Friday, January 31, 2014
Basements are naturally creepy places, don’t you think? Who hasn’t gotten spooked before and ran out of their basement or cellar like there was a hideous monster trailing behind them? Billy Jessup had done so on more than one occasion. Something about being down in that dark, dank cellar alone gave him the willies.
But Billy was getting older. In less than a month, he’d be ten. He was smart enough for his age to know that if he didn’t conquer this demon now, the irrational fear might control him the rest of his life.
So one particular Monday after school, when mom was out buying groceries and dad wasn’t due home from work for another two hours, Billy put aside his trepidation and decided it was now or never.
Standing in front of the green cellar door, he took three deep breaths and steeled himself for the challenge. Then gently turning the knob, he pulled the door open and dragged his hand across the wall in search of the light switch. When he found it, the fluorescent lights flicked on and he descended the creaky wooden staircase his dad had constructed himself when the old staircase caved in.
Billy one day dreamed of being as handy as his old man. When his father was his age, he was constructing tree houses and birdfeeders. Billy couldn’t even build a gingerbread house for his art class.
The fluorescents flickered and emitted a buzzing noise as they did from time to time. It made Billy jump until he realized it was just the lights. “Pull it together, Billy,” he said aloud for nobody else to hear but himself. “You’ve gone this far. You’re at the bottom of the stairs now. Keep going.”
The cellar was damp and muggy in the heat of June. Billy tugged at the neck of his Batman shirt in a vain attempt to cool off. Billy was an avid comic book fan–X-Men, Spiderman, Superman. But Batman was always his preferred choice. That was the hero he admired. No superpowers, no supernatural abilities. A hero that relies on dexterity and intellect in order to thwart criminals or save the day. Much like his father relied on his skills and intelligence to do things like assemble a staircase from scratch or build a tree house the size of a night club. In a way, Billy was saying his father was his real hero. He just had a different way of expressing it.
Brown cardboard boxes were stacked and piled against the walls, some containing photos or books or vintage clothing. Others containing boxes of comics Billy had been collecting since he was five. Even at a young age, he understood the value and his father had taught him to bag and board all of his comics to preserve their condition.
And beyond the boxes, the boiler room of the cellar. The room that gave Billy nightmares for six months straight after he had watched A Nightmare on Elm Street late one night on television. “That’s what you get for watching movies you’re not supposed to,” his father had lectured. And Billy knew he was right. It taught him a lesson he’d never forget.
The door frame of the boiler room projected an image of darkness. The door was wide open and the room was still pitch-black. The room had fluorescents, but the light switch was on the other side of the door.
“You can do it,” Billy encouraged himself. “It’s just a silly little room. Nothing in there can hurt you.”
The fluorescents continued to hum and flicker as Billy glided past the boxes. He stopped ten feet from the door when the boiler began to rattle. “It’s a normal sound,” he assured himself. “Nothing to be afraid of. Don’t chicken out now. What would Batman do? He’d keep going.”
As the rattling of the boiler and the buzzing of the lights continued, a new sound emerged suddenly past the threshold of the boiler room.
It was a sound he couldn’t quite distinguish. Then it grew louder and he could easily deduce it. It was chattering. The chattering of teeth.
Sharp, jagged, spikey teeth.
“It’s all in your imagination,” he whispered. “It’s all in your mind.”
Tentacles–slimy and yellow–crept out from the room and roped their way around his ankles.
“All in your mind…” he repeated. His eyes were closed, but he could feel the warm tears streaming down his cheeks. The tentacles that were coiled around his ankles snatched him off his feet, dragging him into a pit of darkness.
The rumble of the boiler ceased as Billy’s screams reached an abrupt conclusion.
Monday, January 27, 2014
I was bored so I threw this list together. I know there a lot of members here are horror movie fans so here are a couple of titles you might not have heard of. Please feel free to comment, leave feedback, criticize my choices, or add more films to the list.
Daniel Skye Presents: FIVE HORROR FILMS YOU MAY NOT KNOW, BUT SHOULD
Number One: PHANTASM
A forgotten classic of the 70's. The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm) is an undertaker at the Morningside funeral parlor. He’s also an unstoppable supernatural force who scours the graveyard for fresh bodies. Shrinking the bodies down to dwarf-size and then reanimating them, he uses these hordes of zombie dwarfs to do his bidding, and ships others back to his world, known to Phantasm aficionados as the Red Planet (not to be confused with Mars). It’s up to brother’s Mike (A. Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury), and Jody’s friend Reggie (played to perfection by Reggie Banister). Wildly innovative and filled with eerie dreamlike sequences that blur the line between fantasy and reality, Phantasm is director Don Coscarelli’s masterpiece. Watch it and you’ll understand why. The film went on to achieve cult status and prompted three sequels.
Number Two: VIDEODROME
David Cronenberg’s mind-bending horror flick from the 80's is filled with stunning special effects for its time. But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this one. James Woods plays Max Renn, operator of Civic TV, a small network that relies on soft-core pornography and hardcore violence to rope in viewers. One day his networks satellites pick up a transmission of a show called Videodrome, a meaningless show that features “contestants” who are chained to a wall and savagely beaten, tortured, maimed, and executed on screen. Max becomes obsessed with tracking the source of this show, with ulterior plans to air it on his network as a ratings booster. Then the hallucinations begin… On the surface, Videodrome is nothing more than a pointless exercise of violence and sexual exploitation. But look deeper and you will find an intriguing study on sex and violence in television and movies and the effect it has on the viewers, ultimately begging the question: Why are you watching?
Number Three: HATCHET
Adam Green created this slasher-based trilogy that focuses on Victor Crowley, a disfigured tumor-ridden butcher that resides in the Louisiana swamps. Like his fellow slasher counterparts, Crowley appears to be already dead. Shoot him and he gets up for more. Stab him and he gets up for more. Burn him and… well, you get the point I’m sure. Featuring some of the most innovative kills I’ve seen in years, and also featuring cameos or extended cameos by the likes of Robert Englund, Tony Todd, Joshua Leonard, Sid Haig, Caroline Williams, AJ Bowen, Tom Holland, and Kane Hodder (who plays both Victor Crowley with makeup and his father, Thomas Crowley without makeup). Danielle Harris also plays the character of Marybeth in Hatchet 2 and 3. In this horror nerd’s humble opinion, all three are worth checking out.
Number Four: EXCISION
Directed by Richard Bates, Jr., this film focuses on a mentally unstable teenage girl with delusions of being a skilled surgeon. Need I say more? AnnaLynne McCord plays the disturbed Pauline, a teenager crying out for help but constantly being overlooked, specifically by her parents who are so tied up in her sister. Grace (played by Ariel Winters) suffers from cystic fibrosis and badly needs a liver transplant. With a solid supporting cast that includes Ray Wise, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin, Roger Bart, and John Waters. But the standouts here are clearly McCord, and Traci Lords who plays her intolerant yet concerned mother. I was wondering how Lords would fare in this one and she really held her own. I was pleasantly surprised.
Number Five: MANIAC
I’m not talking the Elijah Wood POV remake (though I did rather enjoy it). William Lustig’s 80's slasher flick is gritty portrait of urban violence shocked so many upon its release that protests were held to get the movie pulled from theaters. Joe Spinell plays Frank Zito, a deeply disturbed man whose hobbies include collecting lifeless mannequins, scalping women, and then placing their bloody scalps upon said mannequins. It’s dark, brooding, it doesn’t hold anything back. I didn’t even feel entertained the first time I watched it. I felt assaulted. Credit goes to Spinell, who not only channeled this silently vicious character flawlessly, but also co-wrote the screenplay along with Lustig.
AMER: Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s Belgian-French horror film is an homage to Giallo films that preceded it. The film follows a young girl named Ana during three very different stages of her life. I can’t begin to say enough about the lighting, the colors, lens, angles, the editing, the cinematography. Forzani and Cattet really went all out with the small budget they were supplied with. This is one that might leave you scratching your head at the end. That’s ok. Don’t get frustrated with it. Embrace it and enjoy the twisted ride the film takes you on. Think David Lynch meets Dario Argento with a dash of Roman Polanski.
SHALLOW GRAVE: Not quite a horror movie, but the first film from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and the first film Ewan McGregor starred in. Three UK natives take on a new flat mate (or roommate) to help pay the rent and bills. Their new mate promptly ODs and leaves them with a bagful of unmarked cash. Determined to keep the money, the friends dispose of the body, hacking it up and burying it piece by piece. But that money belongs to somebody, and they’re not just going to forget about it.
HIGH TENSION: The debut film of Alexandre Aja (director of the Hills Have Eyes, Piranha remakes) is a savage, take-no-prisoners French slasher film that was marred by its lame twist ending. Packed with plenty of brutal kills, stunning blood and makeup effects and a special appearance by Philippe Nahon (AKA the Robert De Niro of France), this one is worth checking out despite its disappointing climax.
EATEN ALIVE: Tobe Hooper’s (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) often forgotten film is a memorable one for those that have seen it. Featuring a young Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger) and Marilyn Burns (original Texas Chainsaw Massacre), the film mainly focuses on mentally disturbed Judd (Neville Brand), the proprietor of the Starlight Hotel. Judd’s main attraction is the crocodile he keeps in the makeshift swamp beside his property. And many of Judd’s guests end up taking a swim in that very swamp. Based partially on a true story (Google the name Joe Ball to learn more), Eaten Alive is grindhouse to the core, from its limited settings to its cheesy “crocodile” effects. Pop it in the DVD/Blu Ray player one night, turn the lights down, and have a ball.
THE ABCS OF DEATH: 26 Short films. 26 ways to die. It’s a fun anthology filled with shorts that range from good to meh. You will be offended, you will be disgusted, you will be shocked, and if you’re a true horror fan, you will also be entertained.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
(The second installment in the Wes Archer series)
Monday, October 22, 2012.
The smell of fried eggs and sizzling bacon caught Roger Farinella’s nose. He rose from his bed and drifted downstairs to the kitchen, his feet floating almost weightlessly off the ground like one of those old Disney movies where the character smells pie cooling on a windowsill. Although Roger was no Disney character and floating weightlessly is quite an exaggeration, especially when you consider that Roger was pushing three-hundred and fifty pounds.
In the kitchen, Margret “Marge” Farinella worked busily over the hot stove, flipping the eggs and making sure the bacon didn’t get too crispy in the oven below. There was fresh juice waiting for him on the table beside his morning newspaper. But coffee was what Roger was really craving.
He grabbed his favorite coffee mug–it had The Beatles printed on one side and a picture from the Abbey Road album printed on the other–and poured a fresh cup from the steaming pot.
He sat, unfolding his paper and reading while he sipped his coffee and tried not to drool over the wafting smell of the bacon. As he reviewed his Daggett Corp stock options, he noticed that Francis was absent from the table.
“Where’s that lazy, no-good son of mine?” Roger asked as Marge set a fresh plate off eggs, bacon, and sausage in front of him.
“If he’s not parked in front of his laptop, he’s probably parked in front of the television.”
“If it weren’t for us he wouldn’t even have that TV, that laptop, or that Xbox. All I ask is that we eat breakfast and dinner together at the table like a normal family. Is that too much to ask for? He’s not getting off that easy, not today. I’m going to drag his lazy butt down here. He’ll live without Xbox for ten minutes.”
When you think computer nerd, you don’t picture a quarterback. You think of someone living in their mom’s basement, playing World of Warcraft for forty-eight consecutive hours while funneling Cheetos into his mouth. But Francis Farinella was tall and lean, and the damage of puberty had eluded him. No pockmarks or acne breakouts.
“Boy,” Roger called from the doorway as Francis’ fingers moved crazily across the controller, striking every button in rapid succession. “It’s time for breakfast. Show me and your mother some respect and join us in the kitchen.”
“Five minutes, dad,” Francis opposed. “I just need to finish this level."
“I’ve had enough of this crap. All you do is sit around, eat Twizzlers and play Grand Theft Auto 5.”
“I don’t eat that many Twizzlers,” Francis got defensive, and then suddenly changed his attitude. “But if you’re going shopping soon, we should stock up on more Twizzlers. In case there’s a blizzard.”
“It’s October, Francis.”
“Or in case I get hungry.”
“Downstairs now before I yank that frigging cord out of the wall.”
“Alright, alright, let me just save the game and I’ll come down,” he caved. Then he added, “Oh, if it’s cool with you, I have a girl coming over for dinner tonight.”
“A girl?” Roger smiled, his stern demeanor vanishing. “What is it, like a date?”
“Yeah, I guess you can call it that,” Francis said, blushing. “It’s just this girl from school. Her name’s Alicia. You’ll love her. I can’t promise the same for mom.”
* * *
At seven o’clock, the bell rang and Margret Farinella held the door open for a slim blond in black spandex pants, running shoes, and a turquoise crop top. Her twilight blue eyes reflected everything, and were so clear it was as if you could gaze right into her very soul. But her impressive figure and expressive blue eyes were not enough to woo Marge.
“Hello, Mrs. Farinella,” she smiled, trying to be benevolent. “I’m Alicia Bates.”
“Mm hmm,” Marge grumbled through gritted teeth. “Come in and make yourself at home. I’m sure you will.”
“I’m so glad you came,” Francis said, smiling like a dope as he first approached Alicia. He directed her to the kitchen and trying to play the role of the gentleman, pulled her chair out for her and pushed it in when she took a seat.
Roger was already seated and nervously sipping his brandy, which he drank every evening at dinner. He was pleased at the sight of his son’s guest, but he knew his wife couldn’t say the same. And he knew this wasn’t going to end well.
Francis and Alicia were not old enough to drink, so Francis fetched an open bottle of Pepsi and poured two glasses. At Marge’s request, he poured a third for her as she did not drink alcohol either.
Margret took four plates and served the first round of lasagna, along with a side of salad, which the guy’s barely touched. Alicia seemed to be the only one enjoying it.
“This is delicious,” Alicia said, still trying to get on Marge’s good side.
“Thank you,” Marge said, sipping her wine, seeing right through Alicia’s attempt to get into her good graces. “Have you ever made lasagna before?”
“This is the first time I’ve ever had lasagna I think.”
“But you do cook, right?”
“Oh yeah, I always make the mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. It’s so easy; you just melt some butter and mix the flakes from the box in a pot with some milk.”
“No I mean do you really cook? Have you ever made pasta before, or meatloaf, eggplant parmesan, tuna casserole?”
Roger and Francis both had that same reticent look on their faces. They were both watching a car wreck in slow motion and neither man was capable of warning the two drivers of the horrific collision that was about to occur.
Roger finished his brandy and poured another glass. He was feeling a bit woozy, which was unusual for a man his size. But for a dinner like this, he needed all the booze he could stomach.
“So I take it you don’t cook,” Marge sighed. “Do you clean at least?”
“You mean like clean my plate after I’m done eating?” Alicia took a sip of her Pepsi, which tasted flat and stale.
“No I mean sweep, mop, dust, vacuum, do laundry, make your own bed, take out the trash.”
“Taking out the garbage is a man’s job, not a woman’s.” Alicia responded.
“Is that so?” Marge said, her face getting redder. It was then Francis noted his mom’s fingers were clenched, her nails digging into the tablecloth. “So you don’t cook, you don’t clean, you don’t bake… do you sew?”
“My mom tried to show me how to once, but I could never get the hang of it.”
“So what is it you do exactly?” Marge continued her inquisition.
“This really is delicious, mom,” Francis interrupted, trying to provide a distraction.
“I like jogging,” Alicia said. “And I love my phone apps. I can’t live without them.”
The doorbell rang and both Roger and Francis couldn’t help but sigh. Saved by the bell, they thought. “Who on earth could that be?” Marge wondered.
“I’ll see who it is,” Roger said, excusing himself from the table. He was getting dizzier and clutching at his left temple as he walked from the kitchen. Francis was doing the same. His temples were throbbing and he felt like he was on the verge of keeling over.
As Alicia helped herself to more lasagna, Marge leaned over to Francis and whispered, “Get this girl out of my kitchen before I throw acid in her face.”
“She’ll be gone soon,” Francis whispered back. “Do you feel ok? I don’t feel so hot.”
“Now that you mention it, I do feel a little dizzy. I think it’s just a headache from your new girlfriend here.”
From the foyer came a bloodcurdling scream that made Alicia drop her plate of lasagna. Her twilight eyes bulged as the deliveryman stepped out from the shadows of the dimly lit foyer, his brown uniform glistening with blood.
Wes Archer’s black Jeep Cherokee hugged the curbs of every sidewalk as he sped like a maniac on the vacant back-roads of Carter City. Meticulously carved Jack-’o-lanterns sat on the doorsteps of every house they glided past. Halloween was right around the corner. And Wes knew better than anyone else that a night like Halloween drags out all the crazies.
“Slow down,” Dale Craven chided. “You might get a ticket.” Dale was in the shotgun seat, fussing over the daily crossword puzzle.
“Everyone’s a comedian,” Wes muttered under his breath.
He cut a sharp left onto Main Street without signaling, almost clipping the side of a minivan in the process.
“That was a close one,” Dale sighed. “Hey, what’s a ten letter word for madam?”
“Palindrome,” Archer replied after a moment of silent thought.
“It fits,” Dale said as he scribbled the ten letters into the empty letters boxes.
The Jeep is Archer’s private ride. The Carter City Police Department offers a patrol car, but Wes prefers his own set of wheels.
“Did Morris say how many bodies?” Archer asked.
“Four,” Dale replied.
There were two officers posted outside the door when they pulled up to the scene. Several more officers were camped around the lawn, holding the reporters and curious neighbors at bay. One officer ordered the crowd to step aside as they cleared a path for Archer and Craven.
“What’s an eight letter word for slaughterhouse?” Dale asked as they stepped beyond the threshold of the doorway. Archer stepped carefully, mindful of the trail of blood that extended from the foyer and into the kitchen, where the bodies of all four victims were neatly arranged around the table as if nothing had ever happened.
“This girl was the main target. Her eyes were plucked straight from the sockets. I’ve seen this before. He’s claimed souls up and down the east coast. But he’s never crossed over into Carter City before.”
“Who are you talking about?”
“They don’t know his real name. The media dubbed him The Vulture because of his proclivity to prey on the weak and vulnerable. He rarely targets men, but if he does he always has the height and weight advantage, or at least the height. Looking at the husband in this case, I can’t say for sure if he had the weight advantage. And he always takes the eyes of one victim, always female.”
“Why the eyes? Is it a trophy thing?”
“Could be. Or it could be something more profound. This guy doesn’t seem like your standard CSI: Miami serial killer. He doesn’t leave clues, he doesn’t play games. He shows up, people die, and then he’s a ghost. If we don’t catch him, he’ll just move on to another town, another state.”
“But you won’t let that happen?”
“Not if we can help it.”
Archer removed a tape recorder from the breast pocket of his leather jacket, pressed the record button, and started taking notes. “Adult male victim has multiple contusions and abrasions. The trail of blood that follows the body indicates the husband was killed in the foyer and then dragged into the kitchen and placed around the table with the other victims.
“Adult female victim his multiple lacerations to the face and neck. It appears as if one of the cuts nicked her jugular. She bled out fast, probably was the first or second to die. Male teenage victim has multiple stab wounds to the face and chest. Cause of death undetermined at the moment, but it’s likely that he bled out or that one of the stabs punctured a vital organ.
“The female teenage victim was probably the last to die. Her hands were bound with rope behind the chair to keep her restrained. Her eyes have been excised from the sockets with a sharp object, most likely a scalpel. However, there doesn’t seem to be another mark on her.”
“We’ve got reports coming in that a flower truck was found abandoned less than five miles from here. The driver, Paul Stein, was found stashed in the back. His throat was sliced from ear-to-ear.” Dale finished speaking and waited for Archer’s response.
“Let forensics do their thing for now. If they turn up anything useful, they’ll contact us. But I kindly doubt it. This is a man who covers his tracks. As for the truck, at least we know part of our killer’s M.O. He likes to pose as deliverymen. Find out what kind of truck it was and see what you can learn anything from the company it came from. But first, find me a cup of coffee with a touch of bourbon in it.”
* * *
Tuesday, October 23, 2012.
Archer arrived early at the station that morning to find that Dale had already beaten him there.
“We got no evidence. No prints, no fibers, no hair or DNA samples, no witnesses either. This guy showed up, cleaned house, and vanished in the blink of an eye. And all the prints found inside the abandoned delivery truck belonged to Paul Stein.”
But Archer knew this already. He anticipated that forensics would find no tangible evidence at the scene. This was not the work of a sloppy amateur or some deranged, senseless lunatic. This was the calling card of a highly-organized psychopath. A meticulous killer who takes pride in his craft.
“What about the truck?” Archer inquired.
“Standard UPS truck. The company was no help. They forwarded Stein’s record, it’s clean. Other than that, nothing to report.”
“Are the names of all the victims in order?”
“Yup. First we have Roger Farinella, forty-two years old, a periodontist who made a few wise investments in the stock market. Margret Farinella, forty-one years old, hairdresser from Staten Island who moved to Carter City after her and Roger were married. Francis Farinella, son, age seventeen, just eight months shy from graduating high school. And Alicia Bates or the main target as you called her. Seventeen years old, member of the cheerleader squad, dad owns a small business and her mom is a nurse.”
“Have the girl’s parents been notified?”
“Already taken care of. So what’s our next move?”
“There’s a medical supply store, not too far from here. I want to check it out. Coroner’s report said a scalpel was the likely murder weapon used in this case. Let’s see what we can find there.”
* * *
Medical Supply Plus was ten minutes from the station and Craven was polite enough to offer to drive. Actually, he just didn’t want to be in a vehicle with a madman like Archer behind the wheel.
Jimmy Ross, the store’s owner, was happy to help. Unfortunately his information wasn’t that useful.
“I haven’t sold a scalpel in months,” Jimmy assured them. “But I can tell you that nobody buys anything from a store like this without a proper medical ID or license. It just doesn’t happen.”
“Has anything ever been stolen?” Archer asked.
“I’ve been running this place for fifteen years and I can’t recall a thing being stolen. I’ve never had to call the police once. In fact, this is probably the first time the police have ever been inside here before.”
“Is there anything else you might be able to tell us that could help? Anything at all?”
“I can tell you that trying to trace the sale of one particular scalpel would be like finding a needle in a haystack. But now that you mention all this, I can remember a few months ago that Benchley Memorial reported a bunch of surgical equipment stolen from their ER.”
“Benchley Memorial? Are you sure?”
“Positive. It’s just twenty minutes from here. You go east and–”
“I know where it is,” Archer cut him off. “Thanks for your help, sir. Have a good afternoon.”
As they walked to Dale’s car, Archer told him the next step. “You’re going to drop me back at the station so I can pick up my Jeep. Then you’re going to drive out to Benchley and see what the staff knows.”
“And what are you going to be doing while I’m out there busting my ass?” Craven wondered.
“I’m going to see somebody who might be able to help us out.”
“Your snitch, Toad?”
“Not Toad. Ray Frye. He’s a friend of mine. He works down at the morgue. I bet he can fill me in a few details he picked up that Pete didn’t. Ray’s like me; he’s got good eyes when it comes to this sort of thing.”
“Whatever you say,” Craven rolled his eyes. “As long as I don’t have to go with you. That dude gives me the creeps.”
* * *
Ray Frye is an old friend of Archer’s from his high school days. As an adult, Archer thought his job was morbid until he learned Ray was spending his days with dead people in the morgue. He was an assistant, but often helped the coroner with his reports.
Archer swung by his apartment at two o’clock and found him home.
“Tuesday’s are my day off,” Ray said, nodding for Wes to enter. Archer wiped his boots and stepped inside. Ray offered him a beer, which Archer gratefully accepted. “So what brings you here?” Ray asked as they clanked their beers together, toasting nothing in particular.
“That’s one hell of a case. I can imagine you have your hands full.”
“Your imagination is accurate. So what can you tell me?”
“I can tell you that the girl’s eyes were removed with extreme surgical precision. In other words, the guy knew what he was doing. The lids were sliced off, but he managed to remove the eyes without damaging the orbital sockets or perforating the epidermis.”
“And this means?”
“A skilled and steady head did this. You’d have to practically be a surgeon to pull something like that off.”
“So our killer could be a doctor or a surgeon?”
“Or a doctor in training, a premed student perhaps. Or maybe it was somebody who flunked out of med school and is trying to prove a point.”
“One hell of a way to prove your point.”
“Extreme always seems to get people’s attention, doesn’t it?”
“I concur. Anything else you could tell me?”
“The toxicology reports have already been shipped to the station, but if you don’t know this already, all four victims were drugged. Ambien was found in their systems, it’s a common sleeping aid for insomniacs.”
“Drugged? The killer couldn’t have pulled that off unless… unless he got inside the house hours before he killed them. How else, right? I mean Ambien isn’t something you can inject.”
“No, but you can grind it up and put it in somebody’s drink.”
“That son of a bitch... he knew what they were going to be drinking that night. He could’ve been watching them for days, weeks.”
“What are going to do, Wes?”
“I’m going to find him before he pegs his next victim.”
* * *
Archer and Craven rendezvoused back at the station and Archer gave him the rundown on the Ambien and his theory that the killer might be a doctor, or at least is under the impression that he is one. Then it was Dale’s turn.
“One month ago, a guy came in to Benchley Memorial with a fake ID, trying to pass himself off as a new member of the staff. He used the alias Patrick Bateman. None of the employees were able to give me a solid description. Those that were there the night in question said he appeared average, not a face you’d remember.”
“So all we have is an alias and a description of an average white male with no face. We’ve nothing again.”
“I’ll give this fucker credit; he knows how to cover his tracks.”
“He’s good. Too good. But even the best make mistakes. He’ll slip up, and when he does we’ll be there to catch him.”
“You sound confident.”
“I’m not confident. I’m pissed off. This is my city and I’m not going to let this sadistic freak turn it into his own personal playground.”
“You mean slay-ground,” Craven quipped and Archer rolled his eyes.
“Very clever. Give yourself a pat on the back and a slap on the face.”
“Hey, did you see the morning paper? William Dagget croaked and his company’s stock is soaring. Most CEO’s die and their stocks go down. Dagget dies and their stocks go up.”
“You’re surprised? People hated Dagget. He was running that company into the ground.”
“I don’t even know what the company does,” Dale said and shrugged.
“Oh,” Craven said, sipping his fourth coffee of the day. “So you want to start running background checks on local doctors to see if your little theory checks out?”
“Not just yet,” Archer shook his head. “Besides, I have a feeling our guy is not a local. He’s never hit Carter City before until now. That was his one mistake. Now he’s here and I’m not going to let him escape.”
“You sound obsessed.”
“Possession and obsession are very different things. When I work I case like this, I become almost possessed. A new side of me begins to show, a darker side. That’s what I rely on when dealing with scum like the Vulture.”
“I hope it pays off for us. In the meantime, what do you want to do? Sit on our hands and wait for him to kill again?”
“We’ve got units cruising every neighborhood and undercover cars trailing all UPS trucks twenty-four-seven. What else can we do?”
“I don’t know, but that reminds me… Lieutenant Morris wants to see you again.”
“Well, there’s nothing I can do about that,” Archer sighed. “Time to face the music.”
“What’d you do now?” Craven asked.
“Nothing that I know of. But Morris will find something to yell at me about.”
* * *
Many were squeamish in the presence of Lieutenant Mitch Morris. But not Weston Archer. Wes was accustomed to Mitch’s grotesque appearance and didn’t so much as bat an eye when looking at him. Morris had received many scars in the line of duty, and he wore each scar like a badge of honor.
“The people of Carter City are afraid,” Morris said in a quiet, almost somber tone. “The governor is already talking about cancelling Halloween so the kids will be safe. This is the last thing our city needs right now. The last things our department needs too.”
“Aren’t you going to yell at me?” Archer asked, confused.
“You’ve been good lately. I can tell you’re not using. You’ve passed all your drug tests with flying colors. It wouldn’t hurt if you lay off the booze a little though. Internal Affairs is pleased with your work in the Vanacore case. And so am I. That’s why I assigned you this case. Don’t let this city down, Wes.”
“We won’t disappoint you, Mitch. Anything else?”
“Yes, I got a call from an old friend the other day. Your father. He asked about you.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“Honest. He really did ask about you. You should visit him, Wes. It wouldn’t hurt. He’s sixty-four years old. He’s a retired, lonely old man who could use some company. I’m going to be that man one day. And that thought scares the shit out of me. Visit him, Wes. For me.”
“I’ll think about it,” Archer sighed and got up to dismiss himself.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012.
At eighteen years old, Leah Marshall was still a virgin, even orally. Some laughed at her decision, but it was her choice. Leah didn’t see the point in giving it up for some brainless jock or some superficial jerk that didn’t love or appreciate her for who she really was.
Leah was a short sandy blond with cornflower blue eyes that could make you melt like putty in her hands. There was a question as to why she was still a virgin at her age when with a body and a face like that she could have any man she desired. But for Leah, pride and dignity come before lust and desire.
Leah’s father, Trevor Marshall still insisted on driving her to school every day. He was her guardian angel. With her mother gone, nothing was going to happen to his little girl. Not while he still had a breath in his body.
Trevor had a naughty habit of oversleeping and it was often Leah’s job to wake him up. In addition to that, she cleaned, cooked, did laundry, and made a fresh pot of coffee every morning. Sometimes she wondered if he was looking after her or if it was the other way around.
That morning was no different than any other. She filled the coffee machine with grinds and water and set a medium flame on the stove to fry up some eggs. She also poured to fresh glasses of OJ and woke her father up so he could shower and get dressed for work.
At the table, Trevor alternated between his coffee and orange juice as he browsed through the morning paper. He didn’t seem too interested in the articles. The stock page was really what caught his eye.
Leah made a cheddar omelette and started cooking up a few pancakes for herself. The doorbell rang and Leah turned, furrowed her brow.
“Expecting someone?” she asked, assuming had invited a lady over without her permission, something they agreed to discuss after her mother’s death.
“Don’t look at me,” Trevor shrugged. “I didn’t invite anyone.”
Leah peered out the kitchen window. From the angle, she couldn’t quite see a face. But she could make out the uniform.
“It’s the postman.”
“What could he want? A tip? I take care of him every Christmas.”
“Maybe he needs you to sign for a package. Go see.”
Trevor stood up and it felt the blood rush to his head. He was dizzy, wobbly on his feet. “Are you all right, dad?”
“Yes,” Trevor assured her. “I must’ve stood up too fast. Let me see what this guy wants.”
* * *
“Tim Noodle is missing,” Dale Craven said as Wes drove to the latest scene.
“Who the hell is Tim Noodle?"
“He’s a writer for the Carter City Chronicle. He’s also one of the five largest shareholders of Dagget Corp. Guess who one of the other five was? Roger Farinella.”
“Are you suggesting this has something to do with Dagget Corp or with William Dagget himself?”
“Dagget, no. That would be absurd. His son James identified the body at the morgue. The funeral is Friday, no wake. Just a funeral service followed by his burial.”
“I’m thinking someone else is trying to acquire these shares. Maybe it’s the Vulture. Or maybe someone is helping him.”
“Or maybe someone is using his M.O. to throw us off.”
“Too many maybes give me a fucking headache. Let’s just save the chitchat for the crime scene.”
Pete the coroner was already on the scene when they arrived. And a gruesome scene it was. The Vulture seemed to step it up a notch in terms of brutality.
Dale was hunched over, hand over his mouth as he stared in disbelief at the raw, skinless body that lay on the carpet in front of him. Poor Leah Marshall had suffered the same horrible fate as Alicia Bates. Her eyes had been surgically removed, but no other harm seemed to have come to her.
“What have you got for us, Pete?” Archer asked as Craven tried to regain his composure.
“The girl is the same as the other. Her eyes have been carefully extracted with what looks to be a scalpel or some other cutting tool. Yet other than that disturbing fact, there doesn’t appear to be a scratch on her. I can’t say the same for this guy.”
“What’s his story?”
“Trevor Marshall wasn’t heavily sedated like the other victims. The killer must’ve misjudged Trevor’s size and gave him a weak dose of Ambien. Either that or Trevor didn’t drink whatever it was that the killer had drugged.”
“What was on the table when you arrived?”
“Coffee and orange juice.”
“I want both tested.”
“They’re on their way to the lab. Now back to him. These deep lacerations here indicate he woke up at one point and the killer must’ve slipped with his scalpel and cut through the fat. Those deep impressions on the wrists indicate his hands were bound at one point as well.”
“So he was conscious while he was being skinned alive? How did nobody hear him scream?” Archer seemed to have an answer for Dale’s question.
“I’m no psychic, but if I had to take a swing I’d say the killer cut his tongue out.” Archer removes a pair of latex gloves from his pocket and after slipping them on, pried Trevor’s teeth apart with his fingers. “Just as I thought, his tongue is hacked out.”
“Sick fuck,” Craven said in reference to the Vulture.
“What finished him off was a blow to the head,” Pete explained. “We found a vase with bloodstains on it behind the sofa.”
“Does Trevor have a wife?” Dale asked.
“Deceased,” one of the officers informed Craven.
“I’ll let you finish up here, Pete,” Wes nodded. “Call me when you have the full report. And by the way, find out Leah Marshall’s eye color for me if you could.”
“Will do,” Pete said and went about his bloody business.
* * *
Weston Archer dismissed himself early that evening as he had some errands to attend to. That’s what he called it; errands. He didn’t want Craven or the other guys to know where he was really going.
“Dad,” Wes said as his father opened the front door.
“Son,” Adam Archer nodded his bald head. “Well, come in if you’re coming in I guess. I got some coffee in a carafe. It was fresh two days ago. Probably still warm.”
“I’ll pass,” Wes said as for the first time in six years he stepped through the house he grew up in.
“So what brings you here?” his father asked as they congregated in the living room. The TV was on full blast as Adam’s hearing was starting to go. He didn’t even seem to hear the football announcers screaming through the speakers. Wes grabbed the remote and turned the volume down so they could talk.
“Lieutenant Morris said you asked how I was doing.”
“Morris is full of crap. I never asked about you. He was just trying to lure you here so we could patch things up like he tried to do with his brother. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. I’ve got nothing worthwhile to say to you. Not after what you did to Aaron.”
“Aaron was years ago. And he was a monster, dad. Aaron killed people.”
“He was still your brother, my son. And you turned him in for a promotion from narcotics to homicide. Congratulations, Weston. I hear you’re working the Vulture case now. But you know who the real vulture is? You. Now get lost. You’re dead to me. I lost you the same day I lost Aaron."
Thursday, October 25, 2012.
Before he checked in at the station, Archer swung by Ray’s apartment to catch him before he went to work. He wanted to be as up to date as possible on the Leah Marshall case.
“What are you doing here so early?” Ray asked, looking startled. “I don’t have any beer.” He chucked nervously.
“I just came to talk,” Wes said from the other side of the door.
“Hang on a sec,” Ray said, closing the door and opening it a minute later in his robe.
“Thanks Hef,” Archer said as Ray held the door open for him. “What’s the story on Leah and Trevor Marshall?”
“Pete says the orange juice was laced with Ambien. Not enough to keep Trevor sedated, but enough to knock out Leah. And Pete said you were asking about her eyes. Blue.”
“Just like Alicia Bates. Our killer seems to have a thing for blonds with blue eyes. That narrows down our next victim at least.”
Ray chucked nervously again and scratched the back of his hair compulsively. “Are you ok?” Wes asked. “You’re acting kind of flakey.”
“Me?” Ray shrugged, trying to sound cool. “I’m perfect. You want some coffee. I have some in the kitchen.”
“Sure, pour me a cup.”
“You got it,” Ray said as he walked to the kitchen of his apartment, about fifteen feet from the living room. Wes sat on the sofa and noticed one of his boot laces was untied. As he leaned down, he spotted a trickle of blood on the edge of Ray’s coffee table. Before he could even think of the unthinkable, he saw it tucked underneath the sofa.
It was a scalpel, stained red. The blood was fresh, still warm.
Call it in or confront him about it? Wes pondered. Before he could make a final decision, Ray returned with two steaming hot mugs and saw the bloody scalpel in Wes’ hand.
“Caught you red-handed,” Archer quipped.
“I can explain… it’s not at all what you’re thinking. I’m no killer. I was just using it for practice.”
“Yeah, I want to be like Pete someday. And I also want to impress him and show him what I know. So I’ve been performing autopsies on the side.”
“You’ve been stealing cadavers?”
“Not exactly… I use animals. They’re always dead ones. Possums found on the side of the road, birds that fly into my window. Before you came in, I was dissecting a pigeon. I didn’t want you to find out and think less of me.”
“I’ve heard of some weird shit but that takes the cake. But still, I believe you. I don’t think you’re a killer, Ray. Just a weirdo like me. And that’s a good thing.”
“I’ll take your word for it. So this is between us?”
“That goes without saying.”
“Good. I’ll see you after the next one. Oh, did you hear the news?”
“Nope. I try to avoid it. Fill me in.”
“William Dagget’s body was stolen from the morgue last night. They think it was punk kids, but who knows? Maybe it’s your guy.”
“I’m getting so tired of the word maybe.”
* * *
“Trevor Marshall was another shareholder of Dagget Corp,” Craven informed Archer when he arrived at the station. “Still unconvinced of my theory?”
“After what I saw this morning, I’ll believe anything. Ever see a pigeon heart before?”
“Never mind. Ray Frye said the Marshall’s were drugged with Ambien. Leah’s eyes were blue, same as Alicia. And she was a blond, same as Alicia. We’ve got two dead shareholders, one missing shareholder. Who are the other two majority shareholders?”
“James and Emily Dagget, William’s children.”
“Then they’re both next on the list. We have to warn them.”
“We’ve had officers trying to locate them all day. Emily didn’t show up for work and James has been MIA for two days according to his girlfriend.”
Come on, Wes, Archer thought silently. Channel your dark side. If you were a serial killer, what would you do? Where and how would you stage the grand finale?
“Find out everything you can about William Dagget. He was a rich man. Rich men usually have a place to escape– a condo, a summerhouse, anything. Any word on Tim Noodle?"
“Nothing. His family, friends haven’t seen him in days. It doesn’t bode well for Mr. Noodle. And tailing the UPS trucks did nothing. Our killer went another route. He disguised himself as a mailman. Cops found the mail truck abandoned half a mile from the Marshall residence. The driver’s throat was slashed to ribbons.”
“Christ…” Archer shook his head and trailed off briefly. “Like I said, see what you can find out about William Dagget. Meanwhile, I’m going to see the one man who’s been able to help us out of a jam before.”
“Toad?” Craven asked with disdain.
“Toad,” Archer repeated and nodded.
* * *
Wes entered through the back of the soup kitchen and saw Toad unloaded boxes and filling trays of bread to serve along with the soup dishes.
“When did you start working here?”
“A few weeks ago. No money, but I can stay here for free and it’s all you can eat. So what brings you here? I haven’t seen you since you stopped using. How’s sobriety treating you?”
“Sobriety is seriously overrated.”
“So that’s why you’re here? I don’t have any heroin, but I do have some good Kush. It’s my cousins' shit from California. One hit and you’ll be seeing stars.”
“I’m not here for dope of any variety. I’m here for information.”
“If it’s not one thing with you it’s another thing,” Toad sighed. “So what do you want to know? I’ve got eyes and ears all over the streets. If you’re looking for someone, something, I can probably help you find it.”
“Does the name Alicia Bates mean anything to you?”
“Can’t say it does,” Toad shook his head.
“What about Leah Marshall?”
“Not ringing any bells.”
“How about James Dagget?”
“William Dagget’s son? Yeah, he used to be a preferred customer.”
“Used to be?”
“I haven’t seen him in years. Not since his pops booted his ass to rehab.”
“Rehab? So James had some problems I take it.”
“James was a party animal. Cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, heroin. Every drug was his drug of choice. But all that partying finally caught up to him and he got expelled from med school. That’s when his dad decided on rehab.”
“Wait, wait, and back up a bit. Did you say James Dagget was in med school?”
“Yeah, he was on his way to becoming a surgeon. Too bad he fucked it up. But he still has daddy’s trust fund to fall back on. I can’t say I feel too bad for him.”
“Thanks, Toad. You’ve been a lot of help.”
Emily Dagget had received several texts from her brother, instructing her to pack her things and head out of town for a couple of days. Emily was already distraught over the death of her father, and now the disappearance of his body from the morgue was eating her up. James had left copies of the keys for their father’s summerhouse in Newport. He suggested she get away for a couple of days, clear her head and keep safe until the cops resolve this.
Newport was 120 miles east from Carter City, just on the outskirts. It’s a small town, but it’s more like a private resort for people wealthy enough to afford property there year-round. William Dagget was one of these wealthy individuals.
The house was purchased by Dagget in the heyday of his corporation, and sat on a small hill overlooking the ocean.
Emily’s BMW pulled into the driveway around eight o’clock that evening. She immediately recognized her brother’s yellow Lamborghini which was parked next to her.
She unloaded two suitcases from the trunk, trotted up to the door, and rang the bell. But nobody answered.
“James!” she yelled. “Open the door. It’s cold out here.” Her hands were full so she kicked her heel against the front of the door to get his attention. When that didn’t work, she dropped her luggage and fished through her pockets for the keys James had left at her apartment.
She unlocked the door, dragging her bags inside and quickly closing the door behind her. She took of her gloves and rubbed her frigid hands together to try and build up some warmth. It wasn’t even winter yet and Carter City was already beginning to feel the sting of the cold.
“James?” she shouted, walking about the house. “Are you here?”
“In the kitchen,” a voice called.
As Emily stepped into the kitchen, her jaw dropped. If it was capable of reaching far enough, it would’ve hit the floor.
A man–stiff and lifeless–was propped up in a chair at the kitchen table. His salt and pepper hair and his thick frame–now even thicker as the body had bloated and swelled considerably–vaguely resembled her fathers.
“What do you think?” James said as he stepped out from the pantry. “Kind of looks like dad, doesn’t it? Almost fooled you, right? It fooled the people at the morgue. Then again, you wouldn’t know that because you never went. I identified dad’s body at the morgue.”
“Who is this?” Emily stuttered, weak on her feet. “What are you talking about, James?”
“This is Tim Noodle. The man they found dead in dad’s car from an apparent heart attack. The man that I positively identified at the morgue as our beloved father. But you see the funeral was tomorrow and someone was bound to notice that wasn’t William Dagget sitting in the casket. So I had to borrow it for a while.”
“What did you do with dad’s real body?” Emily said, slowly inching her out of the kitchen.
“Just because Tim Noodle is dead, doesn’t mean dad is too. You see dad’s a wise businessman. He knew his company was failing because of his imagine. So he “died” so that his corporation could live on. He knew the stocks would soar after the news of his death. He also knows the majority shareholders are going to reap the benefits. Tim Noodle was one of them. Roger Farinella and Trevor Marshall make three. That leaves you and me. And with you out of the picture, your shares will be free to acquire and that will make me the majority shareholder. Well, technically dad will be, but I’ll be handling all the work.”
“So you’re going to be dad’s puppet?”
“I’m nobody’s puppet. I am the Vulture, the scavenger of pain and misery, the harvester of souls. And I’m about to add one more soul to my collection. Your eyes aren’t really blue, more of an emerald green. But they’ll do just fine.”
“Emily,” a woman’s voice called out from the front of the house. “The door is wide open. Can you hear me? What is this girl thinking?” The voice grew louder and both James and Emily realized at the same time the girl had invited herself in. “Emily, are you here? Your car is out front. It’s Julie. You told me to stop by and hang out.”
Julie–a girl in her mid-twenties with straight blond hair, hypnotic blue eyes, and a slim, hourglass-shaped figure–appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. She saw the body at the table, the look of frozen terror in Emily’s eyes, the razor-sharp scalpel in James’ hand, and the sinister grin that had taken over the lower half of his face.
“Things just got interesting,” James said.
* * *
Nine thirty P.M.
Dale Craven paced nervously around his desk, trying Archer’s cell number for the fourteenth time. And for the fourteenth time, it went straight to voicemail.
He was about to leave the station when Archer marched in, boots stomping through the lobby as he moved to Craven’s desk.
“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been calling you for hours.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Yeah, well so have I. You asked me to dig up info on William Dagget and I did. The guy had a summerhouse in Newport, an hour and a half from the city. I sent the local police to check it out. They stopped there at eight thirty. No cars in the driveway, no one answered at the door. The place was untouched. Now where have you been?”
“After I had a chat with Toad, I shot over to the university to question various students and professors. Only one professor was able to recall James Dagget. Dale… James was an aspiring surgeon. But he got expelled. A combination of drugs and mental instability led to his expulsion. Apparently James was practicing on the cadavers after hours. I think this is our guy.”
“Should I have the local police scope out the house again?”
“No, if James shows, I want to be there to catch him in the act.”
“Looks like we’re going on a road trip.”
* * *
Dagget’s summerhouse on the hills was vacant when Archer’s Jeep pulled up in front. But even in the dark of night, he noted the tire tracks instantly. “There were two cars parked here recently.”
“I don’t know how you do that.”
“Let’s not question it now. Let’s just focus on the facts. Fact number one is we’re technically out of our jurisdiction. Fact number two is we know there were people here recently. And we don’t know this for a fact yet, but we have it on good authority that James Dagget is most likely the Vulture. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like standing around and waiting for a search warrant.”
“So what do you want to do?” Craven asked right before Archer started to cave the door in with his boots. The knob snapped off the door budged open. Archer drew his gun and Craven did likewise.
They did a quick sweep of the living room and move into the kitchen, where the bodies of Tim Noodle and Emily Dagget efficiently arranged at the white Formica table. Except Noodle’s corpse was so maimed and mutilated it was impossible to identify on arrival. Emily’s body was virtually unscathed, that is if you overlook the hollow sockets that her eyeballs once inhabited.
“I think we just found William Dagget’s body,” Dale said.
“And we found his daughter. Just one more member and we can have a family reunion.”
“We need to call this in.”
“I’ll let you do the honors… Hello. What is this?” Archer was looking down when he saw it peeked out from under the Formica table. It was a purse, and it didn’t belong to Emily Dagget. “Julie Starwood,” Archer said, reading the girls ID. “Five foot two, one hundred and five pounds, blond hair, blue eyes.”
“And missing from the scene,” Dale added. “Unless he moved the body.”
“No, if James had killed Starwood here, he would’ve set her body up around the table along with the others. Two sets of tire tracks… my guess is he ditched his sisters car and took Starwood for a little ride.”
“I don’t know. But we don’t have a lot of time to figure it out. Call in the local police and have them handle the crime scene. We’ve got to get a move on. James Dagget can’t be that far from here.”
They drove far beyond their jurisdiction, put out an all-points bulletin, made every cop and fed in a five hundred mile radius aware of their suspect. But like their previous investigations, they yielded little results.
Wherever James Dagget was, he didn’t want to be found. As for the girl, Archer figured if they didn’t find her within twenty four hours they could call off the search.
Exhausted, they returned to the station around four in the morning and went their separate ways.
Monday, October 29, 2012.
Four days later.
Wes Archer had given up hope when Dale Craven burst into the station that morning with a gleam of hope in his eyes.
“The dental records don’t match Dagget’s. They match Tim Noodle’s dental records. A late toxicology reports confirms that Noodle was poisoned with cyanide. It was staged to look like a heart attack and his body was placed in Dagget’s car to take William’s place, albeit temporarily.”
“So William Dagget is still alive?” Archer asked, slowly putting the pieces together in his mind.
“We have to find William and I bet we’ll find his son.”
“We already have. He’s been using Tim Noodle’s ID and credit cards. We tracked his movements to a resort in Vermont. The local cops are picking him up as we speak. William Dagget will be back in Carter City and behind bars before the sun goes down.”
“Excellent,” Wes said in classic Mr. Burns’ fashion. “Now all we need is a full confession and a lead on James Dagget and we’ll have the ball rolling again.”
Lieutenant Morris was not known for grace or speed. But if you saw him rush to Archer’s desk that morning, you’d never guess he was a few years away from retirement. “Wes! Come quick! In the interrogation room!”
“What’s going on?” Wes asked, perplexed.
“No time to explain. You’ll see it for yourself.” Mitch practically grabbed Wes by the arm and dragged him like a child, guiding him to Interrogation Room A. “Watch your step,” Mitch advised.
Archer nudged the door open and the metallic stink of blood invaded his senses. The entire room was drenched in it. Officer Chris Murphy had been hacked to pieces; his blood use to sprawl a message along the wall like a finger painting. It read:
HERO – MEET ME AT MIDNIGHT – DEVIL’S NIGHT – WHERE IT ALL STARTED
“He’s calling you out,” Mitch said. “We found this outside the room.” He held up a picture of pretty blond with a slim, hourglass figure. The left side of her head was caked in dry blood, her wrists were bound, and her mouth was taped. But she was still alive.
“What’s Devil’s Night?”
“October 30. That’s tomorrow night.”
“Unless he means midnight tonight?”
“It could be anything with this guy.”
“First, we’re going to clear out and show some respect to Officer Murphy. Let the paramedics move his body out of here. Then I’m going to figure out what James means by ‘Where it all started’, and I think I have a good idea.”
* * *
James Dagget was a dark soul, but Archer was just as dark and knew how to think in similar fashion. When Dagget wrote “where it all started”, he didn’t mean the first murder he committed in Carter City. He didn’t mean where he killed his first victim ever. He meant where it all started for Archer.
Dagget knew he was being hunted and was keeping tabs on Archer. He knew all about his past indiscretions. He knew about his drinking, his addiction, his father, his brother.
It was at the abandoned marina that he had tracked his brother to, his boat tied off to the rotting bulkhead. Aboard the boat, Wes found the bodies of six missing people. They gave Aaron life in prison and gave Wes a promotion.
The marina had been condemned by the board of safety due to properties deteriorating condition and the owner skipped town to avoid hassle, leaving the place abandoned. Some local fishermen still use the place when they need a spot to tie off their boats for free.
Archer showed up at ten o’clock that evening to see if Dagget would show that night or the following. Craven and the other officers insisted on backing him up, but he said it would only draw too much attention and then Dagget would never show.
And he was right. Him sitting alone in the dark, his gun drawn and loaded. James would never see him coming. But a whole parade of officers he’d hear a mile away. No, Wes knew this had to be settled one on one. It was the only way.
Wes lit a cigarette and looked down at the water, saw that it was rippling. A twelve-foot speed boat glided over the water towards the marina, zipping past the bulkhead and to the main dock. A rope was tossed up and tied off to one of the dock poles. In the darkness, a man stepped off the boat.
“Drop the gun,” James screamed. “I know you’re here and I know you’re armed. Drop the gun or you’ll never see the girl again. She’s alive, but I didn’t bring her.”
Archer walked forward, lowering his piece and sliding it across the dock planks. Dagget snatched it and tossed the gun into the water with a heavy splash. “What happened to Devil’s Night?”
“Believe it or not, I’m a bit impulsive. And I knew you’d show early just to wait for me.”
“Kill me if you want, but let the girl go.”
“So heroic. Too bad there’s nobody around to hear your final words.”
“Why? Before you kill me, at least give me a reason. Why are so many innocent people dead?”
“It’s simple. My father’s company was failing and he saw a way to fix the problem and cash in on the solution all at the same time. All we had to do was eliminate a couple of shareholders, pull a quick swap with Tim Noodle’s body, and the rest is history. And I got to collect my trophies along the way. It’s a pity what happened to Emily. I loved her, I really did. But she was a shareholder too and she had to go.”
“How do you live with yourself?”
“I could ask you the same question,” James said as he drew his weapon of choice, his scalpel. “How you sleep at night knowing your brother is rotting in a jail cell that you put him in. We’re a lot alike, Wes.”
“We’re nothing alike. Now where is the girl?”
“She’s in the crawlspace of the summerhouse,” James laughed. “How do you like that? She was there the whole time.”
“Is she still alive?”
“For now. I can only kill only person at a time. Right now I’m working on you.”
He swung the scalpel and missed by mere inches. He swung again and Archer put up his forearm to block. The blade sliced through his leather jacket and cut him almost down to the bone.
Archer fell back and one of the dock planks snapped to the splinters. The whole dock was rotted out and one wrong step meant you might be taking a swim. James polished the scalpel against his shirt and went in for the kill. He stepped forward and one foot went straight through the decaying dock planks, trapping him.
Wes reached down and slid his knife out of his boot. Wes carried it as backup. Most cops carry an extra gun, he carries a knife. Some call it crazy, he calls it old fashioned.
“Eye for an eye, motherfucker!” Wes screamed as he plunged the blade deep into Dagget’s eye. It pushed right past the socket and pierced the brain, a form of unlicensed lobotomy so to speak.
He died instantly.
Wes radioed for a cleanup crew and told the Newport police where to find the girl. Then he went down to the pub for a celebratory drink. He figured the stitches in his arm could wait a few.
* * *
Wednesday, October 31, 2012.
Halloween went off without a hitch. Kids in costumes begging for candy. Teens vandalizing property with eggs and shaving cream. But thanks to Wes Archer and Dale Craven, punk teenagers were the only thing cops had to worry about.
Casualties aside, Lieutenant Morris and the rest of the department were pleased with the results. Wes had brought the Vulture to justice, a serial killer that had eluded capture from the FBI and every major police department across America. And he didn’t even want credit for it.
Julie Starwood had requested to meet her hero on several occasions. On each occasion, she was denied by Archer himself. When asked by Dale why he wouldn’t meet her, Wes simply replied, “Never meet your heroes. They’ll always disappoint you.” When he said those words, he was only thinking of his father, Adam.