Kathy Newark is in the hospital, a victim of a brutal, drunken assault at a party. Though her injuries are serious, she’s more worried about her older sister finding out. Because there’s revenge. And then, there’s Brenda.
Los Angeles, October 1962. When Kathy Newark opened her good eye, the very first things she noticed were the lights whizzing past. They reminded her of riding in a fast-moving car, passing the night-piercing streetlamps on Wilshire Boulevard. But they were above her, and that was when she realized she was flat on her back on a bed traveling down a long, beige corridor like a star-crossed patient in a Dr. Kildare episode.
“Where…?” she said.
A disembodied voice attached to a hand replied. It was a woman’s voice. “You’re at County General, dear.”
“Try and relax. It’s the bleeding, you see. We have to stop it, or…”
“Blood? My blood?”
As they passed the nurses’ station, Kathy thought she heard President Kennedy’s voice on television. Something about missiles in Cuba threatening the United States. The mobile surgery table passed through a set of double doors, and suddenly, Kathy shivered. Her vision still not clear, she detected vertical people in a room with too-bright lights. They wore green surgical gowns. She struggled to remember what had happened but she couldn’t recall exactly. There was a party and—Edward! Where was Edward?
The anesthesiologist covered her nose and mouth. She tried telling him she needed her brother. The doctor refused to listen. She twisted her head and pawed at the clear plastic face mask.
“Miss, you mustn’t fight,” he said without a mouth. “This will go better if you cooperate. There’s a good girl.”
“My brother,” Kathy said, still defiant. “Please, someone needs to…”
Another doctor dressed in green stepped into the light. His eyes smiled at her as he took her hand. His was gloved and felt smooth and warm. And when he touched her, her anger vanished like runoff down a storm drain.
“Your family has been notified,” he said. “Now, please. Relax and let us do our job. We’re only trying to help you.”
He turned to the anesthesiologist. “Now.”
Once again, the mask was fitted over Kathy’s nose and mouth. Something pricked the back of her hand. And then, all was darkness. Good girl. She had been a good girl. Until the party.
“Shame. She could lose that eye,” was the last thing she heard one of the vertical people say.
Hours later, Kathy came to in a semi-private room that smelled of antiseptic. Voices sounded over a PA system. People chattered in the hallway. Whoever said hospitals were quiet? Her bed was huge compared to her body. At four-nine, furniture and rooms always felt too big.
Groaning, she searched her surroundings and found her brother sitting, his sandy-colored hair falling loosely over his face. She loved Edward. He looked trim and muscular in his school uniform—white shirt, tan slacks, and dark green sweater. He’d propped his face on a fist, the way he always did when trying to stay awake. Her brother’s determined gray eyes flew open. He went to her. Taking her hand, he choked back frustrated tears.
“Edward, you didn’t—I mean, you haven’t been to see…”
“No, I came straight here.”
“It was a mistake. Larry had too much to drink. And his friends. Well, they were…”
“Let’s not talk about it right now. How do you feel?”
“I don’t know. It’s the drugs. I don’t think I feel any pain but… My eye! What’s happened to my eye?”
“Detached retina, the doctor said. You have to keep your head still, and you’re not supposed to move around. They’ve scheduled you for eye surgery tomorrow.”
She held up her hand and saw the taped-up fingers and the torn nails with pink polish and bits of dried blood. She remembered Larry coming at her in the upstairs bedroom, loud and obnoxious, and smelling of alcohol. And his face, distorted and cruel. Not at all the way he’d looked days earlier when, hair combed neatly, he asked her to accompany him to the party.
“I warned you not to go,” her brother said. “Why are you messing around with college boys?”
“I— He was nice, Edward, I swear. A real gentleman.”
“They hurt you, Kat. Bad.”
“There was blood.”
“Internal bleeding. The doctor said it was lucky you didn’t break a rib and perforate an organ.”
“I don’t remember.”
“A policeman was in here earlier.”
“He wanted to know whether…”
Stinging tears blinded her, and with a rush of heat on her neck, she turned her head away, ashamed.
“Anyways, he’s coming back later. Said he wanted your statement so they can bring charges. I could tell he wants them convicted. And I agree with him. But he needs you to testify.”
“No! Edward, I can’t.”
“You have to. Kathy, you can’t let them get away with it. I don’t care who their parents are.”
“It’s not that.”
“If I tell anyone, she’ll find out. And I can’t… You know what she’s capable of.”
“What difference does it make? They deserve it after what they did. Why are you protecting them?”
“It was my fault. I shouldn’t have gone upstairs.”
His eyes darkened. She’d seen that look before, and it always frightened her.
“Kat, how can you say it was your fault? They’re the ones.”
She lay there, sobbing. Edward gently stroked her fine, blonde hair, the way he used to when they were little, and he pretended he was her older brother. A knock at the door startled them.
A grim-looking man who looked to be in his fifties, wearing a gray hat and overcoat, stood in the doorway. All of him looked gray. Like soot that had decided to peel itself from the wall and become human. Next to him stood a policewoman, her auburn hair in a severe bun tucked neatly under her cap. She wore almost no makeup and seemed to be nothing but primness and sympathy.
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Newark,” the cop said. “I’m Detective Carmody, and this is Officer Gelden. May we come in?”
Kathy nodded meekly. Edward lurked near the window. They crossed to the bed. Officer Gelden went first. Smiling, she took the girl’s hand. The detective produced a small notebook and a ballpoint pen and took a seat in the only chair available. The pen’s eraser cap had been chewed off.
“Now, Miss Newark,” he said. “I realize this…event has been traumatic. And Officer Gelden and I will do everything in our power not to subject you to any undue stress.”
“What is it you want?”
“I have some questions.”
“I don’t remember much.”
“That’s okay. Tell us what you do remember. Last night, you attended a party on Beverly Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Is that right?”
“I’m not sure of the address.”
He turned to Edward. “We’ve spoken to other witnesses who claim to have seen your sister there.” Then, to Kathy, “This party was primarily attended by students from the university. Is that right?”
“I think so.”
“You, however, do not attend college. In fact, you are currently in your senior year at Fairfax High School, correct?”
“And you turned seventeen this past August?”
“Were you aware that alcohol was being served at this party, Miss Newark?”
A prickling sensation spread from Kathy’s ears and down her neck. She looked desperately at her brother.
“I think so,” she said. “But I didn’t have any. I mean, they offered, and I tried a sip. But I didn’t like it. Are you going to arrest me?”
“Are you acquainted with Lawrence Dahlgren, Albert Watson, and William Sheldrake?”
She cast her eyes down and began fingering the IV tube attached to her hand. The adhesive tape pulled at her skin, and she wished she could tear it away from her body. When she answered him, her voice was a whisper.
“Sorry, I didn’t get that.”
“Yes. I know them.”
“These are college men, is that right?”
“Yes. You’ve already said so.”
“I guess, though, I don’t really know Albert or William. You see, I went to the party with Larry—Lawrence. And he introduced me to everyone there.”
The detective shifted in the chair and turned the page in his notebook. He was about to chew the eraser cap of his pen when he remembered. The policewoman’s head turned slightly toward him, and Kathy wondered what was going to happen next.
“I’m afraid this is going to get personal,” he said. “But I have to ask.”
“Someone attacked you. We have witnesses claiming they heard screams coming from upstairs. Who attacked you, Miss Newark? Was it one of the aforementioned young men?”
“I don’t remember. It was awfully loud. Larry said he wanted to show me upstairs. It was a large house, and I’d made him promise to give me a tour. But I was only joking.”
“At approximately what time did you go upstairs with Mr. Dahlgren?”
“I’m not certain. I think it might’ve been after eleven. Everyone was swimming in the indoor pool. And there was food and—”
“Can you tell us what happened after you went upstairs?”
She made a small moaning noise. It was as if someone had tied a string around the truth and tried to pull it out of her against her will. Taking in a deep breath, she looked at the policewoman, then at her hands.
“Larry became different,” she said.
“Did you feel threatened?”
“I said I didn’t care about the tour anymore and wanted him to take me home. I had school the next day. And besides, Edward would be worried. And our aunt.”
“And did you, in fact, attempt to leave?”
“Yes. But Larry wouldn’t let me. He grabbed my wrist and kept telling me how pretty I was and how he couldn’t stop thinking about me. Which made no sense because we hardly knew each other.”
She began shaking, tears springing from her eyes like rough-cut jewels. The policewoman patted her arm.
“The next thing I knew, he was dragging me to one of the bedrooms. I tried pulling away. But that seemed to enrage him more. He pushed me inside. When I refused to stay in there, he slammed the door on my fingers. That must have been when I screamed.”
“Were you at any time alone inside that room with Lawrence Dahlgren?”
Kathy stared at the policewoman, her eyes widening with new terror as, all of a sudden, she recalled that there were not one but three men in the dark with her.
“I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear.”
“No. I mean, it wasn’t just the two of us.”
“Were Albert Watson and William Sheldrake also present?”
“Please describe what they did. And again, I’m sorry if this is difficult.”
The policewoman squeezed Kathy’s hand. Tears poured down the distraught girl’s face. She turned to her brother and found him facing the window, his body rigid, arm muscles bulging, and fists clenched. After a long time, she cleared her throat and spoke in a flat voice.
“They took turns.”
A dark silence hung in the air. Outside, a wind kicked up. Kathy’s pulse quickened. She’d said everything out loud, something she hadn’t meant to do. It would be too late now. She would find out. There would be no way to stop what was about to happen.
The detective waited as Officer Gelden handed Kathy some facial tissues. She whimpered and blew her nose, closing her eyes and wishing everyone would go away.
“You have an older sister, Brenda,” the detective said. “Is that right?”
Edward turned, watching Kathy intently. She avoided his piercing gaze.
“Yes. She no longer lives with us.”
“Oh?” He and the policewoman looked at each other. “Is she married?”
“No. She— You see, she was…assaulted in the street. A long time ago.”
“My sister is confined to an asylum,” Edward said, fresh anger rising in his voice. “Is all this necessary, Detective?”
“We need all the facts. What about your aunt? Judith, is it?”
Edward and his sister exchanged a careful glance. He spoke the rehearsed words quickly. “She’s traveling.”
“So, there’s no adult in charge at home?”
Kathy’s eyes pleaded with the policewoman. “It’s not like that. She knows we’re old enough to be on our own for short periods.”
The detective sighed. “I wonder. Would you have attended that party if your aunt had been home?”
Putting away his pen and notebook, he got to his feet and, glancing at Edward, made eye contact with the policewoman.
“Miss Newark, do you know what a sexual assault kit is?” he said.
“There are tests we have to perform. It’s so we can gather evidence of…what happened. I’m sorry, but we must collect samples from— Physical samples. Do you understand?”
“No. A nurse will assist Officer Gelden. Your brother and I will wait outside. Do we have your permission?”
Kathy stared at the window, which seemed so far away now. Outside, the wind raged like some kind of hell-storm. She heard whispering voices in it—accusing voices. She should have tried harder to escape.
“It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s too late,” she said, looking at nothing. “Yes, you may conduct your tests.”
The detective tilted his head, and the policewoman slipped out of the room. Almost immediately, she returned, accompanied by a nurse carrying a tray of supplies. They included swabs, a needle and syringe, a specimen cup, and plastic evidence bags. Kathy wondered whether the other woman had been waiting outside the whole time.
“All right, dear. Let’s begin,” the nurse said in a tone that suggested the girl might be about to take a chemistry final.
The wind had caused a power outage, and the house was in darkness when Edward entered through the front door. As a child, he’d loved his home, which always seemed bright and cheerful. But after their parents’ death, and then Brenda being carted off like a criminal, a pall had fallen over this place, and he dreaded being there.
His gut ached at the realization that he’d been incapable of protecting his sister. After the funeral, he had decided to take charge. Though their Aunt Judith was their legal guardian, he felt it was up to him. But he’d failed.
He found his aunt in the living room, standing near the windows. Distant lightning illuminated the sky. The silhouette spoke, her back facing him.
“Why did you go to the police?”
“I didn’t. Somehow, they found out and…”
She moved silently to the coffee table and lit a single candle. Its faltering glow created shadows that played on the walls like lost souls. Edward regarded his aunt. She was a small, impatient woman with dyed black hair kept in a bun that pulled at her face, giving her an almost imperceptible Asian appearance. She still wore her gray traveling suit and stiff black shoes, the ones with the low heels. Why couldn’t she have stayed at home? Then none of this would have happened.
Turning, she regarded her nephew with eyes as black as her hair. Her shoulders dropped, and she looked as if she were trying to hold back her anger. He made his way into the room and sat in the middle of the dark red loveseat.
“How is she?” his aunt said without compassion.
“Resting, I guess. They did tests.”
The woman’s eyes widened, and her face flushed. “Yes, I suppose they would.”
“Aunt Judith? Are you… Do you plan to stay?”
Her eyes conveyed a fury he knew all too well. Softening, she crossed to him and gestured for him to stand. Though she was short, she embraced him. The anger and frustration pouring out of him, he sobbed like a small child who’d gotten separated from his parents in a public place.
“Stop it,” she said. “You’re the man of the house. It’s your job to look after your sister. I’ve told you this, Edward. Countless times.”
“But I warned her not to go. How could I have prevented her?”
“Kathleen was always an impetuous girl.” Then, looking away, “Just like her sister.”
He pulled back and stared down at her, his mouth open. “Are you saying this is her fault?”
“I’m saying she never should have gone to a party where there are grown men. And alcohol.”
“She wouldn’t have gone if you had been here.”
She slapped him hard across the face. The pain blinded him momentarily. Putting a hand on his face and rubbing it, he stared at the cold, efficient woman, his eyes filled with loathing.
“Sit down,” she said. He didn’t move. “Edward, sit down.”
He sank back onto the loveseat and stared at her shoes. They were new. She must’ve bought them on her trip.
“Did the police say they intend to charge these men?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think. What exactly did the detective say?”
“I remember now. It’s why they wanted to do the tests. They need evidence to—”
“First thing in the morning, I’m calling that policeman and telling him we are not bringing charges.”
“Think about it, Edward. After the trial, Brenda’s life was ruined. Her reputation, her chances of ever getting married—”
“But what about those three men? They’re going to get away scot-free?”
“You leave things to me. Do you hear me?”
“What are you going to do? Lock Kathy away like you did Brenda?”
He thought she would strike him again, but instead she took a calming breath.
“Leave everything to me,” she said, her voice thin and threatening in the fading glow of the low candle.
The lights came on, making Edward squint. His aunt appeared older. Dark circles rimmed her lower lids. The marionette lines around her small mouth looked deeper, more pronounced, giving him the impression he was speaking to a mask that had been carved from driftwood.
“I hope she didn’t get herself pregnant,” she said.
She left her nephew standing in the room, the sound of her new heels clacking on the hardwood floor as she marched toward the staircase.
Edward tried sleeping, but it was no good. His aunt’s words echoed darkly in his ears. Leave everything to me. These were the exact words she had spoken after Brenda’s attack. Though it had taken place more than five years ago, he remembered it vividly. The shouting, the accusations, the screaming nightmares as his sister slowly came apart.
As promised, Aunt Judith had seen to everything. And those thugs? The ones who’d attacked his sister in the park? They went free for, as the police had put it, lack of evidence. Edward was ten when it happened. He’d never seen the faces of the men who attacked his sister. Not until later in the newspaper. He remembered the photos. All three smiling. Innocent. In the end, they got what they deserved, he reminded himself.
It was up to him now. His aunt would do nothing to avenge Kathy. She would do as she always did. Sweep it under the carpet and pray it went away. She would continue attending luncheons and benefit concerts with her friends. And she would travel, pretending nothing had happened. Time heals all, she’d told him once after his parents’ funeral. She’d been wrong about that, too.
It was raining by the time Edward arrived at Rancho Los Amigos after a long bus ride during which an unruly wino had nearly vomited on him. Located in Downey, the mental hospital consisted of a series of low, drab buildings erected in the late 1800s.
As he made his way along one of the cracked concrete walkways, he was prepared to tell Brenda everything that had happened to their sister. Anger seethed through his tense body as he recalled the conversation with Aunt Judith. If, as she had reminded him, he was the man of the house, then he would take charge now. He would do what had to be done.
Edward found the familiar stairs leading down to the lower buildings. He almost slipped on the wet concrete steps and gripped the iron banister even harder. Carefully, he continued toward the dank inner recesses of the asylum. Eventually, the wailing and screaming sounds faded. Then, he saw the entrance.
Inside, it was warm—almost cheerful—if you could call an insane asylum cheerful. Edward approached the desk and presented his student ID. Disinterested, the gray-uniformed guard spun the clipboard around until it faced the visitor. Edward noticed the man’s fingertips, yellowed from years of smoking. Swallowing his disgust, he took the pen that was attached to the desk by means of a long, stainless steel ball chain and signed in.
His stomach in knots, he walked down the long, overly lit corridor, doing his best to ignore the strong smell of liquid cleaner that almost masked the odor of urine. Was he having second thoughts? The only sounds were his hard footsteps slapping the worn flecked tile. When he reached the last door on the left, he waited, then knocked.
As he opened the door, he found her sitting by the window, her back to him. Outside, the rain poured down, and in the distance, he heard thunder. He clenched his fists as he approached his sister. She seemed to sense his presence and tilted her head to one side as though hearing a song she recognized. He came up to her, his hands folded in front of him.
Brenda was the eldest. Though only twenty-six, she looked much older, her sunken eyes in a skull-like face partially hidden by stringy brown hair. Her eyes and lips twitched from the Thorazine. Her hands clutched the arms of the chair. They’d cut her fingernails too short, leaving dried droplets of blood at the tips that reminded Edward of Kathy’s damaged hands.
She weighed almost nothing, dressed in a simple cotton nightgown that was translucent in the light from the spin-shade lamp that cast musical notes across the room, playing a forever silent symphony. She used to love the piano, he remembered. As he moved closer, he saw her pale breasts through the material. Mortified, he looked away.
“Brenda?” She continued staring out the window. “It’s Edward. H-how are you?”
He noticed a second chair in the corner. As quietly as possible, he moved it next to her and sat, leaning in so he could speak in a low voice. He smelled urine and coughed into his hand. Her head swiveling, she looked into his eyes.
Her expression was accusatory. He imagined she already knew what had happened and was blaming him now, as their aunt had done, for not preventing the tragedy. That look. It was the same expression she’d had after they acquitted the men who’d attacked her.
He felt himself losing his nerve. Maybe Aunt Judith was right. Why put Kathy through this when nothing would come of it? The last thing he wanted was for her to lose her mind. Like Brenda.
Dahlgren, Watson, and Sheldrake. He was sure they came from wealthy, influential families. They would have the best lawyers and would turn the trial into a circus, portraying his poor sister as some kind of slut who had lied about her age and, after getting drunk, lured them into the bedroom.
“I don’t even know why I’m here,” he said, staring at the floor.
Brenda became more alert. She ground her teeth, saliva dripping from a corner of her mouth. The notes from the spin shade seemed brighter as they crescendoed across the walls. He could almost hear the incomprehensible music of the terminally insane getting louder; it was trying to drive him insane.
“Kathy?” she said in a strained, gravelly voice.
Ever since the assault, she had taken to speaking this way, which sounded nothing like the sweet, lilting, laughing tone he remembered. Coming here had been a mistake. He needed to leave before she learned the truth and—
As he stood, she grabbed his wrist and squeezed. Though she appeared weak, her grip was strong, and it hurt him. He sank back onto the chair.
“What have they done to her?”
“I couldn’t stop her, I…”
“WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?”
She was standing now. His eyes filled with tears, he looked up at her distorted face. It seemed the notes from the spin shade were alive in her eyes, egging him on. And before he knew what was happening, he told her everything.
Larry Dahlgren walked into the coffee shop in Culver City, wearing a cable knit sweater, Harrington jacket, and pressed chinos. His left cheek smarted under the adhesive bandage. Spotting Al and Bill, he waved genially and, squeezing past a boisterous bowling team, made his way to the last booth near the restrooms.
“Could you have picked a worse spot?” He slid into the booth.
Bill laughed. “What? It’s quiet back here.”
A server came by and set down a menu and a glass of water.
“Coffee,” he said, not looking at her. Then, to the others, “So?”
Al leaned in, making sure to keep his voice low. “I spoke to my dad, and it looks like we caught a break.”
“Explain,” Larry said, scanning the menu.
“Well, he made a few calls. She’s got an older sister who’s locked up in some loony bin.”
“A few years back, the same thing happened to her. My dad says they had a trial and everything, and the defendants got off.”
“I still don’t see—”
“Don’t you get it? If she’s nuts, then it probably runs in the family. All we have to say is, it wasn’t us.”
“She’s underage,” Bill said.
“Who cares? She could’ve lied about her age to get into the party.” He pointed at Larry. “You thought she was older when you met her, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So did we. I mean, why would any of us intentionally invite a minor to a party where there’s booze?”
“I don’t know, guys,” Larry said. “I mean, we did…”
Al scoffed. “Come on. It was dark in that room. How can she be sure it was us? It’s our word against hers. Besides, you know she—”
Bill put his hand over Al’s mouth. “Don’t say that.”
As Al slapped his hand away, an attractive woman in her twenties came out of the restroom. She wore a sleeveless white column dress and had perfect bangs. As she passed their table, Larry smiled boyishly.
“Hey,” he said. “It’s kind of lonely back here. Why don’t you join us?”
She looked them over, her eyes settling on the bandage. “I don’t think so.”
“Bitch,” he said loud enough for her to hear as she walked away.
Outside, a sudden gust of wind hurled a plastic trash can against the side of the building, startling the men.
“Jeez, what was that?” Bill said.
Larry leaned toward the window and gazed at the sky. Huge black clouds had gathered. He remembered that one of the windshield wipers on his sports car was broken, and he worried about making it home safely in the rain.
“That’s one angry storm,” he said.
As Detective Carmody entered the autopsy room, he spotted the three aluminum tables, each with a body lying on top. The medical examiner, who was new, measured the body length of one of the male victims. Next to him stood another detective who was younger than Carmody, Phil Lyons.
“Oh, hey, Mike,” The ME said.
“Hi, Doc. Hey, Phil.” The other detective limped over to shake his colleague’s hand.
“What happened?” Carmody said.
“Hurt my ankle playing basketball. Nothing serious.”
“So, what do we got?”
The ME pointed at the headless bodies. “As you can see, all three are young males. I’d say, late teens, early twenties.”
The detective approached one of the tables and peered at the pale corpse. The top of the neck was dark and ragged. The windpipe was sticking up about an inch. It looked as if the head had been torn off by some kind of diabolical killing machine. Deep, reddish gashes ran down the length of the torso.
“Notice anything strange?” the ME said. “Besides the missing head?”
Carmody took a closer look. “No blood.”
“Not a single drop.” The ME moved next to him. “It’s the same for all three bodies. I checked for needle marks but couldn’t find anything.”
Carmody felt feverish. “And the heads?”
The ME exchanged an amused glance with the other cop. He walked over to a different table where a sheet lay over three round objects. When he pulled back the covering, Carmody let out a gasp.
Three faces stared at him, one of which had a bandage on the left cheek. Each wore the same frozen rictus of blinding terror, the filmy eyes bulging grotesquely, and the tongues swollen and black. There was no doubt in Carmody’s mind that whatever attacked them, they’d seen it coming.
“Want me to cover those up, Mike? You look like you might lose your lunch.”
“If you don’t mind.” He glanced at Lyons, who was smirking. “Who do you think could’ve done this?”
The ME sighed. “I don’t know. I would’ve guessed an animal—bear, maybe—but that doesn’t explain the heads. Or the blood.”
“Somebody was pretty angry all right,” Lyons said.
Using a ballpoint pen, he poked at a freckle on the dead man’s shoulder.
“Do you mind?” the ME said to him.
Carmody nodded and turned to the other detective. “When did they come in?”
“Couple hours ago. A stewbum was trying to take a piss in the alley behind Ships over in Culver City.”
“La Cienega and Olympic?”
“That’s the one. He found the remains instead. Ended up pissing himself. He told a beat cop, who called it in.”
“No. Carmody, the heads were stacked one on top of the other like my niece’s blocks.”
“You ID the vics yet?”
“Yeah.” Lyons removed a notebook from his suit jacket and flipped through the pages.
The older detective was staring at one of the bodies when he thought he saw something glimmer around the neck. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Nothing.
“Okay,” Lyons said. “We got…Albert Watson, nineteen; Lawrence Dahlgren, twenty; William Sheldrake, also twenty.”
Carmody’s blood turned to ice, and he grabbed the notebook.
“You sure about that?”
“Yeah. We found their wallets with their driver’s licenses. Also, their cars were parked in the lot.”
“Parents been notified?”
“Already identified the bodies. Hey, Carmody, you know these guys?”
“No. I’m working a rape case.”
“But you’re Homicide.”
“Flu’s got half the department down. I volunteered.” He nodded at one of the bodies. “These guys are suspects.”
“Were suspects,” Lyons said. “You think this is some kind of revenge killing?”
“I don’t see how,” the ME said. “No human could have done this.”
“What about a contraption, or…?”
“There are no marks on the heads indicating something mechanical.”
“Okay, Doc, thanks,” Carmody said. “I need to report in.”
He walked out of the morgue. Lyons followed him, and once they’d reached the elevator, the second cop touched Carmody’s shoulder.
“Okay, what gives?” Lyons said.
Carmody looked at his colleague for a long time as he lit a cigarette and took a deep drag.
“Not supposed to smoke in here,” Lyons said.
Carmody ignored him. A loud ding echoed in the corridor as the car arrived, startling both men. When they entered, the older cop didn’t make a move. Lyons reached over and pressed L.
“This has happened before,” Carmody said, blowing smoke through his nostrils.
“Five years ago. Wasn’t my case.”
“Five years. That was before I transferred in. Same MO?”
“I think so.”
When they reached the lobby, Carmody walked away as Lyons struggled to keep up. Outside, it was raining.
“So you think, what? A psycho killer?”
Carmody sighed. “You heard the doc. No human could’ve done that.”
They were next to Carmody’s vehicle now.
“What about the rape victim?” Lyons said. “Maybe she knows something.”
“I doubt it.” Carmody tossed the butt and ground it flat with the toe of his worn wing tip. “Thanks for bringing me in on this, Phil.”
As Carmody pulled out of the parking space, Lyons waved and said, “Hope the girl’s all right.”
But Carmody hadn’t heard him over the sound of the windshield wipers beating mercilessly to a song no one else could hear.
It was late when Judith finally went to bed. She’d been out with friends celebrating a birthday, and she was exhausted. When she got home, she spoke with the private nurse to make sure Kathleen was tucked safely in bed. At the hospital, they’d prescribed Librium to help the girl sleep. Before leaving, the nurse confirmed she had left the patient snoring. It would be almost two weeks before they could do a pregnancy test. Expecting the worst, Judith planned to call Dr. Sharpe in the morning to make the arrangements. Just as she’d done with Brenda.
A library book lay on her nightstand, Ross Macdonald’s The Wycherly Woman. She would do her best to get through another chapter before succumbing to sweet sleep. The bedroom window was open, and the faint hooting of a barn owl soothed Judith. She’d always liked that sound and listened attentively to its mournful calling.
It stopped, along with the sound of crickets. Only dead silence now. A burst of cold air blew in, and she thought she heard whispering. She shut the window and fastened it. When she turned around, she noticed a newspaper lying folded on her bed. Had that been there all along? Ignoring it, she went into the bathroom.
After brushing her hair, Judith returned to her bed. The newspaper lay unfolded now. When she read the headline, she froze. Three Men Found Murdered. The story was accompanied by photographs of three smiling college students.
She snatched the paper and threw it into the wastebasket. Taking a moment to recover herself, she pulled back the comforter and folded it at the foot of the bed. As she took hold of the top sheet, she noticed something. A fresh drop of blood in the center.
Disconcerted, she hurried into the bathroom and returned with a wet washcloth. As she dabbed at the spot, it grew, the red liquid shiny in the glow of the lamp on her nightstand. It began bubbling up like a freshwater spring. She fell, trying to choke back a scream.
The blood covered the sheet and ran over the sides of the bed to the floor. Trembling, Judith got to her feet. An animal sound that welled from the pit of her being roiled to the surface like hot magma and erupted into a shriek she had no power to control.
Her cry was long, ululating, and desperate. Blindingly, the horrific image tore her from her comfortable world of money, parties, and friends. It brought her to a cold, bitter place of pain and scars she’d managed to forget for so many years. And when she had exhausted the rush of emotion and surprise, she sank to her knees and quaked like an apple tree shaker at harvest time.
The room was freezing cold. Vaguely, she heard someone calling to her from another part of the house. And the blood—it covered everything. Even her.
Edward rushed in and went to her. “Aunt Judith? Are you all right?”
“Blood,” she said in a child’s voice.
He took in the bed, the rest of the well-appointed room, and finally, his aunt, who remained on her knees, rocking and clutching herself as if she might fly apart.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see—”
“It’s all over me!” She raised her arms above her head.
“Maybe I should call Dr. Sharpe,” he said.
But she could no longer hear her nephew. The only sound now was deep inside her head. It was the gravelly, maniacal whispering of someone she knew. Someone who Judith had locked away and forgotten about years ago along with her emotions—and her heart, which was like granite and would never be broken.
Copyright © 2020 by Steven Ramirez.
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