Following yesterday’s interview at Tamara Thorne’s Little Blog of Horrors, here is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Crimson Corset, which will be available in just a few weeks.
Untidy, Ryan Closter had called it. The young deputy had a knack for understatement and when Ethan arrived at the scene, he was prepared to be put off – but this was downright ghastly. This wasn’t the way Ethan liked to start his mornings.
Blood was everywhere, a dried riot of red rust all over the floor, across the bed, and even on the ceiling. It was as if someone had put a bomb in a can of paint. And the smell was unbearable. Flies swarmed like a black cloud above the body.
Closter spoke at Ethan’s side. “A neighbor heard some noises last night. She informed the landlord this morning, and after knocking and getting no response, this is what he walked into.”
At the center of the bed lay the woman, face-down, in her own dried pool of fluids.
“Her name’s Rose Keller,” Closter said.
Ethan shook his head. “Day manager of the Black Garter.”
“You know her?”
“Our paths crossed recently.” Ethan wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the woman had overdosed on something, but would never have guessed she’d go like this.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Closter looked a little green, and his partner, Nick Grayson, gave Ethan an uncertain glance.
“Why don’t you go get some fresh air, Closter?” Ethan said. “We’ll be fine till the others show up.”
The deputy swallowed and nodded, his face clammy. The last thing they needed was for someone to throw up on the crime scene – not that it’d be the first time it had happened.
As Closter stepped out, Ethan heard the buzz of bystanders just outside the door. “Jesus,” someone said. “I’ve never seen so much blood …”
“I heard they can’t find her head,” said another.
The voices faded as the door closed. How eagerly people swarm to violence and death. Like ants to a piece of rotten fruit. It unsettled Ethan.
The room was hot, intensifying the reek of blood, of innards – of death. Dozens of flies crawled lazily over the body and more were landing. Ethan’s own stomach roiled a little. He hadn’t been sick at a scene since his earliest days on the force and he didn’t intend to buckle now, but it wasn’t easy. He’d never seen anything this theatrical; it looked like the police photographs from the Jack the Ripper crimes. But in horrible living color. He moved closer and stared down at the woman on the bed. Two stumps of spine, glistening white, jutted out of the mess that was the rest of her. It was as if someone had unzipped her skin, reached inside, and yanked her backbone out. And they’d managed to snap it in half in the process.
“Whoever did this was sending a message.” Deputy Grayson was crouched beside the bed, his gaze roving over the late Ms. Keller. A former quarterback in his early-forties with broad shoulders and the earliest beginnings of a beer gut, Nick Grayson was one of Ethan’s best.
Ethan nodded. “I’ll agree with you on that.”
Grayson’s gaze never left the victim. “A killer doesn’t cause a scene like this unless he wants to make a statement.”
The question was, who was the killer, and what was he trying to say? “No sign of any weapons?”
Grayson shook his head and Ethan noticed some graying at the temples of his deputy’s black curly hair. This was the kind of job that would do that. “Nope. Nothing.”
Ethan had figured as much. There was something about this scene that didn’t work.
The woman was tangled in white sheets reminding him, morbidly, of an old barber’s pole. Red and white, red and white, blood and bandages, blood and bandages. He walked around the bed, seeing it from all angles. Every crime scene told a story, you just had to know how to read it. And this one, Ethan was certain, was one hell of a tale.
The more he saw, the more certain he became of two things. One, Rose’s killer was not human, and two, it was not an animal. Not in the usual sense, anyway. He bent and moved the victim’s hair back, careful not to disturb anything. He saw the bite marks on her neck that confirmed his suspicions. He’d have them checked against dental records and if he was lucky – which was highly unlikely – maybe they’d catch the perp fast.
There were also several places along her shoulders and arms where the skin was torn. Someone went to town on her. The thick sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach went colder.
“I’ve been trying to figure that out, too,” said Grayson, watching him. “They’re bites.”
Ethan’s knees popped as he stood and moved to the window. He pinched back the blood-spattered white curtains and stared down. Outside, the Ivory Heights apartment complex was already surrounded by a swarm of onlookers, and it was only going to get worse. Rose Keller’s one-bedroom, second-story apartment would soon be a frenzy of technicians, detectives, plainclothes, more uniforms, a photographer, and probably even a man with a video camera. There was no dignity in death, he thought as he looked at the shredded body on the bed. Especially not when you die like that.
Ethan decided it was time to pay Michael Ward another visit.