It wasn't so much storming a castle as it was storming the Tudor-style house in the middle of bland . And calling it "storming" was a huge stretch as well.
Max parked the van down the block from Connie's house. When the engine cut off, no one spoke or made to get out of the van. Still not moved by their fear of the skinny boy, I opened the van's back sliding door and levered myself out.
"What? Am I taking point on this one?"
"It was your dumbass idea." Zoe complained.
"Hey, you wanted to go after him, too." PJ pointed out.
"Yeah, I wanted to go after him in a dark alley with a blunt object. None of this in broad daylight bullshit."
"We're just here to talk to him." I reminded them.
"And put him down if we find out he's behind all the murders." She shot back. "Listen, you guys just stroll into there and let him put whatever kind of magic he has on you. I'll wait out here with the weapons. You guys scream if you need my help. Which you will, because this plan is dumb."
I rolled my eyes at her. "So you've said. I'm going in. All of you can wait out here if you want." I turned and starting walking towards the normal looking house.
I made it to the front stairs before I heard some of the others catch up. Max brought up my left and a very reluctant looking PJ was on my right. That surprised me. I thought since he was super against this whole thing he'd make Tami come.
"Tami's going to make sure Zoe doesn't do anything stupid." He said like he could read my thoughts. Even in Wisteria it was more likely that he could just read the question on my face. I had a sucky poker face.
I unhesitatingly rang the doorbell. I had to admit I jumped a little bit when it was opened right away. A woman looked at the three of us and smiled.
"Well I don't think you all are here for my party." She said. Now, I could hear the sound of a bunch of woman gathered coming from further into the house. I wondered for a split second if this was perfect or if it messed everything up. On one hand, the party guests could provide a distraction or witnesses. On the other, if things turned bad with Connie who was to say that the—mild-mannered appearing ladies I was catching glimpses of behind the one who had opened the door—weren't in the same boat weirdness-wise as the boy was.
I blinked and decided to go for it. The woman who had greeted us certainly wasn't giving off the same surly vibes as Connie or any paranormal ones either as far as I could tell.
"Ah, no." I answered. "I was just wondering if Connie was home?" I mentally constructed a lie having to do with school work, but before I could get it together and get it out, the woman waved us inside.
"Of course he is. Upstairs, farthest room on the left."
"Thank you, Mrs. Vegas." I said with a smile. I wasn't raised to have manners, but I managed to pick them up along the way. And I assumed that was who she was, Connie's grandmother, since she was throwing a party here and letting people in. PJ was right, she did look really young for a grandma. But maybe she just had a great skin care routine?
Speaking of PJ, he discreetly nudged me in the side, but I ignored him.
"You can call me Gloria." She said with a wink and started to leave us in the hall. "And remember to close the front door on your way out after my grandson gives you the boot." She called over her shoulder.
I didn't know if that was encouraging or not.
We had to pass the living room to get to the stairs. I looked inside briefly and thankfully there were no pentagrams or sacrificed cats or whatever the gang expected to find in Connie Vegas' house. There was just a group of woman, most sitting with Gloria standing and showing the others something. We were passed the living room before I could get a good look. Was she having one of those Tupperware parties? That would be weird. I didn't think people did that anymore.
I went up the stairs with PJ close behind and Max bringing up the rear. Laughter bubbled up from the living room and followed us up. Apparently kitchen storage was a laugh-a-minute kind of conversation.
"I still can't believe we're fucking doing this." PJ said right as we reached Connie's door.
I knocked on the door instead of replying. We were doing , it was happening. There wasn't an immediate answer, but I caught half of a sentence through the door after a momentary pause, specifically, I heard "the fuck?" and then door was opening. It might have been the entire sentence.
Connie stared at me in shock for a solid second before his expression started to twist up into the angry one I was familiar with. "Hey, Connie—"
"Constantine, my fucking name is Constantine for the millionth time." I could definitely relate to the irritation so I wasn't in danger of throwing any back at him.
"Constantine," I tried again, but the skinny boy cut me off again.
"Why the hell are you here? Whatever, I don't fucking care. Just get out of my house." I felt PJ start to shuffle back down the hall, but Max got in his way, bringing Constantine's attention to them.
It made him laugh. "Hanging around them, new kid? I knew you were stupid, but I didn't think you were that stupid."
I jumped at that opening. "Oh, so you know Max and PJ then? Good, so we don't need any introductions then. Well, besides, you know, us. Since we've talked twice already and we didn't get the name exchanging part. I'm Skyler, hi." I waved at him while he just looked at me like he was mentally going through a list of things within reach that he could shove down my throat and kill me or at the very least make me shut up.
But he hadn't started yelling at us to get out again. So, progress? Maybe he was curious about what brought us here no matter what he said about not caring.
"Look, I know we got off on the wrong foot, and I'm sorry that we just showed up at your place out of the blue like this, but we have a problem and I think you can help."
I definitely caught a flare of interest in Constantine's expression before he tried to hide it with bored indifference. I could also practically feel PJ glaring at the side of my face. He apparently didn't like how I was spinning this. But it was my plan, so whatever.
"Help you and the monster squad over here?"
"Yeah." He sighed and shook his head, but he was apparently doing it at himself rather than us since he opened his door wider and invited the three of us in. And by invited, I mean made an impatient hand gesture towards his room.
PJ huddled further into his his jacket like it could protect him as he stepped over the threshold. Just looking around Connie's—his full name was such a mouthful even in my head—room I wondered what there was to be protected from. His room look pretty damn normal for a teenage boy.
The wallpaper, the wooden floors, the bedclothes, and the band posters that covered the walls, were all dark, muted colors that made the room see smaller than it was. There weren't dead birds hanging from the ceiling or bloody ritualistic symbols scrawled on the walls or whatever the teenage population of Wisteria expected to find in Connie Vegas' room.
Connie himself didn't miss my scrutiny of his space going by the way his hands balled into fists under the too long sleeves of the thin black sweater he wore. All his expression gave me was bitch face, though. I tried to make my own expression as not-judge-y as possible. Even though if he eased up on the goth boy thing and let color and light into the room it would look and feel bigger and not so cramped.
"So, yeah," I started. Very impressively. "It's kind of about Mike Cormack."
The boy rolled his eyes so hard I almost expected him to strain something. "If you came all the way over here just to hear me admit to whatever bullshit some idiot fed you, you wasted your time. So, go fuck yourself and goodbye." He gestured towards the door.
PJ nearly tripped over himself to get to it.
"That's not why we're here. I just wanted to know if you thought it was weird that nine other teenagers—well ten as of today—in Wisteria were killed just like him."
The anger slipped right off Connie's face. He paused then ran a hand through his hair. "No, I don't think it's weird. They're being murdered for a reason. They're sacrifices."
PJ made a noise like a dog whose balls just got stepped on. "He admitted it! Oh, shit!" Unfortunately, I didn't get out of the way quick enough, so the salt PJ threw at Connie hit me too.
"PJ!" I yelled at him while I tried to shake it out of my hair.
"I had nothing to do with it, you giant asshole!" Connie yelled at him, the salt doing absolutely nothing.
"Obviously." I said, stopping the tirade he was about to unleash. "How'd you find out that they're sacrifices?"
Still looking pissed off, Connie didn't answer, he just grabbed at PJ who flinched. The sudden movement made the button pinned to PJ's jacket—it was back with a green alien face on it—rip off into Connie's hand.
Connie's face scrunched up in disgust and he dropped the button to the ground. "You masturbate. A lot."
"What?" PJ demanded. "I mean, I'm not denying it, a man's got needs. I just don't get what you're getting at."
"Give me something of yours, new kid." Connie ordered me.
I automatically patted my pockets to see what I was carrying. I doubt he meant the pouch of salt I had. Did he want my keys? My fingers found the shape of the small pocket knife I had. I know I was all against Zoe arming up, but that was Zoe. I had only known the girl for a couple of days and I knew that was a bad idea. And I almost always had it with me, even in school where I had to get crafty about hiding it. It wasn't because I liked carrying a knife around or anything, it was just because it was like an heirloom, I guess.
I got it out of my pocket and offered it to Connie. He didn't say it, but his expression was saying "Really?" loud and clear. I noticed he made sure not to actually touch me when he picked up the knife, though twined through the regular body heat of an almost-touch was something that felt agitated. Like angry static.
I was distracted from that by the way his expression was quickly replaced by a considering look as his hand clenched around the handle of my knife.
"I can't believe you just handed Connie Vegas a knife." PJ mumbled behind me.
I wasn't the only one to ignore him this time. "This was your grandfather's." He said and I felt my eyes go wide.
Okay, I knew what cold reading was, but... it was a good con for a reason. "Lucky guess." I said, also ignoring how my pulse sped up now. If he wasn't cold reading me, if this was real, this would be another brush with the paranormal. My first that didn't have untimely demise as one of the outcomes. Hopefully.
Connie hitched his bitch face back on, not pleased that I wasn't overtly super impressed. "He didn't give this to you. He didn't want you to have it. His favorite nickname for you was 'crybaby.'"
My heart raced and my stomach dropped like I had missed a step. It was true. He wasn't cold reading.
He looked mollified at my shock this time and threw my knife back at me. I caught it against my chest and inspected it like some scratches on the handle were going to tell me how he had done that.
"That's why I went to that asswipe's funeral." Connie explained. "I knew people would start saying shit if he was mysteriously murdered. Even in Wisteria. And my grandma doesn't—anyway, I thought I could find proof of who really did it."
"Did you?" Max asked before I could. He was over in front of Connie's door, but I suspected it was more to keep PJ from leaving than fear for himself. He didn't seem as rattled as he had been earlier.
"I couldn't get a picture of who did it, just flashes of things that made it pretty obvious he had been sacrificed."
"What do you mean 'picture'?" I asked.
"It's how I do..." He made a vague gesture in the air between us. I guessed it was supposed to symbolize the clairvoyant act he pulled off with my pocket knife. "I touch and then I see things. And hear things sometimes. Feel things sometimes. It's a giant fucking pain in the ass."
I had roughly like two hundred more questions to ask him, but to get the user manual version of Connie's powers wasn't why we were here. "And the flashes of things you saw?"
Connie rubbed absently at his arm and looked over at his window. There was a little gap in the curtains that let him see outside, but I was betting he wasn't looking at anything on the other side of the glass. "Candles, chalk outlines of occult designs, the whole nine yards. I didn't see anyone's face but Mike's. And that's all I got, so go stop this and make Wisteria safe or whatever it is that you idiots like to think you're doing."
"Okay. Thanks." I said. And I was an idiot if I thought for one second that this whole thing was going to go this smoothly.
PJ started talking. "Sorry 'bout the salt, dude." Which was actually very encouraging. So I was lead into a false sense of security.
Max opened Connie's door and I followed him out as Connie replied to PJ's apology with a scoffing sound and an eye roll I swear I could hear.
"I gotta ask though, why is your grandma so young?" PJ suddenly backing into me was my first clue that the question hadn't been well received. At least he hadn't mentioned her boobs.
I turned back around and saw Connie looking so pissed off. The most angry I had ever seen him. I had only known the guy for a couple of days, but still. He was beyond angry, he was enraged. Oh, shit.
"Get the fuck out!" He yelled and then pushed PJ into me more. I nearly fell, but Max helped me find my feet and get PJ upright in one very impressive move.
I heard his door slam as we reached the top of the stairs. I looked back for a second, disappointed with how things had ended. How likely was he able to help us with this case now?
Passing the living room this time, I clearly saw the objects the group of women were looking at and passing around. Not a Tupperware party. A sex toy party. Gloria was definitely not your average grandma.
We stopped back at PJ's long enough to throw the agency's stuff into the back of the van and head to my place. Turner was already gone, a note left in PJ's garage informing us that he would be waiting at my house in neat, precise writing. Which raised questions I didn't feel like giving brain space to at the moment like, how was he going to get there, was he just going to wait around outside, and how he even knew where I lived in the first place. I had to remind Max of my address before we peeled out of PJ's driveway.
Only one of those questions was answered by my garage door being wide open when we pulled up. I got out of the van and entered the garage to see Turner rearranging the boxes I had been too lazy to unpack so there would be more space for paranormal investigating
"Make yourself at home." I told him. He didn't rise to the bait.
Instead, he just asked, "What did Connie Vegas have to say?"
"Oh, my fucking god, you guys! He's psychic." PJ said. In his excitement, he abruptly jerked away and left Max carrying a filing cabinet by himself.
"Dude." Max nearly dropping the thing on my driveway distracted PJ enough that I was able to get a word in.
"Clairvoyant, I think is the proper term." Turner was staring at me, hard. But it was different than before. Like, I don't think he was calling me an jerkass in his head. "And he said that they're sacrifices, the kids that turn up dead. The murders are full on ritualistic, which I doubt the sheriff's department has picked up on since the bodies are dumped away from wherever they were actually killed." He was still staring at me. It was making me nervous. "So? New lead?"
It took a couple of hours and some delivered pizza, but the new—possibly temporary—HQ for the Spoon-Fed Dog Paranormal Investigation Agency was up and running. We sat around the table I let them bring down from the dining room—even if my parents showed up for a meal, there was a smaller table in the kitchen that could seat all of us with room to spare—and worked the case.
Max, PJ, and I had already told the others everything Connie had told us and now we were trying to figure out what it all meant.
"So, sacrifices? That has to be a pretty common occurrence in weird central, right?" I asked.
"Thankfully, no." Tami answered.
"For the record, I still don't trust Connie Vegas." Zoe said as she came back down to the garage after raiding my kitchen. The girl was a bottomless pit. It was impressive, really.
I ignored her and busied myself with looking through the honest-to-god dossiers Turner had made up for all of the murdered kids yet again. It had an insane amount of information on them all. Thinking about how much detail Turner put into the helped me not think about that girl who really liked chess or that guy who had Chemistry second period were dead now.
I was looking for something more meaningful that connected them all. When I shared that with Turner, he had just sighed and told me he doubted there was anything else besides their ages.
It took me another hour and a shitload of , but I had an idea.
"Hey." I said, interrupting whatever PJ and Zoe were arguing about now. "Okay, this might sound dumb, but I was thinking about, like rituals and sacrifices in movies. And, look, I don't want to stereotype anybody, but am I right in thinking that some of these kids weren't the most popular or kinda the shy type?"
"Mostly." Turner agreed. "Spit it out."
"How likely do you think it was that they were all virgins? You know, virgin sacrifice? It's a classic."
"Dude." PJ breathed like I had just blown his mind.
"Hey, none of them were big ol' whores." Zoe scrutinized the board with the pictures of the victims. "Donny Mendoza's not up there. Or Delaney."
PJ choked on a laugh at the same time Max said, "Hey!"
Zoe held her hands up. "I just call 'em like I see 'em."
"Stop it, Zoe." The anger in Max's tone was surprising. Who was Delaney? A friend?
"Whatever, it's your damage." Zoe relented.
"Mike Cormack's up there." Tami pointed out. "He wasn't your stereotypical loser."
"Yeah, but he was obnoxious as hell and a total dick." PJ replied.
"And as ugly as a plucked ass." Zoe added.
"'Plucked ass,' who plucks an ass?" PJ asked.
Zoe shrugged. "I heard Connie Vegas say it once when we were in the same art class. He may be evil, but the boy does have a way with words."
"Guys, maybe we shouldn't be so... harsh." Max said, gesturing towards the files on the table. "They're dead."
"Oh! So, PJ gets to speak ill of the dead and I don't?"
"That's not—" Max started, but was interrupted by Turner bringing the discussion back to my theory in the most Turner-like way possible.
"Your idea is ridiculous."
"Oh, because you're the expert on human sacrifices?" I shot back. At least it was something. We were running out of time. If we found the thread that connected the victims, we could figure out a list of who would be targeted next.
"Hang on a second," PJ started, talking over whatever unhelpful comment Turner was getting ready to lob back at me. "What constitutes a virgin? Full on P-into-V?"
"Yeah." Tami drawled. "Most lesbians are virgins for life."
"Or full-on scissoring for my lesbi-friends? You know, genital-on-genital action? Or is it enough to orgasm with or on someone? These are the important questions, my friends."
"Yeah, so important." Tami mocked.
"Hey! It is important. What if one of us is on the menu because we didn't get it in the 'right' way?"
"You're gonna die, PJ!" Zoe laughed.
"I'll have you fucking know that my dick—Reginald Gerald Melloncamp, the Third, to his friends—has seen the inside of a vageen, thank you very much."
"You named your dick?" Max asked, seemingly one part horrified and one part amused. I felt the same. The Third.
"Which is just one piece of evidence that clearly points to the fact that you're still a virgy-virgin. You're a lying sack." Zoe said.
PJ was turning red with indignation. "Theresa Campbell, Emily Stallworth, and Erica Chung!"
Zoe still wasn't buying it. "Pfffft!"
"I'm funny, chicks dig funny! And I go down on that pussy like I'm training for the Tongue Olympics. Tami knows what I'm talking about, don'tcha?" He started to mime that particular sex act.
"Remember that time I kicked you in the balls?" Tami asked. PJ stopped miming.
"Well, I guess there aren't many straight dudes around. So it's plausible." Zoe relented.
"You know, letting your jealousy turn into bitchiness isn't attractive." PJ said.
Zoe, to my shock, made a noise like an angry teapot, pointed at PJ and glared death at him. "You shut the fuck up!"
"No! Don't shut up!" Tami said, getting all excited. "Did you two fuck?"
"What!? When?" Max wanted to know. I had similar feelings. Turner had started to go back through the files with an air of a teacher that had given up. I felt a bit guilty, but then sometimes you needed a break. Zoe and PJ's drama was the perfect distraction. Besides, we were still talking about the case. Tangentially, anyway.
"Please," PJ scoffed while Zoe tried to drown him out with a growling yell. "I fingerbanged her in a closet at Donny Mendoza's party at the start of junior year. She gave me half a hand-job."
"Half a hand-job, you bastard!" Zoe was back to making words. Tami was laughing, Max looked like he was trying not to.
"Did I come? No. Half a hand-job. I rest my case!"
"Speaking of cases," Turner spoke up, sounding irritated as hell. "Can we get back to this one?"
"You've done it right?" PJ asked him.
"One, that's none of your fucking business, and two, we have absolutely no proof that they were virgins. There's no point in working off of assumptions. We have to stick with the actual facts." Turner glared at me. Shit. It had been nice while it lasted, him looking at me like I wasn't a waste of space.
"I say we work on the ritual angle. Connie Vegas said that he saw occult symbols? Was he any more detailed than that?"
"No. We could call him." I ventured, then I remembered how we had left things with him. "I doubt he'll answer, though." It was my turn to glare now, I aimed it at PJ.
"I don't care how, new kid, just get him to talk to you."
"Like that's going to happen." Zoe scoffed.
"He's already gotten more out of him than we ever have." Turner said, surprising me. "Tomorrow we should meet up at the library. We don't have long before Sunday."