Julian Files, excerpt 10: Cedrick, Julian, and the search for the house

The street was lined with tall, skinny buildings pressed up against one another; old houses and commercial buildings converted into apartments and offices. Windows were broken out of lower levels, with old, faded signs tipped at angles against the blinds. Julian shrugged the collar of his jacket up against the pale touch of the wind. He skimmed the addresses as he passed, listening with relief he didn’t want to acknowledge to Cedrick’s every counter step against the rhythm of Julian’s own gait.

Graffiti covered every available surface, with the gangs crossing out each other’s messages and leaving one of their own. Bullet holes punched through windows and walls, with glass crunching underneath their shoes. The occasional splatter of blood and collection of pictures and mementos marked the places where someone had lost their life.

Julian only hoped he wouldn’t have to build a shrine for his brother in this godforsaken place too. Constriction grew in his stomach first, and moved python-slow up his esophagus. Tightening his throat until it was air, only air, that could release, and even that grew stale and dim and unattainable.

Cedrick bumped lightly against his side and Julian looked over. Saw his friend with his hands buried in his pockets, shoulders hunched against the weathered wind, with a Mona Lisa smile on his lips.

Julian breathed.

The city seemed endless; stretched taut to the sky with valleys and plains in an unknowable pattern. Lights were here and gone in fits and bursts; throwing this alley into relief and that street into shadows too dark for the day. Now and then he caught a hint of music or voices carried along the wind. Laughter and tunes he couldn’t place and the occasional screech of tires, and it was home of a sort, and it was life of a sort, and it should have been comforting to have that urban backdrop even here but it wasn’t.

It wasn’t, because Jeremiah was somewhere in these streets, buried deep somewhere beneath a home, and he could only hope it wasn’t literal by the time he arrived.

“There.”

Julian slowed his stride at Cedrick’s voice, and followed the line of his finger pointing in the distance. The railroad tracks were a dark crosshatched pattern staining the ground, winding here and there in controlled chaos. Several trains were vacant; dormant maybe since the war, or maybe only since the morning. Julian didn’t know at a glance. Julian didn’t care.

“It has to be around here.”

Julian didn’t know where Cedrick got his certainty, but he wanted to believe in the belief Cedrick had. He wanted to believe that life really was as simple as finding a way to smile after loss, and trust blindly in the dark.

“You said he referenced the Greenes’,” Cedrick said, turning in a thoughtful circle as he scoured the homes nearby. “What would that mean for us?”

“The Greenes were the second home he was placed at after we were split up. They had an old Victorian; tall and spindly and never updated inside. So I guess it would be something like that.”

“Okay. That helps.”

“You know,” Julian said suddenly, a surge of strength vibrating his voice. “He doesn’t have anyone without me. I don’t either, really. We were the only kids from the first home to stay in touch after we all split up. We’re the only family each other has.”

Cedrick’s hand was warm and firm on Julian’s arm; a grip that pulsed not only through Julian’s jacket, but seemed to sink deep beneath his skin. Down to his bones, where it steadied the shiver in his limbs.

Cedrick didn’t repeat his certainty from before. He simply turned, shaded his eyes with his free hand, and didn’t let go of Julian as if he understood implicitly that he was the wall Julian briefly, selfishly wanted to hide behind.

“It has to be close to the tracks, then. Probably not a brick row house, but we shouldn’t rule it out. I’m guessing it’ll be wood, though. More susceptible. And likely fairly rundown from the outside.” He smiled at Julian. “It should be easy. We’ll just follow the tracks until we see something promising.”

“Why are you so certain it’s by the trains?”

“You said he said it shakes sometimes, rains dust everywhere. If he’s in a basement it should be more structurally sound, but a train is big enough, long enough that in an old house it could do that if it was close enough to the tracks. And I’m guessing train, not construction, because I didn’t see any major construction on the way over here, plus that would likely have a more consistent pattern that he probably would have pointed out. Trains would have a schedule, but maybe not one he’d know without being there for a long enough time to track it.”

They were walking down the street back toward the car. They’d gotten out to get a better view of the tracks, to make sure they were in the right area, but now that they knew they were, they needed the speed of the car over the slow rumble of a walk.

“And this area of Jamesport is the only one I know where the tracks pass close to residential. Everywhere else it’s in a more industrial area.”

“It could be the subway.”

“Could be. Let’s try the trains first, then move to the subway failing that.”

The car dinged insistently when they opened the doors, and Julian was annoyed as he got inside until he realized they’d left the lights on when they’d gotten out. He patted the dashboard of the car, inexplicably fond of the machine for reminding them of something so inane but important. What if they’d let the battery drain? What if they found Remi but couldn’t get away?

He felt the weight of the sidelong look Cedrick gave him as he pulled the car away from the curb, but thankfully he didn’t say anything.

Julian had been given the passenger seat again so he could search the homes better. They were quiet for the first block, both intent on finding a house that checked all the boxes on their list. As they passed down the second block, Cedrick spoke.

“What do you think we’re getting ourselves into?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are we talking gangs? Cartel? Loan shark? Something far less ominous…?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s he gotten into before?”

Julian sighed. “A lot. Used to be petty stuff. Shoplifting, pot, occasional crack, that sort of thing. Didn’t used to be that worrisome, but seven years ago he started doing some really stupid things. Taking chances he shouldn’t. Getting in with entirely the wrong crowd. It got so bad I had to tell him to stop calling if he wasn’t going to straighten up, even just a little.” He felt defensive of his brother for his own words, and added intently, “He was placed in some real shit homes when I got some good ones. They fucked him up when I wasn’t there to stop it. It isn’t his fault.”

“I never said it was.”

Julian let out a huff. Begrudging, but whether be begrudged himself, Cedrick, or his brother, even he didn’t know.

“Anyway, I… After the war hit, I didn’t hear from him. I hadn’t heard from him in months, really. At first, I was worried he’d died in some back alley, too high on fucking drugs to realize those explosions were bombs and he was about to be vaporized. I’d already been working as a PI on my time off for other reasons but that’s what got me into it full time, trying to find him. I tracked him down eventually. Found he was still high off his ass but at least he was alive. So I kept tabs on him over the years, but I didn’t reach out to him because I knew nothing had changed. He wasn’t ready to change.”

Julian tightened his hands into fists on his lap and glared out the window. Glared because he was angry at himself, at Remi, at the world. “Maybe I should have.”

He’d meant to say it too quietly to be heard, but the decibel had been too high, and Cedrick had caught the consonants and the vowels and the meaning.

“Just look,” Cedrick said. “Look at the houses and tell me the ones that remind you of the Greenes.”

Julian focused on that assignment to the exclusion of all else, and he looked. He looked at the houses that were tall and the houses that were small; skipped past the ones that were newer and detailed the ones that showed their age. He mentioned them now and then, got Cedrick’s opinion on the proximity to the train tracks and the likelihood of it holding his brother, and they started to develop a list.

(Part of the rest of the scene was previously released as an excerpt here.)


EXPLANATION:

I decided for NaNo 2015 to primarily focus on the lesbian cop book Veils that I’m working on (by the by, I’m considering changing that to Veiled) but that I’d also flip over to other WIP books when stalled on Veils, so I could keep writing and get closer to finishing other stories.

I ended up rereading a half-finished scene from Julian Files, and I was reminded of how much I loved writing that book before. It made me want to write in it again. This is the scene that pulled me back into the story; that made me remember how fun it is to write atmospherically when I’m into the scene and not making myself do something.

This was another Julian Files excerpt. Sorry to give you so many, but I liked the wording in some of this. And the fact that I thought it sounded pretty good even after months of not touching it means it must not be too bad for me to not hate on my own stuff instantly.

Also, it struck me again how Cedrick and Boyd have some similarities. I feel like you can feel Boyd in some of Cedrick here, or rather, you can see the Cedrick that made it into Boyd from this scene. It’s been fun for me to write Cedrick because I always knew that Boyd had some parts of his father in him but it’s been interesting seeing how much there really is; the reflections of each other. It makes me wonder how it would have been for Boyd if things had gone differently in his past, and in Cedrick’s life.

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