Immortal Remains 2 - 30 Days of Night, page 3
That was most of it, but certainly not the worst part. No sir.
The real thing that had shaken Mitch so much that he broke out in a cold sweat—having to wrap his hands around the wheel painfully tight so the fare couldn’t see them trembling—was when he had glanced into the mirror and thought (not thought, but knew, just fucking knew) that he had seen the man change, physically, his skin taking on color and life, the shape of his mouth and jaw altering, even his eyes doing…something that Mitch couldn’t put a name to. As if a switch had turned off and a lightbulb faded out instead of just going dark.
Now, the memory flared up in his consciousness at inopportune times.
It came back when he had awakened at eleven in the morning, after having been asleep since eight, and needed to get back to sleep but couldn’t.
It came back a couple of days ago when he had been going at it hot and heavy with a young thing (when you were his age, midforties counted as young, he had learned) but then, distracted by the mental image of the guy’s transformation, had lost the mood, the wood, and the broad. “It happens to everyone sooner or later,” she had said, pulling up her control-front panty hose in the bedroom of his second-floor apartment on Congress Street. “Why I never got married. There’s always another guy who don’t have that problem at the moment.” She arranged herself back into her bra, then pulled on her Oak Ridge Boys T-shirt with the cutoff sleeves and smoothed down the skirt she hadn’t bothered to remove. “You get yourself a prescription, Mitch, you know how to find me.”
It came back right now, sitting here in a no-name crab joint on Skidaway, almost to the boundary of the grandly named community of Thunderbolt (of which he had often joked that driving through it took about as long as a lightning strike), with Denny Mulroy and Willard Creech—Savannah homicide detectives assigned to the task force investigating the Headsman murders.
“We got zippo,” Creech was saying. “Squat. Jack shit. Nada, nothin’, no mo’. It’s a sad, sad state of affairs, is what it is.” Willard Creech looked like a goddamned skeleton that someone had wrapped flour bags around and called it skin. When he smiled, which was far too often, the effect was ghastly, and not just because he had awful teeth. Mulroy often theorized that his partner had been assigned to homicide because corpses didn’t care what an investigator looked like, while live crime victims might have felt they were being violated yet again.
Denny Mulroy, by contrast, was a fifty-five-gallon drum of a man, an inch shorter than Mitch and a hundred pounds heavier. He couldn’t have passed a departmental physical, but during his years working vice, he had protected the son of the police commissioner from arrest for picking up hookers down on Montgomery Street not once but seven times, so his future was assured as long as he drew breath, and maybe after. Denny had skin the color of a coffee bean, dark roast, and a tight cap of hair that had turned mostly white during his time on the homicide squad. Mitch had always been fascinated by Denny’s palms, which were as pink as fresh salmon and stood out like signal flags against the near-black backs.
The two cops made one of the oddest pairings Mitch had ever encountered during his years on the job, first in Michigan and then, through a bizarre sequence of events he didn’t quite believe himself when asked to describe it, in Savannah. But they both had brilliant investigative minds, and together they seemed to be able to solve any crime put before them. If the Feds had a dozen teams like them, Mitch believed, Osama bin Laden would have been doing hard time in Angola or the Q by September thirteenth.
“How can someone who bashes through doors and drains vics of their blood not leave any physical evidence behind?” Mitch asked. “Doesn’t sound like subtlety is his strong point.”
“Subtle as a mallet to the skull,” Creech said.
“Problem is the motherfucker’s a ghost,” Mulroy said. “A noisy ghost, but what the hell, makin’ noise don’t matter much if there ain’t nobody left alive to hear it.”
“This Headsman guy hasn’t left any witnesses at all?”
“A handful,” Mulroy replied. “Just none who can help us in any way. One woman said she heard somethin’ that sounded like a gunshot. Turned out there wasn’t no guns fired in this invasion, or any of ’em that we’ve seen. What she probably heard was this guy kickin’ in the front door. Now what use is her testimony goin’ to be to us? Better to have no witnesses than ones the defense can use to confuse a jury.”
“If we ever get a suspect,” Creech added.
“I met a guy the other day,” Mitch heard himself say, “actually a fare I picked up at the airport. Probably just another nut job, but he seemed absolutely convinced that you guys were all chasing up the wrong tree.”
“He’s probably right,” Creech said. “I keep telling Mulroy we got to take a closer look at those nuns from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.”
“There’s a kindergarten teacher I got my eye on, too,” Mulroy said. “She’s about five feet tall, ninety-five pounds soakin’ wet. Your man’s right, we can’t afford to just look at big strong guys when we’re tryin’ to find someone who can knock down a barred door and carry off multiple individuals.”
“That’s why I got those sisters in mind,” Creech said. “One of ’em by herself maybe couldn’t do it, but the whole group of ’em? What do you call a group of nuns, a herd? A pack?”
“Maybe a flock,” Mitch offered, battling to keep a straight face.
“Or a gaggle,” Mulroy said. He might have been discussing suicide statistics or his fifteen-year-old daughter’s pregnancy, for all the mirth displayed. The trio had been doing this for years, on the job and off, and for as long as he had known them Mitch had always been the one who cracked first.
Mulroy’s cell phone broke through the reverie. He answered and listened, his dark face turning a kind of ash gray. A moment later he closed the phone and dropped it back into his jacket pocket. “He’s hit again,” he said, his voice soft. “Headsman’s still on the premises. Gwinnett and Forest. We got to go. Now. C’mon.”
“That’s less than a mile away,” Mitch said.
Mulroy’s gaze met his, but distantly, as if he were looking at a stranger for the first time. “That’s right. We got to go.”
“Go,” Mitch said. “I’ll settle up here.” Mulroy and Creech made it out the front door before the words were even out of his mouth. If there was a chance of catching this guy in the act…
Mitch flagged down the waitress (in her early twenties, tired but still trying to be pleasant, the kind of girl who always made him wonder, if Karin, his daughter, had survived being run down by a drunk driver, would she be like this girl? Friends with her, maybe even roommates?) and gave her two twenties. He hadn’t seen the tab yet but it had to be less than that.
Mitch went out to the cab, which he had left parked down the block. Mulroy and Creech were long gone.
He thought about going down to the riverfront, or maybe the airport, looking for a fare. But he was so close, and if they caught the Headsman, goddammit if he didn’t want to see it. He headed toward the intersection of Gwinnett and Forest.
Utter chaos awaited his arrival.
Squad cars and ambulances were parked at every angle, light bars strobing. More of them screamed toward the scene, sirens splitting the darkness. A uni was trying to string yellow CRIME SCENE tape around trees and a hastily thrown-together striped sawhorse, but his hands trembled so much he couldn’t manage to hang on to the spool. Others stood around gaping at a brick row house with lights burning inside and the front door hanging off its hinges.
Mitch parked the cab as close as he could and walked in the rest of the way. He spotted Paula Owens, a familiar face. He had, in fact, tried to have an affair with her while he was on the force and she was still in uniform, but she had felt that if people found out she had slept with a white colleague it would have hurt her chances of advancement. As it turned out, it wasn’t just paranoia; she had probably been right. Backed by her colleagues in the African-American law enforcement co
“Paula,” he called out. “Mulroy and Creech were headed this way. You seen ’em?”
She turned away from the brick house and he saw the tears in her eyes, spilling down her cheeks. She swallowed, biting her lower lip, not responding.
He started past her, but she grabbed his arm with both hands. “You can’t go in there, Mitch,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. “You don’t have a shield anymore.”
“Those men are my friends,” Mitch protested.
“That’s why you don’t want to see them.”
Two hours later, Mitch was parked in front of the Hyatt.
As the numbness threatened to overwhelm him, he paid Gaston, the night bellman, forty bucks not to hail him for any reason. Mitch was running out of twenties and hadn’t had a fare since before dinner.
At the moment, he really didn’t give two shits. He’d sit here in the dark Crown Vic for as long as necessary. Mitch didn’t know any other way to find the man he wanted to talk to.
He had described the guy to Gaston, who was pretty sure the man hadn’t checked out yet, but he couldn’t be positive.
So Mitch sat and waited.
He watched the hotel’s front door, yawned, fought back sleep, despite the gnawing tension in his gut. Every now and then he got out of the cab and walked around it to keep his circulation going.
When the guy walked past him, Mitch almost missed it.
Maybe he blinked without realizing it. Maybe he had been seeing, in his mind’s eye, the scene one of the uniforms had described to him, his voice breathless, excited.
Described the unimaginable carnage.
The uniform had gone inside the house after Mulroy and Creech—after their screams had pierced the night. Both men were on the floor, he said, looking as if they had gone through the door and encountered a threshing machine.
Their flesh had been torn to ribbons; arterial blood was so thick on the walls and ceiling that it ran like paint.
“What about the perp?” Mitch had asked, freaking out. “Where is he?!”
“Nowhere,” the uni had said. “Gone. The detectives went inside, they screamed, me and Al fucking followed right after them, and they was dead and there was people inside dead, too, but whoever did it was like smoke in the wind.”
The uni then looked as if he was going to vomit on the front lawn again.
Maybe Mitch’s brain had been looking at all that, painting the scene by the numbers, because he had not, in fact, gone inside, but he felt like he could see every detail: the blood spatter that almost masked the little flecks of crab Mulroy had got on his necktie, the way Creech’s head had rolled to a stop in a corner of the foyer almost underneath the legs of an antique French table on which the (former) residents had kept their mail and keys and loose change in a blue ceramic bowl.
Whatever had distracted Mitch, he didn’t know, but he was looking at the hotel’s doorway and suddenly the guy was there, pulling open the hotel’s front door with that big steel handle and stepping inside, and Mitch had to run to catch him before the elevator sucked the man upstairs and out of sight again.
And when he did, when he burst into the lobby and skidded across the marble floor and caught himself, the guy had looked at him with a little smile on his lips, but not in his eyes—oh Christ they looked like a shark’s eyes, dead and black. And the guy said, “Mitch LaSalle, right? I was wondering when I’d see you again.” And Mitch wasn’t sure he had ever been quite so afraid in his life.
PEOPLE WHO FREQUENT antique shops, bookstores, gay bars, or strip clubs know how to find those places when they go to a strange city.
Dane knew how to find a strange city’s vampire population.
Not that they were of any help, in this case. Savannah’s vampires were an odd mix of a few very old ones—two had been members of Savannah’s original upper crust, and a handful had actually been part of a pirate crew that had been turned while their ship had been in port here—and very young ones, still brash and full of their own newfound strength.
One of the old ones explained that what should have been the largest number, those turned in the intervening centuries, had mostly moved on to larger urban centers, particularly Atlanta, but also down into Florida and up into Virginia and the mid-Atlantic states, where the pickings were better and the chances of drawing undue attention were lessened.
Some of them shared Dane’s opinion that Savannah’s serial killer must be a vampire. Who else, they had concluded, could have smashed his way into some of those homes? Who else would have bothered draining the blood from those they killed and taking away the others?
Dane also realized the risk involved in putting himself out there—after all, it didn’t take much for a vampire like that Paul Norris to put two and two together about the LA incident, the bloody and painful end results still fresh in Dane’s mind. Now there was a memory for you.
Sitting in the darkened parlor of a grand old Savannah home, talking with an assemblage of the gathered, Dane decided he believed them when they collectively said they had considered the question long and hard but had no idea who might have been carrying out the attacks.
“We all, like, know each other,” China was saying. China was a little Goth-looking girl, pale faced, with black hair cut straight across and a silver stud in her nose, apparently frozen at seventeen. Being turned had probably been a dream come true. Many vampires, like Dane, preferred to stick to one name, often—although not always—one of their original, human names. China, Dane guessed, had made up her own name—her skin was fittingly as white as bone, with only a few veins of blue tracing underneath. “Fuck, any of us had been the Headsman, we’d know.”
“Couldn’t there be an outsider in your midst?” Dane had asked.
“I don’t see how,” another one had answered. This was Adler, one of the old ones. He had been living in this house since the early 1800s. That kind of consistency seemed foolish, even suicidal. But when Dane continued inquiring, he was told, “This is Savannah. People don’t like to pry.” Adler’s house smelled like sandalwood—he kept incense burning almost constantly, it seemed, to mask the sour-sweet odor common to gatherings of the undead.
Dane had met with them, separately and in groups of various sizes, for the last several nights. None of them had been able to shed any light, and he had grown increasingly annoyed with them. These were his kind, but so many of them held ridiculous, outmoded beliefs—that they were the superior species, humans were nothing more than meat that should be raised as livestock, the blood of virgins was somehow fresher and more delicious than any other. Dane didn’t bother to ask how they confirmed anyone’s virginity, or where they found adult virgins in the modern age. Vampires, like everyone else, had their old wives’ tales—sometimes the best you could do was just nod your head and smile.
Tonight he had stopped to feed on a drug dealer he found near an all-ages nightclub, then headed back to the Hyatt. With no wheels, he either used public transportation or he simply ran, clinging to the shadows and letting his undead muscles propel him along. Like a trained ninja, Dane couldn’t genuinely turn invisible, but he could seem to disappear because most people didn’t know how to watch for him. He slowed long enough to open the door at the hotel, and that must have been when the cab driver saw him, because suddenly the man hurtled, breathless, his pale skin blotched with red, toward Dane as he waited for an elevator.
The reason for his sudden appearance couldn’t have been more obvious. Dane invited him up.
There was a momentary silence between them as the elevator hummed in its ascent, Mitch staring at Dane.
“Something’s happened,” Dane finally remarked, eyebrows raised. “He struck again, didn’t he?”
Mitch nodded. His Adam’s apple twitched in his throat. Dane didn’t like the way Mitch examined him, letting his gaze run from Dane’
“You think that I…” Dane started.
Mitch shook his head. Finally, he found his voice. “No, I can see…you wouldn’t have had time to change. You’d be covered in blood if you had…”
The elevator stopped, opened. Dane led the way to his room, swiping the lock with the key card. They didn’t speak in the hallway. When they were in his room with the door closed, Dane went into the bathroom and drew a glass of water, then came out and handed it to Mitch. The man sat on the edge of one of the chairs and sipped it, clutching the glass in both hands.
“What happened?” Dane asked him.
Mitch swallowed some of the water, already starting to look more like himself. “Two friends of mine,” he said. “Cops, detectives on the task force looking for this bastard. They got a call, responded. He had broken into a home, and the neighbors said he was still inside.”
He stopped. Dane didn’t want to push too hard. The cops were friends of his, so Mitch was probably still in shock to a certain extent.
But the scent would grow cold quickly. Dane didn’t want to be insensitive, but he didn’t want to waste time, either. “And he was still inside, and he killed your friends. Then what? Did anyone else see him?”
“They had the place surrounded, or close to it. I guess units were still responding. Fucking snafu, you know?”
“I’m familiar with the syndrome.”
“So the suspect escaped. Meanwhile my buddies haven’t been brought out yet because the crime scene unit has to take pictures and measurements of all the pieces where they landed before they can scoop ’em up and pour ’em into body bags.”
Mitch stopped again.
“I’m sorry for your friends,” Dane said, dispensing his best bedside manner, attempting to bring Mitch around again. “So. Now you want to get this guy.” He crossed to the window, pulled back the sheer curtain and gazed out at the ships as if there might be answers written on their hulls. “And you figured maybe I really did know what I was talking about the other night.”