Polk looked at it narrowly as if expected some kind of nasty trick. “Why?”
“Because you’re doing your job, Jimmy-my-boy. Unless you don’t want it?” Vic pretended to pull it back, but Polk snatched at it, catching one bundle of five thousand and causing the other to fall. He bent down and picked it up off the ground from in front of Vic’s feet and as he rose he unzipped his jacket and stuffed the money inside.
“Now, what do you say?” Vic asked mildly.
“Good dog,” Vic said, and turned and went back inside.
Ruger absently wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, caught sight of the bright-red smear and licked it off, savoring the taste. Blood was so much sweeter when it was still fresh, before the cells thickened and died. After that the taste was drab, like sucking on wet cardboard. He’d known that even before the change, and now he felt like a connoisseur.
On the ground, the young woman moaned, struggling to turn over, fighting to find a thread of breath amid the smashed debris of her throat. Red bubbles formed on her lips and popped, staining her face with tiny misty droplets. She lifted a fluttering hand to her throat, touching with featherlight fingers the irregular line of blood-drenched skin that should have been smooth. Blood seeped in sluggish pulses; her life pushed out of her with each fading beat of her heart.
Ruger squatted down and looked at her. The fluttering hand entertained him; it reminded him of a hummingbird, and he smiled. He reached out and scooped another fingerful of blood from her throat, licking it the way a kid would lick a finger’s worth of cookie batter.
“Please…” the woman whispered and just managing that single word cost her breath she didn’t have left to spend. Ruger smiled and brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes. She had pretty eyes—honey brown with gold flecks. Even now, even after all that he’d done to her, her eyes still held a glimmer of innocent hope, as if he could take it all back, make it all better again. “Please,” she said again and even tried to give him a trembling, hopeful smile.
Karl Ruger looked into those brown eyes and gave her a smile of his own, warm, encouraging, and he could see her spirit rise toward it, her hope blossoming as he pressed his fingers to her throat, closing the wound.
“H…help me…” she whispered in what was left of her voice.
He bent close so that his lips were inches from hers. His black eyes filled her vision. “Fuck you, bitch,” he murmured, and then curled his fingers and tore her throat apart.
The last of her spilled out with her blood.
Ruger bent closer still and licked up that last pulse of blood. That final moment of life was as precious as the first beat of an infant’s heart, and it was his to own forever.
He rose, deeply satisfied, powerfully aroused.
Around him there was still some movement, though all of the desperate scrambling was done. A final scream tore through the night but it was cut off and ended with a gurgle, overlapped by someone’s laughter. Six cars were parked in the clearing at Passion Pit on Dark Hollow Road, each tucked under sheltering trees; one old 1980s-style custom van was side-on to Ruger, the driver’s door open and a man’s body, naked from the waist down, lay with head and shoulders hanging limp, arms wide, the backs of the hands touching the ground. The air was heavy with the coppery scent of blood, and Ruger felt intoxicated. Everywhere he looked there was young flesh, much of it bared to the inspection of the moonlight, white skin and red blood and wide, empty eyes. Ruger was hard as a rock.
The young woman and her date had provided some genuine entertainment. The man was stretched across the hood of the Lexus. His fly was open and his limp penis poked like a thick white grub through the folds of his trousers. The dead woman’s blouse was unbuttoned, her white bra pushed up; she wore no panties. Ruger had watched from the shadows as the young couple fumbled in the little shell of the car. It was a real kick to watch the man cajole her into going down on him, sometimes pleading, sometimes browbeating her. It jazzed Ruger to hear the man’s almost feminine shriek as he had come in her mouth, his hands clamped down on the back of her head, ignoring her struggles and gagging coughs. It had been obvious to Ruger that it was the young woman’s first foray into oral sex, and she hadn’t been all that fond of the experience. Ruger had known women who had been spoiled for it forever because some tough guy had held her head down with strong fingers, all the time promising he wouldn’t come in her mouth. Hell, Ruger had done it himself enough times, loving the struggle, loving the fact that the blow job he was getting would be the last one the woman would probably ever willingly give. It made such events rare and special for him, especially the knowledge that he could actually reach into a woman’s mind and leave his own mark, a scar that could never be erased. That was a rush better than the resulting orgasm.
The young woman—teenager actually—he’d watched had been going through that process, and while it was fun to watch, it wasn’t Ruger himself who was leaving the mark but some pimple-faced young jock who was only getting some because he had his daddy’s fancy car. Ruger couldn’t just sit by forever and let the bozo have all the fun. So, just as the jock came, Ruger rose up beside the car and yanked the door open and the jock fell halfway out. Ruger caught him by the hair and jerked him the rest of the way out of the car, handing him back to the hungry ones behind him. The twins and the Carby kids. They didn’t go for the kill right away—they beat the living shit out of him first. Just for fun.
This was not the first hunt for the Carbys, Jilly and Tyler, whose farm had been overrun by Ruger’s first recruits two weeks ago, or for the twins Demian and Adrian, who had been turned a few days later. Each of them had been involved in group hunts and solo kills, but there was always something new to learn from Ruger. Everyone worshipped Ruger. He was like a rock star to them. The actual Cape May Killer and Ubel Griswold’s cold left hand.
The Carbys had brought along their cousin, Chad, whom they had turned last night, and they wanted him to learn the art of the kill from a kickass bloodletter like Ruger. Over the last few nights Ruger had let all the kids make kills, but more than that he’d let them kick the shit out of the victims. Even the twins, who were just grade-school kids, had been fully blooded on Ruger’s field trips. Now it was Chad’s turn, and Ruger had made him watch as twelve of the youngest members of the Red Wave swept through the Passion Pit, kicking ass, taking lives. Having a grand fucking time of it.
Now all the sweating, huffing, moaning young lovers were dead. Ruger snapped his long, thin fingers, the sound firecracker sharp in the cold air. A dozen faces, pale as the watching moon, turned toward him, expectant and silent.
“Clean it up,” he told them. “No traces.”
They looked disappointed. One of them, one of the newer ones, spoke up. “Why? We can wake them up, get them to clean up their own shit. Why do we have to do it?”
Ruger turned toward Chad and fixed him with the full impact of his stare. “Because I said so, Chad,” he said, inflecting the boy’s name with contempt, smiling like a crocodile, his top row of teeth like a serrated knife.
Chad Carby shrank visibly, but still he held his ground. Some of the others smirked at the speaker’s discomfiture, but Ruger kind of admired the kid’s spunk. It was even okay, in the scheme of things, because this was the way it worked. The alpha teaching the pups how the pack works.
Ruger turned in a slow circle, making brief but scintillating eye contact with each of them. Like a good general he knew how to rally as well as how to chastise, and he laid a cold hand on Chad’s shoulder. “Just be patient, kiddo,” he said with his icy whisper. “A good soldier knows when to go quiet and dark and when to burn the trees. Until Halloween, it’s all about keeping it on the down-low. You with me, pardner?”
“I…guess so,” Chad said, his eyes shifting toward Ruger’s and then falling away.
Ruger pretended to find a drop of blood at the corner of his mouth, dabbed it off, and licked it with a darting tongue. “Tell you boys what we can do,” he said. “Once we clean this shit up…why don’t you wake up the girls first?” He gave Chad a wicked wink, making sure the others saw it, too.
They all laughed, low and mean and hungry.
“Halloween’s coming soon, kids,” he said, and then nodded to Chad. “You know what Halloween is, don’t you?”
Chad Carby lifted his eyes to meet Ruger’s. “You told us it would be trick or treat.”
Ruger chuckled softly. “Lots of tricks,” he murmured, “and lots of treats.” He gave Chad another quick wink. “Now let’s clean this shit up and have some fun.”
Vic’s cell rang again and this time the display said GOLUB. He set down the timing switch he’d been tinkering with and flipped it open.
“This had better be important.”
“Vic? Look, we had a bit of problem out here. Karl had me swing by to check on Dixie McVey. He was doing some car stops near the Black Marsh Bridge. Dix had some of the Dead Heads with him and he faked out a couple of tourists. Young couple from Erie, no local ties, at least as far as I can tell.”
“I don’t give a shit. Get to a point or get off the line.”
“Dix did okay—he took out the guy and we’ve already recruited him—but the Dead Heads jumped the schedule and hit the woman.”
“Well, they went all George Romero on her.”
Vic sighed. He hated the fact that every jackass in this goddamned town loved to throw pop-culture references around as if it made them cool. Even recruits like Golub. Vic would love to just push the plunger and nuke the whole frigging lot of them. Fanboy assholes. “What did they do?” he asked, though he thought he already knew.
“Well…they kind of ate her.”
“There’s not enough left to recruit. Tore her arms off, tore her…”