Back at the police station Dudovich had an IT tech set me up with a computer in a second-floor room crowded with cops. Clouds hung down in the sky outside the windows. The IT tech, Dorrie, was a young Latina who looked like she could construct a working computer with one hand using a handful with components from Walgreens.
“Use this password.” She scribbled on a Post-It note. “Go to the J drive, and click on this file.” Another scribble. “Use the same password. That’ll get you to the files you want. You click on anything else, the computer freezes, an alarm goes off, and you get shot.” She smirked. “Maybe.”
I was officially scared. “Thanks. What about the paper files?”
“I’m Tech Girl. You have to ask someone else about the Dead Sea Scrolls.” She walked away.
So I logged on, following her instructions with nervous glances at the detectives around me. I have a lot of respect for cops—some of them are assholes, and worse, but most, like Elena Dudovich, just want to help people and go home at night. But most cops don’t like reporters—or private detectives.
I can understand why. We ask questions. Sometimes we’re assholes. And we have to deal with the police to do our jobs, but cops don’t always think they should have to answer our questions—or take us seriously. And reporters and P.I.s don’t usually trust them to tell us the truth. It makes trust and cooperation difficult.
Still, all the cops around the room were working on the Rain Killer case too—probably looking at some of the same files I wanted to see. They might think I was crazy, and thought some of them were jerks, but we all had the same goal.
So I dived into the electronic records. I’d show them that a good P.I. could do their jobs better and faster, and in style.
Two hours later my brain felt fried. I staggered to the coffee machine. Empty. I picked up a paper cup, hoping to get the water from the sink hot enough to brew some lukewarm tea, when a tall African-American detective walked over and picked up the carafe. “Give me a few minutes. My name’s Hawkins.”
“Tom Jurgen. Thanks.”
He peered at me. “Hey, you were with that weird dog case a couple months ago, right?”
I blinked and then recognized him. I wasn’t sure what to say. The case had involved dogs from another dimension, and at least two people had died. I’d lied my way out of it, but I was pretty sure the cops didn’t believe me. They just didn’t have any reason to lock me up.
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Thanks for your help that night.”
“I’ve seen some crazy stuff too.” He shrugged. “Coffee’s coming.”
I went back to my computer. I’d read enough police reports to get through the euphemisms, abbreviations, and jargon. Nothing in the files surprised me or changed what I remembered about the Rain Killer. He (or she, or it) grabbed children without being seen, and then delivered their bodies close their house one or two days later—always during a rainstorm. I found my own statement, with the notation, “Witness unreliable.”
But I also discovered two similar reports, one from a parent and another from a homeless woman. Both mentioned a shadowy figure leaping up into the air. And the homeless woman had seen the red snake. She’d been around when the second victim was found, a five-year-old kid named Antwan Purvis, behind a family-owned restaurant on the west side.
Her statement was also marked, “Witness unreliable.”
So then I went to the medical reports. They were mostly beyond my comprehension, but I recognized a few terms. Mostly relating to blood loss.
The first two children had been almost drained of blood. Justin had lost blood too, but not nearly as much. The fact that no blood had been found near their bodies meant that they’d all been taken elsewhere—for whatever the killer did with them.
A vampire? I could imagine how Dudovich would respond to that theory.
I picked up my phone to call Rachel. Then a tall African-American man in a police commander’s uniform stalked into the room. “Heads up!”
Everyone stopped. I’d seen him in the newspapers. His name was Daniel Hughes. He had a trim mustache and broad shoulders, and a reputation as a tough cop. But a fair one.
Hughes made sure all eyes were watching him. “It looks like there’s been an abduction.”
Someone cursed. Someone else slammed a fist on a desk.
“A little boy. Nathan Black. We don’t know yet if it’s the Rain Killer again. But the weather’s getting worse.” He glanced out the window. A light rain pelted the glass. “Do whatever you have to do. I want to get this bastard.”
About half of the detective followed him from the room. The rest went back to their phones and computers with new, grim determination.
I looked for Dudovich, and eventually found her at a desk in the corner, talking on the phone. She glared at me, kept talking, and then finally slammed the phone down. “You got anything?”
“A theory. Half a theory. Okay, not even a theory, just an idea. And you won’t like it.”
She scowled. “I don’t have time for long exposition. Talk.”
“Blood. The victims were drained in diminishing amounts. The witness to the second victim saw the same red mark—”
“She was homeless drunk.”
“Actually, she was just getting out of rehab and selling newspapers. It’s in her statement. My point is . . .” I knew how this sounded. “I think maybe this thing was feeding. It got enough blood and then it quit.” After Justin. The last little girl had lost a small amount of blood—as if the killer finally got full.
“And then what happened? Why is he back now?” Dudovich grabbed her jacket. “I need more than another vampire story, Jurgen.”
“You think I don’t know that?” I tried to keep my voice low. “You called me, remember? I’m still working on this, and I’ll give you everything I can. Whether you believe it or not—”
“Christ, Jurgen.” She lowered her head. “I’ll take anything I can get right now.” She checked the handgun at her hip. “I have to get out there right now. Just don’t tell anyone else about this, and don’t screw this up, all right?”
I sighed. “Yeah.”
I called Rachel from a sandwich shop. “So I had a thought.”
“First time for—” She giggled. “Okay, that’s too easy. And I’m on a caffeine high. Hit me, lover.”
Lover? How much coffee had Rachel been drinking? I shifted my mind back to other important topics. “Blood. Ten years ago, the creature drank lots from its early victims and less from the later . . . the later ones.” I hated referring to the dead kids as “victims,” but it was the only way I could get through this. “So maybe the red snake thing shows up when it’s really hungry, and fades as it’s feeding.”
“Huh.” I heard Rachel’s fingers on the computer. “Well, time to Google ‘monsters that eat blood.’”
It wasn’t much, but it was something the cops probably run down. “And I’ve got to find a homeless woman.”
The only other person to see the red mark was a woman named Lillian Fraser. Her statement mentioned a homeless shelter she sometimes stayed at. I called and talked to a volunteer.
And then I got lucky. “Yeah. She’s here.”
I felt stunned. As if I’d won the lottery—or someone was playing an unfunny practical joke. “She’s still staying there?”
“No, she’s a volunteer. Like me. She’s been here for three or four years.”
“Is she there now?”
“She’ll be here in a few hours.”
I made sure of the address, then hung up.
The Archway Center was a shelter for homeless women, and the short Latina woman at the front desk gave me a skeptical look through her steel-rimmed glasses.
Being a man was one strike. Being a private detective was the second. What if an abusive boyfriend had hired me to track his victim down? I didn’t blame Ms. Martinez for her hostility. “I can meet her anywhere she wants, or just talk to her on the phone. Wherever everyone’s comfortable.” I didn’t mention the Rain Killer, figuring that might spook her even more. “It’s important.”
She took my card with a frown. “I’ll see if she’s even here.”
Ten minutes later she returned. “This is Lillian. Lillian, this is Tom Jurgen. You don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to.”
Lillian Fraser was in her 50s. Gray hair, slightly plump, with a hard look in her dark blue eyes. “What’s this all about?”
I handed her my card. “I’m a private detective. It’s about what you saw in an alley 10 years ago. A creature flying away from the body of a child.”
Lillian Fraser flinched. “No one believed me. I was drunk.”
“I saw the same thing. No one believed me either, and I wasn’t drunk.”
She looked at my card again. Then she sighed. “It’s okay, Rina. I’ll talk to him.”
Ms. Martinez glared like she’d made a huge mistake letting me in. “Fine. Use my office. Remember, intake starts in half an hour.”
The office was small and cramped. Lillian sat behind the desk, next to a computer that looked 20 years old. She hunched over, her body shaking.
“He—he’s back, isn’t he?” Her voice trembled. “It was on the news.”
“It might be.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know how much I can tell you. I don’t remember much about that night.”
Maybe I could ease her into it. “Tell me what you did before it happened.”
“Well . . .” Lillian closed her eyes. “I was selling newspapers, but I got fired a few days before for being drunk. Rehab—it didn’t take, not that time.” She sighed, embarrassed.
“I managed enough money for a bottle of vodka. I drank most of it in the park before it closed and they kicked me out. I didn’t—I hadn’t had anything to eat all day. I guess that made me even drunker.” She rubbed her eyes. “So I carried my bottle and I was going to search through the dumpster behind a restaurant. They weren’t locked yet. It was raining, and I was cold, so I kept drinking. I guess I fell asleep.”
She rubbed her eyes. “I woke up, and there was something moving at the end of the alley. I was starting to feel sick, and I tried to get up, and then there was this big—thing in front of me.”
“What did it look like?”
“He was big, in black clothes.” She grabbed for a tissue from a box on the desk. “I couldn’t see his face, he had some kind of a hood. And below his waist, he looked like a snake. Or a dragon. It almost looked like he had wings down there.”
I waited as she cried. Without wanting to lead her, I asked, “Anything else?”
“His chest was red. Glowing, kind of . . . pulsing, you know? Like I could see his heart. He just stood there. I don’t know if he was looking at me, or if he even saw me. Then he just—flew up into the air. And then I threw up.” Her face turned red, ashamed. “Then there were cops all over. I told them what I saw, but they just . . .” She shrugged. “I was drunk and dirty, and they didn’t believe me. I wasn’t sure I believed it myself.”
Witness unreliable. I knew the feeling. “So what happened after that?”
“I was in the hospital for a while.” She tossed her tissue into a wastebasket. “Then I came back here, because I was here before, but I couldn’t hack it that time.” She looked around the room. “I went back on the streets, and then—I don’t know. I went in the hospital again, and then I came back here—again—and they let me in. And they helped me get back into rehab, and after that . . .”
Lillian groaned. “I don’t know how I did it. It’s not like I found God or anything. I hated rehab. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. Somehow I got through that, and they helped me get a job. And somehow . . .”
More tissues. Lillian was sobbing now. “I’m clean. For eight years. But I can’t stop thinking about him.”
Damn it—what could I say? “I saw it too.” I leaned forward. “I believe you.”
“What difference does it make?” Her voice was a screech. “It was 10 years ago! What was I supposed to do?”
The door burst open. Ms. Martinez jabbed her finger at me like a dagger. “Get out! You’re upsetting everyone.”
“Okay, okay!” I stood up. “Lillian, I’m very sorry for bothering you—”
“I’m okay now.” Lillian Fraser shook her head, gasping for breath. “I’m . . . it’s just so hard, every day . . .”
Ms. Martinez marched me through the waiting room. A young woman at the front desk was talking to a woman holding a baby. Other women waited—young, old, all races. Some hopeful, some desperate. They stared at me, some nervous, others curious. And others angry.
A box for donations hung on the wall beside the front door. I stuffed most of the cash in my wallet inside before leaving.