The storm was abating, which was a good thing for the authorities of Seminole, especially those involved with the discovery of the bodies of four children, murdered and skinned, then tied together to form a square.
For Police Chief Lawrence Durrel, this had all the earmarks of a crime scene that would give people nightmares for years to come, including Mrs. MacTavish. She found the bodies in the first place when she had decided to secure some covering for her garden, and she noticed that the storm wasn’t hitting her backyard as hard as it was all around the rest of her house.
That alone was bizarre, to say the least. Durrel wondered if there was some sort of connection between the storm’s gentler touch in this backyard and the bodies, or if it was just one of those things that happened without explanation, like the phenomena that Charles Fort had often written about.
For the first time since moving to Seminole, following his discharge from the United States Marine Corps, Durrel regretted becoming a police officer. He walked the edge of the perimeter, watching the forensics team working, trying to find anything at all that could give them a clue. But it seemed that the storm had really done a number on the scene of the crime.
Durrel lit a cigar and swore that whoever did this, whether a local nutcase or some traveling serial killer, would pay. Durrel wanted their butt in a sling.
Of course, Durrel wasn’t the only one who wanted to find out who was responsible, not by a long shot.
Sitting in a basement in a nearby house was a man who had been listening intently to the police and other radio chatter diligently, making notes he intended to compare with information he had received from his sources about other bizarre and inexplicable murders. He sought to build a profile on who was responsible. Grinding a cigarette out, Dr. James Monroe, retired FBI agent, swore not for the first time that something very strange was happening in this country, something that those still working for the Bureau refused to talk about, something that chilled him to the bone. After all, if he didn’t know for sure that his only grandchild was safely sleeping in the storm shelter along with her parents, he would have been driven to fits of worry that hers might be one of the bodies that the police had found.
With a sigh he rolled his wheelchair over to his telephone. There was no service, thanks to the storm, and he fumed with frustration and anger at his helplessness. Well, perhaps he would be able to make that call tomorrow. He knew one person from the old days who might be able to make sense of all the information gathered so far and indeed might have other pieces of the puzzle to offer.
Chief Durrel looked around and did a double take; a football-field’s length away, he spotted a woman standing and looking toward the scene of the crime behind him. He noted she was dressed in a long black dress that seemed to have a petticoat beneath it, and she wore what looked like a veil and a broad-brimmed hat. She seemed to see him looking at her, and she turned and moved swiftly away.
Officer Cook spotted her also and gasped. Durrel called John Severn over. “Did you see her, Severn?”
“No, sir. I didn’t see anyone.”
“I want some men up there. We may have a possible witness.”
Robert Cook found two rookies standing around looking lost and ordered them to report to the chief, then followed them over to their boss. “Davison, Green, you men go up that way, look around. Someone was up there just moments ago; may be a witness.”
“Could just be a storm freak, too,” one of the patrolmen said.
Durrel gave him a hard look. “Could be, but by God, you two had better get up there and find out — now!”
The reluctant young officers began trotting in the direction named, using their flashlights to watch their footing. The storm caused by the hurricane was dying down, but no one wanted to fall and injure themselves.
“What did you see, Chief?” Severn asked.
Durrel looked at him with sorrow in his eyes. “Someone who reminded me why I never went back to Georgia.”
“She had a lot of darkness around her, all right,” Cook said with regret. “You know those two won’t find her.”
Durrel nodded. “I know, but then again, she might lead one of them to something important.”
“Who? Who did you see?” Severn was peering into the fading darkness with confusion and concern.
“Death,” Cook responded.
Durrel turned back to the crime scene. “I don’t suppose any clues have been uncovered. Like maybe the perp’s phone number?”
“The forensics guys tell me they ain’t found anything, but are hopeful the rope used may be helpful.”
“OK, well, have people canvas the neighborhood,” said Durrel. “You two are acting detectives now, and whenever my regular homicide boys dig themselves out of their bunkers, you’ll work with them.”
“Yeah, I was wondering, Chief, where are Maven and Rheems?”
“Last I knew, securing their families in their basements. They should be along any time, I hope.” With that, he sent the two veteran cops about their business.
Meanwhile, in his own basement, Dr. James Monroe was again examining the evidence he had been studying, comparing notes. He knew of five such sites found around the country. There may have been others he didn’t know about. But at this moment, he could not find a pattern.
And that worried him.
“I can’t imagine what the chief expects us to find, besides some twisted-up trees and a lot of mud,” said Green. Turning, he asked the other rookie, “Say, you got a cigarette?”
But his partner Davison was nowhere to be found. Looking around, he said, “Yo, where’d you go, man?”
Durrel and the others were no longer looking at the rookies who had been sent out to look for a woman in black or for any clues in that direction. Instead, they were listening to another uniform who was saying, “The woman in there says her neighbor across the way may be of help, but with the power out, we may not be able to get him until tomorrow.”
“What is he, a member of the JSA?” Durrel asked, pulling his collar up as the wind had begun to pick up again.
“No, sir. She says he used to work for the FBI. He’s a profiler.”
“What the #^@% is a profiler?” Severn asked.
Durrel shot him a look, then asked the officer, “Yeah, Dudley, what’s a profiler? Some kind of sketch artist?”
“No, sir — something fairly new the feds been doing. This guy Monroe is a criminal psychologist who studies crime scenes, and, well, according to her, he could figure out a lot about who did the crime and why and all of that, sir.”
Durrel looked around. “Severn, Cook, I thought I sent you out to look for any neighbors not asleep in their basements, and… hey, where did those rookies go?”
“We’re on our way, Chief. I don’t see any sign of those kids. Must’a gone over that ridge, maybe.”
“Hope so. OK, Dudley, get up there and tell them yokels to come on back. Severn, call the station, see if they got ahold of our detectives yet. They might as well earn their pay, eh?”
“Yes, sir. Right on it. Come on, Cook; we gotta earn ours, too.”
Officer Cook was staring in the direction the two rookies Davison and Green had gone. Quietly, he muttered a prayer, then turned to move to the front of the building. Inside he had a very uncomfortable feeling.
An uncomfortable feeling filled Dr. James Monroe as well. Already the batteries of his generator were beginning to show signs of weakening, which meant he had to turn most everything off — everything but one lone light. He sat under it holding a loaded Colt .44 revolver. His eyes were bleary from lack of sleep, but his spirit was unwilling to relax under the circumstances. The sudden silence in his office filled him with dread. And the veteran crime-solver did not like the sounds of silence at all.
Then something shattered the placidity.
Dr. Monroe whirled in his wheelchair toward the sound of breaking glass, and his right hand reached under his blanket. His eyes first spotted first the lamp laying in pieces on the floor, and then, in the shadows above, he saw two glowering green eyes. Into the light, the blackness that surrounded the green emerged, and Dr. Monroe sighed happily. “Selene! I thought you were outside somewhere. I was so worried.”
The cat looked at him and meowed quizzically.
He nodded. “Of course I was, girl. Why wouldn’t I be?”
She regarded him for a moment, made a sort of bow, and returned to the darkness, then came out, jumped to the floor, and padded over to the feet of her servant. Emptying her mouth of its burden, she mewed again.
“Yes, Selene, if you please.”
She picked the doll up and jumped into the lap of the doctor, where she deposited it, looked at him, meowed again, and turned to bathe herself, removing traces of mud from her fine, soft fur.
Dr. Monroe picked up the doll with puzzlement. At first glance it looked like one of his granddaughters’ Tater-Tot dolls, but again it was dressed in a long black dress with several layers of petticoats under it, and on her head she wore a long black veil. Plus, he noted that her long black hair was untied, and no Tater-Tot doll yet had hair like this. This hair felt real, not the yarn used on those toys.
A shudder ran through him.
He breathed slowly, reviewing the facts. The murders of four children found in an older woman’s garden during a storm, tied hands and feet to each other to form a square, stripped of all flesh, all of which was bad enough. God help us, he thought. There were at least four other such crime scenes — portraits from hell, he considered them — but this one happened right across the street from where he was visiting his son and granddaughter.
And now this doll. Was someone sending him a message? What could it all mean?
Across the street a call came in on the police radio that caused blood to cease movement and breath to stop. “Officer down! Officer down! Uh… code, uh… ten-one-seven… I think.”
“Green! This is the chief. What do you mean, ten-one-seven? You got an officer down and you need gasoline?”
“No, sir. Davison fell into a well or mineshaft. I can barely make him out with my flashlight. He’s breathing, I think, but it’s dark down there, uh, sir.”
“OK, we’ll get right on it. Sun’s coming up. That should be of help. Now, where the #^@% are you boys?”
“Uh, sir, just over the ridge straight on from where you sent us in, uh, Chief. Can’t miss us. There’s a tree right here.”
“Right. I’ll look first for a tree, then see if any of my people are sitting under it. OK, keep a lookout for Davison. Call to him, try to get him to respond, and, hey, be careful up there. Don’t fall in yourself!”
“Got you, Chief.”
Durrel turned around and glared at his men. “Well? Anyone got any suggestions? Maybe a nice game of Bridge while we wait for a miracle rescue?”
The officers and staff immediately rediscovered breathing and started to mull over what to do.
“Meyers, call this in,” said Severn. “We’ll need the Fire Department.”
“Right, Sergeant,” said Meyers.
Severn looked around. “Jacobs, see if the phones are working; we’ll need the power restored to this street ASAP.”
“Right away, Sergeant.”
“Thompson, Augie, traffic control.”
“You two check for a ladder, maybe some rope. Ask in the house before you go into her shed, but move it. Maybe we can do it ourselves.”
“Yes, sir, Sergeant.”
“Cook, Severn!” the chief bellowed, and the two non-commissioned veterans jogged to where he was standing.
“Just as well you didn’t find anyone awake. Good work, Severn.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Cook, head on up there, scout around, see what you can see.”
“Shut the #^@% up with that Indian $#!^, Cook,” grumbled Durrel. “This is police work, not cowboys and Indians.”
“Right. Send the Indian to scout around, then tell him it’s not a western,” said Cook. “No, it’s police work. Like there’s a difference.”
As he grumbled, Robert Cook cautiously walked the same trail left by the two rookies, his eyes alert and his senses on full observance mode. The hairs on the back of his neck had not relaxed since he spotted that woman in black, and now they felt stiffer then ever. “I need a more relaxing job,” he said to himself as he spotted the rookie Green, waving frantically like he couldn’t be easily seen. He was standing next to a tree, with a hole in the ground and miles of emptiness all around. All of the grass was flattened, and there were some trees in the distance, too far to make easily or quickly.
“Hell of a place for sightseeing,” he stated, confusing the younger cop. He took his flashlight and looked into the hole. “Looks like someone used to have a house here. It’s far enough away from swamp and marsh to build a basement, which that could be — an old root cellar or something. OK.” He turned away from the hole’s walls and looked down at Davison. “He’s stirring. Hey, Davison!”
The fallen officer stirred, shook his head, and felt blood on the back of his scalp. He moaned.
“OK, Davison, listen to me. It’s Cook. Hang in there, man.”
Davison stirred looked up, blinking at the flashlight. “Hurt,” he said, and Cook considered he was about thirty feet down, which was enough to not only knock the wind out of you, but to cause some real bodily damage.
He felt around, found his own flashlight, turned it on, caught a glimpse of something, and then, when his reflexes caused him to turn the flashlight back to where he thought he saw something, all that he could see was dirt and a few pieces of old broken glass, instead of a woman in black standing there.
“‘Course not,” he muttered to himself. “Why would a woman be down here?” He stubbed his toe. “Oww. Why can’t I look before I step?”
At the crime-scene-turned-rescue-base, one of the police officers called to the chief, “Hey, Chief, I think I’m coming down with a code two-one-seven.”
“Oh, really? Well, guess I’m just gonna have to shoot you, then. Get back to work,” Durrel snarled, and the officer went back to examining the skyline. Durrel grinned to himself.
“Something’s happening out on Jefferson Road, Bess.”
Stephen Hayes was a television news producer for WSEM-3, the first and best television station in Seminole and in the Seminole, Jackson, and Atwater counties. The award-winning news team prized itself on always being first, fast, and accurate, even if that wasn’t always the case. Bess Joplin was new to the team, young and eager, aggressive as a reporter, and just the right combination of black and beautiful to catch the eyes. But she was also one fine investigative journalist.
“Something big?” she asked, sipping on some coffee that had long since turned cold. She’d been sitting at her desk, waiting for the phones to work and the power to return, because the generators didn’t give off enough juice to allow her to run her equipment and prepare her stories.
“Seems like we’re getting a lot of traffic,” said Hayes, referring to the radio the station used to monitor police, ambulance, and fire calls. “It does seem to be the biggest thing going outside of the storm.”
“Seems?” she asked, looking up at him.
“Best we can tell is there’s both a homicide and a rescue operation.”
She stood up. “I’m on it. I want Angel and Enrique.”
“Already loading equipment and doughnuts, Bess,” said Hayes. The gray-haired producer smiled happily; this would go smoothly instead of contributing to his ulcers, like most situations tended to do. Just the thought of one made his stomach churn.
Bess grabbed her purse. “Lay off the coffee, boss. It’s stone cold.” And she hurried out the door, brushing her hair as she went.
Stephen Hayes looked after her retreating figure. “If I was only twenty years younger,” he sighed, then remembered he still had story assignments to pass out, never dreaming of the story that was to come.