Sheila was something else.
That she was beautiful beyond measure was a given. Hers was an exotic beauty that radiated from every luscious pore of her body. It smoldered under her skin like a fire ready to erupt into a hot, all-consuming blaze.
She was so sexy, tall and lithe. Perfect legs, long and graceful so that when she walked your mouth went dry and your hands began to sweat. The calves rode taut and smooth so that her buttocks rocked with an unholy motion that invited temptation. Her waist was almost nonexistent but her breasts were things of wonder, full and shapely. Not too big as to be ridiculous and warrant jokes, but just the right shape and roundness to push against whatever fabric encased them. Sometimes when she sighed, they would rise ever so slightly and then fall again like the tide of an ocean storm. It was an apt description because she was indeed some kind of tempest in human guise.
But the real danger was in her face. That marble-like image surrounded by her lustrous, black hair. She wore it like a crown, wild and silky, always whipping around her face and caressing her neck and shoulders. It was sinful to touch that hair and feel it on your fingers.
Her lips were full and she painted them with cherry-red lipstick that left a sweet taste behind every kiss. Her cheekbones were high as if there was some kind of royal blood in her line, yet her mouth betrayed her gutter origins. Then there were Sheila's eyes — eyes that could doom a man within a second of gazing into them. They were dark green like the heart of the jungle and behind them lurked all manners of death and betrayal. At the same time, it was the eyes that worked her magic and snared fools.
It was her eyes that had sucked him in from the beginning and made his life both heaven and hell. To make love to Sheila was to live pure, unadulterated ecstasy. There was only passion in her touch. But like all addictions it was also a curse that once self-inflicted could never be erased.
Yes, sir, she was a woman like no other.
Which is why it was all her fault.
- - - - - -
Detective Bruno Sancino slipped the pizza delivery boy a double sawbuck, told him to keep the change and then gave the seventh floor hallway a quick look-see before closing the door and bolting it shut.
"Dinner's here," he announced to the other three men sequestered in the flea-ridden, two-bedroom trap that was their secure base. Lost in the alleys of Old Town, the Sunshine Hotel was one the Port Nocturne police had used several times to hide people they did not want found.
People like mob enforcer, Fox Abelard, the skinny, hard looking man seated at the kitchen table with a bottle of beer in his hands. Dressed in slacks and tee-shirt, Abelard had the look of an off-duty mortician. Even his thinning brown hair and pasty-looking eyes added to the image. His true profession was that of a hired gun for a small-time mobster, Vincent Detta. Having botched his last job and been picked up by the cops, Abelard found himself going up against a Murder One rap that his gut said he was not going to beat no matter what kind of shyster the boys hired to defend him. The cops had his gun and his fingerprints. He was fighting a losing battle.
Thus, in the best style of street self-preservation, Abe the Fox turned canary and decided to sing, provided he was given immunity and state protection. The DA, one of the few public officials not on the mob's payroll, assigned the case to his best man, Chief of Detectives, Rod Riley.
Riley had a reputation as being the toughest cop on the force. Like his boss, he was also honest; a real sore point with the powers that ran Port Nocturne.
Realizing the worth of his prisoner, Riley manned the safe house schedule with four veteran members of his squad, of which Sancino was one. The other two blues present were Detectives Charlie Sites and Paul Castle. Castle was a big ex-football guard with a penchant for cheap cigars. He was puffing on one as he played a hand of solitaire on the coffee table in front of the old leather sofa where he been perched for the last half hour. Sites, a middle aged sergeant with a walrus mustache, was seated across from his partner in a torn, overstuffed recliner reading the evening paper.
The third cop assigned to the detail was off, as Riley had set up a rotating shift which allowed each man some free time, while maintaining three with the subject at all times. Riley had no illusions about the mob. If they thought Abelard's testimony would hurt them, then they would make some effort to silence him. Thus the Chief kept his men in a constant state of readiness.
It was after eight on a Thursday night. Abelard was due in court on Saturday morning. The cops were starting to feel comfortable that things would go as smoothly as planned. They had been on the job for nearly two full weeks and all of them were eager to see it wrapped up.
"What did ya get on them?" Castle spoke around his cigar, watching Sancino dropped both cartons on the rectangular table.
"A loaded and a veggie."
"A veggie? You're kidding, right?"
Sites dropped the top half of the Eclipse and shook his head. "Huh, huh. It's for me. You know how the doc has been trying to get my cholesterol down. He says all those heartburns I've been getting lately are because of eating too much red meat."
"Geez," Castle said putting his cigar down on the glass ashtray. "That's too bad, Charlie. It ain't a pizza without some pepperoni or sausage."
"Tell me about it. I told him if this diet doesn't work in a couple of weeks, all bets are off." Sites put the folded paper down on the floor by his chair. "I mean, what's a little heartburn anyways? Not like it's going to kill me or anything."
It was then the front door was ripped off its hinges and destroyed with a massive crunching noise. Everyone in the room were frozen as four pairs of eyes all converged on the now-open portal. Then the thing covered in fur leapt into the room and snarled, its head twisting about, fangs exposed and drool spitting from its ugly maw. It was almost seven feet in height, with a massive torso and armed with claws the length of bayonets.
The three cops went for their guns simultaneously, none of them believing for a second that bullets would have a prayer against the monster. Sites died in his chair, unable to make it to his feet before the werewolf leapt behind him and, with a single swipe, tore off his head. Blood spurted out of his neck as the head bounced off the wall, its eyes wide open all the while in disbelief.
Castle, gun out and firing, kicked the coffee table hard and it slammed into the thing's shins causing it a second of pain. It roared, its unholy cry vibrating the thin walls. Then it stepped on the offending table and smashed it like so much paper-mache. Castle's shots hit it in the chest four times without slowing it for a second. Now he was screaming, his mind letting go as the horror fell on him, claws flashing. It opened him up from crotch to breast, and as his innards tumbled free, the monster bit off his face and spat it on the couch.
Sancino, to his credit, stood his ground, emptying his own magnum .44 at point blank range. His eyes watched in wonder as each hole cut into the monster's back only to vanish beneath its thick, reddish brown coat of dirty hair.
It was as if the bullets were made out of wax and melted upon contact with the thing's hide.
Still, the bullet stings were enough to get its attention. Its head swiveled towards the cop, its fangs now dripping with blood and bits of gore. There was a hellish gleam in the werewolf's red eyes. Deliberately it turned and came at cop.
By now Abelard had wet himself in his chair and was crying like a baby. Detective Sancino somehow managed to keep his own wits and when his pistol clicked empty he threw the heavy iron at the beast with all the power his muscles could summon.
Seeing it smack into the werewolf's face with a sickening thud gave the officer a brief second of satisfaction, then the monster picked him up with one hand and tore out his beating heart with the other. As Sancino's body jerked in its death throes, the fiend chewed on the still warm organ with black delight.
After a few minutes, it dropped the dead man and went after its primary target. Poor Abe the Fox had finally encountered a nightmare from which there was no waking up.
- - - - - -
Twenty-four hours later, a soft, gray rain fell on the city, making everything wet and clammy.
The police had come in to inspect and clean up what was now a bonafide crime site. The bodies had all been bordered in chalk, including Site's head off by itself in a corner, and photographed with half a dozen rolls of film. It was crucial that no detail, no matter how small, be overlooked during the investigation.
The county coroner had done his job and suggested all four men had been the helpless victims of some kind of wild animal. Hairs were found and collected and bloody foot smears on the tile floor clearly indicated some kind of paws. But then again, what kind of animal could go through the front door with such ease and then ravage four grown men so completely? Add to this mystery the status of weapons found at the scene. It was clear by the spent cartridges littering the floor that shots had been fired. Lots of them and still the cops were dead. As was Fox Abelard, his body strewn about the kitchenette in half a dozen pieces.
All in all it had been one of the messiest clean-up operations ever conducted. It was one the men in blue would tell their children about in hopes of convincing them that real boogie men do prowl the streets of Port Nocturne.
Chief of Detectives Rod Riley stood alone in the silent, empty place, his stance one of weary resignation and disgust. He had waited until everyone was finished and returned to the precinct house before returning alone and unannounced. It was a habit he had developed as a rookie on the beat. Somehow, amidst the chaos of the ambulance attendants, the bodies being bagged and hauled away and the evidence gathered, there was a lack of comprehension. It was if by merely gathering hard data, the true essence of the crime was forgotten. Pushed aside as if it didn't matter. It mattered to Riley.
The why was just as important as the who. So he came back when it was still and quiet. When he could move about slowly, his eyes taking in the surroundings with a calm, relaxed attention that missed nothing. It was this meticulous nature that had brought him up through the ranks so steadily. Among detectives, he was considered the most professional.
But none of that helped him now, as the rain slicked down over the kitchen window and the single light dangling from the ceiling painted shifting shadows on the dingy walls and the dirty floor. Even in his wildest imagination, he could not get a handle on what it was that had hit his men. A gorilla, the coroner had suggested in jest and no one had laughed. But no normal gorilla could have done this. Not unless it had somehow acquired the intelligence to commit crimes and then evade capture.
He had read Poe's MURDERS IN RUE MORGUE as a teenager and enjoyed it. Now, all he felt was a sick taste in his mouth at the slim possibility he might be actually living it. He rubbed his tired eyes and wondered how he could ever face the families of those three good men. Which of course led to a thought he had been avoiding since the call had first come in that something had gone wrong at the Sunshine.
"They needed silver bullets!" an icy voice offered from behind and Riley twisted around while dropping in a crouch. His gun was aimed and ready to fire at the same time his mind was berating his inability to sense the intruder.
For a second all he saw were the shadows concealing the open door to the flat's single bedroom. Then slowly, as if materializing from an inkwell, the figure in black stepped forth. He wore an overcoat, hands stuffed in the pockets, and a wide fedora slouched down. It almost hid the bone white mask beneath the brim.
"Who the hell are you? Step into the light!" Riley's stomach tightened.
"I am Brother Grim," came the cold voice again and now, head raised, the stylized mask resembled a skull's head. It was a notorious visage known throughout Port Nocturne.
Riley stood straight and squared his shoulders. "I've heard of you. They say you only hunt mob boys." He kept his gun leveled at mystery man. "What's your business here?"
"It was a werewolf. Only silver can kill it."
"I don't believe in werewolves."
"Neither did your men. It's what killed them. I caution you not to make the same mistake, Detective Riley."
At hearing his name, Riley's ire grew. "Even if I gave any credence to what you're claiming, what's your angle in all this?"
"That is not important. I have my reasons. Rather you should concern yourself with your own misgivings."
"Meaning what, exactly?"
"Only four men, besides yourself, knew of this location. Now three of them are dead."
"How do you know that?"
"I am an agent of justice. The souls of the dead cry out for vengeance. With or without your help, I will settle their account."
The light overhead flickered and Riley shielded his eyes for a second. When he opened them, the dark apparition was gone.
"Grim!" Riley started to make for the bedroom but stopped in mid-step. Somehow he knew his visitor was gone as quietly as he had appeared. Putting his pistol away, he tipped his own hat back from his forehead and took a long, deep breath. The spook had read his very thoughts.
It was time to go see the fourth man on his squad.
- - - - - -
He found Pete Henderson sitting by himself at his kitchen table killing a bottle of Black Jack. His clothes were a mess, his shirt torn, and Riley noticed the man was barefooted. There was blood on his feet.
Henderson and his wife lived in the bay district of blue-collar neighborhoods. Not the richest homes in the city but decent enough for most hard-working stiffs. Oddly enough, in the three years the man had been a member of his squad, Riley had never once visited the place.
Now, as he shoved open the door after having knocked once, he wondered just how much he really knew about this man he had called a friend and brother in arms.
"Pull up a seat, Lieutenant," Henderson said, his words sounded heavy and slurred. "Misery loves company, they say."
Riley pulled out the chair opposite his subordinate and sat. He surveyed the room, a small, clean kitchen with two other doors leading to the rest of the four-room apartment. There was also a gray duffle bag perched on the table's end as if carelessly set down and forgotten. Between the bag and the bottle was Henderson's shield, the silver badge laying face up. It too seemed to have been haphazardly set aside.
Although his topcoat was musty from the rain, Riley's nose detected another smell. It was an odor he was very familiar with, that of blood. More than accounted for by the smears on Henderson's feet. No, he was smelling a lot of blood. The hairs on the nape of his neck went stiff.
"What the hell's going on, Pete?"
Henderson was a handsome man in his late twenties but now he looked liked the survivor of a bad binge. His face was unshaven, and his eyes, normally a bright blue, were bloodshot from the alcohol and an obvious lack of sleep.
"I sold out," came the answer Riley didn't want to hear. Henderson saw his disappointment and putting down the bottle, reached over and tugged the duffle bag closer. Untying the top, he flipped it over and stacks of money fell onto the table between them.
"See, I'm a rich man now. There ain't nothing I can't buy."
"I don't believe this, Pete. It's too easy. What is this really all about? The least you can do is level with me after letting three of your pals go down."
At the mention of the dead men, Henderson sat up and brushed a mop of sandy hair away from his forehead. He looked like he was going to cry.
Riley reached out and picked up Henderson's shield while Henderson tried to find words that were getting mixed up in his head.
"I didn't want that to happen, Chief. You've got to believe me. I was told it was only Abe the Fox they wanted. That was all."
"Aw, come on, Pete, you're not that stupid." He slid the badge across the table and Henderson's hand jerked away at the touch of the metal.
"You don't understand."
Henderson's head turned to the closed door behind him to the left. A look of utter despair caught him.
"It was because of her, Chief."
"Yeah, my wife." He paused, then looking back at Riley, grinned awkwardly. "That's right. You never met Sheila, did you Lieutenant?"
"No, I haven't."
"She's something else. I mean, like right out of a picture show. You know. So goddamn beautiful. I thought I was the luckiest man in the world when she said she'd marry me.
"And for a while I was. But then she started complaining."
"About what, Pete?"
"About everything. She wanted nice things. She said we should have a better apartment. She wanted new clothes all the time and jewelry and all sorts of things. Things I just couldn't swing on a cop's pay.
"At first I thought she'd get over it. She'd realize how things were and let it go. But she didn't. She just kept at it. Needling me more and more. Why couldn't I get her things? If I really loved her, I'd find a way."
"It's an old tale, Pete. Marriage and cops don't mix."
"Yeah, right. But she's so beautiful and all. And I wasn't the only one who noticed. I began to see how other men looked at her whenever we went out to dinner or a show.
"Hell, even some of the guys at the station started ribbing me about what a doll Sheila was and how I'd better make sure I kept tight reins on her.
"Sure, it was funny at first. Just kidding and all. But then I'd get home at night and she wouldn't be home. She'd come in after dark with some excuse about having been out with her girlfriends and had lost track of time."
Riley wanted to say things that would comfort the man but he didn't have them. Instead he let him continue his confession in his own tortured style.
"Finally, she just admitted it. Just like that. Told me she was screwing around. If I couldn't keep her happy, then she was going to find somebody who could.
"Somebody with big bucks who could give her everything she wanted. Everything she deserved. And you know what?
"She was right. She did deserve the best. And I was a bum for not being able to give them to her."
"So who bought your ticket?"
Henderson took a long swallow from the near empty bottle and then smacked his lips, the liquor calming his nerves. "Got a call from one of my snitches on the street.
"Said Vin Detta wanted Abe the Fox taken out and was willing to pay a hundred grand for the job."
"How did it go down? Did you meet with Vinnie?"
"Are you kidding? Naw, in fact it was a whole lot weirder than that. I told the stooge he sent to meet with me that I'd pop Abelard during my next shift. Figured I could get him alone somehow and get away with it.
"But they had other plans. They wanted me to drink this stuff instead."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"Seems Detta had that creep Dr. Boroff whip him up some kind of Mickey that was suppose to make a person go Viking."
"And you took it?"
"Well, yeah. It was that or no deal. No cash."
Riley's thoughts were filled with images of the carnage he had witness at the Sunshine Hotel. "Jesus, Pete, you mean you did that at the hotel. That was you?"
Henderson nodded, his eyes beginning to swell with moisture. "At first it just made me sick. I thought I was going to puke my guts out. Then things started going really woozy. I stared changing."
"I… got bigger. Really big. Then the claws came and my skin got all covered with hair."
"Stop it!" Riley snapped. "This is all bullshit."
"No, it ain't. It's true. It all happened. They turned me into this thing, Chief. And all I wanted to do was rip them to pieces. And I… did."
Henderson hung his head down on the table and started to cry. Anguished sobs racked his body.
Riley got out of his chair and, going over to the sink, poured himself a glass of water. He took a long swallow then set the glass down on the slate countertop.
Henderson was still crying.
The stench of blood was getting stronger.
"Pete. What happened next?"
Hearing his name, Henderson looked up and his eyes focused to his present surrounding. "It was suppose to be all done. I drove down to a drop site in Old Town and found the money where they said it would be. Then I came home to show it to Sheila."
Henderson looked over his shoulder at the door then back to Riley. "They said it would only happen once."
"My changing into that thing."
"Yeah. But they lied. I should have known it. God, I was such a fool."
"Why? What happened?"
Henderson gave the door another glance and Riley realized that whatever ending this tragedy held was behind that closed door. It was time to see what was hidden there.
"Sheila was so happy when she saw all that money. Oh, she was a little nervous about how I'd gotten it and all, but only a little. She just kept holding the bundles in her hands and laughing like she used to do.
"Then she starts kissing me and telling me how sorry she was for having treated me so bad lately. That she was going to make it all up to me."
Riley reached the door and twisted the black knob slowly, never taking his eyes off the distraught cop.
"So she pulls me into the bedroom, there, and starts getting out of her clothes. She does it nice and slow, like a dancer. Sheila always knew how to turn me on. Then she and I are on the bed and really getting into it hot and heavy.
"Sheila's an animal when it comes to sex."
Riley pushed the door in. The room was dark but he knew immediately he had found the source of the blood bouquet.
"Go on, Pete. Finish it."
"I don't know how it happened. I mean, one minute I'm into her good and hot. I mean, it's so great, loving her like that. Then this red haze started coming over me. I started hearing all her lies like they were ringing in my head. All the times she laughed at me and hurt me. Just like that, I was there again. Only this time, I wanted to lash out and hurt her. I wanted to make her pay for all the pain she had caused me.
"I must have changed real fast because all of a sudden Sheila was screaming… and it wasn't the sex anymore. It was fear."
Riley flicked on the light switch and looked at what remained of Sheila Henderson sprawled on the red-soaked bed sheets. Her face was locked in a death's grimace for eternity. There was blood everywhere.
He took a tentative step forward, wary of having to get closer to the still warm remains of Sheila Henderson. But he was a cop and it was what cops did. His feet took a zig-zag approach, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the pools of blood. At the bedside, he looked down at the woman's shredded torso and could only think of what happened to meat when it went through a meat-grinder. It became hamburger.
Fighting the rising bile in his throat, he tried not to breathe the foul air around body. He had to get out of there. Turning, he realized Henderson had stopped his crying. Not that he had stopped, but rather his sobs had turned to groans. Loud, unholy groans. He heard the chair fall over just as he reached the door, in time to see the transformation in all its gruesome reality.
Henderson was no longer recognizable. He was almost seven feet tall now, the shirt in tatters over a massive, fur-covered body. His face had become an obscene thing of snout, long, sharp fangs and two, beady red eyes. Riley reached for his gun just as the thing looked straight at him in the doorway. It roared and charged, claws extended.
Riley slammed the door shut and braced his shoulder against it, the gun forgotten. And he prayed, half a second before the wolf monster hit the barricade. The door caved in, sending Riley onto his back. The slick blood pooled on the floor made him slide all the way across the room into the bed, where Sheila's left hand flopped down and hit his head, knocking his hat askew.
It was almost funny. Sitting with his ass in blood, a dead woman's hand on his head and a werewolf about to kill to him. Certainly not the way he had imagined he would die. Not even close.
The Henderson werewolf, crouched over the ruin of the splintered door, shook itself and growled again. Its shoulders hunched, preparing to leap across the gap that separated hunter from prey.
Brother Grim came in through the bathroom window, guns blazing. His first volley was all over the place. Slugs slapped into the walls over the bed, knocking out chunks of plaster and dust. Another hit a lamp shattering the bulb within into a million bits of glass. The werewolf howled as one of the black-garbed avenger's missiles found its mark and sliced across the beast's right thigh, spraying fresh blood over old.
He's using silver bullets, Riley reasoned, watching the wolf's reaction of immediate pain. It spun about and leaped away as Grim entered the bedroom, still firing. Riley had never seen anything move so damn fast. It was a blur of fangs and claws hurling into the air and across the room. Then it was picking up the whole damn bed as if it were made of feathers. The mutilated corpse fell to the floor behind him, as the detective scrambled up on all fours to get out of the way. The werewolf threw the bed at the ebony-clad specter.
Frustrated at not having dealt his target any vital wound, Brother Grim jumped back frantically. The careening bed, mattress, springs and all crashed into the far wall, just inches away from the avenger. Then, before he could regain his balance, the beast was on him, claws flashing. One of Grim's .45s was sent spinning away, the other almost useless as the werewolf tried to pin him against the room's corner.
"Get out!" Brother Grim screamed as he tried to ward off the sharp claws descending on him with lightning strokes. Unable to bring his remaining automatic down for a decent shot, he fired it regardless, the booming report only inches away from the man-beast's head.
As the werewolf howled once more, Riley managed to get to his feet and sprint through the ruined door and into the kitchen. But his luck gave out as his shoe, almost completely red with blood, slipped and sent him into the kitchen table. The wooden table collapsed under his weight and he cursed aloud as he went down in a heap. The bundles of cash split open and hundred dollar bills fell over him as he tried desperately to regain his feet.
In the bedroom, the werewolf, having seen his bolt for freedom, went mad at the idea of losing its victim. It slashed Brother Grim across the chest, sharp claws cutting through layers of cloth to reach the skin beneath. Stunned, Grim tried to recoil but there was nowhere to go.
Then the creature dug into his chest, picked him off the floor and threw him aside as if he was so much garbage.
Riley was sitting up, trying to pull his gun from its shoulder harness when the hellish thing flew out of the bedroom and fell on him. Like some cat with a mouse, it sat on his chest, its weight constricting his lungs, and looked down him with perverted glee in its eyes. Riley's right hand flopped on the paper bills as his breathing shortened. Damn thing was going to crush the very life out of him. Drool from its open maw dripped onto his face.
Then his knuckles touched metal. He twisted his head around. The badge! It had fallen from the table into the pile of dollars. It was silver. Shaped like a spade, the bottom half cast to a point. Riley managed to turn his hand and grab it. Then, without a thought, save some measure of payback, he thrust the badge up hard into the beast's exposed throat like a dagger.
Blood gushed onto his hand as the monster's eyes went cold with hurt. It grabbed at the offending badge, a loud gurgling cough emerging from its mouth. Angrily, it tried to pull the blade free, but its massive, clawed hands were too clumsy and it couldn't get a proper hold on the thing. It trembled mightily in its rage.
Suddenly, Brother Grim was standing at the door, hatless, both silver-plated pistols back in his hands. He fired and this time his slugs hit the werewolf dead center. He fell back off of Riley, who, free of the punishing weight, gulped air.
Refusing to give thing a moment's respite, Brother Grim walked over Riley and continued to pour round after round into it. Riley thought he'd go deaf from the sound of the exploding shots. Within seconds, it was over.
As he rised up into a sitting position, Riley eyed the still shape of the werewolf. Then, like something from a magician's bag of tricks, the dead horror returned to its true shape. Detective Peter Henderson lay across his tabletop, six gaping holes in his body and his shield embedded in his throat. As ghastly as the sight was, Riley thought the man's face contained some trace of peace.
Brother Grim put away his .45s and looked down at the now-exhausted detective.
"Bury him in hallowed grounds. It will guarantee he never returns."
Riley didn't know what to say to that.
"My work is done here." The avenger started to leave.
"Tell me something, Grim."
"If I can."
"Who won here?"
Riley shook his head in puzzlement, looking up at Grim's skull mask.
"Four cops and a civilian are dead and the mob got what it wanted in the first place. The snitch was silenced. And you call that justice?"
Brother Grim laughed. The sound was unnerving. He started for the front door, stopped and turned back to Riley still chuckling.
"It's Port Nocturne, detective. What did you expect?"
Then the undead avenger was gone, leaving the cop alone with his thoughts.
Outside the rain continued to fall on the city like a cascade of endless tears.