The Hook, ch 48

David & Wolf

Wolf scanned the front of the hospital, got out of the car, and tucked Rose’s shoe box tight under his arm with his hat. Mitch got out of the back seat and sat down behind the wheel.

“Do you have to take that box?” Rose asked. “I don’t know if I can even drive my car without that, and if there’s a nightmare storm….”

“If I’m right, David ain’t got much time,” Wolf replied. “Sorry, Rose, but the box is what we got.”

Mitch looked uncomfortable, then said, “Look, I’ll try to make it up to you, Rose.” Then, to Wolf, he said, “We’ll pick you up in twenty minutes, okay?”

Wolf stood still, looking after the car for a moment after they left, the box making an uncomfortable block wedged under his arm, and wondered, How the hell do you make up to somebody for something like this? Then he crossed the street, went in through the front door and walked over to the receptionist. She was wearing huge glasses. Wolf had played poker before with people who wore huge glasses. That was why they’d picked her shift.

“‘Scuse me, Ma’am,” Wolf said. “I’m looking for a Dawn Jacobs? She was admitted here a couple of days ago.” Her fingers rattled on the keyboard, and a screenful of information up on the computer monitor in front of her.

“Oh,” she said. “Yes, Mrs. Jacobs is in room 2227B. You just need to take the hallway to the west wing, then go up to the third floor.”

“Thanks kindly,” Wolf said, smiling and looking into her eyes. Now all he had to do was find room 3144A before walking around the hospital so much that somebody got suspicious.

He started by walking the direction the receptionist expected him to walk. He saw B’s on all the doors, so after one minute, he put on his hat, took off his coat, hung it over the arm with the shoe box, and walked straight back past her. He was probably worrying about nothing; she didn’t look like she was paying any attention. He’d been right about the first guess; all the room numbers on this side of the lobby ended with A’s.

When he got into the elevator, he couldn’t figure out how 2227B would indicate the third floor. But 3144 was a higher number than 2227, so he pushed the button for the fourth floor. He hated hospitals. They always smelled like chemicals and exhaustion and pain and fear, and they made him miserable.

When the elevator door opened, his nostrils flared. It was under the general confusion of scents of the hospital, but there it was. He had the killer’s scent. It wasn’t specific enough to be followed yet, but it hung in the air like a miasma, a faint trace of cancer under all the more ordinary disease of the place.

He left the elevator, stepping into a central hub that a lot of hallways stretched out from. He walked around the place once, checking out the room numbers on the rooms at the ends of the hallways. All the numbers started with 34 and 35, but the scent was strongest … here.

He turned down the hallway with the lowest-numbered room at the end. The room numbers increased the further he went. He came to a cross hallway, where the numbers on the doors started with 32’s on both sides. He turned into it, but after two steps, the scent was gone, so he turned back into the main hallway.

Even though it was very faint, the scent in his nostrils had his heart pounding. He was walking in a haze when he reached the end of the Hallway. It ended in a T intersection, with 3134 on the left and 3138 on the right.

He turned right and followed increasing numbers (and the scent) until he smelled leather polish and gunpowder. That would be a police guard on David’s room. He paused and took a very deep breath. Only one guy in the hallway. It was nobody he knew. Wolf started walking again, and came into view of the officer around a curve in the hallway.

The officer in front of David’s room was an older guy, in his fifties Wolf figured. He had a gold shield pinned to his shirt that looked exactly like Mitch had said the Internal Affairs Department badges would look.

“Evening,” said Wolf. “I’m here to visit Officer Jackson. Is this his room?”

“Sorry,” said the guard, “but who are you exactly? They’re supposed to call me when somebody’s coming up, but they musta missed it.”

“Name’s Scudder,” said Wolf. “Wolf Scudder. I’m a witness in this case Jackson was working on, and he wanted to talk to me.” The witness part would check out. Wanting to talk to Wolf was going to be a stretch, but it was plausible. According to Mitch, David had been interviewing witnesses.

“Well, he’s not working cases any more while he’s hospitalized,” said the IAD guy. “You’ll need to talk to Agent Dover now, he’s taking over Jackson’s cases. Anyway, Jackson can’t talk to you, he’s unconscious.”

“Well,” said Wolf, pulling out the shoe-box. “Can I at least drop this off? It could be a clue.”

“What is it?” he wanted to know.

“It’s some watches,” Wolf said. “I don’t understand exactly why he’d want ’em, but he was supposed to get these.”

The IAD guy pawed through a hundred fifty handmade watches, each lovingly assembled out of individually hand-cut gears, not noticing anything special. Then he patted Wolf down for weapons, checked his ID, and came inside with him.

David was lying still on the bed with his eyes closed, but he was not unconscious. Wolf saw the man’s muscles reacting to their footsteps, heard the changes in his breathing rhythms. David knew they were there. And the killer’s scent was in the room. The killer had been here, he had walked on this floor, touched that lamp, sat on that chair…. Wolf’s eyes darted wildly about as he tried to tell where exactly the killer’s scent lingered. He got a nose full of David’s scent, as he set the box on Jackson’s bedside table, as close to his head as he could manage. It was the scent of an unhappy, terrified man.

David’s eyes flipped open. He scanned Wolf’s face, then started reciting. “Wolf Scudder, born July 12 1969,” he said. “Scudder was convicted of the first three murders in the Freakshow case file, but the convictions were overturned. The three victims were his wife Maria Rodrigues, their neighbor Amanda Warren, and a local girl named Celine Fugate. He was incarcerated in San Quentin from November 22 2001, until October 12 2004 when our investigation cast reasonable doubt on his conviction.”

David smelled like a man in a state of terrible pain and fear, but his face was slack and his voice flat, toneless, and dead. His fingers, sticking out of the cast on his right arm, twitched and he went on. “Until the Laura Houang case, Scudder was the only surviving eyewitness to any of these deaths. Flanagan interviewed him in prison on August 10 2004 and came back convinced that the Freakshow deaths were caused by some kind of mind freak killer. I’d been trying to schedule my own interview with Scudder until I left the investigation.” And then David went silent again as suddenly as he’d started. His soft brown eyes remained open, blank and staring.

Wolf’s skin crawled. The scent and the face didn’t go together. David was the way Maria had been. He could feel the hot lump in the pit of his stomach and the hairs rising on the back of his neck.

The IAD guy looked goggle-eyed, back and forth from Wolf to David. David’s eyes flipped closed again. He looked peaceful for a moment or two, then his eyelid started twitching.

“Jackson?” Wolf said. “You awake?” David continued to lie there. “You’re spooking me here.” David’s face twitched a few more times and started to show a very slight frown.

“Look,” said the guard, “I gotta get you out of here. He’s been unconscious, and he’s not supposed to be talking about his investigations.”

“Uh, yeah, okay,” Wolf said. “You take care of him, all right?”

They were headed for the door when David made an agonized groan, then spoke again. “Scudder?” he said. “Wolf Scudder?”

Wolf shot a questioning look at the guard, then turned around. “It’s me,” he said.

“I … uh …. ” Jackson sounded confused. “This ain’t right … I gotta talk to Mitch….”

The guard grabbed Wolf’s elbow and pulled him firmly toward the door. “We’re getting out of here, right now,” he said.

“No problem, officer,” Wolf replied.

Out in the hallway, Wolf shook his head. “What in the world kind of drugs do they have him on, anyway?” he asked.

The IAD guy gave him a suspicious glare. “That’s none of your business or mine,” he said evenly. “Why don’t you just move along, Mr. Scudder?”

Wolf stepped out of the hospital just as the Decoupage Coupe pulled up, and he got into the back seat without comment.

“Started to work,” he said finally, as they pulled away. “He was comin’ out of it.”

“What was he like?” Mitch asked.

“He was like a damn computer,” Wolf replied. “Took one look at me and I swear he recited everything he knew about me.” Wolf rolled down a window, needing air to fight sudden nausea. “The killer’s been there, Mitch. His scent was in that room. He’s been asking David questions, and he’s been getting answers.”

Mitch nodded. “I figured. We had to move fast, because once the killer knows what he knows….”

You didn’t have to be a mind reader, Wolf thought, to figure out the rest of that thought.

In the back seat, Rose suddenly yelped, and her hand came up to cover her right eye.

“What is it?” asked Mitch.

“It’s him,” Rose replied. “It’s the killer. He’s doing it again.”

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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