An ongoing serialized novel about an ex-cop, a small town, and some very dark goings on. From the author of “The Hole.”
All prior and future installments of Mr. V, as well as a quick introduction to the novel, can be found here:
Now on to Part 2.
Ricky walks me out of the museum and down the street, past the park and another block. The whole way saying, “Not here,” when I ask for more about these murders. “People could be listening,” he says.
Which is why it’s confusing when we end up in a coffee shop, not a Starbucks or anything like that, but one of those neighborhood joints where everyone’s got a laptop and looks like they’ve been there hours going on days.
But then Ricky points to the back, a smaller room you’d think is employees only but is really just a bunch more tables. He says, “We can talk in there.”
And we do. Neither of us orders anything and the folks who run the place don’t seem to care. Ricky says, sitting in a chair that doesn’t match any of the others in that stylishly eclectic way, I guess, “Clint, I got friends around here. We… Well, some of us still deal, Clint. But that’s not the point. What is is it’s not like this town’s dangerous for people like us. It’s all low key. But not anymore. Three of us have died, Clint. Not oh-deed. Killed. More are just missing.”
I wonder if maybe this place can make me an Irish coffee. “How do you know they were killed?” I say.
“Ones gone missing, I don’t. But the three I mentioned, they was definitely murdered. Right around here, too. In fact, two of them, their bodies turned up on the museum grounds we were just on, Clint. Those I actually saw afterwards, before the cops found them and the city took them away. They were all cut up.”
“Cut up like how?”
“Tears all over. Gouges. On their faces, hands.”
Ricky thinks this over. “Yeah, maybe,” he says.
“So like they were attacked by wild animals? Or chewed up after they’d already died from something else? Because, Ricky, you know there are mountain lions all through here. One of your friends smokes too much, keels over dead — even just passes out — it’s not crazy to think one of those big cats sees an easy meal and takes advantage of it.”
But Ricky says no, it can’t be mountain lions. “Because Clint, we’re not talking bites — if that’s what they are — bites of that sort. I’ve seen mountain lions. They’re too small.”
“Mountain lions are pretty big, Ricky. So how big of bites are we talking here?”
Ricky sits up and holds his hands apart, curling his fingers, miming jaws. “Like this,” he says, and his palms are a good thirty-six inches away from each other. “Like a fucking alligator, Clint.”
And I see the blood on the museum steps. More, if I’m honest, than you’d get from cracking your head really good falling off a skateboard. I say, “What about the police?”
“You mean are they on it?”
I nod. “You said they showed up, took the bodies. They doing anything?”
Ricky says, “Shit, Clint, you think cops care about junkies? Dealers? I mean like care about what happens to ’em, and not just about locking ’em up?”
“If they’re being murdered,” I say.
Ricky shakes his head. “No,” he says. “The cops sure aren’t doing anything about it. I mean they said something about it back when the news guys did a story. Cop lady on TV, she says about how it’s like what you said, probably an animal attack. But they only talked about one of ’em, Clint. And there were three.” Ricky stops. Stares at me. “You don’t believe me.”
I shrug. “You say one of your buddies died, I’m sure it happened. That he was eaten by something as big as an alligator? I don’t know. Ricky, how often you get high?”
He leans back, looking at the ceiling. Rolls his eyes. “I knew it. You think because I cooked some crank, because you pinned distribution of it on me even though I did no such thing, and you think because I got a problem I sometimes smoke the stuff, all that means I’d lie about something killing my goddamn friends?”
“Didn’t say lying, Ricky.”
“So you think I’m crazy, then? Out of my head on dope and I don’t even know my friends haven’t been eaten?”
“Ricky, calm down.”
The front legs of his chair slam back on the hardwood and he’s right in my face, all yellow teeth and watery eyes. “I need your help, Officer Varne. I’m not shitting you. This is all real. We’re dying.”
“Okay, Ricky,” I say, leaning away from him. “Okay.”
Ricky says, “But it’s not just me knows about it. You gonna be here I bit? Let me round up a few of us haven’t been killed and let them tell you. They know about it, too.”
I get dragged along to a Denny’s, where I’m now sharing a booth with Ricky, this other guy who looks even more like one of the walking dead, and a slip of a girl pretty enough but with hair on her legs and sprouting out her armpits.
“I don’t sell it,” the girl tells me, her voice slow, like some charlatan just hypnotized her. “If you were thinking I did, I don’t. Hooked on it, yeah, but that don’t hurt nobody.”
“Sure don’t,” the other guy says.
The girl says, “I just wanna clear that up so you don’t go thinking you need to lock me up or nothing. Because Ricky says you’re a cop.”
Ricky, who’s on the bench seat with me across from these two lunatics, reaches out and touches her wrist. “Used to be a cop. Tell him what you seen, Izzy. He don’t care about the drugs. He’s here to help.”
Izzy inhales big and dramatic. “It was like two nights ago, maybe. I’m out with Feargus — “
“Her boyfriend,” Ricky says.
“ — and we’re hanging out in that park, one across from the museum. It’s late. I don’t know what time. Feargus wants to score us some pot and so he tells me to wait for him. He’s sweet like that, buying it for me but not wanting me talking with those people myself. So I’m sitting there by the fountain, Feargus running over across the street, where the restaurants are, because the guy he buys from works dishes in one of them.”
Ricky’s hand still on her wrist, she says, “I don’t see him for like ten minutes. Feargus never takes that long because it’s not like this dishwasher goes on break to sell it to him or anything. It’s real quick. So I’m sitting there and I’m getting nervous because what if they got caught, busted by the manager or something? What if somebody called the police?”
Ricky says, “But then tell him what you saw.”
The other guy, the real skinny one, he’s staring at Ricky, but he says, “Yeah, Izzy. It’s okay.”
“I decide — I don’t know, it’s been like twenty minutes now — but I get up and start walking over there. It’s not like I’m gonna go in, so I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I can’t just sit there any more with Feargus maybe in trouble. And it’s when I’m still in the middle of the street when I hear people talking in the ally next to the restaurant. Feargus and another guy, I’m pretty sure. Not like I can hear what they’re saying, but the voices, I know one’s Feargus.”
All this and she’s staring right at Ricky, gaze not moving from his, and her eyes keep getting wider until I can see white all the way around her irises. Fear.
Izzy goes on, “Feargus says something like, ‘You sick?’ Maybe ‘disturbed,’ I can’t remember. He says it like this other guy wants him to do something fucked up and then Feargus is saying, ‘Stop it.’ I hear him say that: ‘Hey, wait’ and ‘Stop that!’ And then — “
She stops. We all wait for her. I see tears on her cheeks. Ricky says, “I’m here, Izzy. We all got you. Nothing’s gonna happen, you here with us. It’s safe.” Ricky pats her hand. “You need to tell him, Iz.”
Izzy moves that weird, wild gaze from Ricky to me. I lock eyes. Try to look encouraging.
Izzy sniffles. “It’s just that it’s so awful,” she says after another fifteen seconds of staring. “You know how there’s things, you see them, but even after you can’t believe it really happened? Like it’s so bad that you just go on thinking it must’ve been a dream?”
“Feargus, I see him come out of the alley. He’s looking scared. Never seem him like that before, not even the time we were squatting and high school kids broke in with gasoline. He was always so tough.”
“Did you recognize the other guy’s voice?”
She takes a second to process the question. She shakes her head. “Didn’t hear it good enough.”
“What happened next?” I ask her.
“It’s like Feargus was pushed out of there,” Izzy says. “Like someone behind him gave him a big shove. Because he kind of stumbled, coming right toward me, and then I saw — “ She breaks off her stare, pulls her hand away from Ricky’s, covers her face. “Oh, God,” she says.
I’m about to pat her, give her coffee, something to comfort her, when she wipes her face with the back of her hands and says, “He got eaten, Mr. Varne. That’s what happened. Something ate him and it wasn’t no animal, either.”
They’re all junkies, I think. Get enough of that shit in your system and you think anything’s anything. Feargus could’ve got mugged, nothing special about it, and Izzy would swear she saw a minotaur do it.
But I don’t say that. Instead I say, “You’re sure?”
She nods. “I saw its arms. This thing grabbed Feargus right around his chest and its arms were human.”
“In a jacket and everything,” Ricky says. “A fancy one. Kind of businessman wears.” Izzy glances at him, her look blank.
“You said he got shoved out, the pulled back in. Are you sure about that? Could he have been trying to run away instead of pushed? He’s running, panicked, that might be why he stumbled.”
“I guess so,” she says. “I don’t know.”
“So someone beat him up, is what you’re telling me. Maybe knifed him?”
“No. Feargus got eaten. I saw it. This mouth, big and coming out of the dark.” Izzy stops, and brushes Ricky’s hand off hers. “I can’t talk about this anymore. Jesus.”
Ricky looks at her, then inches away, embarassed by the rejection. He tries to cover by taking charge of the conversation. “That’s when we called the cops, Clint. We told ’em Feargus got killed and they had to make this shit stop.”
“What’d they do?”
“Nothing. Not a fucking thing. I mean, they sent someone out there, but he tells Izzy there’s nothing to see. Like Feargus is gone. There’s some blood. No real ‘physical evidence’ he says. And everyone knowing Feargus smokes and shit, the cop says he probably just ran off. Is high or doesn’t want to pay whatever he owes somebody. Junkies disappear, you know? Maybe the blood’s from him stabbing himself wrong shooting up.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“And it’s the same shit they gave us the two times before. Run off and maybe got taken out by a mountain lion out in the woods. They don’t give a shit about us.”
“They don’t,” Izzy says.
“You didn’t see anyone take the body?” I say. “It really just vanished?”
Ricky says, “Gone when we got back. Next time, we’ll maybe leave someone to watch. Because, Clint, I just know there’s going to be a next time.”
“I don’t see what I can do,” I say. “The cops think it’s nothing, it’s not like I’m gonna tell them different. You say you saw something, sure, but if they’re right and there wasn’t any sign of foul play in that alley, then maybe Feargus did just run off. Sorry, Izzy, but it’s not unlikely.”
She shrugs and starts to cry and Ricky tries to put his arm around her, but she gets up and walks off. The guy sitting next to her, who hasn’t said a thing this whole time, he just keeps on sitting, but looks at me as shrugs, apologizing. Ricky starts after her, but stops before he’s even out of his seat. He decides to stick around and says to me, “Clint, really, you gotta help us. I’m not making this shit up. Neither’s Izzy. I know what you’re thinking. I ain’t stupid, Clint. I know what you think me and Izzy are. But we still got a right to protection. We still got a right not to be killed.”
“What do you want me to do?” I ask.
“Just give it a few days. Please, Clint. Stick around and I’ll get some other people you can talk to. It’s not just us seen this stuff. You give me a few days to prove it to you.”
The thing is, it’s not like I was planning on heading home tonight anyway. Who wants to drive home in the dark?
But I make Ricky think I’m doing him a favor. Because it’s Ricky.
“Yeah,” I say. “You don’t have anything for me tomorrow, I’m leaving. I’m not wasting my time more than that.”
“Right, Clint. Right. I can do that. You’ll see.”
He tosses some cash on the table to cover the coffee. He says, “Oh, hey, I do got one thing, Clint. Not sure if it’s anything, but I know you cop types thing anything’s important, right? It’s this guy, Connolly. Don’t know his first name. Only know his last name on account of all the TV ads he’s running because he wants to get himself elected to something or other.”
“What about him?” I say.
“Well, here’s the thing, Clint. This Connolly, he’s been talking to my people.”
“You gotta call ’em that, yeah. Junkies. He’s been talking to them, asking them if they’re okay, if they need anything from the city.”
“He just wants something to campaign on,” I say.
“Yeah, except here’s the thing about that. Guy’s been running for a while, because I’ve seen the ads going back a while, too. But it was only recently be started talking to us. Only in fact right after the murders started.”
“Junkie deaths just put you kids in the news. He wasn’t ‘empathizing with your plight’ until he hear about you getting killed.”
“You’re probably right, Clint. But I thought I’d tell you about it even if it’s nothing. Because it might be something, right?”
“Sure, Ricky,” I say. “It might be something.”
I’m heading out when I turn glance back at him. “Before I go, Ricky, tell me where the restaurant is. The one Feargus worked at. Where’s the alley?”
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