Authors: Stephen Knight
THE LAST TOWN #1:
RISE OF THE DEAD
by Stephen Knight
© 2014 by Stephen Knight
LOS ANGELES, CA
The child had been eaten.
Reese had never seen anything quite like it in his fourteen-year career as a homicide detective, nor in the six years as a patrol officer before that. Los Angeles was a wild and crazy seedbed for all kinds of crime, and bizarre murders were hardly unknown in the City of Angels. But to come across a perp who had
eaten his own child
, and then gone on to maul a neighbor? That was some total Timothy Leary, badass acid trip that he’d never wanted to go on.
The rest of the cops obviously felt the same way, from the dour-faced detectives from Hollywood Station to the unis who looked like they were ready to toss up their chow. Reese empathized with them; even though he was no stranger to death, he found he was reluctant to go into the blood-splattered nursery, where the hollowed-out remains of a small boy lay in a crib with a mattress so full of blood it could have been mistaken for red, if he hadn’t known it was originally white. And hanging over the side of the crib was a tattered streamer of intestine, intestine that had obviously been
on before the clearly deranged father had gone off in search of something else to gnaw on. Reese stood in the doorway to the nursery in a bright, sun-filled home off of Mulholland Drive, a nursery where bloodied footprints led out into the hall he was standing in. Children’s toys and games and puzzles were strewn across the floor, courtesy of a large shelving unit that had been knocked over. The drapes had been torn from the windows, and they lay in blood-speckled heaps near the crib. The name JOSHUA had been painted on the pale blue walls with an artistic flair, flanked by two big photos of the deceased child, one being swaddled by a new mother, the other of a proud new dad—now lying on his back, stone-cold dead, in the driveway of the house next door. Joshua—or what remained of him—lay motionless and cooling in the crib, his small head separated from his ravaged neck, all limbs missing, his body cavity emptied of all its previous possessions. The tang of blood and feces and urine hung in the room like some inescapable taint, and for the first time many years, John Reese felt like throwing up.
“So look, how are we going to handle this?”
Reese turned away from the carnage and looked at the senior patrolman who had come up the hall behind him, studiously avoiding the bloodied footprints that led away from the room. Bloody hash marks graced the walls at certain intervals, where blood-soaked hands had brushed against them. More pictures had been knocked askew. Reese had glanced at them on his way to the nursery. Photos of a young, successful couple, and their frequent trips to faraway places he would never see.
The patrolman was a sergeant, a ten-year veteran of the LAPD. He looked at Reese with a frozen face, valiantly fighting to ward off the horror of the scene that he had come face to face with over an hour ago.
“What do you want us to do?” the sergeant asked. “We’ve isolated the scene, and the house next door. The guy who was bit, he’s on his way to the hospital. Gotta tell you something, he doesn’t look so good. I have the officers who responded and shot the attacker hanging out in their car. SID is on the way, but their tech is running late, since he was on another call. Won’t be here for at least another hour.” The sergeant had dark hair that was shot through with strands of gray combed back from his forehead and held in place with copious amounts of styling gel. Reese wore his own hair high and tight, as he’d always had it, ever since he was a kid in high school and a star guard on the basketball team. Before that, he’d worn it long, real long, like a rock star from the 80s, but opposing players had a tendency to yank on it every now and then, even if it resulted in a personal foul. To ward off having his head yanked from side to side like some crazy yo-yo, he’d decided to go with a crew cut.
“What happened to the guy who got attacked? What’s his name?”
“Stanley Lazar. VP of accounting with Morgan Stanley. The EMTs took him away, said his vitals were for shit. Guy was probably having a heart attack, or a seizure, or something.”
“We’ll need to talk with him,” Reese said, a little annoyed that the man had been carted off to the hospital. “Did the EMTs say what was wrong with him?”
“They didn’t know, just that he was crashing out.”
“Did you see him?”
“Yeah. I saw him.”
Reese spread his hands. “And?”
“And what? Do I look like a doctor to you? I didn’t even stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night, Detective.”
“Sergeant, just tell me how he looked. Okay?”
“Fucked up. In shock. He’d been bitten on the arm, and the bite ... it was turning black.” The sergeant shook his head. “Never seen anything like it before, and the EMTs didn’t like the way it looked. Said it was some sort of infection, but the guy had just been bitten.” He looked at Reese. “Tell you the truth, we’re wondering if this guy who bit him and ... did this ...” He nodded toward the abattoir-cum-nursery. “Well, we were wondering if maybe he had some sort of infectious disease.”
Reese shrugged. He didn’t know anything about that. “Are Detectives Gonzales and Whittaker outside?”
“Yeah. You want me to go get them?”
The sergeant left, happy to do so, striding away, his movements sure and swift. Reese turned back to the tragedy that lay inside the nursery. He would have to go in. There was no way around it.
But Lord, he really didn’t want to.
What kind of sick fuck could do this to his own kid ...
He pulled on his latex gloves and slipped on thin booties over his dress shoes. The sterile dressings would help preserve the sanctity of the murder scene, not that there was any question what had happened. He’d quickly examined the corpse outside, the one the patrol cops had shot six times before it finally collapsed. The man had been wearing nothing but a pair of boxer briefs, and the five bullets holes in his chest and belly had stood out like dark dots against his pale skin. But it was the shot beneath his right eye that had done him in, he had been told when he arrived on scene. The guy had taken the body shots without even flinching as he had advanced upon the cops when they arrived, and he had finally gone down when one of them managed to drill him in the head. There were expended cartridges all over the street, he had noticed. The unis had pretty much emptied their pistols at the guy, and only hit him six times at a range of twelve to fifteen feet. Other cops were canvassing the houses in the area, looking to see if anyone else had been hit by the fusillade. That would make the LAPD’s day, if some little kid had been shot, or if a pregnant mother had been cut down while going to the bathroom.
Just another day in the Southland ...
Slowly, reluctantly, Reese stepped into the nursery. He forced himself to look at the ravaged remains in the crib, and found it was just as horrible as he had feared it might be. A man, even one as jaded as a homicide detective, could take only so much. Reese could get through it, could conduct the investigation, but he knew the cost was going to be high. As soon as he saw the small, hairless head lying askew inside the crib, he decided that he was going to throw in the towel and retire.
Enough was enough.
Reese almost jumped, and he turned to see Detectives Roger Whittaker and Renee Gonzales standing in the hallway, peering into the room. Whittaker was a tall black man, his face neutral and blank, but there was something furtive about his eyes. He kept them rooted on Reese, not scanning the room like he usually did, fixing his attention on the lead detective, as if that somehow might spare him from the horror that lay inside the nursery. Behind him, Gonzales held back, standing near the hallway’s far wall, her eyes downcast. Whittaker was tall and broad, six foot three and about two hundred pounds of hard muscle. Gonzalez was short and plump, older than the men because she’d gotten a late start in her career, but she was in many ways sharper and more facile than Whittaker. Whittaker was a meat-and-potatoes kind of detective; Gonzalez had a more agile mind, and could contemplate circumstances the big man might stroke out over.
“The guy who got bit—did either of you have an opportunity to interview him before he was taken away?” Reese asked.
“Nope. Guy wasn’t exactly in the frame of mind for a chat,” Whittaker said. “He was in full-on meltdown by the time we got here, and then the EMTs tossed him in the meat wagon and took him to Cedars.”
“Go there and try again,” Reese said. “I want to know what happened. Any word on the mother?”
“She’s on her way. Took off before we could get transport to her. She’s headed here.”
“Who is she?”
“Some veep at Warner Brothers. Said her husband wasn’t feeling well today, but she had a meeting she couldn’t shake. Was going to finish up and come right back, said she’d be done at about ten. Said the husband didn’t look that bad to her, and that he said she could go to work.”
“She know what happened?” Reese asked.
Whittaker glanced back at Gonzales, then turned back to Reese. He shook his broad head slowly.
“No, man. She doesn’t know.”
Reese sighed. “All right. You guys get over to Cedars. Interview the neighbor. Let me know what you find. I’ll square away the wife, wait here for SID, then head back to the station and start the murder book.”
“You need us to hang out for a while?” Whittaker asked. “I mean, you handling the mother alone, that’s—”
“I’m good to go on that, Rog. You and Renee head for Cedars. Call me when you know what’s going on.” Whittaker shifted on his size fourteen feet, looking uncomfortable, but also almost
to be assigned to duty away from the murder scene. Behind him, Gonzales remained sedate, almost emotionless. She stared down at the floor before her, not meeting Reese’s gaze.
“Go on, guys. I’ve got this, and there are a ton of unis here to help out.”
“Uh ... yeah, all right,” Whittaker said finally, adjusting the wire-framed glasses he wore. He smoothed out his tie and took a step back from the door. He let his eyes wander toward the crib then, and his chin quivered minutely. That was all it took to break his reluctance to leave the scene, and he pivoted on his foot.
“Call you from the hospital,” he said, and walked away.
Gonzales looked up at Reese then, finally. “Something like this happened in Encino last night,” she said. “A man and a woman—they attacked their neighbors and killed their dogs. The neighbors barricaded themselves in a bedroom, and the West Valley guys had to shoot them both.”
“Shoot the attackers, you mean?”
Reese wondered about that, then mentally shrugged. “Good to know,” he said.
“Renee, you coming?” Whittaker asked from the far end of the hall.
“Yes,” she said, and she moved like she couldn’t get away fast enough. Reese was left alone in the nursery, surrounded by blood and feces and tattered flesh, and the ghost of a murdered child.
SINGLE TREE, CA
Dubai was on fire.
Danielle Kennedy watched it on the TV in the diner, wondering how such a thing had come to pass. She’d passed through Dubai while serving in Iraq, just a quick transit, so she’d had only the barest tastes of what the city and the UAE had to offer. It had been beautiful, of course; so very, very different from other cities she’d seen, like Los Angeles and Las Vegas or Reno. And most certainly, a world apart from lowly Single Tree, California, though the town she lived in was on the edge of a desert itself. She’d fancied the city was one of those places that was simply too beautiful to be real, and in a large part, she’d been correct about that. Dubai was completely manufactured, one of many virtually prefabricated jewels erected by the emirs and sultans and princes of the region, who burned through billions on lavish, indulgent projects while the majority of their countrymen barely earned enough to even exist. But seeing the city on fire, its great alabaster skyscrapers toppling, wreathed in flames and belching foul, black smoke into the air ... well, that was quite a lot for her to take in, as she sat in the back room on her break, rubbing her leg.