SEVENTEEN – CLOSE CALL
Officer Richard Ali Christopher spun the wheel on the department land rover and cut into the pine woods, heading north across Wind Point.
The driving rain made it difficult to see where he was going. To make matters worse, fog still clung to the bottom of the trees like milky cocoons from some giant butterfly.
“It’ll be a miracle if I get this rig through here in one piece,” he said to himself. “Man, that jerk ain’t worth it.”
He couldn’t believe he was going through all this to look for McCorvy Cofax. Rick had met the reporter three times at crime scenes, and he’d never gotten a favorable impression from the man. In fact, Cofax struck Rick as a self-important ass—an opinion everyone else on the force seemed to share.
This whole errand had the aura of a snipe hunt. Probably Cofax was sleeping one off in some dive in one of Frosthaven’s more fashionable sections.
Rick kept reminding himself that police couldn’t just help people they liked. He cut the wheel to avoid a fallen log and kept the rover moving.
To make matters worse, Rick had spent most of the day getting permission from the Frost family to search the north side of the peninsula. Old Daniel Frost had been none too keen to hear that a reporter might be snooping around the Frosts’ private domain.
But, even after all the crap they’d put him through, none of the Frosts had deigned to make the trip out with Rick. The family had been too wrapped up in their private affairs to lend a hand—even Ivy, who, despite some initial misgivings, Rick had almost grown to like in the past month. He even felt he understood what his friend Grant Winslow saw in her.
Ivy had suggested contacting her cousin Tony. He was a painter and lived on the north shore of the peninsula, anyway. But repeated calls to Tony’s house went unanswered, and no one seemed to be home when Rick paid a courtesy visit at the A-frame where the artist lived.
So, Rick found himself navigating through thick trees in a driving rain into an area of Frosthaven known well only to the Frost family themselves.
Rick would have cursed if he’d been inclined to that kind of thing. Instead he concentrated on the road and the job ahead.
What kind of idiot scheme could have compelled Cofax to come out here in the first place? A shipwreck? Who could be so stupid as to believe that the Coast Guard wouldn’t have had some inkling if a sizable boat went missing?
Rick ground his teeth together in frustration. The rover burst through the last of the trees, and he could see the lake in front of him—the vehicle’s headlights casting pale pools of light on the dark, thrashing waters.
He turned west along the beach, wondering how he’d know when he got to the right spot.
He’d driven about three-quarters of a mile when he spotted something in the headlights at the water’s edge. He stopped the car, rolled down the window, and trained the spotlight on it.
It looked like a bottle. On most beaches, it wouldn’t have seemed so incongruous, but on the spotless Frost reservation it definitely looked out of place.
“Crap,” Rick muttered, pulling his police slicker up over his head. He’d been hoping he wouldn’t have to get out of the car.
He opened the door and quickly slammed it behind him, leaving the warmth of the vehicle to venture into the chilly evening air. His boots crunched on the sand as he walked quickly toward the bottle. The wet grit skidded out from under him, and he almost fell on his face—catching himself just in time.
“Man, I hate walking on sand!” he said quietly, brushing off his pants. He chuckled. Of course, some sand wouldn’t be so bad. Being barefoot on a beach in the Bahamas sounded damn inviting right now.
He reached the bottle, stooped, and picked it up.
The producer who called the department had told the officer on duty that Cofax drank bourbon. Thoughts of a quick recon, a speedy punch-out, and an early trip home to bed began to recede in Rick’s mind.
He put his gloved hands to his mouth and called out. “Cofax! Cofax, you out here? Gimme some sign if you need help!”
Rick realized shouting probably wouldn’t yield any results, but he didn’t relish the thought of calling in for a search party. The rain had obliterated any trace of tracks that might have helped him locate the missing man. It was looking like a long night.
“Shoot!” he said, kicking a clod of sand up with his toe.
As he turned back toward the car to put in the call for help, something large and heavy hit him in the back.
Rick fell forward into the wet sand; the object landed on top of him. He struggled, but the thing moved, adjusted itself, kept him pinned to the ground.
The weight on Rick’s back made it difficult to breath. He spit sand out of his mouth. “Izzat you, Cofax? Get off me, man! What do you think you’re doing?” Whatever was on him certainly felt like a human being, but it was quick, too—like an animal.
Something cold, like an arctic wind licked at the officer’s neck, and a terrible stench assailed his nostrils.
“I’m not kidding!” he said desperately. “I’m a police officer! I could haul you in for this.”
His only answer was an inhuman giggle.
Rick struggled, calling on all his police training and experience in hand-to-hand fighting. But try as he might, he couldn’t remove the weight from his back. His attacker was strong—stronger than any perp the cop had ever faced. Rick had wrestled in high school, but couldn’t ever remember having this much trouble with an opponent then, either. All the officer could see of his assailant was knees in black, pressed pants.
“Let me have some,” a coarse voice said from off to his right.
Rick’s stomach sank as he realized he was outnumbered. My pooch is screwed but good this time! he thought. He heard a flap of wings overhead and wondered if it was the Angel of Death come to take him.
But suddenly the weight lifted from his body. His attacker howled in anger.
Rick spun onto his back and groped for his gun. At least the perp hadn’t gotten his gun!
What he saw froze him momentarily: a thin, white woman, like a sculpture of pure snow, held Rick’s assailant aloft with one hand. The attacker thrashed in her grip, kicking and slavering, his well-cut suit flapping in the rain.
The woman’s white dress whipped around her body and almost looked like feathers in the light from the rover’s headlights. Two other shapes stood nearby, skulking in the darkness. They were human, but Rick couldn’t make out their features in the darkness and the rain.
“Fool!” the woman said in an icy voice. “You know you’re never to feed without my permission.” She flung the well-dressed man what Rick guessed must have been at least thirty feet through the air. The perp landed lightly on the soles of his polished shoes and crouched as if to spring. Now out of the headlights, he became just another dark shape.
“Hold it right there!” the cop ordered, trying to position his weapon to keep the three dark shapes at bay. “Thanks for the help, lady, but I can take it from here. This is police business now.”
He got to his knees and slowly stood up, his finger just a hair’s breadth from pulling the trigger. “The three of you, go to the front of the car and put your hands on the hood.”
The shapes giggled.
“Tear his fucking heart out, Glory,” said one.
“Silence!” commanded the woman, her eyes somehow blazing in the darkness.
Shoot! thought Rick. She’s in this, too! What the heck is going on?
The woman in white took a step toward him, and he trained the gun on her. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but we can sort it out at the station. All of you, hands on the hood of the car. You, too, lady!”
“Kill him, Glory,” said the shape that had been the well-dressed man.
“Do him right,” urged the shape that hadn’t spoken before. “Put some poetry into his sad black soul.”
“No,” the woman, Glory apparently, replied calmly. “Never despoil your own back yard. You must all learn that.”
“I’m warning you,” said Rick, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice. “Do it now! I’ll shoot if I have to.” He began to edge backwards toward the rover.
The shapes crept forward.
“I mean it!” Rick insisted. He flicked the gun barrel skyward and fired a warning shot into the air.
But before he could bring the gun back down the shapes sprang forward. One knocked the gun from his hand while the other two pinned his arms behind his back. Rick gasped with pain.
“What should we do with this asshole, Glory?” one shape asked.
Rick realized with horror that the man speaking was McCorvy Cofax.
“He’ll bring others if we let him go,” said the well-dressed man. He smiled and tilted his dark-maned head as though he were a preening white rooster. “We have to kill him.”
“Do him right! Do him with sweet poetry. Make his veins burn,” said the third shape, a sallow-looking black man.
Glory stepped forward, her dark eyes burning into Rick’s soul.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “He won’t bother us again.”