Blackhorse parked in the first space he could. The gray car followed suit, quickly pulling into a spot three cars behind him. He sat staring into his rearview mirror, waiting to see if the driver would get out. The day had heated up and he was feeling worse by the minute. A mild headache had intensified, until the blood was pounding in his head. He reflexively rubbed his forehead, still squinting into his rearview mirror. Five minutes of waiting and no one had gotten out of the car. Blackhorse climbed out of his car and quickly strode over to the vehicle, half expecting to confront Officer Schneider or one of his lackeys.
Through the windshield, the front seat appeared to be empty. Blackhorse’s brisk stride faltered. He stopped momentarily, gazing around searchingly. Could the driver have gotten out and walked away without him noticing? No, that wasn’t possible. Must just be glare of sunlight on the windshield. Blackhorse reached the driver’s side and leaned down. It was empty, but someone was in the backseat. The driver must have climbed back there, for some reason.
Blackhorse stepped over to the rear window and was startled to find himself peering into the chalk white dead face of Herbert Simmons. Shock leached the strength out of Blackhorse’s legs. He dropped to his knees, unable to tear his eyes away from the pallid face. Helplessly, he watched the milky gray pupils rolled up into Herbert’s rotting head. The smell of putrification was nauseating. What did he want? Blackhorse stared transfixed, revolted by the wet sucking sound of Herbert’s mouth opening, dreading yet eager to hear he had to say. Smoke rolled out of the slack jawed mouth. The acrid fumes billowed into Blackhorse’s face, causing him to cough uncontrollably.
His eyes watered, causing them to reflexively close to shut out stinging smoke. He recognized the smell of ganja from the smoke shop. Blackhorse opened his eyes and was startled to find himself sitting behind his steering wheel, still in the strip mall parking lot with the smoke shop behind him. Blackhorse sat in stunned silence, staring straight ahead. Either the second-hand smoke from the ganja weed in the shop had caused him to hallucinate or he’d just experienced a psychic vision. His eyes drifted up to the rearview mirror, expecting to see the gray car parked right behind him.
Blackhorse caught his breath and let it out with a nervous laugh. The car behind him was red. He must have been hallucinating. So, why did he feel the need to check the entire parking lot? Blackhorse spent a few indecisive minutes, not wanting to look foolish roaming around a busy parking lot looking for a car he had most likely hallucinated. Still, he couldn’t shake a growing certainty that he needed to double check. The hallucination…or vision…or whatever it was had felt so real, he felt as though the car was nearby.
Blackhorse started the engine and drove around the parking lot. The only gray vehicle was a battered old van. Feeling strangely relieved and more than a little silly, he was about to exit the parking lot, when the thought occurred that he had not driven behind the strip mall. Shop owners often parked out back. Any delivery vehicles would be back there. Blackhorse tried to dismiss it, but the thought returned to niggle at him. The way cleared for him to pull out onto the street. He hesitated. So, far the only evidence Blackhorse had was the few bits and pieces recovered from the crime scene. How much of that had been lost and contaminated by Officer Schnieder’s ineptitude?
He sighed resignedly and drove around to the entrance to the alley-like space behind the strip mall. Seeing nothing but big blue dumpsters lined up behind each store, Blackhorse’s shoulders dropped. He hadn’t really expected to find anything, but it was still a letdown. His body had unconsciously tensed up in anticipation. Maybe he was imagining things, but disappointment seemed to be making his headache worse. All he wanted to do was go back to the hotel room and lie down. Still, something would not allow him to leave. He guessed it wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look. Blackhorse had learned a long time ago, that it was a mistake to go against his intuition. So, he drove forward slowly.
Behind the third dumpster was a gray economy car. It was parked sideways, seemingly hiding behind a dumpster. Blackhorse sat gaping at it for a few moments, unable to believe his eyes. The driver’s side door had the same dent he had seen in the vision. He marveled at the thought that in the space his car occupied out front, the little gray car had been behind him on the other side of the building. Blackhorse parked a short distance away and got out. Half expecting to see a ghost, he approached the vehicle cautiously. Blackhorse immediately recognized the unmistakable odor of death.