Immortal Remains 2 - 30 Days of Night, page 2
“That’s right, Merrin. The Headsman murders.”
“You always did have a grisly sensibility, Dane. Why don’t you start by telling me what you know, and then I’ll fill in any blanks I can?”
“I just know what I’ve read online.” Dane sat back down on the sofa, the open bottle in his left hand. “The released facts are basic. At least a dozen people have been murdered there in the past sixty days. All attacked in their own homes, in particularly brutal home invasions. The breakins have exhibited no subtlety or grace—just smash inside and kill someone, brutally but somehow with a minimum of spilled blood. The killer finishes by cutting or tearing off the victim’s head, hence the nickname. In many of the cases, any other residents of the invaded home have simply disappeared. Some people are theorizing some kind of half-wild creature is doing it, a werewolf or Bigfoot or something. Others speculate that authorities will find a mass grave containing the disappeared. I’ve even read the theory that it’s a political death squad, although no one can quite agree on why anyone would select this particular range of victims.”
Dane stopped there.
Merrin picked up the slack. “That seems a relatively accurate and concise summation of the situation as it has been reported,” he said.
Dane couldn’t help but grin listening to Merrin’s banter. The man loved to affect an upper-crust, outdated way of speaking that reminded Dane, for some odd and inexplicable reason, of A Streetcar Named Desire. Dane knew for a fact that the way Merrin spoke was intentional. At least it started out that way. One time, long ago, Dane had heard the almost prissy Merrin go on a vulgarity-laden rant that would have given a nun a stroke. The accent he had back then was distinctly old New York.
“With, as you suggest,” Merrin continued, “the addition of some rather poorly informed speculation. Which, sadly, is the most common sort of speculation we get in these United States, at the dawn of this new millennium.” Merrin had a tendency to wax philosophical at times—or political, which could be even worse. Get him going on Iraq or health care and you’d better have time to kill. As if he needed insurance coverage. “But quite a bit has been left out of those reports, at least, judging from what I’ve managed to pick up.”
“Such as?” Dane sipped more of the blood. Cold, but it did the trick.
“Such as that the ‘minimum of spilled blood’ you mention is understating it by a wide margin. A few drops, perhaps. Certainly less than a liter. And I mean in the corpse as well as spread about the residence. Difficult to remove somebody’s head without spilling more than that.”
“Which can only mean…” Distracted, Dane kept one eye on the TV. He knew CNN cycled through the day’s bigger news stories, and by bigger that usually meant sensational and grotesque, something to frighten the masses, so it was only a matter of time before there was an update about the murders.
“Precisely. Of course no one will say anything officially, but—”
“Jesus Christ! Hold on, Merrin.” Dane pawed the remote off the Crate & Barrel coffee table and jammed the MUTE button. The sound roared on, blotting out the 50 Cent tune that filtered in from an excessively loud car passing outside. “Do you have CNN on, by any chance?”
“I can,” Merrin said.
Dane’s TV screen showed an urban apartment in Savannah, Georgia. The front door tilted into the front room, attached only at its bottom hinge. A twisted piece of steel visible in the doorway looked like a security bar that had provided no security at all. As the camera moved through the doorway into the living room, it revealed a scene that could have been the aftermath of a tornado.
“…another home invasion scene in Savannah. This one, on Victory Drive, was reported by neighbors who heard a sound they described as ‘like an explosion.’ Police arrived to find a single body, reportedly of a male who lived at the residence. Two other residents, a female and a child, were not found on the premises. One law enforcement source has told this reporter that all indications are that the Headsman has claimed another victim.”
“It appears that our mysterious nighttime visitor has struck again,” Merrin said.
“No shit.” Dane punched MUTE again.
“Such a quaint colloquialism.”
Dane smiled. He had said it that way just to tweak Ferrando Merrin’s usually old-fashioned sensibilities. He could almost see the old guy, his dark hair perpetually graying, the paper-thin flesh of his pinched cheeks taking on a pinkish tinge. “So no blood. Which means…”
“You believe that it’s one of us.” The way Merrin said it meant that he thought so, too.
“Not very low profile,” Dane said.
Both of them knew there were plenty who didn’t care about keeping low profiles. More every day, it seemed.
But this kind of blatant massacre, in a major city? These attacks were guaranteed to attract media attention. It was almost as if they had been designed for that purpose.
If the Headsman was just a serial killer—“just” being intentionally ironic—he was a bad one, hard to stop. But the cops would eventually catch up to him, because he substituted violence for caution.
If, on the other hand—as Dane and Merrin both suspected—the killer was one of them, then the police would never get him. They would never even get close, because they wouldn’t be able to wrap their minds around the truth of him—or her, serial killers being almost all male, but the reality coming in both flavors. And without being caught and destroyed, he or she would never stop killing.
Not unless someone intervened.
“Are you there, Dane?”
“Yeah,” Dane said. A sudden weariness had overtaken him. “I’m here, Merrin. But I guess not for long.”
“Someone has to. Right? I mean, to go public like this…”
“That’s just like you, Dane. Just like you, I’m sad to say.”
“That’s what they say about leopards, right?”
“Those spots look better on you than on me, my friend. Have a safe journey. And please keep me posted.”
“I will, Merrin, don’t worry. I’ll call you from Savannah.”
“I always worry, Dane. It’s what I do best. But I know you’ll be fine. Just don’t take any unnecessary chances—you remember what happened a few years ago, yes? The incident with the Olemaun woman?”
“Yes, I remember.” Thanks for reminding me.
“Just something to keep in mind. It’s my understanding that almost turned into a very messy situation for you.”
Dane sighed. “Thank you. I do appreciate your concern. I promise to watch my back.”
“Good to hear. I’d like to speak with you again, you know.”
Dane hung up the phone. He liked talking to Merrin, usually. He almost always learned something.
Don’t take any unnecessary chances, Merrin had said. One thing Dane had never learned—who the hell got to define “unnecessary”?
DANE STEPPED OUT of the terminal at Savannah International Airport and into a muggy Georgia night.
Four days had passed since his conversation with Merrin, but this was the first nonstop he’d been able to book a seat on that flew from LA to Savannah at night. Daytime travel was difficult for his kind. Summer seemed unwilling to relinquish its death grip of heat and humidity on the region.
A couple of taxis idled at the curb, their drivers chatting on the sidewalk nearby. Savannah’s airport was sleepy compared to most other international airports he had experienced. Dane hadn’t decided whether or not he would rent a car or take a cab into town, and as he stood there contemplating the matter, a mosquito brushed against his neck. Feeling a certain kinship with the tiny pest, he didn’t swat it.
Not that it mattered. His blood poisoned mosquitoes almost immediately; it would take a long, thirsty drink, Dane would suffer no effects whatsoever, no itching or swelling, and the insect would fly off for a coup
“They’re bad this year,” someone said.
Dane looked up. One of the cabbies leaned on the front fender of his car, his hairy arms folded across a barrel chest. Hair curled up out of his open-collared shirt, but his head was nearly bald, as if his body had used up all the energy it could devote to growing hair. He had a pale, blotchy complexion, like someone who had once spent a lot of time on the water but lately had been a daytime sleeper. Piercing blue eyes regarded Dane with undisguised curiosity.
“Yeah,” Dane said, realizing the guy meant the mosquitoes. The cabbie was probably in his late sixties. He had the kind of creased, folded face that had seen it all, some of it twice. He was probably five-six or-seven, still muscular and hard for his age.
Dane noticed one more thing. Everything about the guy screamed “cop.”
Guess I’m taking a cab.
He had decided to stay at the Hyatt Regency on the Savannah River, and he gave the driver the hotel’s name. The man nodded and climbed in behind the wheel. Dane only had a small carry-on bag, which he tucked beside him on the dented yellow-and-green Crown Victoria’s big backseat. An oldies station played on the cab’s radio, Chuck Berry singing about Johnny B. Goode, who could play the guitar just like ringin’ a bell.
It didn’t take Dane long, on the ride into Savannah’s historic district, to turn the conversation to local current events.
“He’ll slip up soon,” the driver said. He didn’t have a low country accent, just the faintest Southern twang. If anything, he sounded like he’d moved here from the northeast, maybe New York State. Checking the driver’s taxi badge, Dane learned that his name was Mitch LaSalle. “I used to be on the job here,” he went on, confirming Dane’s hunch. Some guys just couldn’t help looking like cops, and Dane had long since learned how to read people. “I know some of the guys working this one. They’ll nail him.”
“They have anything that hasn’t been in the news?” Dane asked. “DNA or anything?”
“That I can tell you about, you mean?” Mitch laughed.
“I’m just an interested tourist,” Dane assured him.
“You’ll be fine. Whoever this asshole is, he’s focusing on residents, not tourists. I wouldn’t wander too far from your hotel after dark. Not because of the Headsman. You look like a guy who can take care of himself pretty good, but there’s been a lot of gang activity, you know.”
“I’m not too worried,” Dane said. That was the truth. He might find trouble here, but it wouldn’t come from the city’s gangbangers.
His kind had always owned the night.
“Why’d you leave the force?” Dane asked. “If you don’t mind talking about it.”
Mitch barked out a laugh. “Hell, I don’t mind talking. That’s the one thing I can still do, right? Same old story. Good at the job but bad at politics. Pissed off the wrong people. Chased the wrong cat up the wrong tree, I guess, and when I was told to back away…I didn’t. So here I am. Cost me my pension and my marriage. Not that I’m bitter,” he quickly added with another laugh, which sounded nothing but acrid to Dane.
“Sounds rough,” Dane said. “Getting punished for doing the right thing, that stinks.”
“Tell me about it, brother.”
“Sounds like you were a detective.”
Those intense blue eyes met his in the rearview and Mitch was quiet for a few seconds. “You don’t look like a cop,” Mitch said. “But I’ve been wrong before, I guess.”
“No, I’m not a cop,” Dane replied. He caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the window: dark hair, lean face, jaw and chin edged by a narrow goatee and mustache. He could manage not to look like a monster, but making it all the way to human was always a chore. “I’ve been around them a lot, had a lot of friends who were.” A lie, of course. The others didn’t tend to socialize with law enforcement types. But paying attention to them? A crucial survival tactic.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an investor,” Dane answered. Another truth, as far as it went. He owned stocks under dozens of identities and corporate names. Over the long term—seriously long term, when you were talking about more than a century—the return was enough to keep him flush. “Kind of a day trader, I guess you’d say.” He had more important things to do at night.
The smell of the Savannah River wafted in through Mitch’s open window, a complex brew of fish, diesel, and other odors Dane couldn’t peg. He had been to Savannah a few times before, but never for very long, and he didn’t know his way around beyond the waterfront area. His hotel was next to City Hall, with the old Cotton Exchange on the other side of it. Up the hill from the river were neighborhoods of old brick homes built around cobblestone squares. Having been founded in 1733, Savannah was one of the few cities in the United States that felt old to Dane, whose own roots only went back to the middle of the nineteenth century.
“I guess there’s some money to be made in that,” Mitch said.
“I do okay.”
“So what brings you to Savannah?”
Dane had to make a quick decision, but not an instant one. His mind had begun to churn as soon as he recognized the driver as a cop, and nothing that he’d heard had dissuaded him. Mitch seemed to know the city, knew the local players, and didn’t feel like he owed them any loyalty.
Just the kind of guy Dane wanted.
“Listen,” Dane said, “I need to tell you something. But I need you to keep it to yourself. Will you do that?”
“I guess it depends on what it is,” Mitch said. “I’m no priest and this cab ain’t a confessional.” A perfectly reasonable response.
More reasonable, really, than Dane’s request would be.
“Okay. Here’s the thing…I don’t think the police are going to catch the Headsman,” Dane stated. “Because I don’t think they’re looking for the right type of…person. But honestly, that’s why I’m here.”
“Because you know what type of person they should be looking for?” The eyes in the mirror had changed, softened. Curiosity to pity in ten seconds flat. Now the guy thought Dane was a head case.
“I know how that sounds,” Dane said. “But it’s true. The guy they want is a guy like me in some very specific ways.”
“You going to tell me what those ways are? Or am I supposed to guess?”
“Yeah, never mind.” With any luck Mitch LaSalle would forget he’d ever picked Dane up, or write him off as some kind of joker. “Just drop me at the hotel, that’ll be great.”
“Yeah, okay,” Mitch said.
He kept scoping Dane in the rearview, as if trying to read through the illusion of humanity he cast. The cop in him, Dane figured. He had given the guy just enough to interest him, to let him know there was a mystery about Dane, and now he wanted to solve it.
As he’d figured from the jump, Mitch was exactly the kind of guy Dane needed to work the local angles of this case. An unfamiliar city, an intensive ongoing investigation, these could be major obstacles. Having someone like Mitch in his corner could help things run much more smoothly than stumbling around.
But even though he had identified the right guy, straight off the plane, the cab ride hadn’t given Dane enough time to close the deal. The best he could do now would be to remember Mitch’s name and if the need arose, try to get in touch with him.
The cab dropped Dane at the Hyatt’s main entrance, where a uniformed bellman snapped his door open before he could get to it. Dane paid Mitch, including a generous tip. The cop-turned-cabbie thanked him and tucked the cash into his shirt pocket.
Mitch was gone by the time Dane made it through the hotel’s front door.
From his room, Dane could see lights on the big freighters that carved the river and the cranes at the docks that serviced them. Savannah was a major Atlantic seaport, with constant shipping activity. Somewhere a siren wailed, and far below, on River Street, late drinkers laughed and shou
Dane had a problem, even more immediate than finding out who was so blatantly preying on Savannah’s population, and putting a stop to it before this…public relations nightmare spiraled even more out of control. Hunger had started to gnaw at him, and airport security regulations were such that he could no longer travel with precious blood.
Which left him with only one option. He needed to go on the prowl.
Taking innocent life bothered Dane. Of course, he had done it, hundreds of times, if not thousands, over the years. To survive, he needed to feed. He wanted to survive. The math wasn’t difficult.
At the same time, he recognized the irony that he had come to Savannah to stop the killings, and it looked as if he would do some killing of his own. When it came to moral superiority, he believed he had the upper hand—for Dane, it would be done only for survival, and he would be discreet about it as well as very choosy. More than the killings themselves, what Dane hated about whoever stalked Savannah was that the murders drew attention—to anyone willing to really see—to the true existence of his kind.
But they had to remain a secret. At all costs.
That was survival, too—for a species, not an individual. The only way they had lasted this long was by making the mortal world believe they were a legend, a story told at night to scare the gullible, or the stuff of popular fiction. Winding up in the twenty-four-hour cable news cycle didn’t mesh with that goal.
Clearly the Headsman had a different agenda in mind. Dane’s occasional quiet killing—targeted, when possible, at people whom the world could stand to lose anyway—was of a vastly different sort than that.
On his way out the door, he turned off the light in his room, ready to get started. Somewhere on the streets of Savannah, destiny awaited for some lowlife bloodsucker.
EVEN A WEEK LATER, Mitch LaSalle couldn’t get the memory of that strange guy he had picked up at the airport out of his head.
The problem wasn’t just that the guy had started out seeming reasonable and then turned into a wack job with that insane theory of how he and the killer were so much alike.