I called Rachel from my Honda and told her Lillian’s description of the killer.
“That sounds like . . . wait . . .” Again I heard tapping keys. “It sounds like a Lamia.”
“So what’s a Lamia?”
“It’s a type of vampire from Greek mythology that feeds on human children. In some accounts she has a serpent’s tale and wings below her waist.”
I shuddered. “She?”
“That’s right, you sexist pig. The original Lamia was a mistress of Zeus, and Zeus’s wife Hera got jealous, killed her children, and turned her into a child-eating monster.”
“Yuck.” But maybe it made sense. The Rain Killer always delivered the bodies of its victims back home. A mother might do that. Even a homicidal, mythological maniac of a mother. “Anything else on Wikipedia?”
“This isn’t Wikipedia, it’s . . . you probably don’t want to know. Anyway, later sources call them the lamiae. Maybe they’re descended from her, or maybe people made up to myth to account for them. It goes both ways with this sort of stuff.”
Rachel has friends in the witch/wizard/wiccan communities around Chicago, but her familiarity with this kind of stuff still shakes me up a bit. “So how do we find this thing?”
“You’re the detective. I’m just your humble research assistant.”
“Assistant?” I chuckled. “You’d punch my stomach if I called you that.”
“I’ll keep researching, MacGuyver. You hit those mean streets. Just don’t let them hit back.”
I sat in the car, processing the information. I could hardly drop this on Dudovich’s desk. Even if she was struggling to keep an open mind, she couldn’t very well present it to her hard-nosed commander. Besides, I didn’t even have enough facts for a theory.
So I went back to the police station and sat down at my computer. Around me cops answered phones, filled out tip reports, drank coffee, cursed, and ignored me. I drank coffee and ignored them.
I reviewed all the witness statements again, but I didn’t spot anything new. The bodies had been spread around the north and northwest side of the city, but nobody had found any kind of pattern to the locations. The murders had all taken place for about a month and half before stopping.
So why had the killer stopped? And why was he starting again?
I went back to the local papers ten years ago. I started with the date of the first murder and went back and forth, searching for some link between then and now. An unexpected death? A devastating fire? The Chicago Bears winning three games in a row?
I felt like I was looking for Waldo in a wet haystack twenty miles wide. Anything could be a clue. I leaned back and closed my eyes, trying to think. Then trying not to think.
I dozed in the chair. Rain sprinkled down on the windows. For a moment I was back in the alley, cold rain drizzling down over my scalp and shoulders.
Rain. I jerked forward.
I searched the weather reports for the days around the first killing. Sunny, then cloudy. Then scattered rain. Then a thunderstorm—
I zeroed in. The story was just a small item: Lightning had struck a tree in a cemetery on the west side. A very old tree—300 years. The photo showed a deep scar in the bark.
I opened a new window and looked at today’s news.
I’d heard it this morning, waiting for a David Bowie song. An Old Town church, the Navy Pier Ferris wheel—and an ancient tree in a cemetery. Struck by lightning.
I cross-checked the stories. Same cemetery. Ten years apart.
I grabbed my cell phone. “Rachel? I think I’ve got it.”
“What? Wait—” She gulped a drink. “Okay, what are you talking about?”
“The Arcadia Park Cemetery. It’s right across the road from the Irving Park Cemetery. A tree got struck by lightning there ten years ago—right before the Rain Killer got started. And lightning hit it last night—” Christ, had this all started just today? I tried to remember what I’d been working on before Dudovich had called me.
I lowered my head. “What if it’s been there all this time? Hiding—or hibernating. Until the lightning woke it up again?”
“Damn it.” Rachel took a breath, “So what are you going to do?”
I sighed. “How do we kill it?”
“You idiot. The same way you kill any vampire. With a wooden stake, if you can get close enough before it kills you. Or cut its head off. Tell me you’re not going after it? Please?”
“Not on my own, if I can get—oops. I’ll call you back.”
Commander Hughes was looming over me, tall and menacing. “Who are you and what the hell was that?”
Where had he come from? I’d figured he’d be in his office, talking to the mayor or yelling at reporters. Not out on the floor. But I didn’t have a choice now.
I pushed my chair back. “Tom Jurgen. Private investigator. Detective Elena Dudovich asked me to assist in your investigation. I think I’ve got—”
“You’re talking to me now.” Hughes crossed his arms in front of his chest. I could feel the fear he put into any gangbangers who’d ever tried to defy him.
“You’re saying there’s a monster hiding out in a cemetery?”
“Yeah.” I stood up. He still towered over me, but I managed to speak. “It’s called a lamiae. It’s a type of vampire that hunts children. And yeah, it’s there in that cemetery. The lightning strike woke it up. It happened ten years ago, and it happened last night. And today a kid got snatched. So if you want to stop this thing—”
Hughes jabbed a finger at the door. “Get out.”
Goddamn it. “They called me crazy before, you know? But it’s back! You say you’ll listen to anyone—all those tips on the phone?” I swung my arm. “How many of those calls are crazy? How come you’ve never caught this thing? How does it always get away? Hey, you!” I zeroed in a hard-faced cop sitting at a desk. Just trying to do her job. “Do you really want to stop this thing? Or are you just afraid of looking crazy like me?”
I was sure Hughes was going to hit me. And it would hurt. Instead he just turned. “Hawkins? Escort this asshole out.”
I lifted my hands. “Fine. I’ll go peacefully, officer. I’m crazy—not stupid.”
Hawkins grabbed my elbow. “Come on, asshole.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” I let him push me through the door. Then he leaned down, his face inches from mine. “Hughes is a good cop. He’s just doing his job.”
“I get that.” I heard a door slam. “So am I.”
Hawkins shrugged. “Yeah.”
I took the elevator down and walked back to my car. Mad at Hughes and scared of what I was about to do.
But mostly I was tired of people telling me I was crazy.
Rachel was waiting in her Prius inside the gates of the Arcadia Park Cemetery. Rain was starting to fall hard as I dashed to her car.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” She looked ready to slug me as I slammed the door slid into the seat next to her.
“You can stay back here if you want.” I caught my breath. “Did you bring the stuff?”
She grimaced. “I was saving three stakes for a special occasion, like your birthday. And I bought a big jar of garlic and a sack of salt from the store. And that sword you keep under your bed. Why do you even have a sword, anyway?”
“My father got it during the war.” It was a long curved Japanese sword. “I thought we were going to have to fight the voarkla with it, remember? And besides, you have to cut off a vampire’s head to make sure it’s really dead, don’t you?”
Rachel groaned. “Sometimes you scare me.”
A car pulled up behind us and flashed its lights. My cellphone buzzed.
“Jurgen?” Dudovich sounded annoyed. “I’m putting my job on the line here. You’d better be right.”
“Thanks for coming, detective.” I pointed forward. “Just follow us.”
I’d figured out the location of the tree, based on the gravestone mentioned in the news stories from a few local news outlets. Rachel drove slowly through the cemetery, following the GPS directions, wipers flaring across her windshield until she found the proper turn.
She stopped. “Right there.”
I lowered the window. A hundred yards away I could see a tall tree, branches drooping down in the rain. A dark scar across its wet bark.
I stared for a long time, trying to get my nerve up. Then Dudovich honked, and Rachel jabbed my shoulder. “Hey, close the window! You’re getting my seats wet!”
“Sorry.” I raised the window and opened the door. “Pop your trunk and wait here.”
“Oh, no.” She got out. “I’m coming too.”
I didn’t have time to argue. And she’d probably win anyway. So I grabbed the sword and the wooden stakes from her trunk, and she carried the salt and garlic.
Dudovich parked behind us and slammed her door. She walked up, the rain pouring down on her CPD cap. “Hey, is that a sword you’re carrying?”
I slung it over my shoulder on a strap I’d bought a few years ago. “Do I need a license for it?”
She shook her head, probably wondering what the hell she was doing here with me. Then she looked through the rain at the tree. “Is that it?”
“I hope so.” If not, she’d never believe me again. And I wasn’t sure I’d ever believe myself.
The ground was flat and wet under my sneakers. Rain streaked down over my windbreaker, and my wide-brimmed hat was already soaked. The sword was heavy. I’d never actually used it on anything, but I kept it sharpened. Just in case.
We reached the base of the tree. Between its thick twisting roots, a wide hole reached down into the earth.
Maybe I should have been relieved. I wasn’t entirely crazy. But I was definitely scared now.
“Oh god.” Rachel staggered back, a hand to her forehead. “She’s down there. Lamia.”
Dudovich looked at the hole. “So what do we do?”
I looked at Rachel. “What about Nathan?”
Rachel wiped the rain from her red hair. “He’s crying for his mother.”
Dudovich pulled off her leather jacket. “I think I can get down there.” She reached for her handgun.
For a moment I hesitated. Yeah, I could wait here. This was her job, not mine. But I had the sword.
I groaned. “You and me. Take this.” I thrust a stake at her.
Dudovich stared. “I think my Glock is going to be pretty convincing.”
“You’ll need to stake it once it’s down. And cut off its head.” I jammed the second stake into my back pocket and handed the last one to Rachel. “Once we’re inside, shake the salt in a circle around the hole. It keeps vampires out. In case—”
Rachel slapped me.
I took staggered back in the dirt, more afraid of her than the Lamia. Rachel had punched me and jabbed me, but she’d never actually hit me. “What?” I rubbed my face.
“Just go.” She slammed the bag of salt at the ground. “When you come back, we’re going to have issues.”
“Uhh . . . sure.” I didn’t know what to say. But I couldn’t back away from this. Not after ten years. “I’ll be all right.”
“You idiot.” Rachel kissed me. For a moment I was on the verge of changing my mind again. What the hell was I doing? I’m not a superhero, just a guy—
Then Rachel shoved me away. “Here.” She tossed the jar of garlic at me. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
I nodded. I wanted to remember her face, her eyes, her red hair in the rain. “Whatever you say.”
“Yeah, right.” She punched my arm. “Go.”
“Hey! Kids!” Dudovich was peering into the hole with a flashlight. “Come on, Jurgen! Are you coming or not?”
I leaned down beside her. “Okay. Let’s do this.”
I’m not very brave. Just stubborn. I wanted to see this thing. But I was scared.
Dudovich bent over and pushed herself down the hole, head first. Her thick shoes kicked back at me. I gulped, made sure my sneakers were tight, and followed.
I pushed down through the dirt and mud, checking to make sure my sword was secure on my back. Dad would never forgive me if I lost it in the muck. I heard Dudovich grunting ahead of me. The walls of the tunnel shook, and just when I was sure I’d panic from claustrophobia and basic terror, I felt my body falling. I managed not to scream.
I landed in a shallow puddle of cold water with a wet plop. Thrashing around, I saw Dudovich on her knees, casting her flashlight right and left. “You okay there, Jurgen?” Her voice was a raspy whisper.
“F-fine.” I staggered up. “What’s going—”
“Mommy!” A little boy’s voice. “Mommy?”
We were in a dark round pit. The air smelled rancid, like compost gone bad. Roots crawled up and down the walls as Dudovich flashed her light around. “Nathan? Where are you?”
“Mommy . . .” His voice was weak. “Mommm . . .”
Dudovich crawled forward. “Nathan? I’m coming, son. Keep talking. I’m—”
“Wait!” I saw a shadow shift against the back of the pit. “Dudovich, over there!”
It rose up on a long thick serpent’s tail, laughing like a rabid hyena. A black shape, with a red glow twisting in the middle of its torso. Black leathery wings whipped around its hips
I whipped the sword from behind my back as Dudovich crouched and fired. The handgun boomed like a bomb, shaking the foul air.
Even one of the lamiae couldn’t take a full clip from a Glock in the chest without suffering the impact. The thing staggered back, the scarlet coil shuddering as black blood dripped down its skin. Its mocking laughter churned into a high-pitched screech of fury.
“Jurgen!” Dudovich ejected the clip from her handgun and slammed a fresh one in. “Give me that sword, and get the kid out of here!”
The Lamia roared. Dudovich poured more bullets into it as I tossed the sword in her general direction, hoping she could find it in the muck under our feet.
I stumbled toward Nathan and pulled him to my chest. “Come on, Nate. Hang on to me.”
Nathan whimpered. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Tom.” I staggered toward the hole, my feet sloshing in the water. “I need you to climb up here. Can you do that?”
Dudovich cursed behind us. “Jurgen, hurry up!”
Nathan flinched. “I’m scared.”
“Me too.” I hoisted him up. “Get in there. I’ll help you.”
Nathan was crying. “No. I can’t do it.”
“Jurgen!” Dudovich shouted. “Get him out of here!”
I shoved Nathan up into the hole. He screamed, but he scrambled up, his little legs pushing dirt down over my face.
I looked back for just a second. Dudovich clutched her flashlight in one hand while she swung my sword with the other. Then Nathan began falling back, and I had to jam one wet foot against a root and force my body up into the hole after him.
I had no idea how far down we’d fallen—or how far up we had to go. It felt like I was crawling up the side of a skyscraper, an inch at a time, my shake fingers and damp feet trembling with every step. Nathan was crying, and my shoulder hurt as I pushed it against him. I heard Dudovich swearing beneath us.
“Come on, Nate.” I tried not to let him hear the panic in my voice. “Just climb. It’ll be okay.”
“I’m—I’m trying.” He squirmed around, fighting to hold on to the loose earth around him. I dug my shoes into the dirt, pushing up at him.
Then Nathan was gone. And I could see faint light over my head. Not stars, exactly, but not the unrelenting darkness below me.
I lurched up and pulled my shoulders out of the hole. Rachel was holding Nathan, patting his back as he coughed dirt out of his throat. I climbed out, gasping, and rolled over, letting the rain pour over my face.
“Tom!” Rachel kept Nathan in her arms as she crouched down. “Are you okay? Where’s . . .”
I scrambled away from the hole. “She’s—right behind me.” I hoped.
“Mommy,” Nathan moaned. “I want my mommy . . .”
“I’ll get her.” Rachel grabbed for her cellphone. “You’re okay now, Nate—”
“Nathan!” He screamed. “My name isn’t Nate, it’s Nathan!”
Nathan wore a dirty T-shirt and tattered pajama bottoms. He was crying. Blood dripped down from a wound on his neck.
“Okay, all right.” Rachel fumbled with the keys. “Hello? I’m at Arcadia Cemetery, and I have that little boy who was kidnapped, Nate—no, Nathan Black. He’s all right, but there’s an officer down . . .”
“Jurgen!” It sounded like a shout from the grave. Maybe it was. I stood on shaking legs as Dudovich’s head emerged from the hole. “Little help?”
I grasped a wrist and pulled as she clambered up onto the wet ground. She still held my sword, stained with blood.
I grasped a wrist and pulled as she clambered up onto the wet ground. She still held my sword, stained with blood.
I helped her up. “Did you—is it . . .?”
“I don’t think I got its head off all the way.” She dropped the sword onto the grass. “But I staked it, and then I just slammed that jar of garlic at its mouth. It wasn’t feeling good when I got away.”
She peered over my shoulder. “How’s the kid?”
“He’s okay.” He’d need a lifetime of therapy, probably, but he was alive.
“Damn it, I lost my gun down there.” Dudovich looked at the hole. “They’ll make me pay for a new one. Because no one’s ever going to believe this, Jurgen.”
We looked each other over. Covered in mud, shaking with exhaustion, the rain on our faces and shoulders . . .
Then Dudovich laughed. “You’re crazy, Jurgen.”
“Yeah.” I staggered on the loose, wet dirt. “Thanks for bringing the sword back.”
CPD squad cars started rolling up almost immediately. Two cops wrapped Nathan in a blanket and took him straight to the nearest hospital. The rest of them brought Dudovich and me downtown, where we got coffee and paper towels to dry off. Rachel followed in her Prius, raising holy hell until Commander Hughes finally got tired of listening to her and let us talk alone for a few minutes.
“Don’t you ever do that again!” Rachel punched my arm. Hard. “You know I’m no good with little kids!”
“Sorry.” I gulped some coffee. Somebody had forgotten to brew a new pot. “I’m just glad Hughes isn’t locking you up for creating a disturbance.”
“I think the rest of them are afraid of me.” She leaned down and peered at my face. “You’re filthy.” Then she kissed me.
“You’re pretty hot yourself—Ow?” She punched me again.
“You deserved that.” She straightened up as the door opened. Hughes walked in with Hawkins.
“I need the room.” Hughes sat down. “You can wait outside. If you don’t make trouble.”
“Me? Trouble?” Rachel smirked. “He’s the troublemaker. But you already know that.”
I waited until she closed the door. “Can I get some dry clothes soon? Sir? Or at least some fresh coffee?”
Hughes glared at me. So did Hawkins.
Hughes sighed. “I’ve spoken with detective Dudovich. She tells me you’re a stubborn, sarcastic asshole.”
And here we’d been getting along so well. “Did she mention I’m crazy?”
Hawkins laughed. Hughes ignored him. “Detective Dudovich does, however, tell a story we can’t ignore. Not one we can release to the media, you understand. But she’s a competent professional. If she says you two fought and killed a vampire from Greek mythology—and she’s not obviously drunk or high, although believe me, we’ll test her pee and her blood for that, and yours too—I’m stuck accepting that.”
I nodded. “So can I go?”
Hughes dropped a printout on the desk, along with a blue pen. “Once you sign this.”
I scanned the document. Everything was in there. Some of it was even true.
I knew that the police, the press, city hall, and the FBI would never admit that supernatural forces were a danger on the streets of Chicago. Or any city. I’d figured that out 10 years ago. Fighting them would just end up with me in a hospital, or a homeless shelter.
I hated to go along with a coverup. But I didn’t have much choice if I wanted to keep working. And see Rachel without an overseer watching over us.
“You need to do something about its lair.” I picked up the pen. “Cut down that tree, pull out its roots as best you can, and fill the hole up with something that will keep that thing down there at least as long as nuclear waste.”
Hughes shrugged. “Not my call. But I’ll make the recommendation.”
Great. “If nothing else, watch the weather reports for the next lightning strike.” I signed. Anything to get out of here. “Oh, by the way—can I get my sword back? After you’ve tested it for blood and everything?”
He grimaced. “Any blood on that sword was washed clean by the dirt and the rain. You can pick it up tomorrow.”
So they weren’t even going to bother to test it. Fine. I signed. “Am I free to go?”
“Please do.” Hughes stood up. “Right away.”
Rachel was waiting for me. “I guess I’ll have to take you up to get your car.”
“Unless they towed it.” I rubbed my face. “Let’s just go home.”
“Wait a minute!”
Dudovich walked up behind me. Her clothes were still caked with mud and blood.
Now what? I was tired, cranky, and desperate to get out of there before someone thought of an excuse to lock me up. But somehow I managed to stay civil. “You okay, detective?”
“They made me sign some bullshit statement about an anonymous tip.” She shrugged. “But that’s the way it goes.”
“What about Nate?” Rachel looked at me. “I mean, Nathan?”
“No serious blood loss. He’s in the hospital with his parents, and nobody will believe he was kidnapped by an evil creature with a tail and wings.” She shook her head. “Probably go home tomorrow.”
I nodded. “That’s good.” Saving a kid’s life made the whole coverup a little easier to take. I looked at the elevator. “Well, good night, detective.”
Then—oh my god—Dudovich hugged me. An actual hug. “Thanks, Jurgen.”
“Uh . . .” This was unexpected. And awkward. I patted her shoulder. “Thanks for believing me. This time, at least.”
“Oh, this doesn’t change anything.” She shoved me away. “I still think you’re crazy. And annoying.”
I smirked. “I like to make an impression.”
Rachel groaned. “You see what I have to put up with?”
“You have my sympathy.” Dudovich shook Rachel’s hand. “Take care of him. He doesn’t deserve you.”
She nodded. “I tell him that all the time.”
Oh god. “You guys aren’t going to start going out for coffee together, are you? Because that would be—”
“Elevator’s that way, Jurgen.” Dudovich pointed. “Get lost.”
Rachel pulled on my arm. “Come on. Let’s get sushi. After you take a shower.”
Yeah, I was hungry. And I needed clean clothes. But it was the best plan I’d heard all day.
The Rain Killer was gone. At least for now.
I hoped I wouldn’t dream tonight.
# # #