RAVE REVIEWS FOR BLOOD MOON
"Chilling and gripping . . . Another terrific book by this prolific author."
—Cedar Rapids Gazette
"Blood Moon has everything—prison drama, horror story, whodunit, psycho-thriller—all skillfully combined to lead you to the shock ending."
—Scotland on Sunday
"The hard-boiled thriller boasts few better practitioners than Ed
Gorman . . . Crammed with thrills and chills."
—San Diego Union
"An unusually grueling and suspenseful climax . . . An uncompromising and unprettified account of violence and human evil counterbalanced by a persistent hope and optimism."
—Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
"An excellent story with a truly nasty villain."
—Murder By Mail
"Gorman is one of the masters of the detective genre."
—The Drood Review
"As much a superb thriller as it is a well-plotted detective story."
"Gorman's best book."
"From the very first line this book is irresistibly gripping."
—Morning Star (London)
Copyright © 1994 by Ed Gorman
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
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First ibooks, inc. printing March 2005
Printed in the U.S.A.
To Matt Bialer
I would like to thank Marlys Brunsting for all her help with this manuscript, and Robert W. Walker for his assistance with the process of "profiling."
Time is the fire in which we burn.
First day of incarceration, there's a killing.
Big black guy named Blade gets stabbed thirty-seven times with his own knife.
According to the inmates, of course, nobody saw anything.
Blade got killed? Hmmm. Surprise to me.
Did I hear anything? You mean like screams or somethin'? Nah, man, I didn't hear squat.
Did I see anything? Not a thing, man. Not one thing.
He realizes, after hearing about Blade's death, that he is never going to make it out of this prison alive.
All the things that turned women on—the almost-pretty face, the almost-wasted poetic body, the air of suffering . . . these same things are going to get him killed in this place.
Very first thing another inmate said to him was, "Hey, white dude, they gonna love that ass of yours in this place." Black guy giggling all over the place. Crazed animal eyes like so many in here.
Is not gay. Does not want to be touched by another man under any circumstances. And certainly does not want to be harmed.
Is not stupid, either.
First three days in the joint, all he does is watch and listen. (And try to get used to his cellmate sitting down on the john every hour or so, creating a kind of intimacy that is totally repugnant.)
Not hard in a jungle like this to figure out who has power and who doesn't.
Four days in the joint, on the yard, decides to risk his life by going up to the inmate obviously in charge of this cell block. Servic, his name is. Big muscle-bound Bohunk from Milwaukee. Shaved head. Enough tattoos to start an art museum. Brown teeth.
Courtiers are in session, maybe eight guys standing around Servic brown-nosing him shamelessly.
His little army.
He goes right up to Servic. "Like to talk to you."
"Yeah?" Smirks to the courtiers so that they know he knows what a little faggot this new guy really is.
"Yeah. Want to tell you how you can make two thousand dollars a month."
Smile goes. "You wouldn't be messin' with me, would you, fairy boy?"
"One: I'm not a fairy boy. Two: I wouldn't be stupid enough to mess with you."
Servic looks around. His merry band looks every bit as confused as he does.
Maybe this fairy boy has gone nuts. That happens here, usually right off the top. Just can't adjust, and so they go crazy.
But Servic has no reason to be afraid of him, crazy or not, so he says to his boys, "I'll see you guys in a few minutes."
"You want us to split?" says a con.
"No," Servic says, "I want you to bake me a goddamn cake. Of course I want you to split."
"You ain't gonna last here very long, fairy boy," Servic says. "Not pushin' your luck like this."
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. About lasting here. Surviving."
"What about it?"
"I want to pay you two thousand dollars a month—deposited on the first of every month in any bank account you choose, anywhere in the world—to be my bodyguard."
"You're puttin' me on."
"Two thousand a month. Tax free."
"I'll be goddamned. You're serious, aren't you, fairy boy?"
"One other thing, Mr. Servic, quit calling me fairy boy. All right?"
Servic looks at him a long moment and then breaks into laughter that echoes off the steep walls surrounding the yard.
"I'll be a sonofabitch," Servic says finally. And then grins. "Kid, for two thousand bucks a month, you got yourself a bodyguard."
Then Servic puts out his hand and they shake, and then Servic calls his boys over and introduces them to his first client.
His first two-thousand-dollar-a-month client.
Who said America ain't the land of opportunity?
The day it all started, I'd spent most of the morning on the phone with the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC). As a former FBI man who'd worked fifteen years in the behavioral-science unit, I could still be a help on certain difficult cases—and they could help me on some of my own investigations as well. These days I was a consultant to various small-town police departments and to trial lawyers who wanted me to prove that their clients were men and women of unimpeachable integrity and unfaltering love for stray puppies.
The particular case my old friend Gif wanted help with concerned a serial killer operating in the area of Huntsville, Alabama. One of the local TV stations had begun receiving letters supposedly written by the killer. As a trained psychologist, I had spent most of my days in the unit working on the profiles of various killers. Gif wanted to know if a man who dismembered bodies and buried the various parts around the city would also be the type of man who would send letters about himself to TV stations. I said that I guessed not. The killer's M.O. indicated a disorganized, secretive man, a man who killed out of passion rather than some grand scheme . . . one not likely to want this particular kind of attention. Gif thanked me; we talked a bit about the old days. He said he was sorry about my wife, and how was I doing these days, and was I still flying the biplane?
As indeed I was. Ten minutes after hanging up, I headed for the hangar.
There's one particular problem with these old biplanes. When you're running them too slow, they sometimes take you into a sudden descent that's tough to get out of.
That's what happened to Mac Thompson, the man who taught me how to fly my crate: he had a little trouble with his fuel valve and got caught in a spin. He met the beautiful green midwestern earth at maybe a hundred fifty miles per hour. Head-on.
I was the first one to reach him, and it's not likely I'll ever forget the crushed and broken look of him, the quick red gleam of blood, the blanch-white jut of bone through flesh.
That was a year ago.
This year the Civil Air Patrol of Charlesville, Iowa had a new daredevil, Robert Payne by name. That would be me.
I'd done forty-five minutes for the kids on this chilly but sunny April afternoon out in pastureland next to the airport. All the usual showboating you might expect, too, loops and rolls and flying far lower than I should have. But I enjoyed it even more than the kids did because all the time I was up there, I was one with wind and sky and cloud, the same kind of pilgrim the earliest aviators were, when flying was still a romance and not just another means of transportation. I was born too late to see the old barnstormers firsthand but my uncle had been one, and we had hours of scratchy old family film of him playing eagle—a rangy man I resembled, with shaggy blond hair and one of those small-town midwestern faces that look simple and happy and trusting till you look closely at the blue eyes and note the wariness that too many years of city life had put there.
Problem was, even with my leather jacket, leather flying helmet, leather gloves, and goggles, the open cockpit tended to get a little nippy on days like this when the temperature ran about 42 degrees. My nose was running pretty bad. That wasn't supposed to happen to daring young men in Snoopy helmets.
Right now all I could think of was some brandy warmed by the fireplace in the venerable old house where I live, and the opportunity to smoke my one allotted bowl of Captain Black for the day and to pick up where I'd left off in Robert Louis Stevenson's
The Master of Ballantrae
. Or to do some more reading for an anecdotal history of Iowa I'm planning to write, a task that takes great research reading.
I put the handsome red barnstormer down in a field of reedy green buffalo grass, the tall wheels bouncing merrily over the bumps, the engine expelling war clouds of thin blue smoke.
No Saturday-afternoon cowboy hero had ever been better treated to the adulation of young people than I was that afternoon, twenty-six of them in all, a few more girls than boys to reflect our modern age, each nattily gussied up in the Civil Air Patrol uniform.
"You ever going to take anybody else up in that, Robert?" a ferociously freckled girl asked.
"If I can ever get the right kind of insurance," I said.
"Oh, shoot," she said. A small choir of groaners joined her.
"You ever get scared in an old bucket like this?" one of the boys asked. "I mean, after what happened to Mac and all last year?"
I grinned, the dashing hero to the end. "I can't think of a better way to go than in old Liberty here."
"Did you name her 'Liberty'?" another boy asked.
"Nope. That was the name she came with."
A girl beamed. "I'm glad she's a she."
I looked out over the faces and said, "I need six bodies to help me push Liberty into the hangar over there. Any volunteers?"
They all joined in, of course, resembling a noisy mob in a movie, Liberty regal in her stubborn way as she was pushed through grass almost tall enough to brush the engine. Flat midwestern prairie rolled to distant blue hills and a pale gold scimitar of moon could be seen now that four o'clock was here.
"Thanks, everybody," I said, starting to tie her down once we were in the hangar, and now that their adult leader was starting to hustle them into the three waiting vans.
He was named Neely. He was a nice guy who'd been under the spell of aviation his entire life.
"Gosh," he said, sounding awfully young for someone well into his sixties, "the kids sure did love the exhibition."
"Well, I loved putting it on for them."
"You're a great guy, Mr. Payne, and I'd like to thank you."
He took my hand and pumped it like a well handle he was having some trouble with. Even at his age he was gangly and a little awkward with the social graces. But he was honest and decent and industrious, and our country needed a whole hell of a lot more people like him.
Then he was gone, echoing footsteps out the small hangar, leaving me to chill wind and the smell of fuel and oil and the cold spring day itself. I had goose bumps, and my nose was still running.
I was finishing up, pulling the tarp over the double cockpit, when I heard a voice say, "You sure do all right with the ladies, Mr. Payne."
"I do?" I turned around now that I was done.
Peterson from the adjacent airport.
He leered, his thick horn-rimmed glasses raising up on his pudgy cheeks. Peterson was the successful nerd all grown up, a beeper clipped to the waist of his wash pants, a formidable ring of keys dangling from his belt, a walkie-talkie filling his left hand and half a dozen pens lining his shirt pocket. His shoes were scuffed brown Hush Puppies with black shoe-strings broken so many times their knots resembled tassels.
The tiny airport Peterson manages has a coffee shop where one afternoon a female cousin of one of the local pilots was bold enough to ask me if I'd like to have dinner with her that night. "You're a very interesting man, Mr. Payne," she'd said. "My cousin even seems to believe that you might have been in the FBI at one time."
Ever since then, Peterson has taken the opportunity to tell anybody who would listen that I am a "lady-killer." Indeed, I had recently overheard him employing a phrase I don't believe I've heard since 1962. "Ole Payne here," he'd told a mutual friend in front of me, "gets more ass than a toilet seat."
Whoever said that we live in a coarse and vulgar age has never met the eloquent Harold J. Peterson.
"I'm not sure what you're talking about, Harold."
"This woman. Real high-class stuff. She just stopped by the coffee shop. Wanted me to give you this."
He handed me a heavy number-ten manila envelope sealed carefully with long strips of fiber tape.
I hefted it, felt a familiar shape inside.
"She give you her name?"
"Nope. And she wasn't the kind of gal you ask questions, either. Pulls up in this fancy dark blue Caddy four-door that looked like it had just rolled right off the dealer floor. Hell, when she opened the door, I could smell the new leather seats. Even had a driver. Guy in a suit and mirror sunglasses. Looked like an FBI agent, actually. You know—like you used to be."
"She say anything else?"
He shook his head. "Nope, just asked if I knew you and would I give you this envelope."
"Thanks, Harold. I appreciate it."
"Got time for some coffee?"
"Afraid not. Want to get home and lay out some things for tomorrow. Try some new tackle on some carp."
"Hell, my pa always said that there was no tackle or no man that a carp ever feared under any circumstances. And he was right. My cousin used to say they were demonically possessed, was how they could chew up tackle that way."
I smiled. Fish lore dies hard up near the Mississippi. Marquette and Joliet, who were among the first white men to see the vast river, were warned by Indians that it was inhabited by monsters and giant fish that would devour them. This was back in 1673, about the time they reached the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Some of those Indian tales were still being told today.
I thanked him again and walked over to my jeep in the tall grass, fired her up and let her idle a few minutes. She was born Army green in late 1944, just about the time we put the hammerlock on the Germans, and since then she had been passed down from my grandfather to my father to me. Whenever my mother wanted to nudge me gently toward getting married and settling down, she'd say, "Wouldn't it be nice if you had a son to give the old jeep to? It would've made your father so happy."
While the jeep was gaining strength, I slit the envelope open with a thumbnail and looked inside.
There was a half-inch of good green currency. Thumbing it, I guessed somewhere in the vicinity of ten thousand Yankee dollars.
I sat there in the soughing midwestern wind for a time and watched a hawk splay its wings in silhouette against the soft blue prairie sky.
I wondered who the woman was and why she wanted to give me so much money.