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“You got that right,” LaMastra agreed. “Doc, let’s do it this way—you shoot straight with us and we give you our word that we will play fair with you. We can’t promise anything more than that.”


After a long moment, Weinstock nodded. “Okay, okay…whatever. I just need to get this out. Frank…Vince…please, you have to help us save our town!”


Chapter 26


1


After fleeing the highway the night before, Mike slept in a barn on the Sackmore farm, a spread that been one of the hardest hit by the blight and had sold out in early August, their place now deserted. Mike tried the house, but it was too cold and drafty—just hardwood floors and no heat. The barn, at least, had old hay and he burrowed into it; it kept enough heat in his skin to keep him alive.


Twice in the night pale-faced figures crept past the barn, not hunting him, but hunting nonetheless. If they smelled the blood in his veins it did not lure them inside. The second one lingered longest, listening to the strange melody that rode the night wind and seemed to come from nowhere. But it wasn’t just the ghostly blues that drove him off. When he was within a dozen yards of the barn he heard a sound and looked up to see that the entire sloping roof of the vast old barn was black with the close-packed bodies of thousands of crows. The trees all around rustled and hissed with them as their wings brushed against each other.


The white-faced night hunters fled, first one and then the other, disliking the music and the sea of bottomless black eyes that watched from every tree branch and roof shingle.


Inside, Mike slept on through the night and into the late morning, unknowing, and drifting from haunted dreams of his mother into deeper levels of coma in which the chrysalis inside him struggled toward birth.


2


Vic Wingate got home late from his morning round of errands and found the mess that Ruger and Lois had left for him. Just the blood spatters downstairs were bad enough and he went into the kitchen and drank two beers for brunch before going upstairs to see how bad it was. The bloodstains began about halfway up the stairs. There were long artistic smears, flecks and splotches, dots arranged in arterial spray patterns, and here and there were handprints. One of the prints was Ruger’s, Vic knew, but the others were smaller. Lois’s.


Lois and Ruger were gone, but they’d left him a real mess to clean up. Vic smoked a cigarette while leaning against the bedroom door staring at the bed.


He changed into soiled work clothes from the hamper, wrapped plastic bags around his shoes, and fetched a yellow rubber rain slicker from the hall closet. He lined the hamper with a double layer of plastic trash bags and took it with him.


The first of the body parts was at the top of the stairs. Well, not so much a part, just a lump, really. It didn’t look like anything Vic recognized.


Vic bent down and picked up the meat and tossed it into the hamper. As he worked, he thought about Ruger, remembering the things Ruger’d said.


It’s a new world, pal, and it must be a real kick in the nuts—especially after all these years and all you’ve done—to realize that you’re on the wrong end of the food chain.


Ruger wouldn’t have been so bold, made such a statement, if he hadn’t gotten at least a provisional nod from the Man. That troubled Vic so much he wanted to cry. Not just the implied betrayal of the Man, or—if betrayal wasn’t the right word, then what was? Disfavor?


Vic moved down the hall, collecting pieces that he figured would eventually add up to two teenage girls. He’d seen a lot of carnage, had created a good deal of it himself, but this was over the top. What the hell had happened to Lois since the change? She hadn’t just come awake like the others. She was more like Ruger. Powerful…way past what the other vampires were like. Crazier, too, and ten times more savage.


Not for the first time he wondered if the Man had made a mistake in bringing Ruger on board as his general. As his left hand. Vic felt sure right from the beginning that it had been a bad move. He looked at the crimson junk in the hamper and fought the urge to shiver.


The Red Wave , he thought…and hoped that it wasn’t he who had made a mistake.


3


“This doesn’t make a lot of sense,” LaMastra said as he shuffled through the papers Weinstock kept handing them. “I see bloodwork, reports on saliva samples, forensic dentistry reports on bite marks…but so what? I mean, we already know that Boyd attacked those two officers. We know he bit them, et cetera, et cetera…so why the hoopla?”


“It’ll make sense,” Val assured him.


“It had better make sense soon,” Ferro said, slapping down one stack of papers and snatching the next set out of Weinstock’s hands. “My patience is wearing pretty damn thin.”


“Bear with me,” Weinstock said. His voice was steadier than it had been, but his eyes were jumpy and looked feverish. He picked up another folder. “I have here the autopsy report on both men. Full workup. In it I recorded the exact cause of death for both men.”


“Saul,” said Ferro, “if you remember, we saw the bodies. We know the cause of death.”


“Do you? Okay, then what was it?”


LaMastra said, “They were attacked by person or persons unknown—though Boyd seems to be the only possible suspect—and aside from other physical trauma, they had their throats ripped out. I guess they just died from blood loss.”


“Blood loss,” murmured Weinstock. “Yes, that about covers it. But what would you say if I told you that the majority of the damage done to the throat, the tearing of the flesh and tendons and such, were done postmortem.”


Ferro shrugged. “It’s not unusual for a killer to perpetrate additional damage to a victim. Many sociopathic killers even dismember their victims.”


“I know. Still, the damage to the throats of both victims was not done just to satisfy some kind of maniacal frenzy.”


“How do you know?”


“Because I know why it was done.”


“Okay. Why?”


“To hide the puncture wounds on the throat.”


“Puncture wounds? You mean stab wounds?”


Weinstock gave them a twisted smile and flipped open the folder, turning it around so they could both see the glossy black-and-white photo. It was a very clear shot, a close-up on the throat of Nels Cowan, identified by a note paper-clipped to the edge. The detectives bent forward and stared. “I had to press the flesh back together, fitting the pieces carefully to reconstruct the throat. As you can see there are two ragged punctures just over the left carotid artery.”


“Jesus…” said LaMastra. “What the hell did he use? Looks like one of those two-pronged forks you roast hot dogs with.”


Ferro looked hard at Weinstock. “And this was the cause of death? These…uh, stab wounds?”


“No. The actual cause of death of both men was a nearly total exsanguination. They were both completely drained of blood.”


“When you say ‘completely’…?” Ferro arched an eyebrow.


“During the autopsy, I was able to recover a total of forty-eight cc’s of blood. That would fill a large syringe, gentlemen, and that is all I recovered in total from both bodies. In essence, the bodies were sucked dry.”


Ferro began shaking his head, and LaMastra burst out laughing. “Oh, come on, Doc! What are you selling here, that they guys were offed by a vampire?”


Weinstock did not laugh, didn’t even smile. He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms over his chest, and just looked at them.


Ferro rolled his eyes. “I think we’re done here.”


Val got to her feet to block him from standing. “Frank, please just hear him out.”


“I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense—”


“I can prove this,” Weinstock said.


LaMastra was still grinning. “You’re going to prove to us that there are vampires in Pine Deep?”


Dr. Weinstock returned the smile, but his was cold and humorless. “Yes.”


Ferro folded his arms and tilted his head to one side, giving him a challenging, mocking look. Weinstock reached for another folder, but Crow interrupted him. “Saul, just show them the fricking tape.”


“What tape?” LaMastra wanted to know.


Weinstock opened his top desk drawer and removed a Sony digital cassette still in its cardboard jacket. “Surveillance camera tape from the security camera at the morgue.”


“Of what? The autopsy?” Ferro asked.


“Not exactly.” Weinstock handed the tape to Crow, who put it in the machine. “This was recorded automatically by the morgue cameras the night after Boyd stole Ruger’s body,” explained Weinstock. On the screen, the time display read 8:00 P.M. “The security guard patrolling the hospital changes all of the tapes every day and each tape records just twenty-four hours of footage. Unlike the tapes from the hall camera, the morgue tapes are never actually viewed unless there is an autopsy in progress or some reason to believe an event has occurred, such as when we discovered Ruger’s body missing from the morgue. This tape would never have been looked at except for the fact that I noticed some irregularities the next day when I was doing routine work in the morgue.”


“What kind of irregularities?” asked Ferro.


“When Boyd broke in to steal Ruger’s body he messed with the corpses of Cowan and Castle. I wanted to do a detailed examination of each man so we’d have a detailed record of any additional postmortem mutilation. Mind you, at this point even I didn’t believe what the evidence was trying to tell me. I was putting together a puzzle without knowing the picture. When I got in that morning the morgue doors were locked and at first everything looked kosher. It wasn’t until I wheeled Castle out of his cold storage and brought him into the autopsy room that I saw the changes.”


“Changes?”


“Physical changes. At first I thought it was just the lighting, but even with changing the angle of the lights, there were definite physical changes.”

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