A Hunting Wolf
Lopez hired Wolf back, because Lopez remembered the most reliable damn plumbing and electrical installer he’d ever had and had never believed Wolf was a killer anyway.
So Wolf got up each morning and went to work on construction sites, running wires and conduit and pipes through the steel guts of buildings before they put the sheet-rock in. And in the evening he came home, tired. He rode the bus to work and back each morning because he had no car, but he’d be able to get an old beater of some kind, he figured, when he had about five paychecks under his belt. Meanwhile, he used his evenings to attend to some unfinished business.
At the library, they were willing to accept money for Maria’s overdue books, but they were a little baffled when he said he didn’t need them to reactivate her library card. When they asked why, he simply told them she was dead and wouldn’t need it. But when they heard that she was dead, they didn’t want to take money for her overdue books anymore. Finally, he’d just told them to take it as a donation in her memory if they’d rather, and that settled it.
On the steps of the library, he paused, looking up at the sky. It seemed very wrong to him to be among people who didn’t regard paying the debts of your dead as something that was simple, and obvious, and the right thing to do, both for dignity and to let them rest in peace. The Scudders had never had much money, so he knew how debt can eat at your peace of mind. Wolf knew for sure that he wouldn’t be able to rest easy in his grave if he still owed someone money, and hoped, in whatever small way, that Maria could rest a little easier with all this little stuff done.
And, not for the first time nor the last, he felt that maybe he didn’t really belong in the city. So many people, with so little in common with him in terms of values, were troubling. He walked a couple of blocks north to Market Street and caught a bus. A bum asked him for spare change as he got on the bus, but he gave that a pass. Family debts came first. On the bus, he fished a notebook out of his pocket, flipped it open to a list of places, and crossed off the library. He was almost done. The last place on the list was Morey’s bookstore, but it would be closed at this time of night, so it had to wait for another day.
Wolf had been all over San Francisco by this time. He had walked everywhere, following the crowds, hoping one day to find the killer’s scent. But it hadn’t happened. San Francisco is forty-nine square miles. That’s a lot of space to hide in. And San Francisco is just the name for a relatively tiny part of the megalopolis around the bay. The metropolitan area’s population was easily several million, and it sprawled over more than a thousand square miles. As far as Wolf was concerned, it was all one city. Why people living cheek by jowl would put up with all kinds of little pretend cities with different governments, all jammed up next to each other, he’d never understood. The killer could hide anywhere in it.
He had a look at the other riders on the bus, then leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes waiting for his stop in the outer Richmond district. He worried that this might not work. He might just be wrong to walk around the city and the places where Maria had been and expect to run into the killer’s scent trail. It had been a couple of years, after all. Lots of people had moved on. Maybe the killer had too. Maria had owed a few people money, but otherwise, maybe this was a waste of time. But what the heck else could he do? He had to think. He wouldn’t catch the bastard using just his nose. He had to use his brain too. But he didn’t really have any other ideas because he didn’t know anything else about the guy.
Crap thoughts, he told himself. That was just giving up and being a goddamn sheep. Thinking about what he didn’t know and couldn’t do would just be a sign that he was getting weak in the head. He had to concentrate on what he did know, or what he could guess, and what he could do. The bastard was some kind of freak, for sure. Maria had been controlled. Nobody was supposed to be able to control other people like that. He’d read about hypnosis, and it wasn’t supposed to work that way. So he was looking for someone who could control people, who could make them crazy and make them hurt themselves. So where would he find someone like that? He pulled out his little notebook again and flipped to another page and started writing down jobs where someone who could control other people could write his own ticket.
‘Lawyer,’ said the first line. He’d been watching lawyers bluff and posture until he was sick of them. Then Wolf paused, considering and rejecting accountancy, engineering, and computer geeking because those all took hard skills. Then: ‘Stockbroker.’ ‘Car Dealer.’ He thought about that…. Someone who could control other people could write his own ticket in any kind of high-priced sales job. ‘Real Estate,’ his hand wrote on his list. Hmmm. High-ticket items like cars and real estate, folks bought for reasons they understood. Too much money over normal and sooner or later they’d question their judgment. What did people buy for reasons they didn’t really understand? ‘Antiques,’ he wrote on the list.
Who else could live on bullshit? Actors’ agents and movie producers, for sure. His hand made two more entries on his list. And who were the guys who pitched ideas for movies? Some really stupid movies got made, and somebody with a talent for persuasion had sold those ideas.
Definitely not in a service industry, unless…. No, he figured the guy couldn’t be a pimp. If he were a pimp, he’d have turned Maria into a hooker instead of killing her for kicks. Wait. Did he know the bastard had killed her for kicks? Could there be any other motive? Wolf thought about that for a minute, but then decided that there ought to be another list for possible motives. Come to think about it, maybe he should make a list of the lists he ought to make. But for now, back to his list of jobs for someone who could control other people. ‘Pimp’, his hand wrote.
He thought about management positions and running companies, but decided that those took hard skills more advanced than just controlling people. Your company didn’t
last if you didn’t have real business smarts. Hmm, anything else? Management positions where they didn’t care about results… ‘Government’ went on the list.
There was no real reason for him to have a job at all, was there? He could waltz into some rich woman’s life, fuck her all he wanted, and make her give him all his money, and there probably wouldn’t even be an investigation. People did dumber things than giving all their money to a boyfriend and then breaking up with him every day. ‘Gigolo/Boyfriend,’ he wrote on the list to remind him of that scenario. What else could the guy be doing? He could be just asking people for money a few dollars or a few hundred dollars at a time whenever he wanted to buy something, couldn’t he? ‘Bottom Feeder,’ he wrote.
Then he flipped a page. Motives, he had to think about motives. ‘Sick kicks’, he wrote at the top. That was the obvious one. But what others? He considered theft, but nothing had been stolen from their apartment. Vengeance? Not a chance, not with so many other people killed. They couldn’t have all done something to this guy. Jealousy was possible, Wolf guessed, so he wrote it down. But jealousy of what? No telling. Whatever all the victims had in common, the killer might be jealous of. But he didn’t know about the victims. Prejudice, the same way. He had to find out what the victims had in common.
He almost missed his stop staring at his third list. He felt a little better when he got off. He’d broken through some crap in his head and wasn’t thinking of himself as being up against a dead end anymore. And that was progress more important than his lists.
Next day, Wolf walked into Morey’s Bookstore. It was the last place on the his list of businesses where he needed to settle Maria’s debts.
But as he came through the door, he froze. His nostrils flared as he sampled the air. It was the scent. Almost. It wasn’t right, quite, but it was close.
He didn’t say a word as he got into line. But as he got closer to the front of the line, he figured out whose scent it was. It was the redheaded girl behind the counter.
Rose was working the counter at Morey’s. She’d been lucky, she supposed, to still have a job after missing two days in a row. Jim had been furious with her. But she was rested, and she was staying in her own head, and just concentrating on doing the job for now. She almost didn’t notice it when the scents started changing. It got different, more intense, as sudden shifts of air took breaths of different things past her nose.
Suddenly, she felt her attention heightening as everything around her blossomed into vibrant scent. She looked up, shocked. Her nostrils flared and her mind started sorting out all the scents. Scents she’d never even noticed before were familiar in her head, suddenly, making sense and fitting together the bookstore the same way sight did. And that was when she realized, this couldn’t be from inside her own head. She was searching, searching, had found something close to to the object of the search but not quite right. It was gender, she realized. She was looking for a man, and she’d found a woman. But it was close. It was the redhead behind the counter, oh Goddess, that’s me.
Suddenly she found herself face to face with the hunter. He was a tall, rough-looking, heavily muscled man, wearing a button-down shirt that looked fifty years out of style, jeans, engineer’s boots, and an overcoat that reeched to his knees. The two stared at each other for a long moment. Her scent told him what she felt and her talent told her what he felt, but neither of them knew why.
“I need,” he said slowly, “to settle a debt.”
“Oh?” she replied. “What’s the name on the account?”
“Maria Rodrigues,” Wolf replied. An image ran through his mind. Maria, smiling as she’d drawn the blade across her throat.
Rose went pale and started shaking, backing away from him behind the counter. “Oh Goddess, mister Scudder, I’m so sorry,” she said.
Wolf stiffened, his mouth compressing into a thin line. His mind had gone suddenly cold and hard. His eyes flicked down to her employee badge for her name, then back up to her face. “Rose, we have to talk about what happened in my home a couple years ago. And you know what happened, don’t you?” His nostrils flared, smelled misery and fear and horror. Oh yeah. She knew.
“Wolf, I swear to you I didn’t…”
“How did you know my name? How did you know Maria’s? How do you know what happened?”
“I – I – I know it from you. That’s all.” He smelled fear on her, but no falsehood, no attempt to deceive. “I – I wasn’t there, I don’t know who the Hook is.”
“I never told you this stuff,” Wolf said. “I’d remember.” He was trying to keep his voice neutral, but there was a dangerous edge in it. “We have to talk about this now.” His eyes cataloged the exits. She was behind the counter, and he was sure he could run faster. He could get to either exit before she could. Good. Her scent changed from unfocused fear to near-panic suddenly and his eyes riveted back on hers. She’d seen him check the exits, knew what he was thinking. Well. Damn. Not the best impression he could have made, but he wasn’t going to deny it either.
Wolf heard Jim coming when he turned the corner out of his office. He picked the footsteps out as they crossed the floor behind him because they were more purposeful than all the other footsteps. He felt no surprise when Jim’s heavy hand fell on his shoulder.
“Look, mister, Rose has a job to do here and she’s had a tough week. If you can’t be civil to my employee, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store.” Wolf looked into his eyes, and saw concern – and he also saw that Jim’s eyes saw him exactly the same way Rose’s did. And he smelled a mismatch in Jim’s scent, too. Concern on his face and in his body language, irritation and fear in his scent.
“I’m sorry,” Wolf said. “I didn’t mean to scare her. But I need to settle some debts, and I need Rose’s help to do it.” Jim’s scent didn’t change, but Rose’s did. She knew exactly what he was talking about.
“Rose, go on break,” said Jim, stepping behind the counter. “What can I do for you about settling a debt, sir?”
Wolf’s jaw tightened, but he stood fast as Rose fled into the back. “I need to settle debts on my late wife’s account. She died a couple years ago, owing this store thirty-seven dollars. Her name was Maria Rodrigues.”
Jim pursed his lips as he brought up the account on the computer at the register. “Yes,” he said. “We wrote that off. She doesn’t owe anything anymore, Mister Rodrigues.”
“Well, write it back on again,” said Wolf quietly, handing him a pair of twenty dollar bills. “Please. My name’s Scudder, not Rodrigues, but she was my wife and in my family we pay our debts.” He paused, while Jim regarded him suspiciously. “I just — please. It would mean a lot to me.” He swallowed. “I’m real sorry if I scared Rose, it’s just that she knows a little bit about what happened to Maria, and I — Christ, I miss Maria so much.” The corners of his lips twitched.
“Is this that thing she’s been talking to that homicide detective about?” Jim was putting the money in the register and filling out a receipt.
“Seems likely,” assented Wolf as he wrote his name on it, took the carbon, and handed the original back to Jim. “Tell Rose I’m sorry, okay?” And he straightened and walked out of the shop.
Inside, Jim handled the next three customers, and then went to the back, where he found Rose crying.
“Rose? Who was that guy?” He sat down next to her.
“His name’s Wolf Scudder,” she said. “He — ” Rose paused. “He’s just a guy, kind of. He got caught up in something horrible and he thinks I know … ” She broke off, realizing something. She’d been well-rested, but she’d still tripped on Wolf. That had never happened before. When she was rested she could keep the voices out. Or at least she’d always been able to before.
Jim held up a hand. “Rose, stop. If you don’t want to go into this, we won’t, but he told me he thinks you know something about how his wife died.” Rose nodded.
Jim went on. “You gotta tell me, are you in any danger here? Do I need to keep him out of the store? Do I need to call the cops?”
Rose stared at the far corner of the office, then sighed. “You don’t need to call the cops,” she said. “I don’t think I’m in any real danger from him. It’s just — Well, it was a big shock to meet him. I’m going to have to talk to him sooner or later, I guess. I just need some time to figure out what I can say.”
Jim stood silently for a few moments, then shrugged. “For what it’s worth, he asked me to tell you he was sorry. I don’t know what’s going on here or how you got mixed up in it, but Rose, I care about you and I want you safe. My free advice here is that if this Scudder guy is asking about the same case the homicide guy is investigating, you should tell the homicide guy about him before you talk to him again.”
Rose nodded again. “That’s probably good advice,” she said.
“Okay then,” said Jim. “Go run register till close, and stay close to the alarm button. If he comes back, I want you to hit it again and I’ll come running.”
Two hundred yards away, Wolf was waiting for a bus. Finally, he had a lead. She wasn’t going to talk to him today, but he’d convince her somehow. He had to. She had to talk to him sooner or later, he guessed. The killer had somehow gotten into Maria’s head, and this Rose woman in the store had done the same thing, at least a little bit, to her boss. And she knew something about Maria’s death, and she knew his name, and she wasn’t the killer, but her scent was a whole lot like the scent of the killer. And she’d given him a name, sort of. The Hook. Whatever she knew, Flanagan had already found her and connected her with the case. He was definitely going to have to talk to this woman Rose. He just had to figure out how to not scare her away, and that might take some time.
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.