FBI profiler Wayland Hood travels back to his Louisiana hometown to help his sheriff father unravel twisted truths behind a brutal series of murders.
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Sid is Alive
Men are being lured to agonizing deaths in the small Louisiana city of Aimsley. Brutalized bodies are displayed on the riverbank and in little-travelled bayou country, and a mysterious dark-eyed beauty may be connected. It’s a case with tremendous human suffering and a challenging political labyrinth for Sheriff Ty Hood. It means calling on the last person he wants to for help—his son.
Former FBI agent Wayland Hood is a brilliant criminologist and writer. He’s immersed in a project to unravel the mysteries inside the minds of four of America’s most heinous serial killers. Only unresolved issues with his father can draw him into the dark quest for buried secrets that fuel modern bloodshed. As father and son clash with each other and with television reporter Jemy Reardon who has her own goals and theories, the body count increases. Only a terrifying excursion into the darkest heart of midnight can bring the nightmare to an end.
Format: Kindle Edition
Twelve Years Ago
The corpse was Christ-like.
The arms stretched to the sides, bound at the wrists to a rough, gray cypress plank, in turn nailed to an oak tree to create a makeshift Crucifix. The head sagged at the neck, features contorted. Streaks of blood smeared from the forehead across the cheeks, and the streaks across the chest were like those from a Roman flogging.
After the initial impression, however, resemblance to the sacred was lost. Flies hummed around the mangled wounds, and the stench rising through the summer heat was almost enough to rip out stomach lining.
With a handkerchief over his nose and lower face, Sheriff Abel Quebedeaux followed Bell Guillory's stooped form across the soggy ground, kicking back palmetto branches and shoving aside other brush. He was trying to make sure their footsteps didn't disturb any evidence, but he saw no sign of footprints along the narrow trail, at least none that didn't bear the tread of Guillory's rubber boots.
The bile in his throat seemed to burn even more as they stopped within a few feet of the body. He wanted to vomit as he looked at the gaping cavern where the genitals should have been. It played on his own inbred fear of emasculation, that fear he could see in Guillory's clouded eyes as well.
The wound was even worse than the gash, which spread diagonally across the chest and abdomen, exposing bone and internal organs already gnawed by passing swamp life.
"If he'd a gone much longer, you wouldn't have much corpse left to investigate, no," the old fisherman said in a thick Cajun accent.
Averting his gaze, Quebedeaux nodded his agreement. The corpse was probably only a day old, though it was decomposing fast in the humid Averille Parish air with the August temperatures turning the swamp into a steam bath.
Guillory had come charging into the sheriff's office forty-five minutes earlier, his already wild eyes bulging. The secretary and dispatcher had summoned Quebedeaux from the office on the courthouse's second floor, and when he had come down to find the old man standing in the foyer, he had assumed he was drunk.
That supposition had faded as he listened to the panicked words, first sprinkled with French he could barely understand. Finally they had dragged Guillory into the coffee room and sat him down, recoiling from his body odor as they tried to listen to his excited explanations. He was about seventy with white hair under a faded red baseball cap. A scrub brush of white bristle spread across his cheeks and chin, and his plaid shirt and dark gray work pants tucked into rubber boots fit him like someone else's clothes. Only a couple of teeth remained, and they jutted from his gums at odd angles.
He'd owned a grocery store until the supermarkets and Wal-Mart on the highway had made it impossible to survive, and upon retiring, he had turned back to the life he had known growing up. Everybody knew old Bell spent his days fishing, and there was a tendency by most to look the other way when they knew he was poaching or pushing homemade hooch to anyone who took an interest in its kick. The man had to live.
Seeing him trembling and genuinely frightened had concerned Quebedeaux as the old man's story unfolded. As Bell had babbled on about a dead man, Quebedeaux had become more convinced. He could smell no liquor on the old man's breath, and a corpse sounded more believable than a sighting of Bigfoot or the little people mentioned in the old Tunica-Biloxi legends.
The sheriff had decided to check the situation himself rather than just sending deputies. With Guillory sitting in his passenger seat and Mike Tanzey and Jimmy Gaspard following in another vehicle, he headed out along the road north toward Petittville as the old man gave directions.
They drove past driveways bordered by cheap statuary and tractor tires painted white to make them decorative then past a couple of fields shared by cows and white cranes who seldom fluttered their wings. Finally, the land began to give way to marsh with few signs of humanity along the stretch. Occasionally they spotted an old tin-roofed shack set back off the roadway or a closed store with vines growing where gasoline pumps had once stood. Sometimes faded, antique Coca-Cola advertisements still dangled from poles and rusting Bunny Bread remained on the screen doors.
Otherwise, forest and swamp swallowed civilization in that part of the parish. Called the Sportsman's Paradise, it did have a lush, Shangri La appearance, looking from a car window with an air conditioner blowing. Only when you stepped out of the air conditioning did the heat take you, and only if you pushed through the branches and underbrush did you start to discover the mosquitoes along with slithering black water moccasins.
~ * ~
When they stopped in the spot Guillory designated, Quebedeaux unsnapped the strap on his holster and rested his hand on the butt of his Glock. He was a big man with a stomach that sagged over his gunbelt, and his khaki uniform quickly became stained with sweat under the arms and the center of the back as the heat enveloped him.
Shimmers danced off the black roadway, so he shoved his hat from his forehead as he watched the other vehicle pull to a stop behind him. He instructed the deputies to wait with the car since he didn't want more sets of feet tromping along the trail to destroy evidence.
"I ain't never seen anything like it," Guillory had warned as they started down the embankment beside the road's shoulder.
Quebedeaux had to agree as he looked at the body. They had wound through brambles and briars right out of a Johnny Horton tune to view this horror, and he wanted to turn and sprint back in the direction he had come.
They were in a forgotten place, probably a mile from the highway and a long way from houses. This area flooded when the water rose during heavy rains.
Even though the corpse was more or less on display, it was not intended for prompt discovery. The killer hadn't tried to conceal it, but no one would have happened upon it save somebody like Guillory who would traverse just about any terrain to find a good fishing hole or to sequester a still. A nearby dirt road was long overgrown and practically forgotten.
As he let his breathing return to normal, Quebedeaux began to look around for signs of the man's clothes. No garments were in the immediate vicinity, and he could see no other trail that had afforded the approach to this site.
With the soft ground, there should have been tracks, but those could easily have washed away with a rainstorm. Rain had recently fallen here, perhaps even the previous night.
Moving the handkerchief from his face, the sheriff used it to wipe sweat from the back of his neck where he was beginning to feel a prickly chill. Then he lifted his hat off and wiped his brow. The hatband had made an indentation in his gray hair, and he ran a hand through, loosening the close-cropped strands.
"This is sick, twisted shit," he said eying the body. He was normally a jovial man, his Cajun roots evident in his demeanor. He liked to laugh and joke with those he met, but now he felt no humor or animation.
"I'll agree wit you dere," Guillory nodded. "What would make somebody want to do this kind of thing, Sheriff?"
"I don't know, but I intend to find out," Quebedeaux vowed.
He turned and made his way carefully back to the cars where he had Gaspard radio for the coroner and a crime scene unit. While his office was still housed in the almost sixty-year-old courthouse, the department had stayed current with law enforcement techniques. They maintained the most up-to-date practices possible on their budget. He didn't want anybody accusing him of lagging behind when election time rolled around.
By the time the body was dispatched to Bossier City for autopsy, Quebedeaux had his people making phone calls, trying to determine if there were similar killings anywhere in the country.
Nothing surfaced, and that fueled the sheriff's concern because he had been hoping for an indication that the killer had been just passing through. He didn't like the idea that an Averille Parish resident might be capable of such brutality. It meant a monster might be lurking, walking the streets, shopping in the stores, waiting to strike again.
He'd read a book about Ed Gein, the man who'd provided the basis for Norman Bates in Psycho. Gein, who had been a quiet little man, had gone unsuspected of his horrible deeds for a long time, until the authorities had discovered lampshades made from human skin.
If the killer was one of the people in Averille Parish, Quebedeaux knew he'd have to find him. He began to promise people that as word of the murder spread and press coverage alarmed the population. He promised himself as well as he wondered who might be sitting out there with a jar holding the poor bastard's private parts.
After dental and fingerprint checks, the man's identity was determined to be James Manley; cause of death: loss of blood. He was a pharmaceutical salesman from Monroe who worked most of north and central Louisiana. He had last called on doctors in Pierston, the parish seat. He had been on his way to Aimsley where he was to have spent the night at the Clairmont, reported his last client.
Manley's car was eventually located on a side road some distance from the site. No one had seen who'd left it there since the old road was also an isolated spot. The vehicle was wiped clean of prints. Of course.
Quebedeaux had his detectives check every possible lead, even a hint of a lead, running down drifters in the area and questioning everyone imaginable. No one seemed an obvious suspect, and there was little physical evidence at the scene to indicate who might have wanted to so brutally torture and murder the poor man.
The major wound across the abdomen came possibly from a machete, the same weapon probably used to hack off the genitals, according to the coroner's report, though exposure and decomposition had made a determination impossible. With sugar cane fields nearby, Quebedeaux checked itinerant field hands without locating anything tangible against any of them, although all were proficient in a machete's use.
Nothing in the departmental files indicated anyone who had tendencies consistent with the killing, even though there were killers and rapists. Many of Averille's murderers had dispatched spouses or relatives in traditional domestic fashion but were not given to random violence.
For a while, Quebedeaux wondered if some member of one of the parish's proud families held twisted motivations, possibly sexual confusion considering the nature of the crime. Discreet inquiries and checks with the Pierston Police Department's help didn't do much more than stir up the people who had money.
They didn't have any Jack the Rippers in their families, they protested. Quebedeaux got warnings, reminding him about election time. Despite the threats, he became convinced the proud families had nothing to be ashamed of, at least not in the murder arena. If there had been a connection, elections wouldn't have mattered. He would not have turned his back on a psycho, regardless of votes.
Quebedeaux couldn't boast a 100-percent record of clearing cases. There were always things that couldn't be explained. Sometimes missing persons just couldn't be located, and burglaries couldn't always be solved. There were too damned many of them.
He cracked down hard on drug trade in the parish and saw to it that marijuana plants were seized when possible. His men broke up rural labs, which manufactured the latest fad drugs, but the haunting look of the dead stranger stayed with him.
He never stopped questioning people or looking for clues, but nothing turned up. Quebedeaux's wife was dead, so he spent much of his own time digging for answers. Even as the people began to forget, he prodded deputies to find information. He had seen the man, had witnessed the brutality, and it gave him nightmares sometimes, more than all of the mangled bodies and decomposed corpses he'd discovered in the line of duty in a career that had begun as a local policeman in Pierston and included state police work.
He'd worked a plane crash once which had left parts of the pilot and the plane scattered through a half-mile stretch of forest, and he'd discovered charred remains in fiery car wrecks. He'd seen knifing and shotgun victims, as well, but the ability of a human being to display such evil and brutality toward another reviled and disgusted him.
Talk of Satanism developed anew across America, and he considered the possibility of a ritualistic angle to the salesman's death. He couldn't find any group which conducted sacrifices in quite the way the man had been butchered, however.
Someone reminded Quebedeaux that voodoo had once permeated Louisiana and other forms of magic were also not unknown. A man in Cheneyville had been a heralded fortune teller for many years in the early part of the century, yet most vestiges of the old ways had faded by the late seventies. Superstition had given way to other fears.
That didn't rule out a self-styled cultist, according to journals of the time, and Qubedeaux kept an eye out for any sign of a kid who'd listened to too many heavy metal albums. Nothing developed with that idea either. He found stoned kids with music turned loud enough to rattle windowpanes, but they weren't connected with the case.
It was always The Case. It was his challenge, the solution his grail. He never attained it. Eventually he left office, defeated in a re-election bid by a younger man who promised more drug awareness and new ideas for the office. Quebedeaux gave an interview to the editor of the small Piersville newspaper, discussing the accomplishments of his administration, and that caught the attention of Aimsley's press so he did more interviews, talking about how he'd waged war against the drug trade and turned down bribes as he gave the prostitution business some problems also.
He bragged about his introduction of advanced computer systems and his increase of interdepartmental cooperation with Piersville, Aimsley, Penn's Ferry and other neighboring jurisdictions.
When asked about regrets, he mentioned a few small things and then admitted the almost obsessive regret that he never found the mutilator who took the life of a parish visitor.
He kept personal files on the case after vacating the courthouse, and for a while after that, he continued to run down even fragments of leads.
After he took a job as a probation officer just to keep busy, he spent spare time investigating, talking to people, urging people to search their memories for anything that might lead to answers. He never found what he was looking for.
He was killed in an automobile accident almost eight years after discovering the body. A pickup truck, driven by a kid who'd had too much to drink at a night spot crossed the highway's center line and hit the ex-sheriff's Ford Taurus head on.
He was dead on arrival at the Pierston hospital, even though a trauma specialist staffed the emergency room.
Some of his comments about the unsolved murder were pulled out of the files and reprinted as part of an article accompanying his obituary. A grainy black and white taken sometime before he left office was also printed, and television coverage picked up the tale as well for a brief resurgence. The story faded again after that.
The sheriff took much of his horror about the corpse to his grave, though people remembered the whispers about the murder for a long time.
They continued to wonder who was responsible, the tingling eeriness of the unexplained returning each time the event was recounted.