Never let go a winston.., p.1
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       Never Let Go: A Winston & Churchill Case, p.1
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           Thacher E. Cleveland
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Never Let Go: A Winston & Churchill Case


  Never Let Go

  A Winston & Churchill Case

  By Thacher E. Cleveland

  Copyright 2012 by Thacher E. Cleveland

  Cover Design by Jason Knize of The 11th Hour

  May

  “When you said we were going to fight evil, I didn’t think that meant going to Queens,” Lexie said, drumming her fingers on the dashboard of the ‘76 Gremlin that served as their company car.

  “We go where the work is,” Henry said. “And we don’t even know if we’re going to be doing any . . . ‘evil fighting.’ Did I even say that? It’s a bit simplistic.”

  “It was implied. Not that I’m complaining or anything but it’s been about six months since we’ve seen anything of the demons and monsters brand of evil.”

  “True, but I know I said that those sort of cases weren’t going to be an everyday occurrence. The mundane side of private investigation pays the bills, even if it’s not as exciting as the extraordinary one,” he said.

  “So which is this?” Lexie said, nodding towards the house they were parked half a block away from. “Mundane or extraordinary?”

  “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

  “You don’t even have a guess?”

  He gave a little smile and checked his watch. “Looks like it’s about time. He should be ready for us.”

  “You are such a tease,” she said, getting out.

  It was early in the afternoon, overcast and predictably quiet for a weekday. The neighborhood was almost nice despite the houses being pressed uncomfortably close together. Lexie heard a dog barking wildly, and as they got closer she saw it was a small mutt in the glassed-in porch of one of the neighbors. It stood on its hind legs, barking at the house Henry had pointed out with all the force it could muster.

  When they got to the front gate of the house Henry took out a small notebook, read his notes over, and then dropped it back into the pocket of his rumpled suit. He nodded at Lexie and the two of them opened the gate, headed through the tiny front yard and up the steps. Before they even got to the top the door opened and a small, middle-aged man stared at them through the screen door. “Small” was generous, as he barely scraped five feet tall and then slouched down and managed to lose an inch or two.

  “Are you from the detective agency?” he asked them, his voice lowering to a whisper at the last bit.

  “Yes, Mr. Chalmers.” Henry said. “I’m Henry Churchill, we spoke on the phone. This is my associate, Lexie Winston.”

  The man nodded and opened the screen door for them. “Call me David, please.” He motioned them through the foyer and into the living room, watching them nervously. Lexie had become accustomed to people’s surprise at what an odd pair the two of them made. Her being tall, pale, and skinny, with long dark hair pulled into a ponytail through the back of her Knicks cap contrasted with Henry's shorter, rounder, dark-skinned body, his receding hairline and close-trimmed beard.

  “Can I take your coats?” David asked.

  Henry handed over his overcoat but Lexie waved him off, not wanting to make the already nervous man moreso by showing the Walther holstered at the small of her back. “I’ll be right back with some refreshments,” David said. The investigators stepped into a living room filled with plastic-covered furniture and halfdead plants and dotted with photographs. On the mantle of the decorative fireplace was a small colony of ceramic figurines, and before she could make a comment about them Henry shook his head at her.

  “You never let me have any fun,” she said. She wandered around the room, taking a closer look at the photos that dominated the far wall. There were a variety of pictures of David and a woman that must have been his wife at obvious vacation spots like the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and various family gatherings. The two smiled thinly or not at all as they leaned against each other. For a couple that didn’t seem to like having their pictures taken, they sure had a lot of them. Looking closer, she could see that there were slightly lighter rectangular spots on the wall, some partially obscured by other pictures but all picture-sized.

  “Thank you for coming all this way to see me,” David said, coming into the living room holding a tray with a tea kettle, cups, and fancy cookies.

  “It’s no bother,” Henry said. David set the tray on the table and sat across from them, folding his hands into his lap and almost disappearing into the soft cushions of the chair.

  “You said that you were worried about your wife, that she’d been acting peculiar the past several months,” Henry said.

  David nodded. “Maybe it’s nothing, I don’t know. I could be overreacting but . . . I just get the feeling that something has happened to Mimi. She’s different.”

  “In what way?” Lexie said, sitting down next to Henry.

  “She keeps odd hours. She’s been staying down in her workshop in the cellar whenever she’s at home and for much later at night than she used to.” He’d picked up one of the cookies and was just twirling it absently in his hand. “Several months ago she took almost a thousand dollars in cash out of the bank and wouldn’t tell me what it was for. She’s distant and doesn’t really talk to me anymore.”

  “What do you think it is?” Henry asked.

  “It’s hard to say. Last year we lost our son, Conrad. She took it very hard.”

  “It’s never easy to lose a child,” Henry said.

  “Do you have any of your own Mr. Churchill?”

  “Two,” Henry said. “Fourteen and sixteen.”

  David turned and looked at Lexie, who froze with a cookie halfway to her mouth. “No,” she said. “Not really a breeder.”

  David’s face crinkled up at her choice of words but he continued. “Conceiving was long and difficult and when it finally happened we were very, very grateful. We loved him and tried to take such good care of him, but when he was six there was an accident. He and Mimi were walking to the store and there was a drunk driver. Connie had been lagging behind, I guess, and Mimi was holding his hand.” He stopped his fiddling and placed the cookie back on the tray with a trembling hand. “She turned back to scold him when the car came and just . . . ripped him right from her grip. The driver got a block further before he lost control and hit a bus. Both he and Connie were killed .”

  David paused, looking over at the wall of photos and blinking away tears. “The year after his death was very hard on us both, but it seemed like things were slowly getting better. Then, right around his birthday she had a bit of a . . . well, I guess you’d call it a relapse. She started going on medication and at first I didn’t think it was working but then things changed. She started feeling much better, but that’s when her odd behavior started. “

  “Is that around the time she took out the money?” Lexie asked.

  He nodded. “We’d hardly ever fought about the finances, but that was all of our savings. That, along with her odd behavior, has made things very tense between us. I’m just not sure what else I can do.”

  “Anything else out of the ordinary?” Henry asked.

  David opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it. The three of them were silent for several moments before he continued. “We were at a funeral for her uncle several weeks ago and as soon as we got to the church she said she smelled something horrible. After a couple of minutes she said she started getting some kind of rash, and it finally got so bad I thought she’d been burned or had some kind of allergic reaction.”

  Henry leaned back, running a hand over the short graying hair on his head.

  “Did the rash go away by the time you got home?” he asked.

  “Yes,” David said. “She said it was just the sweater she was wear
ing, but I’ve never seen something flare up like that and then go away so quickly. I don’t even think she’s allergic to anything.”

  “Was she baptized into that church?” Henry asked.

  “Yes. Is that important?”

  “It could mean a lot of things. David . . . you found something, didn’t you? Something that made you want to call us because you couldn’t really understand it, right?”

  “Yes,” David said. He looked from Lexie to Henry and back again, rubbing his hands together. “Your ad said that you handle the unusual and I found . . . something last week. I thought it was nothing at first, but then it . . . ” he trailed off.

  “Why don’t you just show us?” Lexie said.

  “It’s upstairs,” David said, getting up and waving them towards the narrow staircase near the front door. They followed him up the steps, past another army of portraits of friends and family lining the wall. She and Henry followed David past what looked to be his and Mimi’s bedroom and stopped at the door at the end of the hall.

  “This was Conrad’s room,” he said. His hand reached out for the doorknob but only hovered over it for a moment, trembling slightly. “We hadn’t touched it after the accident, but after everything that had been happening recently I wanted to see it. I waited until she went to do her volunteering at the homeless shelter and that’s when I found it.”

  He opened the door and waved them in. Lexie didn’t know what she expected but it wasn’t for the room to be mostly bare with more negative silhouettes on the wall where posters and pictures once hung. There were a couple boxes in the corner, a bed and a desk, but other than that the room was empty. Even the bed had been stripped of sheets and pillows, and with the small closet door ajar, all she could see were empty hangers.

  “I don’t know how long it’s been like this,” David said, his voice cracking. “I tried talking about cleaning his room a couple months after it happened but she screamed at me. She said I was trying to get rid of him, and now . . . ”

  “What else did you find?” Henry said, stepping into the center of the room and turning slowly to take it all in.

  David walked over to the bed and got down on one knee. “I didn’t want to move it in case she came looking for it, which is why I wanted you to come out here instead of me going to your office.” After reaching around blindly for a moment, David’s eyes widened and he pulled a bundle of cloth out from under the bed, setting it between him and Henry.

  “Don’t,” Henry said as David went to unwrap it. David nodded and got back to his feet, letting out the breath he’d been holding. Henry bent over and picked it up, shaking his head at Lexie’s smirk when he let out a grunt of exertion. Henry put the bundle on the desk and pulled at the corners of the cloth. It was a book, old and leather, with symbols etched on a cover practically black with age. As soon as it was uncovered Lex, could feel the air in the room change, become heavier and warmer .

  “Looks like we’re going with extraordinary,” Lexie muttered.

  “I was right, wasn’t I?” David asked. “It’s not normal, is it?”

  “You could say that,” Henry said, running a couple of fingers over the cover and leaning in to get a closer look. The book itself wasn’t very thick but the cover was. The ornate swirls and symbols looked to have been pounded into the leather, but there were also scratches all over it. One of the corners even looked like something had chewed on it.

  “When I realized the room had been emptied I just started looking all over the place, trying to see if she had just hidden Conrad’s things somewhere, and that’s when I found it. I wanted to open it to see what it was but I just couldn’t bring myself to touch it anymore. That night I swore I could feel it down the hall. Like there was a pressure on my chest.” As he spoke David’s breath got shallower and he began to clutch at the front of his sweater.

  “Okay, why don’t we have a little breather,” Lexie said, taking him by the arm and gently pulling him out of the room. He didn’t resist, which was helpful, because despite the fact that she was pretty sure she could toss him down the hallway without too much effort, she felt that wasn't an approved method for handling a client.

  “Good idea,” murmured Henry, still staring down at the book.

  Lexie got David turned around and headed towards the stairs, and once he was out of earshot she leaned back into the room.

  “Should I be worried?” she asked.

  “Moderately.”

  “Right,” she said, turning and heading down the hall. “Situation normal, then.”

  She found David sitting in the kitchen, still clutching his sweater with one hand and holding an inhaler just as tight in the other. “I’m sorry,” he said as she sat down. “I just can’t believe that she would have something like that right where our son slept.”

  “Yeah,” Lexie said. “It’s pretty fucked up.” He looked over at her with a face scrunched up in distaste and she realized she probably just deflowered the Chalmers' family kitchen. It was far too cute and too filled with lace and cartoon renderings of stereotypical Italians for that kind of language. There was one thing that stood out to her as she took in the quaint family kitchen and she crossed the room to the door opposite to get a closer look at it.

  “Is this new?” she said, pointing to the shiny silver padlock just above the doorknob.

  “Yes,” David said. “That door leads down to the basement. Mimi had an extra lock put in a couple months ago.”

  “Why?”

  David paused, trying to recall. “There’s a storm door down there that leads outside and she was afraid someone would break in through there and get into the house.” Lexie looked around, and then pointed at the door in the back of the kitchen that led out to the screened-in back porch. “If she was so worried about a break in, why didn’t she want to have the screens back there replaced with glass?”

  David looked from her to the porch and then back again. “I don’t know. We never talked about that.”

  “And this is where you said she’s been spending most of her time, right?”

  “Yes,” David said, turning his inhaler around and around in his hand.

  “Do you have a key?”

  His hand squeezed the fabric of his sweater again. “No.” He took a deep breath to try to help the words come out, and they did. Quietly. “She said I didn’t need one.”

  “Right,” Lexie said, turning and examining the clasp and lock. “Do you have a screwdriver? Phillips-Head?”

  He nodded and got up, heading into the living room and coming back moments later with the tool. One by one she removed the screws holding the clasp to the door, leaving it and the padlock dangling from the side screwed into the door jamb. “Voila,” she said, opening the basement door. She flipped on the light switch, illuminating the stairwell. It curved down and around a corner at the bottom. Lexie strained to try to hear anything, and after a couple moments of silence she took a couple steps down.

  “Is this new also?” she asked, tapping the nearly identical silver padlock and latch hanging open on the inside of the door. David nodded. “Okay. I want you to go upstairs and wait for me. I’m going to go and check it out.” David nodded again, taking another look at the most recent evidence of his wife’s heightened privacy concerns before heading upstairs. Once he was out of sight, Lexie drew her Walther, checked the clip, chambered a round and thumbed off the safety. She took the stairs as quietly as she could, trying to convince herself that she was being overly cautious.

  Then again, why would Mimi Chalmers have locks on both sides of the door unless there was something that she wanted to make sure didn’t get out even while she was down here?

  A faint scent of artificial pine wafted up to her as she walked down the steps. When she reached the bottom and turned the corner the pine smell threatened to overwhelm her. A short hallway led to a darkened doorway and hanging from the ceiling and along the wall were dozens upon dozens of pine-scented car fresheners, some faded but others still brig
ht and brimming with chemically-powered “freshness.” Some hung so low she had to duck down to pass under them, and as she moved through the narrow hallway crammed with junk and cardboard boxes with precise labeling, the pine smell began to give way to one that was heavy, sour, and, unfortunately, familiar. She couldn’t be sure, but Lexie had a fairly good idea that something down here was dead.

  She hoped it stayed that way.

  The small hallway opened into a darkened larger room and a bunch of air-fresheners hung in the doorway like a curtain. She brushed aside the fresheners and felt around the wall until she found the light switch. She turned it on and stood in the doorway, scanning the narrow room. The walls were paneled with fake wood and the floor covered in worn carpet, giving the place an underground office/bunker vibe. In the far corner there was a tiny desk with half-painted figurines and neatly lined up jars of paint. To her right was the storm door leading outside that Mimi had told her husband she’d been worried about. From where Lex stood she could see an interior padlock had been added to this door as well. In the corner opposite Mimi’s workspace there was another doorway, this one with a blanket hanging from the ceiling like a makeshift door.

  Lex crossed to it, stepping lightly and leading with her Walther. She put a hand on the blanket and drew it back a little. The rotting smell was stronger here and she waited until she acclimated to it. After a couple of moments she pushed the blanket open along the clothesline that had been strung up.

  David wouldn’t have had far to look for his son’s missing things. They were laid out in the unfinished utility room in what Lex could only assume was a close replica of how his room upstairs had looked when he was alive. Toys were scattered on the superhero rug that covered the stone floor and the unfinished walls were veiled with old hanging sheets. All of the pictures of Conrad with his family that had been taken down from upstairs were displayed down here, hooked into the bedclothes-turned-wallpaper and hanging on nearly every wall of the small room. A few even leaned against boxes half-covered with a blanket that were set up in front of the furnace and water heater at the back of the room.

  As she looked at them she realized Conrad was a cuter kid than Lexie thought his parents were capable of producing. Unlike the photos upstairs, every picture with their child showed David and Mimi big genuine smiles. The pictures seemed to be arranged roughly in chronological order, with a swaddled and happy baby Conrad on one side of the wall and a beaming, energetic six year old at an amusement park pulling his father towards a roller coaster on the other.

  Against the wall at the end of the photographic tour of the short life of Conrad Chalmers was an old chest freezer, about three feet high and five feet long. She walked over, keeping her gun trained on it and trying to move without a sound as she stepped around Matchbox cars and action figures. The soft hum it gave off let her know it was still working, but she could also tell that it was the source of the rotting stench. She held her breath and lifted the lid. The sudden burst of cold, rancid air made her eyes water. She had to turn away to try to get some fresh air and almost let the lid drop back down. She’d half expected something to spring out at her and if it had it would’ve caught her at a disadvantage.

  After a couple of seconds she turned back, breathing through her mouth to try to avoid the stench. Lying in the refrigerator on a bed of ice was a man staring up at her with dead, glassy eyes and a blackish-purple ring of bruises around his neck. His legs had been bent up to make him fit and his arms were crossed over his chest, giving him an almost fetal appearance. His shoulder-length hair was mostly frozen to his gaunt face and unkempt beard and he wore a tattered corduroy shirt over an even dirtier t-shirt but that was all; from the waist down he was naked.

  He wore a makeshift diaper of plastic wrap with more wrapped around one of his calves as well. Lexie poked at it tentatively with her gun and it crinkled, leaving a dent that showed a deep black underneath not unlike the bruising around his neck. Bits of him covered by the diaper showed swaths of blood-black as well, including a large patch where his genitals would be. As she prodded him with the pistol, moving him slightly, a large cleaver clattered free from its resting place next to the man and slid down along the ice.

  Lex let the lid close and turned away. “Jesus,” she muttered, letting out a breath. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected to find in Mimi’s secret playroom/museum to her dead child, but it certainly wasn’t the partially-butchered body of a strangled transient.

  Something rattled behind her and she turned, snapping the Walther up. The sound came from the other side of the blanket covering the boxes and junk at the far end of the room. She waited and it came again, louder this time, like something metal shifting back and forth. As she stepped closer she could hear something else as well, a sort of high-pitched whine to match the shaking.

  She was so intent on keeping her eyes forward that she kicked a small ball, which bounced off of one of the toys and hit where the blanket touched the ground. At the sound of the ball the shaking stopped and then started up again even stronger. The whine turned into angry little grunts and she could see something pushing against the other side of the blanket.

  “Fuck this,” Lexie said, yanking the blanket down and stepping back, pistol up and at the ready.

  There was a crash of metal hitting concrete as something fell to the floor. It was a cage and the front of it had been caught on the blanket and toppled to the ground with her sudden tug. The four-foot square metal cage was probably designed to hold a small dog or cat, but whatever tumbled out of the door that popped open when it hit the ground was no animal.

  It was about two feet tall with pale skin and an oversized, misshapen skull covered with sparse blond hair. It wasn’t until it got to its feet, leaning to its right side on one leg that was shorter than the other, that she realized it was dressed in a child’s clothes,. It shook off the shock of the fall and looked around the room, its back to Lexie. She stood perfectly still as it shuffled in place, turning its head from side to side as it tried to figure out what happened. It took two big steps, faster than Lex thought it could move, and then froze in its tracks. The bulbous head whipped around towards her and for a second she could see the little boy in the photographs that dominated the room, but when the motion stopped the only resemblance she could see was in the oversized blue eye staring at her.

  The rest of the thing looked like someone had taken one of the pictures of Conrad Chalmers on the wall and tossed it in a fire. Cheerful innocence and charm had been melted, twisted, and pasted to the swollen head in front of her. The other eye, dipped lower and off-center, was cloudy with a cataract but she could tell it was green, not blue. There were a pair of dark freckles just below it that would look charming on a small child but on this thing looked like two sores. None of the pictures of Conrad had shown him with freckles, Lex realized, but there was something familiar about it, especially combined with the milky eye and the cleft in the thing’s chin.

  “Shit,” she muttered. They looked familiar because she’d just seen them in the cooler, looking back up at her from a dead man’s face.

  At the sound she made the thing snarled at her and darted forward on uneven legs. Lex swung a foot up just in time for it to run into her boot and get kicked away. It hit the ground and rolled on its side, mewling for a second like an injured animal and then flipping itself over on all fours with a wicked hiss. Its legs were tiny and one of its arms even more so, but the other arm was swollen and as monstrously disproportionate as the thing’s head.

  Lex raised her gun but before she could get a shot off the thing launched itself into the air and onto one of the ledges holding photographs. It clung to the sheet covering the wall with its scrawny arm and grabbed a picture of Conrad and his mother sitting in a park and beaming at the camera. She ducked just in time for the photo to sail over her head before smashing into the wall behind her.

  “Fine,” Lex said. “Let’s play.” She raised the Walther and fired twice as the th
ing pulled itself along the wall by the sheet, sending pictures crashing to the ground in its wake. It was as fast as it was malformed and she couldn’t get a bead on it, missing both times.

  When it came to the corner of the room it leaped up to the ceiling to grab one of the pipes. Lex hesitated, not wanting to shoot something dangerous or put a round through the kitchen floor and perhaps hit David. The hesitation cost her. The thing swung down at her from the ceiling, landed about four feet away and grabbed a large metal truck from the ground with its mammoth paw. It hurled the toy at her, and it bounced off her forehead with a surprising force that made her vision blur. She could see the thing leap up at her again and she fired blindly at it.

  The thing slammed into her chest, knocking the wind out of her and the gun from her hand before toppling her over. The back of her head hit the hard cement with tooth-rattling force. It grabbed her throat with its muscular hand and when she tried to get to her feet it slammed her head back down to the ground. The brilliant blue eye filled her vision as the little monster pressed down on her, breath ripe with rotted meat. The smell didn’t last, as it was cutting off her air. As she felt herself begin to black out she wondered how much damage those needle-like teeth would do to her before Henry came to check on her.

  Before it leaned in close enough for Lexie to find out for sure, the thing stopped and looked up. With her breath fading it took her a second to realize it was looking past her and at the hallway and stairway beyond. She made one final push to get up but she was driven back down again.

  Just before she blacked out, she heard the sound of its little sharp nails clattering along the cement as it headed up towards freedom.

  Henry flipped through the book, skimming through the passages he dared take a close look at and doing his best not to let any of the words linger for too long in his mind. Wherever the book had come from it was definitely authentic and certainly not the kind of thing you’d expect to find hidden away by a church-going, homeless-shelter-volunteering middle-aged woman.

  Then again he’d seen worse in the homes of those that seemed better.

  After reaching the end of the book he closed it, wrapped it in the cloth it had been found in, and tucked it under his arm. It was hard to tell what parts Mimi Chalmers had paid close attention to given its condition, but none of them were remotely safe or sane. The book centered on summoning rituals and not out-and-out necromancy, but there were some rites and ceremonies that might be appealing to someone desperate for the return of a lost child. Many required items or skills that would be nearly impossible for someone like Mimi to find; most required sacrifices or deeds that no sane person would consider.

  All would leave an indelible stain on the soul, a stain so dark it could very well lead to madness.

  Henry was halfway down the steps when he heard the muffled but unmistakable sound of gunshots, two in rapid succession. He took the rest of the stairs in two leaps and rounded the corner heading back to the kitchen as fast as he could despite the throbbing complaints from his bad knee that reminded him he wasn’t twenty-five anymore.

  Henry nearly ran into David as another shot came from below. David was heading out of the kitchen with his eyes wide and face just as white as when he recalled touching the book. Henry put a hand out to keep him from touching it again and tried to calm him down.

  “What was that?” David said. “It sounded like gunshots, but--”

  “Where’s Lexie?” Henry said, leading him back into the kitchen.

  “She went downstairs, into the basement. She was going to look and see if there was anything in Mimi’s stuff down there that . . . ” He trailed off. “What is that?”

  Henry turned and saw the little thing skitter across the kitchen floor, pulling itself along with one oversized arm and manically kicking its tiny feet. It stopped and turned towards them at the sound of David’s horrified whisper.

  “David--” Henry started, trying to move him towards the hallway, but the thing leaped up on the counter and darted forward, swinging its arm and sending tiny little figurines and a handful of small dishes hurling towards them and cutting them off from the doorway.

  “Back up, back up,” Henry said, pushing David farther into the kitchen. Henry glanced over his shoulder and saw that there was a door leading out into the small backyard.

  “What is that thing?” David said as it hurled a decorative bottle in their direction.

  “It doesn’t matter,” Henry said, wanting to get David out and into the yard before it dawned on him what his wife had created. “I’m going to try to distract it and I want--”

  The thing gave a yell and hopped off the counter, then bounded from the floor to the kitchen table in the center of the room and then to the counter closest to them. It swung at the toaster oven and sent it clattering across the counter, knocking over more things in its path, including a block of carving knives that spilled its contents across the counter.

  Henry backed up more, pushing David farther behind him. The thing was much closer now and almost between them and the back door. “David, I want--”

  “Conrad? Oh my god.” David worked his way around Henry’s arm faster than he’d thought possible. “Connie? What did she do to you?”

  “It’s not him,” Henry said, trying to pull David back. He just shrugged the detective off, taking another step forward.

  “My little boy . . . what did she do to my little boy?”

  The thing Mimi made stopped for a moment, cocking its head at David.

  “That’s not your little boy,” Henry said, stepping closer. “She used this book to make something unnatural and it only looks like your son.” The thing hissed at Henry and then reached down for one of the small carving knives on the counter in front of it. It picked it up and threw it at Henry in one smooth motion.

  Henry stepped back, the knife sailed through the space between him and David before hitting the wall.

  “Stop it!” David snapped, turning to look at Henry. “You’re upsetting my son!”

  “It’s not--” The thing grabbed another knife, larger this time, and hurled it at David. Henry lunged forward, grabbing at David with one hand and extending the book with the other. There was a solid thunk as the knife buried itself in the book which was held right in front of David’s face. Henry winced as his bad knee shuddered and then gave out, dropping him to the ground.

  “Run!” Henry said through gritted teeth, rolling over onto his back as he tried to pry the knife from the book.

  The thing hissed in anger again, picking up another large knife from the counter. David stood still as the thing took a step and then launched itself through the air. At the top of its arc it snapped to the side as a gunshot echoed through the kitchen. It hit the floor and bounced, splattering greyish green blood on the tile next to where Henry lay. The monster gave a shallow whine, its hand opening and closing on the handle of the knife. With a grunt of effort Henry yanked the knife from the book and rolled over, plunging it into the thing’s milky dead eye. It gave a shudder and then stopped moving.

  “Everyone okay?” Henry said as he pulled himself up from the floor.

  “It hit me with a truck,” Lexie said from the basement doorway, her voice hoarse and strained. “A toy truck,” she clarified at Henry’s quizzical look.

  “You said . . . you said that thing wasn’t my son.” David said, rocking back and forth as if he was torn between wanting a closer look at the dead thing on his floor or backing away from it entirely.

  “It’s not. Your wife used information from that book to make something that was almost your son, that looked like parts of him, but it wasn’t really him,” Henry said, resting a hand on the man’s shoulders and moving him away from the mess. The force David had shown before had left him, although Henry hoped it wasn’t for good.

  “I don’t want to alarm anybody,” Lexie said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. “But there’s a dead body in the basement.”

  That shook David from his
daze as he sat at the table across from her. “What? How?”

  Henry cleared his throat and shot Lex a hard glare before turning his attention back to David. “There are things she needed to do to create that thing and that was probably one of them. What we need to do now is get ready for when the police arrive and figure out what we can tell them and what we can’t.”

  “Oh god,” he said, putting his face in his hands. “We just wanted a family. We just wanted our little boy.”

  They gave David a moment and then moved him into the living room while they cleaned up the kitchen.

  “What are we going to tell the police?” Lexie asked, her voice a little stronger now.

  “The truth.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “Well, just the parts they’ll believe,” he said, picking up the tiny, foul-smelling body and dropping it into the trash bag that Lexie held away from herself as far as possible.

  “What the hell is that thing anyway?” she asked.

  “A homunculus.” When he saw her pause in tying up the bag and just stare at him he continued. “It’s an artificial person created through black magic, normally made to do its master’s bidding.”

  “Normally?”

  “Well, whatever passes for normal for those that enjoy making things that involve the semen of a strangled man, blood, and manure.”

  “Jesus, no wonder it smells so bad. How’d she get it to look like their son?”

  “The creature takes on the appearance of whatever is used to make it. In addition to the semen from the man that I’m assuming was strangled, she probably added some of Conrad’s hair that they had.”

  “Fantastic. So now what?”

  “Now we call the police and tell them we found a dead body. Hopefully before any of the neighbors have called to report gunshots.”

  She frowned at that. “Okay, smart guy, if we’re not mentioning junior here, how are we accounting for the shots fired?”

  “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Oh really?” She walked over and pointed at the small hole in the kitchen wall where the bullet that felled the creature ended up. “Did you bring some spackle and matching wallpaper?”

  He walked over, closed his eyes and placed his palm over the hole. His lips moved but he made no sound. After almost a minute, he took his hand off the wall which now appeared completely undamaged. “Souvenir,” he said as he dropped the mashed bullet into her outstretched palm. “I’m going to get the ones downstairs.”

  “Show off,” she called after him, tossing the bullet into the bag with the creature.

  Henry came back upstairs with two more bullets to go into the bag and then carried it out to the car.

  “What if the neighbors see? Mysterious black guy carrying a trash bag to his car right before the police arrive? Kind of suspicious.” Lexie leaned against the counter, her arms crossed over her chest.

  “First of all, there’s no need for profiling. Second of all they aren’t going to see. Even the ones that may be looking. Just stay here and have him call this in.”

  “What do I say?” David asked after Henry left.

  “The truth. You were worried about your wife so you called us to look into it. We discovered a dead body and now we’re calling the police. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

  “Do you think they’ll believe that?” he said, staring at the phone in his hand as Henry returned

  “I hope so. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” Henry took out his wallet and handed David a card. “This is my wife’s number. She’s a lawyer and used to helping people out of situations like this. She’ll make sure that you’re okay.”

  He paused, fingers just over the buttons. “What about Mimi?”

  Lex held her breath for a moment and then let it out. “I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do for her. It’s going to be pretty clear what she did and she’s going to have to pay for it.”

  “I know. I just . . . ” he trailed off, turning the phone over and over in his hands. Lex reached out and held it still. He nodded and dialed the numbers.

  “Hello? Yes, hi . . . I . . . my name is David Chalmers and there’s a dead body in my house.”

  Mimi Chalmers came home an hour later.

  The police had showed up about ten minutes after David got off the phone and about twenty minutes after that a forensics team and the coroner arrived. Lex had gone over her statement twice by that point and wasn’t relishing a third, so she was almost grateful for the interruption.

  The coroner was in the process of taking the body out the front door when they heard one of the officers outside call out, “Hey, you can’t go in there!” David got to his feet quickly and Myers, the detective that was questioning him, followed. “Mr. Chalmers, wait!” Lex and Henry followed them onto the porch.

  Lex recognized Mimi from the pictures in the basement, even though she bore no current resemblance to the smiling, plump, and photogenic middle-aged mother in them. Mimi’s hair trailed behind her in a frantic, frizzy wave as she raced down the sidewalk, shrugging off the grasp of the patrolwoman she’d forced her way past. When she saw the sheet-covered body being lowered down the steps she let out a shriek and ran even faster towards her front gate.

  “My baby! What have you done with my baby?”

  “Mrs. Chalmers, stop!” Myers said, squeezing past the gurney on the steps and trying to intercept her.

  “Where is he? Where is my baby boy?” she yelled again, her voice rising to a panicked scream. The two met just outside the gate, with the female officer right behind her. Myers put a hand up to try to slow her down but she slapped it away. Myers' other hand went down to his belt, but she crashed past him before he could draw his sidearm, knocking him to the ground in the process.

  “What did you do?” Mimi screamed as she opened the gate, finally seeing David on the porch. “What did you do to my baby? Where is he?” The officer finally caught up to Mimi and grabbed her by the arm, yanking Mimi back before she could make it to the steps. Mimi turned and swung at her, but the patrolwoman ducked and twisted around behind her, bending Mimi’s arm backwards.

  David winced, and Henry put a hand on his shoulder. Lexie wasn’t sure if it was to comfort him or to make sure he didn’t try to help his wife.

  “No! No!” Mimi screamed as the officer twisted her arm up behind her. “Where is my baby? What did you do? What did you do to my baby?” The officer was struggling to keep Mimi from breaking away, especially since Mimi outweighed the young woman by a good fifty pounds. Lex took a step forward to help but Myers, who had gotten to his feet all red-faced, raised his hand to wave her back.

  “Mrs. Chalmers, you’re under arrest,” he said, trying to make himself heard over her screaming. She lunged forward, trying to get to the house but the patrolwoman holding her stood her ground. Myers grabbed Mimi’s outstretched arm and the two of them tried to force her down. The patrolwoman stepped behind Mimi’s knee, driving it and her to the ground.

  “Stop resisting!” Myers grunted, trying to pin her shoulder to the ground.

  “David, come inside,” Henry said, trying to get him back into the house. David wouldn’t move.

  “Connie! Connie, Mommy’s here! It’s going to be okay!” Mimi screamed as Myers and the patrolwoman finally got handcuffs on her. She continued to thrash and struggle and Myers placed his knee in her back to try to hold her still, yelling over her that she was under arrest and asking if she understood her rights.

  “Connie where are you? Where’s my baby?”

  He nodded to the female officer, who stood and unclipped the pepper spray from her belt.

  “Come on,” Lex said, turning David back into the house. “You don’t need to see this.” He nodded, and they closed the door just as her screams turned from panic to pain.

  Henry and Lexie were quiet most of the way back into Manhattan.

  “So you’ve seen a book like that before, right?” she said.

  “Ones like it, yeah. That one looke
d to be one of a kind.”

  “So I’m not wrong in thinking it’s weird that a grieving mother just happened upon someone who was presumably selling this thing?”

  “You are definitely not wrong.”

  It was quiet for a while again.

  “Are you okay?” she asked.

  “As well as can be expected.”

  “This is a parent thing, right?”

  He nodded. “You said that I told you we were going to fight evil. I’m pretty sure I said we were going to help keep people from evil.”

  “There’s a difference?”

  “Between helping and fighting? Yeah, there is. We may have taken something bad out of the hands of someone who never should’ve had it and we may have killed an unnatural monster, but I don’t think we helped anyone.”

 
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