Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Karen Evans lay among stiff white sheets, watching the steady drip, drip, drip of some clear fluid from the plastic bag hung from a chrome stand beside her bed.
The man sitting in the molded plastic chair beside her was young, with curly black hair. He was dressed casually in a worn sport coat and wash khakis, and he looked nothing like the other doctors who had been ducking into the room to probe and question, or just to peer in through the door since she had awakened several hours earlier. The man had kind eyes and she knew he was only trying to help her. It was just that she did not know what to tell him.
His voice came to her now, the pleasant baritone rising above the small electronic beep of the machine that they had explained was there to monitor her heartbeat, and she forced herself to look at him, following the movements of his lips and trying to make sense of the individual sounds coming out of his mouth…. “…if you can remember what you saw…. help us find out what happened…. Ferdinand…. Terry…”
Karen nodded, wondering perhaps if Ferd and Terry had seen the ghostly creature too. If they had, then perhaps the doctors wouldn’t think she was crazy…. The thought made her feel a little better and she wished she could talk to them. She suddenly remembered that the thing had been standing at the top of the stairs leading to the upper bedroom, round yellow eyes glowing in the firelight…. Of course. Ferd and Terry had been up there in the bedroom. She had heard them moving about. Heard something crash to the floor. They must have seen it too…. been startled by it as she had been.
She pushed herself up onto her elbows, wincing at the sharp bite of the needle they’d taped in place on the inside of her left arm. The man with the kind eyes smiled encouragingly, reaching out to help adjust the pillow behind her back and clicking on the tiny black tape recorder he’d set on the wheeled tray at the side of the bed.
“It was all white,” she said, “with big yellow eyes….. and it was looking down at me…” She closed her eyes and a vivid image of the horrible face flashed before her. “It had these…huge teeth, and I was afraid… No, I knew it was going to attack me…”
The man in the plastic chair nodded sympathetically and bent to scribble something onto the clipboard balanced across his knees.
Vince Wright sat at a tiny metal desk in the cramped confines of the office behind the booking area in the Sheriff’s Department’s modern headquarters, staring down at the stack of paperwork he’d just finished filling out. A double homicide at Condor Lake. He still couldn’t believe it. According to the coroner’s initial report, the two kids had already been dead for several hours when he’d driven past the silent cabin on his way home this morning. The others, if Jimmy Hudson’s story was to be believed–and he had no reason to doubt the kid–had spent the night in the cabin, unaware of the two corpses lying in the blood spattered upstairs bedroom.
“Christ!” The word bounced off the green block walls of the stark office and hung there. Vince reached for the Styrofoam cup beside the paperwork, raised it mechanically to his lips. He gagged on the bitter dregs of the cold coffee, rubbing his lips with the back of one hairy hand, and slid the stack of glossy pictures from their manila envelope for the tenth time. The pretty freckled face of Terry Quinn, aged nineteen, gazed up at him over the ruin of her torn throat. She looked surprised.
Vince allowed his eyes to drift guiltily down to the girl’s naked torso. Terry Quinn had possessed a magnificent pair of breasts.
Sliding the photo to the bottom of the stack, he looked at Ferdinand Kramer’s picture. Unlike the girl, the kid had put up a struggle. The shattered remains of a bedside lamp lay on the floor beside him and his body was contorted among the blood-soaked sheets in an attitude that suggested he had been trying to get the hell away from his killer.
Vince frowned, remembering the acrid slaughterhouse smell of the tiny bedroom when he had burst in after being summoned to the cabin by young Jimmy, and the same question that had burned itself into his brain at that moment returned again. The Kramer kid was big. Big and, despite his beer belly, strong. How in the hell would anybody have been able to overcome him so quickly without his having made enough noise to have been heard halfway around the lake? It was something the detectives up in Homicide were going to lose a lot of sleep over. One for the books. And why pick on a bunch of penniless college kids in the first place? Condor lake was lined with expensive weekend cabins loaded with stereos, televisions, ski equipment. Hell, his own cabin was full of saleable items….
The reflection made him think guiltily about Annie. She had been up there alone in their cabin last night while he had been out on the road helping a bunch of total strangers. Suppose the killer had selected the modern cabin with the new Jeep parked out in front instead of the Kramer place…? He glanced at his watch, wondering if Annie had arrived home yet. He knew she’d worry when she saw the yellow crime scene tape stretched around the Kramer cabin and he wanted to be able to reassure her that it wasn’t anything to worry about.
Vince closed his eyes, trying to remember what Annie had said about her plans for today’s activities. He thought her lecture at the college had been scheduled for mid-morning, following a faculty breakfast. Afterwards, she was to have lunched with the dean of her old school before attending a three P.M. seminar where she was to lead a discussion group and answer students’ questions about screen writing and the motion picture industry. He thought she’d said she expected to be through around five.
It was nearly five now. Assuming Annie finished up within the next few minutes, and considering the hour it would take her to drive back up to the lake, Vince didn’t really expect her to arrive home before six. He picked up the phone anyway.
He was listening to the sound of his own voice on the answering machine when the door opened and Chuck Thomas, the department’s genial staff psychologist ducked in and helped himself to a cup of coffee from the warmer on a filing cabinet across from the desk.
Vince left a message for Annie, telling her he’d be home as soon as possible and explaining that there had been a killing at the Kramer place. As an afterthought, he reminded her to keep the doors locked until he arrived home, although he assured her it was very unlikely that the killer had remained in the area as the place had been crawling with police all day.
He hung up and raised his eyebrows at Thomas, who was leaning against the file cabinet watching him. “Did you see the Evans girl?”
The psychologist nodded, sipping his coffee and grimacing at the bitter taste. “Jesus, where do you guys get this stuff?”
Vince frowned in annoyance. Karen Evans had, according to her boyfriend’s halting tale, gotten a look at the killer. She had been unconscious when Vince arrived at the cabin and hadn’t come around until hours after she’d been airlifted down to the Medical Center at Loma Linda. Even after she’d regained consciousness the girl had refused to talk. “Did she say anything?” he asked impatiently.
Thomas set his cup on the cabinet and picked up his clipboard. “Oh she said a mouthful,” he nodded, scanning the notes. “Only trouble is, none of it makes any sense at all. Listen to this. She saw some kind of an animal with glowing yellow eyes and big teeth. The thing was all white, hairless except for the top of its head, and it jumped twenty-five or thirty feet over her, stopped at the front door to look back, then ran away into the woods.”
Vince stared at the other man, searching his face for some trace of a smile. He was bone tired following a sleepless night and hours at the Kramer place and Thomas was pissing him off. “Dammit, somebody committed a double homicide in my jurisdiction and you’re telling jokes,” he exploded.
“‘Fraid it’s no joke, my friend,” said the psychologist. “I wish it was.”
Vince rubbed his eyes, trying to drive away the fierce jolts of pain from the headache building behind his forehead. “Then what?” he snapped.
Thomas shrugged. “I’m labeling it paranoid delusion, for the time being. The shrinks over at Loma Linda will have to make a real diagnosis after they work her up, but I figure the Evans girl got a good look the killer up close and personal and she’s blocking.”
“Blocking? Why?” Vince was confused.
“Could be lots of reasons. Maybe her subconscious is telling her that if she dares to remember, the killer will come back for her. Maybe there’s some traumatic experience in her past and her mind is trying to protect itself from a repeat of the old pain….” He paused, lifting the coffee cup and peering distastefully at its thick black contents. “Or maybe,” he finally said, “whatever she saw was so fucking horrible she’s chosen to cloak it in the form of this imaginary creature, as opposed to the alternative.”
“Which is?” Vince was leaning forward now.
Thomas shrugged again and took another swallow of the coffee. “Loony Tunes, man. The nice men in the little white coats with the butterfly nets.”
“You’re a head case yourself, you know that Thomas?” Vince smiled ruefully.
The psychologist dumped his coffee into the wastebasket and picked up his clipboard. “Takes one to know one,” he grinned, tucking the board under his arm. “Well, I gotta go deliver the bad news to Fearless Fosdick and his boy wonders up in homicide. They ain’t gonna be happy either, but that’s all we’ve got until forensics or the computer nerds turn up something.”
Vince sank wearily back in the hard desk chair. A white animal! He suddenly remembered the strange childlike footprints in the snow around his own cabin the night before… He frowned. The footprints that had disappeared into the woods in the direction of the Kramer cabin….
The office door opened again and a uniformed deputy named Olson stuck his head inside. Vince looked up, allowing the thought to evaporate.
“Hey Wright, you own a red 2012 Jeep Cherokee?”
He nodded slowly. What in the hell did Annie’s car have to do with anything? “Yeah, it’s my wife’s actually…”
“Better get up to the Chief Deputy’s office,” Olson interrupted.
Vince jumped to his feet, suddenly alarmed. “What is it?” he demanded. “Has Annie been in an accident?”
The other deputy shook his head. “I haven’t got a clue, pal. They just told me to find out if it was yours and if so, to get your ass upstairs.”
Vince’s head began to pound as he followed the other man to the bank of elevators at the opposite end of the deserted booking room.
Sheriffs Homicide Inspector Fred Frolich–familiarly known, because of his slick black hair and the prominently pin-striped suits he favored, as Fearless Fosdick–sat at the end of a highly polished conference table, thumbing through a hastily assembled assortment of files and reports contained in an unmarked black folder. After a few moments he looked up to regard Chief Deputy Sanford, a paunchy old-timer with a string tie and a western cut tan suit. Sanford peered at the small detective over the tops of wire-rimmed glasses that seemed perpetually doomed to slip off the tip of his bulbous nose. “Well?” he demanded.
Frolich nodded. “Yeah.” He glanced again at the file on the top of his stack and shut it with a decisive slapping noise. “It’s crazier than hell, but yeah.”
Sanford’s heavy leather chair creaked and he swiveled around to face the nervous young man who had been standing at his shoulder since Frolich entered the room some minutes before. “That was a first class piece of detective work, son. First Class.”
The young man blushed, reaching up to fumble with the collection of ballpoint pens tucked into the pocket of his short sleeved white shirt. “Thank you, Sir.”
Sanford beamed at him for an additional few seconds. “Now you go on back down to that computer of yours and see what else you can turn up for me on this.”
“Yessir.” The youngster nodded gratefully, backing toward the door.
“And son,” cautioned the fat chief deputy, “you keep this business to yourself until we know what all we actually got here, y’understand?”
The young man’s pockmarked face bobbed up and down again, setting his shoulder length curls bouncing, and he slipped out through the double doors as if he were escaping.
“What’s that boy’s name anyway?” asked Sanford, reaching with pudgy fingers for his gold fountain pen.
“Johannsen, I think,” said Frolich. “The kid is really amazing. Got a couple of degrees in computer engineering from Cal Poly, I hear. Could have gone into the space program if he’d wanted to.”
Sanford scrawled something onto a pad embossed with the gold shield of the Department. “Son of a bitch could use a haircut,” he grumbled.
“How do you want to handle this, Sir?” Frolich held up the black folder of computer printouts that Johannsen had personally delivered to him a few hours earlier.
“Like a cratefull of rotten eggs,” snorted Sanford. “All this high-tech computer crap is fine, but if it backfires on us I don’t want to find myself standing in the middle of no shitstorm.” He extracted a fat green cigar from the pocket of his suit coat and gazed wistfully at it. He still couldn’t believe the fucking ecology freaks on the City Council had banned all smoking in public buildings. He would have lit up anyway, but the bastards had gone and removed all the goddam ashtrays too. Pocketing the forbidden cigar, he refocused on the homicide detective. “You know what it would mean to the Department if we pulled this one off,” he said.
Frolich grinned. “Well, for starters, we could make those arrogant bastards over in L.A. County look like a bunch of dimwitted pud pullers.”
Sanford’s overworked chair creaked as he leaned back and folded his hands contentedly across his enormous belly. The sheriff was vacationing in the Bahamas and his chief deputy was still burning over a joint drug bust that his people had developed out of a year’s investigation into thousands of kilos of high grade cocaine entering Los Angeles by way of air drops into the local mountains.
Sanford had stupidly turned all his information over to the pricks from Los Angeles, and when the seizure had gone down the L.A. sheriffs and police had taken the lion’s share of the credit. His own department got nothing. Sanford saw this as his chance to get a little payback. “Let’s not forget the LAPD boys down there at Parker Center,” he smiled. “They got them a little credit comin’ too. And you know how they just love to get on that TV.”
There was a brisk knock at the door. Sanford straightened, folding his hands on the polished mahogany surface of the table and assuming his accustomed businesslike scowl. He watched over the tops of his glasses as Deputy Vince Wright stepped into the room and looked nervously at Frolich. “You sent for me, Sir?”
Sanford waved him to a chair. “Relax, Deputy,” he smiled. “First of all,” I got some good news for you. “Your wife is perfectly OK. She called in here a while ago and we’ve got a car on the way over to the college in Redlands to pick her up.”
Vince sat silently watching the little detective, trying to absorb the information.
“It appears,” said Frolich, sensing his confusion, “that someone stole your wife’s Jeep from the Redlands University parking lot sometime this morning while she was giving a lecture. CHP reported it wrecked on the I-10 approaching downtown L.A.”
Vince’s worried expression collapsed into a relieved grin. To hell with the car, as long as Annie was all right. He started to speak but Frolich laid a restraining hand on his arm.
“That’s not quite all,” said the detective. “From what we’ve been able to piece together so far, it would appear that the perpetrator of the double homicide up at Condor Lake made his way down to Redlands this morning in your wife’s vehicle….”
“What?” Vince was on his feet, staring at the nattily dressed inspector.
“Since your wife evidently saw nothing, we can only assume that the killer must have been stowed away in the back of her vehicle.” He paused to consult his notes. “She said there were some sleeping bags in the cargo area…”
Vince sank numbly into his chair. “We keep them in there… just in case we get stuck in the snow,” he muttered. Annie, alone in the car with a murderer!
Frolich nodded impatiently. “At any rate, it gets a bit confusing after that. The vehicle was wrecked about noon. CHP found another body inside… victim expired the same way as the two up at the lake.” He looked up at Vince. “Best we can figure is that the killer waited until your wife left the vehicle, then stole it and headed for L.A., picking up two hitchhikers along the way….”
“Two… But you said you found one body….”
“The second hitcher was apparently killed on the road, following the wreck,” said Frolich.
Vince nodded dumbly. His mind was reeling. He looked around to see Sanford lumbering toward him, a china cup of steaming coffee clutched daintily in his massive paw. Vince gratefully accepted the brew and took a scalding sip, surprised to discover that it had nothing whatsoever in common with the booking room coffee downstairs. Sanford eased his bulk into a chair beside him and he found himself looking directly into the Chief Deputy’s piggish eyes.
“Now there’s a bit more to all this than meets the eye, Deputy Wright,” said the fat man, “which is why I called you up here straightaway.” He snapped his fingers and Frolich placed the black computer file into his hand. “One of our boy geniuses down in the computer center ran the preliminary reports on the two lake killings through the new Serious Crimes profiling program he’s been putting together, and he came up with a match.”
Vince reached for the file, but Sanford held on to it.
“This is just a bunch of computer gobbledygook,” he smiled, “but what it tells the brain trust downstairs is that what we got ourselves here is a serial murderer.”
“A very big and important serial murderer,” Frolich interjected. “Ever hear of The Sorority Row Killer?”
Vince turned to look at Frolich. The homicide detective’s eyes were gleaming with excitement. “The guy who killed all of those college coeds back in the eighties?” Vince barely remembered the well-publicized case, which had been at its peak of notoriety when he was still in high school.
“twenty-three confirmed victims,” Frolich intoned. “All young, all college girls and a few boyfriends. The killer started at UCLA and worked his way through USC, Loyola, Long Beach State…”
“For a while they were calling him The Vampire Killer,” Sanford snorted, “’cause he always slashed the throats of his victims…”
Vince nodded, suddenly recalling the sick nervous jokes that had circulated around school at the time of the killings: Why do they call him The Vampire Killer? Because he sucks. “But I thought they caught that guy,” he said.
Sanford’s grin caught him by surprise. “Did better’n that,” said the corpulent Chief Deputy, “they caught him and executed him.”
“Well, not exactly,” said Frolich. “They caught and executed somebody. But The Sorority Row Killer, or The Vampire, if you like, killed those two college kids up at Condor Lake last night, so the wrong guy got the gas.”
Vince stared at him in disbelief. “But the guy they caught was some kind of a Vampire freak. I remember hearing how they found all these Dracula books and costumes in his apartment…”
Sanford’s fat jowls swung from side to side. “Just his bad luck, I guess, ’cause it definitely wasn’t him.” He extracted a single sheet of paper from the black folder and passed it to Vince. “This has been classified for years, but the USC campus police set out a female officer as a decoy one night. The Vampire attacked her and she actually got off a couple of shots at him.” Sanford pointed to a paragraph halfway down the page. “Read what she says she saw.”
Vince could feel his pulse beginning to race as he read aloud from the woman officer’s sworn statement, “…a slender, catlike figure with glowing yellow eyes and sharp exposed teeth. Its skin was dead white, the color of milk….” He looked up at the two senior officers, a feeling of dread growing in the pit of his stomach. “I don’t understand,” he murmured.
“They thought that USC female officer was crazy,” said Frolich, “just like the head shrinkers down at Loma Linda think Karen Evans has gone nuts.”
“But they’re not crazy,” Sanford chimed in. “They saw this nutcase all dressed up like some kind of an animal to kill people, and he’s still out there. The L.A.P.D. caught the wrong crackpot.”
Vince nodded, overwhelmed by exhaustion and suddenly wanting nothing more than to go back home and cuddle in front of the fire with Annie. He didn’t know why they were telling him all of this. Didn’t want to know.
“We need your help on this one, Vince.” Frolich’s voice was low and syrupy.
Vince laughed, a weak sound. “Me? Hey, Inspector, I’m just a dumb road jockey. I write speeding tickets and help old ladies get their cars unstuck from the snow…”
Frolich raised his hands good-naturedly. “Hear me out on this,” he said. “Only four people in this department know what we’re onto here. Now you’re going to have to go into L.A. to reclaim your vehicle. If you’re on this case as well…” He left the statement hanging.
“This is going to be a very important case for this department, Vince,” Sanford added. “The biggest ever. You’ll be able to write your own ticket.”
Vince stared at him.
“The important thing,” Frolich interrupted, “is finding the creep who killed those kids. After the way they botched it before, we’re very reluctant to hand this over to LAPD.”
Vince nodded wearily. Christ, they’d executed the wrong guy, some poor demented asshole who happened to be a Dracula fan. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.
A triumphant glance passed between Frolich and Sanford and the fat chief deputy clapped Vince on the shoulder. “First of all,” he smiled, “you go get that little wife of yours and take her home and get you some sleep. We’ll send a car up to the lake in the morning to take you into L.A. to I.D. your vehicle and see what you can find out. In the meantime, we’re putting out a standard want for the killer, we’re just keeping this vampire stuff to ourselves until we bring him in. Fair enough?”
Vince nodded his agreement with the chief deputy’s plan. It did sound reasonable and he could see no harm in keeping the detail of the killer’s true identity secret, for the moment at least.
He got up to leave, secretly glad at least that he was going to get a chance to track down the cold blooded bastard who had murdered the kids in the Kramer cabin then used his wife to make good his escape.