Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
Snow, and lots of it.
Annie stood at her study window, sipping tea and looking out at the heavy flakes disappearing into the tall stand of pines in front of the house. It had started sometime during the night and there was already at least a foot of new powder piled against the railings of the redwood deck below. Although she had planned on snowmobiling up to the remote cabins with Vince today, she sincerely doubted that he was going to want to make the long cold trek in this weather.
Besides, it was shaping up to be a perfect day for some serious writing.
“Still coming down hard?”
She turned to see him standing in the office doorway, buttoning up his uniform shirt. “Like crazy. May I presume our excursion is off?”
He nodded curtly, fumbling to tuck the tails of the freshly starched shirt into his trousers and frowning at the catch on his military style belt buckle. “Bastard!”
“Hey, something wrong?” She walked over to him and took the belt in hand, slipping the free end through the brass keeper and squeezing the hidden clasp shut, then raised his chin, forcing him to look at her.
“I just talked to Frolich,” he said. “He told me to get back to traffic and forget about checking out the cabins.”
“The Killer took four more victims in L.A. last night,” he said bitterly. “That’s why.”
Annie’s mouth fell open. “Four?”
“Not only that, but all our theories about a crazed environmentalist holing up here somewhere are straight out the window. One of last night’s victims was a software consultant who was leaving a Fancy restaurant. Evidently, our man came off like an expert street mugger. He demanded money at knife-point, and when the victim didn’t come across, he killed him.
“You mean somebody actually saw him?”
He nodded. “Unfortunately, the killer was also savvy enough to track down the witness a few hours later. She was visiting from out of town with a couple of other women…” Vince hesitated, running over the sketchy details of Frolich’s briefing in his mind. “Somehow the killer figured out where she was staying, got into her hotel room and murdered all three of them.”
“Oh my God, how awful.” Annie went to the portable warmer on the shelf beside the window and added more hot water to her tea. “How did he find out where she was staying?”
Vince shook his head, still puzzling over the information. “That’s the weird part. Correction, one of the weird parts. The woman was wearing her purse on a shoulder strap throughout the mugging and she told the police she ran as soon as the attack began, so he never got anything from her. Yet he managed to find out where she was staying, called the hotel to confirm her room number and was evidently waiting for her when she got back from giving her statement, having already murdered her two companions.”
Annie sipped her tea. “You said that was one of the weird parts. What else?”
“Frolich says LAPD knows who the killer is.”
She stared at him.
“The mugging victim was killed in exactly the same way as the two kids at the Kramer place.”
“His throat was ripped out?”
“Yeah. But the witness and her two friends at the hotel both had their throats slashed with a razor. The L.A. Coroner says that one was definitely the work of Straight Razor Dan. They think maybe he’s been using the razor all along to cover up his actual method of killing”
Annie felt her knees grow suddenly weak. She slumped into the green IKEA chair before her desk. Straight Razor Dan, Southern California’s most notorious serial killer, had been hiding in the back of her Jeep, a few feet behind her… She looked up at Vince. His eyes were focused on the swirling sheets of snow falling from the leaden sky beyond the window and he was still talking.
“…the only thing that doesn’t fit.”
“What?” she asked dully. “What doesn’t fit?”
Vince lowered his eyes, noticing that the color had drained from her face. “Hon, are you OK?”
She nodded, sipping her tea and trying to control the feeling of dread that had crept into her stomach as she had listened to his account of these latest crimes. Something was wrong here. Very wrong. “What doesn’t fit?” she asked.
Vince hesitated, searching her eyes. He was sorry now that he’d even mentioned Straight Razor Dan. Idiot, the bastard could have taken Annie as easily as he’d taken her Jeep the other day. She’d barely had time to recover from her brush with the still anonymous murderer of the kids in the Kramer place and here he was bringing it all back; making it worse by filling her head with visions of the coldest, most brutal son-of-a-bitch to stalk the Southland since Charlie Manson.
“Look,” he said, glancing at his watch, “how about going downstairs and changing the subject. I’ve still got time for another cup of coffee….”
“What doesn’t fit, Vince?”
He took her hand, pulling her to her feet. “I’ll tell you,” he said, wrapping her protectively in his arms, “’cause you’re going to see it in the papers anyway, but you have to promise me you won’t worry about it. The guy is gone. Out of here. Nothing else is going to happen to us.” Vince smiled ruefully, recalling Frolich’s harsh admonishment of a few minutes earlier. “This isn’t one of your paperback novels where the murderer always returns to the scene of the crime, Annie. If that happened in real life we’d catch all the bad guys in about a week…”
“What doesn’t fit?” She was ignoring the jibe.
“Well, the three women in the hotel were all pretty badly….assaulted…”
“In other words, they were brutally raped?”
He nodded. “That doesn’t match Straight Razor Dan’s profile”
“No,” she said thoughtfully, “or The Pale Spirit of Condor Lake either. Most of his victims were men.”
“Annie,” he said firmly, “that old story has nothing to do with these killings. Straight Raz…. the killer must have just been up here for a day or two, then he left. This has nothing to do with Condor Lake anymore”
She thought for a moment longer, shaking her head. “No, Vince. That’s bullshit! Straight Razor Dan was never up here. He couldn’t have killed those kids.”
He glared at her. “What do you mean, bullshit? I got this information straight from Frolich, who was reading the LAPD reports. Most of what I’ve told you won’t even be released to the media until later today.”
“Then Frolich and the LAPD are all full of shit and they had better get their act together before the six o’clock news,” Annie said vehemently. Before Vinve could react she scurried across the room and dug around in the wicker file basket beside the computer on her desk. “Here,” she said, thrusting a folded section of the L.A. Times Inland Empire edition at him.
Vince scanned the paper from three days ago. He had already read the prominently featured story about the killings at the Kramer place and the subsequent recovery of Annie’s wrecked Jeep by the LAPD, following its crash on the I-10. “What?” He was growing annoyed with her pushy attitude. Her half-baked theory was way off base and he’d already embarrassed himself by presenting it to Frolich like some over eager rookie. Presented it and gotten his butt thoroughly chewed.”
Annie peered around his arm and pointed to a smaller article to the left of the main new story. “There!” she said. “Read that.”
He looked at the smaller story, reading aloud.
CHINESE THEATER MURDER VICTIM IDENTIFIED
Police have identified the victim of Friday’s
bizarre murder in a crowded balcony of Mann’s
Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard as
Mary Katherine O’Donnel, 22, an actress who
had resided in the Hollywood area for about
two years. O’Donnel, who acted under the
name of Ashley Ryan, was a native of Styles,
LAPD spokesman Lt. David Hoyle said that
some confusion over O’Donnel’s stage name had
resulted in “a slight delay” in notifying her
next of kin. The murder, which took place
shortly after the beginning of a nine P.M.
showing of a newly released action film, has
been attributed to the elusive serial killer
known as Straight Razor Dan….
“OK,” he said, handing the paper back to her, “this just confirms Frolich’s theory that the killer wasn’t local to Condor Lake. Straight Razor Dan killed this girl in Hollywood some time after nine P.M. on the night of the killings up here. The coroner and the Hudson boy both agree the kids in the cabin died around three A.M. That gave the killer five hours to get to the lake. With no traffic, it’s an easy two hour drive…”
“What about the footprints you saw on our deck before you went out? What time was that, ten, ten-thirty?”
He shook his head, thinking. “Around ten, but….”
“So, if the person who killed the girl in Hollywood was prowling around on our deck before ten, he made a two hour trip in under an hour,” Annie said. “But even if we forget about the footprints and assume that Straight Razor Dan killed the girl in Hollywood, then jumped into his car and made a beeline for Condor Lake, he still couldn’t have possibly gotten here in time to kill those kids.”
“Why not?” Vince asked warily. Something was nagging insistently at the back of his mind; something he already knew that proved her point…”
“The big wreck on the grade,” she grinned triumphantly. “You were out there all night, Vince. You said you had to turn back the cars trying to get up here from L.A.. What time was the wreck, ten-fifteen, ten-thirty?”
He didn’t waste time answering the largely rhetorical question. He was already pushing past her, grabbing the phone on her desk to punch in Frolich’s direct number. “Remind me to apologize to you,” he said while he waited for the homicide chief’s number to ring. “I’m a stupid jerk and you are a beautiful and talented genius.”
Rollo Castle lay tangled in a heap of sweaty sheets, clutching the telephone upside down in the semidarkness of his tiny bedroom. The voice on the other end of the line was cold, insistent, prodding him to wake up.
“Who the hell is this?” he groaned, fumbling for his counterfeit gold Rolex. Eight o’clock! “Who the fuck is this?” he yelled, realizing that he had been disturbed a full two hours before he ever even thought about getting up. “Remy, you little bastard, if that’s you….”
The voice said something else and Rollo’s blood went cold, despite the cloying heat of the room. Him! It was him! “Yeah,” he said, forcing himself to a sitting position and attempting to inject a harmless note of cheer into his voice. “Sorry, I thought you were my assistant….”
Him! What the fuck did he want now?
Rollo heard a soft moan beside him and looked over to see Marissa turning restlessly in her sleep. The sheets were twisted around her waist in such a way that one tantalizingly long leg extended below a firm golden buttock. Jesus, what a lay! With her face turned toward the opposite wall the way it was, Rollo could easily envision her form gracing the centerfold of Playboy or, better yet, Penthouse.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m awake now. Sorry. What can I do for ya?” He was seized with a sudden desire to lay his hand on Marissa’s baby soft bottom and wished only for the vampire on the other end of the phone to get to the point. So far, all he’d done was ramble on about needing the Oracle and his gold medallion. Rollo had calmed down a little now that the first shock of hearing the thing’s voice was past and he decided that if the crazy fucker wanted to keep paying him outrageous fees to mumbo-jumbo, that was fine, as long as he kept those envelopes coming.
“What? Yeah I got a car.” Shit! Now the bastard was gonna ask him to meet him someplace. Well, fuck that. He was the Oracle, wasn’t he? Let the son of a bitch come to the store.
“What?” The low, insistent voice was speaking again, issuing directions, instructions. “Wait a minute,” Rollo interrupted. “I’d really love to help you out, but I got the store to look after…” Actually, he was planning on closing the fucking dump early and catching an afternoon flight to Vegas with Marissa.
The voice continued over his objections, the soft, insistent tone changing subtly, demanding. The chill returned to Rollo’s blood and he remembered Mama’s warning, “You belong to them.”
“I see,” Rollo said. “I’m real sorry to hear that…. Yeah, sure. In that case…. Yeah, if its that important… Just a minute.” He swung his feet over the side of the bed and stumbled naked to the cluttered dresser. “Yeah,” he said, sorting through a jumble of coins and dirty underwear for something to write with, “let me find a pencil.” He located a stub of yellow pencil in an ashtray and snatched a laundry ticket from a box of shirts. “Okay, give me that address again. Four o’clock. How do I get there?”
He scribbled the directions on the back of the ticket. “Got it,” he said. “I hope this won’t take too long because I got an important business meet….” Rollo heard a soft click of the receiver on the other end disconnecting.
“Shit!” he whispered, squinting at the directions in his hand. “Shit!”
He looked up to see Marissa sitting up in bed, rubbing sleepily at her eyes with balled fists. “Rollo?”
He stared at her nose for a moment, considering how big it really was. Big!
“Rollo?” She spotted him across the room and raised her arms. The sheet slipped to her waist, revealing the outline of her breasts. Rollo’s eyes rolled down her perfect body like the ball bearings in that car commercial that’s supposed to demonstrate how even the seams are between hood and fender. “Right here, baby,” he crooned, waddling across the matted carpet and diving for her.
“Ohhhh, Rollo,” she giggled, catching him in a hammerlock with those incredible legs, “today we go Waygas, yes?”
“Tomorrow, baby,” he gasped.
“Tomorrow?” She regarded him with huge liquid eyes that reminded him of one of those ragged cartoon kids you see painted on plates.
“Absolutely,” he promised.
Straight Razor Dan sat naked in the corner, regarding the telephone. After returning from the hotel where he had killed and raped the women, he had fallen into a deep sleep, completely sated for the first time in days.
The vampire had been taken completely by surprise at the unexpected arrival of the first two females. He had been lying in wait for the other when the door connecting her room to the one next door had swung open and the pair, ridiculous in plastic ears and Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, had burst in to find him on April’s bed. One of them had screamed and he had taken her down with a quick slashing motion of his fighting teeth, turning his attention to the other, a pretty redhead. She had merely whimpered, shrinking before him as he had fixed her in his predator’s gaze and ordered her to disrobe.
He had taken them one after the other, resting to feed lightly from their open throats after dragging them back into the adjoining hotel room. He had thought merely to kill the third one when she arrived. The extent of his lust had surprised even him when the sight of her ripped and flimsy red garment had aroused him yet a third time.
The vampire understood in retrospect that it was good there had been three females. For after he had sated himself with them, the primal urges that had so confused and clouded his judgement had subsided completely and his mind was once again functioning with absolute clarity. He wondered if the police would attribute the murders of the women to Straight Razor Dan, or if they would open a new file and apply a new name to the killer who slashed and raped his victims. He realized that he had been rendered incredibly stupid as a result of the bitch’s influence. In future, he vowed, he would use as many of the female prey as necessary in order to keep his wits about him.
He had awakened with the dawn, his rage of the night before reduced to a smouldering ember. By the time he had placed the telephone call to the Gypsy, his plan for retrieving the bitch had been fully formed. She was young and inexperienced in the ways of the city and thus had very few options open to her. He was certain he knew exactly what she would do in her fright and confusion, and he had prepared accordingly.
With the authority of the Oracle backing him, the vampire prince expected little difficulty in persuading her to return to her rightful place. After he had her back he could concern himself at his leisure with punishing her betrayal. He hoped the uncharacteristically stormy Southern California weather would not present a problem.
Reaching for the black telephone with his pale fingers, he dialed a number and listened to a recorded message.