“This file just smells,” Artemis said. She paced in front Wylie’s desk. “Wylie, you’re right, this might get expensive.”
“What’s it like?” Wylie asked. He crinkled his face and wiped his nose. “You know the people.”
“Like I went back in time, town stinks like sulfur from burning coal, you know, I wonder if they have actual clouds in the sky, or it’s just smoke clouds,” Artemis said. She shrugged as she kept pacing back and forth. “The hospital creeps me out, I had to come back home, to think.”
“Good,” Wylie said. He squinted his eyes after he read Artemis’ file notes. “What’s this business with trucks?”
Artemis stopped, she leaned her hands on Wylie’s desk.
“Just odd,” Artemis said. “They were loading stacks of boxes onto these refrigeration trucks, they were not delivering anything.”
“You sure?” Wylie asked.
“Yes, they were empty as they opened the back,” Artemis said. She pointed toward Wylie’s office windows. “Risk manager got antsy, pulled me away from the windows, then wanted to show me their cafeteria.”
“Think they’re peddling body parts?” Wylie asked.
“That’s a lot of body parts,” Artemis said. “Moving them around in broad daylight with a potential class action lawsuit hanging over their heads?”
Wylie pondered Artemis’ comment.
“Unlikely, ah, go relax for a few days,” Wylie said. He thumbed and fore-fingered his right earlobe. “I’d recommend setting up a conversation with the plaintiff firm, see where we sit before everybody lawyers up.”
“That was my thinking,” Artemis said. She leaned back up, crossed her arms, and started pacing again. “I’ll get them setup and get back up there, clocks ticking, need to respond.”
“Yeah,” Wylie said. “We’ve got less than ninety days, and then the dark suits get involved.”
“We better get a firm with local roots,” Artemis said. She stopped moving. “If this gets to a trial, better have a legit lawyer with a twangy accent, not unlike how you sound.”
“I’m just being authentic,” Wylie said. He laughed. “The wife digs it, I sound normal back home, you’d stick out.”
“I stick out everywhere,” Artemis said. “Later…”
Artemis drove back home to St. Petersburg, she flicked her car keys on the kitchen counter, and decided to take a walk. As she moved along Beach Drive within the touristy crowd she heard an odd voice.
Artemis stopped, she looked for a familiar face. But there were none, those that past by her in both directions along the Beach Drive concrete sidewalk were all strangers from all walks of life. And they were all with the living.
“Artemis, deny me again?”
She looked down, the voice emanated from an older man, with a significant belly, wearing a fanny pack. She stepped closer toward him.
“Do I know you?”
“Please, you know me, what do think? This body’s about done for,” Satan said. “Didn’t take care of himself. Heavy smoker. I borrowed him from the nearby hospital, they told the family he’s resting comfortably, so I took him. I need to get him back soon, maybe I should strip naked and go wander the streets, just before, memorable way for grandpa to go out?”
“What do you want?” Artemis asked. She evaded making any eye contact with anyone strolling past them. “You like creeping me out, you know I can’t stop you.”
“Well, well, so tense,” Satan said. “I thought we were friends?”
“We are not friends,” Artemis said. She stood tall, and resolute. “What?”
“Fine, then,” Satan said. It had sat next to a large bronzed feminized crocodile figurine that it was caressing like they were passionate lovers. “Look at the boobs on this thing, wish it was real, so, I brought you a present, and it’s not even Halloween.”
Artemis was not fooled, it was unusually warm for the winter season even by central Florida standards. But she felt a deathly cold wash across her skin. She knew what Satan offered as a present was likely a painful lesson.
“Well my dear, it’s not a full moon tonight,” Satan said. He kissed the bronzed crocodile. “But, go your way, have your Guinness at The Moon Under Water. Chat up your favorite bartender, Alan. After, walk out the front door’s at The Moon, go stroll beneath those banyan trees, and tell me what you see, you’ll love it darling, I guarantee it.”
“You did say you enjoyed torture,” Artemis said. She crossed her arms, she stared down at her shoes. “Right?”
“I do, all for fun,” Satan said. It waved her away with a dismissive hand flick. “And this is the sweetest kind, you’ll see my human toy.”
Artemis turned slowly and walked solider like away from Satan. Her vision was blurred as she kept moving past the restaurants and shops. She wobbled a bit, she kept staring down at the concrete, tourist children and hearing them lost in aimless conversations. Her thoughts blocked as if by the steam from a witches caldron for an unknowable gift from Satan. She sat on a wooden stool at the far end of the bar inside The Moon Under Water. She drank her Guinness, as the bartender Alan moved over closer to her from the other side he whipped the marble top with a moist towel.
“Now lass,” Alan said. He was an older man who said he hailed from Wales; a professional bartender that engaged his regulars like a kind priest within a confessional. “What’s the matter?”
Artemis gripped the Guinness glass with both hands.
“Tough file,” Artemis said. “My typical work day.”
“Ah, now, tell me more,” Alan said. He grinned as if you had heard the lament ten times that day. “You have an unusual job, I’m not made for such things. Too much death and despair for me.”
“I think my life might get worse,” Artemis said. She sipped the Guinness. “Do you think Karma’s for real?”
“Well, when we were in India,” Alan said. He whispered. “I was in military intelligence at the time, you know. They took it very seriously, I promise you that.”
Artemis considered Alan’s comment.
“I think I have a good heart,” Artemis said. She stared curiously up at Alan. “I think.”
“That’s karma,” Alan said. He pointed up toward the ceiling. “Only you know your heart, with your God. If it’s good, or bad, it’s how Karma works, at least, the best I’ve been told by the Hindu’s. It’s multi directional thing I think. It’s beyond my brain.”
“Then someone owes me,” Artemis said. “I hope.”
“Come back soon, Artemis,” Alan said.
Artemis finished her Guinness. She paid her bill, and walked away from The Moon Under Water’s front doors. As Satan had instructed her, she moved across busy Beach Drive by dodging cars, and she moved over underneath the two large banyan trees. She stared over at the pleasure boats and the yachts moored within the harbor. The partial moon blazed with a milky light as she watched the wandering spirits strolling undetected amongst the living. It was the first time she had ever seen them all slow down, as if they were being watched by an overprotective parent. But then she realized Satan had all power over the dead. And then, there her Benjamin waited for Artemis. He floated next to a ghostly white painted renaissance themed statuary. Artemis walked hesitantly over toward him across the park grass open space, and away from the banyan trees.
“Why?” Artemis said. She tried not to cry, she tried to keep her composure. “Why haven’t you gone on my love.”
Benjamin held his hands out, even though he could not touch Artemis. He appeared like a grainy hologram, trapped between universes.
“I’m not lost,” Benjamin said. “I love you.”
“I love you,” Artemis said. She thought how cruel Satan worked to torture the living, and the dead. “Go on, I’ll be fine, someday maybe we’ll meet again.”
Benjamin floated silently for several minutes.
“I need your help,” Benjamin said. “Satan knows the truth, I chose to wait, for my daughter.”
Artemis stepped closer toward Benjamin’s image. To those nearby their naked eyes only saw Artemis oddly talking to a statue. But St. Petersburg was a wacky town with many rather unusual people roaming the streets, so she was hardly noticed.
“I never knew you had a daughter?” Artemis asked.
“I was trying to tell you, I made a mistake,” Benjamin said. He looked downward. “But then, I took a bullet before… I’m sorry.”
“Where is she? I know we don’t have long,” Artemis said. She stepped back. “Satan sent you, I know this is not random, where is she?”
“Kentucky, near Selene,” Benjamin said. “She’s trapped, she’s a child, her mother’s a drug addict.”
Artemis understood that every human being held onto secrets because each person had their reasons. But as mortal time past the truth always emerged, even from beyond death. Satan devoured secrets for its own purposes to conceal the truth. Artemis thought that without releasing the truth every human was not living in freedom. And she thought Satan was having great fun at her emotional expense.
“What’s her name?” Artemis said, softly. She allowed the tears to slide down her cheeks. “I’ll find her, you know I will.”
“Laina Lynn,” Benjamin said. “She’s ten, I can’t protect her, and Satan knows she exists.”
“Satan knows we all exist,” Artemis said. She wiped her face. “Satan knows all our names, faces, we cannot hide. I just hope God’s watching.”
“I will not go on,” Benjamin said. His image began to flicker. “Without knowing she’s safe, Satan blocks me from her.”
“I’l find her,” Artemis said.
And thick clouds formed and blocked out the Moon’s glow, and Benjamin disappeared as he said, “I love you.”
Artemis stood looking at the statuary. She thought Satan had shared Benjamin for a reason, and then concealed him from the movement of the random weather patterns. But she understood Satan did not work randomly, she was now a target.
End. Chapter 4
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