Dell hated getting wet. Almost as much as he hated being cold. Right now, he was both, but he hardly noticed it. He didn’t notice the red and blue lights shining off the puddles in the road. Flint’s presence beside him barely registered, despite their years of friendship on the force.
No, right now, he noticed two things. One was the blood. It ran, pooled, and dripped, mixing with the cold rain, and headed into the gutter.
“That makes number five, doesn’t it?”
Dell snapped out of his reverie. “What’s that, Flint?”
“I said, that’s the fifth one since October. Good thing Kiley Fogelsanger had those quintuplets last week, or we’d hafta change the population number on the town sign.”
Dell grunted in response and crouched down to get a better look at the victim. “Certainly looks like the others, yeah.” Dell looked up at the uniforms standing nearby. “Any sign of Spackman yet?”
“Said he’s on his way.”
Flint scoffed. “This is why having one M.E. for the county is a bad idea. Sure, it helps the budget, but if we’ve got a situation here in Gloaming Gap, takes him for-freakin’-ever.”
“I don’t need a medical examiner to tell me how this lady died.” Dell stood up. “I just want to know who did it.”
At that, Flint raised an eyebrow. “Don’tcha mean ‘what’? Isn’t this just another coyote or wolf attack?”
Dell was noticing the rain now. His muscles were aching from more than just the pummeling he had taken at the gym that morning. If it had been a few degrees colder, they would have been standing in foot-thick snow. And if it had been a few degrees warmer, it still would have been a damn cold rain. It wasn’t a few degrees warmer.
“No, Flint. This wasn’t a coyote. Or a wolf. This was a person.” Dell stepped over to the storm drain and reached down. There was a glint of white and gold against his blue latex glove. “This is fresh. Victim’s not missing any teeth. And I don’t think too many coyotes get fillings.”
“Damn,” Flint breathed, staring at Dell’s discovery. “Never woulda thought a human being could do something like this.”
“I said a person. There’s nothing ‘human’ about tearing out a person’s throat. With your teeth.”
Flint pulled the car up to the front of the station. “Sure I can’t change your mind, Dell? I know how much you like Max’s cooking, and seriously, the steak tartare we had tonight? Mm-mmm!”
“Appreciate the offer, Flint. I wanna get the paperwork logged on this one pretty quickly. Something’s bugging me about it…”
His partner flashed a smile. “You mean, aside from the whole ‘dead and mutilated body’ thing, right?”
Dell scowled. “I moved away from the ‘Burgh so I wouldn’t have to deal with as much of this. Now, we’ve got five bodies in a season.”
“Five? Dell, you mean we gotta reopen all the rest of those? I thought Spackman signed off on the coyote thing with them.”
“He did. But I’m telling you, he was wrong. This winter’s not nearly been bad enough to force wild animals into town to find food. But we wouldn’t even have suspected it if it wasn’t for that filling.”
“Good catch on that, by the way. You’ve got eyes in ya, old man. How ’bout I run a doggie bag out to ya later? Seriously, Dell, you look like hell. I don’t even wanna know how you get half those bruises you always got on you.”
Dell winced at the attention. “Sure, go ahead and pick on the runner-up middleweight of the northeast corridor. I’m fine, Flint. Take off, and get home. Max already thinks you spend too much time with me.”
Flint smiled again, patting the barely noticeable bump in her abdomen. “Yeah, but he’ll change his tune once I start my maternity leave. You know I’ll drive him crazy being around the house all the time.”
“I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be rid of you, Flint.” Dell got out of the sedan, stepping onto the wet pavement.
Flint called out, “That’s ’cause you’re a sad and lonely old man, Dell!” and drove away with a wave.
It was still cold, but at least the rain had slacked off. Dell walked through the stiff, cold wind up to the front door of the station. There was a connection between these five deaths. More than just the M.O., but they hadn’t yet been able to nail it down.
Dell swung open the door, and was pummeled by a blast of hot air. The blowers were pushing out as much hot air–and noise–as possible. He could see sweat running down the desk sergeant’s face, staining his blue shirt. He yelled over the sound, “Problem with the thermostat, Rotz?”
Rotz nodded wearily and yelled back. “Yessir! I’ve got a call into maintenance, but they can’t send anyone out until morning, unless it’s an emergency. And if I say it’s an emergency, the chief will take the double-time outta my paycheck. I can’t afford it any more than he can!”
Dell nodded in common understanding, then headed back the hallway towards the breakroom. The coffeepot was still on, meaning the sludge that was left over in the pot was now burnt sludge. Still, caffeine was caffeine, and Dell needed a shot of that to clear his head.
As he gulped down some of the swill, his eyes fell on the page-a-day wall calendar, then glanced at the clock on the wall. Dell hated staying up past midnight. It felt wrong for it to be whole new day when he was still dealing with the crap from the last one. He ripped the page declaring it to be JAN 29 off the calendar. Maybe tossing away yesterday would help clear his head. It didn’t, really. Although it did bring a bit of black humor with it.
SAT JAN 30
“Why is it the crazies always come out on the full moon?” Dell mumbled to himself. He then set his styrofoam cup down abruptly and ran back the hallway to the front desk. “Rotz! You gotta monthly calendar around here somewhere? One that shows the moon phases on it?”
Rotz looked at Dell in confusion, then gestured at the small one on his desk. “Sure…brand new one right here!”
“No, I need one that goes back to last year. We have any old ones lying around?”
Both Rotz and Dell looked around at the desks in the station. Finally, they found one hanging on the wall outside the men’s room that still showed December, 2009. Dell began flipping through his notepad. Fortunately, they were pretty far from any of the air vents, so the noise wasn’t as overpowering. “Okay, last one was… December 31. New Year’s Eve.”
“Full moon,” replied Rotz.
“Um, well, the second was full, but it had to have been pretty close on the first.”
“Same as the first. It says the moon was full on the fourth, but it had to have been close on the third. A connection to your case, Dell?”
“Maybe, Rotz. Thanks.” Dell scribbled FULL MOON in his notepad, then headed back the hallway again, stopping to retrieve his coffee cup. He wasn’t sure what the connection meant yet, but at least it was a connection. His mind cleared a bit from the small victory, and he unlocked his office door in something that approached a good mood. That evaporated once he stepped inside.
The room had been completely trashed. The desk was upended, his chair was in shreds, and the cushions from his small couch were destroyed. Dell took a closer look at them, noting the massive bite marks on the cushions, and a few tufts of fur, strewn here and there. He continued to survey the damage, noting the window in the back of the room had been thrown open, offering at least a little relief from the oppressive heat of the building. The din of the air vents must have prevented Rotz from hearing what had happened. It looked like a large, ravenous dog had been let loose in the place.
Something was wrong.
Dell always kept his office door and windows locked; a leftover habit from his time in Pittsburgh. Moreover, the desk sergeant, either Rotz, or the guy on shift before him, would have noticed someone bringing a dog back the hallway. Meaning they had to have come in through the window. Dell walked over to the window, and began examining it as carefully as he could. The bright light of the full moon, just coming out from behind the clouds, assisted him in his investigation. Still, his brain was getting fuzzier and slower by the minute; the coffee wasn’t helping in the slightest.
There were no signs of damage to the window, aside from some faint scratches near the opened lock. Meaning that the dog had worried at the latch at some point…after having been in the room. Confusion was really starting to set in. There was no obvious way for a dog to get in, but plenty of evidence that there had indeed been one in there, and that it had gotten out. Dell rubbed his aching jaw, trying to think.
He walked back around the room, passing by a smashed mirror he had on one wall. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw unfamiliar movement. He spun around, pulling his Glock 17 from its holster. Clumsily, he dropped the gun; his fingers weren’t working right. “What the hell’s going on?” he growled.
Looking up from the gun on the floor, he tried to find what he had just barely seen earlier. It didn’t take long; his eyes cleared and he saw it right in front of him. Elongated snout. Gray and black fur. Fangs dripping with saliva that sparkled in the light of the full moon streaming through the window. The vandal, the beast, the killer he’d been looking for was back. Far more than a large dog or a coyote…this was a wolf. Staring hungrily at him.
From the mirror.