I’ve been to this office many times.
I don’t remember ever stopping apprehensively at the door before I knocked.
Squaring my shoulders and shaking my head, I knocked on the door. This was grade school stuff. My boss was inside, not the principal, I’m a specialist, not a student.
The door opened to the familiar chaotic scene of the police commissioner’s office.
“Ah! Elian. Come in. Good to see you, how are you doing?” He extended his hand to me over the paper-covered desk.
“Fine, Ismael, fine. A little busy these days. The Newton case and the Brown case have kept me busy.”
“Yes, I saw those. Newton is going away for a long time. If we still had capital punishment, she’d be on death row.”
“Well, kidnaping is bad enough, but what she did with those kids was disturbing.”
“You mean sick, batty, nutso, but I understand you not wanting to use such specialized terms.” His easy smile making light of the severe crime, now that it was finally solved and Newton would never again see the light of day as a free woman.
“Exactly. Brown was interesting. He is brilliant. His blackmailing scheme was as good as they get, but the intellectual torture he inflicted on his victims, the sheer psychological panic, forcing them to eventually commit suicide,” I shook my head, “that is rare, thank God.”
“Yes.” He sighed, then cleared his throat. “None of that is why I called you in.” He reached for a couple of color-coded folders under a pile. “This case, or cases, of the people we found in the industrial area. The meatpacking plant and the abandoned metal works. You thought they were linked. Even related. They went cold and you dropped them. What happened? I’ve never seen you walk away from cases such as these.”
I consciously relaxed my muscles, transmitting calm was imperative.
“Well, the truth is that beyond the fact that most of the victims were homeless, there was little in common at the end of the day.” I ran a quick hand over my brow and immediately cursed myself, I must not appear nervous. “The methods were similar, but,” a small smile made its way to my lips. “The truth is there are only so many ways you can butcher a body.”
“I know, but,” he picked up one of the folders. “Look here. This is your own observation. Regarding the consistency of the kills. The signs of ritualistic training. What happened?”
“Well, for starters, we haven’t found any more victims.” It was true, there were no new victims. That we knew off. “A cult such as this, a group dedicated to satanic rituals, or however they rationalize this activity, would not stop. Not suddenly, not like this, cold turkey.”
He sat back. “So, what do you think happened?”
I sat back too, mirroring his movements, one of the many ways to put people at ease. “I don’t know. Not really. They may have moved to another city, feeling we were getting close. They may have fought among themselves and ended each other. It’s hard to know.” I shrugged.
“So, that’s your professional opinion?”
“Without any more evidence…” I shrugged again, my hands going up.
He sighed again. “So, what do you suggest? Do I put them in the cold pile or what?”
I sighed in turn. “Yes, they have gone cold, so they should go to the cold pile. Not much else to do.”
A couple of minutes stretched and felt like hours. “OK, they are officially cold. I’m still surprised.” He closed the folders with finality and put them in the out tray. “Have you heard from Dr. Frediano? He has dropped the investigation also, did you know that?”
“No. I haven’t heard from him.” I purposely avoided the second question. Ismael was too seasoned a cop not to notice, though.
“Did you know he had dropped the investigation?” He sat forward and rested his elbows on the desk, putting his chin on his interlaced fingers.
It took me fractions of a second to decide what to say. “Yes, I knew.”
“What do you make of it?” His eyes bore into mine. “You and him, both, are like junkyard dogs with cases. Once you get a hold of one, you don’t let go until the case is solved. Always. Always, except for this one.”
I considered telling him of the visit of Vry Kolakas to my hotel room months ago now. Then thought better of it.
“So it just goes to show that there is nothing to hold on in these cases, we both dropped a hopeless case independently. That should tell you something.”
“It does, just not what I think you would like.” He shrugged. “We’ll talk later. Now get out of here, I have a lot of work to do.” His smile took the sting out of his words.
He knew there was something else going on. I knew he knew. The question was, of course, what were we going to do about it? If anything.
“You are one of my best students.”
“Thank you, sensei,” I said, a little embarrassed. “I’m not that good.”
He laughed good-naturedly. “Oh, I don’t mean you are good. We have better swordsmen here. You are a great student, though. I see you practice, your dedication to the art, you take all suggestions to heart, and you have become quite proficient.”
His clearing the subject up put me in my place. I was, actually, not that good, but now I won over half the Kumite I participated in, so, I was satisfied.
I walked out of the dojo. On my way to my car, I caught a glimpse of a man by the corner.
A long-haired man dressed in black leather. Another one was by a couple of motorcycles in the parking lot, similarly dressed.
A trick of the light made his eyes flash red for a second.
I looked up and down the road. It was close to ten at night, surprisingly, there was little traffic. There were a few people on the sidewalk, some getting in their cars, some going in or out of the buildings around us.
Walking steadily to my car, I was very happy to feel the weight of my katana case in my left hand.
Motorcycle-man stood up and sauntered to me.
“Hey, buddy, do you have a light?”
He did not have a cigarette in his hand, so the question was weird.
“No, excuse me.” I moved away and around him, glancing back and, sure enough, black-leather was walking up.
I stepped off the sidewalk, walking away from both. “Listen, guys, this is a bad idea. I work with the police.”
“We know.” The voice was deep, guttural.
“Please, stay back. If you don’t I’ll interpret your actions as an assault.” My voice was loud and steady.
Their laughter was dark, sinister. “You’d be right. You die tonight.”
They rushed me at the same time. I took out my service weapon and shot them. Two shots each.
I scored perfect center mass shots and they went down, still about a foot and a half away from me.
Several of the other students and the sensei were at the door when the assailants went down. They heard me telling the thugs to step back, saw me take a step back when they rushed me. They saw them fall to my fire.
I was in very deep trouble. I had killed two assailants. I knew who they were, or rather what they were. How was I going to explain I had killed them because they were vrykolakas? Who would believe me, anyway?
I was in the interrogation room. I have been here many times. My reflection gazed back at me from the double-sided mirror on the wall. I’ve spent many hours analyzing suspects on the other side. I never thought I’d be here like this. Never.
The door open and Lumis came in with two cups of coffee and a file under his arm.
He put a cup in front of me and sat on the other side of the table.
Opening the file, he looked up at me. “This will be quick, Doc. All the witnesses said you warned them and they made believable threats. They actually said they were planning to kill you. So it’s a righteous shooting.”
I sat back and a sigh escaped my lips. Good. I was partway off the hook.
“Anyway,” he continued, “the whole thing is getting weird fast.”
“How so?” I took a sip of my coffee.
“Well, someone came in, took the bodies, and killed the forensic assistant.”
“What?” My eyes popped open at the news, an electric tingle spread through me.
“Yeah. Weird. Someone came in and killed the ME assistant. Tore him apart, in fact. Took the bodies. No one saw them come in or go out.”
“When? When did this happen?” My breath was coming in ragged. I feared I knew what actually happened, but I could not believe they’d be so bold. Or so stupid.
“Just a couple of hours ago. That’s why you’ve been here so long. Didn’t anyone tell you?”
“No. Where is my stuff? The katana, where is it?”
“The sword? I have it. I left it outside, I’m here to let you go.”
“Let’s go.” I got up and sprinted to the door, I turned my head both ways and hastened to pick up the case with my sword inside, opened it, and pulled the katana out in one smooth motion.
“What’s going on? You OK?” Lumis was intrigued but not worried.
“Do you trust me?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes. Of course, Doc. What’s going on?”
“You would not believe me if I told you. You have to see it for yourself. Come on.” I rushed down the hall towards the morgue.
Didn’t make it as far as I thought I would.
Muffled sounds from behind a door stopped me in my tracks.
“What’s behind here?”
Lumis cast his gaze around. “Where?”
“Here, behind this door,” I said, pointing with a nod of my head as I adjusted my grip on the sword.
“It’s a storage room of some sort. What are you doing?”
“Stand back.” I yanked the door open.
They were feeding. Right in the middle of a police station. The abdomen was open and both were tearing at the victim’s liver as if they were bobbing for apples.
“What the hell!” Lumis’ yell made them look up from their victim.
The pupils were dilated and the eyes bloodshot. Both mouth were covered with blood down to the chin. The hair was tangled and matted. They looked like nothing more than wild animals in their blood-stained black leather outfits. Which was adequate, that’s what they were.
The one on my left sprang towards me, hands stretched out in front, fingers curled like claws.
The smooth elegant arc of my sword sliced cleanly through his neck and severed the head in a single stroke. It tumbled to the ground as I took a step back and went into my guard stance.
The other one stood up and let out a guttural yell that froze the blood in my veins.
Seven shots thundered in the ample, lonely hall we were in. All hit the chest of the beast. It gave a step and a half back. Then, bared teeth dripping with blood opened in an impossibly wide mouth as it rushed towards Lumis.
I could not hit the neck, I didn’t have a proper angle, so I hit the leg closest to me. The sword sang as it sliced the air in a graceful arc. The katana cut deep through the upper thigh and went through the femur with some effort. The monster went down.
Lumis dropped the magazine and loaded a fresh one.
“Back off. Bullets are useless.”
The beast on the floor launched itself at me using arms and legs in an impossible show of strength.
I was ready. The side step and swing of the blade, perfect. I cut the head clean off.
Lumis walked back until he hit the wall and then slid down to end up sitting there, with his gun trembling in his hand.
“I shot him. Seven times. I hit him. I hit him and nothing. He didn’t go down. He didn’t. But I shot him.”
I walked over and sat next to him. I flicked the sword a couple of times to cast off the little blood on it. “Yeah. I shot them too. Couldn’t tell anyone I thought they weren’t dead because no one would believe me.”
Lumis’ panic-filled eyes turned to me. “Are they dead now?”
“Yes, decapitation is one of the few ways they die.”
“This is bad.”
“Yes. The problem is that this is just the beginning.”