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Bad Moon Rising
By Jonathan Maberry
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Maberry
All rights reserved.
Malcolm Crow wanted to kill someone. He wanted to take a gun, a knife, his hands ... and murder someone. He wanted it to hurt, and he wanted it to last. He wanted to run up and down the hospital hallways and find someone who needed killing, some black-hearted bastard whose death would mark the line between the way things were and the way they used to be. Or should be.
Waiting was excruciating. It had been hours since he'd ridden with his fiancée Val in the ambulance to Pinelands Hospital and then watched the ER team take her away. He'd tried to bully his way in so that he could be with her while they checked to see how badly she'd been hurt — Val and the tiny baby just starting to grow inside of her. Their baby. Crow had tried to stay by her side, but the doctors had been insistent, telling him that he needed to leave, needed to let them work. Yeah, well ... what he really wanted was a villain he could find and hurt. He needed to have a big summer blockbuster ending to this madness, with explosions, CGI effects, a big body count, and the sun shining on the good guys as the bad guys lay scattered around them. Defeated, once and for all. That's what he needed, and he needed it bad.
A snowball had a better chance of making it through August in Hell.
The voice in his head was giving him a badass sneer and telling him he'd come too late to this dogfight. It was all over and if the good guys won, it had nothing to do with him. Not in this latest round. He stood looking at his reflection in the darkened window, seeing a small man, barely five-seven, slim, with a scuffle of black hair. He knew he was tougher than he looked, but toughness hadn't been enough to get him to Val's side in time to help her. To his eyes he just looked as weak as he felt.
Karl Ruger was already dead — okay, to be fair Crow had killed him two weeks ago, right in this very hospital, but that was yesterday's news. Kenneth Boyd was dead, too, but Crow had no hand in that, though he wished he could fly counterclockwise around the world like Superman and roll time back to last night so he could change the way things happened. It would have been so much better if he had been the one to face Boyd down there at the Guthrie farm. Him ... rather than Val.
It was crazy. Ruger was supposed to be the stone killer, not Boyd — his crooked but relatively harmless chum. But after Ruger died Boyd suddenly steps up and takes a shot at being Sick Psycho of the Year by killing two local cops at Val's farm, breaking into the hospital to steal Ruger's corpse from the morgue — and Crow didn't even want to think about what that was all about — and then, to really seal the deal, the rat-bastard tried to kill everyone at Val's farm. It had been a true bloodbath.
Val's brother, Mark, was the first victim. He'd stormed off after a spat with his wife, Connie, and had apparently been sulking in the barn where he'd run into Boyd. For no sane reason that Crow could imagine, Boyd murdered him. Tore his throat out with his teeth. Drank his blood. Actually drank his blood. Every time Crow thought about that a sick shiver rippled through him and gooseflesh pebbled every inch of his skin. He got up from his chair and stared out the window at the featureless black of the middle of the night.
Val was taking Connie out for a cool-down stroll when Boyd attacked them. Connie — poor Connie, who was never much cut out for the real world and had very nearly been raped by Ruger — was overwhelmed by Boyd. He bit her, too. Not immediately fatal, but bad enough. From what little Crow had been able to find out from harassed nurses, Connie's throat was a ruin and she was fighting for every breath, every heartbeat. No one seemed hopeful about her chances.
Three of Val's farm hands — big, tough sons of bitches — had come pelting up and tackled Boyd. They should have been able to stomp the living shit out of him, and that should have been the end of it; but two seconds later Tyrone Gibbs was dead, José was down with a broken neck — alive but paralyzed for life — and the foreman, Diego, was knocked senseless.
That left only Val.
Crow closed his eyes hard, trying to squeeze the image out of his head, but it worked on his mind like rat's teeth. Boyd tried to kill her, and the thought of her facing down the murdering monster was too much to bear. Rage kept spiking up and Crow was sure his blood pressure could blow half-inch bolts out of plate steel. Thank God Val had been carrying her father's old .45 Colt Commander ever since Ruger invaded the farm at the end of September. It was too heavy a gun for a woman, even a tall, strong farm woman like Val, but heavy or not she must have been pumping adrenaline by the quart. She held her ground and used that heavy pistol to blow the living hell out of Boyd.
The thing was — more gooseflesh rippled along Crow's arms — Boyd didn't go down like he should have. That .45 should have punched him down and dead on the first shot. Maybe the second, if Boyd was totally whacked out ... but Val shot him over and over again until finally a shot to the head snapped off his switch.
While they were waiting for the ambulance last night, Val told him, "That's when I knew."
"Knew what, baby?"
"That he wasn't human. That he was ... dead."
Crow understood. Who better to understand such things? The dread of just that sort of stuff had been haunting him since he was a kid, and it was almost funny because in Pine it was okay to believe in ghosts. Hauntings brought in the tourists. Problem was, Boyd was no ghost — he'd killed Mark for his blood. He tore grown men apart. He'd taken bullet after bullet and kept coming. Boyd was something else entirely.
Crow knew that, of anyone in town, he was the only one who was predisposed to accept that kind of thing as possible ... even likely. During the Massacre when he and Val were kids, he alone had seen the face of the killer and had understood that the terrible menace in Pine Deep was not just a serial killer. Crow had looked into the face of local farmer Ubel Griswold and had seen that face begin to change from human ... to wolf. Only the sudden arrival of Oren Morse, the guy all the kids called the Bone Man, had saved Crow. Griswold hadn't completely transformed and, before he could complete the murder, the scuffle with the Bone Man had roused all the neighbors. Griswold had vanished into the darkness; no one else had seen what he was.
The truth was that no one else even suspected Griswold of the crimes. The man had immigrated to the States from Germany and had purchased a large tract of land in the borough's most remote spot — way down past Dark Hollow. There he'd set up a cattle farm and stayed to himself, paying his taxes and maintaining only a few friends. But Griswold never sold any of the cattle he raised. Crow suspected that Griswold used them to satisfy his peculiar hungers; that he hunted them the way a wolf would, and that those killings kept his appetites in check. It was only after a season of blight and disease had wiped out all of the town's livestock, Griswold's included, that bloodlust forced Griswold to hunt beyond his own lands. Still no one suspected because Griswold was sly and careful.
It was only chance that the migrant worker and blues singer Oren Morse discovered Griswold's true nature. Morse was hunting the killer that night years ago and had arrived in the nick of time to save Crow's life; but no one was ready to believe the word of a homeless day laborer — especially a black one in mid-1970s rural Pennsylvania. Not that Crow was believed, either; he told his father about Griswold and was rewarded by a savage beating. The elder Crow was one of a select group of young men who were completely devoted to Griswold. The beating left the young Crow too afraid to tell the truth; and shortly after that Oren Morse tracked Griswold down and killed him, or so Crow believed. Crow's father and a handful of other men — Vic Wingate, Jim Polk, Gus Bernhardt, and a few others — captured Morse, beat him to death, and hung him on a scarecrow post out in the corn. From that point on everyone believed that Morse had been the killer all along. The truth had never come out.
The town recovered from the disaster and changed, transforming from a blue-collar hick town into an upscale arts community. The Bone Man became an urban legend, the local bogeyman who was blamed for all of the killings of that Dark Harvest Autumn of 1976. The name of Ubel Griswold was forgotten.
Just yesterday, while death was stalking Val and her family, Crow had gone down into Dark Hollow, the remotest spot in the whole borough, dragging Newton along with him — the two of them on a stupid quest to somehow try and prove Crow's tale of thirty years ago. Down in the Hollow they'd found Griswold's house, but they hadn't found a werewolf or even a man. Maybe they'd found a ghost, even Crow wasn't sure, but when they tried to enter the house they were driven back. First by the porch roof that collapsed and nearly crushed them — strange timing for a roof that had been sagging for three decades — and then from the rubble a swarm of bristling black roaches attacked them. Hundreds of thousands of them. Crow and the reporter had dropped everything and run. Heroics be damned. It was only the presence of patchy sunlight that had given them a chance to escape. The insects would not cross from shadow into light, and so Crow and Newton ran back through the woods and climbed the hill.
Now, looking back on it with vision filtered through his rage, Crow realized that everything that had happened down in the Hollow must have been some kind of delaying tactic, keeping Crow out of play so that Val and her family would be vulnerable. It had worked, too. Crow got there way too late.
So, it galled Crow that Val had been forced to do it alone, just as it galled him that he wasn't the one to swoop down like Captain Avenger and save the day. Val had done that. Pregnant, injured, grief-torn Val. Not him, not Crow. Her.
"You are a stupid day-late and a dollar-short chauvinist jackass," he told himself. He burned to be able to step back one day and change this. Save Mark and Connie and the others if he could; but as guilty as it made him feel, those concerns were secondary to wanting to take that experience away from Val. It was beside the point, there were no villains left to kill. All the bad guys were dead. The show was over. All that was left for him to do was wait while the doctors and nurses did what they did; wait until Val was brought up here to her room ... and even then it wouldn't be Captain Avenger she'd need. Val would be grieving, and he would need to be her rock.
Behind him, Newton, the dumpy little reporter, stirred in his sleep and shifted to a less uncomfortable position in the comfortless guest chair of what would be Val's room when they finally brought her up from the ER.
Crow looked at the clock. Three-thirty in the morning. What was taking the doctors so long? Was it a "no news is good news" deal? From his own memories of hospitals he didn't think so. Val had been hit in the head by Ruger — first a pistol-whipping, then a punch that cracked her eye socket; then Boyd had hit her even harder. There was a danger, Crow knew, of her losing the sight in that eye.
Would she lose the baby, too? The thought sent buckets of ice water sloshing down through Crow's bowels.
There was a discreet tap on the door and Crow leapt up, hope flaring in his chest that it was Val being brought in, but as soon as he saw the look on the face of the young doctor in the hall his heart crashed.
"Mr. Crow ...?"
"What's wrong? Is it Val? How is she, is something wrong?" He took a fistful of the doctor's scrub shirt.
"Mr. Crow, please," the doctor said, lightly touching his wrist. "This isn't about Ms. Guthrie. She's still in the ER, and the last I heard is that her condition is listed as stable."
"Thank God —"
"Dr. Weinstock told me to tell you about the other Ms. Guthrie ... Mrs. Connie Guthrie. He said you're more or less family? Next of kin?" "Close enough. I'm engaged to Val. Connie's her sister-in-law."
The doctor looked sad. "Mr. Crow ... I'm sorry to tell you this, but Mrs. Guthrie passed away."
"What?" He couldn't process what the doctor just told him.
"Her wounds were too severe, there was extensive damage to her airway and ..." He faltered and shook his head. "We did everything we could. I'm so sorry." He left very quietly.
Crow had no memory of walking into the bathroom, but he suddenly found himself sitting on the floor between the toilet and the sink, dizzy and sick. He clamped his hands together, laced his fingers tightly over his knuckles, and bent his head, mumbling prayers to a God he'd long since come to doubt, or at best mistrust. He wanted to pray, tried to put it in words, but there had been too many bad nights and too many broken years since he last believed, and he found that he'd lost the knack of it. So all he did was squeeze his eyes shut and say the only words that he could muster, making the only argument that made any sense to him.
"Take me if you want," he pleaded, "but not Val. Not her, too. Not our baby. Do whatever you want to me, but save my family." When he added, "Please!" it sounded like the word had been pulled out of his mouth with pliers.
Jim Polk was in charge of the police detail at the hospital. He was Sheriff Gus Bernhardt's right-hand man, the department's only sergeant, and getting what he wanted was easy. Gus was an idiot and even Gus knew it, just as Gus knew that if it wasn't for Polk's efficiency, energy, and attention to detail the whole department would be a total wreck. So, what Polk wanted, Polk got.
Even Brad Maynard, head of hospital security, deferred to Polk, especially in light of the hospital's appalling track record lately. First Ruger had broken into the hospital and disabled both main and backup generators so he could try and kill Crow and Val; then the very next day Boyd broke in and stole Ruger's body from the morgue. It was an open secret that Maynard was going to have to face the hospital's board and no one was putting hot money on his chances for keeping his job.
All of this was Polk's doing. Ordered by Vic, of course, but planned and executed by Polk. I should just request a revolving door for the morgue, he thought as he poured ten sugar packets into the cup of cafeteria coffee he'd sent one of the hospital guards to fetch for him.
It was coming on 4:00 A.M. when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. Polk didn't even have to look at it to know who it was. He jerked his chin for the hospital guard to come over. "Duke, I'm gonna go catch a smoke. You stay here. Remember — no one talks to Val Guthrie unless I personally say it's okay. No exceptions."
"What about Crow?"
Polk gave him a Clint Eastwood squint. The one Clint uses when he's trying to figure out how to explain to some total idiot the difference between shit and Shinola. Vic had given him that same look too damn many times. "Just do what you're told, okay?"
Polk turned on his heel the way he'd seen Clint, and Vic, do and strolled out of the ER and into the fire tower. He jogged up a flight and then down a flight to make sure no one else was around and then pulled out his cell and hit speed-dial. Vic answered on the first ring. "What the hell took you so long?"
"I was with people."
"Gimme a status report on Mayor Wolfe. He going to make it?"
The town's mayor, Terry Wolfe, had attempted suicide by hurling himself out of his second-floor window. The drop was not far enough to kill him, but almost.
"He's a mess. Forty broken bones, couple of 'em compound. Shattered skull. Brain's probably chopped liver. He's in a coma right now. Guess we're going to need a new mayor."
"So he's definitely out of the picture for the moment."
"What about Val Guthrie? What shape did Boyd leave her in?"
"Might go blind in one eye. They just ran a bunch of tests, but right now they got an OB-GYN in with her. Turns out she's pregnant and they're checking to see if she's going to lose the baby."
Vic grunted. "Bun in the oven, huh? Let me think on that some, maybe it's something we can use. Call me if you need anything else."
"Sure, but what —?"
Vic hung up on him.
Feeling wretched about Connie and desperately alone, Crow headed down to the ER in hopes of getting a glimpse of Val or Weinstock, but instead he ran into Sarah Wolfe, the mayor's wife, who sat alone on a hard plastic hallway chair, looking small and lost, her lap scattered with crumpled tissues.
"Hey, sweetie ... how are you? Or is that dumbest question ever asked?" He screwed on a genial smile and it fit so badly that it hurt his cheeks. She opened her mouth to say something, but her first word turned into a sob and her face crumpled. Crow bent to her, drew her into his arms, guided her around a corner and into an empty triage room.
Excerpted from Bad Moon Rising by Jonathan Maberry. Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Maberry. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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