Chapter 1.55: The Blue Note
REMARK: This chapter is available as an audiobook at the TLHOC podcast.
Access previous chapters of the book on the Table of Contents page.
June 7, 8:00 a.m.
Billy had spent the previous evening going from bar to bar, trying to find a place that had a television on and listening to the news. Unfortunately, the night had been frustrating, and when the bars closed at 1 a.m., he was no closer to identifying the bearded ghost than he had been when the FedEx truck vanished the man at South Temple.
He considered finding a private home with a late-night news junkie. But he realized that at this time of night there would be no more local news shows to watch. And watching CNN all night wouldn’t give him any leads. So he had been waiting for dawn, simply walking the streets of downtown Salt Lake City.
When the sun came up, he found himself at the Blue Note Diner.
The Blue Note was a small dive from a place just off State Street, with only a dozen tables, and a clientele of mostly firefighters and construction workers from downtown. What they lacked in quality, they more than made up for in quantity, with what they shamelessly called their “heart attack on a plate”: a bed of shredded hash browns, topped with two boiled eggs order, two strips of bacon, two pieces of sausage, white sauce and melted cheese. The meal included coffee and you could get a third egg for an extra dollar. The whole thing was more greasy than anything else, but it kept the construction guys going until lunch.
Billy hadn’t eaten since 1857. Yet the smell of the place and the look of those heavy, steaming white dishes reminded him of what it was like to be hungry.
There was a handwritten sign on the wall next to the TV, which was always on. He read:
WELCOME TO THE BLUE NOTE:
Our food is hot and cheap, and
our waitresses are never in trouble
say about anyone.*
What attracted Billy was the TV above the bar, and Hazel; the matronly head waitress who worked at the Blue Note most mornings. Indeed, as far as Billy could tell from visiting the Blue Note from time to time over the years, Hazel has really did not henot having a bad say about anyone (and that included Democrats, too). But he was also a tough old bird who couldn’t stand any stupidity. She was the one who decided what was on TV, and at least in the morning it was more than likely the local news.
The joint was full this morning, and it forced Billy to climb and stand on the lunch counter to avoid being bounced around like a pinball machine. Even then, he had to dance around Hazel’s wet washcloth every few minutes.
It didn’t bother him. The view put his face a few feet in front of the television. And it wasn’t like he had to worry about blocking anyone’s view.
Billy watched the parade of horrors on the morning news, recounting the disturbing series of tragedies that had befallen the city over the past few days. The main story, as he expected, was the series of murders at the Valley Fair Mall. He learned the name of the man everyone had identified as the author, Bradley Seward, and that he was a pilot at Dugway. There was a photo of a reporter trying to talk to the family outside a house in Salt Lake City, but they rushed past the reporters without speaking.
Billy knew the real culprit wasn’t this man named Seward. But a little girl named Mattie.
The news anchor moved on, as if relieved to be talking about something other than the massacre. But the other stories were equally gruesome. In addition to the massacre, there had been a wave of suicides at a local school, an attack on a retirement home and even two small children who had thrown themselves under a train. He could hear the tension in the voices of reporters, trying to make sense of the violence.
Thisthat happens, he was thinking. And thatis happening much faster than Tuilla ever anticipated.
Conversation between customers confirmed that he wasn’t the only one who noticed. There were two older men at his feet, and as the story of the two children and the train played out on the screen, he heard their conversation. On the one hand, it sounded like typical old man banter, and one actually said, “None of this happened twenty years ago.” But despite their dismissive words, Billy could hear genuine fear and anxiety in their voices. They too knew that what was happening was far from normal.
And then Billy glanced at the screen and saw it.
It was the bearded ghost! His photo next to a passport photo of a teenager. And there was a name on the chyron under the photos: Hearing scheduled in the murder of Richard Pratt.
Richard Pratt, Billy thought, repeating the name several times to cement it in his memory.
So now he had a name for the ghost. Billy had never doubted he had been murdered, from the blood on the man’s sweatshirt. But the boy pictured next to him didn’t look the type to kill.
Billy concentrated on the reporter’s words.
“…I learned from this morning’s court filing that Howard Gunderson will have his first appearance and formal arraignment at Matheson Courthouse tomorrow. Unfortunately, we still have no news from the SLPD as to the possible motive for the murder of Richard Pratt, who was a respected faculty member of the University of Utah’s linguistics department. Unofficially, we have learned from sources that the murder may have been random and may have been committed as part of a gang initiation ritual…”
Matheson Courthouse. Tomorrow.
Billy engraved these key facts in his memory. Of course, there was no guarantee that Richard Pratt would be at this hearing, but it was a good place to start looking. Sometimes ghosts needed to figure out what had happened to them. And since this man’s death was clearly sudden, he was probably still confused. If he knew about this hearing, there was a good chance he was there.
At least, thought Billy, I can find a cop or a detective there, then follow them. Maybe someone could lead me to Richard Pratt.
Maybe he was wrong. Maybe Richard Pratt couldn’t stop what was coming. But he was the only vague hope Billy had, so he was determined to follow him.
Billy left the restaurant, just avoiding impact with Hazel and her platter of four heart attack specials. He effortlessly jumped out the front window and landed barefoot on the sidewalk outside.
Walking down State Street, he encountered the ghost of a young woman he had seen many times before. Billy thought she must be dead somewhere in that neighborhood, because she was still on the busy sidewalks of State Street. In fact, he had seen her there, on and off, for at least half a century.
He stopped to talk to her.
It was a ritual for him. He was always talking to the ghosts who seemed to be the most lost, the most desperate. He never gave up hope that the lost could answer him. But he had only succeeded a handful of times, and most of the crazed ghosts couldn’t see or hear him, or ran away in terror.
As was usually the case, this ghost could neither see nor speak to him. She just dragged herself along the sidewalk, being roughly jostled from side to side by passers-by.
Billy hoped she would someday find a quiet place, before she was reset again. Which had probably happened dozens of times already. Busy streets weren’t safe places for ghosts, especially those who hadn’t yet found their way or had gone mad. In time, maybe this girl would go to one of the safest places for ghosts to congregate: parks, libraries, warehouses… And of course, cemeteries. Anywhere would be much safer for this lost ghost than a busy downtown street.
Of course, it was also possible that she was simply doing what many others had done over the years. She wandered out of Salt Lake City and into the desert, seeking isolation. Billy had seen many of them standing in groups of twos and threes, still and silent on the white expanse of the Salt Flats, staring at the sun, motionless for decades at a stretch.
Billy watched the young ghost until she was out of sight.
The Last Fistful of Clubs is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you like this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including story world maps and contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read the previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
If you are interested in listen at the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available on the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on itunes, embroiderer, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast for more details.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.