The Mustache Man

Chapter Thirteen


            There was nothing but silence. And then there was a light snoring. The Mustache Man slept and dreamed.

            He was in a town trying to get to a class he was teaching and he couldn’t find the classroom because he couldn’t find the college where he had been part time teaching. He kept asking for directions to the college. He was about to miss his first period class and he knew if he missed it he’d lose his job and the students he was connected to would never see him again.

            And this dream was real. It had all happened before when the disappeances began to accelerate. He had lost his job and begun to wander and he would have starved on the streets except for the money he found stuffed in his pockets when he woke up from his visits to those strange little towns and those quiet places he entered after he escaped the darkness and the hunter. And the hunger he almost said but he would not allow himself to say that word.

            For the Mustache Man knew he was being hunted and the Mustache Man knew that in his wake people did die because of him and because of this thing that hunted him.

            All this went through Pete Vargas’s mind in response to the question Carlton had asked before he went into sleep and dreams: “Why do you think people die because of you?”

            He couldn’t answer, not just yet. But he knew it had something to do with the thing that hunted him in the darkness and the storm before he disappeared.

            Silence stretched between them. Carlton could have controlled the Mustache Man’s mind but he would sense her as she probed. If she became like the hunter he hinted lurked behind him as he moved into the darkness she would lose him. Then he might truly vanish with no way for her to find him again.

            Carlton did what she always did when the hours accumulated inside The Vault. She worked twelve hour shifts to pay for the extras Shul couldn’t afford even though he worked two jobs at the University, custodian and security guard. He sent his daughters all the money he had had left at the end of the month. Carlton sent the signal from her monitor to the screens and filled them with one of her favorite black and whites, “The Asphalt Jungle.” It was the scene at the end of the film where Sterling Hayden stumbled wounded into the meadow. A group of horses are grazing. He falls to his knees as they nuzzle him then collapses. The horses gently run their manes over his body as life ebbs out of him.

            Pete Vargas stood beside her. She hadn’t heard him come down the ramps. How had he gotten down the ramps without Carlton sensing his approach? No one could get near her without her sensing their coming.

            She slid her fingers into his large bony hand. It was a mistake.

            Shock waves of electricity passed between them. She withdrew her fingers from his hand. The Mustache Man’s whole life had become part of her skin. She could feel and see things he could not yet express to her. She knew who hunted Pete Vargas in the storm and she knew who hunted the hunters that gathered inside him before he disappeared. She knew which of the hunters were hungry and which of the hunters healed. And she knew why he thought people died around him. She could reveal the secret to him and grant him one moment of peace. She would not do that. The Mustache Man had to win this battle for himself with Carlton functioning only as a gentle guide. He had to come to Shul intact, vibrant and dangerous.

            Pete Vargas had to discover the power that lay inside him without interference from Detective Carlton James. It would be an act of misguided mercy if she took away the struggle for his soul.

            So Detective Carlton James resumed the fourth interview between her and Peter Vargas,

            Question but never lead him.

            Guide him but never provide the answers to the puzzle of whom or what was the Mustache Man.


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