Blood Price (Vicki Nelson #1)

Chapter 5

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"… although the police department refuses to issue a statement at this time, the Coroner's Office has confirmed that Mark Thompson, the fifth victim, has also been drained of blood. A resident, who wishes to remain nameless, living in the area of Don Mills Road and St. Dennis Drive, swears he saw a giant bat fly past his balcony just moments before the body was found. Jesus H. Christ." Vicki punched the paper down into a tightly wadded mass and flung it at the far wall. "Giant bats! No surprise he wants to remain nameless. Shit!"

The sudden shrill demand of the phone lifted her about four inches out of her chair. Scowling, she turned on it but at the last instant remembered that the call might be business and modified her response accordingly. A snarled, "What!" seldom impressed potential clients.

"Private investigations, Nelson speaking."

"Have you seen this morning's paper?!"

The voice was young, female, and not instantly identifiable. "Who is this, please?"

"It's me. Coreen Fergus. Have you seen this morning's paper?"

"Yes, Coreen, I have, but… "

"Well, that proves it then, doesn't it."

"Proves what?" Tucking the phone under her chin, Vicki reached for her coffee. She had a feeling she was going to need it.

"About the vampire. There's a witness. Someone saw it!" Coreen's voice had picked up a triumphant tone.

Vicki took a deep breath. "A giant bat could be anything, Coreen. A blowing garbage bag, the shadow of an airplane, laundry falling off another balcony."

"And it could also be a giant bat. You are going to talk to this person, aren't you?"

It wasn't really a question and although Vicki had been deliberately not thinking about trying to find an unnamed source in the rabbit warren of apartments and town-houses around St. Dennis Drive, talking to "this person" was the next logical step. She reassured Coreen, promised to call the moment she had any results, and hung up.

"Like looking for a needle in a haystack." But it had to be done; a witness could break the case wide open.

She finished her coffee and checked her watch. There was one thing she wanted to check before she hit the pavement. 8:43. Cutting it close, but Brandon should still be at his desk.

He was.

After greetings were exchanged-perfunctory on one side at least-Vicki slid in the reason for her call. "… and you and I both know you've found things that you haven't told the papers."

"That's very true, Victoria." The coroner didn't even pretend not to understand. "But, as you know very well, I won't be able to tell these things to you either. I'm sorry, but you're no longer a member of the constabulary."

"But I have been hired to work on the case." Quickly, she outlined the pertinent parts of Coreen's visit for him, leaving out any mention of the young lady's personal belief as to the supernatural identity of the killer as well as the latest phone call.

"You've been hired as a private citizen, Victoria, and as such you have no more right to information than any other private citizen."

Vicki stifled a sigh and considered how best to approach this. When Brandon Singh meant no, he said it, straight out with no frills. And then he hung up. As long as he remained willing to talk he remained willing to be convinced. "Look, Brandon, you know my record. You know I have as good a chance as anyone in the city of solving this case. And you know you want it solved. I'll stand a better chance if I have all available information."

"Granted, but somehow this smacks of vigilantism."

"Vigilantism? Trust me, Brandon, I am not going to dress up in some silly costume and leap around making the city safe for decent people." She doodled a bat symbol on her notepad, then hastily crumpled the page up and tossed it away. Under the circumstances, bats were not a particularly apt motif. "All I'm doing is investigating. I swear I'll hand over everything I turn up to Violent Crimes."

"I believe you, Victoria." He paused and Vicki, fidgeting with impatience, jumped into the silence.

"With a killer of this caliber on the loose, can the city afford not to have me on the case, even in an auxiliary position?"

"Think highly of yourself, don't you?"

She heard the smile in his voice and knew she had him. Dr. Brandon Singh believed in using every available resource and while he personally might have preferred a less intuitive approach than hers, he had to admit that "Victory" Nelson represented a valuable resource indeed. If she thought highly of herself, it wasn't without cause.

"Very well," he said at last, his tone even more portentous than usual as though to make up for his earlier lapse. "But there's very little the papers don't have and I don't know what use you'll be able to make of it." He took a deep breath and even the ambient noise on the phone line seemed to fall silent to listen. "We found, in all but the first wound, a substance very like saliva… "

"Very like saliva?" Vicki interjected. "How could something be very like saliva?"

"Something can't. But this was. What's more, every body so far, including that of young Reddick, has been missing the front half of the throat."

"I'd already discovered that."

"Indeed." For a moment, Vicki was afraid he'd taken offense at her interruption, but he continued. "The only other item kept from the press concerns the third body- the large man, DeVerne Jones. He was clutching a torn piece of thin membrane in his hand."

"Membrane?"

"Yes."

"Like a bat wing?"

"Remarkably similar, yes."

It was Vicki's turn to breathe deeply. Something very like saliva and a bat wing. "I can see why you didn't tell the papers."

Celluci hung up the phone and reached for the paper. He couldn't decide whether the apology had been made easier because Vicki was out of her apartment or harder because he'd had to talk to her damned machine. Whatever. It was done and the next move was hers.

A second later Dave Graham barely managed to snatch his coffee out of harm's way as his partner slammed the paper down on the desk.

"Did you see this bullshit?" Celluci demanded.

"The, uh, giant bat?"

"Fuck the bat! Those bastards found a witness and didn't see fit to let us know!"

"But we were heading out to St. Dennis this morning… "

"Yeah," Celluci shrugged into his jacket and glared Dave up out of his chair, "but we're heading down to the paper first. A witness could blow this case wide open and I don't want to piss away my time if they've got a name."

"A name of someone who sees giant bats," Dave muttered, but he scrambled into his own coat and followed his partner out into the hail. "You think it really could be a vampire?" he asked as he caught up.

Celluci didn't even break stride. "Don't you start," he growled.

"Who is it?"

"It's the police, Mr. Bowan. We need to talk to you." Celluci held his badge up in line with the spy-eye and waited. After a long moment, he heard a chain being pulled free and two-no, three-locks snapped off. He stepped back beside his partner as the door slowly opened.

The old man peered up at them through rheumy eyes. "You Detective-Sergeant Michael Celluci?"

"Yes, but … " Surely the old man's eyesight hadn't been good enough to read that off his ID.

"She said you'd probably show up this morning." He opened the door wider and moved back out of the way. "Come in, come in."

The detectives exchanged puzzled looks as they entered the tiny apartment. While the old man relocked the door, Celluci looked around. Heavy blankets had been tacked up along one wall, over the windows and the balcony door, and every light in the place was on. There was a Bible on the coffee table and a water glass beside it that smelled of Scotch. Whatever the old man had seen, it had caused him to put up the barricades and reach for reassurance.

Dave settled himself carefully on the sagging couch. "Who said we'd be here this morning, Mr. Bowan?"

"Young lady who just left. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't pass her in the parking lot. Nice girl, real friendly."

"Did this nice, real friendly girl have a name?" Celluci asked through clenched teeth.

The old man managed a wheezy laugh. "She said you'd react like that." Shaking his head, he picked a business card off his kitchen table and dropped it into Celluci's hand.

Leaning over his partner's shoulder, Dave barely had a chance to read it before Celluci closed his fist.

"What else did Ms. Nelson say?"

"Oh, she seemed real concerned that I cooperate with you gentlemen. That I tell you everything I told her. Course I had no intention of doing otherwise, though I've got no idea what the police can do. More a job for an exorcist or maybe a pri… "A yawn that threatened to split his face in half cut off the flow of words. "S'cuse me, but I didn't get much sleep last night. Can I get either of you a cup of tea? Pot's still hot." When both men declined, he settled himself down in a worn armchair and looked expectantly from one to the other. "You going to ask me questions or you just want me to start at the beginning and tell it in my own words?"

"Start at the beginning and tell it in your own words. " Celluci had heard Vicki give that instruction a thousand times and had no doubt he was hearing her echo now. His anger had faded into a reluctant appreciation of her ability with a witness. Whatever mood Vicki had found him in, she'd left Mr. Bowan well primed for their visit. "Use your own words, we'll ask questions if we need to."

"Okay." Mr. Bowan rubbed his hands together, obviously enjoying his second captive audience of the morning in spite of his fright of the night before. "It was just after midnight, I know that 'cause I turned the TV off at midnight like I always do. Well, I was on my way to bed so I turned off the lights, then I thought I might better step out on the balcony to have a look around the building, just in case. Sometimes," he confided, leaning forward, "we get kids fooling around in the bushes down there."

While Dave nodded in understanding, Celluci hid a grin. Mr. Bowan, no doubt, spent a great deal of time out on his balcony checking out the neighborhood… and the neighbors. The binocular case on the floor by the armchair bore mute witness.

Last night, he'd barely stepped outside before he knew something was wrong. "It was the smell. Like rotten eggs, only worse. Then there it was, big as life and twice as ugly and so close I could've reached out and touched it-if I was as senile as my daughter-in-law seems to think I am. The wings were spread out seven or eight feet." He paused for effect. "The giant bat. Nosferatu. Vampire. You find his crypt, gentlemen, and you'll find your killer."

"Can you describe the creature?"

"If you mean could I pick it out in a lineup, no. Tell you the truth, it went by so awfully fast I saw mostly outline. But I'll tell you this much," his voice grew serious and a note of terror crept in, "that thing had eyes like I've never seen on any living creature and I hope to God never to see again. Yellow they were and cold, and I knew that if they looked back at me I wouldn't last much beyond the first glance. It was evil, gentlemen, real evil, not the diluted kind of evil humanity is prey to but the cold uncaring kind that comes from old Nick himself. Now, I'm old and death and me's gotten pretty chummy over the last few years; nothing much scares me anymore but this, this scared the holy bejesus out of me." He swallowed heavily and searched both their faces. "You can believe me or not-that reporter fella didn't when I went down to see what the sirens were about-but I know what I saw and I know what I felt."

As much as he wanted to side with the reporter, who had described Mr. Bowan as an entertaining old coot, Celluci found himself unable to dismiss what the old man had seen. And what the old man had felt. Something in his voice or his expression raised the hair on the back of Celluci's neck and although intellect argued against it, instinct trembled on the edge of belief.

He wished he could talk this over with Vicki, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction.

"God, I hate these machines." The heavy, exaggerated sigh that followed had been recorded in its annoyed entirety. "Okay. I'd have reacted much the same way. Probably been an equal pain in the ass. So, I'm right, you're right, we're both right, let's start over." The tape hissed quietly for a few seconds while background noises-the rumble of two deep voices arguing, the staccato beat of an old, manual typewriter, and the constant ringing of other phones-grew louder. Then Celluci's voice returned, bearing just enough edge to show he meant what he said. "And stop hustling my partner for classified information. He's a nice man, not that you'd recognize nice, and you give him palpitations." He hung up without saying good-bye.

Vicki grinned down at her answering machine. Mike Celluci was no better at apologizing than she was. For him, that was positively gracious. And it had obviously been left before he talked to Mr. Bowan and found she'd been there first. Any messages left after that would have had a very different tone.

Finding the tabloid's unnamed source had actually been surprisingly easy. The first person she'd spoken to had snorted and said, "You want old man Bowan. If anyone sees anything around here it's him. Never minds his own fucking business." Then he'd jerked his head at 25 St. Dennis with enough force to throw his mohawk down over his eyes.

As to what old man Bowan had seen…. As much as Vicki hated to admit it, she was beginning to think Coreen might not be as far out in left field as first impressions indicated.

She wondered if she should call Celluci. They could share their impressions of Mr. Bowan and his close encounter. "Nah." She shook her head. Better give him time to cool off first. Spreading the detailed map of Toronto she'd just bought out over her kitchen table, she decided to call him later. Right now, she had work to do.

It was easy to forget just how big Toronto was. It had devoured any number of smaller places as it grew, and it showed no signs of stopping. The downtown core, the image everyone carried of the city, made up a very small part of the whole.

Vicki drew a red circle around the Eglinton West subway station, another around the approximate position of the Sigman's building on St. Clair West, and a third around the construction site on Symington Avenue where DeVerne Jones had died. Then she frowned and drew a straight line through all three. Allowing for small inaccuracies in placing the second and third positions, the line bisected all three circles, running southwest to northeast across the city.

The two new deaths appeared to have no connection to the first three but seemed to be starting a line of their own.

And there was more.

"No one could be that stupid," Vicki muttered, digging in her desk for a ruler.

The first two deaths were essentially the same distance apart as the fourth and the fifth; far from exact by mathematical standards but too close to be mere coincidence.

"No one could be that stupid," she said again, smacking the ruler against her palm. The second line ran northwest to southeast and it measured out in a circle that centered at Woodbine and Mortimer. Vicki was willing to bet any odds that between midnight and dawn a sixth body would turn up to end the line.

Just west of York University, the lines crossed.

"X marks the spot." Vicki pushed her glasses up her nose, frowned, and pushed them up again. It was too easy. There had to be a catch.

"All right… " Tossing the ruler onto the map, she ticked off points on her fingers. "First possibility; the killer wants to be found. Second possibility; the killer is just as capable of drawing lines on a map as I am, has set up the pattern to mean nothing at all, and is sitting in Scarborough busting a gut laughing at the damn fool police who fell for it." For purposes of this exercise, she and the police were essentially the same. "Possibility three"; she stared at the third finger as though it might have an answer, "we're hunting a vampire even as the vampire is hunting us and who the hell knows how a vampire thinks."

Celluci was as capable as she of drawing lines on a map, but she reached for the phone anyway. Occasionally, the obvious escaped him. To her surprise, he was in. His reaction came as no surprise at all.

"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs, Vicki."

"So can I assume Toronto's finest will be gathered tonight at Mortimer and Woodbine?"

"You can assume whatever you want, I've never been able to stop you, but if you think you and your little Nancy Drew detective kit are going to be anywhere near there, think again."

"What are you going to do?" How dare he dictate to her. "Arrest me?"

"If I have to, yes." His tone said he'd do exactly that. "You are no longer on the force, you are virtually blind at night, and you are more likely to end up as the corpse than the hero."

"I don't need you babying me, Celluci!"

"Then act like an adult and stay home!"

They slammed the receivers down practically simultaneously. He knew she'd be there and she knew he knew it. Moreover, she had no doubt that if their paths crossed he'd lock her away on trumped up charges for her own safety. Better than even odds said that, having been forewarned, he'd lock her up now if he thought he could get away with it.

He was right. She was virtually blind at night.

But the police were hunting a man and Vicki no longer really believed a man had anything to do with these deaths. Blind or not, if she was there, she might even the odds.

Now, what to do until dark? Maybe it was time to do a little detecting and find out what the word was on the street.

"At least he didn't scream about Mr. Bowan," she muttered as she shrugged back into her coat.

"Yo, Victory, long time no see."

"Yeah, it's been a couple of months. How've you been, Tony?"

Tony shrugged thin shoulders under his jean jacket. "I've been okay."

"You clean?"

He shot her a look out of the corner of one pale blue eye. "I hear you ain't a cop no more. I don't got to tell you."

Vicki shrugged in turn. "No. You don't."

They walked in silence for a moment, threading their way through the crowds that surged up and down Yonge Street. When they stopped at the Wellesley lights, Tony sighed. "Okay, I'm clean. You happy now? You going to bugger off and leave me alone?"

She grinned. "Is it ever that easy?"

"Not with you it ain't. Listen," he waved a hand at a corner restaurant, less trendy than most of its competitors, "you're going to take up my time, you can buy me lunch."

She bought him lunch, but not the beer he wanted, and asked him about the feeling on the street.

"Feeling about what?" he asked, stuffing a huge forkful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. "Sex? Drugs? Rock'n'roll?"

"Things that go bump in the night."

He threw his arm up in the classic Hammer films tradition. "Ah, the wampyre."

Vicki took a swallow of tepid coffee, wondered how she'd survived drinking it all those years on the force, and waited. Tony had been her best set of eyes and ears on the street. He wasn't exactly a snitch, more a barometer really, hooked into moods and feelings, and although he never mentioned specifics, he'd pointed her in the right direction more than once. He was nineteen now. He'd been fifteen when she first brought him in.

"Feelin' on the street… " He methodically spread the last roll a quarter inch thick with butter. "Feelin' on the street says, paper's right with this one."

"A vampire?"

He peered up at her from under the thick fringe of his eyelashes. "Killer ain't human, that's what the street says. Sucks blood, don't it? Vampire's a good enough name for it. Cops won't catch it 'cause they're lookin' for a guy." He grinned. "Cops in this city ain't worth shit anyway. Not like they used to be."

"Well, thank you very much." She watched him scrape his plate clean, then asked, "Tony, do you believe in vampires?"

He flicked a tiny crucifix out from inside his shirt. "I believe in stayin' alive."

Outside the restaurant, turning collars up against the wind, she asked him if he needed money. She couldn't get him off the street, he wouldn't accept her help, so she gave him what he'd take. Celluci called it white-middle-class-guilt-money. While admitting he was probably right, Vicki ignored him.

"Nah," Tony pushed a lock of pale brown hair back off his face. "I'm doing okay for cash."

"You hooking?"

"Why? You can't arrest me anymore; you wanna hire me?"

"I want to smack you. Haven't you heard there's an epidemic going on?"

He danced back out of her range. "Hey, I'm careful. Like I said," and just for an instant he looked much, much older than his years, "I believe in stayin' alive."

"Vicki, I don't care what your curbside guru says and I don't care what the 'feeling on the street is'; there are no such thing as vampires and you are losing your mind."

Vicki got the phone away from her ear before Celluci slammed his receiver down. Shaking her head, she hung up her own phone considerably more gently. All right, she'd told him. She'd done it against her better judgment and knowing full well what his reaction would be. No matter what went down tonight, her conscience was clear.

"And it's not that I believe in vampires," she pointed out to the empty apartment, pushing back to extend the recliner. "I believe in keeping an open mind." And, she added silently, grimly, her mind on Tony and his crucifix, I, too, believe in stayin' alive. Beside the chair, her bag bulged with the afternoon's purchases.

At 11:48, Vicki stepped off the northbound Woodbine bus at Mortimer. For a moment, she leaned against the window of the small garden store on the corner, giving herself time to grow used to the darkness. There, under the street lamp, her vision was functional. A few meters away, where the overlap of two lights created a double-shadowed twilight, she knew she wouldn't be able to trust it. It would be worse off the main street. She fished her flashlight out of her bag and held it ready, just in case.

Across a shadow-filled distance, she saw a traffic signal work through its tiny spectrum and decided to cross the street. For no reason really, the creature could appear on the east side of Woodbine just as easily as on the west, but it seemed like the thing to do. Moving had always been infinitely preferable to waiting around.

Terry's Milk Mart on the north side of Mortimer appeared to be open-it was the only building in the immediate neighborhood still brightly lit-so she crossed toward it.

I can ask a few questions. Buy a bag of chips. Find out…. SHIT! Two men from homicide were in the store talking to a surly looking teenager she could only assume was not the proprietor. Eyes streaming from the sudden glare of the fluorescents, she backed down the six stairs much more quickly than she'd gone up them. She spotted the unmarked car south across Mortimer in the Brewers Retail parking lot-trust the government to light a square of asphalt at almost midnight-and headed in the opposite direction, willing to bet long odds that Celluci had included her in his instructions to his men.

If she remembered correctly, the houses that lined the street were small, virtually identical, detached, two-story, single family dwellings. Not the sort of neighborhood you'd think would attract a vampire. Not that she expected the creature to actually put in an appearance on Woodbine; the street was too well lit, too well traveled, with too great a possibility of witnesses. No, she was putting her money on one of the quiet residential streets tucked in behind.

At Holborne, for no reason she could think of, she turned west. The streetlights were farther apart here and she hurried from one island of sight to the next, trusting to bureaucracy and city planning to keep the sidewalk under her feet. She slipped at one point on a pile of dirt, her bag sliding off her shoulder and slamming hard edges against her knees. Her flashlight beam played over a tiny construction site where a skinny house was rising to fill what had once no doubt been a no larger than average side yard. The creature had killed under circumstances like these once before, but somehow she knew it wouldn't again. She moved on.

The sudden scream of a siren sent her heart up into her throat and she spun around, flashlight raised like a weapon. Back at the corner, a fire engine roared from the station and, tires squealing, turned north up Woodbine.

"Nerves a bit shot, are they, Vicki?" she muttered to herself taking a long, calming breath. Blood pounded in her ears almost loud enough to echo and sweat glued her gloves to her palms. Still a bit shaky with reaction, she made her way to the next streetlight and leaned back against the pole.

The spill of light reached almost to the house, not quite far enough for Vicki to see the building. The bit of lawn she could see looked well cared for-in spite of the spring mud-and along one edge roses, clipped short to survive the cold, waited for spring. It was a working class neighborhood, she knew, and, given the lawn, Vicki was willing to bet that most of the families were Italian or Portuguese as both cultures cared about-and for-the land. If that was the case, many of the houses would be decorated with painted icons of saints, or of the Madonna, or of Christ himself.

She wondered how much protection those icons would offer when the killer came.

Up the street, two golden circles marked a slow moving car. To Vicki, they looked like the eyes of some great beast for the darkness hid the form that followed and the headlights were all she could see. But then, she didn't need to see more to identify it as a police car. Only police on surveillance ever drove at that precise, unchanging speed. She'd done it herself too many times to mistake it now. Fighting the urge to dive out of sight, she turned and strode confidently up the walk toward the house, digging in her bag for an imaginary set of keys.

The car purred by behind her.

Making her way back to the sidewalk, Vicki doubted that her luck could last. Celluci had to have saturated this area with his men. Sooner or later, she had to run into someone she knew-probably Celluci himself-and she wasn't looking forward to explaining just what she was doing roaming about in the middle of a police manhunt.

She continued west along Holborne, marshaling her arguments. I thought you could use an extra pair of eyes. But then, so could she. I doubted you'd be prepared to deal with a vampire. True, but it'd go over like rats in the drunk tank. You have no right to keep me away. Except that they/he did. Every right. It was why there were laws against suicide.

So what am I doing out here anyway? And is this more or less stupid than charging down into a subway station to single-handedly challenge God knows what. The darkness pressed close around her, waiting for an answer. What am I trying to prove?

That in spite of everything I can still be a fully functioning member of society. She snorted. On the other hand, there're a number of fully functioning members of society I'm not likely to run into out here tonight.

Which brought the silent interrogation back around to "just what was she trying to prove," and Vicki decided to leave it there. Things were tough enough without bogging them down further in introspection.

At the corner of Woodmount, she paused. The triple line of streetlights disappeared into the distance to either side and straight ahead. The suspended golden globes were all she could see. Casting about like a hound for a scent, she drew in a deep lungful of the cold night air. All she could smell was earth, damp and musty, freshly exposed by the end of winter. Normally, she liked the smell. Tonight, it reminded her of the grave and she pulled her jacket tighter around her to ward off a sudden chill. In the distance, there was the sound of traffic and farther off still, a dog barked.

There seemed little to choose between the directions, so she turned to her left and headed carefully back south.

A car door slammed.

Vicki's heart slammed up against her ribs in response. This was it. She was as sure of it as she'd ever been of anything in her life.

She started to run. Slowly at first, well aware that a misstep would result in a fall or worse. Her flashlight remained off; she needed the stations of the streetlights to guide her and the flashlight beam confined her sight. At Baker Street, she rocked to a halt.

Where now? Her other senses strained to make up for near blindness.

Metal screamed against wood; nails forced to release their hold.

East. She turned and raced toward it, stumbled, fell, recovered, and went on, trusting her feet to find a path she couldn't see. Fifty running paces from the corner, shadow sight marked something crossing her path. It slipped down the narrow drive between two buildings and when Vicki followed, responding to the instinct of the chase, she could see red taillights burning about a hundred yards away.

It smelled as if something had died at the end of the lane. Like the old lady who'd been found the third week of last August but who'd been killed in her small, airless room around the first of July.

She could hear the car engine running, movement against the gravel, and a noise she didn't want to identify.

The evil that had lingered in the subway tunnel had been only the faintest afterimage of the evil that waited for her here.

A shadow, its parameters undefined, passed between Vicki and the tailight.

Her left hand trailing along a wall of fake brick siding and her right holding the flashlight out before her like the handle of a lance, Vicki pounded up the drive paying no attention to the small, shrill voice of reason that demanded to know just what the hell she thought she was doing.

Something shrieked and the sound drove her back a half dozen steps.

Every dog in the neighborhood began to howl.

Ignoring the cold sweat beading her body and the knot of fear that made each breath a labored fight, Vicki forced herself to move forward again; the six steps regained, then six more…

Half sprawled across the trunk of the car, she turned on the flashlight.

Horror flickered just beyond the beam's farthest edge where a wooden garage door swung haphazardly from a single twisted hinge. Darkness seemed to move within the darkness and Vicki's mind shied away from it so quickly and with such blind panic that it convinced her nothing lingered there at all.

Caught in the light, a young man crouched, one arm flung up to shield his eyes from the glare. At his feet, a body; a bearded man, late thirties, early forties, blood still draining from the ruined throat, thickening and congealing against the gravel. He had been dead before he hit the ground, for only the dead fall with that complete disregard of self that gives them the look of discarded marionettes.

All this Vicki took in at glance. Then the crouching man stood, his open coat spreading and bracketing him like great black leather wings. He took a step toward her, face distorted and eyes squinted nearly shut. Blood had stained his palms and fingers a glistening crimson.

Scrambling in her purse for the heavy silver crucifix she'd acquired that afternoon-and not really, God help her, expected to need-Vicki drew breath to scream for backup. Or maybe just to scream. She never found out which for he took another step toward her and that was all she saw for some time.

Henry caught the young woman as she fell and eased her gently to the gravel. He hadn't wanted to do that, but he couldn't allow her to scream. There were too many things he couldn't explain to the police.

She saw me bending over the body, he thought as he snapped off the flashlight and shoved it into her purse. His too sensitive eyes welcomed the return of night. They felt as though they'd been impaled with hot irons. Got a good look at me, too. Damn. Common sense said he should kill her before she had a chance to expose him. He had strength enough to make it look no different from the other deaths. He would be safe again then.

Henry turned and looked past the body-meat now, nothing more-into the torn earthen floor of the garage where the killer had fled. This night had proven the deaths were in no way his responsibility.

"Damn!" He said it aloud this time as approaching sirens and a car door slamming at the end of the drive reminded him of the need for immediate action. Dropping to one knee, he heaved the unconscious young woman over a shoulder and grabbed up her bag in his free hand. The weight posed no problem; like all of his kind he was disproportionately strong, but her dangling height was dangerously awkward.

"Too damn tall in this century," he muttered, vaulted the chain link fence that bordered the back of the yard, and disappeared with his burden into the night.

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