Franco glared at the trail that curved around the Basque monument leading to San Rafael, every step nearly a trial as the rocks dug into the soles of his shoes without mercy. Glancing over at Benson, Franco noted the former detective was having just a bad of time as he was. Benson winced crouching down to rub at his knees. Benson shivered, “Is it too late to say that we are way too old for this?” Franco snorted, “Yeah about twenty years too late.” Pausing, Franco let his gaze pan ahead upon the path ahead. “Think we’ll make it?”
Grunting Benson straightened up, reigniting the pain in his knees. “What choice do we have? It’ll be much better once we cross over.” Franco nodded, “Let’s do this.”
The air was cold and unforgiving on their bodies, cutting through the layered fabric, skin and flesh to rest in their bones. The trail seemed to mock them. Where joggers would race it daily with grace and ease, the two appeared to shuffle at a snails pace. Benson could almost see his breath; still conversation might take their minds off the journey. Curious and seeing he may never have another chance he had a few unanswered questions about his companion. “So…how did you get roped into it? What did Falcon offer you? How did you get the bones from the others? Did you pull a ‘Justin’ on them too? What power did you get? I could never figure it out.”
Stopping cold Franco tipped his hat forward low over his brow, shifting the Thompson strap upon his shoulder. His voice carried a bitter edge, “The fate of the city and maybe the world hangs in the balance and you want story time? Fine. First of all never mention that asshole’s name again. Everybody but you got forced into this, I owed that prick nothing but an ice pick in the back of the head.” Franco let his words hang in the air letting Benson figure it out for himself.
Benson blinked, “You were the one that killed, Fal-him? Is that why you have possession of the book?”
Franco reached into his long coat producing a cigar ignoring the question, running it under his nose and suddenly jerking his head back. “Ugh. I think I got a little Justin on my smoke. Damn shame,” Wiping his nose Franco considered the cigar and shrugged and clipped off the end before igniting the cigar with a lighter. Benson blinked agape, and casually Franco continued his tale. “Elsa my wife was pregnant. I always wanted a kid. Someone to walk in the old man’s footsteps, ya know?” Taking a long puff of the cigar, Franco let the smoke curl from his mouth as he spoke. “She was about to miscarry, docs did all they could. I prayed hard, going to the chapel. I just wanted Elsa to make it. I asked God Almighty to save them. Promised to go straight, settle down, be a good man. You know, the typical desperate shit. God didn’t answer, that asshole did though. Said he could save her, all I had to do was do a favor for him.”
Benson felt for Franco, murmuring. “So you agreed.” It was not a question.
Franco nodded, and motioned for them to keep walking. “When I said yes, it felt like my Satan himself took my soul. Even after he saved her, I found I couldn’t keep any of my promises I made to God Almighty. Life got hairy; I kept having to… to do things to stay ahead of Johnny Law. Every loose end I wrapped up turned into two more. I still lost her just after we stopped that ‘thing’ we were grouped into dealing with. So I paid that asshole a visit, and gave him a necktie. Asshole laughed the entire time even after he stopped breathing. His eyes, they kept laughing.”
Benson shivered at the mention of the ‘thing’ more than Falcon’s death. Just the thought of it opened the door to visuals that took years of hard drinking and illicit medications to forget, which never truly worked. Some sort of demon or dragon thing from the other side that wanted to make Downtown Reno its chew toy. They were thirteen strong then, and only four made it out. That was nearly thirty six years ago. Shaking his head, having no real time to linger on the memory for a few hundred yards away loomed the tunnel that connected to San Rafael. “So you killed him, took the bones and the book?”
Shrugging, Franco took another draw from the cigar before stooping down and picking up a jagged rock about the size of his fist. Striving to keep the casual tone in his voice and failing into anxiety. “Didn’t I just say that? What, are you recording this? Doing it made me feel better for a whole day. It didn’t do any good. Look at us now, asshole shows up in our dreams and here we are. Fucking magic. ” Showing the rock to Benson, Franco changed the subject. “This one good enough?”
Benson sighed exasperated with Franco, eyeing the stone and shook his head. “Right size. Too jagged. Needs to be smoother. Like a river rock.” Franco tossed the rock over his shoulder with a grunt.
Benson scanned the path with his eyes, and reminded Franco of the pact they had been sworn to. The former detective’s voice took on an edge of duty, “We took an oath to protect the city from the unnatural. We made that promise to the city, not to him.”
Gritting his teeth Benson bent down painfully and pulled up a fist sized grey stone, smoothed by years of water and weather. “This one will do.” Franco merely grumbled in response.
Benson had spent years experimenting with the power he was given. He could see the truth, and pathways to the other side. Nothing could be hidden from the former detective’s vision. However, everything came with a price; Benson could never forget the truths he witnessed.
Standing before entrance of the unlit tunnel, Benson turned to Franco. “We have to spit on it at the same time, I’ll do the rest.” Franco arched a brow almost amused. The two leaned over the held out stone and the duo spat upon it. Benson reared his arm back, fiery pain lancing through his shoulder, up his arm all the way to his finger tips. Benson cast the stone at the entrance; the overwhelming sound of shattering glass filled their ears. The echo of glass breaking was replaced with a rush of dark wind pulling the two towards the entrance of the tunnel. Franco swore in a yell, “I fucking hate this part!” pinning his fedora to his head with a hand. Swept off their feet the bitter friends were dragged into the darkness of the other side.
Mist rolled along the ground snaking around the two. Benson groaned his head throbbing; rolling over on his back from being face down. A pale blue light cast about, feeling his forehead his fingers came away crimson. Muttering to himself, “Great.” sitting up Benson called out into the darkness. “Franco?” Benson’s call echoing as if he was in a bare room or tunnel.
Franco moaned in response, “Over here.” The gangster sat up, bracing the Thompson on his lap. He could see Benson near him, and chuckled. “Over here you blue jack-o-lantern.”
Benson rose steadying his legs under him; staggering over to Franco he offered the gangster a hand up. “Yeah laugh it up, at least we got light.” Franco chuckled again, “As I recall that is not always a good thing here.” Taking the hand Franco stood and dusted himself off. Letting go of Franco, Benson rubbed at his temple consciously. The blue light came from the arcane runes underneath the skin of his face. Looking over his shoulder Benson watching the broken glass of the gateway began to rise, reforming itself to cracks and the cracks sealing in eerie silence. The tunnel gaped, whole and complete once again.
Franco looked over the landscape, while silently offering Benson a handkerchief. Downtown Reno loomed in the distance without light and without life. A lone pillar of smoke rose up from the center of downtown, frozen in time. The grass round them was stunted and grey. It was so quiet Franco could almost hear himself think, nothing moved. The sky gave way to countless stars, though Franco knew they were not stars at all. They were fragments of souls, lost and one day to be found.
The two began walking once again, the land changing around them structures rose and fell around them. Sometimes they heard voices, murmurs of life outside of the realm they walked through. The path was straight and narrow, Benson cautioned Franco. “Careful, step off the path and you could end up anywhere. If it’s not on the path it’s not our business, no matter what you see or hear.”
Rolling his eyes Franco, pawed through his crowded pockets, responding sarcastically. “Yeah, yeah I know. I just don’t believe it.” Fumbling his zippo lighter Franco lost his grip on it and stooped to pick it up after it hit the ground. The gangster’s foot bumped the gold plated Zippo and it scooted off the path, winking out of existence. “FUCK!”
Benson looked at the spot it disappeared. Smirking he patted the gangster on the shoulder. “Well someone has an authentic Franco Milliner Zippo heading to them.” Franco balled his hand into a fist. “I’ll get it back, just you wait.” Benson shook his head. “Come on.”
Time had no meaning here; the things they saw off the trail could have taken place years ago, or had yet to happen. An impossibly tall and thin woman wearing a sky blue ball gown walked a young girl in pajamas into a thick cluster of bushes and out of sight. On the other side of the path a two story house engulfed in flames with a woman standing outside clutching a baby under her arm pointing a pistol at the doorway.
Franco muttered, “How much further? This place gives me the creeps, worse than last time.” Franco kicked at a black cat that held a playing card in its mouth from entering the path. The cat skittered away and into the darkness. Benson shrugged, “We get there when we are supposed to.” Benson came to a stop and Franco crashed into his back. Benson noted he didn’t feel any pain, and had not since they entered this…spirit realm.
Franco squawked, “What is it?” Benson pointed ahead, “We have company.” Looking over Benson’s shoulder to the person standing in the middle of the path, Franco arched a brow. This place was crazy, this chick was dressed in nothing but a cloak, and a smile that promised trouble…