For some, the back streets of the city at night are a frightening place. For others they’re a hunting ground. I’m not sure which they are for me. Maybe both. When you’re a lawman looking for criminals with a gun in your hand it’s easy to consider yourself a hunter, but I am only human.
The believers say God doesn’t make mistakes. I’m not convinced. Stalking the alleys, it’s all I can think about. Was it his mistake or mine?
You swear an oath when you join the force. A pledge to uphold the law and protect the innocent from the wicked. You put your hand over your heart and vow to be worthy. Problem is that bitch Lady Justice is both deaf and blind and she doesn’t give a damn about being worthy.
I made a promise to myself and the world that I wouldn’t let that mistake happen again. The legal system set a man free that had no right receiving any other judgement than riding the lightning in the special chair. A lawman took him in; a fucking lawyer set him loose.
No mistakes or interference tonight.
I’d been tracking him for months by following the signs he left behind with every victim he discarded after he’d finished with them. When I did find him, I slapped steel on his wrists and charged him, just like a good detective does. What I should’ve done is filled him with hot lead and tossed his corpse into the fire. The same fire that he used in his rituals, offerings or whatever you want to call them. The fire that almost helped him get away.
‘Filing error,’ they called it. ‘Paperwork missing,’ they said. ‘Case dismissed.’ I call it bullshit. I say that if God really does exist and has a plan, then I’ve seen all I need to justify me putting that bastard down and letting the Almighty sort out the details later.
His plan, not mine.
The beast hadn’t been out on the streets for a full 24. His victim was just a teenager. Her remains had been found tied with electrical wiring in an abandoned warehouse only a few miles from the jail he’d walked out of. He didn’t have his tools with him so he improvised with a rock and a shard of grimy glass. At least that’s what the doc said explained the scratches on her bones. Like all the rest he had made an offering of her. The blackened concrete and charred remains certainly suggested it.
‘Offerings to the Master’ he had called them. Fire and blood sacrifices to the one true Lord of Lords. Satan. The Devil. Lucifer. I’m not a religious man, but if there is a Hell I’m sending the sick bastard there tonight with a message: ‘No paperwork this time.’
They had called my theory a joke in the beginning. The fantastical imaginings of a lonely old cop. A lone wolf with no cubs who had lost his mind from chasing down too many predators for too many decades. ‘Burned out’ they said. ‘Lost it’ they whisper.
Follow the clues, that’s all I do. It’s all I’ve ever done. Plain old-fashioned police procedure showed it to me. The arrangement of pins linked by string protruding from the map. Each embedded in a crime scene. Each piercing a landmark – meaningless to most, significant to a few. Unsettling for me.
I wear neither a cross nor a tinfoil hat, but even I saw it. Five points in the middle and three on the outside. Each point an important location for those with money and power. Financial institutions, religious sites, stately homes and political hubs. When I finished laying the lines down with black ink I stepped back and tried to tell myself it was just coincidence. I don’t bend my knee. I don’t stare at the stars and look for strange lights. I just follow the clues.
Out of the city, out of the suburbs and deep into the woods. ‘Out of my mind’ they said. I had felt it while I lay there in the mud. ‘Fucking crazy’ they mocked. I thought they were right as I watched them at the river. ‘You need to come back to the real world’ the bastards taunted. But it was the real world I witnessed that night. Unbelievable to most; electrifying for a few. Life changing for me.
I slid the safety off as I crept closer to the river and the raft that bore a giant bonfire anchored there, as well as the two-dozen cloaked and hooded figures that muttered a babbled chant to accompany the young girl’s horrified screams that stood between me and my suspect.
I quickened my pace to the final tree. He had all his tools with him that night. All capable of killing the girl or me. He also had a lot of followers, all capable of killing or stopping me. But I had the element of surprise – a loaded revolver and the law on my side.
While I hid behind the tree attempting to hatch a plan, he raised a mace and cracked the girl’s skull open. She died slowly, but not long enough for me to run to the river. Not long enough to drop a few of his followers stupid enough to get in my way with well-placed bullets to the knees – not enough cuffs for all of them. Not long enough for me to slap the bracelets on the beast. Not long enough for me to recover from the wall of fire that the river erupted into, scorching half my face and left arm pretty badly.
He’d made a run for it, but not fast enough. Not far enough. Not from me.
He had put another pin in my map. The fourth point of the outer pentagram. He’d been locked up with one pin still missing, but then the dumb bastards set him free.
The final pin landed at the heart of the old financial district, or what was left of it these days. After the riots they had simply abandoned the several blocks that had been damn near torn down by the people it had been bleeding dry for generations. Occasionally the city’s higher-ups would demand the tents and shacks be pulled down and discarded, likewise their occupants. Money no longer flows here, blood does, and as I push forwards I remind myself that I didn’t bring my handcuffs this time or my badge. No knee shots tonight either.
As I approach what remains of the old central bank’s rear entrance, I breath deep and spot the first guard. He’s being more cautious this time. He’s got his followers protecting his ceremony, not just watching it like before. He knows I’m coming. I walk faster and raise the pistol in line with the hood.
No point playing it quiet. Everyone dies tonight, starting with this guard who is bleeding out on the dirty cobbles.
I fire at the lock and kick the door open. The rear of the building has a flight of concrete steps leading up to what remains of the roof, which is where I’m sure he’ll be for the final ceremony.
The last few steps bring with it the smell of fire, the sounds of chanting and the sight of another hooded follower. I don’t give him a chance to react, I just shoot. Yeah, they know I’m here and now they know how I’m playing it.
My revolver leads the way up into the attic and the bonfire’s roar shows me four hoods standing around it. My Smith & Wesson Model 66 informs all four of their rights, and as the last one drops I notice the beast fleeing into the blackness that shimmers at the edges of our semi-covered surroundings.
Maybe there’s a ladder…
The fire’s heat grabs me as I charge forwards and its light forces me to turn my head, but it eases once I duck down and rest my shoulder against a concrete plinth. My scars seem to burn again at the sensation of such heat in close quarters and I’m sweating hard as I reload the six empty chambers in my revolver.
I scan the shadows for him, but the flickering flames are restless and give me only moments to see into the blackness.
Where are you, you bastard?
The entire room seems to move closer to me. The walls all converging, bearing down on me like a nightmare.
There’s fucking dozens of them!
He has a lot more followers with him tonight and as they all rush at me I have only one quick and clear thought: You can take at least six down before you die. Maybe even a seventh with your hands.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
I’m growling in pain. Even before I turn and look my mind is already informing me that the blast has destroyed most of my right bicep. I glance at my pistol about a metre away and then take in the sight of the gaping wound where an old man’s bicep should be hidden by a coat sleeve.
I squeal in pain.
I’m on my back, I’m in agony, I can’t breathe, I can’t fucking breathe, I can’t breathe – I’m hit real bad. As I lift my head, the sight of the crimson splattering my upper torso welcomes me and I squeal some more. Only this time it sounds like a drowning pig. Gargling and choking on blood that spurts up and out of my mouth as I writhe around on the dirty concrete. The nightmare engulfs me as they swarm like a pack of ravenous wolves on a fallen elk. The pain rips into me from everywhere and I’m screaming and yelling until…
I’m fucking dying.
It’s all gone black.
My eyes are closed, but I don’t feel any more pain.
My mind’s eye presents me as an arrow rushing through the air. I begin to lose speed, followed by height, and the black looms ever closer until I skid along the surface and the scars of my burns hurt more than the night I got them.
My eyes are open and I’m still alive – the pain is unmistakable.
What the hell is going on?!
I’m restrained and naked. Ropes are secured around my wrists and ankles. The fire is high. I’m no longer on the floor. I can’t see any skin on my upper torso, just what’s underneath.
I’m being fucking sacrificed to Satan!
I force myself to breath but it’s hard and ultimately pointless now.
The bastard won. I was too loud. Too quick. Too fucking stupid.
I’m suddenly screaming in anguish from the ferocity of the fire that has increased in size and strength.
My fucking body is in agony!
From out of the flames steps a giant figure.
Is that really…?
Are those fucking horns?!
Before me looms a red-skinned titan, naked and covered in black ink tattoos of bizarre symbols. There is a look in his onyx eyes that defies God. He glances around the room, pausing momentarily on each of the dead bodies.
I grimace at the thought of the one I let get away. Again.
“Your soul,” he says with an open hand extended down to me.
Believe or don’t believe. Most are brainwashed into it, some have real faith, others reject it out of hand. I just go where the facts lead me. Hard not to believe when the Devil stands before you and asks for your soul. So now I’m like those heretics that change their mind right before Death gives that final squeeze. Betwixt the stirrup and the ground I am now a believer.
It’s almost impossible to breath.
You spend your life doing right. Walk the line and stay the course. Do what’s truly right no matter the opposition. Then in the end you become a murderer. You gun down others, depriving them of their day in court. Without warning. Without the law on your side. You become a killer. A Russian once said something along the lines of ‘Run with wolves, howl like wolf.’
“I can give you what you desire above all else,” he says.
I sneer as I look him in the eyes and remind myself of the promise I made.