Paradigms Lost — Chapter 19

Chapter 19: Blood and Moonlight

When I can’t talk and can’t act and can’t work… I drive. I cruised down the various highways — the Northway, then part of the Thruway, 787, back to I-90 — the windows wide open and the wind roaring at sixty-five. Even so, I barely felt any cooler; for sheer miserable muggy heat, it’s hard to beat the worst summer days of Albany, New York, and its environs, which unfortunately include Morgantown. It was days like this that made me think that an air conditioner retrofit would be a really, really good idea; there were a few drawbacks to driving a 1970s-vintage car.

How long I was out there driving I wasn’t sure. For a while I just tried to follow the moon as it rose slowly, round and white. It was the flashing red lights that finally drew my attention back down to earth.

No, they weren’t chasing me — I wasn’t speeding; there were two police cars up ahead and flares in the road. I slowed and started to go around them; then I saw a familiar, slender figure standing at one car. That made me wince; it was that same person’s voice who’d caused part of my major upset earlier, and she couldn’t be feeling great about it, either. I pulled up just ahead of the squad car. “What’s up, Renee?” I asked.

She jumped and her hand twitched towards her gun. “Jesus! I didn’t even hear you come up.”

That was weird in itself. “Must be something pretty heavy if you didn’t notice Mjölnir pulling in.”

She gestured. “Take a look if you want. Just don’t go beyond the tape. We’re still working here.”

I went down the steep, grassy embankment carefully, finally pulling out my penlight to pick my way down. Despite the moon it was pitchy dark, and the high, jagged pines blocked out what feeble light there was; at least it was cooler under the trees. The slope leveled out, and the light from the crime scene started brightening. The police had set up several portable floods and the area was almost bright as day. I stopped just at the tape.

At first it just looked like someone had stood near the middle of the clearing and spun around while holding a can of red-brown paint. Then one of the investigators moved to one side.

A body was sprawled, spread-eagled in the center of the clearing. The green eyes stared sightlessly upward and the mouth hung open in a frozen scream. His throat had been torn out. The charcoal-gray suit was flung wide open, the white shirt now soaked in red-brown clotting blood where his gut was ripped open. My stomach gave a sudden twist as my gaze reached his waist.

Something had torn his legs, still in the pant legs, off at the hip; then that something had stripped every ounce of meat off the bones and laid the bones carefully back, to gleam whitely where the legs had been.

I got my stomach under control. A few months ago I might have lost it, but having watched Elias Klein fry under a hundred sunlamps had been a couple steps worse.

Still, it was an ugly sight, and I felt pretty shaky as I climbed back up the hill. “Jesus Christ, Renee! What kind of a sicko does things like that?”

She shook her head. “That’s what we’d like to know.”

“Who was the vic?” I asked.

“ID found on him says he’s a Gerald Brandeis of Albany, New York. ID also says he’s Morgan Steinbeck of Hartford, Connecticut. His last ID says he’s Hamilton Fredericks of Washington, DC; also says he’s a Fed.”

That got my attention. “Fed? What kind of Fed?”

She glanced hard at me. I made a zipped-lips motion. She nodded. “Okay, but make sure you keep it zipped. His ID says he’s NSA, Special Division. Occupation is just ‘Special Agent.’ His Hartford ID makes him an insurance investigator for Aetna; the one for Brandeis gives him IRS status.”

I whistled. “From the No Such Agency?” It was a cinch that one was the real deal; no one sane would fake that. “One heavy hitter, that’s for sure. Was he carrying, and if so did he get off any shots?”

“Answer is yes to both.” She pointed inside her squad car. I glanced in, could just make out a 9mm pistol. “Smell indicates it was fired just recently and we found three shell casings. With all the blood around we haven’t been able to tell if he hit anything offhand. We’re trying to find the bullets, but in that sandy- soiled forest chances of getting all three is slim.”

A blue-flashing vehicle pulled up; the medical examiner’s office. He got out and nodded to me, turned to Renee. “Your people done?”

“With the body, yeah. But ask the other officers to direct you, we’re nowhere near finished with the site yet and we don’t want anything here messed up.” The ME gestured and he and his assistants started down the hill.

“How’d you get on to this?” I asked Renee.

She looked uncomfortable. “Someone called us.”

I could tell there was something bothering her. “Someone who found the body?”

She shook her head.

“Then what? Come on, Renee.”

She shrugged. “The station got a call from someone at 7:40 p.m. who claimed to have left a body at this location. The operator said it sounded male, but kind of deep and strange. He didn’t stay on long enough to trace.”

“That is weird. I’d assume he didn’t give a name.”

“You’d assume wrong.” Her face was grim. “He gave a name, all right.

“The name was Vlad Dracul.”