The Hook, ch 17

Putting it Together

Jay from the Coroner’s office called up and yelled in his ear about the body from the truck. Mitch was a little surprised to hear that it had been a woman. He’d only caught a glimpse of it, but he’d thought it — she, he reminded himself — was a man. From dental records, she’d been identified as a high-school student named Laura Houang who’d gone missing a week before.

This wasn’t just sick perverted shit that got out of hand and might be an accident, this was the most horrible thing he’d ever seen or heard of done to anybody. There was no way in hell for someone to have most of their skin off without dying of shock in under two minutes or blood loss in ten or fifteen, but she’d clearly been alive for at least an hour in that state. She’d had to have had blood transfusions in order to even stay alive, and Jay could tell that she had; the donor was an O negative universal donor, and Houang’s blood had been type A. And hell yes she had elevated adrenaline levels, but what the hell is a normal adrenaline level for someone whose skin is missing?! Some of Jay’s call was medical facts that might be meaningful in the case, and some of it was just that Jay was having a really bad day because of this case and needed to yell at somebody.

Mitch listened attentively. He offered sympathy. And he wrote down every horrible detail, partly because it was his job and partly because he really didn’t want to have to be the only one at the station who knew about this horrible shit.

He’d wanted for the killer to leave some evidence. But this kind of evidence was … probably the only kind the bastard was going to leave. Mitch shook his head and sighed heavily, with the guilt of a man who’d gotten exactly what he’d wished for and wished he hadn’t.

Mitch was putting it together. No way could this be a coincidence. A Freakshow style attempted murder-suicide, happening in exactly such a way to take him and David out, was just too perfect. And what had happened to Houang — it wasn’t even physically possible for her to have done that to herself. You can’t give yourself a transfusion or neatly peel the skin off of hard-to-reach spots on your back or wrap plastic wrap around yourself from weird angles. No, this had been done to her, by a killer. There was no possible doubt any more, this was a killer. And for the first time, the press was all over it. They’d been listening to 911 dispatch, and at least one photographer had been as quick to respond as the ambulance crew. There was a nightmarish photograph of the body on the morning’s edition of the Chronicle. There was a crowd of reporters hanging around waiting for some kind of announcement. But before anybody could do that, someone had to talk to Houang’s family. There’d be press guys who wanted to talk to him every minute of every day from now on.

If he counted the testimony from this DeCourtney woman, she and Scudder were saying the same thing — except she claimed to actually be the same kind of freak they were talking about here. And after watching the tape of what had happened with her and Officer Thomas, he was willing to believe it.

Thomas was insisting that nothing real had happened now. He didn’t want to deal with the career fallout from admitting exactly what had happened, Mitch figured. Come to that, Mitch didn’t either, but the scale of the atrocities in this case made his career pretty insignificant by comparison. Stopping this killer had become his responsibility, not just in terms of his job, but in terms of what had to be done no matter what. If he couldn’t stop this killer, he couldn’t believe any more in a benevolent God. Realizing that brought him up short with surprise, but it was dead true.

And Mitch had seen the tape of DeCourtney’s interview. He saw exactly what had happened. Rose DeCourtney had looked at the camera, she had put her hands out to the side so that you could tell she wasn’t doing anything physical, and she had looked into Thomas’ eyes and Thomas had freaked. Mitch was ready to believe it now. This woman was exactly what she said she was. And this killer finally made sense. He had an MO, and now finally he had a method. There wasn’t really a motive except for the last one, trying to take out himself and Jackson, but there was as much motive as most psycho killers ever need.

And Mitch was on notice that there was a psycho killer out there, who could get into people’s heads, who wanted him and Jackson dead. That was a sobering thought and a damned scary one, but the killer getting close to him meant he was getting close to the killer, too. He was putting it together. If you took the mind control thing seriously, every one of the deaths in he file would connect and make sense and Wolf Scudder was an innocent man.

But what were the snags? The first one, why wasn’t Wolf Scudder dead? If the killer could get into people’s heads and make them kill themselves, why hadn’t he done it to Wolf? Why, for that matter, hadn’t he done it to Mitch? There was something that stopped him from getting into some people’s heads. There had to be. The killer had a weakness. There was something the killer couldn’t do, and in order to survive, Mitch had to understand what it was.

Thomas wasn’t admitting it, and Purdy wasn’t buying it. Jackson just didn’t know. But Mitch was one hundred percent sure now.

The forensics guys hadn’t gotten to the truck accident the same day, because Mitch himself had assigned them to the Clelland death. But that looked like nothing, because this Clelland guy had just started up in the middle of the night and run pell-mell off the edge of the roof. There weren’t really any clues on the roof where he’d been. Desperate for anything they could find to justify their presence there, they’d traced his footprints and figured out what ladder he’d used to reach the roof, but there wasn’t really much else. Homeless guys climbed onto roofs to sleep a lot, to get away from crazies down in the street. It looked like some other homeless guy had been sleeping up there on several nights before Clelland died, but the most recent fingerprints on the access ladder were Clelland’s. He’d been alone up there that night.

They’d dragged the panel truck and the car Mitch had been in to the police garage, photographed the skid marks, and opened up the street again, but Forensics hadn’t touched the truck until the next day. Mitch shuddered as he read what they had found. But it was fucking consistent. A sadistic psycho killer who could get inside other people’s heads could do that shit.

Finally, he had the forensics report from the Davis death. More sick shit. But dogs can’t rape somebody who’s fighting them, ’cause dogs have no damn hands. If the bastard had been in her head and she couldn’t fight, and in the dogs’ heads to make them do it – at the same time?? – then it could happen. He put the scene forensics together with the coroner’s findings. It was horrible, but it also, for the first time, made sense. Then another pattern caught his eye.

“Hey. Jackson. I got something.” The big detective came over to his desk as Mitch pulled a sheet of paper out of the Davis file. “Check this out. This is Davis’ footprints as she runs from the dogs. It’s a little bit complicated, but not too much. She runs around the end of this row of junk appliances here, trips over this cinder-block but gets back up and avoids this next one, right?” Jackson nodded.

“Now check out this.” Mitch pulled a sheet from the thin folder on the Clelland death. “This is Clelland’s footprints after he gets up from this roof in the middle of the night.” He laid it down next to the other, and looked up. Jackson’s eyes were darting back and forth. Thank God, he saw it too. Mitch wasn’t nuts.

“Okay… ” Jackson said. “So he gets up in the middle of the night, he runs from dogs that aren’t chasing him around the end of a row of junk appliances that’s not even up there on the roof with him, he trips over a cinder block that’s not there on the roof with him, and then before he gets to the next cinder block that isn’t there he tries to step on some ground that isn’t there either. And every goddamn footstep he makes until he goes off the edge of the roof is a footstep Davis made too. ” David Jackson pursed his lips. “Remember when I said this is a fuckin’ weird case, Flanagan?”

“Yeah.” Flanagan said.

“Well, it’s been gettin’ weirder each and every one of the three days I been on it.” David looked disgusted.

“But it’s starting to hang together,” Mitch said. “Don’t you see, this stuff is starting to make sense!”

Jackson looked at him in sympathy tinged with fear. “Mitch, don’t take this wrong, but this whole case is crazy. That means if it’s starting to make sense to you, you’re crazy too. I don’t know why this Clelland guy ran the same pattern of footprints as Davis. Clearly there’s some kind of connection, I’ll grant that. But there’s no kind of connection something like that could possibly be. Just because there are connections here, doesn’t mean the connections make any damn sense.”

“Well… I gotta admit I don’t like what I’m coming up with. It sounds like a flaky newage mystical idea. But it fits the facts.” Mitch pursed his lips and sat back. “David. You really think I’m going crazy?”

David looked up, and considered his answer for just a fraction of a second too long. Finally he said, “Mitch, remember in the car when I reached across to shove the wheel?”

Mitch nodded. “You saved our butts, David. If you hadn’t done that we would have gotten nailed head-on instead of in the rear quarter panel.”

David nodded back. “You weren’t paying attention to the road, Mitch.” It hung in the air for a second, and David plowed on again. “You’ve done a lot of work on this case, and I think you’re tired. And tired minds sometimes mix up reasonable things with unreasonable things. I hear Purdy asked you if you wanted a vacation. I don’t think you’re crazy, but I do think you should say yes.”

Mitch grimaced. “Duly noted. What if I say no?”

Jackson just looked at him for a second. “Then from now on, I’m driving,” he said.

“Works for me,” said Mitch.

“Way I see it,” said David, “We got two suspects right now. There’s this DeCourtney woman who did something to Thomas yesterday, and there’s this Mike Clelland who we were on our way to meet. They knew where we were going to be, and they knew from all the way over on Valencia when the crash happened on Cali.”

“Wait,” said Mitch. “How the hell would they know we’d be on Cali street, if we were going from here to Valencia? Cali street wasn’t even on our way.” But that thought brought Mitch up short suddenly. “If I was going to Morey’s bookstore on Valencia from here, what the fuck was I doing on Cali Street?” He pointed mutely at the map. “It was blocks out of our way, David. We should have been on Mission Street.”

David stared at the map. “Damn. You’re right. I didn’t notice it at the time, but Cali is on the wrong side of Market.” He turned, puzzled. “So what were you doing there, Mitch?”

Mitch looked back, baffled. “I don’t know. What did you think I was doing there?”

David looked down at the report he was writing, crossed out the words ‘knew where we were going to be’ and wrote in the words ‘knew we would be en route’. “Not exactly sure,” said David. “Actually, I don’t remember thinking about it at all.”

Jackson and Flanagan looked at each other. Both were frowning. There was something very wrong. Mitch had the sinking feeling he knew what it was, but he didn’t feel capable of convincing David. Besides, if it was true, the facts would have to lead David to it the same way they’d led Mitch there – and if they did, it would mean Mitch wasn’t going nuts. Or maybe that both of them were going nuts together.

“Dammit,” Mitch swore. “Okay, next up. DeCourtney’s in custody since yesterday night, so we’re going to have to charge her or release her by tomorrow night, on account of the forty-eight hour rule. You said she was one of your two suspects. Think we got enough to charge her?”

“Nope,” said David. “We got knowledge, but we don’t have motive, method, or opportunity. If you got different suspects I’d be glad to hear about it.”

“I don’t have any suspects yet,” Mitch said. “I think I know what we’re looking for, but that’s that newage craziness and so far it doesn’t lead me to any ideas about who we’re looking for. And about charging her, that’s how I broke it down too,” said Mitch. “You saw the interview tape from her and Thomas last night?”

“Yeah,” said David. “Looks like she didn’t do anything, it was Thomas who freaked out. Whatever happened, I think she and Thomas both ought to be glad he had to leave his gun in his desk.”

“And just maybe Thomas needs a vacation, too?” Mitch asked with a shrug.

Jackson pursed his lips. “Maybe.”

“Before we let her go, I’m going to talk to her,” said Mitch. “Her and Mike Clelland both, separately. If they’re our suspects, we can check their stories for inconsistencies and see if we can get cause for a conspiracy rap. And if my flaky newage crap is right, they’re witnesses and we need to know what they know.”

“If your flaky newage crap is right,” said David, mimicking his pronunciation which made ‘newage’ rhyme with ‘sewage,’ “then the kind of witnesses they are won’t be admissible in court.”

“Just like Wolf Scudder’s nose,” Mitch shot back. “Look, we know how a sense of smell works, and Scudder can smell things most people can’t. And I believe him, because I went and personally verified that his father has the same freaky talent, it runs in the family. But it’s not admissible because most people can’t smell those things so there’s no way to verify that he’s telling the truth about it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t good information for an investigation, it just means we can’t use it to convict.”

“Mitch?” said Jackson.

Mitch looked at him, brought up short. “Yeah?”

“This is too weird to swallow all at once, okay? So just shut up about the newage crap for now and let me play it like a straight investigation.” David pursed his lips. “You’re right that we need to interview DeCourtney and Clelland before we have to let her go. So I’m going to go pick up Clelland. You interview DeCourtney, and I want you to make sure there’s a stone solid skeptic to run the camera, okay?”

“Deal,” said Mitch. “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.

The complete novel is available from Amazon.

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