The naked woman was no longer naked, though she looked a bit bewildered while practically swimming inside Rusty’s oversized hoodie and sweatpants.
Once Amanda had made her exit getting the naked woman into some clothes was Rusty’s first priority. Unceremoniously tugging his fleece-wear free from his dresser bottom drawer, he looked away while he held the top out to the woman. She looked the hooded sweatshirt up and down like it were a drift net but then a light seemed to blink on in her eyes and she turned and shot her arms into the sleeves.
Rolling down the sweat pants, Rusty bundled the leg openings at her feet. The woman stared down, still quite befuddled. Keeping his eyes directed as far from her glossy loins as possible he took her right foot and planted it into the pant-leg and waited. When it was clear the woman had no intention of stepping into the other pant leg, he delicately lifted and dropped her other foot into the adjacent opening.
Rusty kept his eyes planted on the floor between the woman’s bare feet, waiting for her to crouch and grab for the waistband. The moment never came. Daring only half a glance, Rusty cocked his right eye upward. From just above the rise of the gaping jacket the woman stared down at him, her chin flush to her sternum bearing a smile like Rusty had never seen; it was a bright smile, a little girl’s smile, trusting and open and full of sunbeams.
Rusty sighed. Shifting his gaze to the stucco ceiling, he rose, wincing a little as he drug the elastic band of the sweatpants up and over the swell of the woman’s bare hips. With the pants snug about her waist, Rusty quickly unhooked his thumbs from the elastic band. He then warily directed his attention to the zipper dangling from the bottom of the hoodie. Noting the creamy curve of her partially exposed breasts, he immediately sent his eyes to the shrubbery rustling beyond his bedroom window. His hands trembled as he blindly struggled to thread the male side of the zipper into the female. Fumbling to connect the two tiny devices took a lifetime. Once hooked, he drug the metal tab up to her neck. Exhaling with relief he looked back into the woman’s face. Her bright and beaming expression was unchanged.
“Okay, good.” He stuttered. “Got you settled. Okay. Good.” Giving her a brief and gentlemanly nod, Rusty slowly backed away from where the woman stood in her pool of quiet, smiling calm.
Now that he had her clothed, it was time to call the authorities. Rusty walked into the living room and contemplated the telephone where it sat on the coffee table. Did he dial 911? Was this an actual emergency? Or did he just dial the police department? He didn’t know, but before he could put the receiver to his ear a screech shredded the quiet air of the bungalow and the giant great horned owl bore down on him with talons outthrust and wings that filled scope of his vision. Once again, Rusty promptly passed out.
License to Live
It had been years since Former Coroner Ron had ridden in the backseat of a moving vehicle, let alone had enough room to actually sprawl out and relax his girth. After years of tucking himself into his battered old Mazda, he’d grown accustomed to compressing the extra folds of his body together in the little metal box in order to get from one place to another. Though he felt awkward seated behind the FBI agents, the spacious passenger seats of the late-model sedan gave Former Coroner Ron’s knees permission to drift to opposite poles and his shoulders to drop. He tilted his head back and took a deep breath.
Detective Reasoner sat to his left, a thumb tucked into the Boyette file as a place-holder, his eyes staring vacantly into the passing night streets.
“You said that you’ve been on the case for quite some time?” Former Coroner Ron addressed the front seat and no one in particular.
“Yes,” said Paulus.
“Interminable.” Countered Castro.
“We’d appreciate any input you can give us at this stage,” said Castro.
“Any input,” followed Paulus.
The odd patter between these two men amused Goltry. He stared at the backs of their heads, wondering over the total lack of pretense between the two. They didn’t do this on purpose. They were like the cliché of the ancient married couple, or twins. Or clones.
As the Bureau-issued sedan rounded the corner to the cul-de-sac, Former Coroner Ron was surprised to see his old Mazda still parked where he’d left it. Looking rusted and forlorn under the streetlamp, it waited as though aware it would not be towed and impounded or thats its owner would not remain in police custody for longer than half a night and a day.
“Detective Reasoner,” said Castro unfastening his seat belt.
“If you would be so kind as to walk us through the evening of the murder?” Paulus added while doing the same.
Exiting the car, Reasoner released a long simmering sigh and pulling out a single sheet of paper, read aloud as the quartet walked toward the darkened house.
“May 19th, approximately 8:40 pm. Single mother, Patty Boyette (aged 32) and her daughter Connie (aged 6)—“
Connie, age 6, 4 feet, ½ inches.
“Are at home. Autopsy indicates they both had a small meal at least three hours before time of death. Killer accessed the home via unknown entrance. CSI found no indication forced entry.”
The quartet were now retracing Former Coroner Ron’s entrance to the rear of the house and this gave him a moment of pause. Why weren’t they simply walking through the front door?
“Victims were caught completely unawares. Interior of the home shows no signs of struggle, no overturned or broken household items…” Reasoner droned on as Agent Castro reached over the top of the fence gate, popping the latch just as Former Coroner Ron had a mere 12 hours before.
“Splatter analysis indicates the killer was diminutive in height. Weapon or weapons possibly custom-made device with multiple serrated edges…”
During Reasoner’s monotone monologue the two FBI agents shuffled through the dew-ripe grass to the center of the Boyette backyard. Standing elbow-to-elbow and silhouetted by the streetlamp from the next block over, they looked to Former Coroner Ron like two blocky paper dolls.
As Former Coroner Ron waded through the soaking wet grass he spied Castro silently lift a finger and gesture to the northern corner of the yard while Paulus inclined his head and gave nod.
Following the silent twin agents’ gaze, Former Coroner Ron’s eyes came to rest on the sandbox. Once smooth save for a collection of rain and drizzle pockmarks, the sandbox surface was now turned asunder. Shouldering past the FBI agents, Former Corner Ron dropped his head like a bird dog and made for the corner of the yard.
Casting his bulky shadow over the tiny square of sand, Former Coroner Ron’s eyes quickly adjusted to the gloom. The sandbox surface was freshly turned, the moist sand underneath still a darker, more fecund color than the outer crust. And here and there odd shapes were impressed. Former Coroner Ron’s eyes darted back and forth, collecting information, forming columns and adding up data.
Footprints. The sandbox was a riot of small, four-toed footprints. Their stubby, spade-like toes joined by a web of skin, their tips forming deep crooks in the sand clearly made by tapering talons.
Former Coroner Ron hunkered down to the chorus of his own popping knees. Reasoner’s droning had stopped but Goltry was oblivious. All he saw, all he heard was the sound of his heart singing. Singing for a spark of hope in this World of Hurt. In an hour the prints might prove fake; latex molds made by a special effects expert gone mad, the spoor of a leprous opossum or just some neighbor’s idea of a joke. It didn’t matter, for in this very moment Former Coroner Ron’s path was justified. There really were things going bump in the night and here he was teetering his bulk before the proof.
Dragging his eyes away from the Pollock print of sand magic, Former Coroner Ron twisted around to the FBI agents in time to see a blur–something like white wet bone–remove Special Agent Castro’s head from his shoulders. Before Former Coroner Ron could blink, he saw Special Agent Paulus’s left arm separate from the elbow and drop to the wet grass. The odd ballet of evisceration was painted in a fine red mist that spattered onto Former Coroner Ron’s glasses, lacquering his face and lips.
Drowning in a sea of red, Former Coroner Ron wrenched his glasses from his face, but his near-sighted view on the world only gave him more red mist, white blurs and now screaming.
Former Coroner Ron had never heard a man scream. By the time he met up with a screamer, their throats had been long silenced. This was a sound that chilled him and chilled him deeply. Rising as quickly as he could, Former Coroner Ron staggered back, dragging his freshly painted glasses across the lapel of his jacket. Pressing the glasses back to his face he could only make out partial and blurry details in the red gloom. Reasoner had drawn his revolver from his shoulder holster and, gripping it with two hands swiveled about, his head darting back and forth as though harried by something alight in the air about him.
Paulus was kneeling upon the grass, his right hand attempting to grip the stump that was his left arm. A brief but bloody trail wound nearly to former Coroner Ron’s feet and at its end sat Special Agent Castro’s freshly liberated head. Was it the adrenaline working its way to his fatty heart, or did Former Coroner Ron not see Castro’s jaws working back and forth, his lips twisting into words and Castro’s eyes fixed on his own?
Another scream split the air and Former Coroner Ron’s eyes shot back to Reasoner just in time to see three long blades of bone pierce the detective’s chest and instantly retreat. Reasoner’s eyes went blank, his jaw dropped and a shudder went through his body that convulsed the finger about the trigger of his gun. Two rounds went into the wooden fence before Detective Reasoner pitched forward into the damp grass.
With his ears ringing from the pistol shots, Former Coroner Ron spun, about dumbly anticipating the sight of a long white blade streaking from the darkness to unzip his guts. A brace of porch lights winked to life as neighbors up and down the block leapt from their beds and dialed 911.
Numb and deaf, he could only watch in dumb silence as Special Agent Paulus rose up, released the grip from his bloody elbow stump and stumbled toward Goltry. Snatching up his partner’s head by the hair Paulus staggered back to Castro’s inert body. Resting the head on the other’s thighs, he used his good arm to lift the headless body into a seated position. Resting Castro’s back against his own knees, Paulus then repositioned the errant head on its owner’s bloody stump of a neck. Former Coroner Ron discovered his hearing was returning when he heard the wet sounds of Paulus slapping his partner’s head back into place.
Now replaced by the throb of his own stuttering heart, the tinny ringing in Former Coroner Ron’s ears was quickly followed upon by a gurgling not unlike the last dregs of dishwater circling the drain.
A thick gout of gore flew from Castro’s mouth and he licked his own bloody lips.
“Chumming is usually less painful, brother,” gurgled Castro.
“Aye, give me a trident and a drift net any day, brother,” countered Paulus.
And both men, drenched in their own gore, threw back their heads and laughed, though one toppled back into the grass.