THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Thirteen
The Ironwood City Jail had been erected adjacent to the town library, with very little visible difference between the two, constructed as they were at the same time and by the same architect, the same builders. Both structures now occupied the short list of Ironwood’s historic sites, though both had been renovated more than once. A curious feature of the jail consisted of its size, two full stories to the library’s single level and an attic. By current standards, the population of the town failed to warrant so large a place of confinement, less so in the early years of the twentieth century, when even fewer people had settled in Ironwood. A common joke maintained that the old jail could hold half the town behind bars, nor did anyone doubt this hyperbole approximated close to the truth.
It was said that those who built the jail so many years ago had been expecting the worst. Because the jail had, never in his history, been even half filled to capacity, most of the townspeople laughed at the builders’ overestimation, or wondered at the architects’ opinions as to Ironwood’s future generations.
Ron Whitlow, being of a pessimistic nature himself, had no problem understanding the builders’ motivations.
Expect the worst of people and you’ll never get disappointed.
Whitlow stood outside the door–heavy steel, painted white, paint flaking off to reveal the rusted metal beneath–and sipped at his coffee. The door had one tiny window, about the size of a sheet of paper, the glass reinforced by what had always looked to Whitlow like chicken wire. He stood staring in the face-level window, his breath blowing the steam from the coffee and fogging the glass. He watched the man inside.
Lucas Vale sat hunched over the small table, his head resting on his folded arms. Whitlow watched him breathing, otherwise not moving. He never looked up. Whitlow took another sip of coffee and pushed open the door. Vale raised his head at the sound.
“Mr. Vale,” Whitlow said, extending his hand. “You remember me, right? Ron Whitlow?” He seated himself in the folding chair opposite Vale, slid in close to the table. The walls of the room had been painted the same dull white as the door; they also were flaking.
“Yes.” Vale’s red face and puffy cheeks looked like he might have been crying. Whitlow suspected he had.
Whitlow pulled a pack from his shirt pocket, dug out his lighter. He extended the pack towards Vale. “Smoke?”
“No, thank you,” the latter replied.
Whitlow lit his own cigarette.
“I want to see Hank.”
“He’s down at the hospital,” Whitlow said. “You roughed him up pretty good.”
Vale looked as if he might spout fresh tears. “Is he okay?”
“He will be,” Whitlow said. He half grinned. “I still don’t see how a skinny little shit like you could have whipped him, though. No offence.”
Vale didn’t answer. He couldn’t meet Whitlow’s gaze.
“Seems Dr. Frye thinks you got something called ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder,'” Whitlow said. “Like Cybil, I guess. Multiple personalities.”
Vale stared at his hands on the tabletop, clasped together as if in prayer.
“I gotta be honest, Lucas,” Whitlow said. “Is it alright if I call you by your first name?”
“Good.” Whitlow puffed on his cigarette. “Well, I got to be honest with you, Lucas. I don’t believe you have multiple personalities. I don’t know as I believe there is such a thing.”
Vale didn’t respond. He kept his head bowed; his shaggy hair hung down over his forehead and around his face. Whitlow wondered if he’d gotten extensions. He didn’t remember Vale having that much hair.
“The one thing I can’t figure is the old couple,” Whitlow continued. “They don’t fit the pattern, least as I can see it. Felicia Stroman, sure. You’d been working in close proximity to her for years. Been screwin’ her, right? There in the office. The husband never suspected.”
“Was it a little lover’s spat?” Whitlow said. “She decided to break it off? And you just lost your head. Shit happens every day.”
“You did a good job with the crime scene, covering you tracks and all. Then you start feeling guilty. Real bad about it. But you got this friend that’s a shrink.”
Vale shook his head.
“Only he’s not as helpful as you thought he’d be, so you lose your temper.”
“But why the old couple, Lucas?” Whitlow pressed. “What did you have against them? Maybe they were rude to you once upon a time?”
“Why’d you kill them, Lucas?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Why’d you kill Felicia Stroman?”
A pause. “I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember.”
“Seems pretty convenient.” Whitlow stubbed out the remains of his cigarette in the ashtray. “That why you went to Dr. Frye? You plannin’ on going for an insanity defense?”
“You figure you can convince him, and then he goes into court and testifies on your behalf.”
“No!” Vale covered his face with his hands, began to rock back and forth.
“Maybe a little stay in some high class mental institution, maybe up at Bryce,” Whitlow said. “Bound to be easier than doin’ hard time, right?”
“Come on, Lucas,” Whitlow said. “You’re good, but you’re not that good. You may know how to fool a headshrinker like your buddy, Frye. But I’m not an educated fella like he is. I don’t buy it.”
“Leave me alone,” Vale said.
“Sure I will, soon as you tell the truth. Why’d you kill those people?”
“I didn’t! I mean, I don’t remember!”
“Right. You don’t remember.”
“Look, all I know is, I went to Hank’s, and then I’m here, and you’re telling me I tried to kill him! And you won’t let me see him.”
“You know, Lucas,” Whitlow said. “Alabama does have the death penalty. And there’s not a jury out there that’s gonna buy your little insanity defense, even if your buddy does swear to it.”
“I don’t remember anything!”
“Your best bet, if you want to avoid gettin’ the needle, is to ‘fess up now. We can work with you if you’re willing to work with us.”
“I want to see Hank!”
“I told you,” Whitlow said. “My partner had to take him down to the hospital.”
“I need to talk to him!” Lucas said. “I need to know what happened!”
Whitlow lit up another cigarette. “Alright, Lucas,” he said. “I won’t keep stringing you along.” He paused, exhaled smoke through his nostrils. “It didn’t work. Your plan, I mean.”
“Dr. Frye,” Whitlow said. “He saw through your act. What he told us, he said you were trying to make like you had this ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder.’ But he said he didn’t buy it.”
“No, I don’t believe you.”
“What he said, Lucas.” Whitlow inhaled, tapped the ashes from the tip of his cigarette. “He didn’t believe you. I don’t believe you. And a jury sure as hell won’t believe you.”
“You’re just trying to confuse me,” Vale said. “You’re telling me all these different things, trying to confuse me!”
“No more bullshit, then,” Whitlow said. “We know you’re not crazy, Lucas. You might as well drop the act.”
“I’m telling you the truth!”
“Oh, you’re good,” Whitlow said. “I’ll give you that. You even fooled me at first. Those were real tears you were crying over Felicia Stroman. But that’s over and done with now. We know the truth.”
“No you don’t!”
“You’re a very smart man, Lucas. That’s obvious. Smart enough to know the score. Time to change your strategy, if you don’t want to end up on death row.”
“I want to see Hank!”
“Hank can’t help you now, Lucas. Nobody can help you now but yourself. You’re in this all alone.”
Vale stiffened, looked towards the wall opposite the door. The mirror window, wide as the wall, comprising its upper half. Vale stared at the polished glass.
“There’s nobody on the other side of that glass who can help you, either, Lucas,” Whitlow said. “Nobody in the observation room who believes a word you’re saying.”
“Oh my God!” Vale muttered. He shifted in his chair.
“I think we can work something out with the DA,” Whitlow said. “If you tell us the truth right now.”
“Shut up!” Vale barked, not looking at Whitlow, still looking at the mirror.
“Lucas, you’re starting to wear on my patience,” Whitlow said. “I’m about ready to walk out of here and leave you to rot.”
“Don’t say that!” Lucas yelled at the mirror.
“You don’t have a chance in hell of gettin’ off on an insanity plea,” Whitlow said. “Do you want the death penalty, Lucas?” he pressed.
“No! Please, no!” Lucas covered his ears, shrieking at the mirror.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Whitlow slammed a meaty fist down on the table. “I asked you a question! Do you wanna die?!”
What happened next happened so fast that Whitlow had no chance to react. Vale leapt straight up from his chair onto the tabletop, then onto Whitlow, bearing him backward onto the floor. The back of Whitlow’s head bounced off the concrete. Vale crouched on top of him, on his chest, crushing the breath from his lungs. He leaned down, his face a few inches from Whitlow’s.
“You’re the one who’s going to die, fat man,” Vale hissed. His face, his expression had changed. Even his voice seemed altered. Even his eyes…
Whitlow, despite the shock, responded without hesitation. He swung a solid right to Vale’s head. It jarred him, but did not dislodge him. Whitlow struck at him again. Vale leaned in, Whitlow’s punch grazing his jawbone, and clamped his teeth in Whitlow’s forearm. A jolt of pain shot up Whitlow’s arm. He yelled.
The door burst open. Both uniformed and plain-clothed officers rushed into the room, to their comrade’s defense. Hands seized Vale, but he did not release his hold on Whitlow. Blood spilled out around Vale’s mouth, ran down Whitlow’s arm. Whitlow felt the twin bones of his wrist cracking, starting to break. He punched with his left, striking Vale again and again, but could not make him let go. Vale growled like an animal, twisting his head this way and that as though he would tear Whitlow’s arm off at the elbow.
A hard rubber billy club struck Vale across the shoulders. Again. Again. At last he unclenched his teeth and the group of men pulled him off. Whitlow pressed his hand over the bite wound, blood now spraying out over him, over the floor. He dared one look to inspect the damage, saw the meat of his muscle hanging loose, saw an inch of exposed bone. He gagged, sick with pain.
“I’m not done with you yet, fat man!” Vale’s words carried above the cries of the other men, co-mingled cries and exclamations, curses and pleas for aide. “I’m gonna tear out your heart and eat it!” A half-dozen men tried to subdue Vale, yet it was all they could manage to hold him. They hung on him, gripping his arms and legs, but still he struggled.
“You think this cage can hold me?!” he snarled. “I’ve been in cages before! Lots of cages!”
Dizzy and squinting against the pain, squeezing his arm to try and halt the blood loss, Whitlow saw a hulking form enter the room. A shadow passed over Whitlow where he lay on the floor. A bull that plowed through several of the younger jailers who hung back, hesitant to tangle with the crazed Vale.
A bull named Roosevelt Brewster.
Whitlow saw his partner rear back and slam his fist into Vale’s leering, drooling face. A blow the likes of which the black man had once used to shatter football helmets on Legion Field. Vale’s entire body shook with the impact and he sank unconscious into the arms of the men who held him. Brewster turned and raced over to where Whitlow lay on the floor, helping him to sit up, cradling his partner in his arms.
“Easy, buddy,” Brewster said. “Ain’t that bad. You’re gonna be fine, just fine.”
“You know, Rosebud,” Whitlow managed, “I think maybe the little shit does have a split personality, after all.”
“Looks that way, partner,” Brewster said. “Sure looks that way.”
Leland had always heard that God helped those who helped themselves. Leland didn’t believe in God. But he felt certain that something was helping him when, on his first day out, he caught sight of the object of his pursuit. Candy Paradise, sure as the world.
It can’t be this fucking easy.
She drove around back of the house, just like he’d figured. He watched her through the chain-link gate as she pulled into the driveway and got out of her car. Fancy-ass Camaro. Red. Figured. Rich Bitch.
He’d recognize that ass anywhere, even covered by tight denim jeans. Candy wore a cut-off T-shirt exposing her midriff and had a baseball cap on, a handful of blonde hair pulled out the back like a ponytail. She looked even better in person. Good enough to make a dead man pop a boner.
Leland went ahead and cranked the ignition. He’d filled up the van’s gas tank before starting out that morning. Good thing, since the bitch stayed inside for almost an hour. Leland had considered killing the engine a few times but had decided against it. Candy might notice the sound of an engine cranking, but it was doubtful she’d pick up on a running one.
Leland watched her pull out of the driveway, electric gate sliding closed behind her. He waited until she had reached the end of the street before he pulled out from between an SUV and an old truck to follow her. He almost lost her at the intersection of 63 and Main Street, when she turned right. He had to make an illegal U-turn to keep her in sight. Lucky for him there weren’t any cops around.
Road pigs, Leland called them. Stupid ass traffic cops. All jumpy as hell because of the killer on the loose. Better to avoid them.
Candy stopped at Piggly Wiggly, and Leland had to wait on the opposite end of the lot. It got hot in the van, even with the windows down, but here Leland could leave the engine off, being too far away for Candy to hear him when he cranked up the van. He saved gas, but that meant no air-conditioner. He sat watching Candy’s car until she came back out, carrying a couple of bags of groceries. He pulled out of the parking lot after her.
The bitch went through the drive-through at Wendy’s. Leland had to drive past, turn around in the Farmer’s Co-op Parking lot, then speed back before she’d gone through the line. He ended up doing it twice.
Guess service is slow today.
Finally the bitch went home.
He followed right behind her when she slowed down, signaling, and pulled into the driveway of a nice brick house. Nice house, nice neighborhood. ADT sticker in the window. No doubt about it. It was her house.
From down the street, he watched her in his rearview mirror as she unlocked the door and went inside. Leland pulled past the stop sign, aiming to circle the block.
Candy was home alone, at least so far as he could tell. The opportunity had just fallen in his lap. No time like the present. But by the time he came back around the block, Candy had come back outside again. Only she was no longer alone.
There she stood, tits straining against her little cut-off T-shirt, frayed jeans with the knees missing, spray-painted on. Candy Paradise. And next to her stood the Hound of Hell.
Biggest goddam dog I ever seen!
Leland sped past before Candy, who held the big dog on a leash, could notice him. At least she didn’t seem to. Leland watched her in his mirror until he reached the end of the street and had to turn.
Should’a known it couldn’t go down that goddam easy.
Still no big deal, though. He could take care of a few things, come back later, better prepared. Some things he needed to do, anyway. Then he’d just wait her out. Luck had been with him so far, and he had no reason to believe it would abandon him now. The hardest part he’d already accomplished. He’d found her.
The next step would be the easiest of all.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!