Mitch set up a meeting, then hung up the phone. “Huh… settling his wife’s account at Morey’s Bookstore….” He sat back at his desk and stared at the ceiling. David Jackson walked into the office. “David?”
“Yeah?” David looked like he had news, but Mitch had a bee in his bonnet.
“Got credit card records for the victims in that database yet?” Mitch asked, an odd excitement in his voice.
“About thirty of ’em,” said David. “A lot of ’em didn’t use credit cards, and we only got warrants for three of the banks.”
“Check for bookstores,” Mitch said, getting up and walking toward David’s desk.
“Bookstores?” David sat back down and typed an SQL query.
“Yeah….” Mitch leaned over his shoulder as a long list popped up on the screen.
“This is just the ones that have the word ‘Book’ somewhere in their names,” David said, “but do you see anything here? They’re just bookstores, Mitch. All over the the city.”
“Now, the same thing for the big bookstores. Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon dot com.” Mitch’s eyes were suddenly bright.
David’s keyboard clattered again. “Uh… There’s almost nothing. Three purchases total, less than eighty bucks.” David frowned. “That can’t be right.”
“Got you, you bastard,” said Mitch.
“What the hell, Mitch?” David was looking up.
“The big bookstores all sell new books, or just mail order. I’m betting that our victims buy books mostly at local bookstores, used.”
“Just a minute….” Mitch’s eyes were lit up. “Check for thrift stores.” David’s fingers danced on the keyboard again, and a string of symbols appeared at the SQL prompt. When he hit ‘return,’ a list of thrift store purchases replaced it. Most of it scrolled off the top of the screen. “David, this is what, thirty people for three months each, so ninety months of purchases?”
“Yeah, about that,” said David.
“So how often do you buy something at a thrift store?”
“Haven’t this year.”
“Yeah, me either. Four hundred and eighty two rows, is that how many thrift store purchases they made?”
“Well, if they never used cash or used plastic from an account at a different bank it would be.” David spread his hands. “You gotta figure they made more purchases than that. It won’t be in this table unless it came through the banks where we got warrants.”
Mitch leaned in. “So we got thirty people here who averaged over five thrift store purchases a month, and we don’t know how many over five. And they also bought a lot of books at little local bookstores but virtually none from the big booksellers.”
“What the hell, Mitch?”
“Remember that thing Clelland said about some things being more real than other things?”
“Oh.” David stared at the screen, his eyes getting wider. “Holy shit, Mitch. Absolutely not. There can’t be that many.”
“I’m thinking so,” Mitch said. “Entertain my newage crap for the moment, but you remember … DeCourtney was actually strong enough to freak Thomas out by – what she said – remembering the whole thing at him. Thomas is a very solid kind of guy, right? ”
“Yeah,” said David. “But he still gets the shakes every time he sees us or has to talk about this case. Whatever she did, it really got to him.”
“But Clelland made the call that same afternoon, and he said there was no way he could convince us of it if he came in, right?”
“I didn’t take that call, Mitch.” David spread his hands.
“Right. I did. But remember later, over in Oakland, DeCourtney described some mental trick that Clelland didn’t even know was possible, remember?
“Right…” said David. “She said she could forget herself at people.”
“And she said our perp was doing something to these people that she didn’t even know was possible, right? Now, what comes out of this plainly is, whatever this freak power is these people have got, our perp’s is stronger than DeCourtney’s and DeCourtney’s is stronger than Clelland’s.”
“And… they both talked about the ‘Lost Ones.’ Freaks weaker than them who get confused about who they are and wander around aimlessly, right?” Mitch was walking around the desk now, hands waving wildly. “So whatever this is, there’s a very few who are really strong at it, like our perp and DeCourtney and Clelland. And then there’s dozens of weaker freaks for whom it’s a survival problem, like Clelland’s brother and the Lost Ones.”
“Where are you goin’ with this, Mitch?”
Mitch pointed at the screen. “Tail end of a Bell curve, David. Figure this is part of something that’s distributed among humans like strength or speed or anything else, and our perp is out on the six-sigma end of the curve, one in a billion. If he wants to be killing the same kind of freak as himself, he’s got slim pickings, ’cause there just about aren’t any. There’s a few weaker ones, like Rose, and maybe a couple dozen even weaker ones like Clelland, and maybe a few hundred of what they called the Lost Ones, who are sensitive enough for it to be a survival problem but not powerful enough to do much of anything with it. And after that, you get to people who aren’t aware of it. They’ve never gotten Lost, but they still notice that some things are, what Clelland said, more real than other things, and those things – art, antiques, well-used books, whatever – give them some peace.”
David seemed suddenly lost in thought. Mitch paused, then went on. “But out, say, between two and three sigmas, where we’re talking about one out of every thousand or every ten thousand people or so, how many do you suppose there are? Not enough to be a survival problem, maybe even not enough for them to notice, but enough that our perp notices them and hates their guts? Hates them because… because… maybe because the things people hate the most are what they hate about themselves. Or maybe because them having a glimmer makes it easier for him to get his jollies, easier to invade their minds.”
David looked at his screen, and his mouth slowly compressed into a grim, angry line. “Ugh. First Agent Dover, now you.”
Mitch looked up. “Dover? The FBI guy who was going to be out today? What about him and then me?”
David shook his head. “You agree. Both of you think he’s going for Rose DeCourtney next. Both of you are telling me this guy is like a personification of absolute evil. Dover says he’s a longtime sadistic rapist, recently turned killer, whose only interest is inflicting as much pain and terror and suffering as possible. And now you’re telling me you think this guy is fighting a genocide war against his own people.”
Mitch looked up, “Wait. Rose DeCourtney?” he said.
“Yeah,” David said. “Dover says he thinks Wolf Scudder or Rose DeCourtney is the next target, and Rose is more likely than Wolf. and you’re saying you think he’s going for freaks like Rose. And I’m not doing any goddamn good here because I just can’t think dirty and twisted and evil enough to get down on this guy’s level.”
“You see.” David continued quietly and bitterly. “I keep underestimating this guy, I just can’t think of anything evil enough, it’s like we’re hunting the Devil himself, and I don’t even believe in the Devil, Mitch. I thought he was a figment of your imagination, then I thought he was some kind of bogeyman. Then I thought he was some kind of horrible sadistic homicidal psychopathic rapist, and then I thought he was exactly that kind of slime but he could also get into people’s heads. I couldn’t have imagined how it could even be any worse than that.”
He shook his head, then his face came up in an ugly snarl. “But you could, Mitch. God damn you Mitch, you could.”
Mitch jumped at the sudden angry passion in David’s voice. “Hey. David, this is good news. If we know what the hell he’s up to…”
David looked up at him with cold anger. “Fuck you, Mitch,” he said quietly. He got up and put on his coat. His hands shook with rage, but tears were streaming from his eyes. “Fuck this whole department. Fuck this case. I hate this goddamn impossible case, I hate having to think about this twisted insane shit, and I hate you for making me think of it.”
“David, look…” Mitch spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture. A couple of cops two desks over were staring at him in alarm.
“I don’t fucking want to look at this cock-sucking case ever again!” David screamed.
Mitch looked numbly at him as he pulled out his gun. As the barrel of the .38 came up and he saw David’s finger tightening on the trigger he knew that he was going to die and that there was not a goddamn thing he could do about it.
The truncheon came down on David Jackson’s arm as the gun went off. The bullet missed Mitch, instead gouging a hole in the computer. Mitch heard a bone snap in David’s arm.
Officer Thomas was on the other end of the truncheon, yelling at David, “Jesus, Jackson, what the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”
Jackson punched him, a powerful left that sent him ass-over-teakettle, and went for the gun that had spun out of his hand onto the floor.
Mitch vaulted the computer desk and hit the floor running. It was impossible, he was going to die…. but goddamn it, he was not going to die without trying.
“Flanagan?” yelled Thomas. “Where the hell are you going?”
Mitch didn’t bother replying. He had focused himself on one thought only, and that was getting the hell out.
Mitch started zigzagging ten feet from the door. A gun roared and a .38 caliber bullet punched through the drywall on the opposite side of the hallway as he ducked through the doorway. He wished he knew whether it had been Thomas’ gun or Jackson’s but he wasn’t going to break stride to look back.
“This can’t be happening,” he said to himself. In the back of his mind, a mocking thought, and all those people dead were just suicides and accidents, right….
He was still certain he was going to die as he pulled open the door to the stairwell. The police had regular drills on people trying to get out, and they were going to catch him. The drill was to always have overwhelming force at the first floor, where the subject had to go to get out. He had to go there. They’d catch him. It was that simple. It was foolproof, his running was pointless.
But goddamn it, he was going to run anyway. They’d catch him, but he wouldn’t make it easy.
Down two flights. One more flight would be first floor, and the waiting arms of the suspect detention guys. He paused, wrapped his coat around his fist, and smashed out the window in the stairwell. He poked out the glass, then put his coat down over the glass edge, and climbed out. It was too high. The concrete was at least fifty feet below. He was going to die if he jumped that. But that couldn’t be right. It was only one flight of stairs. Feet were pounding down the stairs above him. Goddamn it, splattered on concrete was better than what would happen to him if he stayed here. So he let go.
The fall was impossibly fast, less than a second. The ground rushed up to meet him with a solid thump. But he wasn’t dead. He looked back up at the window, which was now only eight feet above, and started to spend time marveling at his not being dead. Then he realized he was wasting time. Run. Just fucking run. His wrist was sprained bad, maybe broken. Crap. But he could run.
Two blocks away, he heard the sirens starting up and hailed a cab, knowing with the cold certainty of a dream half-remembered that it wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t hailing the cab because it would stop; he was hailing it because he wasn’t going to make it easy. But it stopped.
“Where to, dude?” The cabdriver looked like a surfie, big, blond, and tanned. Mitch had not the slightest idea where to. It didn’t matter anyway, he was going to die.
He paused, counting out money to keep the cabbie’s interest up and give himself time to think. Where the hell did he want to go? Other side of town. Point Lobos. What was on Point Lobos? “You know that place that’s up on the cliff over Ocean Beach, out by where the Sutro Baths used to be?”
“Hell yeah,” said the cabbie with a grin. “Cliff House, right? Everybody thinks it’s really expensive and posh, but it ain’t really. I mean, you can’t bring your surfboard in there and you gotta wear a shirt, but it’s just a regular restaurant except it’s got a killer view. Nice gift shop, too. A lotta folks from outta town like it.”
Mitch handed him twenty bucks. “That’s the place,” he said. He’d never been there and didn’t give a damn whether it was a tourist place or if you could bring a surfboard inside, but it wasn’t here and that made it a good place. The cops would pull them over before they got two blocks, of course, but that didn’t make any difference. He wasn’t going to make it easy.
And then he sat back in the seat, silent, and tried to work out what day of the week Halloween would fall on three years from now. That would keep him busy, he figured, till he got there. The cab took the Embarcadero north to Bay street and headed west through the downtown and the western addition to the Marina district.
On the Embarcadero, Mitch had figured out that 365 divided by 7 leaves a remainder of 1, so days of the week ought to be one later every year. 2004 was a leap year, so adding an extra day would put Halloween of 2005 three days of the week later than Halloween of 2003. It was strange that the cops hadn’t pulled them over yet. They had to be toying with him somehow, or maybe they’d just be waiting when he got there.
They turned off Bay street and took Marina boulevard along the water. It only took about half of Bay street for Mitch to figure out that if today was a Tuesday, then Halloween ought to be a Friday. Then he only had to count Saturday-Sunday-Monday to work out his answer, so he was done. He occupied himself along the rest of Bay Street and on Marina Boulevard by trying to identify all the makes and models of cars in the traffic around them.
As they took a weird exit ramp that went through a left turn in a tunnel onto Park Presidio boulevard and headed south again, Mitch realized he might have gotten away — for now anyway — but Rose and Wolf wouldn’t unless he made a couple of calls and made ’em quick.
It was a short trip along Park Presidio to Geary. Geary was another longish leg of the trip, but it went straight down to the restaurant. The whole trip took about thirty minutes, and it wasn’t the straightest route but since it avoided most of the hills and most of the bad traffic, it was probably the quickest.
He got out of the cab and looked around. Thank God, there was a pay phone. He picked it up and dialed the number for Morey’s bookstore.
“Morey’s bookstore,” came Rose’s voice.
“Rose, this is Mitch Flanagan. Get the hell out of there right now and don’t go home. The Hook is taking down people like you and Joe, and he got to my partner in the police station.”
“Mitch…” Rose’s voice sounded scared and small. “Oh, Goddess, Mitch. If I can’t go home, I can’t… I mean… It’s not just a roof and walls, Mitch, it’s shelter.”
“I know, Rose, but I can’t help that. My partner knows the case file cold, he has your address and your number and the Hook has him. If you go back home now, or if you stay at Morey’s, you will die. Get the hell out of there and meet me at the Cliff House as fast as you can get here.”
“Mitch — the Cliff House is good, but it’s not as safe as this little shed that’s right behind it. Trust me on this. I’ll meet you one floor down from the Cliff House, and behind it. Look for a little sign that says something about a camera, okay?”
“Okay, Rose, but hang up and go right now. I’m going to call Wolf.”
Mitch hung up the phone and placed the second call. He’d dialed six numbers before he realized he was dialing his desk phone back at the station instead of Wolf’s number. Oh crap. His hand visibly shook as he hung up the phone and started over.
It rang twice, three times.
“Hello,” Wolf said.
“Wolf, this is Mitch Flanagan again. Get the hell out of there right now. The killer has your address and knows you’re after him.”
There was the tiniest pause. “Where should I meet you, Mitch?”
“Uh, The Cliff House restaurant out on Point Lobos. You know the place?”
“Yeah,” said Wolf.
“Okay, look for a little shed one floor down from it and behind it, with a sign that says something about a camera.”
“Fast as you can get here. And don’t stop for any cops on the way,” Mitch said.
A metallic click told him Wolf had hung up the phone.
“Fuck me,” he breathed as a lady in an evening dress walked up. “I got lucky.”
“Well,” she said with a grin, in a male voice that startled him, “Usually I wait to hear the answer to that proposition before I decide whether I got lucky or not.”
Mitch’s eyes refocused. Yep. Big adam’s apple. And the eyelashes were fake. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean it personally. Sorry to curse in front of a lady.”
Then he excused himself and went looking for a little shed with a sign that said something about a camera.
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.