Published in Perpetual Magazine/ August 2008
According to dispatch, this one was messy.
Hank Broward stepped out of his car, pulled out a cigarette and lit up. He thought the old townhouse looked like something out of one the magazines his ex-wife used to read, all painted and well-kept. But this one held something terrible inside.
He blew out a stream of smoke.
A police officer stood outside the front door. His face was pale. He stared straight ahead.
Broward stepped across the crime scene tape, and flashed his badge.
The guy took a breath. “Yeah.”
”This one as bad as they’re saying?”
“This your first corpse?”
The officer shook his head. “Naw, I fought in Iraq, man. I never saw anything like this. Someone killed her and then kept killing.”
“I did a tour,” Broward said as he stepped inside. “Do me a favor. Stay out here. No reporters get near this place, okay?”
Sergeant Brad Mitchell met him in the living room.
“Heard it was gruesome.”
Mitchell’s face was stone. “You’d have thought the killer had a huge paper shredder. I’ve seen some sick sights, but…damn.”
“All right. I need to get pictures. You find any sign of entry yet?”
Mitchell frowned. “What? You want me to take your pictures, too?”
“Throw me a bone, man. Hey, I’m getting’ too old to spot all the details.”
Mitchell bit his lip. “There’s one thing, and I mean only one. And this could be the fault of a lazy plumber. There’s a drain pipe in the basement floor with the cover off. But if that’s the entry, the killer is pretty damn small and doesn’t mind crawling through a sewer.”
Broward huffed, “Lemme look.” He followed Mitchell to the room with the body.
“You might want to cover your nose.”
Broward didn’t ask, but yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it over the lower half of his face.
Mitchell opened the door. Even with the handkerchief, the coppery stench of blood made its way to his nose.
“Yeah,” Mitchell said, misreading his reaction. “Sick aint it?”
“Who the hell does this crap?”
Hank shook his head, took out his camera and snapped his pictures.
Back at the station, Broward sat across from Daniel Delaney. Delaney was young, head covered with thick brown hair, good smile, married, one kid, one on the way.
Delaney’s eyes stared at the mountain of paperwork.
“Sounds like some kind of hit, either that or somebody really hated her. But damned if I can figure it out. We got Angela Simpson, 38, divorced, no kids, works at the children’s library.” Delaney scratched his head.
“I dunno. I get sick of paying alimony. Maybe her ex went over the top.”
“Can’t be. He’s dead. Two years ago. Cancer.”
Broward grumbled over his own stack of papers. “Hmmm, and just the one set of smeared prints. I gotta wonder if this isn’t some kind of cult killing. There were patterns of marks and indents in the carpeting…”
“Glad to see you, Broward,” Captain Zeph said, as he strode toward them. “Heard you had a horrible headache and couldn’t get your ass in here this morning. What was it, the flu or a bad case of Jose’ Cuervo?”
Broward’s voice was toneless. “Flu.”
Zeph nodded. “Yeah, thought so. You know, next time you get the flu you should try a nice Bloody Mary in the morning, it should help.”
“Thanks. I will.”
“I hear this ones coming up as empty as the case last week.”
Broward raised an eyebrow. Yeah, well, last week Myra Klinsky sure as hell wasn’t shredded. From all reports she spent her forty-five years helping the poor and apparently the cosmic reward for such service was to end up as an empty skull full of half-dissolved teeth. That and a Medic Alert bracelet dangling from one of her bound wrists gave them her identity.
But her death, like Angela Simpson’s, was gruesome, dramatic. The acts were just sick enough to be the same M.O., whatever that M.O. might be.
Without a word, Broward opened the Klinsky file. After an initial read through offered nothing new, he looked up and told Delaney. “Get your coat, we’re hittin’ the neighborhood.”
Three houses down from the Simpson home, Delaney and Broward stood on the porch of Teresa McKenzie as Ms. McKenzie sucked her cigarette and gave her armchair appraisal of Ms. Simpson’s life.
“Oh, yes, I remember all the way back when she was still married,” Teresa said, pushing back her dark curls. “A great girl. A little bit wild in her younger days, though. Lemme tell you something,” she blew a puff of smoke and dropped her voice to a low, gossipy level. “Fifteen years ago, she got pregnant while her husband was in the Navy. She comes to me begging to drive her to a clinic to get rid of it. She was so upset, I just drove her to that place over on Michigan Avenue.”
Teresa’s face twisted with discomfort. “We didn’t really talk much after that. The whole thing was just so weird, ya know? But who knows? Maybe that boyfriend came back and finally decided he didn’t like what she did, or maybe even her ex-husband found out she was fooling around while he was off risking his life for his country and gave her paybacks. What do you think?”
“We’re not sure yet, ma’am,” Broward said. “But thank you, you’ve been a big help.”
Broward’s mind uncontrollably wandered back to the night he caught his wife naked with another man. It was the first and only time murder ever seemed like the right move. She screwed around, and he still got stuck with alimony.
No freakin’ justice.
His cell phone rang and Broward drew it from his pocket. “Yeah?”
“Broward? Zeph. We got another one.”
Broward thought ground zero for the next murder was more like a three ring circus.
Outside the Elm Tree Oasis Apartments, the ME and police personnel had to fight their way past news vans and camera’s. He saw the KOAX news van pull up. Red-haired Gina hopped out, tailed by her cameraman.
“Broward! What’s up with you not letting me in the loop?” she cried. In her perfect imitation of someone who gave a crap, she lifted a hand and added, “These murders are vicious, the people need to know! You gotta give me something!”
Broward showed her his back and headed for the building, Delaney with him.
Sergeant Mitchell, eyes darker than yesterday, looked up and gave a weary exhale. “We gotta quit meeting like this.”
Broward asked, “What’s with all the press?”
Mitchell scratched his head. “Well, a delivery boy found this one. He calls every media outlet he can think of and then calls us. Big freaking hero, right?”
“What kind of a mess are we talkin’ about, Mitchell?”
Mitchell eyes were steady. “Someone took a pair of scissors, lodged them in the base of her skull and tried to scrape out her brains.”
Back at his desk, Broward looked over the new file. Madeline Smith, 40 year old African American, single, never married. She had worked as a care giver at the Greater Chicago Retirement facility.
He drummed his fingers on the desk top. This time they found the marks again: strange patterns poked into the carpet. Aside from someone walking around purposely gouging the floor with a stick, he had no clue what caused it or why.
A nurse in an old folks home. Nothing stolen, no known enemies…
His head began to ache as he read the files one more time. On the surface, all of the victims sounded like innocent, caring, women. Broward’s eyes wandered over to Delaney’s desk, to the picture of his chubby-cheeked two year-old.
Innocent women, innocent children.
He weighed the idea back and forth. Was somebody trying to make a point?
Terrorists? A crazed ex-boyfriend?
Somebody who feels really screwed-over.
That was a feeling he understood. What with Jennifer having to live ‘her life,’ and ‘find herself.’ But she sure had no qualms about taking his money.
Maybe, like Angela Simpson, they weren’t all that innocent.
“Hey!” Zeph appeared at his desk.
“There’s a big protest on the avenue right now at the Lake Michigan Women’s Center.”
Broward shrugged. “I guess it sucks to be them.”
“Yeah, well, the guy leading the protest is telling everyone and his mother he knows who killed your victims. So why are you still here?”
To Broward, the scene outside the abortion clinic looked like a cheering squad from hell. A group of over forty people, mostly women, lined up the legal distance away from the clinic. Directing their cries with a bullhorn was a guy Broward recognized. Rev. Hammer. He dressed in black from head to foot, the dark making a perfect contrast for the gold chains and huge, silver, jeweled cross he wore around his neck. The hand he gripped the bullhorn with was encrusted by gaudy rings.
“Who’s going to hell!” he shrieked.
The crowd pointed towards the clinic and thundered,
“When are they going?”
Delaney’s jaw dropped. “All we need is Rod Serling.”
Posters with outrageous profanities were waved by gray-haired grandmothers, housewives, and businessmen. Broward noticed a few of the tamer ones said, ‘Keep your legs together, sluts!’ and ‘God hates whores!’
“Yes! Let’em hear you in there as they kill their children: God hates whores! God hates whores!”
The crowd picked up the chant.
“GOD HATES WHORES! GOD HATES WHORES!”
Broward suddenly pictured the plaque of Jesus his mother hung in his bedroom when he was a child. It depicted the Shepard King sitting on a log watching, smiling, as children and lambs frolicked. This scene was 180 degrees removed.
He muttered to his partner as they headed into the street. “Who was this guy’s Sunday school teacher? Charles Manson?”
“GOD HATES WHORES!”
The hyper, sweaty little man, glanced up as they strode forward.
“The established order has come to take me away! No matter what man does to me! Don’t give up the fight…”
The noise pounded against his head. Broward raised his voice, “Reverend!”
Rev. Hammer lowered his horn, straightened his shoulders and held his head high. Broward could see he was proud to be, hoping to be a martyr.
It would probably double his donations.
“Have you men come to arrest me?”
Delaney told him, “No.”
The man’s shoulders slumped.
“We need to ask you a few questions, Reverend.”
“Leave the Reverend alone!”
“Don’t abuse him!”
Reverend Hammer lifted a hand and the crowd went back to chanting, with new fervor, “GOD HATES WHORES!”
He set the bullhorn on the ground and folded his arms.
Broward rubbed a temple, “Reverend, get your people to quiet down. Now!”
Rev. Hammer thrust his nose in the air and waved for quiet. The crowd didn’t completely hush, but at least the noise level was livable.
“What do you want?” he spat.
“Sir, we’re investigating the murders in the area.”
“Oh! Yes!” his head rolled back as he spoke. “I can help you find your killer right now!”
He thrust a finger across the street. “There!” he cried with all the drama of a stage actor. “Abortion killed those women! The killer is God’s avenging spirit come to take the lives of all those who spill innocent blood!”
Broward glanced at Delaney.
This guy is nuts.
A grim smile curled the Reverend’s lips. “You men don’t believe me? Here, look at these and then ask the pampered slut who runs that place if there isn’t something wrong!”
A smug, triumphant sneer spread across his face. Hammer reached into his breast pocket, pulled out three sheets of paper and waved them in Broward’s face.
Annoyed, he snatched them away.
In his hands were receipts. One at a time he handed them to Delaney. There was one for each victim. Each woman had terminated a pregnancy at the Women’s Center.
“Reverend? How did you obtain this information?”
The Reverend’s eyebrows levitated to the sky. “Oh! I told you, God knows what’s going on! He called me to be part of His plan! He put this information in my hands!”
Rev. Hammer smiled as he tugged a postmarked envelope from his pocket. “It came by US mail.”
Broward and Delaney exchanged glances. “Sir, I’m afraid it’s not legal for you to have these private medical records in your possession.”
Rev. Hammer’s eyes darted back and forth, nervous.
“You said you weren’t here to arrest me.”
Broward saw realization dawn in the man’s eyes: he was in trouble.
“Uh, detectives?’ he said. “I-I really did get those in the mail.”
Hammer turned out to be a huge disappointment. During his interrogation, his nose shot back into the air. “Do what you will! I am an instrument!”
“That’s right! An instrument of the Almighty! No other pastor in the entire city has the courage to preach what I preach!”
The interview ended when he lowered his voice and in a tone that sounded like a man tottering on the edge, hissed, “Don’t you feel eyes on you, Detective? Don’t you feel you’re being watched?”
Outside the room, Broward sighed, “Delaney, the women’s center is the one thing all three victims have in common. We might as well check it out.”
Delaney grumbled, “And what if we don’t find out anything?”
“Zeph is going to toss Hammer in the lock up. We’ll see if he’s ready to talk after he’s been hammered in the ass for a couple of nights.”
Delaney gave a short, mirthless laugh, “Yeah, he’ll be an instrument all right.”
As they entered the Lake Michigan Women’s Center, Broward could feel depression like a blanket wrap around him. With the murder of babies going on in back, this could never be a very happy place.
In the waiting room, seated in hard plastic chairs were young women. A few held the hands of older ladies, another girl, teary-eyed, sobbed next to a nurse. They looked up with gazes that were haunted, embarrassed, a few simply cold.
On the walls, cheery posters of famous women from all walks of life, gazed out at him. One picture portrayed a fit, beautiful, bikini-clad woman with a dazzling smile, striking a victory pose on a sandy beach. Above her blazed a single word: CHOICE! Broward couldn’t picture any of the girls in this room ever taking her place.
Broward noticed the clinic looked awfully ‘lived-in.’ The floors were scuffed, the walls, fingerprinted. He thought it looked like the sort of wear and tear done by children.
The crying girl began to sob louder and the nurse took her hand and directed her to the back.
“No, honey, no,” he heard the nurse say in a hushed voice as they rounded the corner, “it’s not a baby. It really isn’t human yet…”
Her words made Broward flinch. He looked over at Delaney. His eyes were trained at the floor.
In a wall of glass brick at the front of the room, a window popped open. “May I help you, gentlemen?” A beautiful, smiling receptionist peered out.
Broward flashed his badge. “We’re here to see Carolyn Johnson.”
“Oh! Oh yes! Hold on, just a moment. I’ll buzz you in!” She pointed to the left. “The door, over there.”
The door buzzed and Delaney shoved it open. Broward could see by his stony expression how little he wanted to be here.
In a barely audible voice, he asked, “You okay?”
Just as quietly, Delaney hissed his response. “I love my kid too much to be okay.”
Before them, the hallway floor was stripped down to the concrete. A woman came breezing down the hallway toward them.
“Get it together,” he whispered. “Or get out.”
Delaney nodded and stayed put.
The woman was tall, blonde, with a white lab coat whisking about a perfect set of legs. As she approached, she extended a white hand that looked and felt as soft as butterfly wings. Her nails were buffed and rounded. Broward noticed a diamond wrist watch. He glanced at Delaney and could almost read his mind.
“Gentlemen, I’m Carolyn Johnson, I’m the owner and director here. Please excuse the hallway, the carpeting was supposed to be replaced today. I assume you’ve come about that horrible Reverend Hammer?”
“Partly,” Broward said and introduced himself and Delaney. “We’d like to ask you a few questions, ma’am.”
“Of course, we’ll speak in my office.”
She led them to what must have been the cleanest spot in the entire building. Her office was tastefully decorated in shades of pink and green. Her degrees lined the walls. The carpeting in here looked fine.
Broward settled himself into one of the leather chairs in front of her desk and commented, “Nice office. I’ll be honest with you ma’am. When I first walked in, I thought the place looked a little messy for a medical facility.”
He made the statement, and then watched her. Her eyes grew huge with indignation for a moment and then she broke into a high, nervous, laugh, “Oh, my God! Thank you! Some one else agrees with me! The kid that cleans here stomps around in football cleats. I told him not to, but he says he doesn’t have enough money to but a different pair of shoes right now. I should fire him, but he’s a really young, orphan kid. Just got out of high school, so I’ll keep him, but I guess I better get him some shoes myself.”
“The cleats tore up the carpet?”
“Oh, it was destroyed! There were tiny holes punched in so many places, we had to get rid of it.”
All of the hair on the back of Broward’s neck stood. He paused, wondering if Rev. Hammer had managed to utter a madman’s prophecy, because suddenly he felt as if he were indeed being watched.
For a moment he studied Miss Johnson’s face. “You have an address for the boy? I’d like to ask him some questions.”
Carolyn blinked. “Well, he’s coming in early to wash the outside windows. He should be here in just a few minutes. Brian isn’t a bad kid. He has no police record at all. And trust me, we checked, too, because his eyes gave us cause to wonder.”
“What do you mean?”
“His eyes are black. There’s no color in his irises at all. It’s very disconcerting at first, but,” she said with a shrug, “it’s just how he’s made. He wears sunglasses a lot to hide them. He’s also a little immature. But he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind over what we do here. So I guess I’m saying my complaints about him aren’t ‘throw-him-in-jail’ serious.”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Broward said. “I just have questions.”
Carolyn took a breath. “Well, I assume the main reason you gentlemen are here though is because of that awful Rev. Hammer…”
“Does Rev. Hammer seem to concentrate on your clinic or does he go after all Women’s centers?“
Carolyn frowned. “You’ve no doubt had plenty of time to listen to Rev. Hammer and his rumors. I hope you didn’t believe all of his garbage.”
Broward’s eyebrows shot up. “Maybe you could you tell me your side of the story?”
“It was a long time ago and we don’t talk about it. But I’m sure you’ll be able to find it on your cop computer or whatever you people use. And-and really it was an incident we handled and it’s over and done with. Do you understand?”
He nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I do. But since I don’t have one of my fancy cop computers here, and since I’m working a triple-homicide investigation where every second is crucial, and since you have information I need that you’re not willing to share–I may have to call a judge and get a warrant for your arrest on the grounds of hindering my investigation. Do you understand?”
She pressed her lips together, not wanting to talk, then finally, “About thirteen yeas ago we had a man working here and…and we discovered he was selling whole fetuses to different places, genetic labs, even cosmetic companies.”
“We had him arrested, but he had a break down. He’s been at the Shaker Heights Rest Home ever since.” Carolyn looked a little green. “Of course, when Rev. Hammer heard about this he began telling his people we trafficked in human fetuses. He even visits our old employee at the mental hospital then runs around telling people the man swears he hears fetuses talking to him at night.” She shivered. “It just gets gruesome, you know?”
Broward nodded. “Sounds like it.” His mind ran a million different directions.
“I’d like to look into the companies he dealt with. You wouldn’t think there’d be a market for that sort of thing.”
“There’s a market for everything.”
The sound of a wet brush hitting her office window caused them both to jump.
Carolyn gave a nervous laugh. “Speak of the devil. There’s Brian.”
Broward took a good long look at the boy as he stood outside scrubbing the window. Brian Scoggins was tall, Broward estimated maybe a full six feet and a very slender 150 pounds. His skin was so white it was nearly translucent. Stringy, black, hair hung around his head, and as Carolyn warned, he used a pair of dark sunglasses to cover his eyes. Broward thought maybe that was it. Perhaps not being able to see his eyes caused the immediate impression of untrustworthiness.
Brian moved with the precision of the damned. Even when he pulled out a squeegee to knock the soap and water from the windows, Broward watched each stroke happen, quick and carefully, then precisely repeat until the window was dry and clean.
He rose from his chair and extended a hand. “Well, I’d like to thank you for your time. I’ll round up my associate, we’ll have a word with Mr. Scoggins and be on our way.”
Carolyn smiled prettily, “Anytime, Detective.”
Outside, Delaney stood with one ear to his cell phone, while both eyes stayed focused on the kid.
“…Yeah, Lieutenant, Broward’s coming out right now. I really think we’ve got at least one more person to talk to here. Call you back.”
Delaney pocketed his phone and kept his voice low. “That kid shows up, goes inside, comes out with his window washing stuff and a gear bag he dropped down by the first set of windows he did. Walks past me twice, never says a word. Okay, so maybe he’s just not friendly. I start walking toward him and he looks up at me so fast, I felt like I was trying to sneak up on a fly. So I thought I’d wait for you.”
“You’re a wuss.”
“Yeah, I know. But check out the glasses: he’s working on the alley side of the building, in the shade, wearing sunglasses. The guy already acts weird so is he on drugs? And check out the shoes, they’re over-sized football cleats. The carpets at the crimes all had patterns of holes or indents. I say we both talk to the kid.”
“Lead the way, man.”
As they walked down the alley toward Brian, the boy’s head swung upward and Broward understood what Delaney meant. He moved with preternatural speed. And Broward didn’t like the dark shades he wore. After nearly twenty years as a cop, he was used to having people’s eyes tell him stories long before words made it to the mouth.
The boy let his squee-gee dangle from his hand.
“I’m Hank Broward, this is my associate, Detective Delaney,” he showed his badge. “We’re with the Chicago PD. If you don’t mind, we want to talk to you a moment.”
Brian gazed at the ground. “’Bout what?”
“Just gathering information. You’ve heard about the three women who were murdered recently?”
Brian kept his face aimed at the ground and gave a slight huff. “Yeah. Real freak show. What about it?”
“All of the ladies had procedures at this clinic, so we’re talking to everyone connected with the place.”
For the first time, Brian raised his head. “’Procedures?’ They only do one thing here.”
Broward paused. Fishing for more reaction, he asked, “You got something against abortion?”
Brian’s voice was toneless. “Aw, hell no. Why would I? All they do is kill humans. Sure it bugs me, but now you’ll think I must be the killer because I work here and don’t like abortion. Well, fuck you. I can do both.”
“Don’t get so offended. How about that guy who used to sell fetuses from here? That’s pretty sick if you ask me.”
“Yeah, heard about him. That religious dude talks about him all the time. But what the hell, if you don’t have a problem killing babies, why would you have a problem turning them into a cash crop? People pay big bucks. At least, that’s what I hear.”
Broward had to admit, as creepy as the kid made him feel, he had a point.
He changed tact. “You always wear those sunglasses?”
“Mind taking them off?”
Brian took them off and gazed back down at the ground. “You know, I bet my mom would have come here. I bet if she knew what I’d look like, I bet she’d come here and kill me. I bet she would…my carcass would pay a lot of rent.”
Broward felt the goose bumps traipsing up his neck as he and Delaney exchanged glances.
The kid was nuts.
“Son,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “Let me see your eyes.”
Brian kept his head down and muttered, “Okay.” Then with that same lightening speed, popped his head up and announced, “There. Happy?”
Broward held his expression. Delaney raised an eyebrow. Scoggins’s eyes were nothing but black pools, not a trace of an iris, not even the slightest hint of color to break up the darkness.
Brian went back to staring at the ground.
Broward asked. “You live with your parents?”
“I don’t have parents. I got a room.”
“What do you mean? Are you an orphan?”
Brian shrugged. “I don’t know who my father is and I guess my mom is alive. I kinda look for her in my spare time.”
“Hmmm, need help with that?”
“Uh…naw. I only know the year I was born and that I’m from Chicago. I don’t really expect to find her.”
“Let me know if you change your mind.”
Delaney glanced at him. Broward knew that sounded like a closing out line, but it wasn’t.
He partially turned as if about to leave. “There’s one thing your boss mentioned. A box of thirteen year old records went missing last month, about the same time you started working here. Know anything about that?”
Suddenly, Brian’s hand twitched and wrapped around the skinny side of his long, thin squee-gee. Broward casually lifted his hand as if slowly scratching an itch on his clavicle, putting him in position to instantly draw his gun.
“You sure she said everything in that box was thirteen years old?”
Broward’s whole body went on alert. He could sense the kids emotions crank up. Those black, souless eyes found him and he saw his knuckles turn white as they gripped the squee-gee. One more push, one more shake to the tree and he knew the kid would reveal one way or another if he was their boy. Broward stepped out with another statement that he knew implied the impossible. But if the kid were crazy, maybe it would work.
He stared back into his eyes and said carefully, “I think one of them was at least eighteen.”
It happened so fast there wasn’t time to stop him. Brian gave a strange, high-pitched shriek and plowed the squee-gee towards Delaney’s middle. At the last second, Delaney ducked and dodged, but Scoggin’s caught his shoulder and rammed the squee-gee in to its handle. Delaney cried out and stumbled forward. Broward whipped out his Ruger and immediately fired on him. On an average day, he was an excellent shot. At close range, he should have nailed him. But in half a heart beat, he was watching Scoggins hurtle down the alley. He fired again, but could have swore Scoggins saw each shot coming and dodged appropriately. He was impossible to hit.
“Dan!” he cried and scooped his partner into a sitting position. The squee-gee stuck freakishly out of his shoulder causing a maroon flower to blossom all over his coat.
Delaney caught his breath, his forehead sprouted beads of cold sweat. “I…I…hit 9-1-1…on cell…get him. Get the little bastard…”
Broward gripped his gun and took off just in time to see Scoggins, already at the end of the alley, with gear bag over his shoulder, toss a manhole cover to one side. Then he vanished.
As he drew closer, he noted the discarded cover. Just like the Simpson basement.
Below him he heard someone run through shallow water. His suspect was getting away.
“Damn!” he holstered his weapon and climbed into the black hole. At the bottom, he found himself at the intersection of four pipes and looked around. About an inch of water ran beneath his feet and in the dim light he searched for wet footprints to tell him direction his perp ran. To his horror there was nothing but slight wet marks scattered before the opening of each pipe as if someone dipped the end of a stick in the water and tapped it hundreds of times, straight down, onto the dry parts of the cement. Marks like on the carpeting.
“What the hell?”
He peered down each pipe. Dim light dragged itself down the end of one and he could hear movement that same direction. Broward’s heart pounded. There was no guarantee the perp went that way. There was a better chance he was hiding in one of the dark pipes, waiting for him to take the lighted way where he’d make a spectacular target. He considered firing down the other three tunnels, but the mix of fumes in the air, and the possibility of alerting others nearby, made him lower his weapon.
Broward took a breath and headed into the lighted tunnel.
Hunched over and straddling the inch or so of water that ran between his legs as he ran down the pipe, Broward moved along awkwardly.
The temperature around him dropped the closer he drew to the end and a thick smell of sulphur hung in the air.
Suddenly, he was back creeping through the alleys of Iraq. The dark windows watched him like soulless eyes and the enemy was anywhere and everywhere. Waiting, hungry. He had that same sensation now, of being sized-up for a kill. Mouth dry, heart pounding, he inched forward.
The activity at the end of the tunnel increased. The invisible eyes never left him and he constantly glanced over his shoulder, nervous. But he saw nothing.
Ahead, he heard more movement and high-pitched, screeching sounds. He carefully, very carefully, hazarded a peek.
The pipe emptied into a small cave and half-way across the ground appeared to bubble in black, rolling waves, like a pot of boiling water. Then Broward felt his jaw drop and his face contorted in sheer horror and disgust. It wasn’t the ground that moved. A massive swarm of huge, soft, centipede-like, worm-like, disgusting creatures swarmed through the filth, and mud; their fat, pulsating, bodies tangling violently with each other. He could make out tentacles that waved and curled as they fought, some ending in things he thought looked very much like hands. The other appendages ended in blunt points, like centipede or spider legs. Judging from their size, they were heavy enough to leave an imprint.
Broward glanced up and gasped. Five more of the worm-like creatures flew out of a pipe at the end of the cave and landed squarely onto the other monsters.
Oh my God! They came through the pipes!
The creatures continued to make their weird, screeching noises that sounded at first like finger nails on a chalk board. Broward’s heart seized as he realized they were speaking.
“More! Give us more!” The cry began and the others quickly picked it up.
From around a bend in the cave, pieces of red meat went flying into the swarm and the beasts scrambled insanely to devour it.
Broward didn’t move, he could barely breathe. A single word came to his mind: Abomination.
Suddenly, he realized his cheeks were wet with tears.
What are they eating? Dear God, what are they eating?… Who’s feeding them! Dear God, is it Brian?
Broward froze, then gripped his gun. The strange hiss was at his back. Instantly, he spun and opened fired and for a single moment, a tiny flash of time, he saw one of the creatures and even as he emptied his Ruger, screaming out his fear and terror, Broward knew that if he lived, he would never be the same. He saw a face. Not a normal face with smiling lips and shining eyes, but something that looked like a human being trapped in a balloon. He even cackled as his own hysteria lead him to think, He’s trying to escape with his nose! If he shoves his nose hard enough against the skin, it will cut him open!
The creature grabbed at its wound and fell writhing to the ground.
Broward felt a rumbling begin beneath his feet. He didn’t stop to consider what it could be, but climbed and kicked his way over the creature and prayed to God he had enough of a head start.
Don’t straighten up too fast…don’t straighten up too fast..!
He couldn’t afford to hit his head or pass out or…They were already at the pipe. Broward ran faster.
There were wails. Movement stopped at the body, but only for a moment.
Broward burst through the pipe at the other end and threw himself onto the ladder. Like lightening, one of the creatures appeared behind him.
Broward shrieked, “Jesus! No!”
The figure screamed something inhuman at him and Broward felt it leap onto the ladder, it’s tentacle ‘hands’ grasping for his legs.
He shrieked, “No! No! No!”
Face as drenched in sobs as his body was with sweat, Broward banged his legs against the ladder as he kicked away the creatures hands and frantically scrambled up and out of the hole, panting, gun drawn, ready to shoot anything that climbed out after him.
But nothing did.
His vision swam. He saw Zeph running towards him and his words sounded like he spoke through molasses.
Broward drew his weapon and shrieked at Zeph to stay away.
The next thing he knew several men were holding him down until a pinch on his arm dragged Broward into darkness.
Broward slowly opened his eyes. The scent of alcohol and Lysol hung in the air. He was in an adjustable bed and a puny TV hung on the wall. Delaney sat in a nearby chair watching a game show, his arm bandaged and in a sling.
Broward’s mouth felt like the Sahara, but he managed to whisper, “Hey…”
Delaney’s head popped up and he grinned. “Hey, he’s back!”
Broward tried to sit up and found he couldn’t. Three heavy straps held him firmly to the bed.
“Huh? What the…?”
Delaney looked apologetic. “Yeah, it sucks. But Zeph said the doctor wasn’t sure how’d you react when you woke up. I’ll go get him. Heck, ya’ look fine to me.”
“Wait…” he said, curiosity getting the better of him. “What did I do? I don’t even remember.”
Delaney gave a short laugh. “From the sound of it, you got a little high on those sewer fumes. I heard there was some sort of small gas leak down there that shouldn’t have been. But I guess we’ve learned that you sniffin’ fumes equals visions of mutant, half-human, bug-morphing creatures. Man, you really know how to freak.”
“Oh, my God,” Broward gasped, his memory creeping back. “That’s right! The fumes! And-and sulphur. I must have been higher than a kite!” He closed his eyes. “Thank God! I’ve never been more scared in my whole damn life.”
“Well, you’re okay now, man. Everyone understands. Sounds like your head just needed a chance to clear. Scoggins got away, but at least we know who we’re looking for now. I’ll get the Doc.”
“Hurry up. I gotta take a leak.”
Shortly, Broward’s restraints were removed. But the doctor informed him he wanted a few more tests before discharging him.
‘A few more tests,’ thought Broward. Right. Translation: needs another yacht payment.
“If you want, Detective Broward, feel free to shower and relax.”
Hank took him up on it. It was good to wash away the ‘second skin’ sensation sweat and dirt left on him. And although the memory of his horrific visions still played in his head, he could deal with them. They were what they appeared to be: drug dreams, nothing more. As he scraped the layer of stubble from his face, Broward had to admit, he felt like a new man.
Then he heard a strange sound in the shower. Broward cocked his head and listened.
He heard it again.
Still unsure, he walked over to the stall and waited.
No, it’s the water dripping…It’s water rushing through the pipes…It isn’t…
The sound came again and Broward dropped to his knees, eye’s bulging from their sockets. He pressed an ear to the drain pipe. His breath quickened as he waited all the while praying silently, Please God, no, no, nononononono…
But he heard it again. It was a sound most people would have mistaken for mere noise, but Broward knew better. Echoing up from the pipes was a word that made him recoil and scream. Over and over he heard the creatures calling, “More…more…”