Authors: Ray Garton
“I think I’m going to stop by his house on the way home, see if I can catch him there,” Abe said. He said goodnight to Hugo and left the room. On his way out, he passed a phlebotomist named Susan Pike, who had recently dated Seth for a stretch.
“Susan, got a minute?”
She turned to him and smiled, a pretty twenty-something with short brown hair and a pixie face. “Hi, Dr. Dinescu.”
“Tell me, have you been in touch with Seth lately?” he asked.
“Not in the last week or so. I mean, I’ve seen him around, but we haven’t gotten together in awhile. Why?”
“He seems to have disappeared. He didn’t show up for work tonight and no one can reach him. Any idea where he might be?”
Her smooth forehead wrinkled a little. “That’s not like him.”
“No, it’s not. I thought maybe he’d mentioned something to you about going out of town. Maybe he forgot to tell anyone here in the ER.”
“No, he hasn’t said anything. I can’t imagine him going on a trip without making arrangements first.”
He shook his head. “No, I can’t either. Well, thanks, Susan.”
Abe left the hospital and walked into the warm, clear summer night. He drove his SUV down the hill and across town, then up another hill to Sunset Terrace, where Seth lived. He went slowly up the long drive to the house that huddled in the shade of a dense cover of trees and eased to a stop.
Seth’s hog was parked at the edge of the front yard, but the garage door was closed so Abe couldn’t see whether or not his old but pristine cherry-red Mustang was there. It would be very unusual for Seth to leave his Harley out of the garage if he went somewhere. He killed the engine and got out, closed the door. He looked around as he went up the front walk. A warm breeze sighed through the trees and a dog barked in the distance. The porch light was not on and the front windows were dark. He felt a tension in his gut, like the clutching tightness that came just before the pain of a cramp.
He stepped up on the covered porch, went to the door, and pushed the bell. He heard its muted ring inside the house, then listened for movement, for footsteps heading toward the door. He heard nothing, even after several seconds had passed.
“Seth?” he called, then knocked hard on the door. It hadn’t been completely closed and swung open a few inches from the force of his knock.
Abe stopped breathing. The silence of the house was like a sonic boom in his ears.
“Seth?” he called again, and his voice was deafening.
There was no response, no sound but the gentle blowing of the trees.
He reached inside the door to the right and found the light switch, flipped it up. The foyer light came on. A heavy sense of dread settled over him as he stepped inside. Abe reached into his pocket and removed his cell phone, ready to call 911.
He went through the empty kitchen, down a hall to the living room. There was no sign of life. His dread was joined by a cramping feeling of urgency. As he started up the stairs, he found himself clutching his cell phone in a fist and relaxed his grip before it broke. In spite of his sense of urgency, he moved slowly up the stairs, held back by the weight of his dread. He tensed when he caught a whiff of a familiar odor. It was the same odor that had tinged the air in the Emergency Room that night, but then it had been fresh—the odor in Seth’s house was stale, which made it worse. Just before reaching the landing, he called out Seth’s name again. No response.
The smell of blood filled Abe’s nostrils.
At the top of the stairs, he looked down the hall and saw something on the floor, something smeared and splattered on the walls—red, a great deal of red. A frame that held several family photographs had fallen from the wall to the floor. The red was splashed and splattered on the walls. Along with the blood were four long trenches that had been cut through the pale creamy wallpaper and into the plaster. The cuts in the wall formed a curved, downward-sweeping arc.
Frowning, Abe squinted slightly, trying to make out the thing on the floor—it looked like a pile of objects coated in red. Blood, of course—he recognized blood when he saw it and smelled it. But there was...
“Seth,” he said in a quiet, hoarse voice as he slowly advanced toward the remains. He did not call the name out this time—he knew no response would come—but said it with a note of sadness. His mouth was dry and his heart kicked hard against his ribs.
It was, indeed, Seth Fulton. Abe recognized the man’s face—the half of it that remained on the severed head, anyway.
As a low groan escaped his chest, he opened the cell phone, turned it on, and punched in the three numbers.
Ending the Day
“You’re in 309, here in the main building,” the woman at the motel’s front desk said. She was in her fifties, shapeless in her black jersey and stretch pants, dark roots showing in her unruly bleached hair. Her cigarette-harsh voice sounded bored. “The elevator’s behind you. Take it to the third floor, turn right out of the elevator, and the room’ll be on your left a few doors down.” She handed him the key. “Welcome to the Beachcomber Motor Lodge. Enjoy your stay.”
Karen and Gavin carried their bags through the small lobby, with its potted plants, shelves of maps and brochures, and posters advertising local restaurants. In the cramped elevator, she turned to Gavin. He looked as tired as she felt. There had been a long delay with the wedding rings Burgess had ordered for them, and they’d left Esalen later than planned. They’d read on the flight—Burgess had provided them with several reference books that covered werewolf mythology and answered any questions they might have about lycanthropy. Although Karen had offered to take the wheel of the black Cadillac Escalade Burgess had provided them, Gavin had insisted on driving the rest of the way from Eureka to Big Rock.
“You as tired as I am?” Gavin said as the elevator slowly rose.
“At the moment, my body is taking a nap,” Karen said. “When this elevator stops, I don’t know if I’ll be able to move.”
When the doors slid open, they left the elevator, went down the hall, and Gavin unlocked their room, reached in, and flipped on the light. Karen stepped inside and looked around.
It was what she’d expected from the Beachcomber Motor Lodge—an ugly wheat-colored carpet, cream walls, a king-size bed and two nightstands, an assembly-line painting of a fishing village on the wall, a table, two chairs, a dresser with a TV on it and a mirror over it, and a small alcove with a sink and mirror connecting to the bathroom, which had a shower and no tub.
“I know we both need some sleep,” Gavin said, “but I’m going down to the SUV to get the rest of the bags first. I don’t want to leave those weapons in there any longer than necessary, and we should look them over. Burgess’s rundown was pretty quick and perfunctory. I’d like to see what we’ve got.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed with a sigh, then said, “What we’ve got is enough weaponry to storm a terrorist cell. I don’t know whether to be glad he’s got us covered or scared shitless that he thinks we might
all that firepower.”
“I’d suggest a little of both. Be right back.”
After Gavin left the room, Karen flopped back on the bed with her arms spread at her sides. As she fingered the unfamiliar wedding ring on her finger, she wondered about the sleeping arrangements during their stay at the motel. They didn’t have much choice—there was nowhere to sleep but the bed, so it looked like they were going to be sharing it. It wasn’t a problem, she didn’t mind sleeping with him. In fact, she wouldn’t mind doing more than
with him, except that they worked together and... something else.
Gavin was a nice guy. Intelligent, funny, compassionate. He wasn’t exactly ugly, either. She found the strong features of his chiseled, somewhat angular face very appealing, was drawn to his thick black hair with its strands of silver glinting in the light, and had already given thought to kissing the full lips of his slightly uneven mouth. He was tall and fit, quite attractive. But whenever relationships or dating or marriage came up in their conversations, a weariness seemed to fall over him, as if the subject made him tired, and a little sad. He’d been married twice. The first was an early, ill-advised marriage in his romantic and impetuous youth that had lasted not quite three years. The second was more mature and had lasted twelve years, until he learned that he was the only one in his circle of friends and family who did not know that his wife Jan, whom he so dearly and blindly loved, had been spreading her legs for nearly everything with a functioning penis for most of their marriage. As far as Karen could tell, he had not dated since his divorce and had no interest in doing so. That combined with her self-imposed rule against getting involved with coworkers had kept her from acting on any interest she might have in Gavin Keoph beyond their professional relationship.
She closed her eyes and found herself drifting off into a pleasant sleep—until the door opened again and Gavin came in with two black suitcases. Karen got to her feet and yawned, stretched her arms over her head as Gavin put the suitcases on the bed and opened them
One contained two sinister-looking black Uzis and a lot of ammunition, and the second contained more ammunition. He’d even unexpectedly provided them with plenty of ammunition for their own sidearms—Karen’s Taurus 9 mm. compact and Gavin’s .40 caliber Glock—with a note that read, “Just so you’ll know I have your safety and best interests in mind. Use them in good health.” All the ammunition, for the Uzis as well as their sidearms, was made of silver.
“Well, at least he’s taking care of us,” Karen said.
“Seems that way,” Gavin muttered, inspecting one of the Uzis. “But I’m not so sure he’s thought ahead. There’s a lot of ammo here, but Uzis eat bullets at the speed of sound, and... “
When he didn’t continue, Karen said, “And what?”
He shrugged. “Nothing. I’m too tired to be thinking of worst-case scenarios right now.” He put the Uzi back in the suitcase, then turned to the second case and removed the boxes of ammunition for their sidearms. “Let’s keep these with us,” he said, putting them on the dresser. “Never know when we’ll need them.” He closed and snapped both cases and slid them under the bed.
She yawned again. “I’m ready to turn in. Are you going to mind sharing a bed with me, Gavin?”
Smiling, he turned to her. “Why, Karen. I thought you’d never ask.”
Karen’s right eyebrow rose and she lowered her eyelids slightly.
“I’m joking,” he said, his smile melting away.
“Hey. Don’t look so offended,” she said, trying to hide another yawn. “Under different circumstances... I mean, absent a working relationship... “
He smirked. “I’m going to take a quick shower. We should get up early and take a look around this burg.” He took a few things from his suitcase, went into the bathroom, and closed the door.
Karen opened her case, changed into a pair of shorts and a tank top, hung her clothes in the closet, and got into bed. She was asleep before Gavin turned off the shower.
He stood under the hot stream of water and thought about getting into bed with Karen. He was an adult, he could handle it without a problem. At the same time, though, it had been a long while since he’d been with a woman, since he’d had a warm body beside him under the covers. It had happened only once since his marriage ended, and it had not gone well at all. In spite of the divorce, he’d been unable to shake the feeling that he was being unfaithful to his wife. And once he get beyond that, the possibility that a relationship might develop with the woman he was with—a pretty and eager, if inebriated, brunette named Ruth whom he’d met in a bar—frightened him, because after Jan’s massive betrayal, he wasn’t sure if he was capable of trusting anyone again. It had not been an enjoyable experience, and aside from patronizing the occasional prostitute, he hadn’t tried again since.
He found Karen attractive—sometimes distractingly so. He remembered seeing her for the first time as they’d waited for the elevator in the Beverly Hills Hotel, both unaware that they’d been summoned to Martin Burgess’s room for an interview. As he looked at her standing there, so confident and beautiful, his first thought had been,
Damn, if only I were still single.
Then he’d remembered that he
single—the divorce had gone through—and he’d found that fact so depressing that he’d been unable to speak to the lovely woman beside him. He and Karen had worked together a couple of times since then, and they’d stayed in casual touch between jobs. He often wondered if she’d ever noticed him eyeing her when she wasn’t looking, admiring that intelligent, striking face, that long, shapely body.
Gavin had been torn up by what had happened to Karen during their first job together. He’d been stunned by how quickly she’d snapped back from it—or had seemed to, at least. He had no doubt the vicious experience had left deep emotional wounds, and that was one of the reasons he’d been so reluctant to act on his attraction to her. He had no way of knowing how damaged she’d really been, other than what she’d told him, and one of the first things he’d learned about Karen Moffett was that she put up a strong, confident front. He knew that however well she claimed to be holding up after the horrible things that had been done to her, it was not necessarily the whole truth. And now she was willing to walk into another of Burgess’s bizarre assignments—one in which people had already died—in spite of what had happened before. She had tremendous strength, no doubt about that. He suspected she was stronger than he. His experience with the vampires had not been nearly as horrific as Karen’s, but it had been enough to traumatize him... and enough to stir some serious butterflies in his stomach over the possibility of encountering werewolves on
job, although he’d never admit it.