Authors: Ray Garton
He scrubbed up a lather, washed his hair, rinsed cleanly, and turned off the shower. Steam billowed in the room like a fog. After drying and putting on a T-shirt and shorts, he left the bathroom and found Karen breathing softly in sleep. He took his alarm clock from his suitcase, set it, and got into bed. She stirred a little, but did not wake. He propped himself up on an elbow and enjoyed for a long moment the luxury of being able to watch her without the chance of being caught. Then he rolled over, turned out the light, and went to sleep.
From the partially-open bathroom door came the glow of the light Gavin had left on in there. He could not sleep in total darkness. Not anymore.
Abe felt the tension leave his body as he sipped his vodka and tonic. Claire had nuked the chicken parmesan dinner she’d cooked for him hours ago and he’d eaten it after his first cocktail. Normally, he had only one drink after work, every now and then two. He was on his third, and he suspected it would be his last... unless he found he needed a fourth.
The Emergency Room at Sisters of Mercy typically was not very busy. Even when a bad case came in, it was just one. That night had been the most stressful and bloody experience he’d had since starting work at the hospital. But finding Seth’s gory remains had been far worse than anything that had happened at work. As he called 911 on the landing of the stairs in Seth’s house, Abe’s tired bones had ached even more with the anticipation of what he’d thought would be a lengthy and tedious encounter with law enforcement. But he’d been surprised when that had not happened.
Now he was slumped on the couch in sweatpants and a T-shirt, legs splayed, staring dull-eyed at a documentary about meerkats on the television, the volume low. The only light came from the television screen and the archway that led to the dining room and hallway. He had his left arm around Claire and she leaned her head against his shoulder as they talked quietly.
“Illy and I went to the mall today,” she said. “I found a new cover for the porch light. Did you notice it when you came in tonight?”
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “About the only things I noticed tonight were how delicious dinner was and how nice your ass looked in those new jeans.”
She laughed breathily through her nose.
“You got the porch light cover on okay?” he said.
“Of course, no problem at all.”
“You’re so handy. You don’t need me around here.”
“My ass needs you.”
He smiled, sipped his drink. “Did Illy get a smoothie at the mall?”
“Every time. She’s crazy about those strawberry smoothies, just sucks ‘em right down. I’m going to have to start making them for her here.”
Illy was Abe’s maternal grandmother, Ileana Kobori, who had brought him to America from Romania when he was a boy. At eighty-five, she was still quite healthy and sharp, and fiercely independent. She lived in the guest house behind their home and had gone to bed before Abe arrived.
Abe and Claire said nothing for awhile and watched the meerkats. He stroked her upper arm and she cuddled her head against him, placed a hand on his thigh.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” she said, almost whispering.
He sighed. “I’m okay. Wish I could say the same for Seth.”
After calling 911, Abe had walked out of Seth’s house numbly, unable to feel his legs, and had stood trembling on the porch for awhile. It was a warm, still summer night filled with chirping crickets and the sounds of cranky frogs. Abe had crossed the yard, got into his Navigator, and waited until he saw the lights of the Sheriff’s Department cruiser coming up the drive. He’d gotten out and squinted when the cruiser’s searchlight came on in an explosion of white. The cruiser stopped, the door opened, and a single deputy got out and slowly made his way toward Abe. He identified himself as Deputy Maurice Eckhart, a pear-shaped fellow whose khaki uniform apparently had not been let out in a while, with little crow’s-feet springing out on each side of the shirt’s buttons as they strained against his belly. The lower half of his jowly face worked back and forth on some chewing gum. He moved in that slow, unhurried, unworried manner all cops seemed to have, especially in small towns. Abe approached him, introduced himself, and explained the situation while the deputy scribbled occasionally in a little notebook in the glow of the searchlight.
“You didn’t call an ambulance?” Deputy Eckhart said. He spoke slowly.
“There’s nothing an ambulance can do. He’s dead, I mean he’s... well, it looks like he’s been... I don’t know, torn apart. Dismantled.”
Deputy Eckhart looked up from his notebook and squinted one eye as he chewed his gum. “Dismantled, you say? What’s that mean?”
“It means... well, I saw him on the floor in his upstairs hall, and he was... there was just a little pile of what was left of him. He’d been taken apart, dismembered from what I could tell, but there weren’t... it looked as if he weren’t all there.”
“Parts of him missing?”
“I couldn’t tell you what parts, I didn’t look long enough or closely enough.”
“You think this was done to him intentionally?”
Abe frowned and cocked his head to the side, thinking,
No, he tore
apart, you dolt.
Before he could respond to the deputy’s idiotic question, two more cruisers arrived. Two deputies got out of one, and a tall, lean man in a khaki uniform and cowboy hat got out of the other. The man in the hat had a black patch over his left eye. He took the lead and walked right up to Abe, offering his hand.
“Sheriff Irving Taggart,” he said.
Abe introduced himself as they shook.
The sheriff looked him up and down slowly. He had an air of supreme confidence about him, an invisible strength, a strong vibe of being... in charge. Indefinable and undeniable.
“What happened here?” Taggart planted his hands on his hips and listened as Abe repeated the story he’d told Deputy Eckhart. The sheriff nodded gravely as Abe spoke, then asked, “Did you see anyone else here? Inside or outside the house? Hear anything at all?”
“No. In fact, it was dead silent when I got here. Not a sign of life anywhere.
Taggart frowned and nodded some more. “All right Dr. Din... Din... I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“Dinescu. Abel Dinescu.”
Taggart turned to Eckhart and said, “Did you get that?”
“Okay, good. Thank you, Dr. Dinescu, for calling us, and for coming outside and not wandering around the scene. I appreciate it.” He turned to Eckhart. “You get his contact information?”
“Good. We’ll be in touch with you if necessary, Doctor. Thanks for your help.”
“That’s... all?” Abe said.
Taggart nodded. “Yes, that’s all.”
“You’re sure?” Abe said. “I mean, don’t you want to—”
”No, that’s all, Doctor. Really. You can go. Thank you.” He nodded, then turned and walked toward the house, followed by the deputies.
Abe had driven home, where he’d called the hospital to tell them about Seth. It had been a relief to sit down to a hot meal. He’d told Claire about Seth slowly over dinner.
As Abe took another swallow of his drink, slumped on the couch beside Claire, he heard the glass door in the dining room slide open, then closed, heard Illy’s slightly shuffling steps. She came into the living room and sat down in the club chair near the couch.
“Can’t sleep, Illy?” Abe said.
She shrugged. “Not sleeping so well these nights.” She was a short, thick woman with a round, sweet face that usually wore a smile. Tonight, her brow was creased in a frown. She wore a pink robe and fuzzy white slippers, her iron-grey hair, tied in back, ran down her spine in a long, thick rope. Her accent was still thick, all these years later.
“Can I get you something, Illy?” Claire said. “You want some tea, or cocoa?”
“Meh,” she said with a little wave. “Thank you, but no.” She turned to Abe. “Why you come home so late, Abel? They working you too hard at that hospital?”
He smiled. “No, my relief didn’t show up and I had to cover part of another shift. It was very busy. We had a rush tonight.”
“A rush? Why so many people sick all at once?”
“There was a bad traffic accident. And then a little boy was hurt. Another animal attack.”
Illy’s head turned slowly to the television as her frown deepened. She reached up and tugged on her ear, scratched the side of her face, then dropped her hand to her lap. After a long moment, she turned that dark frown to Abe again, tipped her head forward slightly, and said, “Animal attack? A little boy? You mean...
“I’m afraid so.”
“I have no idea, Illy. I have to admit, I’m beginning to wonder about these attacks. It just seems strange that they happen as often as they do and no one seems to be able to identify the animal and... well, it’s almost as if no one cares.”
Illy’s eyes stared into the center of the living room at something distant and invisible. “No one cares,” she muttered.
“Come to think of it,” Claire said, still leaning against Abe, “I haven’t seen anything about it on the local news.” She frowned absently at the TV. “Surely animal control is on it.”
“You’d think,” Abe said.
As he watched the last few minutes of the meerkat documentary, Abe began to notice that Illy was fidgeting in the chair. He watched her lips moving—she was whispering to herself with a look of agitation, lost in thought. She talked to herself frequently. It wasn’t a sign of senility—she’d been doing it for Abe’s entire life, and no doubt longer.
“You okay, Illy?” he said.
Her mutterings grew louder and he realized she was speaking Romanian, which she often did when talking to herself. She pushed herself out of the chair and stood.
“I go back to bed,” she said. She headed out of the room and continued muttering.
“Goodnight, Illy,” Abe said, and Claire did the same.
The old woman lifted a hand and gave them a wave on her way out. Abe picked up a single word from her mumblings—
When Illy had brought Abe to America as a boy, she’d brought the many superstitions of her home country along with them. The
were among those superstitions—evil spirits of the dead that oozed up out of their graves in the night, took the shape of animals, and terrorized anyone they encountered, spreading fear and death and chaos. The word made him smile a little with memories of how Illy used to frighten him as a little boy with her tales of the
. Along with her superstitions, Illy had brought to America many of the weapons she used to battle those superstitions. The guest cottage was scattered with religious icons and talismans designed to repel demons and evil spirits. On the wall over her bed hung a beautiful old ornamental dagger that had been passed down to her from her great-grandfather. It had an eight-inch blade of blued steel heavily inlaid with beautiful silver filigree. The handle was a finely-carved crucifix with an emaciated, corpse-like Christ whose mouth yawned open in misery. Illy regularly took the dagger off the wall and cleaned it and cared for it, which is why it did not look nearly as old as it was. She claimed it once had belonged to and had been blessed by a bishop who had used it to dispatch the undead creatures of the night that had terrorized his people.
Abe turned to Claire and found that she was looking at the archway through which Illy had passed, frowning.
“Something wrong?” he said.
She looked at him. “Has Illy seemed to you more... I don’t’ know, more worried than usual?”
“Worried? About what?”
“I don’t know. Something seems to be bothering her. I asked her about it yesterday, and
seemed to bother her.”
“What did she say?”
“Nothing. She avoided the question.”
“Hm. Maybe I should talk to her.” He finished off his vodka tonic, crunched a piece of ice between his teeth. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back.
“You should get some sleep,” Claire said.
“Exactly what I was thinking.” He squeezed her to him, kissed her, then stood and said, “I’m going to bed.”
At midnight on that Friday night, Bob Berens sat at his computer wearing only a T-shirt, masturbating slowly as he watched a buxom brunette woman perform oral sex on a petite, skinny blonde. Bob spent a lot of time masturbating at his computer. Other people had friends and lovers, attended parties, went to the movies, went out dancing or drinking, had things to look forward to and fill their leisure time. But Bob, when he was not caring for his mother and grandmother (which was most of the time), typically sat at the computer and masturbated.
Seventh-day Adventists observed the seventh-day Sabbath, and Friday was known as Preparation Day. Sabbath began at sundown Friday, so the day was spent preparing for its arrival by cleaning the house and doing extra chores to make sure no work would have to be done on the Sabbath. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, there was to be no TV-watching, no buying or selling or conducting business of any kind, no listening to secular music or reading secular material. However, there always was a great deal of napping, jokingly referred to as “lay activities.” Bob had attended Adventist private schools from first grade into college, and back in his school days, he and his friends had referred to Preparation Day as Preparation-H Day. It embarrassed him that the joke still made him chuckle all these years later.