EDGE Blogs :: Kilian Melloy

Third Medium

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday December 29, 2014

"Give me your wedding ring."

James Dooley, called Jade by his family, looked shocked. This wasn't what he'd been expecting.

But he wasn't about to argue with the gun I was aiming at him coolly, steadily, with the assurance of a pro.

"You want my wedding ring?" he asked, in a ragged voice.

Guess I was wrong about him arguing.

"Take it off," I instructed, "and hand it over."

His eyes flickered anxiously to the gun once more. I held out a cupped hand.

"Come on," I said. "I'll give it back."

He unscrewed the ring with a quick twist and dropped it into my hand -- and his whole life opened up to me.

After a moment, I set the ring on the table and stepped away. I'd had a few minutes alone in his hotel suite to set things up the way I wanted, and try to get a general read of him. As I expected, there was way too much accumulated experience in the walls and I wasn't able to lock much down as being his. A dim, fragile narrative about a callboy the night before... Nothing detailed or exquisite. The encounter was less than intense; they'd both been through too many similar hookups before, and the charge was minimal.

I had been certain his wife wouldn't have the slightest clue. My quick commune with his ring confirmed it. Of course, her ignorance was only to the best of his knowledge. Her ring -- or necklace, or earrings -- might have a different story to tell.

But his ring told me of other things she didn't suspect. Things that didn't leave cum stains or traces of cologne and deodorant lingering on T-shirts.

I gestured at the table. "Go ahead, take your ring. And while you're at it, write down the information I'll need for the offshore account."

Now Jade was really shocked.

Wait, let me intrude on the story here. Jade is such a stupid name for a guy in his late fifties. He was so corrupt, and at the same time so clueless, that the only fitting nickname for him was Jimbo.

Okay, better. We resume with our regularly scheduled killing, already in progress. Now Jimbo was really shocked. "Information?" he asked, in an utterly unconvincing voice.

"Don't waste time fucking around," I said, not even trying to sound pissed or aggressive. I find that in situations like these, perfect calm, even politeness, is more disarming than aggression. My style is to remain conversational -- not to bark. It really freaks 'em out. "Pick up the pen and write it down: Bank, account number, authorization code, username and password."

He still looked like he might want to argue. The ring did have an observation about him loving his money. Maybe more than he loved his wife -- and though he liked to play with boys when away from home, he did love his wife.

But surely he didn't love his lucre more than his life.

"Or should I just shoot you?" I asked him. "Maybe a few times?"

"All right," Jimbo said quickly. He hastened to the table, picked up the pen, and scribbled on the pad.

A few seconds later he threw the pen down and held the pad of paper out to me. "Here it is," he said.

"Just put it on the table."

He did.

"Now -- step over there, across the room." I pointed with the gun. He moved, slowly, almost drifting. His eyes were feverish with fear and schemes.

"So the money," he said. "The money is what you want."

"Hush." I strode to the table and picked up the pen. I'd brought it myself, unwilling to trust a cheap plastic hotel pen. Mine was still pretty cheap -- aluminum with a tawdry gold finish -- but it did what I needed it to. It buzzed with news. It couldn't wait to tell me.

"Okay," I told Jimbo. "Here's what we do." I ripped the top page off the notepad, crumpled it, and put it in my pocket. "You come back over here and write down the correct information. You lie to me again and not only will I know... I'll start to get mad."

Jimbo started to splutter an objection.

"Just don't," I advised.

He fell silent. I stepped back a few paces and he returned to the table. Taking up the pen once more, he came over with a stricken, hopeless look. "I give you this and you go, right? You don't shoot me."

"Oh, I shoot you," I told him. "That's what I'm paid to do. You know it, and you know why."

"Listen -- "

"I don't care," I cut him off. "I'm here to do a job. Details over and above that don't interest me. The money is extra -- a perk I'm taking for myself. You won't need it, and I could use a change of pace."

Jimbo actually gathered himself into a meager show of defiance. "Go ahead," he shouted. "I'm not giving you anything!"

I bent a smile upon him. "You will, because that way I won't have to pay a visit to your wife."

"She doesn't know anything!"

"So?"

I let the question hang in the air.

"Write down the complete, correct information. Don't jerk me around," I warned. "If you do, I'll know"

He edged a peek at me from the corner of his eye.

"I know you better after three minutes holding your wedding ring than your wife does after nineteen years of marriage," I told him.

Defeated, Jimbo bent over the notepad. It took longer this time; his sporadic scribble was that of someone recalling, double-checking, making sure to get it right.

He stood upright, eyes cast down.

"Stand away from the table."

He began to move.

"Leave the pen."

The garish aluminum ballpoint dropped from his fingers and rolled to the edge of the table. Jimbo drifted over to the bed and sat down limply.

"Why not pour yourself a drink?" I invited.

He made no move toward the minibar. The fight had gone out of him. He didn't even look afraid -- just peaceful. Or resigned.

I picked up the pen. It chattered to me about Jimbo's resigned truthfulness. I picked up the notepad. Written there were the numbers I needed, complete and genuine.

"I want you to know that I sincerely thank you," I told him.

"Just get it over with," he said.

I leveled the gun and did as he asked.

Time being of the essence, I simply shoved the pad of paper into my jacket pocket. That way I had Jimbo's notes without leaving behind evidence. Anyone who ever read the Hardy Boys books knows a pen leaves impressions of what's been written on the sheets underneath. Plus, I've got fingerprints all over the pad.

Speaking of which... handkerchief in hand, I gave the table a quick wipedown, a hedge against accidental contact with its wooden surface. Otherwise, I'm good; I was careful to touch nothing in the room, save the notepad and doorknob. Hanky serving to insulate my hand from the doorknob as well as give the knob a quick polish, I let myself out of the room.

Job well done.

***

The killing couldn't have happened more than three-quarters of an hour before the crime scene photos had been taken, FBI Special Agent Henry Darrow reckoned, poring over the report on his desk. That meant that the cleaning woman had entered the room scant minutes, perhaps moments, after the shooter had left. Maybe she'd even passed him in the hall.

The facts of the case lined up neatly. The victim: James Wilson Dooley. White male, age fifty-seven. Department head at Focus Investments, overseeing the company's risk management team. Also mixed up, or so his banking records seemed to suggest, in some sort of shady business: There was a history of transactions, deposits and payments, made with clockwork regularity for the past six years. The money came in from Dortch Consulting -- a concern Darrow had looked into before, and which was set up with all the careful finesse of a shell company, with very little up front to go on but byzantine layers once you peeked beneath the surface. More obvious was where Dooley was sending his money -- most of it to offshore accounts. Darrow was still waiting for follow up as to the status of those accounts, and he was going to be very interested in just how much Dooley had socked away... or whether the money was still there. This could have been a matter of a thief covering his tracks, or it could have been Dortch... better put, whoever was really behind Dortch... eliminating a liability. Darrow was willing to bet he'd find all of Dooley's funds still sitting there. Darrow couldn't prove anything, but too many corpses he'd investigated had too many ties to Dortch, nebulous as they might have been.

Darrow looked through the report again and tapped the cleaning woman's name: Luisa Flores. Darrow made a mental note to schedule an interview with her, ask her if she might not have passed anyone in the hallway on her rounds, anyone who looked suspicious in some way, anyone agitated. He doubted she would have. Judging from the crime scene photos and the report, the killer had been very good at this sort of thing. He'd not left anything in the way of evidence -- no shell casings, no fingerprints, no hair or fiber. It would have been easy to do: Wear nondescript, even generic, clothing; keep his hair neatly trimmed; wear gloves, maybe thin leather or even latex, or else avoid touching anything in the room that he didn't wipe down before leaving. He might even have simply touched nothing except, say, a doorknob -- without, that is, using a handkerchief, a shirttail, or a paper tissue.

Mostly, the key would have been calm, methodical comportment. No hurry, no mistakes; no rush or fuss, no stray hairs dislodged. A fight of any sort might well have scattered minute traces of the killer, but no ruckus had been heard... except, Darrow noticed, a brief instance of a raised voice, the words indistinct through a wall. The neighbor who'd dredged that up had heard nothing further, but then again, he'd gone and taken a shower a couple of minutes later. Maybe there was more, only no one overheard it.

Certainly, no one heard the gunshot. The killer was using a well-silenced weapon. He was also using specialty rounds similar to dum-dums; the slug that had killed James Dooley had fragmented inside his skull, shredding his brains. That one shot was all it took.

Darrow combed through the report for the eighteenth time, looking for anything that might have been a clue -- an extra cuff link, a button. There was nothing, though, nothing that Dooley hadn't brought with him. But something about the comprehensive list of the room's contents seemed wrong to him; if not something brought into the room from outside, then maybe...?

That's when Darrow saw it: The manifest of the room's contents included everything Dooley had brought with him, plus all the items you'd expect a midsize single-bed room to have been stocked with. All except one, that is: There was a pen, a plastic ballpoint stamped with the hotel's logo. There should also have been a notepad, similarly marked. But there wasn't.

That was the detail that had troubled Darrow. He sat back, shut his eyes, rubbed at them, and let his mind drift. That single omission might not mean anything. Darrow had stayed in rooms that lacked notepads; it was simply a matter of the previous guest having taken it with him, and the cleaning staff not replacing it. But what if, in this instance, it was meaningful? Darrow had cracked cases in the past by paying attention to just this sort of minutiae.

Say the killer had taken the notepad with him. Why? Did he need scratch paper? Had he needed to scribble something down, something he didn't know before he arrived in Dooley's room at the Hotel Beaumont? If he'd taken the notepad in a hurry, why not pocket the pen, too? Had the pen been dusted for prints? Darrow opened his eyes, sat forward, and double checked: Yes. It was clean. No help there.

Maybe taking the notepad was a matter of a killer claiming a souvenir. But if so -- two things. First, he wasn't the professional that the crime scene's pristine state hinted he should be. Only killers who acted from deep, disturbed compulsions took souvenirs. And second, what kind of souvenir was a hotel notepad? A compulsion killer would have wanted a souvenir from the victim. Dooley hadn't been mutilated... maybe the killer had taken something off his person? Dooley's wife had said nothing about him missing anything; wallet, keys, pillbox, wedding ring, everything was accounted for. Had Dooley worn other jewelry? Maybe no one had asked the wife specifically to list what her husband would have had on his person, and then crosschecked her list against what was actually there...

Darrow's thoughts were proliferating along too many avenues at once, thickening and snarling into a tangle. He had to step away, get some air, and let his subconscious do the thinking for him for a while. Darrow glanced at his PCD to check the time, and remembered that he had a date. He needed to get going if he didn't want to be late meeting Randall.

***

Time to kill, I sit at the booth and try not to pay attention to the sea of murmurs rumbling away. It's all around me -- in the wood paneling, in the faux leather of the banquette, in the tablecloth and the table itself. Most of these surrounds are organic material, so the background noise is pretty dim and diffuse. Much harder to tune out is the riot of impressions I'll get if I try to use the spoon or the fork on the table. This is why I always bring my own flatware to restaurants... though it can get a little hairy trying to explain why I won't use the cutlery provided. I usually just say it's my OCD, a pathological fear of germs, whatever. There was this one time I tried to tell the truth about it. Let's just say that didn't go so well.

The few people who have caught on to me all seemed to think that I was a mind reader, or liable to slip them the old Vulcan mind-meld and steal their souls or something. But this gift I have, it's not like that. I think back to Jimbo, how I maneuvered him to do everything I needed him to do, reading his wedding ring and then getting him to use a metal pen, all the better to pick up the impressions I was looking for.

I've been thinking about that assignment kind of a lot. It's only been five days, but usually I'd have moved on by now, be thinking about other things. This case is different: Among other reasons Jimbo has been on my mind is how the media has been making a meal of his tawdry end (the newsfeeds' word: Tawdry!), and my handlers don't like that. They know a killing will make a splash, but they count on that splash being transient in nature. They hate it when a case hangs on or draws too much attention. No one's asking really dangerous questions -- yet -- but a paper clip holding some important documents relevant to yesterday's assignment chittered with nerves around the issue. Something about the guys who hire the guys who hire me. Something about... well, I don't know. It's just a feeling, but I get a sense that there are some pretty powerful institutions involved with Jimbo's life and death.

Ah, Jimbo. I think again about the precise sequence of the dance I put him through. I'm half-analyzing for better ways to do it next time, and half mentally rehearsing. I'm a professional: I have got to stay sharp, make every assignment an A-game. It's not like I could simply have cradled Jimbo's skull in my hands and gotten the information I wanted, or even picked through his mind at a safe remove. I'm not a telepath, touch- or otherwise. I'm what they loosely call a clairvoyant: Someone who can pick up on events and other knowledge by handling objects, or even touching walls. That presupposes, of course, that the walls are made of something suitably dense like concrete, or stone, or at least some good old-fashioned plaster. And if they have a layer or two of lead paint? So much the better.

It's a private joke I have with myself that in order to make my gift work for me, I need the proper third medium -- something between me and whomever I'm trying to read. The pun lies with the old word for clairvoyants -- they used to be called mediums. I am a medium, get it?

Never mind. It's not funny if you have to explain.

But if I am a medium, then so, too, is the person I am reading -- a medium for emotion, for intellect, for drive and... other things, less definable things that hover outside of language. Things that are greater than us, things that... I don't know. Call them God, call them the Spirit World, or a Higher Consciousness. I glimpse something else there, something utterly alien and deeply familiar. Something we are all rooted in. Something that flows through every person.

Despite our illusions... our delusions... of individuality, we are all party to that mysterious greater thing, all compromised, all swept up. All people and maybe all objects also. All matter? Maybe. I think that's how my gift works. The party of the first part... them, any other human being... communicates, unwittingly, their thoughts and feelings to the party of the second part... me... via the objects I read, those third media. It's how I enjoy the advantage I have over them. But the flipside is also true: I have to avoid third media if I don't want to know too much about someone else, especially sex partners. Some forms of insight, you see, can be dangerous, even crippling.

It's been about a year and a half since I lost my husband. I've slept with a few guys since then, but this new fella... things might go somewhere with him. We've been spending time together for about a month and a half. He thinks I'm a congressional staffer, and lets me get away with refusing to discuss my work or explain my frequent absences, stretches of hours or even days when I'm not to available on my PCD. He's disclosed to me that he's a government worker, too, and he doesn't talk much about his job or hold the vagaries of my schedule against me since his schedule is pretty random, too, sometimes. I get a kick from dating an FBI agent, knowing that if he had my gift, he'd be very interested in what my personal possessions would have to tell him.

I know he hasn't got the first inkling, because there's no getting him to take off the damned St. Christopher's medal he's always wearing. Often, in the throes of sex, as I'm rubbing up against him, I'm grinding that damn medal into my own skin -- and the accumulated experiences of the years he's been wearing it get pressed into my mind. Some things stand out sharply, like buttes in a desert landscape: The few times he's been in firefights, adrenaline surging through him. The hours he spent at his mother's bedside as she slipped away after a stroke. The anger and grief and sick shock he experienced after he found out, all in one afternoon, that his cousin was the victim of his own pedophile father -- and even worse, the cousin was a perpetrator in turn, targeting his stepdaughter. Henry doesn't want to talk about these things, and I'm glad for that because I don't think I could stand to hear anything more about them. But nothing St. Chris has to say to me involves the slightest suspicion that I myself am one of the guys he might some day find himself chasing.

And, what do you know. As of three days ago, I did become the guy he's now chasing. "A murder at the Hotel Beaumont," that's all he'll tell me in words, but St. Chris winks and reveals more: I've seen the photos Henry's been poring over for hours on end, and I've heard snippets from the files and reports he's reading. I know that he's looking into the offshore money Dooley put away. When he finds out those accounts have been cleaned out and closed, Henry's focus is going to shift: He's gong to start thinking that robbery might have been the primary motive, and that will only help me. While he's chasing down dead ends in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands, I'll be working a quiet, gradual spell to suggest to him that the case cannot and will not be solved.

That's another flipside to my gift, one I almost never use, partly out of principle, but also because I don't usually have a need to use it. It's a pretty limited skill, but as long as I keep it simple -- one overriding idea, one single primal concept, like fear or hunger or fatigue -- I can influence how people think. Again, it's through some third medium... and, in this case, I think St. Chris is going to be as eager to hear my gossip as he is to spill his to me.

At last, Henry shows up -- a good twenty-four minutes late, but that's nothing unusual for him. "The Hotel Beaumont thing?" I ask him, and he grins a weary acknowledgement. He doesn't want to talk shop... can't, really... so we make conversation out of everything else: The Senators are having a shitty season. (The ball team, not the elected officials, though they are also having a shitty season, being as wedged up in gridlock as ever.) The president is being used by hucksters of every stripe, from Fox News to spam, as a way to get knee-jerk responses from his supporters and foes alike. Eventually, the talk turns sexy. I start to loosen up on my second glass of wine and wince inwardly less with every sip. The glass has so many shrill, seedy stories to tell, but the Cru Classé provides a lovely gauze that softens the shock that comes through every fingertip when I grasp the stem and draw another complex, red berry-laden mouthful.

***

Randall had accompanied Henry home the night before. Now, at 8:00 a.m., a little sleep deprived but feeling happy, Henry tended to the finishing touches of the day's wardrobe, tying his tie and then sitting on the bed to tighten his shoelaces.

Randall had been ferocious as a tiger. Twice. No, three times, actually... though he'd made a strange remark about Henry's St. Christopher's medal, something about St. Christopher being a voyeur and a teller of tales. Henry offered to take the medal off -- why not, he wasn't wearing anything else at the time -- but Randall said, "No. I like it."

"Hey, Randall, you just want to let yourself out? I need to get going," Henry called, loudly enough to be heard over running water in the bathroom.

"I'm almost done," Randall called back. "I'm coming!"

He'd said those same words two times... no, three... in the course of the night, but they had sounded much different. Henry smiled to himself, and walked into his living room. Seeing Randall's suit jacket lying on the floor just inside the door where he's flung it off (the two of them had only barely made it inside before they were tearing at each others' clothing), Henry picked it up, folded the garment over his arm, and began to smooth it.

He felt something in the inside breast pocket -- something substantial, flat, flexible. Something like a notepad. Hadn't he just been thinking about a notepad? What was that line of thought? It carried a weight about it, but Henry, distracted, was slow in putting it all together. He hesitated, then curiosity won out and he dipped into the jacket pocket.

***

I emerge from the bathroom and trot up the short hallway to the living room, feeling a little rushed but not wanting to contribute to Henry's habitual tardiness. I see him sitting on the sofa, something in his hand, his face quizzical.

Oh my god, he has the notepad from the Hotel Beaumont in his hand.

Shit. I should have thrown that away but I forgot it was in my jacket pocket. The hazard of living alone for the last year and a half, I guess. I'm no longer used to anyone else handling my clothes and other personal effects.

"Hey," he begins, looking up, "when were you at the -- "

He sees me looking at the notepad. He sees my horror and fear. I don't have time to play it cool, think up some lame excuse, deflect his questions. It's written all over me, just as, a moment later, realization scrawls itself across his demeanor. I don't even have to touch the walls to register his shock.

I charge him even as his hand moves swiftly to his shoulder holster. He manages to pull his gun clear, but not get it pointed at me; I plow into him even as he's rising to his feet, and we both topple over and bounce off the couch. Somehow, we miss landing on the coffee table, but I manage to bang the back of my head into it pretty hard. The pain bolsters my adrenaline, and I yank the gun out of Henry's hand -- a little too forcefully; his weapon flies across the room.

I manage to swing my elbow right into the side of his face, which puts him down enough that I can scramble to my feet. He attempts to follow suit, but I deliver a flat palm to the same spot I'd elbowed on his jaw, and sent him sprawling. He lies there dazed for a moment while I bolt for the gun.

He stirs, starts to spring to his feet, then freezes, staring at the gun in my hand. But I'm not going to shoot him. I'm not even holding it such that I could pull the trigger. Instead, grasping the weapon in both hands, I'm pouring a message into it -- just a single, simple idea, but a deep and powerful one. An honest one. Something that had been getting stronger for weeks, now. I'd never tried this hard or this desperately to pour an expression into any sort of third medium, much less a Sig Sauer; it's the latest model, all carbon composite and ceramic, but there's still a metal frame underneath all the hi-tech components, and the material is dense enough to hold a good impression for the short while I need it to.

Henry stares at me. "Put the gun down," he says -- probably all he could say, given the sudden and surprising turn of events.

I smile at him, and a welter of feelings pour through my eyes as hard as they flow through my hands and into his gun. "Okay," I say, and toss the gun in his direction.

He twists, leaps, and dives all at the same time, and comes up with the weapon ready and braced -- and then he stops, and I see it in his eyes.

The gun is talking to him. Or maybe I should say, I am talking to him through the gun. Everything I've put into it is now flowing into his mind, his body... his spirit, if he has such a thing. All the feelings I could never have communicated to him in words... they're pouring into him now, in this endless moment when we lock eyes and barely breathe. Feelings communicated not in abstractions or notions, but in their native form.

Lust. Desire. Admiration. Love.

I smile at him, sadly, regretfully. His mouth falls open and then shuts and he swallows, hard.

He doesn't make a move or a sound as I slip out the door.

There went the last vestige of the life I used to know. Time for Plan B.

For Evan.

Season Three begins June 1, 2015.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.