Darnell Morris did not like what was happening in Bartlett Bay.
After discovering his car no longer worked at one AM in the morning, he found himself forced to walk down Fisher St. through the snow back toward his place in Applewood. He fervently believed that would have never happened a year ago.
He had come back in town after a robbery gone wrong in New York City and, usually, he could rely on the black community in Applewood to act like sheep and let him do as pleased. Normally, all he had to do was dodge the scarier families, such as the Merricks and Fullers, and he’d have no problems. White people outside of various police officers didn’t know he even existed.
But that motherfucker, that Ethan Bartlett, had changed all that. Darnell felt absolutely certain he was the reason he was walking back home through the snow. He was also certain that was why all the bitches in the bar had dodged him. They or their boyfriends no longer needed his “dirty drug money.”
Now that the fisheries and cannery reopened, most of Applewood and Fisher St. were employed. It seemed as if any asshole with five dollars in their pockets felt they could look Darnell in the eyes and tell him to fuck off and even the strung-out bitch he was shacking up with was making noises about getting clean again. She didn’t even want him around, so he had to break her arm to put her back in her place.
Darnell just couldn’t believe how little regard people in his community had for how dangerous he was. The last few who forgot and thought they could fuck with him had never been found. People did look for them, that white sheriff Simms made a shockingly real effort into the investigation and that crazy Merrick detective cunt, Mary Merrick, looked hard, but when it came to that forest, those bodies might as well have been hidden on Mars.
The Engelstad kept its secrets.
Oh but they all knew. He could see it in their eyes when he entered the bar known as The 29th Regimental that very night and one of them was even empowered enough to do even something to make his car not work. It made him wonder if they would dare do more.
He seriously doubted it. They were generally weak. All of them knew about Tom Taylor, Fred Darylson, JZ Carlton, Martin Vick, and more, oh yes, but they could prove nothing and would do even less. He had no fear of any of them even as he walked alone down Fisher St. Part of this was that he was somewhat naturally intimidating. He looked dangerous and he was and, though he looked somewhat normal, most people could sense it.
He was a tall black man in his early thirties, muscular to a bodybuilder’s level and handsome enough if one didn’t know his personality, with a shaved head and goatee. He was wearing a black baseball cap, a heavy black jacket over a dark gray hoody closed at the front with the hood down, a white t-shirt, loose jeans and expensive black snow boots. It wasn’t exactly perfect for the amount of cold around him but the various drugs he was on made it bearable.
Darnell put a Marlboro light cigarette in his mouth and lit it as he stepped through a streetlight. His mind went away from those losers in the bar and back to a conversation that he had with Arthur Colm in an alley on the boardwalk earlier that night. He was a black fisherman in his early forties who was denied a great paying job because the black old-timers that Bartlett had hired to help train the new staff remembered how he had raped some girl back in the 1990s and they made sure he wasn’t hired.
Fuckers really don’t forget, Darnell thought with a shrug.
Colm offered Darnell an absurd amount of money from an unknown source to kill Ethan Bartlett. That was something Darnell was not prepared to do even if he believed the source was real which he did not. Killing a honky like Ethan Bartlett could get media attention, a spot on Fox News or a full-scale manhunt, and everyone, black or white, in Fisher St. was so enamored with him that Darnell could end up being lynched before the police even begun at failing to find his body.
Darnell stepped under another streetlight and suddenly had a powerful and vivid feeling of something leering at him.
He jerked back into the darkness, grabbed his Beretta in his jacket without pulling it out, and looked around himself. He saw nothing around or behind him, and then looked forward again to see something standing there beyond the streetlight amid the gentle falling snow.
The cigarette fell from his mouth as his jaw dropped down in shock.
The thing standing beyond the streetlight was seven tall or more, man-like, covered in hair, huge with muscle, and had two pointed ears folded back. Darnell could not see its face clearly but he could see a dog-like muzzle and those eyes. Its eyes were shining like two ugly pearls in the darkness.
Darnell stared at it and it stared at him, each one standing on the opposite side of a streetlight in the snowy darkness. To Darnell’s left and north was a small ragged forest between the abandoned businesses north of the boardwalk and the Orange River. To his right and south was the beach, covered in snow with water splashing up it across the ice near the water.
There was nowhere nearby he could run too and that was when it hit him: he had been set up! Someone had sabotaged his car to draw him out and make this happen!
Darnell gripped his gun tightly and took one careful step back. The second his foot landed on the cement behind him, there came a sound from the thing. It was a growl like a dog’s only much deeper despite being very low and very soft. Slowly, that soft, low sound grew like an engine gaining in power and lips of the muzzle began to curl up. Its eyes slowly widened, giving Darnell the feeling that it widened with recognition, and then those eyes narrowed with hate.
It jerked forward with a roar, its face entering under the lamplight revealing an open maw of sharp, yellow teeth!
Darnell whipped out his gun and fired into the wolf man before he saw anymore. It grunted with each shot, slowing only slightly until Darnell raised his gun first. The next bullet hit the creature in the forehead, jerking its head back and making it stumble away for a moment.
Darnell turned and sprinted back toward the Regimental but he heard it coming it behind him instantly! Despite a direct shot to the head with a 9mm bullet, it was still coming!
He heard the thuds of its steps, sensed its shadow quickly overtaking over him, and then spun around and started firing desperately before it could strike. He fired twice before it swung an arm and an explosion of blood shot across his chest and face. He continued to fire but the gun wasn’t working!
The other arm slashed across his belly and something made a splat sound as it hit the ground.
The wolf then scream-howled into his face, its eyes bright yellow and monstrous, and then it slashed downward with all its fingers on his shoulders down to his waist. Darnell felt nothing through his shock and didn’t feel himself falling or even landing on concrete.
Darnell blinked up into the sky, staring at the parted clouds above him, and saw they had parted to reveal the moon up there, beautiful, full and white.
And then the werewolf came down upon him and he knew no more.
* * *
“Jesus fucking Christ,” said Caitlin Christopherson soberly as she looked down at the corpse through her sunglasses.
The monster had torn Janet Dupree apart but Darnell Morris was really torn apart. The left arm was tossed into the snow near the Orange Bridge that went over the Orange River, one leg tossed down the street, another against a tree, and the intestines were spilled onto the ground right in front of the torso. The right arm had been found on the snow above the beach just past the sidewalk concrete with a 9mm Beretta in its hand, the gun having been fired off several times, and the head was missing.
They weren’t far from Applewood and several of the locals were hanging around the police lines staring soberly, making harsh comments and even jokes about the victim.
“They don’t look particularly upset,” Christopherson said to Mary Merrick.
“That’s because it’s Darnell Morris,” Mary told her. She didn’t look particularly upset either, truth be told, and she seemed, if anything, utterly indifferent and not in the police officer’s coping mechanism sort of way.
They had found Morris’s ID and the instant it was known that who it was, Christopherson watched Mary’s expression shift away from any kind of personal care almost like a magic trick.
“He was not exactly a community leader, I see,” said Christopherson.
“Oh fuck no,” said Mary in a voice colder than the air around them. “He was a piece of shit and no one is going to miss him. Got a rap sheet a mile long in New York City and he peddled crack to impressionable kids in this very town, some of which I grew up with. He did that to one girl just so he could always have a place to shack up in if he got in trouble, which was often. He’s also the prime suspect in a half dozen missing persons in this town alone.” Then, as if in an afterthought, she added, “Never found the bodies.”
The forest, thought Christopherson and Mary looked at her as if she had read her mind and nodded. “How about his car?” Christopherson asked, hoping for something.
“Someone removed the spark plugs and various other things,” Mary told her and then shrugged. “Someone wanted him walking the streets last night. We’ve narrowed the list of people who might have done such a thing down to ‘the entire black community.’”
Christopherson stared at the ripped torso in the bloody snow on the sidewalk and saw no connection between Janet Dupree and Darnell Morris. She wanted a connection, hoping to see some kind of link that could utilize, but there was none. Maybe, a religious nutcase might kill two people they could consider to be “lowlifes,” Dupree, perceived as a tramp by such a person, and Morris, a drug-pushing murderer, maybe.
It was unlikely longshot among longshots. Those pieces simply did not much up. If this monster had any kind of human motive, it seemed unlikely to be of a vigilante mentality and she could forget about any personal connections there might be as well. Janet Dupree never met Darnell Morris nor walked into any circle where the two would know any of the same people.
All Christopherson knew for sure was that the deaths occurred on two separate full moons and her vain hope that the monster was something more manageable than a werewolf had been dashed.
Mary moved up closer and very quietly and very bitterly told her, “We have bullets fired, tracks around the body, and a corpse but we have no tracks beyond this small area, no eyewitnesses, no blood from the killer even though this asshole must have hit once and no leads.
“We have nothing, Caitlin.”
Caitlin swallowed a lump down her throat but before she could say anything, a nearby uniformed officer cried out, “We found something else!”
Christopherson and Mary walked over to the tree the man stood under, looked up, and stared up at what the officer found. They shared a look at each other for a moment then looked back up with shocked eyes.
“I know this has happened before,” Christopherson told her.
“I know,” Mary replied.
“The last detective who went through this would know something.” There were no files on it, which was insane for a crime of this sort. She only even knew it even happened because people talked and old newspapers articles mentioned the murders and the detective Taylor Barrymore who was the poor bastard with her job back in 1968. “Someone knows something we can use about this investigation.”
“It sure as shit isn’t me,” Mary told her and then shook her head. “Most of the men on the force who were there then are either dead or retired to Florida.” Christopher noticed that habit in Bartlett Bay with police officers. They either died young or disappeared and never returned. “Nobody wants to talk about it.”
“Someone needs to,” Christopherson said again, her eyes still locked on the object above them.
There, resting between the branches above them was the mostly frozen head of Darnell Morris with its face pointing right at them. The blood and ice that froze around it seemed to have locked it in place.
Its mouth was open as if to let out a monstrous scream and its eyes still held the distorted look of the true terror of Darnell Morris’s final moments.