Midnight. August 4, 1995. The eerie lights of the deserted airfield play across the exhausted face of Detective Randy Crawford. For almost six months, he's been chasing a convicted serial killer, John Lee Fellowes, across the back roads of Maryland. Now Crawford, with the aid of Deputy Harris Green, has cornered Fellowes at last, in the sleepy little town of Burkittsville. But is it a human killer they must confront -- or an evil force from out of the past, given life in the ...
Midnight. August 4, 1995. The eerie lights of the deserted airfield play across the exhausted face of Detective Randy Crawford. For almost six months, he's been chasing a convicted serial killer, John Lee Fellowes, across the back roads of Maryland. Now Crawford, with the aid of Deputy Harris Green, has cornered Fellowes at last, in the sleepy little town of Burkittsville. But is it a human killer they must confront -- or an evil force from out of the past, given life in the shape of a man?
Long before the rest of America had heard of the Blair Witch, two good men in the Black Hills of Burkittsville faced down a demon out of the past.
The first thing Crawford saw when he stepped off the plane was a big white billboard.
DORTMANN'S XMAS TREE FARM
5 Minutes Down Route 144
The letters were in red and green: underneath them was a smiling Santa Claus. Someone had painted over Santa's red-and-white cap and given him a big, pointed black hat; something was written next to the hat. The plane's lights, shining out into the darkness, weren't bright enough for Crawford to read the words.
Sweat beaded on his brow, and he wiped it away.
It was Saturday, August 10, 1991, just after 10 P.M. He was ten seconds out of the air-conditioned Beechcraft and perspiring already. Christmas seemed a long way off.
He turned to his right. Fifty feet away, a man wearing a Stetson and a deputy's badge was standing next to a black-and-white patrol car.
Crawford walked briskly across the packed earth of the runway, carrying his briefcase.
The man nodded.
"Sorry for the delay." Crawford extended his hand, and they shook. "Hit some fog coming in."
Green was in his mid-twenties, slim, in good condition. Strong jaw, creased trousers, a real no-nonsense air. Not the squeamish type.
That was good.
"That's all right. I was running late myself -- just got here a couple minutes ago." Green looked up. "Rain seems to be holding off."
"Let's keep our fingers crossed."
They got in the patrol car. Green got on the radio.
"Base, this is Deputy Green. Over."
"Go ahead, Green. Over."
"Crawford's here. We're on our way. Out."
Green put the mike back on the dash and started the car. Gravel crunched underneath the tires. Green backed the car up and turned away from the runway. They drove past a sign that said FREDERICK MUNICIPAL AIRPORT, and onto smooth, black pavement.
Crawford glanced at his watch. "How far away are we?"
"'Bout half an hour. You need coffee or anything?"
"Not yet." He'd been running nonstop for the last six hours, ever since the call had come in. Crawford had been up in Montreal with Sharon and the kids when his beeper had gone off. He'd returned the call, and then he was arranging for a charter. When he left, Sharon had the kids hanging on her arm and a big frown on her face. It couldn't be helped.
This was Fellowes. Everything else took second place.
"We got his picture off the wire," Green said. "Showed it around. Nobody recognized him."
"He likes disguises." Crawford put his briefcase on his lap and snapped it open.
A light green manila folder was on top; on the tab was written the word Fellowes. Crawford opened it and began pulling out pictures.
First was an artist's composite: Fellowes as Crawford had first met him, his hair (a mixture of blond and gray) tied back in a ponytail.
Then came the mug shot, the one that had gone over the wire, a younger Fellowes with his head freshly shaved, chin thrust forward aggressively.
Finally there was the picture they had got off the security camera in Jordan's Creek, Fellowes wearing a black wig, with sideburns and a goatee to match.
"I see what you mean," Green said, glancing over. "We can make copies of those later, when we get to the station."
Crawford nodded. He put one arm out the window and leaned back against the seat.
Suddenly, he was tired, and that cup of coffee he'd turned down seemed like a good idea. Ice coffee, maybe. It was so damn hot. He was sweating again: his arm was wet.
No. Not sweat. Rain.
Off in the distance, lightning flashed.
"Here it comes." The drops were falling faster now: Green switched on the windshield wipers. "What do you want to do?"
"We're what -- fifteen minutes out?"
"Damn." Crawford thought for a second. "How many men at the site?"
"Better tell them to start."
Green picked up the radio again.
"Base, this is Green. Over."
"This is base. Over."
"Tell them to go ahead."
Green hung up the radio.
Crawford was going to ask him to go a little faster, then the car suddenly shot forward. The road was deserted: Green flicked on the high beams. The speed limit was twenty-five; the speedometer read double that.
"I'd hit the siren, but that's not what we want, is it?"
Crawford nodded. "That's not what we want."
Another sign went past, with arrows pointing to the right:
Black Hills National Forest
Seneca State Park
Crawford kept his arm out the window, letting the rain splash against it.
It had been raining the first night he'd met Fellowes too.
A little more than three years ago, early spring: Sharon was pregnant with Donnie. He was on the four-to-midnight shift with Politti. Around ten o'clock, they pulled up in front of 121 East Coleridge, right off the Inner Harbor Freeway. The address was still right there, in his head. So was the picture of Politti, stepping out of the car in a trench coat and gloves, pulling the coat up around his neck.
No. 121 was a run-down building in a run-down neighborhood. Not much more than a tenement: four stories, plastic sheeting on two of the upstairs windows instead of glass, garbage strewn all over the alleyway next to the building. Crawford and Politti had been in the neighborhood the day before, investigating a body someone had dumped in that same alley, a sixteen-year-old girl named Sharisse Graham.
In the vestibule, Crawford ran his finger down a row of buzzers.
"Four-B," he said. "Four-B, Four-B, Four-B -- here."
He pressed the buzzer.
"Who is it?"
"Mrs. Larrabee, this is the police. We want to come up and talk to you again."
"A few more things to go over." Like where your son Frank is right now. "We'll just take a minute."
"Yes, ma'am, I know it's late. We'll be quick."
The door buzzed. Crawford pushed it open and entered. Politti was a step behind him.
A tall, thin man with a ponytail was coming down the stairs as they walked in, whistling as he went. He looked down, Crawford looked up, and their eyes met. The man stopped whistling.
Right then, all thoughts of Frank Larrabee, or any other suspects on the list they were putting together, vanished from Crawford's head. He knew it right then, that split second; this was the guy they were looking for.
He unbuttoned the snap on his holster.
"Can I talk to you a second, sir?"
The man took the last few steps down to the ground floor, a little slower than before. "Sure."
"I'm Detective Crawford; this is my partner, Detective Politti. We're investigating the body that was found here yesterday."
"That's right." Politti pushed forward, following Crawford's lead. "You sleep all day or something? You don't remember the police being here?" Dominick Politti was five-six, overweight, and balding, but he intimidated people. When they played good cop, bad cop, Politti was the heavy.
The guy on the stairs, though, didn't seem intimidated. "What can I tell you?"
"Let me just get some information from you if I could, sir." Crawford reached into his jacket and pulled out a memo pad. "Can I have your name?"
"Fellowes. John Lee Fellowes."
"Can I see some ID, Mr. Fellowes?"
"Sure." He reached into his front pants pocket and came up with a driver's license.
"This is you?" The picture showed Fellowes, clean-shaven with short, brown hair.
Crawford gave the license back to him. "The license says you live in Philadelphia; that right, John?"
"John Lee. Not John."
"All right, John Lee. You live in Philly?"
"No. I live here."
"What do you do for work, Johnny?" Politti asked.
Fellowes gave him a cold stare. "John Lee."
Politti gave it right back. "What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a brain surgeon."
Politti turned to Crawford. "Look here -- we got a comedian."
Crawford was flipping through his notebook. Detectives had supposedly canvassed the whole building. Here: 2F, no answer. Super told them it was rented to a woman named Joan Kerrmann.
"You know Joan Kerrmann, John Lee?" Crawford asked.
"I sublet the apartment from her."
"That legal, Johnny?" Politti asked.
Fellowes didn't answer.
"How 'bout Sharisse Graham?" Crawford asked. "You know her?"
"She lives on the third floor."
"I've never seen her." The man's voice, his posture, were both nonchalant. His eyes, though, were cold and hard. They told a different story: Of course I know her. What are you going to do about it?
"Sharisse was killed yesterday," Crawford said.
"Mind if we ask you a few questions now, John Lee?"
"I'm on my way out."
"It'll just take a second."
Fellowes shrugged. "All right."
Crawford noticed the fingernails on Fellowes's right hand were caked with dirt. Those on his left hand were clean.
He looked again. The color was more maroon than brown.
Maybe it wasn't dirt.
"We might be more comfortable," Crawford suggested, "in your apartment."
The man shook his head slowly back and forth. "I'm fine here."
Crawford had another flash of insight: Fellowes was going to feed them a line of bullshit right here, walk out the front door of this building, and never come back. This was their one chance to nail him.
In the inside pocket of his trench coat, Crawford had a summons from a grand jury folded up: he was supposed to be in court Thursday morning to testify.
He pulled out the summons.
"This is a search warrant, John Lee," he lied. "It covers every apartment in this entire -- "
Fellowes punched him in the stomach.
Crawford was stunned. He prided himself on his reflexes; he hadn't seen that coming at all.
"You sonuva -- " That was Politti, behind him.
Crawford looked down and saw a knife handle sticking out of the middle of his shirt. A red stain was spreading from it.
Fellowes pulled Crawford closer, embracing him, using him as a shield. The pressure drove the knife in deeper.
The embrace blocked Politti's line of fire.
Fellowes reached inside Crawford's jacket and drew his gun. He fired once, then again.
"What's goin' on down there?"
That was Mrs. Larrabee. Crawford tried to open his mouth, tell her to call for help. Nothing came out but a wheeze.
Fellowes was still holding him: their heads were close enough that Crawford could see the dark roots in the man's hair.
"Thanks for the gun," Fellowes said. He let go; the ground rose up and smacked Crawford in the head.
He woke up in the hospital two days later.
Politti was dead. Fellowes was gone. Crawford had Sharon bring him the Sun: the front page was full of pictures of the grisly things they'd found in Apartment 2F.
He'd been right about what was under Fellowes's fingernails.
Lightning flashed. Outside Crawford's window, farmland stretched off into the horizon.
Up ahead, another patrol car was parked on the side of the road, next to an iron scrollwork fence. Green pulled up behind it and stopped.
"Here we are."
Crawford opened his door. The rain had slowed: it was a light, warm mist, just what Crawford imagined the air in a tropical rain forest might feel like.
He took off his suit jacket, unclipped the cell phone from his belt, and put both on the seat next to his briefcase.
"This way," Green said.
They walked along the fence till they came to a heavy iron gate. A padlock and a chain hung off one of the doors.
Beyond stood row after row of stone markers, poised at attention. Written on the archway above were the words
BURKITTSVILLE UNION CEMETERY
Green stepped through the gate.