The doors of the Arnand Gallery opened wide and Connor Ames stormed out in a rage. But as he left the gallery, his face turned toward South Park and his face first showed surprise, then hardened into a cold, predatory sneer.
About a mile away, the man Mitch had known as Dover squinted into the telescope sights of a sniper rifle and frowned. Moments earlier his radio had gone silent. “Damn you,” he breathed. “You waste of life….”
He spent a few seconds trying to line up a shot, but Ames was moving. No matter how good a shot you are, a mile out, you really had to have a target that stood still. The moment Ames had gotten outside he’d started moving. Dover’s shot never materialized before three other people gathered around Ames and they started walking north.
He hadn’t dared be closer. He knew what Ames was, and master-made suit or not, if he was too close, Ames would trip on him. And that would be bad, very bad. This was always the problem taking Devils down; you get too close, they take you down instead. And this time the stalking-horse approach hadn’t worked.
To make matters worse, he was headed north. Plainly, he’d gotten a whiff of the other one, and She was surrounding herself with his favorite foods. Swearing, Dover wrapped the rifle up in a paper bundle and set out on foot. Plan A was a wash. Evidently Ames hadn’t been close enough. Plan B turned out to have involved too much optimism about getting a shot from far away. Now he was on plan C, and he didn’t even know what Plan C was. The only bright spot was that the closer the Goddess and the Devil got, the smaller the chance that either one would notice him.
Dover thought quickly as he moved, and by the time he reached the street he’d developed what he hoped was a workable plan C. He reached into his pocket and came up with a ring that had Lieutenant Purdy’s picture under its cheap glass stone, put it on, and headed for the Police Station.
Wolf stopped in his tracks. “Rose? Mitch? We got crossed trails. The killer — he’s here. Same trail as Mike.”
“You absolutely sure, Wolf?” Mitch said.
Rose nodded. “He’s sure.”
Mitch pursed his lips. “Can you tell which way the killer was going?”
Wolf shook his head. “Not without following it for a while to see if it’s getting stronger or weaker,” he said. “If we follow it a hundred yards or so, I’ll know.”
Mitch considered a couple hundred things and then made a decision. “Let’s follow Mike,” he said. The other two nodded.
They’d gone just half a block when Wolf announced, “We’re backtracking the killer now. Going where he came from.”
They looked at each other, then kept going.
The doors of the Arnand gallery were wide open. Visitors went in and out oblivious. Rose paid for their tickets, and the three of them went in. Wolf quartered for a little while in the lobby, lingering for a while at a marble pillar, then eventually pushed the button for the elevator.
Rose flipped open the program she’d gotten at the door, squeaked, and dropped it.
Mitch picked it up. The second page, inside, was pictures of museum officials. And one of them was the bad fairy from Rose’s dream and the drawing Wolf and David had made. “Connor Ames,” he said. “Curator.”
Wolf nodded. “Everything fits,” he said. “We still going in now?”
Mitch nodded. “We gotta find Mike,” he said.
They got on and tried all the floors, but neither of the other two public floors had a trace of Mike’s scent. “Process of elimination,” Wolf drawled, pointing at the keyhole that controlled access to the fourth floor.
“Right,” said Rose. “Go to the third floor and then let’s head for the stairs.”
The stairs were unguarded, and in a few moments they reached the fourth floor. Wolf found the scent again, and took a few steps out into the hallway. Then he raised his hand. “Mike’s dead,” he said. “Somebody else too.”
“What?!” Mitch pulled his .38 and lurched forward.
Walking quickly, Wolf pulled his .45 out of his duffel bag and led them past tarp-draped statues and down a huge hallway. Rose started to pull back. “Guys? There’s something, some shelter-thing, that’s really nasty down there,” she said.
It didn’t take long to find out what. They came out into a big round room with seven pedestals in it. On six of them, horrible statues crouched; on the seventh, two bodies were slumped together in a small pool of blood.
They started across the room, but in the center Wolf stopped, pointing left-handed at a statue marked ‘Agony.’ “That … that’s Laura Houang, isn’t it?” he said.
Mitch nodded. “More or less.” He pointed at another one, marked ‘Despair.’ “And that’s Lorena Davis,” he said. “All of these, they remind me of Freakshow coroner files.”
“They’re familiar,” Rose said. “I … I think I’ve seen these before. There were a row of little ugly statues on one of the workbenches back at Philo’s. And they looked like these.”
They continued, crossing the room to the last platform. Mitch put his gun away and knelt to take pulses, but Rose and Wolf were both shaking their heads. “There’s nobody there, Mitch,” Wolf growled.
“There’s not a mark on him,” Mitch said. “That’s hardly the way this killer works, is it? And she’s not cut up nearly bad enough to be dead….”
“Use your nose, Mitch. You oughta be able to smell this. They got poisoned,” Wolf said, putting his .45 back into his duffel bag and picking up Mike’s coat. “My dad used to use this quick-kill stuff to fumigate our toolshed, but it’s been illegal now for years and years.” Ripping Mike’s jacket open, he found six empty cans. The tops of them were wired to a tiny gray box that was glued to a cell phone.
“Guys?” Rose said. “It’s hard to tell in here but I think somebody ….”
That’s when the lights came up and the tarp and the sandbags came down, thumping heavily on the marble floor. At least a dozen bodies piled on top of them before they had a chance to get up.
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.