Rated R - violence and language
From inside the stained old building, through the moaning metal doors and the soot-blackened cinder blocks, they could hear him dragging her. Over the din of distant generators wheezing and threatening to quit, they could hear her pleading with him to stop, to let her go, not to do this, that this was a mistake, that this was all a terrible mistake. The scraping of her shoes on the wet cement and her bubbling pleas for mercy hummed a mid range, punctuated every few seconds by the crash of a garbage can being kicked across the alley by her flailing feet.
The tenants had heard this music before. It was his custom to find them and bring them back here, kicking and screaming and terrified, past these same apartment windows, past the fleeing cats, past the wide eyes peering through dark curtains, past the shutting of windows and the dropping of shades.
He liked the flutter of almost closed curtains most.
“Please, please don't do this. Please, sir... sir, sir please...”
He slid her to a stop against a dumpster. He didn't release his grip on her shirt and hair. The fingers of his left hand searched the clutter of a deep overcoat pocket, stirring a small batch of keys to jingle. He pulled the keys from the pocket, knowing by feel which key he needed, and stabbed it into the door lock.
“Please, please don't...”
His right hand closed more tightly around the woman's shirt collar and the thousands of shoulder-length black hairs he'd grabbed along with it. He gave the pairing a quick downward jerk, forcing her face up toward his own, and she choked on whatever words she was about to say.
He held his left index finger up to her lips. She closed her eyes to the acrid smell. The bitter taste of sweat and dirt on long-unbathed skin seeped in before she could shut herself off.
Her first tears rolled over her cheeks as he ripped the door open and dragged her inside.
Two of the hallway's three light bulbs were out. He dragged her through flickering darkness over crinkling newspapers and trash scattered throughout the corridor. She wasn't sure of the smell hitting her, the bitter rot of spilled beer, or vomited beer. Or pissed beer. Maybe all three. Probably all three. As the smell peaked, he dragged her over the legs of someone else. She landed hard on the other side but looked back at the person she'd touched. An old man stared back at her. She mouthed “Help me” to him, but did not do it twice. His scarred face, his empty eyes, his dying heart would not be able to help her. His expression didn't change as she was pulled away down the hall. His expression wouldn't change even when her screams filled the hallway.
His expression wouldn't change even when he was dead.
When they turned a corner, the ground shifted from smooth cement to something more like gravel. She could feel the small pebbles rolling beneath her backside and feet as he dragged her. There was a music to them as they rolled, a high-pitched crunching, a grinding, a tinny tinkling, and as one piece caught under her shoe and she scraped it long and hard against the cement floor, she recognized the sound.
It was broken glass.
“Please, you can't do this!”
He pulled her up a flight of stairs to a short landing. He turned and continued up another flight of stairs to the second floor.
“Stop. Please stop. You don't know what you're doing!”
The man stopped, his head turned low to listen. When she whimpered again he jerked her head down and to the left, whipping her head hard enough that she thought he might break her neck. When she cried out, his other hand slid around her throat. She bit her upper lip and closed her eyes.
Footsteps rose from the hallway ahead of them, the hollow click of stilettos. A woman was making her way toward them. The girl wondered what she should do. Would it be any use crying out for help in this place? It would probably just endanger the other woman. The girl hadn't made up her mind when the click of heels made their crescendo and their owner's legs appeared.
For a second she felt relief. Red stilettos, with legs much thicker than she'd envisioned, and longer. The person walking in them was taller than she'd imagined, nearly the size of the man dragging her. For a split second, she felt the dream might end right here and the nightmare that she knew lay ahead might never come.
“Oh Billy, you gettin' your nasty on tonight?”
The nightmare rushed back in. The woman in red stilettos was a man. He was a man and he knew her attacker by name, Billy, and knew what Billy liked to do to women.
“Boy, you crazy. Well, have fun, honey, you do you.”
Another tear made its way down the girl's face. The stilettos clicked their way down another corridor and into an unknown doorway. The door slammed, and Billy and the girl were back in the dark quiet. He dragged her another ten feet or so before fishing his keys out again. He slammed one into the lock, gave one hard turn, and shoved the door inward. The girl held onto his wrist as he pulled her inside, but otherwise she gave no more resistance.
Two lines of SWAT members converged on the metal door at the alley's center. Team one's leader leveled his MP5 at the door while team two's leader readied his Remington 870 shotgun. A third team member appeared from the line with a long black crow bar. He speared it into the space between door jam and door, just above the handle, and pulled. The door burst open with a sheering crack.
Team one's leader entered first, shifting right to allow for the second man to have a clear view along the left. They stopped, the flashlights on their weapon barrels darting hot circles of light into every dark corner. This portion of hallway was clear, and the message was whispered into every headset.
Around the first corner, team one's leader yelled “Freeze!” while the second man whispered into the headset again: “We've got a body. Make that two bodies, repeat, two bodies.”
Their flashlights went naturally to the heads of the victims. The body they'd seen first, the one that made team leader yell “Freeze,” was sitting, back against the wall, at the base of a set of stairs. He seemed to be sleeping, but the flashlight beams illuminated a wet sheen across the man's face and shoulders.
Guns steadied on the two bodies as team leader and second approached. From the side they couldn't tell the extent of the damage. As they made their ways closer and could finally see the front of the men, they realized why the men weren't moving and why there was blood everywhere.
“Call homicide,” team leader announced.
The seated man's chest had been opened. Instead of a sternum, ribs, heart and lungs, his head was slumped down over a blood-soaked, empty chest cavity. Otherwise, he seemed untouched. The man lying next to him was not untouched. It was obvious his arms and legs had been broken in multiple places, and while he was lying chest down on the bloody floor, his head had been turned a full one hundred and eighty degrees around. His face was looking up.
What was left of his face.
A fist-sized hole ran straight through what had been his face, having taken his upper jaw and nose. His lower jaw now hung from one of the mandible joints, the other joint having been ripped clean from his skull.
Team one's leader guided his light to the stairwell. There were long, dripping blood smears on each wall, some made obviously by bloody hands, and others by larger, more blunt surfaces. Maybe heads, maybe torsos. Once they entered the stairwell and looked up and back to the entry to the second floor hallway, the leader whispered into his headset again:
“Body in the stairwell.”
This man was hanging by his head and neck from a hole in the wall. Someone jammed his head into the wall hard enough to tear through the drywall and into the wood and metal underneath. They'd jammed his head hard enough to break his skull, and deep enough for his head to lodge and hold up the rest of his body's weight. As one of the SWAT members passed, he jumped suddenly and jerked his rifle sharply toward the body. One of the dead man's hands had twitched, and was still twitching.
In the second floor hallway, the carnage of the previous bodies faded away. Three dead bodies, each mostly in one piece, seemed like pretty pictures compared to the bloody canvas before them.
Billy slammed the door shut, clicking three bolts into place, and pulled the girl up to her feet. She was murmuring frantically to herself, occasionally sounding out actual words.
“My fault... it's okay... it's okay, I'm okay...”
Billy held her face in his hands, lifting her chin so they could stare into each others eyes.
She shut her eyes against his gaze, against his chugging breaths. The stench of fresh liquor and old decay charred her senses. She could feel his breath wrap around her face and neck, ballooning the back of her shirt as it made its way down her back. She could feel each finger, each finger nail, digging in along the back of her neck, up into her scalp, his thumbs pressing into the inner crease between her nose and her cheeks. Her skin slid and shifted over her skull as he squeezed. Her skull followed every twitch of his growing rage.
“What, you won't even look at me now?”
She'd shut her eyes against his stare and the grating pressure of his breaths. She'd shut her eyes so she wouldn't have to see any of it, and so he couldn't see all of it. So he couldn't see all of her.
“Come on, sweetie. Look at me.”
His grip on her face tightened. She heard his lips part, heard the wet squish of spit as he stretched his mouth into a wide smile. Her head tried to roll away to one side, even without her trying. He jerked it back into position.
“Now, now, now, don't be rude,” he whispered.
She moaned. At the end, the faintest billow of a word emerged. She tried to shut her lips against it, but could not.
His hands stiffened. She heard his smile fade away.
“What did you say?” he whispered.
In his vice grip, she tried to shake her head. She twisted her face back and forth in his massive hands, insisting she'd said nothing, insisting he had no reason to be upset. He stopped her head shaking and pulled her face forward and back, nodding for her.
“No, don't lie. Nobody likes liars. What did you say, sugar?”
More tears made their way out from under her closed eyelids. She coughed out a sob and once it was out she couldn't contain the rest.
“Aw, don't cry, sugar.” He took his thumbs to the tear streams, smearing them across her cheeks. “Sshhh sshhhhh ssshhhh, don't cry. Not yet. I haven't given you a reason to cry.”
“Please, you don't understand...”
“Billy is gonna take good care of you.”
“You have to stop.” With this sentence, she opened her eyes. Billy looked for the fear he'd been waiting to see. He'd been longing for it, desperate for it. He'd felt her breaking, felt the moment coming. Now, through the tears, as she stared back at him, he knew he could tighten his squeeze on her head, stare back into her eyes, and drink in her despair.
Her eyes were darker than he thought they would be, darker than he remembered from when he first saw her on the street. His room was dark, though, he knew that. The room was dark and she was cowering beneath him and her eyes were red from the tears so it made sense that her eyes would seem different. But they were afraid. They were full of true fear, the last eruptions of pure fear before death. They were soaking in it.
Just like all the others.
Like the others, she held the final fear of leaving earth, of losing everything she'd ever thought she wanted. Soon he'd see the last of it fly from her eyes. Soon, he'd see her realize her darkest fear and then give in. He'd see all the fear vanish in an instant, and see, finally, right at the very end, her relief.
He would see her let go.
He kept his eyes on hers and held her tight.
“It's almost time, sugar,” he said.
“You don't know...”
“Are you ready?”
“You don't know what you've done.”
Billy re-gripped her hair with his left hand so he could relax his right. He held her eye contact as he pulled his hand back and curled it into a fist. He wanted her to see him do it. He wanted her to know what was coming. He needed her to know. In that moment of knowing, he would get to see what he needed to see.
But her eyes didn't change. The fear was there still, but as he stared, Billy could see it was different, slightly, from the others. He could see a fear of him, but that wasn't the core fear. There was something else around it, underneath it.
“Please,” she whispered, unblinking.
She was afraid. But she wasn't afraid of him.
She was afraid for him.
Then he hit her. He held her upright with his left hand and drew back his right. He'd done it before. It was the moment he'd been waiting for, the reason behind everything else. He wanted to feel his thick, heavy fist slam into a woman's face. He wanted to feel his knuckles crash into her jaw. He wanted to feel her teeth break free from their roots, see her spit them out on the tan carpet.
All of the other moments of his life pointed here. This act, this moment, this magnetic north. This moment pushed his construction work, his bouncer shifts at the bar, his buying groceries and paying rent and watching TV and drinking and going to bed, it was all entirely for this. He wanted to feel the warm blood on his knuckles, to feel the mist of it on his face, to smell it in the air. He wanted to feel and hear the thud of her skull slamming into the floor, hear the smaller, thinner bones go first, then the bigger, thicker bones with their deeper crunches and cracks. He wanted the floor to rumble. He wanted the walls to shake. He wanted the violence to rise and rise until the whole building knew, the whole city, and the entire police force was sent. He wanted his mark left in blood, permanent, impossible to wash out.
He wanted people to remember.
“Look alive, Evans. Stay focused!”
Team one's leader was first into the hallway. His flashlight inspected each body he passed for any movement. He knew there would be none. The first man he stepped over was clearly dead, slumped over on his side with most of his head missing. Different pieces of it were on the wall above him and on the ground next to him. Across the hall from him, another man was kneeling. He'd been bent over backwards, his back obviously broken, his head jutting out from between his kneeling legs, locked in some final grotesque yoga pose.
He also appeared to be missing his hands.
This building was known for its drug use and prostitution. Officers had seen a lot of terrible things in these halls. But nothing had ever made three SWAT members throw up in their tac helmets.
“Carlson, Lopez, perimeter!”
Two more SWAT members made their way up the stairs and stopped at the entry to the hallway. Team leader pointed down the hall.
They stepped over the bodies and took up positions at the end of the hall.
“All clear here, sir,” Lopez called back.
Then it all happened right here, he thought. He counted eight bodies in the hallway, with the other two downstairs and one in the stairwell. Even for this building, that was a lot. Stranger still, none of the men so far seemed to have died from gunshot wounds, the preferred murder tool of this tenement. Crushed skulls, broken necks and backs, massive wounds without any clean knife markings or powder burns, and blood everywhere.
Team leader waved up another officer. He pointed with all five fingers on his right hand to one door in the hallway. There were four doors for the four apartments in this section, but only one door had five of the eight bodies around it, and blood running into the hallway from the space beneath it. He shined his flashlight down to the door's base.
The blood pool was three feet wide and growing.
He pointed again.
The officer lowered his shotgun and swung his leg in a short, violent arc. His boot hit the door just below the door knob. It flew open wildly, careening inward and slamming into the inner wall with a crash. None of the locks had been engaged. With how easily it swung open, the men weren't even sure the door had been closed.
Team leader stepped in, aiming right, into the kitchen, then scanning left into the living room.
“Police, police, get on the ground!”
More bodies. On the kitchen floor, one of the bodies had been filled with what seemed to be all of the knives the occupant owned. He was a pin cushion, the majority of the knives jutting out of his chest. A headless body lay at the base of the refrigerator, and was the primary cause for the pool of blood forming in the hallway. The team members did not see the head, not until someone opened the refrigerator door and it came tumbling out, its face still locked in a final scream. The refrigerator door had been slammed, again and again, with the man's head in it, until the tissue and bone of his neck gave out. The door had been wrenched open and closed, like the jaws of a hunger-crazed beast. Only now had the beast vomited up its meal.
Team leader stopped calling for medical, for forensics, for back up, or for homicide. Everyone who could be called had been called, and none of them would be ready for this scene.
Seal team six wouldn't be ready for this scene, he thought.
Two bodies in the kitchen, two more in the bathroom. One lay on the bathroom floor, face down, broken. The other was hanging from the ceiling, swaying slightly. His head had been forced through the ceiling materials, much like the man hanging by his head in the stairwell, and blood was still dripping from the tips of his fingers.
In the living room, six men had been beaten to death in various ways. One had a hole in his face similar to the man downstairs. Another had lost his head entirely, but much of his spine had remained attached when his head was removed. It was lying at his side, the end of the spinal column near his hand so that the spine lead upward to the motionless skull like the grotesque string of some demonic balloon.
Another man had his legs wrapped behind his back and up over his shoulders and around his head. Another had both arms ripped off.
Team leader stepped on something hard and looked down. It was a 9mm Beretta, the metal barrel bent at a ninety degree angle. The metal had ridges in it, like the gun had been crushed in someone's impossibly strong hand.
To get into the bedroom, team leader had to step over a pile of entrails. Amid all of the things he'd seen to this point, he finally had to stop. He lowered his gun and put a hand over his mouth and nose. He knew he would vomit if he didn't. He knew he might vomit, still.
The eleven by nine foot bedroom had become an alter, like a sacrificial tomb. The central ceiling light was still on, but it was covered in blood and was barely getting any light into the space. The blood cast a deep red shadow over the room and the three figures in it.
One figure, a large black man in a red dress, was slumped against the far wall, holding a heart in his hands. His chest was a massive open wound, and it was later discovered that he was holding his own heart. His legs had both been broken at the femurs and at the knees and mid-shin. The legs had been twisted and intertwined like vines.
He was wearing red stilettos.
The metal top of the baseboard of the bed had been removed. It was twisting through the abdomen of a man on the floor, having been pushed through, bent back, and pushed through again multiple times.
Tearing the metal top off of the baseboard had left jagged upright posts. Two men had been pressed downward so that the jagged metal posts tore through their throats and held them there, chin up and eyes to the heavens, as they bled out.
The dark redness of the room and the amount of blood made it difficult to discern all of the room's features. Team leader let out a sudden yell when the red mass of blood and gore on the bed suddenly showed two bright eyes. The girl was so covered in blood that she blended into the room and could only be seen when she showed the whites of her eyes when she opened them and the whites of her teeth when she spoke.
“I'm sorry,” she said.
Team leader kept his gun on her. He wanted to tell her not to move. He wanted to yell for her to get on the ground, to keep her hands where he could see them. He couldn't say anything. He simply watched as she looked up at him and offered up what was in her hands.
“I'm so sorry.”
She rolled a matted mass of bloody hair over in her hands.
Billy's face looked out at the team leader.