Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1) (5 page)

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
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“He what, son? What did he do?”

“He snatched up the head with its hole eyes, trying to scare us when we come through the trees.”

Carroll and Abe Stroud exchanged a look, Stroud glad that he'd kept the skull on the seat in his car. Eventually he'd see to it that the skull got a thorough going over. For a moment he flashed on Bill Briggs's toying with the other skull on TV. To Stroud the grown man's behavior was far more sick and ludicrous than eleven- and twelve-year-olds playing with the horrid mask of death deep in the wood.

“So, Timmy scared you all and you left him there?”

“No, sir! I wasn't scared. Some of 'em were, but not me.”

Stroud calmed the child's indignity at having been called a coward in front of his father. “Sorry, Joe, I didn't mean you. But now, remember, Timmy held the skull's eyes up at you all and shouted something like 
boooooo!
 right?”

“He tried.”

“What do you mean, he tried?”

“Dog, that dog, Dish.”

“What about Dish?”

“He didn't like it, not a bit. He, he jumped onto Timmy's back and started growlin' at him, so Timmy threw the skull down, claiming it bit him, crying and showing his fingers where he said the-the skull bit him!”

Carroll's wife chuckled nervously, and Carroll said, “Boys ... what imaginations.”

“What happened to Timmy then, Joe? Joe?”

“He run off.”

“Ran off? Alone?”

“Deeper into the woods.”

“Really, and what about Dish?”

“Dish run right along with him, nipping at him like it was all a game. Dish was getting weird though.”

“Weird?”

“Growly and snarly, like a wolf all of a sudden.”

“What happened next?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing else happened. It was dark, and we ... we knew we'd best get home, or get a tannin', so...”

“You all allowed Timmy to run deeper into the wood, while the rest of you went home?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied, looking to his parents, tired of this game now.

“I think Joey's had quite enough,” said Mrs. Carroll, a thin woman wearing a nightgown that hung limp around her small frame, glasses perched on her nose, somewhat plain and bitchy looking, Stroud felt.

“It really is late,” said Carroll, weakly agreeing.

“Sure, sure. Thank you, Joe,” said Abe Stroud to the boy. Joey Carroll just looked over his shoulder and gave the strangest smile Stroud had ever seen in a child his age. It was not snide or spiteful, but a knowing smile, as if to say in an old man's wink, “I know you've had a tough night, too.” Then the boy was gone, and Stroud stood staring at Carroll.

“What do you make of it?” he asked Carroll.

“Make of it?”

“The boy's story.”

“Sounds like boys at play to me.”

“Sounds like something's missing to me.”

“Joey's no liar,” his mother defended him.

“No matter what mistakes he and the other boys made,” said Carroll, “Joey wouldn't lie to us. He said he saw the boy before dinner, and that's the last he saw of Timmy Meyers.”

“He's chosen to leave something out, or he has turned things about. Sure, there's truth in what he's saying, but there's also something else he's not telling. I can't quite say what just yet, but the boy's hiding something.”

“For God's sake, the boy's only just turned thirteen. What dark secret are you looking for, Stroud?”

“Was Joey part of a group of boys who always hung together?”

“Hung together?”

“Did things together?”

“Yeah, what of it?”

“But Timmy--is he a part of Joey's regular crowd?”

“The Meyers family's new to Andover.”

He was an outsider, Stroud realized now, like himself.

“The Meyers family's new to the area, but my son would not be treating a newcomer badly, Professor. I'm not sure I appreciate the tenor of your questions, nor the direction they've taken.”

“Your son ever involved in an initiation rite with the group of boys he plays with?”

“That's out of the question!”

“Have you ever discussed it with him?”

“I have had absolutely no reason to do so! No!”

Mrs. Carroll was leaning into the doorway to the room where they stood, and for a moment Abe Stroud saw an intense spark of hatred blaze across her eyes, just before she said, “The hour is uncivil, Professor Stroud.”

Something about the dog's behavior in the boy's story, for one, didn't ring true. Timmy's dog chasing him?

“I think it time you left!” she said and stormed off.

“Sorry, she ... she's not normally like this, but it's got her upset, the whole thing. These missing children, and then she thinks of how close ... how it might well have been our boy, you see.”

“Sure ... I see,” replied Stroud. “Want a lift back to pick up your truck?”

“No, no ... I'll fetch it in the morning.” The predawn sky told both men that it was already morning.

“Fine. See you later then, and please, extend my apologies to Mrs. Carroll.”

“Absolutely ... and good night, Doctor Stroud.”

Stroud departed the neat two-story brick house in Andover, the spin of his wheels sending a cascade of rocks bulleting up the driveway as he backed out. Alongside him, on the seat, the skull tipped over and was lying upright, staring and grinning at him, laughing at him, daring him to bend and kiss it.

Being alone with the damned thing wasn't as easy as being with Carroll and the damned thing.

“What kind of person had lived out a life inside this skull?” he asked himself. Only time and precise examination might provide the answers. He had to get head bone connected to the neck bone, connected to all the others, to show first that the bone pile, while it appeared a random dumping ground, housed whole people who were buried intact. The bones were very likely Indian, from a mound leveled at a much earlier date when the highway was built, and now eroded completely. The last scratch had been supplied by Timmy's dog. Stroud's services might be useful to Briggs and Andover. He knew enough about bones to shed light on the discovery. Still, his heart went out to little Timmy Meyers who'd most assuredly been teased, frightened, bullied, and shamed into running off with his dog who's snarly behavior was likely in response to the other boys' bullying and pressing the ugly little skull into Timmy's face. Stroud knew how kids worked. He had part of the puzzle. But some of the pieces might never surface.

-4-

His return to the scene of the discovery made him angry enough to kill. Carl Dimetrios had arrived, and had moved in with his yellow backhoe. Bones were being destroyed in the process, many lost in a mountain of soil that hadn't been here when Stroud had left with Carroll.

Stroud rushed to the backhoe and lunged onto the side step, snatching out the key. The machine came to a coughing halt.

“Son of a bitch, Briggs!” the Greek, Dimetrios, shouted.

Briggs rushed toward them with Dr. Oliver Banaker on his arm, shouting that Dr. Banaker was now in charge and that he had ordered the backhoe in.

“Nothing here to preserve, really,” said Banaker curtly. “But if that boy was put in the earth here, well, the faster we dig, the better.”

“You're a medical doctor, Banaker,” said Stroud. “What the hell do you know about bones besides the ones you've set?”

“So happens I'm a bone specialist.”

“Among other things?”

“I'm also Chief Medical Advisor for the police, Doctor Stroud, and frankly, I don't believe you have any say in this matter, since it is a police investigation.”

“This is a grave site of some sort and you're devastating it!”

“Tell him, son!” shouted Dr. Martin Magaffey who came up beside Stroud. Magaffey was visibly put out, shaking with indignation, his features pinched. Banaker represented the medical profession in Andover. Martin Magaffey--at an advanced age that caused him seizures during which he dozed off while standing, sometimes while performing an autopsy--was to be replaced by a man appointed by Banaker as soon as the one with the right stuff came along. “He would have to be a fool,” Magaffey had confided in Stroud once, “a fool to take the putrid pay, the indignities, and the overwhelming tasks!”

Before all this had exploded in Stroud's face, he had been looking over the arcane system which had made Banaker Magaffey's superior. It was an odd mix of medicine and politics that smacked of the sort of horror that usually occurred whenever government and medicine crawled into bed together. Stroud didn't like it, but today's fiasco was real proof that Banaker only made evidence-gathering in Andover inexcusably muddled. Whatever happened to scientific police investigation?

“Banaker's in charge,” Briggs said.

Stroud carried his argument over to Magaffey as the backhoe was churned up again. “You get Banaker out of it, and I'll see what I can do,” Magaffey said. “If he's involved, I'm not! Sorry, son ... just ineffective, whole damned process. Used to think that my having to report to the police chief as his underling was bad. This structure now, ten times worse. Banaker's a two-faced--”

He let it drop suddenly when from across the length of a hundred yards he looked up and saw Banaker's eyes riveted on him and Stroud. “He's wondering how soon he can get rid of me; look at 'im. Doesn't like your being here, either, if you'd like to know, Stroud.”

“Likes to run the show, huh? Can't accept an idea not his own?”

“You got it.” Magaffey, his wild thin hair lifting and falling with the a.m. breeze, laughed at this. “Sure ... sure, and my mouth's got me into more trouble than anyone in Andover oughta have. I don't know.... Was a time Andover was a nice place to live, raise a family.”

“You small-town lifers don't trust anyone, do you, Doc? Banaker's father started the clinic, didn't he?”

“His father wasn't like him.”

“Fair man?”

“No, but at least he didn't pretend to be! Say what you will, Stroud ... town's changed, and it ain't all for the good. Not no more.”

“So, what do you think of the bones, Doc?” Stroud wanted very much to get the white-haired old gentleman back on course before he went on another tirade or had a bout with his dropsy.

“Bones is bones, some say. Me, I know bones, son. I tell you one thing.” He came close and conspiratorially whispered, “These here bones've been buried twice.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“What do you mean by twice?”

“Not so damned loud, Stroud. Want that chickenshit Briggs, or that TV man to hear? Just what I said, damn it--the bones I've seen buried here aren't fresh. They've all seen better days.”

“Some sort of archaeological find, you telling me? An Indian burial mound, maybe. I've seen the Cahokia find up north of here. Northwestern University, Dr. Treller.”


Nooooooo
! Damn it, Stroud, how'd you ever get so far on your own?”

Stroud dropped his gaze, rubbed his unshaven face, and felt for some reserve with the old man. Maybe Banaker was right about Magaffey. Maybe Magaffey ought not to be working on important forensic evidence in such cases as this. Maybe he was senile as hell. Hard to say of a coroner.

The old man retained much of his sharpness, however, reading Stroud's expression and saying, “Don't look like that, Abraham Stroud, not in my direction. Hell, boy, I've forgot more about bones than Banaker ever knew. Calls himself a bone expert over at that spanking new technological wonder of his, but the damned fool hasn't even seen this. Looky here.” The old man pushed a long femur into Stroud's face. “Hold this at the tip where it's been lobbed off--”

“Broken off?”

“Precision cut at the joint where the red marrow's found, you know, the spongy stuff? My guess'd be we won't find even a speck of it, not even in the microscope. Hell, Banaker could even put it under his goddamned whatchamightcall it--
ahhh, ahhh, eeee
lectron scope--and he wouldn't find a damned trace! Not a trace! My eyes and a friggin' flashlight tell me as much. Don't need no 
eeee
lectrons telling me that.”

Stroud stared at the femur for a moment. “Someone sliced this bone with a saw of some sort, near the joint--”

“With long bones,” said the old doctor of forensics, “the marrow's all around the ends. Short, flat bones it runs all the way through, but these long 'uns like this and the arm bones, mostly filled with yellow marrow, not the red stuff where blood cells are produced, you see.”

Stroud scratched behind his ear, and the old man told him that never helped anyone to think clearly. “Look, son, most of those bones in that pile?” The old man winked.

“Yes, sir?”

“Most of 'ems children's bones.”

“Doctor, what are you getting at?”

“Christ, Stroud, most every bone in a child's body is chock full of red marrow, even the long ones! Children are factories for producing healthy red blood cells so as to build bones and teeth! Hell, a 
Crest
 commercial'll tell you that.”

Stroud frowned at this. Nearby, Chief Briggs was directing Dimetrios to take his hoe to the second site. Many hundreds of bones had already been uncovered. Banaker wanted every one unearthed now.

“Let me get this straight, Doctor Magaffey,” said Stroud over the roar of the machine at work. “Are you saying that these bones've been buried not once, but twice?”

“Be a third time after Banaker's through playing games.”

“I've heard of 
Twice Told Tales,
 but twice buried bones?”

“It's a fact.”

“How ... how can you know that?”

“One thing, Abe, people's bones aren't supposed to be robbed of the goddamned marrow. Maybe that occurs in Chicago at some fancy institutes when some cancer patients leave their bodies to scientific study, but around here ... people got funny ideas about their bodies going to science. They got the notion that if you're not buried with your heart and your head, you're most likely never going to find your way to the Pearly Gates.”

“Superstition, you mean,” muttered Stroud, studying the long femur bone at the end where it would have met with the knee cap. There was a definite cut, and the usual red earth, or powder, of dried bone marrow was missing. “It might just be that a carbon 14 dating on these bones is called for. For all we know--”

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
11.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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