Multiple murders in the most haunted city in the U.S.!
He had just cleared the steps and was strolling across the threshhold when a large arm snaked across his shoulders from the left and suddenly Chief Holland was there, forcing him to take a walk away from room 39. "Where ya been, boy?"
Schultz swallowed. "My daughter's missing, I went-"
"I know where you went. Now, why did you do it?"
He floundered. "Y-you have kids. You know how you'd feel if-"
"I sure do, but I wouldn't let it interfere with my job. Now this little girl of yours--she's a teenager, yes?"
"She old enough to drive yet?"
"Uh-huh. She gots friends with cars, right? Other kids maybe decided to skip school today. Maybe she's hangin' out with them?"
It didn't seem likely, but Crandall muttered, "Uh...okay."
"She's hardly been missin' no time at all, now, am I right? Couple hours? No big deal, huh?"
"Uh...I dunno. Maybe not."
The big man patted his shoulder and smiled. "She's smarter than you think. I'm sure she's safe somewhere, and you asked for that welfare check and I've got my boys keepin' wary of her. You just put that out of your mind now, y-hear? Doncha be worryin' about her none--I'm sure she's just fine. She'll turn up sooner or later and then you can sit her down and have a nice long talk with her, right?"
"Okay." The man gave him a very uncomfortable one-armed hug while breathing onion all over him. "Uh, sure, Chief. No problem. I'm sure she's...just fine."
Schultz backed away as quickly as he could, aware he was in deep shit. A curly-haired man was suddenly in his path and he stepped left, then right to avoid him, but the other guy danced in his way. "John Weederow, Cripple Creek Nugget."
The detective exhaled, rolling his eyes. "Get this man out of here!" he blurted, lifting his hand and pointing down at the reporter.
"Wait! Wait just a second, there. You're Detective Schultz, right?"
"Faldourette? Holland? You--what's yer name? Greene? Get this guy downstairs! He's press!"
Uniformed cops converged on the pair.
"Isn't your daughter missing?" the man asked, jerking in the grip of his captors.
Schultz gestured for them to wait. "What do you know?"
"Didn't show up for school today?"
"You heard that somewhere."
"This her?" Weederow asked, trying to hold up a strip of paper with an off-set image printed onto it.
Schultz squinted at the scene. The girl could've been her...but with distance and the poor focus, it could have been nearly any kid. "What's this?"
"I was at the hospital this morning-"
"She made it to the hospital?"
"I guess so...if that's her."
"When did you see her?"
The man smiled. "Now, if you'll just have your men kindly unhand me-"
"You wanna get slapped with a kidnapping charge?"
The reporter's eyes went wide, but he recognized the bluff. "You're quite the asshole, Detective."
"You can tell me what you know, or I can have you spend the night behind bars."
"Make them let me go," Weederow insisted.
Crandall set his jaw and reluctantly gestured for the uniformed men to release the cretin. "I don't like jackasses who bargain for information."
"Me, either. Now then, I can tell you how I got this picture if you'll give me a little peek at the crime scene."
"I can have you held until my daughter turns up on her own...so you'd better pray she's all right, 'cause otherwise could take an awful long time."
The reporter licked his lips distastefully. "Was that supposed to be snappy? Witty? 'cause it really fell flat, if you ask me."
"I'll show you something fall flat," Schultz promised, taking a short step backward to prepare for his punchline.
One of the nearest cops stopped him from striking the other man, who quipped venomously, "Guess if I had a father like you, I'd probably run away, too."
The cop holding Schultz's arm wasn't strong enough to prevent the man from lunging forward, twisting as he did so to put his full weight into the blow. A large fist whistled past Weederow's face, just clipping the very end of his nose. He staggered back, wincing, squeezing his proboscis like he was horrified it might never honk again. "You asshole! That's assault!"
"That's battery!" corrected the detective with a roar.
"Schultz!" bellowed Holland, staring with disapproval. "Are you in on this investigation, or do you need time to go cool off in a cell?"
Crandall tugged at his collar. It seemed exceptionally warm on the third floor. He pointed threateningly at the reporter and growled, "Out of here! Now!"
Before the jerk could come back with a smartass retort, three uniformed police officers were physically escorting him quickly toward the stairs.
"How'd he get up here?" Schultz whined, shrugging in front of his Chief. The older man glared at him as he made his way back toward his original destination. He was startled to see the slim figure of Detective Little standing in the middle of the crowded hotel room. "Dick."
"Crandall," said Little in his rich New England accent. "I understand you were a witness."
"I see nothing," Schultz joked meekly, then asked, "Holland asked for you?"
"Only after you took off. I was in the area anyway. Heard about your homicide the day before, wanted to see how things were progressing. We don't need any serial killers haunting Victor, you know."
"I didn't see anything," Schultz repeated, stepping aside while a team continued collecting possible evidence. "Should we even be in here yet?"
"There's nothing to find," the taller man said gently. "There's just picking through the scattered straw, looking for glints."
"You wanna find a needle in a haystack quick, you use a magnet," Schultz offered.
Little remained still, thinking. "What about a dog?"
Crandall wasn't following. "What about a dog?"
"Let's get a canine in here, see if he can find anything. Hidden panel or something."
"Okay, let's get a dog. Say--how's Croom doin'?"
"Ah--the owner of this establishment. I believe he's in shock."
"Same as the girl from yesterday."
"Oh--did she have a myocardial infarction, too?"
The detective sighed.
"I heard you were in shock for a little
Schultz was looking upward again, studying the walls up by the ceiling, his gaze drawn continually to the sealed narrow window, the pen and ink sketch, and the mis-mounted mirror above the antique dresser. Bathrooms had mirrors. Jasmine had been afraid of the bathroom. Was she afraid of the mirror? "Can we get this thing down?" he asked suddenly, walking in front of a man in pale blue who was crawling around on the floor.
"What are you thinking, Detective Schultz?"
"They hung this damn thing wrong and it's really bothering me."
"You don't want to cooperate with your fellow lawmen?"
"I'm all for cooperation, Dick. Come help me try and lift this thing off the wall."
The detective from Victor stayed put and watched as the shorter man recruited help from the guy on the floor. "Should we be doing this?"
Schultz told him, "I don't have a problem with it."
It was bolted to the wall. Schultz cursed and asked for a flashlight. He had two uniforms pull the dresser away from the wall, and then he used the Mag-lite to try and see what was in the slight space between the glass and the plaster. "Well, well," he said softly, then asked if anyone had something he could reach between the wall and the mirror with.
"What is it?" asked Detective Little.
"Looks like a piece of paper or something. Lots of dust, some hair, I think. Ick. Dead bug."
"We can remove the mirror from the wall for you," piped up one of the men dusting for fingerpints.
"Don't think I need the whole thing--just whatever's here trapped behind it."
Schultz stepped back as two men and a woman went to work, trying to extract the object caught behind the mirror. They were able to draw the base of the tall mirror out slightly from the wall and used a retractable tape measure to catch the item and make it fall free. Everyone in the room stepped forward for a closer look at the object. It was an advertisement for a singing engagement by a "Miss Fatty" at The Glitter O' Her Eye Saloon and showed a splotchy printing of a somewhat masculine-featured pudgy faced entertainer sporting a slightly crooked long pale wig.
* * *
BJ was retired, but quite familiar with Detective Schultz, and he whined and wagged his tail furiously when he saw the man climb out of the unmarked vehicle.
"Dick Little," Angelwiet was muttering. "I can understand not going with Rich because then everybody would think of the comedian."
"What comedian?" asked Schultz, enjoying being uncooperative.
"Rich Little. Dick is a shorter version of Richard, right?"
The younger man mumbled to himself. "Richard...Dick. Where does that come from? I'm Billy or Bill from...well, from William."
"Why aren't you Willy or Wil?"
"Okay, so there you go, but Dick?"
"I think it's an old-fashioned thing. Maybe Victorian England or something. Y'know, some of them rhyme things instead of saying exactly what they mean. Bill, Wil. Billy, Willy."
"Dick and Rich don't rhyme."
"Huh?" asked Angelwiet, getting lost as they strolled up toward the cabin set amidst mostly dirt and the dried remains of what might have once been a well-kept lawn. "But Dick. Dick Little. I mean, go with your middle name, man. Think about all the teasing. I'd rather be Rich Little."
Angelwiet shuddered. "I hate that phrase. What does it mean?"
"Peter," muttered Schultz, mounting the creaky wooden steps.
"That's his middle name."
Crandall knocked viciously on the door even as he pushed it open. A white-haired man sat in a plaid rocking recliner near a scalloped-edged end table, holding a thick, bright yellow radio receiver near his right ear. He moved suddenly, aware of motion and a change of light, then blinked and jolted, bursting into a broad smile as he recognized the detective. "Got yourself a doozie, eh?"
"Hey, Keyes," greeted Schultz, hiking the front of his trousers before taking a seat on a nearby plaid sofa. "Keyes, this is Billy Angelwiet."
"K-9?" asked the elderly man hopefully, scanning the younger's uniform.
Billy shook his head and remained standing uncomfortably, trying not to gaze around the room too blatantly.
"No, thank you sir."
"Tequila?" Keyes chuckled soundlessly through broken, greyed teeth at the young cop's startled look.
"Could I borrow Beej?" asked Schultz loudly.
"BJ. The dog."
"You want BJ now? What's wrong with the two canines ya got?"
"Crowley's got kennel cough and Ariana's practically a pup."
The old man shook his head. "Understaffed as usual. They refuse to take into account that our little town is growing, don't they?"
Schultz pressed on, "The sooner the better. I'd like him to go sniff around a crime scene at-"
"Oh, I know about that," Keyes assured him, knocking over the yellow police scanner as he tried to gesture to it. The two raced to be the first to pick it up and Keyes won only because it had fallen a little bit closer to him. "Is it that new room they discovered? I remember reading something in the paper about it. Some tiny room that'd been all boarded up and papered over."
Angelwiet had relaxed enough to start gazing about the interior of the little cabin in earnest, spying police medals and memorabilia almost everywhere he looked. There were numerous photos of a smooth-faced young man, lips pursed, eyes cold and vacant from beneath the brim of his low dress cap. One picture on the stone mantel showed the guy standing tall and slim beside a comely young woman with overly done-up and spray-fixed hair in a pale coral dress with a matching corsage on her wrist. None of the pictures showed the guy past his late twenties. The younger cop deduced it was Keyes' son or grandson, a decorated police officer from bygone days, probably now deceased.
Schultz gave the old man a few minor details concerning the case and concluded by clasping his hands between his knees and waiting for an answer.
"I don't have a problem with ya taking BJ out. He's thirteen years old now, but he's just as sharp in the brain as a wily young ky-yote."
"I appreciate that, pops. I'll keep ya updated on what happens."
Keyes grinned warmly, but his watery gaze seemed fixed far in the future or deep into some almost forgotten past. "They make vests for them now, don't they?"
"I think there's a spare I can fit him in."
"You keep ol' rascal safe," he muttered. "Dog saved my boy's life ya know."
"He'll be completely safe with me. I'll be the only one handling him." Schultz saw the old man's gaze flick towards Angelwiet. "I'll put him on doodie patrol."
Hearing chuckles, Billy focused on the two and found they were both watching him. He stiffened, but said nothing.
"Leash is by the back door," old man Keyes said, pushing himself up and out of the chair. "Lemme go get it for ya."
The young uniformed police officer noted that the old man limped badly and appeared to have a prosthetic right leg. "What happened?"
"Horse fell, crushed his leg when he was younger."
"Nah--the kid?" he asked, jerking his head toward the nearest large framed photo.
"Oh. That's Marlin Keyes. His car flipped off an embankment, pinning him beneath it while he was chasing a robbery suspect. Dog crawled out of the shattered back window and stayed by his side, licking his face to keep him awake until help arrived."
"He didn't die?"
Angelwiet fell silent as the elderly man returned with a thick horse lead and a bag of Beggin Strips. "Treat him right, Crandall."
"Will do, Mr. Keyes."
Once they were outside, the younger man mentioned, "Just licking his face...that hardly qualifies him as saving the kid's life."
Schultz lead him toward the wooden gate where the excited Alsatian pranced, waiting for attention and a treat. "Marlin arrived on the scene with BJ after the perp robbed a liquor store on the outskirts of town. Another cop had beat him there and got shot. He was bent over the guy checking vitals when the perp steps out from behind a Dumpster in the shadows, points a gun at him. BJ came outta nowhere, ran between 'em, took the bullet. Dog was shot, lying in the backseat while Marlin Keyes pursued the suspect. Dog's still walking, Marlin's wasting away in a hospital bed."
"Jesus Christ," murmured Angelwiet. "That's some dog."
"You just stepped in shit," the detective told him, opening the gate.
"Shit," repeated the cop, then said it again louder when the excited animal jumped up to lick his face, causing him to step backward into yet another pile.
* * *
Little was chatting animatedly with a short, broad-backed woman with long dark blonde hair, a saucer in one hand, teacup in his other. "Ah, Detective Crandall Schultz," he announced in his buttered Boston burr. "Have you met Ms. Peggy Croom?"
The woman turned around expectantly and sized up the approaching man even as he rapidly assessed her himself. Her face beamed, but her eyes looked tired as she smiled and offered him hot tea and orange scones with whipped butter. "Nah," grunted Schultz, guessing this was Albert's sister.
She mentioned, "Are you the one I've heard has been in charge of...all this...?"
"I'm the investigating detective," he told her, a warm wave of tantalizing aroma wafting toward him from the plate of treats. He'd heard of scones before, but never seen them.
She turned back toward Little who was just setting his cup down onto the saucer. "He's Cripple Creek, and you're Victor?"
"I'm from Victor," he confirmed softly. "I'm here to see how things are progressing, put in my two cents' worth if Crandall will have it."
Schultz and Little had gone hunting and fishing together with a couple of other guys, and despite their cultural differences, were actually pretty good friends. "Two cents don't buy much these days."
"But it can get you in to see a show with the lovely and famous Miss Fatty."
The woman giggled and turned back toward Crandall, big eyes wide. "I do believe that's Fatty Arbuckle in that picture you found! How exciting to think he might have performed here before he was really famous!"
Little saw the look in Schultz' eyes and mentioned, "He was a silent film star. Comedies, mostly I think. Got involved in a big scandal that almost ruined his career."
"Murder?" queried Schultz, interest piqued.
The other detective gazed at him chidingly.
"Seriously, Dick. We know that room was sealed like a hundred years ago because of a murder or something that was committed in it."
"I'm aware of the story. It wasn't sensationalized. I don't believe anything truly bizarre ever happened in there."
Little shook his head slowly, then drained the last of his drink. "What you're after now has nothing to do with what happened then."
"How do you know that?"
Uncomfortable, Ms. Croom lifted the teacup and saucer onto a small tray with the plate of leftover scones and stepped through the dining room to deposit the load in the kitchen.
Schultz noted cops standing around eating sandwiches and comparing notes where the early-bird locals should have been gathered, ordering from the senior menu. "You know about the kid?"
"I know that your coroner doesn't seem to have any idea how it happened."
"I saw her heart beating, Dick. I ran into the room and Albert was still sinking to the floor and the body...was still twitching."
"That's not possible. What happened to her could not have possibly happened so fast."
"I know. I'm just tellin' ya what I saw."
"And there was no one else in the room? The window wasn't open?"
He wanted to see what angle he'd have to be at to see the window reflected in the mirror. "That's got to be it, right? The Jasmine girl, she was looking around the walls of her hospital room...then they said she was afraid of the bathroom. They had to shut the door to calm her. Someone's coming in the window, and maybe the first time...no, wait. He couldn't have been hiding in the bathroom. She shut the door...so she wouldn't have seen where he ran to after he left the room...."
"He was hiding in the bathroom and fled through the window?"
"That's gotta be it," said Schultz, feeling stupid for thinking the mirror itself might have had anything to do with it.
"I checked the window. It's sealed by years of paint. They all are."
"So the frame is stuck to the sill. What if the whole window pops out?"
"You think Spider-man is doing this?"
Schultz couldn't figure how anyone was killing people the way he was, and not leaving smears of blood all over the walls and curtain--if that's the way he was exiting. "I got a dog for us."
"Wow. You haven't even asked me if I'd like to move in with you yet."
"Everybody's so fucking funny." He clammed up as the chunky blonde made her way back to the check-in counter.
"Sandwich, Detective Schultz?"
"You were the one...who saw what happened?"
He shook his head as she tilted her face downward in embarrassment and tears began to fall from her heavily blackened eyelashes. "I didn't see it happen. I was the first one to get to Al."
She nodded, sniffling wetly. "They're worried about him. Say his blood pressure is extremely low, pulse rate high."
"I heard he had heart surgery like what, a year ago?"
"Ten months. That's when he started training me to help Mitzie out in case anything...anything ever...happened to him."
Possible suspect, he thought abruptly. Motive: inheriting entire hotel? "So, you're local, then?"
"I live midway between here and Victor. Not far from that weird little shop you always see just off the main road when you're-"
"Eye In The Sky?" Little helped.
The woman nodded. "Y'know, I went in there when it first opened and they hardly seemed to have anything, but-"
Schultz asked her, "What did they have?"
"Well, it was these three black ladies, and there were like tie-dyed scarves or sheets or something hanging right on the walls and these cheap little shelving units full of candles and little bags of dried herbs and little wooden trinkets like statues and stuff."
"Voodoo dolls?" He refrained from withdrawing the one in his pocket.
She shrugged. "I...I don't think so. Nothing like that in there. Like I said, they had just opened and I wanted to see what was in there."
Little moved from behind the counter and gestured toward his fellow detective, "Walk with me." To Peggy Croom, he smiled graciously as he told her, "Excuse us, please." They strolled toward the little alcove with the antique rocking chair and long mirror. "What's with the voodoo?"
Schultz pulled the object from his pocket and showed it to the other man.
"That's nothing. Did you find it in the room?"
"Faldourette's been carrying it."
"Then that's Faldourette's business, isn't it?"
Crandall shrugged, irritated. "It's bullshit anyway."
"Correct. Who is Faldourette?"
"One of the guys," he answered, jerking a thumb toward the dining room.
"You don't need anyone filling your head with that rubbish. Don't let it sidetrack you. You think the murders are ritualistic?"
He hadn't considered it, and shrugged in response.
Little turned to study his reflection in the mirror. It was newer, with an antiqued, gilt frame. He liked what he saw there. Thinning hair combed smoothly back, skin pale and flawless, Windsor knot worn thin with his simply cut, conservative dust-grey suit. "There is no detail with the story on the murder that caused room 39 to be sealed way back when. This isn't a copycat case."
"Murder wasn't uncommon back then. Why go to the trouble of sealing up an entire room because of one?"
"It doesn't matter. You're veering wildly off track here. It's your daughter, is it?"
Schultz swallowed. "Well, she's not making things any easier by vanishing on me."
"You got through your divorce without it interfering with your work. Put her out of your mind. We're looking for her in Victor, too."
He could have punched the jerk for that, if he wasn't afraid he might permanently damage something inside the slender, dapper man. "Let's get the dog."
"Retired, but eager."
"You left him in your car? In this heat?"
"Angelwiet's walking him."
"Ah, your little trainee."
Schultz shrugged indifferently. "I've been trying to pass him off on Anschel, but he's on vacation."
Little nodded. "Chief Holland wasn't too pleased with your disappearing act. I know he spoke to Shelton over the phone. I think you'd better pay more attention to the case and less to your personal problems."
"I'm just hoping they're not connected."
"I doubt it."
"Y'know...asshole learns which cop is investigating, decides to fuck with him personally."
"I've never endured such a thing."
"I hope I don't, either."
The Victor detective picked at a hangnail. Schultz noticed he'd had an actual manicure and felt like punching him again, just for that. "I'll meet you upstairs."
"I'll get the dog. Oh, and by the way," he mentioned as he headed back toward the main entrance, "I told Anglewiet your middle name is Peter."
"And why would you do that?"
* * *
BJ was wired and ready for action. Schultz wound a good chunk of the leash around his right fist and made a show of trying unsuccessfully to heel the excited animal so no one would realize the retired canine cop was really just a big teddy bear. He'd been every bit the alert and hungry attack dog in his youth when Marlin was his partner, but years of retirement at the elder Keyes' home had made him more docile toward visitors. The elevator had been thoroughly searched, and while the detective would have preffered the stairs to the rickety old crate, the aging Alsatian's hips might not enjoy the three-story hike too well. On the ride up, Crandall fed him two Beggin Strips and Little massaged the animal's head fondly, paying extra attention to the silky short fur around the oversized ears. When the door parted, Little stepped off first, demanding that the way be cleared. He entered room 39 and spoke to a uniformed officer inside who agreed to split while they searched the room with the dog.
BJ had been drug and bomb sensitized as part of his training way back when. Schultz really didn't have any method of communicating what he wanted from the animal, but he was keen to observe his reactions to the place.
The first thing the dog did was halt in his tracks and refuse to allow the detective to drag him across the threshhold. BJ even whined, and one of the cops in the hallway muttered something about them being able to sense the presence of ghosts. Schultz whipped his head, seeking the superstitious moron, but didn't know who'd made the comment. He held another rubbery treat in front of the dog's nose and urged him to take mincing steps forward toward it. As they hit the threshhold, BJ whined again and writhed, nearly falling over as he tried to bite the lead Schultz was literally dragging him in by. Weirdly, the second he'd crossed the threshhold entirely, the dog seemed perfectly calm and accepted his treat casually, looking around the room and sniffing even as he sloppily chewed. Little eased over to the doorframe to feel along it while Schultz gave the dog some slack and studied its behavior.
When the dog lifted its head and sniffed the air, Schultz did, too. He smelled acrid chemicals, that freshly butchered meat smell, Little's cologne, the dusty musk of the animal. BJ's gaze took a half-arc, and then he suddenly looked behind him at the rumpled bed. He froze, but did not point. Schultz was waiting for him to suddenly jam his head beneath the bed and start growling, but he returned his gaze to the man who held his lead and panted happily while scratching behind his right ear. "Scent," said Schultz sharply, and the dog bristled, standing suddenly, senses on alert. The large ears twitched--one mostly toward the doorway where three uniformed cops in the hall were trying to observe the goings-on. The other picked up slight traffic noises beyond the window, the sudden lurching of the elevator as someone new summoned it, Schultz's abruptly loud stomach growl. Then the panting resumed and the animal looked over at the dresser disinterestedly before taking a few steps toward the window and lifting his head to sniff in the general direction of it.
It wasn't cue behavior, though. The dog was reacting as if he'd been brought to the hotel while he and Schultz were on a road trip. The detective approached the window and ran his fingertips along the frame, seeking splinters, an indentation, a metal clasp, the faint feel of a thin breeze. Nada. He turned around and the dog was lying on the floor, yawning. Near the bed, Little chuckled soundlessly.
He considered going over the room inch by inch, tapping the floor, the walls, making the dog understand that every surface must be carefully sniffed for clues, but felt frustrated and embarrassed already. He scowled at the lower ranked guys in the hallway and they moved on, bored with the show. Schultz returned to the dog, winding the rope lead as he neared him, and the dog understood he was to stand at his handler's side. He looked down at the gorgeous black and tawny coat and scratched his head between the tall ears as he sighed.
Then he glanced up and happened to catch sight of something strange in the mirror. Little was saying something softly in a relaxed, even amused tone of voice, and the dog was yawning again. Crandall felt strange as he leaned forward a little, trying to get a better idea of what the hell he was looking at. On the wall behind him, off-center above the bed...what looked like an old poster of some sort tacked to the wall. An advertisement or something, the letters printed with a touch too much turquoise ink so that they were even harder to discern in mirror-reverse. And an image between the words. A figure--a man?--in the foreground, walking across a field or something with trees or tree-covered mountains in the background, his clothes baggy and layered, features blurred by time and the bleed of too much ink. Printed, he thought. Printed with blocks. What did they call that? Typeset? Was that what they called it back then? And he thought the dog had moved enough to lick his fingers because they felt warm and wet, and as Crandall turned his gaze away from the mirror, the grisly red and white and yellow thing at his side tried to fall over, but he flinched, his arms jerking upward, so the taut lead caused it to fall against him instead. And it twitched, too...the paws curling strangely, the head lolling as he stepped away, and it hit the floor, leaving a smear of fresh, thick fluids against his pantleg. Crandall spun his head toward Little, the sensation soupy and slow like a bad dream, and he saw the corpse falling toward him, loose brain tilting back from the raw, inside-out flesh, heart still beating, lungs frothing in slow motion. There was a collective holler from the hallway beyond, and he jerked like a wasp was on him when he felt something glance off his left pectoral muscle. As if he was a mere observer of some especially gruesome horror flick and not a real-life participant, Crandall watched his right arm straighten and his index finger squeeze off three rounds from the Glock into the reflective glass panel. He didn't see the picture as the mirror shattered. The wall behind him looked just as it should have. He didn't feel Detective Little's loose head bump him and slide down his body, leaving a broad streak of gore. And when he finally inhaled again, the air felt harsh, scented sharply of burnt powder and hot metal. His ears had begun ringing, or he was suddenly aware of the pain in them and sound as time began to return to normal speed, and Schultz spun, almost slipping in the dying meat pudding that had been his friend, to see there was no extra artwork hung over the bed at all. Just the pen and ink etching of the old mill to the left, centered along the rear wall above the half-moon table.
* * *
"Now what the hell did you go and shoot a God-danged mirror for?" asked Captain Holland, stuffing cookies in his mouth from a source of them hidden in one of the pockets of his windbreaker.
This wasn't official questioning. There'd be hell to pay and paperwork to prove it in the morning. Schultz sat hunched on the side of a gurney in the ER, dizzy with the sensation of trying to wake up suddenly out of a deep sleep. He'd been given an IV for dehydration and some kind of mild sedative to get his heart rate down. He was still shivering slightly from the cold liquid they'd pumped into his veins. It had helped keep him awake, though.
He didn't want to remember what happened. The part of him that was a cop was warring with the part of him that was just some regular guy off the street, insisting he pore over every little detail in his mind, like self-hypnosis. Bits of images kept popping up unbidden, making him wince, making him feel slightly ill before he choked them away, staring dully in any direction and paying attention to nothing. The raw, dead dog still standing, twitching, starting to lean toward his leg. The flying glass shards and the mist of sparkles he'd created. The humanesque figure to his left dropping toward him. The cops in the hall, peeking in. The softness of the old dog's head. The strong stink of Beggin Strips that was almost delicious. He blinked and swallowed, bobbing upright a little before slumping back down over himself again. His arms were crossed over his middle. He didn't know he looked grey-green and his overly wide eyes were ringed with bright, wet vermilion.
When he spoke, his voice was soft and raspy. "I don't know...it was like I wasn't even in control of myself. Instinct. Instinctive reaction. Thought I saw something behind me."
"Then why didn't you turn and shoot behind you?"
Schultz shook his head morosely. "I dunno...I dunno...."
"And you didn't even get a look at the guy?"
"What guy?" He was angry. He knew nobody else had been in the room with them.
Holland shook his head and made a wet clicking sound with his tongue. "You're off the case, Crandall."
"What? Why? 'cause...'cause I shot out a mirror?"
The chief patted his shoulder. "That Bucky kid told me you were asking about ghosts."
"Don't believe in ghosts," he mumbled.
"And Faldourette told me you're carrying little voodoo dolls now?"
Holland made a face of bereavement. "I'm real sorry, there, Crandall, but how come you don't just take yerself off a couple of weeks on me? Take the family on vacation, maybe?"
"Take the- Take off? Where's Ellie?"
"That, too," the chief sympathized. "Take some time off to talk with your daughter and-"
Schultz slid to his feet and stood woozily, but angry. "Where's Ellie?
They find her?"
"No, no, no! Now calm down, boy! I've got a lot of explaining to do and you need to back offa this case for a little while. Gotta contact Detective Little's chief and his family...gotta tell Keyes his damn dog is dead. A dog...."
"Yeah," blurted Schultz. "A dog. Who'da thought the sicko would do the same damn thing to a dog?"
"'course it was a police dog, so we can trump up the charges on that one-"
"The charges? On who? Did we get something?"
Holland stepped away from the frantic man. "Now, see, boy? That would be a some one, not a some thing."
"But...but you don't-"
"Type up your report at home if you want to. I'll have someone come by and pick it up. I'm not real worried 'bout all the parasols and sword-stuck cherries just yet. We can have you flesh it all out when you get back."
He felt confused. "Sword-stuck cherries?"
"That's right, boy. I've got Billy waiting for you when they've finished up here, and he'll take you back to your home. Sleep on it if you can, and get me the basic stuff in the morning. Or whenever. Call Billy. He'll help you fill out everything all right."
Arguing was useless. Schultz tightened his jaw and looked down, saying nothing. The images were interspersed with those of his daughter smiling up at him, his ex-wife ready to throw something at him for not finding Ellie, the suddenly dead dog still dying, old man Keyes with a particularly sad look in his eye....
As his superior exited, he grabbed a nearby trashcan and threw up in it.
The death toll rises! Our hero is now the only witness to the weirdness who's still talking! Is this a real case or an X-file? Three dead and the feds get called in.... How will Schultz cope now that he's off the case? Is the curse broken along with the strange mirror from room 39? Can the state medical examiner sift any clues from the remains of the corpses? Stay tuned for more with Indian Chief Part 5!