The Triumvirate (The Hollower Trilogy), страница 1
From a video, lost: A man sits in a chair at a desk. His auburn hair threaded with gray, is neatly combed, and covers a good portion of his head. Also neat is the trimmed beard and mustache. He draws in a sudden sharp breath through dry, cracked lips. His eyes grow wide. In the background, the sound of a few footsteps draws closer to the camera and then recedes.
On the tape, a soft and sexless chuckling close to the mike causes the man to visibly tense in his chair. The picture dissolves into static along with the sound. Through the crackling “snow,” the man’s form, wide-eyed, leans close to the camera.
“They’re here, I think. Outside,” the man whispers. A flash of clear picture shows a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. To a watcher, there is little doubt that this is a man at the end of his chain, a man with a one-way ticket. He has kind eyes and it’s a shame.
“—always watching, waiting,” the man on the tape is saying. Through the static, a watcher paying close attention might notice the camera panning the room. What can be made out of the room suggests tidiness not for tidiness’ sake, but because the man owns little to clutter up the room. As it sweeps past a doorway, three silhouettes fill the space for a frame but are gone in the next.
The camera pans back to the man. He takes several large gulps of Scotch and settles back into his chair. Then he adds, as an afterthought, “I’ve told you all I know. All anybody knows. I daresay, that may be all anyone has ever known about the Hollower. And I can do no more.”
The static clears. Cut scene to the man’s motionless body, slumped over on a bed, a rough exploded mess of red and gray and white replacing the visible back portion of his head.
Faintly, a watcher can hear high, strained laughter.
In room 211 at Lakehaven Psychiatric Hospital, an old woman in the neat blue and pink floral dress sat in her chair and stared out her hospital room window at the night sky. The moon was a round, pale wheel of cheese tonight, bright enough to see even through the hazy cloud cover of her cataracts. Tonight was clearer than most others, outside the room and inside her head. She could think. It was cold in the room; she was old and thin, with old, thin skin, and cold went through it and got up inside and stayed there, most nights. The blanket over her lap helped. It had fire colors and was fluffy and warm. She couldn’t remember who had given it to her. She’d have to ask Harvey.
Tonight there was a different kind of cold in the air. It had been this different-cold since the doormen came. She remembered a flash of light, but at the moment, couldn’t remember where she had seen it or when. She thought it might be Thursday. She’d cook chicken for dinner that night. Her Harvey loved chicken, especially roasted chicken.
She loosened the bun on top of her head and her hair, cobweb-fine and sterile-white, drifted down like snow to her shoulders.
Low sirens sounded from down the hall, by Helen’s old room and by the elevators, reminding her of the war. She made a little click of disapproval with her tongue. They would wake up Mrs. Meyers with their siren-talk, and once Mrs. Meyers got to ranting about the noise keeping her awake, there’d be no end to it. She could do without that insufferable woman’s whine for the night, thank you very much.
She was reminded of their house in Brooklyn, before they’d moved out to Jersey. The woman who lived next door was a lot like Mrs. Meyers. She supposed everywhere had at least one person who was a lot like Mrs. Meyers.
The sirens sounded closer, under the bed now, then out in the hall, then out the window, broadcasting down from the moon. She could understand some of it, not as words but as impressions and feelings. She understood the ever-present hate and hunger that were a part of their make-up, she understood their power which was unlike the others’ who had come before, and she understood that there was an objective beyond hunting. So they were there with a mission, a specific purpose. She was not so worried. They had never fed on her. She never worried, and so she gave them nothing to feed on. And she didn’t think their mission involved her. She wished they’d come in from the Convergence and use words, though, so she wouldn’t have to strain to understand. She was old, and it was hard enough most nights to remember the words of her own language for herself. Sometimes talking was lost to her. But she supposed it cost nothing to listen. She’d understand what she could. It wasn’t like they were talking to her, anyway.
She felt them out there in the hall, there but not there, and she also felt that they sensed her, too. She supposed they did it on purpose to rile her, but they began giving off the most horrible notions about others. Helen, for one, and what they had done to her. What they had gotten her to do to herself. The old woman shivered. She had liked Helen. What happened had been terrible. And they were hurting someone named Lauren that she thought she should know, but could not remember at the moment. Others. Others that she was fairly sure she didn’t know. But then, often lately she confused faces in her mind, and forgot names.
She listened in the dark, pretending to watch the moon out the window, pretending she didn’t know about them moving through the halls, preparing, watching, hunting. Maybe they would pass her by. The ones before often did. She wasn’t worried, not really, but they nettled her. They made her feel like a balloon on the verge of popping. Maybe they would leave her alone. They had a lot of killing to do.
She couldn’t understand most of the siren language, which wasn’t really siren sound at all but something that cruder senses perceived that way. Still, she picked up enough to know they had begun. She felt sorry for the people they had killed the way she felt sorry sometimes for little animals that got hit by cars and people in faraway countries with nearly unpronounceable names (the people and the countries, she thought) who were going to war, and the children on those commercials with the man who looked like Santa Claus asking for quarters for them. She felt sorry for all the races the doormen hurt, but she felt most sorry for Lauren, who was nice to her and smelled like springtime.
Yes, Lauren! She remembered now, silly her...well, at least that Lauren was nice. She had trouble recalling her face, but thought she might be blonde, like springtime daffodils.
Her mother would know. Her mother was always good about putting faces and names together. After she got out of school tomorrow, she’d ask her mother about it.
The doormen made no footstep sounds and cast no shadows. They suddenly just were, three silhouettes in hats and coats standing in the doorway, tall like Harvey had been when he was alive. They were sneaky like that. They split the layers of reality and slid in between them. She’d seen them take people with them in between those layers.
When they were there, the clouds in her eyes went away. She thought it was because she was seeing them inside her head instead of through those filmy orbs, but to her, it felt like regular sight.
Each tilted its hat to her and she scowled, pulling her blanket up tighter around her.
“We know you sense us,” the middle one cooed in a number of stolen voices braided together.
“We are going to kill her,” the one on the left said. “We are going to kill them all. You will not cause us any undue delay in this regard, right, Claudia?”
“It’s better when you use our words. Your siren words hurt my head,” she said with a petulant huff. “Too many shapes.”
“That’s a good girl,” the one on the right told her.
She could feel their hate like tidal waves of cold. The cold passed through and got right up inside her, most nights.
“I’m not your girl.” She thought of Harvey, and wondered when he’d be home from work. She hated when he worked late.
The one to the left tilted its faceless head. “When you do that, we lose you. When you shift thoughts. Shift time. Shift understanding.”
“I’m an old woman,” she said. “I’m sick.”
She sensed that even so close to this world, they did not understand what was wrong with her. They did not understand “sick.” Much of the time, she didn’t understand what was wrong with her, either, but she suspected it was what kept them from tearing into her mind and soul like they did with all the others.
“There,” the one on the right said, “we found you.”
“Go away,” she told them. “Your snow is a bother to an old woman.”
They moved on toward Helen’s old room, and the clouds moved in and knitted over her eyes again. The old woman could hear the chorus of their broken-glass laughter, loathsome and insane, long after they were gone.
Detective Lieutenant Steven Corimar’s stomach had been twisted up ever since he got the call. He knew the address—the street, at least. He’d been there before, a couple of years ago, though he’d really believed he’d never have to go down that road, figuratively or literally, again.
On their route there, the unmarked police car slowed, just for a moment, in front of another address he recognized—that of an old friend. Steve suspected that maybe subconsciously, passing that house might give him strength, as its inhabitant had once before, in dealing with whatever he was going to find at the crime scene.
The strength didn’t come. No one lived there anymore. No one had lived there in a good four years; not since the night its last inhabitant had sacrificed himself to save them. The house was soulless now. Its window eyes were dark and empty, its mouth shut tight on rusting hinges. The lawn, like a shaggy, unwashed beard, tangled in itself. Something about the houses in Lakehaven remembered tragedy and drew it close like a shroud; he’d noticed that in his years on the force. Those houses whose inhabitants died were invariably left to fall apart, as if even the bankers who saw money value in blades of grass and hills of dirt knew that the land on which the houses stood was worthless. Even poisonous. Bloomwood County, New Jersey was like that. Lakehaven, Wexton, that long-abandoned ghost town of Thrall—all possessed of real estate soured by misfortune and death, terrible memories and terrible secrets.
Steve suddenly felt very alone. The car moved on, and if Detective Bennie Mendez, sitting in the passenger seat, wondered at his taking the long way or noticed Steve’s barely perceptible shudder, he didn’t let on.
Because Steve recognized the street where the crime scene was, he thought—no, he was sure—that he would also recognize the bodies. That particular street wasn’t just soulless; it was one of the cursed places, haunted in its own way, clinging to the death and pain that seemed to wash over it with the persistence of a tide. Steve knew it for what it was—a place that would have destroyed forever the sleep and peace of that mild suburban New Jersey neighborhood if the full horrors that existed beyond it ever managed to cross over.
“Erik and I can tell you, this Hollower is different. Meaner. Stronger.... It’s called a Primary.”
The call had come in while he and Mendez, partnered for the last few years, were sipping morning coffee. Above them, a mottled steel sky bit back bitter rain, its displeasure with the world a thick humidity that sheathed everything in a clammy second skin. Steve had been hoping for a quiet morning. He knew Mendez had been up with his little daughter and her ear infection all night, and he himself hadn’t slept well, either. Gordon had been touchy and distracted the night before, pushing him away. Usually upfront with his thoughts and feelings, he’d been unusually reticent, insisting he was just tired and wanted to go to sleep, but Steve knew better. Gordon was nothing if not loyal, so Steve was sure it wasn’t someone else. But Gordon was also fairly open, and a family reunion was coming up in Oklahoma that Steve had been dodging the topic of for the last week. Gordon understood Steve’s reluctance to go, to be introduced to his family as a romantic partner. It hadn’t been too long ago that Steve had been in a place of tentative and fragile self-acceptance, following staunch public denial, and Gordon’s family had been somewhat less than openly accepting of his lifestyle in the past. There were a couple uncles, a grandmother and an aunt that would be quite sure to tell them that “the Bible said men ought not to lay with other men,” and other such pearls of wisdom. It didn’t seem to bother Gordon much, but Steve still got a little hot and nettled at such careless homophobia. So it hadn’t been discussed since Gordon had initially brought it up, the impending event simply a scrawl across a calendar square that he had so far been careful to dance around.
Of course, that didn’t make it hurt any less that Gordon had uncharacteristically shut him out since, to the point of distraction. Steve would have to bring it up sooner or later because if Gordon did, he had a feeling that would make things worse.
The code coming in from dispatch over their radio had disrupted his thoughts. It was a 10-93—two individuals found deceased on the scene. The address was an abandoned house at 63 River Falls Road, a place that had once been home to a suicide victim, a few years before. The bodies were as yet unidentified.
Mendez had raised an eyebrow, watching Steve carefully for his reaction. It was the address Mendez recognized, just as Steve did himself. The address once had been significant to Mendez’s wife, Anita, who had closed a very strange case there, and it had been significant to Steve, who had tied it to a disappearance and a number of other deaths. What Mendez had gleaned over the last four years from both wife and partner had come in reluctant mutterings—late night pillow talk after nightmares from Anita, and things she said in her sleep, and beer-soaked confessions after shifts from Steve. But Mendez had been a detective with Lakehaven’s police force much longer than Steve had, and he knew when to ask questions, and when to wait for the answers to come to him. He didn’t push Steve about what had happened at 63 River Falls Road or at the Oak Hills Assisted Living Facility a year after, and Steve didn’t volunteer what he knew about either.
Mendez did know something about...them, and the numerous lives they had destroyed, but he also didn’t know. He couldn’t understand fully without ever having had those chill non-fingers poking through into one’s life and manipulating, changing, invading one’s most personal fears.
Steve drove to the address. Mendez, a creature of gut instinct, kept mostly silent and Steve was glad for that. They were past needing to fill the silences—that seemed the first benchmark of a successful partnering, whether romantic or professional.
The front lawn of 63 River Falls Road was swarming with crime scene folks and uniformed officers keeping the curious neighbors at bay. The police force, and therefore, the team of crime scene techs, numbered few, despite recent expansions to both; Lakehaven had been primarily a peaceful vacation lake community until the late 1970s, and crime until the last decade or so had remained relatively low. Steve’s personal experience though, especially in the last four years, jived more with the crime scene before him now. Suicides, homicides, unexplained disappearances, and bizarre accidents were on the rise in the county as a whole, and Steve was part of the new wave of officers being trained to close cases either by traditional hours of police work, or in occasional instances, to “spin, sign, and forget.” It was the latter Steve hated. He didn’t like loose ends.
The job wasn’t a mine field of murder, like it might have been in Newark, say, or Plainfield or Camden. No gangs here, or drug dealers with weaponry that made the cops’ hardware look like water pistols. But it was becoming increasingly common for Steve to roll up on scenes of milling officers holding foam cups of coffee, looking tired in their day-old rumple of clothes, strips of yellow police tape, the soft buzz of discovery and speculation and quite often, sad surprise, and following the sense of disconnect and cold proficiency to its source, a body or bodies swathed in blood and odd circumstance.
Steve and Mendez parked across the street. They flashed badges at a ne
“That damn house again.” Steve caught the woman’s voice from a clump of sixty-something neighbors huddled at the curb, and that heavy sick feeling rolled along the bottom of his stomach. “Something’s always happening in that damn house.”
“They should just tear it down,” a man’s voice replied in agreement.
They were right, Steve thought. Something was always happening in that damn house. Someone was always dying.
They found Frank Kimner in the hallway, and he sent them up the stairs and around the banister to the master bedroom. Sussex County CSU was clearing out, and Eileen Vernon, the state medical examiner, was crouching by the bodies of two young people, a male and a female, lying face-up on the floor in the center of the room amid thick halos of blood. The bulk of Eileen’s gray-black hair was pulled into a messy knot at the back of her head. Her long rubber gloves, streaked in crimson, were examining what looked like bite marks on the throat of the male.
Savage slashes in the cheeks and jagged, teeth-bearing extensions of the mouth, empty eye sockets, and demolished pulp where the noses were made the faces difficult to recognize, but Steve knew these people. He fought the gorge rising in his throat and the tears that washed his vision in a blur.
“Damnedest thing, stud,” Eileen said to him. Her usually upbeat and flirtatious, flat-A Jersey voice was low. “It’s just their faces.”
“What do you mean?” Mendez, seeming to sense Steve’s hesitation to get closer, took the lead.
Eileen looked up. “Mendez! My Latin love machine. Well, see here—” she pointed to the hands of the male. “Little defensive wounds here and here. And on the woman here, this gash on her forearm, also suggestive of defensive wounds. But otherwise, all the damage to these bodies was focused specifically on their faces and throats. The throat wounds ultimately led to the bleed-outs, but...it’s just strange. Throat wounds seem almost secondary—like collateral damage. Claws digging into the necks to get at the face and destroy as much of it as possible.”