Dangerous Waters



Scene Title Dangerous Waters
Synopsis Judah investigates the murder of Elizabeth Marshall by interviewing her former employer at an occult bookstore in the East Village. The results are somewhat… unexpected.
Date October 4, 2008

A New Age Bookstore in the East Village


The East Village has changed greatly since the bomb. What was once the counterculture center of New York, it has become something of a refuge for the wayward and wandering in the bomb's wake. Situated roughly two miles southeast of ground zero, the jagged and broken northern skyline is a constant reminder that the city that once was, will never again be the same. The drive from Harlem is a long one, given the traffic congestion caused by the re-routing of traffic caused by reconstruction efforts and section of the city that simply aren't safe for vehicle passage.

Out his window, Judah can see the gray skies darkening as the day advances, a light rain beginning to fall as he makes his way down FDR Drive, turning off into the heart of the neighborhood. Vandalized cars rest in an empty lot beside the off-ramp, leading onto 6th street. Many of the buildings here were damages by rampant fires, looting, and vandalism immediately following the explosion, and two years has been hardly enough time for the neighborhood to heal those wounds. More windows than not are boarded up with plywood, then further vandalized with spray-painted graffiti. More than once the slogan, "FORTIS ET LIBER" is prominently display across an abandoned storefront.

Yet for all its suffering, there are still signs of hope among those who refused to move out. A few small businesses remain open, the pulse of a community that refuses to back down to gangs, urban decay, and the chaotic political climate. This rain, though, it's just enough to keep people indoors. By the time Judah turns onto Avenue A, it's clear he's in a more "cleaned up" section of the neighborhood, less signs of damage to the buildings and businesses, newer cars parked on the street. It's less than a block before he sees the ostentatious sign swinging in the breeze, a purple and gold affair depicting the Eye of Ra prominently in the center, with a marquee below that reads, "Enlightenment Books."

The building itself is unremarkable, resting on the corner of Avenue A and 2nd Street. A double pair of bright red doors mark the bookstore's entrance, shelves stacked halfway up the front windows with hardback books. A small sign flipped around in the window and the lights turned on inside show that it's still open, plenty of parking right out front at that.

Judah pulls up along the curb outside the bookstore, turns off the cruiser and removes his keys. With Kay still recovering from the beating she received, he's been spending a lot more time alone — time that he's used to get a better perspective on their partnership and the emotions holding it together. He hasn't drawn any definitive conclusions yet, but he has to admit this stint of solitude has been nice so far. God knows he doesn't get any peace and quiet at home when Colette and Tamara are staying with him.

He exits the cruiser and slams the door shut behind him, giving the handle a sharp tug after it's closed to ensure it remains that way. Before the bomb, no one in the East Village — or anywhere, for that matter — would be gutsy enough to break into a police vehicle. These days, it's all too common — especially in rundown areas like this. Mindful of his surroundings, the detective pushes open the front door and steps into Enlightenment Books, out of the rain.

There's something almost Dickensian about the bookstore on the interior; rough and worn hardwood floors, the musty smell of old paper, bookshelves that may very well have been in place as long as the brck have been set into the building. It has a gentle kind of charm that seems almost anachronistic. Old yellowed glass hoods the ceiling lamps that illuminate the store, casting a muddied light on the exposed brick walls and the stacks upon stacks of old and new books jumbled together on rows of shelves, tables and moving carts. A curved desk not far from the entrance looks like an old reception desk from an office that has been converted to its current use, the mahogony paneling on the front chipped and cracked.

A small bell rings when the door opens, and again when it closes, eliciting the attention of a gray-haired old woman seated behind that worn desk. One wrinkled hand gingerly shoves a stack of paperback novels aside, and her world-weary eyes peer at the detective through cat's-eye glasses. She doesn't speak a greeting, not like would be expected from the proprieter of a small store like this, she just studies Judah for a moment, head canted to the side. "Bleak out, isn't it?" Her voice betrays her age, having that gentle grandmotherly tone, as if she's going to ask if Judah would like a biscuit and a spot of tea next. It's the old woman's choice of words, though, that seems most appropriate.

Judah sincerely hopes she doesn't offer him a biscuit and a spot of tea. He's more of a coffee-and-croissant kinda guy. "That's October for you," he murmurs, pausing to take stock of the bookstore's interior. Enlightenment Books — like so many other non-corporate establishments in New York City — has seen better days, though Judah suspects it fell into disrepair long before the bomb hit. "Charming little place you have here, ma'am. How long have you folks been in business?"

"Forty years as of May." She replies with a crooked smile, the leather of her chair creaking as she leans back in it. From out of Judah's angle of sight, she retrieves a teacup, raising it to her lips to take one slow sip before settling it down out of sight again with a clink, likely on a saucer. "My husband Thomas, God bless his heart, ran it until he passed away. I'm just keeping up appearances…" Her eyes wander to the front window of the store, growing silent for a moment before looking back in. "I have hope this visit is entirely circumstantial, officer." Her brow furrows, adding to the wrinkles on her face, "Not related to why Elizabeth didn't show up for work this morning…"

The old books laid about do little to catch Judah's interest, mostly paperbacks and hardcovers several years out of print, and even then the topic seems to remains heavy-handed into new age philosophies and mysticism. It seems a selection of books for the Halloween season have been stacked on display by the window though, macabre classics of fiction and several "investigative" books on hauntings and spirits.

"Ms. Marshall was found murdered outside her residence earlier this morning." In his experience, Judah finds that it's easier — at least for him — to lay out the bad news to begin with. There's no use trying to hide the truth from Elizabeth's employer when she already suspects that something is wrong. "We don't have any official suspects yet, but preliminary interviews lead us to believe that her ex-boyfriend might be a person of interest. I'd like to ask you a few questions, but if you need to take a minute — I understand."

The old woman seems to deflate some as the news is given, and her eyes drift down to that unseen cup of tea. She stares in silence for a moment, closing her eyes and letting out a heavy sigh that only seems to further that weary look she has. With her gaze unfocused, the old woman shakily rises up from her seat, pushing the chair back with a scuffing sound of wood on wood, then begins to make her way slowly around the desk. She palms a black-covered paperback book, a large coffee-table style one as he does, and walks deeper into the area of shelves. "Do you read much, Detective?" Her tone of voice seems to have shifted to something clearly labored, weary now from the news of Elizabeth's passing, but the way in which she asks the question is suspicious.

The fact that she'd ask the question at all causes Judah to raise his eyebrows. "There's not much downtime in my line of work," he admits, "but I've been known to pick up things that spark my interest." His gaze follows the woman as she moves, though there's nothing about his body language or the kindly expression on his face that suggests he's suspicious of her behavior. Not everyone displays grief in the same fashion; if he judged everyone by the way they reacted to bad news, the New York Police Department would have a lot more innocent suspects in custody. "My tastes tend to be a little more… prolific than the selection you have here. Why do you ask?"

"Because you are treading on dangerous waters." The old woman stops by the far end of the store, reaching behind one of the book shelves to withdraw a large cloth-bound object roughly four feet by four feet in size, the old and yellowed cloth covering the two-inch deep contents bound in place by old twine. Shooting a glance in Judah's direction, she moves over to an empty table, laying whatever it was she retrieved from behind the book-case down, starting to untie the twine. The book she picked up from the desk is laid next to it, angled to face Judah's direction.

"Don't tell me. The Necronomicon? The Grimorium Verum? The Great Book of Saint Cyprian?" Judah's tone is dry, but not entirely humourless. It also suggests that he's a little more well-read than he'll admit. He crosses to the table, his hands in the pockets of his slacks, and lowers his gaze to the book's cover. He's more interested in what she has in the cloth-bound object, but he'll have to wait a few more seconds before his curiosity can be satiated.

Up close, it's evident the old woman's eyes are reddening on the edges, dilligntly but distractedly working to untie the twine on the dusty frame. The book she laid out is a rather unobtrusive affair, a black paperback cover with white text on the front, which reads, "Ghosts of Romania" in large serif font. The old woman scoffs at the mention of the books, wrinkling her nose while trying to fight back what is obviously great distress about the news of Elizabeth's passing, something that seems to have spurred her on to this odd path. "Have you ever heard of something called a Moroi, Detective?" One length of twine is undone by shaky, arthritic fingers, "They are phantoms of the dead, ones that rise from their grave to feed on the energy of the living…" Another length of twine is undone, and a third simply breaks as it's being untied, old and brittle. "My grandmother was born in what is now Yugoslavia, and she told me stories of them, of how in old times, the Moroi would stalk the villages, feeding on young children and leaving behind not but a strawman's husk."

As she says this, her shaking hands withdraw the cloth cover, revealing the back of a painting and an old worn frame. She yanks the dusty cloth out from beneath, letting it fall to the floor. Her hands grasp the edge of the canvas, turning it over to reveal a painting that looks like it has seen better days. Much of the color has faded from this acrylic work, depicting stark contrasts of light and dark. To Judah, however, it depicts more than just a grim piece of art, it shows a crime scene. An alleyway with boarded up windows, a door painted bright red that is left partially ajar, and a man painted only in black, with two red eyes. At his feet, a wrinkled corpse lies locked in the terrified throes of death. "I tried to warn her." The old woman says shakily, fingers moving down the sides of the painting. "My Thomas had a gift, Detective. One that no one believed while he was alive…" She looks back down to the painting, "Is that any less strange than an old woman, who believes in vampires?"

"Vampires are things of myth and fiction." The painting, on the other hand, is very real. So is the corpse back at the morgue. Judah's beliefs were brought into question just two years ago — he's not sure he's ready to reexamine his world view so soon, but it's difficult for him to ignore the evidence the proprietor of Enlightenment Books has laid out in front of him.

He reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out his cell, flipping it open so he can take a picture of the painting with the phone's built-in camera. "So much for the ex-boyfriend," he mutters. There's a soft clicking sound, followed by a bright flash of white light that illuminates the interior of the bookstore and glares off the front windows. "Your husband didn't paint any more of these, did he?"

"So was the idea of people who could see the future, fly, or speak to animals…" The old woman doesn't lift her eyes from the painting, "Is it that much more to consider, just perhaps, the things we had dismissed all our lives as fairy tales and superstition may have some truth to them?" Her eyes upturn to Judah at his question, then look down to the floor. "Dozens," The curt way she says that seems to indicate her distaste at the notion, though she seems to look over the painting with a longing expression. Conflicting emotions for certain. "More often than not, Thomas would destroy them once he was finished, he hated his work. He said it was worse than having to paint for a boss, because it was not his creativity at work, but God's hand guiding his brush." Only now does Judah notice the small copper crucifix worn around her neck on a roasry.

"Thomas had five pieces that he sold, when times were tough on us. I've no idea who purchased them…" Having taken on a glassy appearance, the elderly woman's eyes close and she curls her fingers around the frame before relaxing her grip gently. "You should take that book with you, Detective. Life has a way of throwing things to you at the most unexpected of times," Her eyes lift up to Judah, looking him over in the appraising way a family member might, looking for fault or imperfection. She says nothing, though, in this long stare.

"Thank you." Judah pockets his phone with one hand and picks up the book from the table with the other. Just what he needs — more bedtime reading material. "I appreciate the help. Not everyone is as cooperative when they find out someone closed to them has died." Not wanting to see Ghosts of Romania ruined by the rain, he slips it inside his jacket and holds it close to his chest to protect it from the light drizzle outside. "If you can think of anything else that might bring us closer to catching her killer, you can give me a call at the Crown Heights Police Station in Brooklyn. My partner and I will be taking Ms. Marshall's case — just ask for Detective Demsky."

The old woman nods her head slowly, turning the grim painting over to lay face-down on the table. She turns her head, looking up to Judah with a side-long stare, "Wonderful as she was, Elizabeth made her choice, and now she's gone." Her eyes are reddened now, more obviously so, emotions restrained by some other more overwhelming motivation than grief. "I did this for you." She watches Judah's expression carefully, turning to look down at the back of the painting. "Be careful, detective. Chase Death for too long, and Death begins chasing you."

"I've faced down worse than a couple of spooks, ma'am. Believe it or not, the undead are a pleasant change of pace." Judah doesn't sound very reassuring, but that's because reassuring people isn't his job — it's Kay's, and she's not here. "You be careful, too. If this wasn't a random killing and the murderer knows that Ms. Marshall was an employee here, he might come poking his nose around. Don't hesitate to contact us if you feel you're in any kind of danger."

Nodding slowly, the elderly proprietor of the bookstore remains silent, looking up to Judah with a feigned smile, "Thank you for your concern…" There's something about her tone of voice, an anxiousness in it that her painted smile fails to hide. "You've been kind." Her brows knit together, eyes diverted down to the painting one last time, fingers brushing over the back of the canvas. "Good luck…" She murmurs, "Chasing your shadow."

With a dip of his head by way of farewell, Judah takes his leave, departure marked by the clap of the door swinging shut and the jangle of the bell overhead. Through the storefront's windows, he can be seen pulling his jacket up over his head to keep his hair dry as he makes his way back to the police cruiser and fumbles around for the keys before climbing inside. A few minutes later, the groan of the car's engine reverberates through the chilly afternoon air — Detective Demsky and Ghosts of Romania are gone. Hopefully not forever.

Authorities have identified a 67-year-old woman who was found dead Saturday night inside a New Age bookstore in the East Village.

An autopsy performed today on Madeline Brill revealed that she died of unknown causes, said New York City Police Commissioner Karen Lau. Mrs. Brill's death follows closely on the heels of the murder of Elizabeth Abagail Marshall. Ms. Marshall who was found under similar circumstances early Saturday morning, but authorities have declined to say whether they believe the cases are connected.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Crown Heights Police Station. No suspects have been named.

Enlightenment Books is an homage to HeroesMUSH. You can check it out at: heroesmush.wikidot.com

October 4th: I Know What I Saw

Previously in this storyline…
A Corpse of Interest
This scene also begins the 'Brill Paintings' storyline.

Next in this storyline…
To Fool an Inquisition
She's Got a Cat

October 4th: To Fool an Inquisition
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