The feeling like a buzz in your teeth.
The scrape of bone on bone. . .
Paul Gallo saw the report on the news: a mass murderer leading police to his victims’ graves, in remote Dread’s Hand, Alaska.
It’s not even a town; more like the bad memory of a town. The same bit of wilderness where his twin brother went missing a year ago. As the bodies are exhumed, Paul travels to Alaska to get closure and put his grief to rest.
But the mystery is only beginning. What Paul finds are superstitious locals who talk of the devil stealing souls, and a line of wooden crosses to keep what’s in the woods from coming out. He finds no closure because no one can explain exactly what happened to Danny.
And the more he searches for answers, the more he finds himself becoming part of the mystery. . .
Praise for Little Girls
“Best horror novel of the year.” —Hunter Shea
“Much more than a haunted house story.” —Cemetery Dance
“Takes well-known tropes and completely turns them around.” —IHeartReading
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The man who walked into Tabby White's luncheonette around seven in the morning on that overcast Tuesday was recognized only by a scant few customers, despite the fact that he had been a resident of that town for the better part of thirty years. He came in on a gust of cold wind, a withered husk of a man in a heavy chamois coat with wool lining. There were bits of leaves and grit in his salt-and-pepper beard, and the tip of his nose and the fleshy pockets beneath his eyes looked red and swollen with chilblains. The thermal undershirt he wore beneath the coat looked stiff with dried blood.
Bill Hopewell, whose family had lived in the town for three generations, was the first to recognize the man, and even that took the accumulation of several minutes' scrutiny. By the time he realized the fellow was old Joe Mallory from up Durham Road, Mallory was seated at the breakfast counter warming his hands around a steaming mug of Tabby's hot cocoa.
"Is that you, Joe?" Bill Hopewell said. Tabby's was a small place, and despite it being breakfast time, there were only about half a dozen customers. A few of them looked up from their meals and over at Bill Hopewell, who was seated by himself at one of the rickety tables before a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of strong coffee. Those same few then glanced over at the scarecrow-thin man in the chamois coat hunched over Tabby's breakfast counter.
The man — Joe Mallory, if it was him — did not turn around. Far as Bill Hopewell could tell, he hadn't even heard him.
It was the look on Tabby White's face that ultimately prompted Bill to climb out of his chair and mosey over to the breakfast counter. Tabby White was about as friendly as they came, and it was rare to catch a glimpse of her when she wasn't smiling. But she wasn't smiling now: She had served the man his requested cup of hot cocoa with dutiful subservience, and was now watching him from the far end of the breakfast counter, backed into the corner as far as she could go, beneath a wall clock in the shape of a cat whose eyes ticked back and forth like the wand of a metronome. There was a look of apprehension on Tabby's face.
"Hey, Joe," Bill Hopewell said as he came up beside the man and leaned one elbow down on the breakfast counter. When the man turned to look at him, Bill momentarily questioned his assumption that this was, in fact, Joseph Mallory from up Durham Road. Mallory was in his fifties, and this guy looked maybe ten years older than that — maybe more. And while Joe Mallory had never been overly concerned with personal hygiene, this guy smelled like he hadn't bathed in the better part of a month.
The man turned and grinned at Bill Hopewell. Through the wiry bristles of his beard, the man's lips were scabbed and wind-chapped. There was a patch of black frostbite, abrasive as tree bark, at one corner of his mouth. The few teeth remaining in Mallory's mouth looked like small wooden pegs.
"Where you been, Joe?" Bill asked. "Ain't nobody seen you in a long time."
"Been years," said Galen Provost, who was watching the exchange from a table near the windows. "Ain't that right, Joe?"
Joseph Mallory turned back around on his stool. With both hands, he brought the mug of hot cocoa to his lips and slurped. A runnel of cocoa spilled down his beard and spattered in splotches on the Formica countertop.
Bill Hopewell and Galen Provost exchanged a disconcerted look. Then Bill turned his gaze toward Tabby, who was still backed into her corner beneath the cat clock with the ticking eyes, gnawing on a thumbnail.
"This is fine cocoa, Tabs," Mallory said, the words coming out in a sandpapery drawl. "Mighty fine."
At the mention of her name, Tabby bumped into a shelf and sent a bottle of ketchup to the floor.
"What you got all over them clothes?" Galen Provost said from across the room. Everyone was watching now.
"Is that blood on your clothes, Joe?" Bill Hopewell asked, his tone less accusatory than Galen's, despite the directness of his query. Perhaps, Bill thought, Galen wouldn't have been so boisterous if he'd been standing right next to Mallory, where he could see the dirt collected in the creases of Mallory's face, the white nits in his hair and beard, and what looked like old blood beneath the man's fingernails. If he could see how off Mallory looked. Bill cleared his throat and said, "You been up in them woods, Joe?"
It was at that point that Joseph Mallory started to laugh. Or perhaps he started to cry: Bill Hopewell wasn't sure at that moment which one it was, and he would still be undecided about it much later, once Mallory's face was on the TV news. All he knew was that the noise that juddered from old Joe Mallory's throat sounded much like a stubborn carburetor, and that tears were welling in the man's eyes.
Bill Hopewell pushed himself off the counter and took two steps back.
The laughter — or whatever it was — lasted for just a couple of seconds. When he was done, Mallory swiped the tears from his eyes with a large, callused hand. Then he dug a few damp bills from the inside pocket of his coat and laid them out flat on the countertop. He nodded in Tabby White's direction.
Tabby White just stared at him.
Mallory's stool squealed as he rotated around toward Bill Hopewell. With some difficulty, he climbed down off the stool. His movements were labored and stiff, as if his muscles were wound too tight, his bones like brittle twigs. Those dark streaks across the front of Mallory's shirt were also on his coat and his pants, too, Bill realized.
"Well, they're up there, the whole lot of them," Mallory said. His voice was barely a rasp. Later, Bill would have to relay what he'd heard to Galen Provost and the rest of the patrons of Tabby's luncheonette, who were just out of earshot. "They're all dead, and I killed 'em. But I'm done now, so that's that." He turned away from Bill Hopewell and looked at Tabby. "Val Drammell still the safety officer 'round here?"
Tabby didn't answer. She didn't look capable.
"He is," Bill Hopewell answered for her.
"All right," said Mallory, turning back to Bill. He nodded once, as if satisfied. "One of you folks be kind enough to give him a call? Tell him I'll be sitting out by the church waiting for the staties to come collect me."
"Yeah, okay," Bill said, too stunned to do anything else but agree with the man's request.
"Much obliged," said Mallory, and then he turned and ambled out into the cold, gray morning.
"Tabby," Bill said, not looking at her — in fact, he was staring out the window, watching the gaunt form of Joe Mallory shamble up the road in the direction of the old church. "Best give Val Drammell a call, like he says."
It took Tabby White a few seconds before she understood that she had been spoken to. She moved across the floor toward the portable phone next to the coffee station — one of her white sneakers smeared a streak of ketchup along the linoleum, but she didn't notice — and fumbled with the receiver before bringing it to her ear.
"Val," she said into the phone, her voice reed-thin and bordering on a whine. "It's Tabby down at the luncheonette." There was a pause, then she said, "I think I'll turn you over to Bill Hopewell."
She handed Bill the receiver, and Bill set it against his ear. He was still watching Joe Mallory as he ambled up the road toward the church. At the horizon, the sky looked bleached and colorless. It promised to be a cold winter. "We got something here I think you should come take a look at," he said, then explained the situation.CHAPTER 2
It was a quarter after eight in the morning when Jill Ryerson's desk phone rang.
"Major Crimes," she said. "This is Ryerson."
"Ms. Ryerson, this is Valerie Drammell, I'm the safety officer up the Hand. I had your card here and figured I'd give you a call on this situation we got out here." It was a man's voice with a woman's name, she realized. He spoke in a rushed, breathless patter that was difficult to understand.
"Where'd you say you're calling from, Mr. Drammell?"
"Up the Hand, ma'am." Then the man cleared his throat and said, "That's Dread's Hand, ma'am."
The name was familiar — it was too unique to forget — but in that moment she couldn't remember how or why she knew it. But something had happened there, maybe within the past year, and she had somehow been involved.
"What's the situation out there, Drammell?"
"Listen, I got a guy here, a local fella, named Joe Mallory," Drammell explained. "Says he killed a bunch of people and buried their bodies in the woods here. He's got ... well, what looks like blood on his clothes, dried blood. It don't look fresh. He looks ... he don't look right, Ms. Ryerson — er, Detective. I'm calling the right number, ain't I? This is the right number?"
She assured Drammell that it was, and said she'd be there as soon as possible. After she hung up, she stepped out of her office and peered into the squad room. Mike McHale sat behind the nearest desk.
"Dread's Hand," she said. "Where's that?"
McHale just shrugged his shoulders. There was a road atlas on the credenza behind McHale's desk, and he leaned over and grabbed it, eliciting a grunt as he did so. He opened the atlas on his desk and scrutinized one of the area maps.
"VPSO out there just called. Said he's with some local guy who claims he's killed some people."
McHale looked up from the map, frowning. "Yeah?" he said.
"Here it is," McHale said, tapping a finger against an enlarged map of Alaska's interior. "Way out there in the hills. Should take us about an hour and a half, I'd guess," McHale said.
Ryerson curled up one side of her mouth in a partial grin. "Us?"
"What kind of guy would I be, letting you run off chasing murder suspects on your own?"
"Then you're driving," she said.
* * *
They found Drammell seated on a bench outside the village church beside a wasted scarecrow of a man with a frizzy beard that came down past his collarbone. Ryerson and McHale got out of the cruiser and approached the men. Ryerson spotted the coppery-brown streaks of dried blood along the front of Mallory's long johns and around the cuffs of his pants. Not that she put much stock in it right off the bat — this guy could have been butchering critters in the woods for the past couple of days, for all she knew — although there was something in Mallory's gray eyes that chilled her when he first looked up at her.
"I'm here to make my peace with it," Mallory said as they approached.
"What's 'it'?" Ryerson asked.
"C'mon and I'll show y'all," Mallory said. He used Val Drammell's shoulder for support as he hoisted himself off the church bench. Drammell made a face that suggested he was disgusted by the man's touch, although he didn't make a move to shove the man off him. When his eyes shifted toward Ryerson, he looked relieved that they were here and he could transfer this problem to them.
"Just hold on a minute," Ryerson said. "This fella Drammell here called and told us you killed a few people out this way. Is that right?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Mallory.
"Is this something you done recently?"
"Oh no, ma'am. It's been quite some time for me."
"Where are they?"
"That's what I was goin' t' show you, ma'am," Mallory said. He pointed toward the cusp of trees that wreathed the foothills of the White Mountains.
"That's where they are? Up there?"
"The lot of 'em," Mallory said.
"People," Val Drammell interjected. "Says he's buried some people up there. Just so we're clear here."
"I understand," she said to Drammell. Looking back at Mallory, she said, "That's what you're telling us, right? That you killed some folks and buried them up there. Is that right?"
"As rain," Mallory said.
She glanced at the tree line before turning her gaze back to Mallory. Those woods were expansive and the foothills could be treacherous. Not to mention that Mallory looked malnourished and about as sturdy as a day-old colt. "How far?" she asked.
"We can walk it, for sure," Mallory responded, although judging by his appearance and by the way he'd utilized Drammell's shoulder as a crutch to lift himself off the bench just a moment ago, Jill Ryerson had serious doubts about that.
"I think maybe you need to see a doctor first," she said to him.
"Time enough for that later," said Mallory. "I ain't gonna expire out here, ma'am. First I'll show you where they are. It's important I show you where they are. This is all very important."
She glanced at McHale, who looked cold and uncertain. He shrugged.
"All right," Ryerson said. For some reason, she believed him — that it was important he show them where they were, right then and there. As if there wouldn't be a chance to do it later. She got an extra coat from the cruiser's trunk, and helped Mallory into it. Mallory peered down at the embroidered badge over the breast, a bemused expression on his wind-burned face.
"Well, lookit that," he muttered, fingering the badge.
Mallory took them up into the woods, a walk that took nearly an hour and covered a distance that Ryerson, in her head, calculated to be just over a mile. Had she gone back for the car, it would have been possible to drive less than halfway up the old mining road: After about fifteen minutes of walking, the road narrowed to maybe three feet in width, and there were times when they had to climb over deadfalls and step around massive boulders in order to keep going. And then the road vanished altogether, surrendering to sparse stands of pines and Sitka spruce and large boulders furred with spongy green moss.
"If this is someone's idea of a practical joke," McHale said to no one in particular midway through the hike, "they're getting brained with my Maglite."
Ryerson let Mallory lead the way. She hadn't cuffed him — it would have been too difficult for the man to climb through the woods with his hands cuffed behind his back — but she had surreptitiously frisked him when she'd helped him into the parka, and she had felt no weapons on him. Besides, she still wasn't convinced this guy wasn't just some crackpot. Lord knew there were enough of them out here. Nonetheless, she kept her eyes on him as they walked.
"How'd you get my name and number?" Ryerson asked Drammell as they climbed toward the cusp of the wooded foothills. "The name of this town sounds familiar, but I've never been out here before."
"Two troopers came out here about a year ago looking for a fella," Drammell said. "Far as I know, they never found the guy. When they left, they gave me your business card. Said I should call you if the fella ever turned up." Drammell frowned and added, "He never did."
Yes, she remembered now. She'd gotten a call about a year ago from the brother of a man who'd gone missing out this way. The man had traced his brother back to Dread's Hand as the last known place he'd been. Ryerson had taken the call and filed the paperwork, but she hadn't come out here herself. Instead, she had dispatched two troopers to Dread's Hand to check things out. She couldn't be positive at the moment, but she believed they managed to recover the man's rental car.
"You guys ever find the fella?" Drammell asked.
"No," said Ryerson.
Despite his weakened physical condition, Mallory appeared to have no difficulties on the walk. McHale and Drammell, on the other hand, were both wheezing by the time they reached a vast clearing. It was right here, Joseph Mallory explained, that he had buried the bodies of eight victims whom he'd murdered over a five-year period. He seemed certain about the number of victims, less certain about how long he'd spent killing. "Time," he suggested, "acts funny out here."
Ryerson and McHale exchanged a glance.
"You understand what you're telling us, don't you?" said McHale.
"Of course." Mallory glared at McHale, indignant. "I ain't stupid, son."
"No, sir," McHale said, and Ryerson detected more than just a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"This is a big area," Ryerson said. "Is it possible to narrow down a location?"
"There are many locations," Mallory informed her. "Come on, then."
He pointed out the general vicinity of each unmarked grave, which covered an area of just about ten acres of woodland, in Ryerson's estimation. And although Ryerson had been right there standing beside him, inspecting the somber look on Joseph Mallory's wind-chapped face as he murmured, "One soul here, 'nother far yonder," she continued to believe that there were no bodies buried here at all, and that Joseph Mallory was just another backwoods crackpot with dried elk blood on his clothes who wanted his fifteen minutes of fame with the state police out of Fairbanks. After all, it was evident that the old man was one cherry short of an ice cream sundae, as Jill Ryerson's father had been fond of saying.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bone White"
Copyright © 2017 Ronald Malfi.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Praise for Ronald Malfi and His Novels,
Books by Ronald Malfi,
PART ONE - Dead Bodies,
PART TWO - Dread's Hand,
PART THREE - Keeper of the Gate,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,