Wait and See - pt. 6.3
Chicago, July 28th, 7:00 pm
Chi-town gets dark by degrees.
There's no definite moment when light gives way to no-light, here: no sensation of light, then half-light, and then growing darkness. There's just a ponderous, steady creep towards sundown, starting maybe around seven or so at this time of the year.
People anticipate the darkness maybe a half-hour before it comes, and start to fight it off. The freeway lights shudder on with bright, staggered sodium flashes. Neon signs snap like candywrappers and flicker into legibility. Car lights flash to life on the freeways and the skyscrapers go from being mirrorshaded to lit from within.
The city's rhythm changes over. Newsstands close up. Shifts trade hands. People get on the train to go home. The roads get jammed as morning-afternoon meets afternoon-evening, and the inevitable evening chorus of sirens starts up, much like a banshee clearing its throat.
Then the clouds turn off-white, then yellow, then orange and then red. Tall buildings throw long, wide shadows, and turn the open streets into shadowy tunnels. Words on the unlit billboards get harder to read. The spots of darkness grow longer, becoming pregnant, tangible things.
Night doesn't 'come,' here. It infects. It creeps through the streets and across the houses like some blanketing wave of bacteria, overcoming the body's defenses at an exponential rate. And then there is just the darkness, and the tiny points of light that stand in opposition to it.
Just that - and a prayer for the dawn.
Tonight is wrong.
On a normal night, in spite of that darkness, the city would ebb and flow with people. There'd be enough cars on the road to cause traffic jams. Pileups. People would curse a bright, blue streak at others and despair of being late. The sidewalks would be packed. The trains would be standing room only.
But tonight it is eerily quiet. Much too quiet for any city of this size, let alone the Windy City.
Tonight is wrong.
There is hardly anything on the roads but police and emergency vehicles. There is hardly anyone in the trains, and those who are riding them keep a wide distance from the others they meet.
And there are hardly any people out on the sidewalks at all. Helicopters chop through the skies, turning bright lights on anyone they see. They don't have to do that very often.
Only those who must travel these streets - because of their job, or their habits, or their hatred, or because they have nowhere else to go - are out there, tonight. And only the insane ones are not terrified to be there, because they either don't know, or don't care, what is waiting for them.
A lonely woman stands on a corner of alphabet city and tries to hear what Jesus is saying. Halfway across town, "Jesus" preaches to the hungry, stray dogs in the park, warning of the age of blood and fire yet to some. Between the two, something that can't be easily described, anymore, for all the dirt and hair - Man? Woman? Child? - pokes its eyes out of a storm drain and wonders where all the upstairs people went.
Tonight is wrong.
The television is full of heads, tonight.
Talking head after talking head roll across the screens of the city, all appealing for calm. Confidence. Responsibility.
The Mayor was on. The Police Commissioner. The City Comptroller. City Council Members. The Head of the Civic Association. The Chapter Head of the NAACP.
"Stay inside…" "Let the police do their job." "We have the situation under control." "I blame the police." "Stay inside…" "It's irresponsible to lay blame, here…" "Let the police do their job." "Vigilante action will not be tolerated." "Stay inside…" "We have the situation under control." "Let the police do the job." "Stay inside…"
The look in their eyes is that of showroom dummies. There is a terrible weariness about their faces. Their words could be said by anyone about anything.
It's as though they had long since given up any true connection to what this night meant, and they were just going through the motions. Reading from placards. Painting by numbers. Praying to gods no longer really believed in for deliverance no one really expects.
No one else in the city is convinced by their performance. No one feels confident. No one feels safe.
Tonight, children will be sleeping in their parents' rooms. Old flames will be reigniting for terror sex, or else teary-eyed cuddling on the couch. Friends will stay up in the front room and wait for the dawn, gats in reach just in case the bastard jumps out of the TV. Out of the closet. The refrigerator. The front window. Ceiling. Shadows.
The night itself.
The Full Moon Killer is out there, somewhere, tonight.
He could be anywhere. Anyone. Anything.
Everyone swears they have seen him. No one can remember his face.
Man. Woman. Boy. Girl. Thing.
Hookhanded. One armed. Cowled. Frightmasked. Stoopshouldered. Ten feet tall. Fiery eyed. Blind.
Gay. Black. Latino. Arab. Chinese.
Mafia. Triad. Organizatsia. Yakuza. Rude Boy.
Devil. Angel. Martian. Sewer 'gator. Elvis. Clone. Jack the Ripper, back for round two.
There/not there. Seen/not seen. Heard/not heard.
The Full Moon Killer is out there. Somewhere. Tonight.
And in its fear, the city gives birth to many, many monsters.
Chicago, July 28th, 8:00 pm
"Yeah, not a problem," the Tac Squad's Sgt. told Anders over the phone.
"And you're okay with this?" Anders made sure.
Anders was still in the Killer's bedroom, looking at what was probably the only "normal" photo to be found there. It was some sort of family photo: two dark-haired children with identical haircuts and outfits, sitting on the lap of a dark-haired man with a strange smile. It was hokey and warm in a 50's kind of way, but something about the man's smile made Anders' skin crawl both inside and out…
"Hello?" the Sgt. said on the other said: "Sorry. We broke up, there."
"Yeah. Are you okay with this?" Anders tried to confirm, putting the photo away.
"I said it's not a problem, man. I understand completely."
"And you're sure you can ride it if it goes bad?"
"Hey, I don't fucking like Meyer anymore than you do."
"He's gone after today. I'm talking about the suspect."
"If it goes bad?"
"Yeah. If it goes bad, will you be able to ride it?"
The Sgt. smiled, thinking of the time he and his boys had shot that illegal immigrant 57 times and been cleared, anyway. He'd been asking for it, trying to run like that. And wasn't it funny how they'd found that gun on him, after all…?
"You said this chick's a fucking Nazi?" he asked.
"Well, it's just like the Blues Brothers, brother," he replied, smirking just that much wider: "No one likes Illinois Nazis. Someone would be going really far out of their way to complain."
Chicago, July 28th, 8:45 pm
"Jesus," Frank said, looking at his cell phone for the tenth time in the last nine minutes: "Not a fucking call, not a fucking thing."
"Wait and see, huh?" Tiana asked, noting that they had only three and a quarter hours to go until Midnight.
"Well, if you got a better idea, I'm all for it," the Lt. sighed, trying to smile a little: "Maybe we could ask Elvis."
"Yeah. Haven't you talked to Elvis?"
Tiana looked sideways for a moment, and then she remembered: "Oh, wait… you mean the guy in the park? The one who says he's Elvis?"
"Says the Martians kidnapped him and operated on his brain, and now he knows everything?"
"Yeah. That guy. You've seen him, right?"
"Yeah.. that's right. He told me I was gonna win the lottery and find a man who could love me tender."
"Did you?" He asked, looking back at her: "I mean, you and Johnathan?"
She shook her head, navigating another hairpin: "We break bedsprings, honey."
"Woah! Let's just not go there."
"You asked," she teased.
"Well, okay, yeah, but I don't need to know about your bedsprings. Jesus Christ."
"Yeah… we talk to him, too."
They laughed about that for a while.
"So you think we oughta ask Elvis?" She asked.
"Naah. But it couldn't be worse than this, huh?"
"Well, you did ask Willers…" she replied, smiling just a little.
"Yeah, fat lot of good that did," he grumbled: "You know what really sucks about that?"
"It wasn't my damn idea in the first place."
"No. The Chief encouraged me on it. And I got a good idea that he got the idea from someone up above him."
"And they put it on you."
"Shit rolls downhill," he said: "I guess that's any job, really."
"Until you get flushed."
He nodded, too tired of thinking about it to say anything else.
Tiana looked out the window and up at the sky, where the near-as-dammit Full Moon was staring down at her. She could feel her blood and heartbeat singing, again. Calling her to come outside and play.
She shuddered and stopped looking, wondering how long she could go before she couldn't control it, anymore.
Chicago, July 28th, 8:58 pm
Willers and Trebuchet wandered up the suburban streets, heading away from the city. They'd been walking for hours, and Trebuchet was ready to drop, but they just kept going. What else were they supposed to do?
It seemed as though they were the only ones in the whole, wide world, sometimes. Hardly any cars, barely any people. Every so often a police cruiser pulled on over to ask who they were and where they were going, but flashed FBI badges got them to go back about their business.
"I can't believe he walked out this far," Trebuchet said, looking back at the towers of the city: "They just went right along with him, all this way?"
Willers nodded, stopping for a moment to get his bearings. It was very, very creepy: he looked something like a human radar emplacement when he did - rotating left and right and left again, with his eyes scanning every inch of the landscape as he turned
*towards Trebuchet. Stiff muscles popped and tore under the dead skin with noises like cheap, stringy beef at the butcher's shop. Flab rippled and roiled*
this way and that.
Trebuchet leaned against a picket fence, trying to regain his balance. He looked at the house the fence belonged to. The lights were on and the curtains pulled tight. It looked about as unfriendly as a house could be made to be without posting KEEP OUT signs and buying a pit bull..
He could imagine the people inside that home, all curled up in the front room. He could almost see them, all kitted out for urban war, ready to blast anything that so much as popped up. Just like those people he'd seen at the firing range the other day when he'd met Tiana…
***"Sharon," Trebuchet says, smiling: "We'd like some coffee. Regular… I think. Right, Bob?"
He turns around the look at Willers, but Willers isn't looking at him. He staring right at Sharon, who's staring right back at him. He just nods at her, smiling.
Actually smiling for once, as though something had been turned back on in his brain.
Trebuchet's cell phone rang, just then, and he reached down to look at the number***
He cursed under his breath. He really should have called her again and asked her for backup. This was probably going to get Night At The Opera weird on him, and he wasn't sure he could trust Willers to not go sideways if it did. When it did.
That and he'd been hallucinating like crazy all the way here.
Every so often, if he didn't keep his mind on where he was and what he was doing, he'd flash back to something else. Nantucket. The morgue. Last night. Even things he couldn't possibly have seen, before. One slight lapse of concentration and BOOM, he was back into seeing shit again.
"This way," Willers said, pointing down the road.
"How much further?" Trebuchet asked.
"Can't tell," the man admitted, looking at Trebuchet with a wistful look: "Sorry."
"That's okay," Trebuchet replied: "I guess this is part of the job."
They walked along for a time, in silence. Willers actually slowed down for him without being asked. It was something akin to a miracle.
"So why'd you get into law enforcement?" Trebuchet asked him: "If you don't mind my asking…?"
"No, you don't, or no, you do?"
"I don't mind."
There was silence for a time. Another cop car passed them, but it only slowed down long enough for them all to ascertain that they'd already talked to one another, and then it went back on its patrol.
"Thank you," Willers said, finally, as they got to a four-way intersection and he had to do his human radar thing again.
"Why I did it. To say it."
"To say what?"
"To who?" Trebuchet asked.
"Police," Willers stated, simply: "Police were nice people. When I was growing up, they were always nice to me. I wanted to say thank you."
Trebuchet smiled, figuring out what the guy meant: "That's pretty cool."
Willers continued on his way, having found the direction they needed to go: "You?"
"Ah…" Trebuchet said: "Well… I guess I wanted to make a difference. That's always what I told people, anyway. The Bureau laps that kind of shit up."
"I don't know," he replied, trying to think about it: "I like to think that I really believed it, once. I think I really meant it when I said it. But, recently, it's been like I've just been going through the motions."
"Why do you stay?"
"I don't know that, either," Trebuchet replied, thinking about it and finding no real answer. He'd been telling the truth when he'd told Tiana he wouldn't have quit his job for anything, the other day. But he really had no idea why…
*A gout of ripe, black blood sluiced out from between her lips, as though every vessel in her head had burst and drained into her mouth and she tried to speak to him, eyes staring madly, mouth working and lips moving but only to shape and curl the flow of blood*
"Do you want to know?"
Trebuchet snapped out of the hallucination and just looked at Willers. It was a hell of a question. It was also a damn good one.
"Yeah," he admitted: "I do want to know. The answer's got to be up there, somewhere. I think I'm entitled to it."
Willers nodded, seeming to understand: "I want to make a difference, now. That's what I want."
"Very badly," Willers replied, making that swinging-door motion with his hands in front of his throat, again.
"Well, who knows," Trebuchet replied, trying to narrow his focus down to keep the visions from coming back: "Maybe tonight, we'll all get what we want."
Chicago, July 28th, 9:30 pm
Tiana just smiled at the banger with the gun. He was losing his shit really quick, just looking at her like that, with the Moon shining down behind her and her own piece a short inch away from his left eye.
"I hate it when folks can't even hold their guns right," she said to him, noticing the sideways grip on it: "You gonna look damn stupid dying like that."
"Fuck you!" he spat, gold chains shaking: "Goddamn ho. I's just minding my fucking business, here, s'all."
"So why did you draw?" She asked: "I just wanted to as' you something."
"Cause I saw your piece, dig?"
"There a problem, Denice?" Meyer asked, standing at the end of the alley. He hadn't popped his own piece or flashed his badge, yet.
"Hey, Frank," she said, not looking back: "I think we got an understanding, here."
"Fine by me," he said: "I thought you said you were just using the ladies?"
"I was, then I seen this guy hiding out here," she replied, noting how nervous that made the guy in question.
That wasn't the whole truth, of course.
***(Chicago, July 28th, 9:00 pm)
"Listen, I gotta visit the ladies' room," Tiana lied, looking at the time and not liking what she saw.
"Not a problem," Meyer said: "There's a bar over there. Probably ain't closing for another World Trade Center, if that. I bet you could use theirs."
"I bet I could delouse my ass, tomorrow," she said, smirking.
"Woah!" Meyer laughed: "Okay, we are definitely getting into the too much information zone, here."
"I'm gonna park illegal," she laughed back: "You be a good cop and write me a ticket, okay?"
That she did. And when she got out of the car, she put on her shades so no one would have to look at her eyes, just then.
The bar was, indeed, the sort of place that might make one want to delouse one's ass after using the toilets thereof. Fortunately, there weren't many patrons, and the guy behind the bar didn't even try to make her pay for a drink before using the facilities. The TV was looping the Mayor's statements in the lower right corner, which made the game the other patrons were watching a little surreal.
She went into the ladies, opened the stall that looked the least grungy, and sat down on the toilet lid. Then she fished in her pocket for what she'd really come in here, for.
The capsules were small and off-white. She had three of them on her, and about half a dozen more back at home. She really should have taken one last night, but the ass-kicking she'd given those would-be rapists the other day had helped take some of the edge off - she hoped, anyway.
"I'm sorry, Goddess," she whispered, gingerly holding the Hammer of Thor about her neck, in spite of how uncomfortable it was, now: "But I need to be myself for the next few days."
If Freya was angry, She didn't say anything. Tiana tossed one, two and three into her mouth and dry-swallowed them.
Then she sat on the toilet and waited for the pain, which hit her in the stomach almost an even minute later. It felt as though she'd swallowed dry ice. She'd never done that, obviously, but she often imagined that - save for a lack of burning on the way down - this must be a lot what that would feel like.
The pain spread from her stomach outwards, reaching almost every inch of her body. She didn't scream, anymore - not like she used to - but if anyone had walked in on her she might well have started crying in embarrassment. Especially when she started to vomit blood, pus and other unwholesome things down into the pan.
It was ten minutes until the pain was over, and another five before she could get out of the toilet stall without doubling over, anyway. A few minutes more were spent cleaning herself up, and making sure that - yes - her eyes were brown again. Maybe a little bloodshot, but nothing the shades wouldn't hide.
She opened the door to the ladies, and looked over at the bar. They were all busy cheering on the game. No one seemed to care that she'd been in the can the whole time, and she breathed a slight sigh of relief.
On her way out she'd seen something moving, ever so slightly, back by the trashcans in the alley. She could smell something a little off, there and - being a little too sensitive to people hiding in alleys, tonight - she'd walked over to see what was up.
And he'd screamed, jumped and pulled… so she'd matched him. ***
But she didn't really want to have to explain all that to Frank. He'd had enough rattles for the day as it was…
"So we count three, and we all put our guns away?" Tiana asked: "Can we do that?"
"I wouldn't trust him," Meyer said.
"I think we can…" she said: "How about you, guy?"
"Yeah," the other guy said: "I think we can."
"One," she began: "Two…"
They both lowered their pieces. He put his back in the front of his baggies. She kept hers out, just in case.
"What's yo name?" She asked.
"Murder One," he said.
"What the fuck did your mom name you?" Meyer yelled, easing right into the Good Cop - Bad Cop routine.
"Tyrone…" the banger admitted.
"So what were you doing in the alley, Tyrone?" Tiana asked, chuckling a little.
"Ah… I don't wanna talk about that," he started to say, at which point Meyer flashed his badge and smiled.
"Pulling a piece on a cop's friend's a bad thing," the Lt. intoned: "Maybe we oughta see your permit to carry concealed?"
"Look," the guy said, holding up his hands: "It's all good, okay? We got off to a bad start and shit. Thas' over, thas' cool. Now maybe we all go way?"
"Tell you what," Tiana said: "You just tell me what's up, and we'll leave you alone, okay? We got better things to do than fry some punk for trying to get himself killed."
"Hey, yo, I ain't no punk," Murder One snorted: "I got connections. I got skills."
"You got a right to remain silent…" Meyer chuckled: "You got a right to an attorney…"
"Okay… fuck it," he said: "I was fucking hiding from the crazy lady, okay?"
"Crazy lady?" Tiana asked, looking at him over her shades: "Crazier than me?"
"You ain't got no fuckin call on that bitch, lady," Murder One said, holding up his hands: "She tried to fuckin strangle me with a rope. I got out of it and pulled my piece, but she was…"
"She was what?" Meyer asked, feeling his heart race in his chest for the first time that whole night.
He shuddered: "She just wasn't fucking right, man. Like her eyes were all black and shit. She ran the hell off before I could cap her, but…"
"Was she wearing a uniform of some kind?" Meyer asked.
"Yeah… it was brown. An' she had a nametag, too, but I didn't see the name."
"Holy shit," Meyer said.
"Listen, kid," Tiana said, putting her piece away: "I got a picture to show you, back at our car. Can you tell us if it was her?"
He looked at her, maybe a bit uneasy to be cooperating with the police. But something about her just sort of won him over, and he walked - looking both ways, of course - to the bug after the two of them.
Meyer pulled out the BOLO sheet, with a staff photograph of Sharon on it. He handed it over to the kid, and he looked at it, and shook his head.
"Naah," Murder One replied: "Same uniform, though. And that was her damn nametag."
"It was?" Tiana asked: "Are you sure?"
"Yeah. That 'Hi! I'm SHARON. How can I help you' thing. My sis had to work for The Man at a place like that. Fuckin' bullshit."
"What did she look like?" Meyer asked.
"No, the crazy lady."
The kid thought for a moment: "Well, she was blonde. Not ho blonde, you know. Not suicide. But like brown-blonde. And her face… man, she looked like shit. All pale and crap."
"But the nametag was Sharon?" Tiana asked, looking at Meyer.
"Yeah. Sharon. Hard to miss that fuckin' thing."
"Lemme see if I got a better picture," Meyer said, leafing through the things he had. Did he have any other pictures of Sharon at all? Did they…
"Hey, thas' her," Murder One said, pointing to one he was flipping through.
Meyer looked at it, and then at the kid, and then back down to the photo, shaking his head: "That ain't her."
"Fuck it ain't. I'm the one who had her skank, honkey ass tryin' to strangle mine. Thas' her."
"I'm telling you, kid, it ain't her."
"Lemme fuckin see it, pig," the kid insisted, holding out his hand.
"Hey, you wanna go downtown, kid?"
"Just let him see it, Frank," Tiana said, having a bad feeling again.
Meyer sighed, and then pulled out the photo so both Murder One and Tiana could look at the person the kid had just IDed.
"See?" the Lt. said: "Like I said, no way is she the one. Right, Denice?"
Tiana looked at it and gasped, unable to make a coherent answer. Something was making way, way too much sense all of a sudden…
Chicago, July 28th, 10:01 pm
"No, Lt…. I can tell you with absolute certainty that the body we have in here is that of Martha M. Miller," Dr. Al-Masafi insisted, leaning back in his chair and sighing.
"Why?" he replied: "Well, let me see. Maybe having her husband come down here and identify the body by the birthmarks wasn't enough. Maybe the fact that Martha had a very rare bloodtype, and this body just happened to match right up to it. Or the fracture on her arm from two years ago?
"But I'll tell you what did it for me," he went on, pulling out the report: "Five years ago, Martha had herself a little run-in with your people, Lt. Meyer. She was arrested for lying down in the street in front of a reproductive clinic with Operation Rescue, when they rolled into town. You remember that?"
Silence, and then a nod from Al-Masafi: "That's right, they put her in jail and booked her. You had fingerprints. I ran the body's fingerprints past our database just to be absolutely sure, and sure enough, they matched. This body is the one formerly belonging to Martha M. Miller.
"You're fucking welcome," he said, and then hung up, sighing. He was never going to get out of here and go the hell home at this rate.
"Next time you come down here, Johnathan," he said: "I am going to kick your sorry ass a new hole."
Chicago, July 28th, 10:11 pm
"I can't tell the people to drop what they're doing and look for a dead woman, Denice," Meyer protested. They were standing by the corner, having shooed Murder One off - after confiscating his piece, of course.
"Then what do you wanna tell them," Tiana asked: "Be on the look out for…"
She couldn't even say it. The thought made her sick. Even after everything she'd been through - things she'd seen done, things she'd done herself, being Chosen - the thought made her want to be sick. Death magic fuzz was filling her head with static, again.
Meyer nodded, looked down, and then sighed: "Well… fuck it, I'm fired tomorrow, anyway."
He pulled out his cell phone: "Yeah, Dispatch, this is Lt. Meyer. Listen, I need you to make a change in the BOLO report Detective Anders filed earlier.
"Yeah, we got the folks looking for the wrong person. The victim is now the suspect.
"Yes, I am very fucking aware of what the hell I just said. Now, please issue a new BOLO report and have them look for Martha M. Miller. There should be a photo of her attached to the earlier report, have it blown up and sent around.
"And tell them this has as much priority as the Full Moon Killer," he added, feeling his career going down the drain with every word.
Tiana nodded, and rested against her car. She'd have asked 'now what?' but the answer was one she already knew. They'd just have to hope they could get lucky again, tonight. If you could call that luck…
She desperately wished she had Johnathan with her, and said a small prayer for him.
Chicago, July 28th, 10:59 pm
Trebuchet stopped in his tracks, cocking an ear. Had he just heard something, or…?
"What is it?" Willers asked, turning around to look. He'd stooped over in the last half an hour, gaining an almost-feral cast to his walk as he stalked their prey. He'd also become a lot twitchier.
"Nothing…" Trebuchet said, shaking the noise from his ears: "Maybe I just heard the wind in the trees."
Willers nodded, seeming to understand that. There were a lot of trees in this area, and the wind was starting to pick up a bit. Quite unusual for this time of year, in fact.
They'd left the city proper some time ago, and were now out in its woodsy suburbs, just on the edge of the tollway. They'd been walking for hours and had gone for miles. If he had to guess as to where they were, he'd have said a few miles north of O'Hare, and that was only because he'd seen planes coming and going.
Trebuchet was amazed that the Killer had gone this far afield to do his work. He'd imagined some kind of tenement basement, out on the outskirts, or maybe right downtown in a place where nobody cared to look.
"We're close," Willers announced as they came to a three-way intersection. He looked down the road that was branching off: it was dark, overgrown with trees and unlit, seeming to extend some distance back into the wild. It might have also gone uphill a little, Trebuchet thought, but it was difficult to be sure.
"Let's do it," Trebuchet said.
"Last chance to call for backup," Willers said.
"I told you. We gotta do this alone, Bob. If this guy's into what I think he's into…"
He let the point hang. Willers seemed to get it, and just nodded. When he started forward again he wasn't stooping, but walked full and tall, slowly, with his gun out in his hand. He looked like a policeman, again, in spite of the sweat-stained suit and tie.
Trebuchet was proud of him, in a weird sort of way, and followed after.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:07 pm
A hulking, quiet figure was stalking the streets of downtown Chicago, following an arcane path that it - and only it - could have made any sense out of. That and the Moon. Always the Moon.
The Moon's magic was helping it, tonight. Cop cars passed it and did not see it. The helicopter pilots flew directly over, lights blazing, and yet did not see it. And even the pedestrians - what few there were - walked right by and did not see it.
Dogs, cats and other, more sensitive animals could sense it, of course, as they had senses that most people had long since forgotten. But those animals all wisely tucked their tails away and ran for cover. In this state of being it was an unnatural thing, and not to be bothered as it went along its way.
Unnatural? Perhaps, but only because of the trick it used to avoid detection. (It had dropped the mask twice, now, to try and secure The One, but both times had stopped. Something had not been right, and so it had let them go on their way. It could not be seen unless it allowed itself to be seen, after all - what were two witnesses in the kingdom of the blind.)
Unnatural? Hardly. In some ways, it considered itself to be the most natural of all things. A predator. A culler of the herd. The sort of thing nature, in its wisdom, designed to keep numbers low and give the meeker things of the world a brick wall to either dash themselves against, or else learn to fly over.
Someone had to do these things. If it hadn't been the one, it would have been someone else. Someone had to do these things.
It had always understood this, from the time it was young. Even before it understood itself to be an it - not a him, or a her, or even really that name it was called by - it just knew.
It knew that the skin it wore was only a mask. It knew the name was just a disguise. It knew that it was not human, by any standard anyone cared to name.
And it knew that it hated these weak, pathetic things that it was entrusted to kill. Partly because it had to. Partly because they were weak.
And partly - maybe mostly - because someone had to do these things. And this time, this aeon, that someone was it.
Oh, the things it had done. There were things the city had yet to discover. Crimes it had no idea ever happened. Hardly anyone missed the weak, or the unfit, or the mongrels… even fellow mongrels had no time to spare for the missing ones. The unfortunate. The unlucky, sad failures who'd been unable to escape its hands…
But not for too much longer.
It looked up at the Moon, basking in the rays, and smiled under its masks. Soon it would find The One. Soon this would all be over. Soon it could rest.
And so, it resumed its course, following the light of the Moon to its final destination, and reward.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:23 pm
At long last, after several hours of fast walking, Trebuchet and Willers stood before the house of the Full Moon Killer.
If Trebuchet had been trying to imagine a place for a serial killer to do his work, he couldn't have thought of a better place. It was almost at the very end of its road, which had been slowly tilting up to a 25-degree angle, and turned from pavement to gravel halfway down its length. The closest neighbor was about a quarter of a mile away. And the woods in between made it really hard to see a damn thing.
Except the Moon, of course. And Trebuchet figured that was the point, too.
The house was a 50's split-level sort of thing, with off-white wood paneling on the outside and no garage. It looked to be locked-up tighter than a drum, with downstairs windows barred and shuttered and upstairs windows plastered over. But at the same time it seemed only a good sneeze away from falling apart into pliable chunks: shingles flapping away, gutters down, masonry crumbling into powder…
It was far, far out of town, in the near-woods that was close to the tollway. They could almost hear cars and trucks going on by, apparently oblivious to the city's near-lockdown. Almost, that is, and that was because of the treeline.
This was a run-down area, here: the houses could have sold for a lot of money, but they were too old, too decrepit and too overgrown for most to even consider fixing up. The Zoning Board never even bothered to make calls around here. Barring some kind of suburban renewal, or a home invasion from 'This Old House' on the whole block, their property value would probably never match the worth of their location.
So these buildings just sat here, stagnant, and attracted people who liked their privacy enough to trade in their appearances. Either that or people who did the sort of thing that required a lot of privacy…
Both men looked at one another, and then started walking towards the front of the house, guns in hand.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:41 pm
A man waited in an alleyway, sniffing his sore nose, grumbling under his breath and cursing as the minutes ticked by.
He could feel less and less of his drug-borne confidence with every passing second. *sniff* He'd come out here ready to kill, but now he was starting to lose his nerve.
Kill. *sniff* He hadn't even brought a weapon. What had he meant to do, anyway? Just come out and strangle his son of a bitch of a dealer? Or get the coke first, and then strangle him? Or…
"I'll deal with him," he muttered to himself. Oh yes, he would. *sniff*
His eyes happened upon movement, across the way. Someone had just entered the alley, moving very slowly in the shadows on the other side of it. A big figure. Cautious, careful moment.
It had to be him.
"There you are, you worthless, untrustable son of a bitch," the man said, stepping out of the shadows across the way: "I've been waiting for you for ages."
It was Herb Garden, esq. And he was not fucking happy. Not at all.
"And I've been looking for you," answered a mellifluous voice said from the other patch of shadows. It was muffled, slightly. Maybe his man'd muffled up or something: worn a scarf.
Herb stood there, waiting for the other person to step out and give him what he'd asked for. The other person did no such thing.
"Well?" Herb demanded.
"Well," the other person replied, simply.
"Don't you give me that… that shit!" Herb yelled, waggling his finger of unearned authority at the shadows: "You damn, damned son of a bitch! Who did you tell? Who the fuck did you tell?"
"No one," the voice replied, sounding bemused.
"Like hell. I've got the… *sniff* I've got people handing me photos of me tooting your damn coke. Who the fuck did you tell?"
The voice didn't respond. Herb pointed his finger, then dropped it, then pointed it again.
"Don't you know who the fuck I am?" He demanded: "Don't you?"
"I really don't care."
"Oh, you fucking better, you goddam piece of nigger trash. *sniff* I could call on my cell phone and have a million cops here. Have them here right now."
"Yeah…" the voice seemed very interested in this.
"And who are they going to believe, hmmm?" Herb asked, pulling the cell phone in question out and waggling it around like a punk with a new switchblade: "Who are they going to believe?"
The voice didn't answer, but there was movement in the shadows.
"I swear, you are dead!" Herb spat, losing his cool.
"It's a good night for it," the voice replied, taking on a little more shape, now. Herb wasn't sure if it was really his dealer or not, but then, who else could it be?
"The moon is so bright, tonight…." the voice went on.
Fuck this shit. *sniff* He was going to do it. He was just minding his own business and some street nigger came up and asked him if he wanted some toot. 'Just doing my civic duty, officer.'
Then he'd have someone Inside who needed an favor Outside smash the perp's head down the toilet, and that'd be it. *sniff* Case closed. Job protected. Ass saved. No worries.
DIAL. NINE. ONE. ONE.
"Yeah, hi," Herb said: "This is Herb Garden, esq? Yes… I'd like to report someone selling drugs in the alley between 3rd and 8th, behind Vichy's. *sniff* I-"
"An end to things…" the voice went on as a figure stepped from the shadows. Something uncertain was flopped out at Herb's arm. It struck him, lightly, and then flopped down to the ground.
"Sir, are you there?" the dispatcher asked.
Herb looked at what had struck him, lying there in a puddle of moonlight.
"Sir?" the dispatcher asked again.
Herb looked up from the horrible, floppy thing that had just been thrown at him, and looked at the owner of the voice. It was rushing out of the shadows a lot faster than he'd thought it could.
Its hands were stretched out towards him, wrapped around with a long piece of rope. Its face was frozen in a bestial snarl, smeared with dried, flaking blood. And its eyes were as black as fucking coal…
"Oh my god!" Herb Garden screamed into the receiver: "Someone help me! It's the-"
The hemp was looped around his throat faster than he could see it going.
And then he was as good as dead.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:53 pm
The front door of the killer's house hadn't been locked. It'd opened quietly, as though well-oiled. The air coming from inside the house had smelled like disinfectant, rubber and stale, human shit.
The Moon hadn't shined any light in here, except maybe upstairs. It looked like the downstairs windows were all wrapped up tight. They didn't have any flashlights between them, of course, but a few moments' worth of waiting helped their eyes adjust to the dark.
Once they were sure they could see where they were going, Willers and Trebuchet had nodded to one another. Willers'd slowly edged into the house, gun to the front, and Trebuchet had followed after, covering his advance.
They'd taken it room by room, each one backing the other up in the darkness. They'd found hallways and spare rooms stacked with boxes upon boxes, all full of rank-smelling mason jars. They'd found a bathroom full of empty mason jars, which had made Trebuchet a little queasy, thinking that he'd actually considered opening one of those jars to see what was inside of it. They'd found a bedroom that had been turned into a madman's shrine to the moon.
There was also another door, downstairs, but it was locked. Trebuchet had considered kicking it in, but Willer silently pointed out that they hadn't checked upstairs, yet. Trebuchet had just nodded, and let the other man go towards it first.
And now they were standing at the base of those stairs, looking up. Willers looked at Trebuchet, and indicated that maybe he should be the one to go first. Trebuchet was in no mind to argue, and let him do it.
Slowly, slowly up the stairs they went.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:56 pm
"What?" Meyer screamed into the phone. Tiana slowed down as they approached the intersection, somehow knowing this was the call they'd been waiting for.
"Between 3rd and 8th, behind Vichy's?" he repeated, looking at Tiana. She, in turn, looked out the window and saw the flickering neon sign for Vichy's just out her window.
"Goddess be with me," she whispered, and stomped on the brakes. By the time Meyer had yelled at her to wait up she'd already parked the car, drawn and leaped out, heading for the alley with way too much speed. He couldn't have kept up with her if he'd had a head start: no one could have.
Off in the distance she thought she heard a police truck, with all sirens on, screeching to a halt, but she didn't care. She also thought she heard a strange, thumping sound, too-
thp thp thp thp thp thp
-but she didn't care about that, either. Right now there was just that alleyway, and what was inside of it…
thp thp thp thp thp thp
In the alley, she could see a figure. No - two figures. One was kneeling before the other.
thp thp thp thp thp thp
The one that was standing was doing something with both of its hands. Pulling up on something. Hard.
thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp
thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp
"Hold it right the fuck there!" Tiana screamed, now at the front of the alley, maybe twenty feet away from the two. Her gun was out and drawn. Dead bang.
thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp
The one who was standing was a woman. She was young and somewhat overweight, with a bad, brown hairstyle that seemed slicked back and caked with something.
thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp thuwp
Something a lot like blood.
*'Get on your knees, bitch!' the man was screaming in her ear. She'd found the mail bomber, alright, only he'd clubbed her from behind while she was in his living room. Stupid stupid - and now she was in a dark basement and he was*
wearing brown and orange. Most other folks would have seen it as black and grey in the moonlight. But not her. Not since.
*'You look at the master…' he said, forcing her head up to look at the headless statue there, on the altar: 'You just realize what you've done. Trying to stop his holy work.' The man was naked and covered in red, open sores. They seemed to be deep, ragged bitemarks that hadn't healed. He smelled of pus and*
while she couldn't quite read the tag on her left breast pocket, she was sure that it cried SHARON! and asked HOW CAN I MAKE YOUR DAY?
*call him together,' the mail bomber was saying: 'I'll call him, and he'll come, and he'll show you the error of your ways, slut!' He was ripping her shirt off with a strength he shouldn't have had.*
a chance. He was dead, that poor guy in front of her. She could smell it in the air. It was too late for him to do anything but
*'Imagine! His wonder inside you… his works to perform!' The air in the basement turned electric, somehow, and he started chanting as*
the entire alleyway was illuminated from above. An arc light shone down, lighting the woman and her victim up in a pool of bright, terrible white. She looked like a killer angel, standing there like that, with all the loose trash of the alley flying around her like cherubs.
The woman was trying to say something. Tiana was sure of it. But for some reason the words weren't coming. And when she did finally open her mouth -
- a gout of ripe, black blood sluiced out from between her lips, as though every vessel in her head had burst and drained into her mouth -
- and she tried to speak to her, eyes staring madly, mouth working and lips moving but only to shape and curl the flow of blood -
- and there was something stuck in her mouth - several somethings - all chittering and chattering like splintered metal tiles scraping against one another as she tried to talk to her.
Tiana felt a strange breeze just over her left shoulder. A bullet. High velocity. Probably from a sniper rifle.
The bullet struck home, just as its brother must have a scant second ago, but this time in the chest instead of the mouth. It was picture perfect: a mere three inches over the head of her victim, less than an inch over her hands, and dead-bang right in her sternum.
And back and down she fell, dragging her victim's body right along with her. His mouth wound up right at her crotch.
Tiana looked up at the helicopter and snarled as it moved away, taking its light with it. She lowered her piece and walked towards the two dead bodies. Off in the distance, she thought she heard Frank yelling at someone, but she didn't care right then. She had to see. She had to know.
Puddled on the ground by the pair was what looked like a dirty blonde wig. Then she saw an eyeless face staring up at her, like some kind of Halloween mask.
An ugly mask, too - and extremely lifelike as well. Pale, chubby and blood red around the edges, as though cast in crimson latex. Complete with ragged, branching veins on the inside…
It was Martha's face, alright. Taken right off the bone and used for-
thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp
"Excuse me, ma'am," someone was saying to her, right next to her: "I'm with the tactical squad. You're interfering in police business. I need you to leave the scene. Now."
thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp thwp
Tiana could hear the words from where she was but they weren't making any connection in her head. She was too busy looking at the face, and the dead guy - who she'd put in his place just the other day - and the other person on the ground.
thp thp thp thp thp thp
thp thp thp thp thp thp
Tiana looked down at the face of the Full Moon Killer. Sharon W. Beaumont lay there, her face all bloody from wearing another person's skin all day long. She just lay there, dead and still, her coal-black eyes fixed right on Tiana's…
thp thp thp thp thp thp
No, not at her. Sharon had died with those damn eyes fixed dead-bang on the Moon, which was fully reflected in the darkness of both. Her bloody mouth was fixed in a gruesome, wet smile.
It was a smile that said "gotcha."
And Tiana shuddered, realizing that this wasn't over: not by a long, fucking stretch.
The tac squad guy'd had enough. He grabbed her by the arm and started dragging her away. If it'd been any other time he'd have been broken for that, but she had her mind somewhere else. And on someone entirely different.
"Johnathan…" she whispered, looking up at the Moon.
Chicago, July 28th, 11:59 pm
There was adequate light up the house's stairs, courtesy of the Moon. It looked like the stairs emptied right into a large room - maybe the living room of this house. And Trebuchet had the uncomfortable feeling there was someone up there, waiting for them…
The stairs were short and narrow; Only one of them could go up at a time. Willers was in the lead, so he slowly made his way up, gun facing ahead of him. Once he got there he waved Trebuchet on up, and then crept off to one side.
Trebuchet came up, then, going very, very slowly. He could see someone else up there with them, standing between the stairs and the source of the light.
Was he looking out the window, maybe? Yes, Trebuchet thought that he was. No wonder Willers hadn't said anything to him. Rusty or no, he still had the element of surprise. Good man.
The room the stairs terminated into was large and smelled of hemp rope. A large bale of it sat off to one side. There were what looked like S&M joystraps chained to the ceiling, just before the window.
And there, before that great, big window - which run from a half inch off the floor to the ceiling, with a commanding view of the full moon - stood a thin, lithe man with his back to the two of them.
The man was deathly pale in the moonlight, but as Trebuchet's eyes adjusted to the light he could tell that the man was paler still. His almost-naked skin - "almost" courtesy of a pair of silky boxers - was turned near-white by the glare.
And as he turned around, fixing his eyes on Trebuchet's face, the recognition was instantaneous.
"Brian…" he mouthed, lowering the barrel ever so much.
"Yes?" The Man-Boy asked, turning fully around. The death-wound in his breast began to drip filthy blood once more. His eyes were utterly, totally black, staring wide open like toothless mouths.
Trebuchet gasped: "Oh my god-"
"No," replied yet another voice: one that Trebuchet couldn't quite recognize at first, given its confidence.
There was the sound of air parting, and then a dull, heavy thud as the butt of a handgun smacked into the back of Trebuchet's skull. His vision went black at the sides as he fell down, losing layers of consciousness every inch of the way. He could hardly feel the pain when he struck the floor, and was only halfway aware that he'd lost hold of his gun…
A Precambrian impulse of panic and fear took over, and he tried - however groggy - to roll over onto his back and retake the weapon. He got about halfway there, but someone kicked it right out of his reach just before he could. That same someone quickly bodyslammed him, and put one strong, heavy hand around Trebuchet's neck as he whipped the other hand up past his head.
Willers' face loomed over Trebuchet's in the Manichean half-gloom. The man's eyes were large, dark things that glittered like polished jet as he brought the gun back down again.
And then -
*** (Air in the room gone wrong. Felt he were moving through stone, rocking back forth in time to endless chant. Back warm room getting blindingly bright, fire blazed to life behind. Noise like crystal growing. Crystal universe, stretching-sliding, time hideous, alien heartbeat.)
(Feel something coming. Moving not through space, between it. Not through dead still air, through mind. Pushing old things aside. Sprouting unknown, new structures. Reactivating ancient elements. Rewiring. Retuning.)
- everything went black.