(This is the third installment of a macabre short story. You might wish to read the previous two chapters beginning here before continuing.)
Only a short time ago Cash was ready to let go of this tenuous hold to his existence. Instead he was now driven by an unrelenting need just to be. He couldn't decide if he were a ghost, an anomalous spectre, or a lost soul looking for a portal to the next phase of existence.
....He hadn't ruled out that he might be a product of a nightmare; that he was in fact alive. Could it be that he lay somewhere in a comatose state, being kept alive by tubes and machinery? Was he drifting in and out of consciousness? If so, that could explain the losses of memory and the inexplicable drain of his strength.
....By the time he'd returned to the grave site, all of the mourners were gone. Two lone grave diggers were shoveling the last of a pile of earth onto the grave. A row of flowers lay nearby.
....The force was still tugging at him, but he resisted. He was growing weaker by the moment. He had to get a look at the body in that casket. If it wasn't him, who was it? Why were his wife and children here? He moved slowly toward the grave. He wasn't going to plunge recklessly into that coffin like he had earlier.
....He ran into something and it was impeding his forward progress. It seemed that there was some barrier that he could not penetrate. Each time he drew nearer to the grave, he realized he was being repelled backward. When he was several meters away from the grave, he aimed his body at the ground. If he couldn't get to the grave from above, he figured he could get there underground.
....Suddenly he found himself hurtling away from the cemetery at an alarming rate of speed.
It was maddening. He was a dead man, wasn't he? Then why couldn't he get near his own body? To add insult to injury, a grave yard had rejected him too! Death had been all around him, but he was being denied that same fate. Every living being with whom he'd been in contact had died. How many more had to die before the nightmare finally came to an end?
...."The answers you seek are not among the dead, but with the living."
....The voice was loud and clear enough that it might have come from someone standing next to him. There was no one there. He felt he must've been delirious if he was beginning to hear voices. He wasn't about to answer. He was more concerned with his flight. At his present trajectory he was about to smack into a brick wall.
....He passed harmlessly through the brick facade. He was drifting slowly toward a table of off-duty police officers. He relaxed, certain that he was being drawn to the officer with his back to him. The sudden rush of blood and inhaled oxygen were exhilarating. The man sat upright and shifted in his chair. If Officer O'Leary was aware of Cash's intrusion, that was his only reaction.
....Through O'Leary's eyes he recognized the other three men as Sargeants Davis and Merriweather, and Capt. Monahan. They were all from his former precinct headquarters.
...."I tell you," said Davis, "there's some strange shit going on."
....Merriweather nodded in agreement, and after taking a long drink from his beer said, " Damn straight!"
....Monahan's gaze turned to O'Leary. "And what about you, O'Leary? You getting spooked too?" he asked coldly.
...."No, I'm cool," he answered. He wasn't showing it, but he was very uncomfortable.
....Cash was trying to keep his presence away from the man's thoughts. He had no wish to disrupt this meeting of these men who had once worked the streets with him. He was certain that the answers he was seeking were there in that pub at that table.
...."Listen, men," said Monahan in a measured tone, "what is said at this table, stays at this table." He made eye contact with each of his charges. "Got it?"
....Even as he nodded in agreement with the others Davis said, "Captain, you gotta admit Johnson jumping in front of a bus is strange enough. But the wino dropping dead too? On the same night?"
....Cash/O'Leary decided to play a trump. "Johnson still had the money on him. He never got it to the bum." Cash formed a grin on O'Leary's face.
....O'Leary stammered uneasily, "I mean, it just struck me as ironic. We could've left the cabbage on Cash's body."
...."Yeah," added Merriweather. "Johnson didn't need to be found dead with all that money on him."
....Monahan nodded, "True. It's too bad Johnson was found across town. If we had found the body, we could've made sure that all that money made it to his wife and kids."
....Cash wanted to force the conversation for more answers. He couldn't ask questions that O'Leary would obviously have known the answers. He didn't want to force O'Leary into making any statements that the men couldn't possibly know either. He considered leaving O'Leary's body and entering one of the others.
....Unexpectedly, O'Leary rose and proclaimed, "That's it for me. I'm heading home to the old lady."
Cash began to exert himself on O'Leary's mind and thoughts. He had to drain as much information as he could. He wished to leave his body. He had to get back inside to slip inside one of the others. There was much more to be learned. As he attempted to leave the man's body, he felt himself being held tight.
....O'Leary's thoughts invaded his. "We covered your ass, Cash. What else do you want from us?"
....So, O'Leary knew all along that Cash was there. Cash remembered that this man had always been one cool customer. He was always in control of any situation.
...."Everything was under control. It was all going to be swept under the rug. Everyone's record was going to be clean," the man's thoughts exclaimed to him." The man shook his head and waved his fist in defiance. "But no! You have to come back and screw everything up!"
....Cash was concentrating so much at his attempts to escape the man's body, that he didn't notice that O'Leary had removed his belt. He had just grasped a surprising bit of information when he sensed a shortness of breath. He/ O'Leary, they were gasping for breath.
....Emotionless, Cash looked upon the lifeless body. He had been so busy, so consumed draining memories from the man that he had failed to realize what the physical body had been up to. His belt around his neck, O'Leary had climbed atop a mailbox by a utility pole. Without a telling thought that Cash might've sensed, he had then placed the other end of the belt onto a climbing spike on the pole. Without hesitation he had stepped out into empty space.
....By the time he had been cast from the body, the involuntary body twitches had ceased. At that moment, he no longer cared about the man. He was trying to digest the fact that he'd had two wives! From the late O'Leary's thoughts, he'd learned that he'd murdered one of them!