“Thanks again,” I said.
“No problem,” Spense Smith replied. “You brought Starbucks, so we’re cool. More than cool, in fact. Chilly.”
I chuckled and sipped my coffee while I took in his apartment. It was a second floor walk-up in one of the complexes that had sprung up on the outskirts of Mitchum Bay in the past couple of years. It still had that new stink. The furniture was by IKEA and the decor was by Marvel Comics. I liked the light gray painted on the walls. It was a welcome change from the usual beige.
“Have a seat,” Spense said, heading into the kitchen. It was in the center of the apartment, between the living room and a short hallway that contained the bedroom and bathroom.
“Sure,” I said, sinking into a futon covered by a Spider-Man throw. I set my coffee cup down on a Death Star coaster. I leaned back and rubbed my temples. What was I doing here? I’d been heading home, wanting to catch a nap before tonight’s foray, and then that had led to thinking about the trailer, and what David had said I had done. My memories of that night were way different. They did not involve doing anything that could be mistaken for the work of a chainsaw.
I heard a cabinet door squeak open. I thought of the Petersons, that empty kitchen cabinet.
After leaving Miguel Balder’s house, I had pulled over into a convenience store’s parking lot, opened up Instagram on my phone, and checked Spense’s account for photos of the trailer. When I didn’t find them, I called him.
Spense walked into the living room, a battered brown salesman’s sample case hugged to his chest. He put it down on the coffee table and sat next to me. He unsnapped the case’s top and said, “I bought this on eBay for twenty bucks. It’s from 1955.”
There were file folders of various colors crammed inside. He rifled through them. “Made of cardboard, believe it or not. Heavy-duty stuff to survive over sixty years. I keep print copies of all the photos that I post on the account . . . or that I haven’t yet posted, but might. I have two other cases full of photos other techs send me.” He pulled out a bulging green folder. “Here we go. Green for decomposition.”
“Well, yeah. I have a color-coding system organized by year. Green for decomps, red for homicides, yellow for traffic fatalities–”
He put the folder on his lap and flipped it open, revealing a sizeable stack of eight-by-ten photos. “The first car wreck I photographed was of a yellow PT Cruiser,” he said while he shuffled through the photos.
I sat back, the Starbucks cupped in my palms. I leaned forward when he plucked out ten or so photos. He turned them over and said, “You sure? This was a pretty gnarly scene. I haven’t posted them yet because usually decomp doesn’t go over well with my gore hound followers, but I’ll probably make an exception for this one, because it’s fucking brutal.”
My mouth was dry. “Yeah. Yeah, David said it was . . . pretty bad.”
“That’s the understatement of the year. That scene spun his head pretty hard. Spun mine too, to be honest. The smell wasn’t terrific, but the visual . . . holy shit balls.”
I wanted to hold a hand out for the photos, but I was afraid he’d see it shake. “I’ll be okay, Spense.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Okay, yeah. Here ya go. Out of the blue and into the black, like Neil Young says.”
I took the photos and turned them face-up.
I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing: a dirty white background, with a glop of something in its center. The glop was gray-purple mottled with green and was about the size of my fist, according to the photo. I held it out at arm’s length. “Hell is this?”
Spense ran a thumb over one of his mutton-chops and said, “A scrap of intestine stuck to the trailer ceiling. Not sure which guy it belonged to.”
The photo fell from my hand. He scooped it from the hardwood floor. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “You still okay? It does get worse.”
I didn’t answer. I focused on the next shot: a wide-angle view of a living room with a man’s body at the center. He was on his back, arms and legs eagle-spread. His face had been ripped off, exposing the grinning skull underneath. His throat had been opened up, along with his torso, the contents of which were scattered around him on the carpet. And on the walls. A loop of gray intestine hung from the tilted ceiling fan above him.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” I whispered. I didn’t remember doing any of this. I had hoped that the decomposition of the bodies had made the damage that I had done to them look worse than it was. But no. This was really, truly bad.
I shuffled through the pics. Both men had been gutted, their throats torn out, their rib cages exposed. Dried blood and pieces of entrails flecked the dark wood paneling and the ceiling. The carpet was covered in blood and viscera to the point that it was hard to figure out what color it had been.
Green, I remembered. Dark green.
I went through the photos again. I remembered attacking them, ripping open one man’s belly and the other’s throat. I remembered snapping one of their necks. I didn’t remember destroying them.
Spense said, “We found shotgun pellets in one wall, some rifle slugs in the opposite one. Didn’t find the weapons, though.”
I stopped flipping through the photos.
No, I had taken them with me. They were at the bottom of James Creek, about a mile or so from the trailer.
After that memory, another: The weight and feel of the guns tucked under my arm.
Then: Opening the trunk of my cruiser and tossing them inside. Watching them land beside a gallon jug of water.
Picking up the jug and rinsing off with it, because my body is stippled with blood. When I go from werewolf to human, any blood on my fur is left behind on my skin after the hairs retreat under its surface.
And that night, there had been a lot of blood. And bits and scraps of other things, things I shoved far back in a crack of a recess of a far corner of my brain.
Blood on my skin. Under my nails. In my hair. In my mouth.
Suddenly sick to my stomach, I tossed the photos to the coffee table and bumped it with my knees when I shot to my feet. Spense said something. I ran to the bathroom. He’d given me a brief tour, had just pointed in the bathroom’s general direction, but I knew exactly where it was by scent. All bathrooms smell like soap and old shit.
Spense knocked on the door after I threw up. I didn’t remember closing it, but there it was. Once you forget slaughtering two human beings, forgetting that you shut a bathroom door in a nerdy crime scene tech’s apartment naturally follows.
“You okay?” He sounded worried, which I hated.
I went to the sink and ran the water. “Okay now,” I said, and rinsed my mouth. There was a small bottle of Scope on a glass shelf above the faucet. I poured a shot and swished it around my mouth. I spat it out and shut off the tap.
I opened the door. Spense took a step back. He held out a bottle of water. “I warned you. Rough, right?”
I took the bottle. “Thanks.” I spun off the cap and took a swig.
He leaned against the wall and folded his arms. “So . . . what do you think about it?”
“I think it’s fucking awful.” I headed back to the living room. He followed me.
“Yeah, yeah. Someone definitely went ham out there. Full-on balls to the wall psycho.”
I sat on the futon. Spense paced in front of me, in the middle of the living room. I felt like kicking his coffee table into his legs.
“Full-on psycho,” he repeated. “I mean, did you see the bodies? I know they were a little on the turning-to-goo side, but the first time I saw them, I said it looked like someone went after them with a chainsaw, like in Scarface. Then I started thinking a machete. Now I’m thinking . . . look, there was this guy I went to high school with, and during our Industrial Trades class, he made these Freddy Krueger claw gloves. Got in a shit-ton of trouble for it, because you’re just supposed to weld a shelf or some shit, not make murder gloves. I saw what definitely looked like claw marks on those bodies. I wonder where that guy is right now? He definitely could’ve done this, dude was a–”
“Spense, stop,” I said. “Stop walking and definitely stop talking.” I leaned forward and put my hands over my face, talked to my palms. “Fu-u-u-uck, just shut up.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said. “Sorry. I get a little amped up sometimes.”
“Spense, will you please sit down?”
He nodded and dropped onto the futon. He picked up his coffee cup, swirled it around, and set it back down. “Riley thinks they stole from the wrong person. That’s what those two are–were–known for. Stealing drugs, stealing stuff to buy drugs.”
“He thinks just one person did all that?”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, solving those murders are way down on his list, now that the Petersons have been found.”
My scalp tingled. “That family that vanished the other day?”
“I don’t have all the details, just got a text an hour ago. Their bodies are at the county dump. Riley’s there now. He got an anonymous call or something. Rodriguez and Marten are on-call, I imagine they’re out there now.”
As it turned out, only the girls were at the dump. Their parents would be found at Eastex Freeway Auto Salvage a few hours later, an abandoned junkyard across town from the dump. Riley would get another anonymous call about them while he was still doing the paperwork on their daughters.
My phone whistled that it had received a text message. I slid it from my jeans pocket. I had a pretty good idea who it was, even though my phone claimed it came from (555) 555-5555.
Might want to check out Vern’s Blue Tavern, the message read.
I deleted it. As a matter of fact, I had been planning to check out Vern’s, after I checked out The Hammer, Sawyer County’s other seedy biker bar. I should have felt gratitude that Moss had saved me a trip, but I didn’t. I felt annoyed.
“Spense,” I said, getting to my feet, “I gotta go. I’ve wasted enough of your time.”
He stood, too. “Never a waste. It would be great if we could hang out without looking at a bunch of dead bodies, though.” Then his face reddened. He swallowed, hard. “Um. Thanks for the coffee.” He held out his hand.
I shook it, mild amusement overtaking the annoyance. “Next time you’re buying.”
Spense wasn’t my type, but he could be fun for a while. After tonight, I would need a little fun. I left his apartment and walked downstairs to my car, his Neil Young quote rattling around my head: Out of the blue and into the black. Hey hey, my my.