BLOODTRAIL

excerpt

PROLOGUE



Gunnar and Felene had wanted her to stay a while longer, but people were waiting for her at home. She’d loved Lake Shore Drive, enjoyed the cliff dwellers on one side and Lake Michigan on the other. Something was going on nearly twenty-four hours a day. She’d walked for miles, day and night, prowling the drive, the side streets, the alleys. Time had flown by. She had arrived in May and, almost in a blink, she was in the first week of September. Time to go.

She’d left Chicago shortly after dawn, Felene and Gunnar walking her out to the street from their digs deep in the second sub-basement of the Field Museum. They’d found the Jeep and kissed her good-bye, Gunnar adolescently patting her butt and growling in her ear, Felene licking her on the upper lip and nipping her with lovely little teeth, both of them promising to return the visit. Sorrow sighed around her as she left the city, recollections of another era. Once upon a time, when they’d still been together, she and her father had lived in Chicago, but she hadn’t seen her dad in years. The memory was there though. It hadn’t faded a bit. Her memories never did.

When she reached Rolla, she turned south on 63, not really caring about making time, just driving in the general direction of home. Small towns slid by and Licking came up after a while. She smiled at the name, remembering Felene’s tactile enthusiasm. Houston was next, then Cabool and a low gas gauge. She filled up at a 7-11, ate another Snickers and crunched a little more speed, but she knew it wouldn’t be enough. Soon she would need to stop and eat.

She took 181 out of Cabool, smoked half a chubby reefer, and was snaking through one of the Mark Twain National Forests as dusk fell. With tourist season over, traffic on the narrow Ozark two-lane was sparse. Only the occasional passenger car, rusty pick-up, or the odd logging truck doing the red oak rumble at half the speed limit joined the Jeep on the asphalt. Finding a Forest Service lane disappearing off into the undergrowth, she pulled the Jeep back into the weeds out of sight and stopped. Opening her suitcase, she stripped off her chinos and long sleeved shirt and wiggled into a pair of jean shorts cut off at the crotch and a white tank top. Barefoot in the dim light, the need dripping from her sinuses down the back of her throat, she returned to the road, squatted in the ditch, took three or four hits off a roach, and waited.

A minivan full of Baptists and brats rolled by, followed five minutes later by a tall pick-up with two motorcycles in the bed and three rednecks in the cab. She peed in the grass and killed another ten minutes, her appetite gnawing with anticipation, before she saw the old red Chevy. Weaving slightly, with only one person on board, the raggedy mini-pickup groaned and rattled around a curve. She stepped out beside the road and stuck out her thumb. The dumbass behind the wheel almost locked up the brakes trying to stop in time. Smiling, she licked her lips wet and walked to the driver’s window, shoulders back, hands in the rear pockets of the shorts.

“Hi.”

“Evenin’, Ma’am,” he grinned, beer on his breath, a flabby tattooed arm resting on the window frame. “Whatchoo doin’ out here all by yer lonesome this time a night, little lady?”

“My boyfriend dumped me ‘cause I wouldn’t put… ’cause I pissed him off,” she said, leaning forward a bit and crossing her arms, pushing her breasts together with her biceps.

“Hell, you doan look old enough to know what ta do with no boyfriend.”

“Old enough to wear that pissant out if I wanted to,” she snorted. “Fuck him.”

The good ol’ boy leaned away from the steering wheel, belched, pushed his ball cap back on his head and let his eyes roam over her.

“Ain’t yew awful young ta be out all by yourself? Little bitty girl like you could git took advantage of.”

She laughed and swished her butt. “Well, yeah, Dummy. That’s why I need a ride. Walking around out here in the dark, almost anything could happen. You sober enough to rescue me, or what?”

Fantasies of butterscotch hair, pebbled nipples, and pink tongues rippled behind his moist eyes.

“Wanna beer?” he asked, stifling a belch.

“Sure, if it comes with a ride.”

He leered, licked his lower lip and took a chance.

“What if it comes with more’n a ride?”

She grinned, cocked her head to one side and ran her tongue along her upper lip. “Then I might need more than one beer.” She could smell his sweating accelerate, alcohol misting his breath. Too dumb and too drunk to realize this was all too good to be true.

“I got half a case a Bud Lite in a cooler in the bed,” he said around the growing lump in his throat.

“Got someplace we can drink it? I ain’t ridin’ around with no drunk at the wheel.”

“Whatcher name?”

“Cat,” she said, rocking back and forth on slim muscular legs.

“Cat? That short for something?”

“I ain’t short on nothin’, Hero. You got eyes.”

In the near blackness of the cab, she could see his hand drop to his lap.

“Yer kindly short on pants,” he said, trembling a little as he fondled himself.

“You gonna stare at my crotch all night, or we gonna drink some beer?”

“Damn,” he said, tearing his eyes away. “Ain’t you somethin’!”

“More than you know,” she said, trailing a hand lightly across her breasts.

He gave a strangled snort and she caught the sour scent of his seminal fluid.

“Well, git the fuck in, Cat. I’m Leon. Let’s go drink some beer, or somethin’.”

Cat grinned. “Or somethin’,” she purred, and walked around the truck.

Leon watched her ass pass the headlights. Shit. Earlene with them saggy tits and them three kids, only one of ‘em his, waitin’ back at the trailer house, bitchin’ all the time about ever damn thing they was to bitch about. Fuck her. He was tired of her flabby ass. This little piece didn’t look like she was mor’n thirteen years old, but damn, she was some hot shit. Once he got her off the road and a beer or two down her neck, this was gonna be like nothin’ else in his whole life!

 

 

Cat sat on her side of the seat, amused as she watched him struggle not to paw her and strain to see her legs in the pale green of the dash lights. She swiveled to lean back against the door and parted her knees, her left hand slowly stroking the inside of her thigh. He dropped the right front tire onto the shoulder and wrenched the truck back on the roadway.

“Damn!”

“Whatzamatter, Hero? Havin’ trouble concentrating?”

“How fuckin’ old are you, Girl?”

“Older than you think. Just keep your eyes on the road. You wreck this piece of shit and your gonna fuck up my plans. How much farther we got to go? I’m thirsty.”

“’Bout this fuckin’ far,” he said, slowing the Chevy and easing up a narrow rock studded lane.

The logging road widened after only a short way and he turned the truck around, facing it back down the shallow slope. He shut off the ignition and peered at her silhouette against the open window.

“C’mere,” he said.

It was pitch dark, but Cat saw him clearly. Dirt in the creases of his crow’s feet, lower lip wet with spittle, patchy beard stubble, pot belly sagging over a cheap plastic belt, greasy blue jeans, soiled t-shirt, worn cowboy boots, filthy fingernails, massaging his fly, sure that the dark gave him privacy.

“What about the beer?” she asked, keeping her distance.

“Beer can wait. C’mere, little girl.”

She smiled. “My name’s Cat, you know, like pussy?”

“Goddamn,” he grunted.

She could smell fresh discharge and feel his heart rate climb.

“I ain’t never come across nobody like you before!”

“You got that right,” she said. “I guarantee it.”

“Well, slide your tight little ass on over here, Pussycat.”

Cat laughed. “I don’t think so, hero,” she said, opening her door. The dome light didn’t work. “You promised me beer.”

She scooted out the door and walked to the bed of the truck, reaching for the cooler that had slid up against the tailgate. Leon weaved his way next to her, breathing heavily through his nose. Cat drew a longneck Bud from the water and ice as he pressed his bulk against her and put an arm around her waist.

“Slow down, hotshot,” she said, slipping away from his grasp and body odor. “Let me tell you the way it is. It’s gonna take one beer before you lean on me, two beers before you put an arm around me, three before you grab me, and at least four before you get next to this sweet little pussycat. The way you’re pantin’, you’ll probably come all over yourself in a minute anyway, you dumb fuck.” She unscrewed the top and took a deep slow hit of the Bud, enjoying the amount of verbal abuse he was prepared to absorb as long as he thought it might be part of foreplay. “While I’m still sober, you don’t stand much of a chance. So just slow down and let me get ready.”

Leon looked at her in the moonlight; his vision blurred by booze and need.

“What?”

“You got anything to eat, hero?” she asked, tossing the suddenly empty bottle into the undergrowth. “I’m hungry. I haven’t had a good meal in days.”

“Have another beer,” he said, plucking one from the cooler and twisting off the cap. She drained it in four long swallows.

“Damn, Girl! Can you fuckin’ drink, or what?”

Cat shouldered him aside and grabbed another bottle. In five seconds it was empty.

“Jesus,” Leon said, trying to see her ass in the dappled moonlight.

“Just keepin’ my word, hero,” she said, stepping in front of him and leaning against his belly. The top of her head was three inches below his chin. “I said that after three beers you could grab me,” she said, dropping her hand to his fly. He sucked in a sharp breath as she stroked him. “Wanna grab me, hero? Do ya?”

She thrust her other hand deeply between his legs and pressed upward, feeling his sphincter tighten and the rhythmic pulsing begin behind his scrotum.

“Fuck!”

His hands flew to her backside, each grasping a cheek, and pulled her roughly against him. She turned her face up.

“Gonna come, hero?” she growled, her eyes shining with amusement. “Gonna come for me? C’mon, hero, shoot your hillbilly wad and I’ll lick it all off you when you’re done. Come, Baby!” she squealed, rubbing against him in feigned urgency.

“Jesus!” Leon roared, and she felt the spasms begin beneath her hands.

He pushed his face against hers, his tongue probing her lips. On tiptoe, she opened her mouth for him and sucked his tongue in between her teeth. Leon snorted. Leon wheezed. Leon bucked. Leon shivered. And as Leon came, Cat struck.

So far gone in the most thunderous orgasm of his adult life, Leon didn’t immediately realize what had transpired. He felt the crunch of Cat’s teeth as they entered his tongue, but his pleasure at that moment was so intense, so rock-hard, sperm spurting, prostate pulsing, gut wrenching good, for a second his reptile brain overrode pain and the terrible trauma of the event did not register. A second was all Cat needed. In the first half of that second she released her hold on his crotch, grasped each of his wrists, and removed his hands from her backside. The last half of that second she extended her arms out from her sides to keep Leon from scratching or tearing at her, bit through his tongue, grasped the stump between her teeth, and began to suck.

Leon’s orgasm was shattered by what felt like fire in his mouth. He wrenched backward to escape it, but it came with him, searing pain, scalding agony that clung to him, tore at him, shredding through his face. He attempted to claw at it, but couldn’t move his hands to his head, only dimly aware of the bones in his wrists splintering as they broke under amazing pressure. He lurched and fought to no avail, his screeching blowing snot from his nose and rupturing an eardrum as he whirled, a pathetic dervish attempting to fling a bloodlust banshee from his face, finally crashing to his back on earth he could not feel, staring at the stars with eyes that could not see.

For a while during their dance, Cat was suspended from Leon only by the strength of his tongue, her one-hundred-two pounds swinging freely in front of him. As he spun and struggled, she broke both of his wrists and dislocated his right shoulder. After he collapsed, she spat out the meat that was once part of his tongue, wiped him off her eyelids and face and, using her knee to pump his dead heart, drank from his hollow mouth as if it were a blood-spring filling a hillbilly vessel. When she had her fill, she thrust herself off of him and stood upright, life coursing through her veins, the darkness as light as day. From the sheer joy of it, she threw back her head and howled, giggling as coyotes answered from the distance, hugging herself with ecstasy, fulfilled, happy, supercharged with life, rich from the kill, radiant with the purest of nourishment. Then she came, the orgasm clawing its way through her with ivory talons, ripping her apart with its intensity, fusing her back together with its power. She lay on her side in the grass and shook, laughing with glee at the battle, the kill, the meal.

After a few moments she urinated the excess moisture from her system and sipped briefly from Leon’s mouth for a final taste. She grasped the body by the pants and the cheap plastic belt and, one handed, tossed the two hundred thirty pound corpse casually into the rear of the truck. Finding the keys in the ignition, she drove back to the Jeep and parked.

Cat stripped off her bloody shorts and top, washed with the ice water remaining in the cooler, and dressed in her chinos and shirt. She carefully stuffed the bloody clothing into a plastic bag along with a sizeable rock, and put it on the passenger side floorboard awaiting a lake or river. Checking Leon’s wallet, she found nearly ninety dollars, which she slipped in her purse. She left the body in the truck, started the Jeep, and pulled back out onto 181, heading for Arkansas. The cool night air warmed her as she chased her headlights through the hills. Looking at her watch, she noticed it was barely ten o’clock. She lit the last half of her last doobie and wished she’d brought the rest of Leon’s beer.

  

ONE

Doc

  

“Somebody here to see ya, Doc.”

Joseph Casey opened his eyes and looked toward the voice from his position on the bottom bunk. Through the bars Butler appeared upside down.

“What?”

“You got a visitor.”

“Butler, I don’t have visitors.”

“First time for everything,” Butler said. “C’mon, get up.”

Casey lurched to a sitting position, automatically keeping his head low to avoid the steel frame of the upper bunk.

“It’s too late for visiting hours.”

“Special deal, Doc. The assistant warden set it up. Some gal with juice wants to see you.”

“A woman?”

“Yeah. You remember them, doncha?”

“Not very clearly,” Casey said, rubbing his face with his palms.

“This one’ll sure as hell refresh your memory.”

“Butler, how long we known each other?”

“I dunno. Ten or twelve years, I guess.”

“Have I ever had a visitor that you recall?”

“Nope.”

“Piece of mail from anybody, even a lawyer?”

“Nope.”

“Phone call?”

“Nope.”

“Gotta be a mistake.”

“Mistake or not, I’m not the one who’s gonna make it. I’m supposed to take you over to the administration building. Get your shit together.”

Casey sighed and slipped into his shoes. A visitor? He didn’t want a visitor. He didn’t want his life messed with at all. He’d carved himself a nice little insulated niche that he was going to outgrow soon enough. An intrusion from the outside could only made things more difficult. He preferred his memories, as bad as some of them were, over any contemplation of the future. Rising to his feet and wondering what the hell was going on, he grabbed a blue cotton shirt with his number stenciled over the single pocket and put it on, buttoning it to the neck. He finger-combed his hair straight back and turned to the guard.

“How do I look?” he said.

“Like a convict.”

“Just the effect I was going for. She’ll be impressed.”

Butler chuckled. “Let’s go, Doc.”

Casey stepped through the open cubicle door and out onto the second floor catwalk, tucking in his shirt. What the hell would a woman want with him? He hadn’t been near a woman since before he’d dried out. He hadn’t had anything even resembling a normal relationship with a woman since his wife died, and that was too painful to dwell on even after all these years. A woman. Apprehension nagged at him as he walked toward the stairs.

  

Located in central Indiana not far from Indianapolis, Macon Detention Facility was constructed in 2005. One of several project prisons, Macon was privately owned and administrated. Built with a faux pink marble exterior and green tile roofing, it was supposed to resemble an industrial park or large condominium complex. Guard towers were cleverly concealed in rooftop cupolas, wide expanses of lawn were graced by ponds and flowerbeds. Exercise yards were hidden from view by hedges reinforced with razor wire. The illusion failed. Prisons exude an ambience all their own that cannot be concealed by cosmetics. The double row of sixteen foot chain link fencing and concertina wire surrounding the entire two hundred acre complex did little to sustain the ruse.

The positive side was that local, state, and federal governments had nothing to do with the day-to-day management of the place. Because it was privately run and competed with other facilities of its type, it was considerably more progressive than conventional prisons. The food was better, the staff efficiently maintained and trained, the bunks softer, visitation more liberal, and inmates even received comment cards to fill out from time to time. Its cells were “cubicles”, its guards “administrative assistants”, its prisoners “contained population”, and its goal was to “reinstate disenfranchised individuals back into the general population as contributive members to the societal norm”. Despite the classroom, educational, medical, and sports facilities, despite the color coordinated detention areas, despite the larger cubicles, and despite the un-military uniforms of the administrative assistants, it was a prison. A place where we, as a society, put those of whom we are afraid, those of whom we are ashamed, and those of whom we want rid.

The population consisted of between eight and nine hundred detainees at any given time, kept in four maximum-security buildings and one total lock-down mega-security building. Joseph Casey had resided in maximum security for almost eleven years. He was a model prisoner, more than a model prisoner, actually. He was admired by inmate and guard alike.

Joseph was one of the few in his building who was not under lockdown unless working or in an exercise period. No matter how crowded the facility became, Casey never had a cellmate but was permitted to live privately. He alone was allowed to leave his cubicle after nightly lockdown, should the occasion call for it. He never asked for any privileges but received them anyway. Why? The same reason he was called Doc. Casey was a healer.

He worked in the prison hospital six days a week. So did other inmates, but they did not receive the same considerations he did. They did not work with terminal AIDS patients. Casey moved among the dying without hesitation or fear. He brought them comfort; he eased their pain and their minds. He touched them and they felt better. He sat with them and they relaxed. He cared and they responded. A few who were hyper-religious considered him second only to Christ. Some who would have gleefully spit in God’s eye, smiled when they saw him coming. Casey had something, there was no doubt about that. What he had was unclear, but it was there.

Recuperating from a shank wound to the kidney, Theotus Lark, at six-seven and three-thirty-five, the baddest HIV positive sumbitch in the valley, got to know Casey.

“That Doc,” he said, “be one natural born muthafuckah. Anybody fuck wit his ass, dey fuckin’ wit me. They doan want ta be fuckin’ wit me.”

Nobody fucked with Doc anyway. When he first arrived at Macon, several tried but they were unsuccessful. In his early forties and about five-ten and one-sixty, Doc was not an intimidating physical specimen. He belonged to no group and had no protectors. Soft spoken and usually polite, he was not social, kept his own council, and stayed out of the way. In spite of that, he caught Theotus Lark’s attention in the yard one afternoon as he walked past Theotus and his group.

“Hey, whitemeat,” yelled Theotus. The surrounding yard grew quiet. “C’mere, boy. Step on over here an’ let me get a look at yo’ ass.”

Casey stopped, looked at the immense black man, and grinned.

“It’s a damn sight prettier than anything you’ve ever seen in a mirror, shithead,” he said. Close your fuckin’ mouth. Your breath stinks.” He continued his walk.

Two days later, Theotus caught Doc alone in the shower. When it was over, Casey had a small scratch on his cheek that healed in only moments. Theotus had four broken ribs and a dislocated hip. Both participants in the fight were punished. Theotus spent five days in the hospital and six weeks in solitary. Doc was fined thirty-five dollars and found a carton of Camels on his bunk when he returned to his cell. Accounts were square.

  

The administration building sat across a grassy lawn about seventy-five yards from the chain link fence that surrounded the maximum-security containment area. Butler got them buzzed through the main door and led Casey up to the second floor and down the hall to a reception room.

“Right in there, Doc,” he said. “I’ll wait here in the hall until you’re done. Just knock and go in.”

Casey felt the lie, but he knocked and went in anyway.

The room was about twenty feet square with mauve walls and a light gray ceiling. Indirect lighting gave it a quiet glow. Two long tables and several desk chairs on casters sat near the center of the room. A large mirror was set into one wall. There were no windows. On one of the tables sat several cans of soft drinks in ice and a coffee maker with plastic cups. Behind the other stood a woman. Casey looked at her.

Not tall, not short, not thin, not fat, not young, not old. Thick auburn hair to the shoulders with a natural wave, pale, almost translucent skin, not enough makeup to cover the freckles across her nose, and eyes the color of limes. She was wearing a silk and wool pantsuit two shades lighter than her hair, with a cotton blouse two shades darker than her eyes. She’d bathed with Dove soap and used Oil of Olay to moisturize. Her nails were short and natural. He couldn’t place her shampoo. She’d just finished an Altoid. She smoked. She shook him to the bone.

“Joseph Casey?” Her voice rested on gravel. Contralto with character.

Casey willed himself not to tremble. “That’s correct,” he said.

“I’m Moira Flynn.”

She extended her hand across the table. He took it. Dry, firm, pulse over ninety. Nervous meeting a real convict one on one.

“Thank you for consenting to talk with me,” she said.

Casey smiled at her and did his best to collect himself. “I didn’t consent to do anything, Miss Flynn. I was told to come here and escorted to make sure I’d comply. It is, however, nice to be in your company. You are a welcome addition to my regular fare. Why am I here?”

“I need your help.”

“Got a flat tire?”

She smiled and sank into a chair. “Look, Mr. Casey–”

“Call me Joseph,” he said.

He popped the top on a Coke and walked slowly around the room to keep moving and put some distance between them. She smelled so good.

“Mr. Casey, I am not here to engage in a verbal battle with you. I am here to attempt to persuade you to be honest with me. There are some questions I’d like you to answer. I can assure you our conversation will be held in the strictest confidence. Of course, there is no way I can compel you to be candid with me. I can offer you no threat or promise of reward. The best I can hope to do is to present you with the opportunity to possibly contribute to the higher good by appealing to your better nature.”

“Better nature?”

Casey smiled at her choice of words. If she only knew.

“Yes.”

He looked past her. “Do you know why I’m in here?”

“I fail to see why that should influence–”

“I’m in here because I killed four people while attempting to locate my daughter. What makes you think I care about the higher good or have a better nature?”

“That seems to be the consensus of opinion here at the detention facility.”

Avoiding her eyes, Casey went on the offensive.

“You always talk like you got a textbook shoved up your butt?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Chamomile, right?”

“Chamomile?”

“Your shampoo.”

“Mr. Casey,” she said with exaggerated patience, “if we might return to the subject at hand.”

God, she smelled good. “And mint, and macadamia, and wild cherry, and, ah, dandelion?”

“Mr. Casey.”

He looked at the mirror and saw dimly into the small room behind it.

“You said our conversation would be in the strictest confidence?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then how would you explain that there are four people watching us and listening to our conversation from the other side of this wall,” Casey said, pointing at the mirror.

“What?”

“Count on it,” he said, allowing himself to become irritated for focus. “One of them is a guard named Butler. Nice guy but a pathological liar.”

She rose to her feet. “Mr. Casey, I can assure you I had no idea our meeting was being monitored.”

“Relax. I know you’re telling the truth.”

He heard a door close nearby. She didn’t notice.

“Allow me to apologize,” she said. “It was never my intention to mislead you or to allow myself to be misled by people I was told I could trust.”

“Go away,” Casey said, not wanting her to. “Raise hell, get us a privacy guarantee, and come back tomorrow. It’s Sunday. I usually only work a couple of hours on Sunday. You can tell me what this is all about and maybe we’ll talk.”

“Really?”

“They were spying on you, too, Miss Flynn.”

“I suppose they were.”

“That makes us almost co-conspirators,” Casey said, looking directly into her eyes for the first time. “I haven’t conspired with a woman in years. Wanna conspire with me, Moira?”

He could feel her pulse accelerate a bit as she flushed and fought a smile.

“Thank you, Mr. Casey. I’ll return tomorrow and we will have no more privacy issues.”

“Good, but I make you no promises, Miss Flynn,” he said, opening the door.

“None expected,” she said. “Just a chance to explain.”

  

Moira Flynn was a little shaken as she drove back to her motel. She hadn’t wanted to do Casey’s interview in the first place but thought a male prisoner might be more open with a woman. Plus, secrecy demanded that she involve as few other Proteus Trust staff members as possible. She thought of sending her head researcher, Melvin Foltz, but Melvin was not oriented well toward fieldwork. He was both completely loyal and discrete, but he was a lab man. In the real world, Melvin couldn’t find his way out of a crowd of three.

Finding out the staff at the penitentiary had lied to her made her angry. Casey made her curious. No, it was more than mere curiosity. There was something about him. Not that she found him attractive, but still, truth be told, she did find him attractive, although not in any conventional way. He was fairly average in appearance, but his eyes were very compelling. Something flickered there, something that could easily become flame, like looking at a big cat in the zoo.

You could watch a cougar for an hour, pacing back and forth, lying around and yawning, and then, for a tiny instant, suddenly make direct eye contact. Actually feel the gaze of the cat. In that moment, in that second, the predator was suddenly there. The power, the assurance, the essence of what that creature truly was would smolder out from beneath half-close lids and stop your breath in your throat.

Casey didn’t frighten her exactly. Moira was not a woman easily frightened, but his eyes did chill and warm her at the same time. Well, it was neither here nor there, of course. He was obviously intelligent and self-confident. He even teased her. And, somehow, he knew there were people behind the mirror. Educated guess, perhaps. She’d call the senior administrator’s office first thing in the morning and get everything straightened out. Proteus owned a significant amount of stock in the company that controlled the prison. She had leverage and she wasn’t afraid to use it. The good ol’ boy network had never stopped her before. They damn sure weren’t going to start now.

Arriving at the motel, she slugged to her room with her briefcase and recorder and immediately stripped and showered. Being in the prison had left her feeling soiled. Out of the shower and in lightweight sweats, she bought some Bugles from the machine in the hall and sat cross legged on the bed trying to read a little of the work she’d brought with her, but couldn’t keep her thoughts away from Casey. Something kept niggling at the back of her mind. Finally she got up, went into the bathroom, and looked at the label on her bottle of shampoo. Chamomile, mint, macadamia, wild cherry, and dandelion.

Damn.

  

Butler was waiting in the hall when Casey walked out of the interview room. “Shit, Doc,” he said. “Sorry. I was under orders.”

Casey grinned at him. “Finally there’s truth between us. Our relationship will never work if it’s based on lies, darling. You may walk me home.”

“Eat shit,” Butler said.

“You’re just jealous because I have a heavy date tomorrow.”

  

Sleep wasn’t much of a factor for Casey. In the more recent years of his life, he’d found that while eight hours of rest was necessary out of every twenty-four, a couple of hours of deep sleep was all he needed. He spent most of the night thinking about Moira Flynn and his reaction to being in the company of a woman. Between thirty-five and forty, she was obviously well educated and used to having a certain amount of power, but only a certain amount. There was a bureaucratic feel about her, someone in the chain. Near the top but not at the top. She didn’t feel like an executroid drone, she was used to making decisions and giving orders, but being in the unfamiliar world of a prison put her off a bit. She was uncertain as to her place and didn’t like it. After the privacy debacle, he was reasonably sure she would chew heavily on somebody. Casey smiled. Never piss off a woman with red hair.

What did she want with him? From day one, Casey had concealed the vast majority of his abilities, giving just enough away to make himself valuable to both the guards and the inmates. Prison was a closed and cloistered society. He could afford to let a little of his power out. No one asked questions. What went on inside, stayed inside. Nobody looked his gift horse in the mouth. He had no fear of the population, he was beyond their abilities. His only fear was of discovery, so he controlled his abilities to a large extent.

Over the years he’d developed the desired reputation working in the Macon Prison hospital and garnered a certain amount of respect as someone who helped when help was needed. He moved across racial and social lines, something very difficult to do in prison. Macon, even with its cosmetics, was a violent place. The blacks hated the whites, the whites hated the blacks, everybody hated the Latinos, and the Latinos hated everybody right back. Racial tension constantly bubbled just beneath the surface. Within each racial group were social groups that bickered among themselves, flying different colors, professing different codes, exercising their own version of the territorial imperative. It was stupid. It was sad. It was necessary. Oddly enough, the split second potential for violence was what tended to keep the peace.

Through the maelstrom, “Doc” Casey moved on his own course. Gangs made no difference to him, race made no difference to him, position or power made no difference to him. In an environment where friends and rank meant almost everything, he didn’t seem to care. In a society where violence, or the threat of it, was one of the prime motivators, nobody messed with Doc. On the few occasions when someone had, things had ended very quickly and very badly for the aggressor.

Theotus Lark was a case in point. Less than six months after Theotus had attacked Casey, a man half his size, and Casey had handled Theotus as if he were a child, several members of Los Lobos had surrounded Theotus in the yard, and Jesus Martinez stabbed him in the kidney with a shank made from a soup spoon. For the next week, Casey had tended to Theotus in the hospital, changing his dressings, cleaning the wound, giving a damn about whether Theotus lived or died. And the strange thing was, every time Casey touched the huge man, Theotus felt better. The thorn had been pulled from the lion’s paw, and the lion knew it.

A couple of weeks after Theotus went back in the general population, he approached Casey in the yard.

“Doan hurt me, Doc,” he rumbled, a grin spreading across his ebony face.

Casey returned the grin. “Fuck you want, convict?”

“Ah’d a keel you in a minute, an’ you know it, but ah come up in dat hospital an’ you hep me. Doan axe nuthin’, doan wan’ nothin’, jes hep. How come?”

“Beats me, Theotus,” Casey replied. “You’re too fucking ugly to live. I must have lost my mind.”

Theotus chuckled. “Anythin’ you evah need, you got. Anythin’ you evah wan’, you got. Any muthafuckah in dis joint mess wif you, got me all ovah his ass. You all right, Doc.”

Casey smiled up at the huge man. “Thanks, Theotus.”

“S’okay, Doc. Wanted you ta know.”

“This doesn’t mean we’re gonna be taking any long showers together, does it?”

Laughing, Theotus slapped Casey on the shoulder.

“Ah ain’ never gittin’ in no shower wif yo’ ass agin’.”

  

After breakfast, Casey was jumpy. When he realized that he was nervous about the possibility of Moira Flynn’s return for another chat, he clipped on his building pass and headed over to the hospital wing in the custodial services building to stay busy. It was Sunday and he had the day off, but he almost always stopped by for a while. On the way he passed through three check points, undergoing a cursory body search at the first two. He knew the guards, they knew him. Their greetings resembled pleasantries between co-workers. Not so at the third checkpoint. Tuesday through Sunday it was manned by Evans.

Evans was a guard because he liked the power and didn’t have enough ambition to do anything else. Manning the booth outside the custodial services building, Evans surveyed his own little kingdom through stereotypical mirrored sunglasses. He chomped five or six sticks of gum at a time because chewing tobacco made him sick at his stomach, twisted his straw hat in a western roll because it was cool, puffed himself up and wore two-inch lifts in his boots because he wasn’t a tall man, and spoke with a slow drawl even though he was originally from New Jersey.

“Well, lookie here,” he said, leering as Casey approached the booth. “If it ain’t ol’ Doc. Where ya goin’, Doc? Up ta take care of yer faggot friends?”

“On the way to the hospital, Evans.”

“Up there to that AIDS ward to check out all them buttfuckers you love so much?”

Casey unclipped his building pass and handed it over so Evans could run it through the reader.

“You a fudgepacker, Doc?” Evans asked. “You like wigglin’ your bean up some nigger’s poop chute?”

Casey looked at him, watching the throb of his carotid artery and easily smelling two day old sweat through Old Spice deodorant.

“Get on with it, Evans. You make me itch.”

The guard reddened. “Hands on the wall, feet back and spread ‘em wide, convict,” he spat, and shook Casey down, being excessively aggressive around the upper thighs and crotch. Casey endured in silence. When it was over, Evans handed the pass back.

“Go ahead on, Doc. Go see all them queers you got dyin’ up there.”

Casey smiled and let a little of what he kept behind his eyes show.

“Everybody dies, Evans,” he said. “Even you.”

The smile hit Evans like ice water. The guard shivered and goosebumps rose on his arms as he watched Casey walk toward the building.

“Motherfuckin’ faggot,” Evans muttered, his left hand groping deep in the pocket of his pants.

  

Casey did a rapid walk-through of the wards, killing time, putting in an appearance, saying hello, letting his charges know he was around, then stopped by the office to catch up on the medication charts. Doctor Lamb, the weekend resident, greeted him casually and went on about his business. It was after noon when Casey put the paperwork away, made his daily visit to the blood cooler and left the building, walking slowly back toward Evans’ check point.

“Hey, Doc!”

The shout came from behind him, and he turned to see Butler striding his way, carrying an M-16. He stopped and waited.

“Musta just missed ya in the ward,” Butler said. “Your visitor is back.”

“No shit?” Casey asked, feeling his heartbeat increase.

“No shit.”

“What’s with the rifle?”

“Aw, that lady kicked some major ass. I’m your official guard. You an’ her are gonna meet out by the south pond at them benches where you can have some privacy. I’m supposed to lay back a hundred yards or so an’ shoot ya if ya get fresh and pat her knee or somethin’.”

Casey laughed. “Let’s hope you don’t have to.”

“You got that right,” Butler said. “I can’t hit shit with one of these things.”

 

TWO

On the Move 

 

The south pond was a man-made depression of about a half-acre in size near the center of a large manicured lawn. Outside the fenced compound sections, but inside the chain link and concertina surrounded complex, it had been dozed from the earth and filled with well water as a concession to the softening of the prison’s image. A twisting gravel path meandered around its perimeter, flowerbeds lined its shores, cement and redwood benches graced its banks and, in August, mosquitoes rose in angry gray clouds and made anyone in the main parking lot fair game. Intended to be a lovely, uplifting sight, it was about as appealing as a supermarket parking lot. It was there that Casey met Moira Flynn the second time.

Wearing a white cotton man-tailored shirt, a light beige silk and wool blend skirt, hose and bone two-inch pumps, she was sitting on a bench holding a clipboard. Beside her was a large briefcase. On the gravel behind the bench sat a portable stereo. She watched Casey approach, occasionally shifting her gaze to Butler and his M-16 in the distance, and extended her hand.

“Mr. Casey,” she said. “Good of you to come.”

The sudden warmth of her touch made Casey glad he hadn’t tucked in his shirttail.

“Pretty day,” he said. “Nice to be outside.”

“Again, I would like to apologize for my naiveté relative to the insured privacy of our last meeting. I assure you, it was not my intention to mislead or deceive.”

“Be at ease,” Casey said. “It was intuitively obvious to the most casual of observers that you were not party to the ruse. I maintain complete confidence that you have exercised influence to ameliorate the circumstance relative to our current encounter. That is to say, I believe you have chewed some ass.”

She blinked at him and a grin chased the puzzlement from her face.

“I’m sorry. You’ve made your point. The past few years, I’ve worked in an environment where speech and communication are not necessarily the same thing. I’m afraid I have succumbed.”

“No shit?” Casey said.

They smiled at each other until Moira nervously pulled back from the intimacy.

“Well,” she said, “to put your mind at ease, I have swept our immediate area with a device I am assured would find any hidden microphones or recording machines. Have a seat.”

Casey leaned back at the far end of the six-foot bench.

“And the boom box?”

“Insurance against any parabolic devices directed at us from the prison.” She flipped a switch and classical music filled the air. “Plus, I am not recording our conversation.”

“I believe you.”

“So easily?”

“You have an honest face. Who are you, Miss Flynn, and what do you want from me?”

Her demeanor shifted a bit and she squared her shoulders.

“I,” she said, “am an investigator and analyst for an organization called the Proteus Trust. My function is the tracking of the AIDS virus and the interpretation of that data.”

“AIDS? I thought it was back burner stuff these days. Treat ‘em ‘til they die and move on.”

“Unfortunately, that’s nearly true. Since the massive Ebola outbreak, AIDS research has dwindled dramatically. In spite of what you may have read or heard at the time, the Ebola crisis claimed nearly six-hundred million lives world wide in less than eighteen months. I was with the World Health Organization during the outbreak. I spent time in Zaire, Bangladesh, and Somalia. It was horrible, devastation beyond description. The WHO threw all its resources at the problem. In only three years, it more than doubled in size and tripled in bureaucracy. Less and less went toward the problem, more and more toward sustaining the infrastructure. It was worse than the United Way charity debacle. I couldn’t tolerate the politics and the waste, so I left and joined the Proteus Trust.”

“And the Proteus Trust deals with AIDS?”

“Exclusively. It’s also financially independent. We have no need of public or federal funding. While we have many connections within the government and governmental agencies, we are autonomous. We have our own facilities, our own labs, our own investigators, our own agents, all privately funded. Our agenda is our agenda.”

 “So, what are your qualifications, if I may ask?”

“I am a doctor, an epidemiologist, to be exact. I spent several years in medical research, then moved into the investigational aspects of the work. I have a medical degree, a masters in statistical analysis, a PhD in epidemiology, and a brother who died of AIDS when I was twelve.”

“Ah,” Casey said. “The ultimate motivation.”

“Yes.”

“So, why me?”

She swiveled to face him. “Because you, Joseph Casey, are an anomaly.”

Casey felt a tiny thrill of fear trace its way up his spine.

“An anomaly?”

For the first time, she looked him directly in the eyes.

“And you know it, don’t you, Joseph?”

Casey shifted his gaze and felt his mouth go dry. He squinted past her into the sunlight and tried not to fidget.

“Lady,” he said, “I don’t know shit.”

Moira pressed the attack.

“Well then, let me inform you,” she said. “You work in the AIDS ward of the prison infirmary. You have worked there since shortly after you came to Macon almost eleven years ago. It seems that your ability as a healer has earned you the nickname ‘Doc’ among the population. The protocol for treating AIDS has changed very little in the past few years, yet, since you have been working with the patients, the survival time of the prison’s acute AIDS victims has increased by over sixty percent. I want to know what you do, Mr. Casey.”

He looked at her, cursing himself for agreeing to a second meeting.

“Here’s a piece of very old, very wise advice,” Casey said. “Why don’t you want in one hand and shit in the other? Then see which one gets full the quickest.”

She ignored his rudeness. “Furthermore,” Moira said, “about four years ago you took a patient, one Theotus Lark, outside in a wheelchair for some air. Mr. Lark, a known associate of yours, was terminal. By all estimations, he had only a few weeks, possibly even just a few days, left to live. While you were wheeling Mr. Lark in the yard, he was stung by a bee. In a few moments he began to go into seizure, followed by anaphylactic shock and cardiac arrest. You threw him to the ground and resuscitated him, mouth to mouth. Not only did he, with no other on-site treatment and in a severely weakened physical condition, survive the shock, two weeks later he was out of the AIDS ward and back in the general population, without any trace of the disease. I want to know what you did, Mr. Casey.”

Oh, Jesus. He’d known it was the wrong thing to try when he’d done it, but he just couldn’t stand there and watch the big man die.

“Ask Theotus,” Casey said.

“You know that’s not possible. You know he was stabbed in the yard a few months later by a man named Jesus Martinez, the same man who stabbed him some years before, and bled to death before help could reach him. Unless I miss my guess, you’ll be relieved to know that his family had the body cremated so it cannot even be exhumed for examination.”

“Sorry.”

“In addition to that,” she said, “birth records indicate Joseph Edward Casey was born in a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico on June second, nineteen sixty-two.”

Goosebumps rose on Casey’s arms. Aw shit.

“That’s true,” he said.

“Further investigation reveals that Joseph Edward Casey died in the hospital of his birth on June third, nineteen sixty-two. You seem to be remarkably healthy and large for a one day old infant that’s been dead for about half a century.”

“I watch what I eat,” he said.

“Also,” she said, fiddling with her clipboard and extracting two pieces of photographic paper, “here are your mug shots taken the day you arrived at Macon, and your updated mug shots taken just last year. I see no change in your physical appearance. None. You should be ten years older and yet you don’t appear to have aged a day. I want to know what you are, Mr. Casey.”

“Just your all-American boy, gone bad,” he said.

“Bullshit. Look, I’m not trying to expose anything. I’m not looking for new material so I can get published again. I have no desire to spread your secrets, whatever they are.” Moira looked at him and shook her head. “Goddammit Casey, you are an enigma. You are more than an enigma. In the entire time you’ve been here, working with critical cases of an infectious disease, you’ve never even had a cold. You’ve never seen a dentist, never had an abnormal physical, never broken a bone, never chipped a nail. With no change in treatment protocol, people you care for live over four years longer than the national statistical norm, while receiving treatment significantly below the standards of most medical facilities. You were born and died one day apart, and yet here you are!”

Casey leaned back against the bench, crossed his legs, and smiled.

“And you, Miss Flynn. Exactly what are you? Some kinda cop?”

“I am an investigator, a damn good one,” Moira said. “ I have tremendous sources for data at my disposal and I am well connected in the intelligence community. I look for patterns, and when something disrupts them, I get curious. I’m curious about you.”

Her tone softened.

“Look, I have resources, Mr. Casey, resources that can accomplish a great deal. I also know how to keep secrets. I want to know about you, why you don’t get ill, why your patients live longer, why Mr. Lark recovered, why you don’t age, and why you were only one day old at the time of your death clear back in 1962. I have passed none of this information over to the authorities, nor will I. It is not my desire to coerce you into complicity, but to motivate you into cooperation. Your secrets are safe with me whether you help me or not.”

She leaned back, just a bit out of breath.

Casey knew she meant it. He looked at her.

“Lady, believe me,” he said, shaking his head, “you don’t wanna know my secrets.”

“Yes, I do. I’m totally sincere.”

He chuckled. “Oh, I know that. You may or may not be telling me the entire truth, but you are definitely not lying.”

He removed a pack of Camels from his pocket and lit one with book matches.

“Relax a little,” he said, offering her the pack and stalling for some time to think.

She removed a Virginia Slim from her purse. They sat in silence for a moment or two.

“How did you know I smoke?” she said. “Better yet, how did you know I needed a cigarette?”

“The same way I know you’re telling the truth when you say you’re good at keeping secrets.”

“How’s that?”

“You’ll keep my secrets?” he said, testing the water with his toe.

“Absolutely.”

Casey stared at the ground for a few seconds, then sighed.

“All right, Miss Flynn. All right. I’ll give you a little secret to keep. I smell you.”

Moira blinked. “You smell me?”

“Yep.”

“Oh. The odor of smoke on my clothes. Very good, especially outside like this.”

What the hell. He was going to have to leave the prison now anyway.

“Lady, I know you use mint-flavored tooth paste, I know you ate an Altoid when you saw me walking across the lawn, I know your make-up is corn starch based, I know you’re just getting over a cold, I know you had meat and dairy products in your most recent meal, and I know that you just finished your period.”

Stunned, she looked at him, flushing slightly with the intimacy of his last bit of information. Angry with himself for exposing so much and unable to curb his recklessness, Casey pressed on.

“I also see you, Miss Flynn. I know that you’re wearing contact lenses, you’ve had corrective surgery on your nose, you use a rinse to slow down the arrival of a few gray hairs on your right, sorry, left temple, that your watch is a few minutes fast, that the star sapphire in your pinky ring is real, not man-made, and that the nail on the ring finger of your right hand is false.”

She sagged and gaped at him.

“Jesus.”

“Those are a couple of my tiny secrets, Lady. The big ones would scare the panties off you. Your panties, by the way, are cotton.”

He finished his cigarette and flipped the butt into the pond while she stared. Hers burned out between her fingers. Eventually she noticed, lit another, and peered at him.

“That’s amazing!” she said.

“Just part of my charm. Nothing the average owl and dog couldn’t do.”

She took a breath. “How can you do that?”

“That’s one of the big secrets.”

“I want to know.”

“Fat chance.”

“Mr. Casey. Joseph. This is all tied into everything else I have learned. You have a tremendous opportunity here! What you know, what you are, is astounding! With your assistance, so much could be learned. Please consider what we might accomplish!”

She was losing him.

“I’m not a lab rat.”

“I know that. That is not a factor.”

“Not to you maybe, but a lot of other people in your line of work would love to get a hold of someone like me.”

“Someone like you? There are other people with your abilities?”

Casey cursed himself for the slip.

“I have enjoyed our little chat, Miss Flynn,” he said, rising to his feet, “but it is over. You do not want to get involved with me, anymore than I need to get involved with you.”

“Mr. Casey, I assure you–”

“You can’t assure me of anything, Miss Flynn. There are no assurances. There are only promises, and promises are dust in the wind.”

“But, your ability to help others, your healing skills, the things you won’t tell me about. Surely these are things that could be of great benefit to mankind!”

“You are an attractive, dedicated, bright, committed woman, Miss Flynn. That’s why I will put this to you in the most gentle of terms,” Casey said, backing away from her. “Fuck mankind.”

She watched him walk slowly back toward the detention area.

“I’ll keep your secrets, Casey,” she murmured. “But I’m not done with you yet.”

Unable to resist, from fifty yards away he stopped and turned.

“Thank you,” he said, raising his voice so she could hear him. “And yes, you are.”

“You heard that?”

Casey grinned, the distance between them restoring his edge.

“The panties?” he said. “Cotton was a guess. For all I know, you aren’t wearing any.”

 

 

Butler escorted him back to the yard. Casey knocked around there for a while, then returned to his cell and tried to relax on the bottom bunk. Jesus. The days were catching up with him and the situation, too. The years he’d spent at Macon had been relatively enjoyable actually. Regular meals, place to sleep, work to do, time to pass, the blood bank. The endless sameness of days stretching out before him given shape and meaning by his routine. Now this. Dammit. Moira Flynn had shattered his reverie. It had to happen. For some time, in the back of his mind, he’d realized that he was going to have to alter things. The battle with the years had become an annoyance, now that he was living among humans. He knew he’d have to change locations and relationships every ten years or so to keep his secrets and not give himself away. But Moira Flynn had introduced an element he hadn’t given much thought. Even the tightly knit, closed-mouth, security of the prison had been breached. If she could find him and recognize the discrepancies, so could somebody else. Somebody who wouldn’t keep secrets, somebody who wanted recognition or fame, somebody who could be a real threat. Moira, with all her good intentions, was threat enough. She wouldn’t give up. That was one determined lady and she was determined to find out about him. Christ. He had to do something, and he had to do it very soon.

“Doc?”

He opened his eyes and came back. Butler stood in the doorway of the open cell.

“What? You wanna follow me around with a gun some more?”

“That was fun, huh? I kept wondering what the hell I’d do if that gal attacked you. Shoot her in the foot, I guess. Nice lookin’.”

“Very attractive. You just stop by for a visit, Butler, or is there a purpose to this harassment?”

“You are the most ungrateful sumbitch on the whole block, you crotchety old bastard. That lady left you this.”

 Butler lifted a business card out of his jacket pocket and tossed it on the floor.

 “Said that if you changed your mind, here’s where she was and here’s where she worked. Feel free to call. Like you’d get any phone privileges from me, you grouch.”

“Kiss my ass, Butler.”

“Eat my shorts, Doc.”

 

 

After Butler left, Casey looked at the card. Proteus Trust, Chicago, Atlanta, and Dallas. Her name, one phone number. The back of the card contained a message.

 

Mr. Casey, I’ll be at the South Oak Inn, on Clayton Blvd through 8am tomorrow.

Change your mind.

Room 334, 317-951-9514.

Moira

 

He flushed the card down the toilet and lay back on the bunk to think. It was time to move on, no doubt about that. Move on where? Other than his daughter, he had no family and he hadn’t seen Catherine in years. He had no idea where she was. Once it had been his mission to find her, but in the years since he’d dried out, he’d given up any thought of trying. She hadn’t wanted anything to do with him years ago, she certainly wouldn’t want to see him again now. Besides, he had no idea how to go about locating the girl. She could be literally anywhere on the planet.

In addition to that, he had no place to go, no money to get there, no plans, not even any hopes. He had no I.D., no birth certificate, no driver’s license, no credit cards. He, for all intents and purposes, did not exist outside the prison. Casey ran his fingers through his hair and got to his feet. He was the man who wasn’t there, and he hadn’t been there for a long, long time.

Stepping out onto the catwalk, Casey sighted Butler at the far end and walked to his location.

The guard smiled. “’Sup, Doc?”

“I need to use the phone, Butler.”

“You got a call pass, Doc?”

“Nope. Never made a call before.”

“Fixin’ to talk to that green-eyed gal?”

“Gonna ask her over for dinner.”

“Doan blame ya. Far be it from me to stand in the way of true love. Get some change. It’s long distance to Indianapolis.”

“Don’t have any,” Casey said.

“Christ,” Butler said, reaching in his pocket. “Here. Use my cell phone, for God’s sake.”

“Show me how,” Casey said. “I’ve never made a call on one.”

“What? Where the hell you been for the last twenty years, the fuckin’ jungle?”

“More or less,” Casey said. “This call’s important, Butler. Whatdaya say?”

“I say we go back to your place, I’ll show ya how to use it, and give ya ten minutes. No point in lettin’ every con in the joint see what’s going on.”

“My hero.”

“You owe me, Doc. Big time.”

 

 

“Moira Flynn.” Her voice sounded deep and rich, even over the phone.

“Joseph Casey, Miss Flynn.”

“Mr. Casey, you called.”

“Surprised?”

“Yes, I am, actually. I thought I’d have to badger you several more times. You’ve decided to help?”

“Possibly. First there are some things I’d like to know.”

“Certainly.”

“You said that you specialized in information.”

“More or less.”

“You have access to ways to find out things?”

“What kind of things?”

“Locating a missing person, for instance.”

“My company has a huge database. In addition to that I have contacts within several governmental and police agencies. Information is my business.”

“Can I assume you have access to medical facilities?”

“From hamsters to humans, gerbils to gorillas. Who are you looking for?”

“Nobody at the moment,” Casey said. “Are you telling the truth?”

“Of course, unless I’m lying about it. Are we in business?”

“Possibly.”

“When can I see you again, Mr. Casey?”

“I’m not sure,” Casey said. “I’ll let you know.”

“You’ll let me know? What do you mean, you’ll let me know?”

“Don’t call me, Moira,” Casey said. “I’ll call you.”

“Wait a minute, Buster. I wanna know wha–”

He pushed the button Butler had shown him, and the phone disconnected. 

 

Casey stayed on the bunk for nearly another two hours, trying to not be excessively impulsive about the course he’d already decided to take. He’d need clothes, at least a little money, and some heavy-duty nourishment to get himself out and on the road. It was time to leave Macon behind. Reaching up into the slit on the underside of his mattress, he pulled out the shank that he’d kept hidden for over five years. It was made from a fork, the two center tines missing, the outside tines sharpened to ice pick points. He slid it into his left shoe along the right side of his foot, the handle flat alongside his heel, the tines curving around the ball, stood up, and walked out of the cell. At the end of the catwalk he encountered Butler.

“Where you off to, Doc?”

“Back to the infirmary. I forgot to list a couple of med charts. Only take about an hour or so.”

“Sure you’re not just goin’ to pay Evans a visit?”

“I can do without Evans.”

“Hell, I’ll walk you over so you don’t have to deal with the motherfucker. Just be back by lockdown.”

“Thanks, Butler.” 

 

Once inside the building Casey went directly to the small civilian lounge and locker room and turned the doorknob in spite of the lock. Going through the lockers, he found a pair of brown slacks and a red sport shirt that fit reasonably well and a light blue windbreaker that was a bit too large. He wrapped the pants and shirt inside the jacket and hustled down to the supply room. Next he took several minutes to trim his hair with surgical scissors, getting it up off his collar and ears. He went through the personal belongings lockers and lifted over sixty dollars in cash, put the money and the clothes in a pillowcase, sat on a box of paper towels and thought about Moira Flynn as he waited for dusk.

It was a little after eight when Casey left the building, pillowcase in hand, and sauntered to the first checkpoint. He could see Evans inside the booth and bent over to tie his shoe, palming the shank as he stood up.

“Well, well, well, if it ain’t the good doctor,” Evans said. “Gittin’ close to lockdown, Doc. What you doin’ out this late? Tryin’ ta git a little before bedtime?”

“No. Thought I’d just drop by, kill you, and leave. Gotta problem with that?”

“What’s in the fuckin’ bag, convict?”

“The clothes I’m gonna wear when I go. I can’t wear these, they’ll have blood on them. Yours.”

“That’s it, you faggot sumbitch! Hands against the wall, feet back and spread ‘em. Assume the position, asshole!”

“I don’t think so, Evans.”

“What?” Evans bellowed, his eyes registering uncertainty as he reached for his baton.

Dropping his pillowcase, Casey easily caught the guard’s wrist and dislocated his elbow. The scream was stifled in his mouth as Casey clamped his left hand around Evans’ face and squeezed. The man had never felt anything like it. The pressure was mechanical, as if his face were in a vice, an unrelenting, brittle force that he could not even struggle against. He could feel his jawbone flex under the pressure. The pain was so immense he stood frozen, unable to move.

Casey looked into the sweating face and rolling eyes and smiled.

“All these years you pushed people around to get your jollies, abused people for the fun of it, made everybody’s life as miserable as possible so yours wouldn’t seem so bad. See this?” he held up the shank. “Evans, my boy, I’m gonna slip this into your common carotid and bleed you out a little.”

Tears were streaming down the guard’s face, but the terrible pressure on his jaw held him immobile.

“You see,” Casey said, “all this time you thought you were at the top of the food chain, you were wrong. To a real predator, you’re nothing more than an after dinner snack.”

Casey pushed the shank slowly in until he felt the carotid wall pop. He then dropped the weapon to the floor, placed his mouth over the wounds and began to suck. The guard’s pounding heart made the process easier and, in only moments, Casey had swallowed nearly two pints.

The blood hit his system like a hammer of light, surging white-hot through his belly and veins. Jesus Christ! It had been years since he’d last fed, years since he’d felt the rush. Nothing was like this, no drug, no potion, no fantasy even came near what he felt. Power gushed through bone, muscle, and tendon. He felt Evans’ jaw snap in his hand and pulled away from the wound, panting with excitement. The guard’s eyes rolled in his head above the dangling jaw and Casey held him upright by the throat. Blood seeped from the holes, swelling Evan’s neck as it saturated the tissue. Casey looked at him.

“It’s over, sweetcakes,” he grinned around bloody teeth. “See ya in hell.”

He pulled Evans toward him six inches, then pushed him away the same distance so quickly, so violently, the guard’s neck snapped from the whiplash effect. Electric with power, Casey ripped the prison clothing from his body, wadded it up in a ball and screamed with joy, pressing the bundle into his face to stifle the noise. He urinated on the guard’s body to rid himself of excess moisture and forced control back into his actions. Slipping into the stolen clothing and jacket, he put the cash he’d ripped off in a front pocket. From Evans he removed another twenty-six dollars, ignoring the man’s baton, handcuffs and pepper spray.

It was nearly full dark. Casey stepped out of the checkpoint shack and looked toward the fence over two hundred yards away, visible from two guard towers. He could see each diamond of chain link. Shit. Even if they saw him, they wouldn’t know what he was. Nothing in their experience could move that fast. In less than five seconds he was at the fence. Sixteen feet was nothing. He sailed over both of them and the twenty yards between them, laughing as he did. A quarter mile to the highway. In nine seconds flat, he was crouched by the road, his jacket with a broken zipper from the air resistance to his speed, and looking for his ride,.

It wasn’t long before a pick-up truck towing a large gooseneck camping trailer came lumbering down the road at about sixty miles an hour, no vehicles close behind it. Perfect. As it went by his position, Casey gave chase, leapt to the top and grabbed the air-conditioner unit. No one inside to hear him land, no one behind to see him jump. Forty miles to Indianapolis. He could have made it faster on foot, but why waste the energy? Besides, it felt really good to lay back and let the miles slide by.

He left the trailer on the outskirts of the city and went to a 7-11 to ask for directions. Blind luck. The motel was less than a mile away. He bought two Hershey bars for the sugar, thanked the clerk, and headed out on foot, walking slowly so as not to attract attention to himself. 

 

The South Oak Inn was an upscale, three story motor hotel, as they liked to call themselves. He arrived about midnight and stood at the side door, fumbling in his pocket as if for keys until an obliging tenant, on the way out, let him in. 334 was at the rear corner of the top floor, with a card keyed door lock. He walked to the front desk. The little girl behind the counter looked at him. He could see the pulse in her throat throb.

“Hi,” she said. “Help you?”

“Yes,” he said, lisping slightly. “My friend has cut his thumb on a shard of glass. It’s not serious, but he’s so afraid of scarring. I can’t get him to go to the hospital and really he doesn’t need to. I was wondering if you have a first aid kit? I can just butterfly his thumb and wrap it in gauze, if you do. He’ll feel so much better if he has some sort of nasty old bandage, and I’ll feel better if he’ll just settle down and let me go to sleep.”

“Well, I’m not supposed to provide guests with any sort of medical supplies.”

“Of course you’re not, darling. But you do have the opportunity to help a guest get some peace of mind, and another to get some rest, for gosh sake. He’s such a baby. Last year he ran a toothpick under his thumbnail about a thirty-second of an inch, and he screamed as if he’d been impaled upon a lance! Carried on for hours and bitched for days. Please help us. Please, please, please?”

“Well, we do have a kit.”

“Well aren’t you just a precious angel of mercy. That shade of blue eye shadow really isn’t your color, you know. Go a little darker in value and you will be absolutely stunning.”

“Just a minute,” she giggled, and turned toward the back.

Before she made the three steps to the door, Casey was over the counter and in the drawer. She passed through the doorway as he found a duplicate card for Moira’s room and returned to his starting position.

“Never mind, darling,” he warbled. She stopped and turned. “I could never forgive myself if I were to put your job in danger. I’ll just run to the drug store and get something. There’s one just down the street, isn’t there?”

“About two blocks.”

“Wonderful. I’ll just check on Marc and tell him where I’m going and be off and back in a flash.”

“Okay. What room are you in?”

“Four-fifteen,” Casey replied, heading up the stairs. By the time the young woman realized there was no four-fifteen, Casey was in Moira’s suite, reclining on her couch, and grinning at the ceiling. Her scent cobwebbed the room with its intensity. He couldn’t wait to see what she looked like in the early morning.

 

 

THREE

Introduction to a Vampire

 

At around 4 a.m., Moira walked out of the bedroom and into the bath. Sleepy, she didn’t notice Casey on the couch. He lay quietly until he heard her use the john. Before she could flush, he spoke up.

“Good morning.”

A strangled shriek issued from the bathroom and the door slammed, the lock rattling vigorously.

Casey laughed. “Don’t panic,” he said. “You’re in no danger. You might want to put on a towel or something before you come out. I’ve been in prison a long time. I could forget my manners.”

“Casey?” she said, her voice muffled by the door.

“That would be me.”

“Casey?”

“Right again.”

“What the hell are you doing here? How did you get in my room? Why aren’t you in prison?”

“Need something to put on?”

“You scared me half to death!”

“I’m a scary guy,” he said, smelling her adrenalin sweat. “Need something to put on?”

“You’re supposed to be locked up. How’d you get loose?”

“I don’t like talking through doors. If you’d like to come out, may I bring you clothing of some type?”

“Ah, there are some sweats on the chair in the bedroom.”

Casey collected the clothes and stood outside the bath. “Here you go.”

She took the pants and shirt through the slightly opened door. In five minutes, her hair partially brushed, she walked out into the living area and looked at him. Casey sat at a small table. He’d turned on a light.

“You have some explaining to do,” Moira said. “Lemme start the coffee pot and get some shoes.” She walked into the bedroom. When she came out, she was holding a handgun.

“You stay right in that fucking chair, Goddammit,” she growled, pointing the gun at Casey, “and don’t you move a muscle.”

Never taking her eyes off him, she backed toward the room phone.

“You don’t have to call the cops,” Casey said. “They’re probably on the way here already.” He glanced at the pistol. “When I smelled the gun oil, I expected a nine. That’s a .45.”

“If I wanna shoot poodles, I use a nine,” she said. “If I may have to shoot people, I use a .45.”

“Para-Ordnance. Nice gun.”

“It works,” she said, reaching for the phone.

“No calls, please,” Casey said.

“Shut up and don’t move,” she said, lifting the receiver. Casey moved.

He covered the eighteen feet to where she stood in less than a quarter of a second. In the next quarter second he removed the cord from the back of the phone and grabbed the pistol with his thumb against the hammer, so it couldn’t accidentally discharge. He grasped Moira lightly by the back of the neck and locked eyes with her, face to face, from a distance of three inches.

“Don’t be brave,” he whispered. “It won’t help.”

She passed out. 

 

When she came back, Moira was lying on the couch and Casey was wiping her face with a wet washcloth.

“Hello,” he said. “How ya been?”

“You’re not a dream,” she stated.

“Nope. Nice of you to think so, though. You okay?”

“This is all real.”

“So far. Can you sit up?”

He eased her to a sitting position. She put her elbows on her knees and leaned into her hands.

“How’d you get in here?”

He peeled back the paper on a Hershey bar and handed it to her. “Eat that. Your blood sugar is shot. It’ll keep ya going ‘til we can get you some real food.”

“How’d you get out of prison? What in the hell is all this? What in the hell are you?”

Moira looked at him, tears gathering in the bottom of her eyes, a bit of chocolate clinging to her lip.

“Okay,” he said. “Here’s the deal. I don’t have time to be nice, I don’t have time for long explanations. You’re in or you’re out. You wanted to know my secrets? For a price, I’ll let you in on them, some of ‘em at least, but only on my terms. I’ll let you test me, examine me, learn what you can from me. Just to whet your scientific appetite; I don’t get colds, I don’t get ill, I can’t get AIDS, my teeth don’t decay, and I was forty-two years old long before your great-great-grandfather was born.”

Moira looked at him for a moment, then swallowed.

“You’re serious.”

“Lady, I am the most serious sonofabitch you ever met.”

“God.”

Resisting the urge to comfort her, Casey went on.

“What I need from you is a yes or a no to the deal. If you say no, I’m gone. When the cops show up, you can tell them anything you want. They won’t believe you anyway. If you say yes, then you are in it. You are in it all the way. If you ever attempt to give me up or betray me, I’ll be gone and you’ll be dead.”

Moira fell back into the couch. “You’re not kidding, are you?”

“Not one little bit.”

“Okay,” she said, running a hand through her hair and regaining some composure. “We know some of what’s in it for me. What’s in it for you, Casey?”

“Company, cover, a little security, and–”

“And? C’mon,” she said, turning to face him. “Don’t stop now. What else?”

He looked past her for a few seconds, pleased by the courage behind her quick recovery, then caught her eyes.

“I want you to help me find my daughter.”

“Your daughter?”

“You said you’ve got all these contacts, all this information. I don’t know a thing about computers or anybody, except you, who does. Let’s just say that you move in circles that I can’t. I need your help, you need my help. Quid pro quo.”

“A trade?”

“A trade. Deal?”

“Maybe,” Moira said. “How old is she?”

“Fourteen.”

“Where’d you see her last?”

“Chicago.”

“When?”

“1852.”

Moira leaned back on the couch and stared at Casey.

“You’re nuts,” she said.

“Nope.”

“Certifiably ga-ga.”

“Not me,” he said.

“Then I am.”

“Wrong again. I am not what I appear to be, and neither is my daughter. Where’s your purse?”

“On the table.”

Casey rummaged in her bag for a moment and retrieved a metal nail file.

“Watch carefully,” he said, and plunged the file into his left forearm.

“Casey, Jesus!” Moira cried, sitting up.

Casey withdrew the file and held out his arm. In a matter of just seconds, the wound closed and disappeared.

“My God,” Moira gasped.

“That’s the tip of my iceberg, Miss Flynn.”

“I’m in,” she said.

“Just like that?”

“Just like that.”

“Good. I hope you won’t regret it.”

She smiled. “I don’t have many regrets. What’s all this about the police?”

“I talked to you today, Butler brought me your card with this motel written on it, I left the prison. You’re the best lead they have. I’m surprised they haven’t shown up already.”

“I’ll just tell them I haven’t seen you, I don’t know where you are, you told me to leave you alone.”

“You’re harboring an escaped convicted murderer, Miss Flynn,” Casey said. “That’s a class A felony. You wouldn’t like prison.”

“Probably not.”

“Plus, I killed a guard when I left Macon.”

“What?”

“Graveyard dead. I did it on purpose with malice and forethought. He deserved to die, and I needed his life more than he did.”

She studied his face. “You don’t seem overly remorseful.”

“I’m not. Now, here comes a big secret. It’s the only one you get for nothing. You, by you I mean homo sapiens, you don’t quite measure up to people like me.”

“People like you?”

“People like me.”

Her eyes flashed. “Then, there are more of you.”

“Yes. While I am unique in your experience, I am not unique in my own.”

“And you can do things the rest of us can’t.”

“Like you can’t believe. Most of my kind consider your kind to be little more than cattle.”

“Cattle?” she said, and Casey could see her pupils dilate with anger. “You mean like some kind of slow-witted herd?”

“No, Miss Flynn. I mean like livestock. To the Nosferati, you are little more than food and recreation.”

“What?”

“Prey, if you will.”

She shuddered and wrapped her arms about herself.

“That’s horrible!”

“It is if you’re one of the cows,” Casey said. “The cops are here, by the way.”

There was a sharp knock on the door. Moira jumped.

“Do whatever you think is best,” Casey whispered. “You can still back out. Last chance.”

“Who is it?” she shouted at the door.

“Police, Ma’am. Open up please.”

“Just a minute. I’ve got to put something on.” She turned back to Casey.

He was gone. 

 

After the two policemen left, Moira sat on the couch for a while. They seemed to have believed her story. Casey didn’t want anything to do with her. He told her to leave him alone. She’d had no contact with him. He had not called again, he had not come by. How would she know where he was? If the prison couldn’t keep track of their inmates, it wasn’t her problem. She was leaving in the morning, driving back to Chicago. It had been a wasted trip. She’d talked to him about the survival rate of AIDS patients at Macon. Tracking AIDS data was her profession. Of course, she appreciated their concern for her safety. Yes, she was grateful they stopped by. Certainly she’d be careful. This whole episode would get her started sooner than she’d planned. Just a quick shower and she’d be on her way. Once she was on the road, she’d be out of their hair and Casey’s range.

 She ate the last half of the Hershey bar, walked out on the balcony, and stared at the other wing of the motel. A blur appeared over the railing and flashed by her. She turned to see Casey sitting on the couch.

“Dammit,” she blurted. “Stop that!”

He grinned at her as she walked into the room.

“In another day or so. Pretty soon I won’t be able to do it. Good job with the cops, by the way.”

“I told them–”

“I know what you told them. I was listening.”

“From where?”

“The roof of the next building.”

He pulled her .45 from the waistband of his slacks and held it out to her.

“Here. I took this with me when I left in case they shook the place down. Don’t want you to get in trouble.”

She accepted the gun. “At least they’re gone,” Moira said, checking the chamber for a live round.

“Silly girl,” he said. “They have six men in three unmarked cars triangulated on the parking lot. It’ll be getting light soon. Forget the quick shower. Get dressed and we’ll hit the road.”

“We? You just said they were watching.”

“Get dressed. Everything’s fine.” 

 

In keeping with Casey’s instructions, Moira pulled her car under the office overhang, put her two bags on a cart, and wheeled them out to the Taurus. She opened the rear passenger door, then put her luggage in the trunk. Walking back by the open door, she closed it and noticed Casey grinning at her from the rear floor. She bit her lip to keep from grinning back. Twenty minutes later she was westbound on I-74 and Casey was in the front seat. They had yet to speak, and she attempted to digest what had happened. When Moira lit a cigarette, Casey knew she was ready to talk. He lit one of his own and partially turned to face her.

“So?” he said.

“So, what are you, some kinda superhero?”

“Superhero?”

“Yeah. You came over that railing like Spiderman or somebody.”

Casey grinned. “No superhero. I’m what is often called a Nosferati.”

“Nosferati? What does that mean, like Nosferatu?”

“Just like that.”

“Vampires? You’re telling me that you’re a vampire?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”

“Bed rest,” Moira muttered, trying to keep her eyes on the road. “Lots of bed rest, extensive therapy, warm baths, long walks, maybe a puppy to play with a little while every day. You are fruitier than a nutcake.” She took a long drag on her Virginia Slim. “Vampire my ass.”

“Take it easy, Miss Flynn–”

“Stop calling me that!” Moira shouted, waving her cigarette dangerously close to the headliner. “I just lied to the cops for you, smuggled you out of a city where they’d just as soon shoot you as look at you, and now I’m aiding and abetting your escape. Thanks to you, I am a fleeing felon. This fleeing felon’s name is Moira. Call me by my fucking name!”

“Moira,” Casey said quietly, “you’re driving over ninety miles an hour. We don’t need to be stopped by some highway cop. Slow down. Be calm. We just passed a rest area sign. Pull in and let’s talk.”

She almost missed the exit, braking violently at the last minute, shooting up the ramp way too fast. She slid into a space in the nearly empty pet-walking section of the parking area and slammed the front tires violently into the concrete retainer. The car rocked on its springs. Moira stared blankly at the dashboard and trembled.

“Jesus Christ,” she muttered. “Vampires? Gimme a break.”

“I need one too,” Casey said, opening his door. “C’mon. Grab your purse and let’s take a stroll before somebody pulls in to walk their dog.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Dogs, as a rule, don’t like me.”

“And I do?” Moira said.

Casey chuckled. “C’mon. You need movement.”

“Stop tellin me what I need and what I should do!” She stabbed the dead cigarette into the ashtray. “And for God’s sake, don’t tell me there are vampires. That’s bullshit. There are no such things as vampires. No tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny, no Santa Claus, no Great Pumpkin, no Loch Ness Monster, no…no…no fucking Bigfoot, okay?”

She was pounding on the steering wheel, with tears in the corners of her eyes. She turned to him. “There are no fucking vampires, goddammit. There are no fucking vampires!”

Moira sagged back in the seat, head down, her arms dropping to her sides. She sat that way for a moment, sniffing, then glanced sideways at Casey.

“Are there?” she whispered.

“I’m gonna walk around for a while,” he said. “Wanna join me?”

“Why the hell not?” she said, and blew her nose into a Kleenex. “I’ve come this far.” 

 

They walked slowly to the concession area, and Casey got her a cup of black coffee from a machine. He then purchased a can of orange juice, two packages of cashews, and some Hostess cupcakes. He led her to a picnic table, and they sat down.

“When you’ve finished all that stuff,” he said, “I’ll get you some bottled water and we can drive on ‘til we find a restaurant.”

Moira opened the cupcakes with trembling fingers.

“So, tell me, Casey,” she said. “You a vampire, big guy?”

“Depends on who you ask,” he said. “We, my kind, owe a real debt to Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Bela Lugosi, Gary Oldman, Wesley Snipes, and all the others who have perpetuated the myth over the years. I have no fangs, I don’t sleep in a box, I love garlic, I use a mirror from time to time, and, as you can see, I have a tan.”

“What about crucifixes? Scared of those?”

“Another myth, presented to ignorant masses by religion to help maintain control through fear.”

“This is just too weird,” Moira said. “You actually believe that you’re a vampire?”

“You’re missing the point. I actually am a vampire.”

“Okay,” she said, fingering the filling out of the center of a Hostess cupcake. “I’ll play along. Stake through your heart kill you?”

“It might, if you could find somebody good enough to put it there.”

“Can you come into my house if I don’t invite you?”

“I already did.”

“Oh, yeah. The motel room. Can you change yourself into a bat?”

“No, but I can walk down the street and turn into a bar.”

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen,” Moira snorted. “Isn’t he wonderful? Count Dracula will be here all week. Be sure and catch tomorrow night’s show with special guest, The Mummy.”

She finished her cupcakes in silence. Casey waited patiently. Finally she turned to him.

“You gotta have blood?”

“Yep.”

“Really?”

“Really. That’s why I worked in the hospital. Lots of blood. I’d syringe ten or twenty cc’s out of a fresh bag every day. Nobody noticed, nobody got hurt. Good deal all around. Drink your orange juice and eat some nuts. Make you big and strong.”

“And what can I get for you, sir?” she said. “A pancreas? Some nice liver? A spleen or two?”

“That’s enough.”

“A warm glass of AB negative?”

“Stop it.”

“You wanna straw with that, or just straight from the neck?”

“Stop it.”

“How ‘bout a snack?” Moira spat. “I found a four-year-old wandering in the parking lot who looks plump.”

“I said stop it!”

“Fuck you, Casey, and the broom you rode in on!” she snarled.

He looked at her, and something flickered behind his eyes that instantly brought goose flesh to Moira’s arms and neck.

“Got a chill, little human?” he hissed. A sparrow before his cobra, she froze. “You pompous, judgmental, narrow-minded, ignorant cunt. For centuries I’ve watched you good God-fearing fools kill and rape and burn and sacrifice your own kind on a hundred battlefields. In a thousand alleys I’ve seen you use each other for selfish purpose and then just walk away. Your religion has killed untold millions, your patriotism equally as many. Your kind, Miss Flynn, kills for land or money. Your kind kills for hate or jealousy. Your kind kills for God or Allah. Your kind kills for poison to pump into your own fucking veins. Your kind has blood on your collective hands so rank, fetid, and congealed, that no amount of washing could ever remove it, and you call me names because I have a drop or two on my chin? You kill more people every day in family disputes than I could slay in a hundred years with a thousand swords. You drop bombs, you fire missiles, you drink your blood from miles away by pushing a button. You commit unspeakable acts against your fellows and even beseech God to help you, and you judge me?”

Casey got to his feet and began to pace.

“I’ll tell you who we are, little human Moira. We are the thing that goes bump in the night. We are the tickle on the back of your neck when there is no breeze. We are the gurgle at the bottom of a well, the new creak in an old house, the bare branches scraping against the bedroom window at night. We are the unexplained disappearance, the empty bed, the shadow in the corner of your eye, the empty chair that rocks.”

He paused long enough to smile at her. Moira’s head spun.

“We are what makes the lonely dog bark and what makes the alley cat hiss. We are the snapping twig in the dark. We are what roams outside the circle of firelight. We live in the closet, we lurk under the bed. We are the werewolf, the shape shifter, the zombie, the evil spirit, the moan in the woods and the cry on the wind. We are your worst nightmare, and we may just be your salvation. We are the wolves to your buffalo. Be goddammed careful you don’t come up lame!”

He was looking down at her. Energy crackled and sung around him like leaves in a whirlwind. Weak and fighting to breathe, Moira watched him sit down. During the entire tirade he had not raised his voice, but her ears ached and rang. She clutched at the edge of the table and waited for the world to right itself. After some time, she licked her trembling lips and spoke.

“Jesus Christ,” she said.

Casey smiled. “Drink your orange juice, Miss Flynn,” he said. “It’s good for you.”

 


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