Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1) (4 page)

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
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Stroud's eyes bore into Carroll's in the dark with the skull between them. Carroll felt the thought in Stroud's mind leap across the chasm between them. “Kids?”

“Group of them, maybe? With a dog, maybe?”

“A dog?”

Stroud was instantly sorry that he'd mentioned the dog. If the locals knew of a dog that'd been with Timmy Meyers, no one had made a particular point of it. Yet, here he was, a relative stranger to the area, telling Carroll that the missing boy was accompanied by a dog. Information he had garnered through a hazy and halting vision. He didn't want Carroll or anyone else thinking strange thoughts about him, so he quickly tried to cover himself, dispelling the nebulous vision of Timmy's cringing below the sight of his dead dog, by saying, “Kids and dogs go together, as natural as pie and cream; out for fun, they stumble onto this bone field. Maybe one of them was Timmy Meyers.”

“Lotta maybes....”

Stroud stood and stared at the fog-bound field, trying to envision the scene. Who would these kids be? Where were they now? Were they friends of the Meyers boy who lived on a farm not so far from here? Could the boy have ridden his bike down here, or caught a ride behind another kid on a bike? A series of questions that led to questions which in turn led to more. The search for a missing kid had turned into an investigation of foul play. You don't bury a kid's skull in a wood far from any roads just because you want to save on the cost of a pine box, although Abe had met some Andover folk who might think it the prudent thing to do.

A van with bright lights sped toward them and seeing it, Stroud groaned. Briggs went for the camera van like a bear on the scent of honey. It was an election year. “Here comes Eyewitness 2, Your Neighborhood Crime Watch Channel!” he said, repeating the tiresome television phrase.

“Suppose John McEarn'll be with 'em,” said Carroll flatly. “Went to school with the jerk. Guy's like an ant, the way he crawls over dead rats.”

“What the hell's he expect to get here now?”

“Teeth. Briggs'll show him a lot of teeth. And he'll want shots of the bones, of course. Ratings wet dream, that's what this is for McEarn.”

Stroud laughed lightly. It was the first time he'd so much as smiled this night. Carroll eased a bit himself now that he saw Stroud had lightened up. Someone among the searchers, all of whom had fanned out with lantern-size flashlights, shouted, “Over here! Some more! Over here.”

Briggs stared at Abe Stroud as if he were the Wizard of Oz. He could not believe there was yet another bone pile. None of them could. “Christ, Briggs, stands to reason,” said Stroud, marching off with Carroll who he took by the arm, directing the man toward his brand new four-by-four Jeep Cherokee. It had been his first purchase in Andover. Behind them they heard Briggs telling the newsman, McEarn, about the initial discovery of a single skull. Briggs made an ass of himself by stating for the camera that, “Hell, I thought it was just--you know--maybe a passin' hippie car from Arizona or someplace, just tossed it out with other trash.”

-3-

Stroud placed the skull on the seat of the Cherokee and told Carroll to get inside beside it. Ray Carroll didn't know what Stroud had in mind, but he got inside anyway, checking out the Jeep's features, fascinated by it, saying he'd always wanted one, had promised himself he'd own one before he died. Stroud tore off into the ditch and up again on the other side, driving through the tree cover and out into the open field where all the others had raced to the new bone site. He hit his brights and flooded the field and the men on it, their shadows doing a dance of a distance of some fifty yards. “Throw some goddamned light on the subject,” he said curtly as Andover men scurried to get out of his way.

“Jesus! Goddamn!” they alternately swore and threw dirt clods at the Jeep. Behind and now beside Stroud came the news van, anxious to get in closer, the wheels kicking up twice the loose soil that the Jeep had.

When Stroud got out, he didn't have to push his way past the others. The ones remaining in his way eased back from him, allowing him entry without a word. None of them knew Stroud well, since he'd just taken up residence among them three months before but they did know he was a tough man. It wasn't something he'd done, or ever said, not even backing down Glen “Turnip” Turner. Until tonight Stroud hadn't ever had to display it. It was just accepted when another man looked into his face and those hard, cold eyes. His eyes told others that he had killed men.

The man who'd found the additional bones was Ray Carroll's brother-in-law, Mitch Campbell. Campbell was shaken; like others here, he was a man with kids of his own, a hefty wife, and an even heftier mortgage. He worked for the city, road work, Stroud had heard. Like Ray Carroll, he became a volunteer because he always volunteered. When Andover had a completely volunteer fire department, both men were on it, as were many of the other men present tonight. In old junkers and pickups, Jimmys and Jeeps equipped with CB radios, they came from out of the seemingly empty night on a moment's notice: Andover's Minutemen.

“What've we got, Professor?” asked Chief Briggs, playing to the camera now rolling as Briggs kneeled into sight of bones half in and half out of the earth.

“Back off a bit,” said Stroud. “Watch your step. Damn, whole area's covered with footprints. No way to reconstruct what went on here.”

“Back off,” Briggs repeated, “just a bit.”

Stroud's thoughts raced ahead of him. He didn't tell the Chief or the camera or the others that the bones had something to say. Stroud studied them for longer than was comfortable to the camera eye. He studied them until his legs complained with cramps. He sifted through the dirt and pulled some out and stared and hummed to himself until everyone present was also uncomfortable.

Finally, Briggs said, “Well, whataya think, Professor?”

In a near whisper into the microphone, McEarn, somewhere over Stroud's shoulder, told the listening audience at home who Professor Abraham Stroud was. Stroud said tonelessly, “Chief, you can't bulldoze this area until--”

“Backhoe, son ... backhoe. Don't intend to doze it over. Intend to dig and sift until we got the extent of the problem in our sights.”

This sounded good to everyone present who agreed with verbal soundings.

“Just give me until sundown tomorrow,” said Stroud. “I think this area is some sort of burial ground.”

Briggs only scratched behind his ear.

Stroud said to the gathered men, “Do any of you men know who Timmy Meyers played with, went to school with?”

“Be my boy, Joey,” said Carroll, “but--”

“Did you talk to him about the disappearance?”

“He came home late ... didn't eat ... wasn't feeling well ... went up to bed early.”

“Is it possible, Mr. Carroll, that he played with Timmy before dark? That he was the last person to see the boy?”

“We couldn't get him to say much when we asked him about it. Said he and Timmy weren't playing together anymore. You know kids.”

Stroud knew some kids, but he'd never had any of his own. Still, as a cop, he knew how their minds worked, particularly when they were scared. He'd interrogated a lot of frightened kids during his time in Chicago.

“Would you mind, Mr. Carroll--”

“Ray.”

“--Ray--if I talked with the boy?”

“He'll be asleep hours ago.”

“It could help.”

The insurance man nodded. “I guess ... maybe ... when I think it could be Joey out here missing ... well...”

The unspoken truth was that any boy lost in these woods could be dead by morning. “Get into the Jeep and we'll go together.”

Stroud began to make his way back around the Jeep when the TV floodlights hit him in the eyes, making him curse.

“What progress, Professor Stroud, has been made in locating the Meyers boy? What do the bone finds have to do with the boy's disappearance?”

Stroud grabbed John McEarn and lifted him against the side of the Jeep. “You have any idea what that kind of broadcast'll do to the boy's parents, you hemorrhagic ass?” Briggs and a deputy pulled Stroud away from the newsman before Stroud's fists got into the act. For a moment, Stroud felt like a cop again.

McEarn was shouting that he'd be sorry for his actions.

Stroud got into the Jeep and tried to calm down, taking a great breath of air.

“Rest of you men, we're not going to be able to do much here 'til daybreak when we can see what we're doing. Go on and finish your sweep for the Meyers boy. Leave any more old bones to us. Meanwhile, my deputies'll be with you,” Briggs was saying.

Stroud and Carroll tore off, the Jeep backing out at full tilt, lights picking up Briggs holding up a skull to the TV cameras. Stroud cursed under his breath and grabbed for the skull he had placed on the seat earlier, his large hand wrapping around it in a protective cocoon. He stopped the Jeep and drove forward again, whirling alongside the chief, kicking up dust and whirling dervishes into the camera and his face. Briggs's interview was stopped. Stroud shouted out to Briggs, “Whatever you do, Chief, hold off on the goddamned heavy equipment until I get back.”

Briggs was choking on dirt, wildly shaking his fist high over his head when Stroud's Jeep hit the pavement and raced down the tarmac. The black ribbon of the twisting highway had been neglected here for so long that even the center lines had become invisible. Stroud thought the road looked like the nearby river, two of a kind.

“Eerie, isn't it?” asked Ray Carroll of the bone field.

“Yeah, you might call it that.”

“Never seen the like of it ... outside the carcass room at the slaughter house.”

“Slaughter house?”

“Sure, Andover's biggest employer. We hold the policy.”

“What, like cattle? Beef?”

“Beef, yeah, but everything else, too. Sheep, pigs, veal when the season's on.”

“Lot of bones there, sure.”

“Bones are ground up for meal. Every so often somebody has an accident on the job. We cover the damages--workman's comp package, the whole shot. We have an inspection made once a year. Last time, I went along.”

“How old's your boy, ahhh?”

“Joey, he just turned thirteen. Quite a boy. Won MVP for soccer this year. He's a good kid. Gets in his share of trouble, but a good-hearted kid like him, you won't find another--”

“Think he understands the importance of our finding Timmy?”

“Sure ... sure he does.”

Then how could he sleep?
 Stroud wondered.

The insurance man and the hard-edged archeologist continued on in silence toward Carroll's house aside for an occasional question raised by Ray Carroll.

“What do you think my boy can tell you?”

“Don't know till we ask.”

“He won't know anything about the bones, I promise you.”

“He may not.”

“He likely doesn't know anything about the other boy's disappearance either.”

“Maybe not.”

“But you want to wake him in the middle of the night and ask him anyway?”

“I do. You can tell me no, of course, bar me entrance at the door, if you like, Mr. Carroll, but so long as you do not, I'm going to wake the boy and ask him some questions.”

“I see.”

Stroud caught sight of the grinning skull that dirtied the seat between them when they passed under the street lamp. 
Make no bones about it,
 Stroud thought but did not say.

They arrived at the Carroll house where all lights were out. Ray Carroll made a loud entry, purposefully rousing first his wife and then the children. He had several kids, two younger than the boy Stroud wished to question. Mrs. Carroll had to be restrained by her husband. She didn't want her son “interrogated” in the middle of the night. When Carroll tried to explain to her who Stroud was, the fact he was a former cop upset her even more.

“Darling,” Carroll pleaded, “Abe's just trying to get at the truth.”

“Joey wouldn't lie to me.”

“No, I know that, but this isn't like cutting school.”

“If your child were missing, Mrs. Carroll, you'd want everyone to cooperate,” said Stroud firmly.

“You're that stranger that took hold of the Stroud place, aren't you?” she asked with a suspicious index finger pointed at him.

“I am the grandson, yes.”

She nodded, her stare summing him up. He was from Chicago, therefore he was a mobster in hiding, more likely related to Al Capone or Bugs Moran than to old Mr. Stroud. And even if he was who he said he was, old Mr. Stroud himself had been an eccentric oddball.

“It could save a life,” Stroud said.

Stroud was finally allowed a few minutes, but not alone with the boy. The mother and father stood nearby, staring pointedly at their son.

“Yeah,” he said sleepily, rubbing his eyes, “we were all of us playin' when we found the bones.”

“Now, listen, Joe,” said Abe Stroud, “those bones--did you kids dig them up?”

“We didn't ... sir, not all of us ... and not at first.”

Stroud studied the child's expression as he spoke and he believed the boy was telling the truth as best he might under the circumstances. “Joe, how did you boys first discover the bones?”

“Timmy's dog got at 'em.”

Then Timmy did have a dog with him, and so the vision of the dead animal hanging limp over the child's amazed eyes was not merely symbolic or meaningless after all, thought Stroud. He swallowed this news with calm acceptance while Carroll said, “By golly, you said he'd have a dog with him.”

Stroud gently told Joey to continue.

“Dish!” Joey near shouted it.

“Dish?”

“Called his dog Dish,” said Ray Carroll.

“Short for Dishrag,” added Joey, his eyes widening. “Ain't that funny?”

Stroud intentionally called the boy Joe. “Joe, did Dish find the bones and start tearing at them?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you boy's did what?”

“Tried to pull him away. First we didn't know what he'd run up on. We just wanted to keep going, but Dish wouldn't leave it alone. So, Timmy, he went back for him.”

“Alone?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But you all saw the dog was into a bone pile, is that right?”

“Some of the boys said it was old animal bones where a coon died or something. We didn't want nothing to do with it. Then Timmy went back for Dish ... and he ... and he...”

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
4.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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