he was.

When he’d finished, he winked at Catherine, “See... better?”

“Much, thank you,” she smiled, marveling at his ease of role-playing.

“Okay, you heard most of that. He’ll email me his report within the hour, he also promised to bare witness in court if it comes to that. We’ll need more of the unused patches, can you get?”

Shew... dicey,” Catherine gave the rocking hand signal of uncertainty. “These guys have locked up, tight as a submarine. I don’t think my outburst today is going to help.”

“Perhaps there’s something else I can do then,”

David prodded at the intercom again;

“Jean, please get me Alex King on the line would you, there’s a darling.”

He rang off, turning back to Catherine;

“This guys the best private investigator in town, if anyone can get their hands on something, then he can.”

His phone began to ring;

“Edelstein... Oh, Alex. Where are you? Yes... Yes.... Good, okay... pop round now; when can you be here…? Perfect, I’m waiting.” He replaced the receiver, “Satisfied?”

She smiled her thanks.

His joy for the fight rolled off his tongue like a Rasta; “Yeah my sist’a... I like it, things a’moovin’...”

They chatted for a while until the intercom announced Alex, David met him at the door.

Alex was a shady character with shifty eyes and Catherine instinctively disliked him. He wouldn’t look at her and barely made eye contact with David.

He sported a mustache and a loud Hawaiian shirt, suggesting he’d watched too many episodes of Private Eye television from decades before. Unfortunately, none of the charm of those protagonists had rubbed off.

It was a whistle-stop meeting, no more than a briefing; it was all he required—he only needed to know what a client needed, not why they needed it.

Moments later Alex was in his car and reversing out to perform David’s bidding—his negotiated fee handsome.

He knew both his destination and the facility very well, he even had a plan already well formed in his head to lay his hands on an incriminating patch from the very man who was his benefactor. It was selling barbed wire to the enemy, but it was a sale, not a moral conundrum.

What was his job, he pondered? It was a question he had asked himself countless times before; the answer was always the same... He was an information whore, a mercenary. He delivered outcomes, not romantic notions of chivalry and justice. “It’s all legal,” he thought, “...as long as I don’t get caught.”

“He’s the best, Cath,” David assured her, “...I hope you’re not offended, I’m afraid he won’t talk in front of strangers, but we’ll have the patches by Tuesday, latest.”

“By Tuesday... wow. I noticed, he’s real friendly...”

“Yeah... bit of an loon, convinced everyone’s as crooked as him.” David aped Alex’s shifty eyes and slinking body language then barked with laughter.

The guy had given Catherine the shivers; “...but what was I expecting?” she quizzed herself. A shark looks like a shark, not like a goldfish.

Something about him was so like Ken... Ken without the charm or humor.

“Another hyena,” she said absently.

“Exactly!” David roared with laughter.

“Fitting adversaries,” Catherine thought, “Ken the hyena and this bear, David. Or was David a lion? A lion could kill a goat.”

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