Puppet Masters. Part I. The Crooked Man.

Reads: 357  | Likes: 2  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 1

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful

A butchered girl in a dark alleyway was nothing new to Costello, but something about this one brought a bad feeling over him. A frightened hooker tells him to look for the crooked man, and he feels he is being sent down a very dark path.

The first thing that struck him was that all too familiar smell of violent death, his mind immediately took him back to another place and a different time. He was young back then and it left an indelible mark on his psyche, but like most things in life, familiarity breeds contempt. The young uniformed officer that staggered from the shadows had an unhealthy pallor; the tell-tale smell of vomit was strong on the man. Costello vaguely wondered if his reactions had been much different back then, but in the intervening years, he had seen more carnage than most people would ever see in life. If it was possible for anyone to be immune to such things, then he was that person.

The narrow alleyway dog-legged to the left and widened out into an area of waste ground, the yellow strip of crime scene tape vibrated in the wind with the sound of a colony of bats leaving a cave. The uniformed cop standing guard looked like he was due to retire any day now; he had that bored and indifferent appearance, that only those who had experienced the evil that men were capable of on a daily basis, could muster in such circumstances. Kevin Costello paused watching the small group gathered twenty yards away, around what he presumed to be the victim; a sudden urge came over him to turn around and head to the nearest bar. Weariness had suddenly flooded his mind, and in a moment of strange clarity, he realized that this case would be his last.

The strange thoughts had a disturbing effect on him, and he shivered involuntarily as if an ice-cold hand had caressed his spine. Where had these peculiar feelings originated and why now? Costello’s mind tried to fathom out his reactions. Feeling the sudden onslaught of anxiety, he took the cigarette package from his pocket and lit a smoke before offering the old cop one. When the uniform asked for a light, Costello was shocked to see the hand he held the match in begin to tremble. As if sensing Costello’s troubled mood the older cop looked him straight in the face for the first time. “It’s a bad one alright, the worst I’ve seen in thirty-five years. Do yourself a favor son, and get off these streets. Look for a nice handy desk job, these streets are hell and the devil runs the show”.

The old cop turned his head and gazed in the opposite direction to the crime scene, the cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth smoldered down to the butt. Costello wondered what was going through the man’s mind and what visions played in his mind's eye. The older man was standing less than three feet from Costello, yet his mind had taken him to a place and time very distant from where they stood. Something about this whole thing felt surreal to Costello, and for the second time in a few minutes, he felt the urge to leave here for the comforting numbness of the whiskey bottle. Costello crushed the cigarette butt beneath his heel, before lifting the strip of tape and walking under it.

“Detective” The sudden sound from the cop startled him; he turned to see the old cop gesturing towards the ground. “Watch your step, the rookie left his lunch somewhere over near the corpse”. Before he got a chance to thank him, the man had turned his back to him; once again the old copper was lost in the darkness of his memories. The flashbulb lit up the area just ahead of him, and for a split second, the grimy brickwork of the walls became home to monstrous shadows. “Jesus Christ, this fucking city is turning into a fucking lunatic asylum, with deranged fucking butchers running about the place.” The wind carried the profanity to Costello’s ears, and he immediately recognized the voice of his partner Jack Conan.

Conan like the old uniform standing guard by the crime scene tape was just ticking off the days until his retirement. He was gruff ill-humored and downright lazy, as far as Costello was aware Jack Conan hated everybody and everything he came across in life. However circumstances had thrown them together, and to be honest, Costello had never cared much for any of his partners anyway. In a lot of ways working with Conan suited him down to the ground; Conan did not like working and preferred to sit back and criticize the efforts of those who did. But at least that left Costello to take the initiative, so most of the time he went about investigations solo, while Conan whiled away his time with one hooker or another that he could pressurize into giving him a freebie.

The crime scene photographer finished up his part in the pantomime and walked past Costello as if he was invisible. The photographer was a small hard-faced Asian guy who never seemed to show any emotion whatsoever, no matter how gruesome his subject matter. Conan watched the small man leave with a hateful expression. “Have a good night Wang” he called loudly after him even though Li was the man’s name, as Costello approached him he heard him mutter under his breath. “Fucking Japanese prick” even though Conan was fully aware that Li was third-generation Chinese American. None of this surprised Costello because it was pretty much how his partner dealt with most people, but for some unknown reason tonight he had a strong urge to punch Conan in the throat.

Everything about this night seemed to jangle his nerves; normally he managed to shut out Conan’s bigoted behavior. He needed to get a grip on his emotions or things would end badly for them both, so he willed his mind to get into work mode. He turned to Conan and asked him to bring him up to speed; it was only when he looked closely at his partner’s face that something struck him. Conan looked even edgier than he felt; the indifferent expression on the man’s face could not hide the expression in his normally deadpan eyes. Whatever had happened here had really disturbed Conan, and not only that, by the look in those eyes he was terrified. “Some lunatic butchered a hooker” his voice broke before he could go on, and he had to stop and clear his throat. If Costello did not know the man better, he would have sworn Conan was holding back tears.

Conan finally composed himself enough to continue. “He cut her bad Costello; she looks like something from an abattoir. Only for the body, you could not even tell it was a girl, the fucking freak took her face with him”. Conan fell silent again and Costello waited for him to continue, but the coroner arrived in the meantime and Conan looked relieved that he didn’t have to say any more about it. Costello followed the medical examiner in the direction of the victim but stopped a few feet back to give him room to work. Up close like this, the smell of death was overpowering, it was a strange acrid smell. A mixture of the coppery smell of spilled blood, human waste and the hot smell of offal. It assaulted the senses and caused a stinging sensation in his nostrils, a wave of nausea washed over him and he thought he might vomit, but it passed off quickly.

Once the medical examiner had finished, he nodded in Costello’s direction. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, as he approached the scene of carnage. He viewed the body by the light of a small torch held by the examiner, for some strange reason the scene was so horrible it felt unreal. It was as if he was viewing a prop from a Horror B movie, the girl had been flattened out as if her spine had been removed. She looked for all the world like a butterflied chicken carcass, and just like Conan had said the perpetrator had peeled her face off. The torch moved to take in the area directly surrounding the dead girl, there were no body parts to be seen, so once again Conan had been correct, the killer had taken her face with him.

Costello looked inquiringly at Jake Hobbs and the old medic just shrugged his shoulders. “I can’t tell you a fucking thing until we get her back to the lab; nothing about this one is ordinary. There are two things I can hazard a guess about, the first being this was not the place of death, and the second one is I would not think she died of natural causes. Other than that, come and see me in the morning, and we can have a closer look. Now if it is all the same to the city police force, I am getting out of here, that wind is freezing my balls off”. Hobbs gave him a wry smile and a reassuring pat on the shoulder, before setting off humming tunelessly under his breath. To be honest, he could not blame the medic for wanting to be gone from this place, it was cold alright but something other than the stiff northerly breeze was contributing to the cold atmosphere.

Costello watched them load the body bag in the coroner's van and once they had driven away, he went in search of Jack Conan, but as per usual when it was time to do some leg work, Conan had done a disappearing act. The old uniformed cop just gave him a blank look when he inquired as to whether he saw Conan leave, so in the end, he thought it better to get on with things by himself. A part of him hoped that Jack Conan had disappeared from the face of the earth, in a lot of ways that scenario would make Costello’s life a loss less complicated. A quick chat with the two uniformed cops, proved less than helpful just as he thought it might. The call reporting the body was made anonymously and the dispatcher could not even say whether the caller was male or female. The young cop who smelled of puke was the first to see the body, and neither saw another living soul anywhere near the scene.

The girls huddled in small groups in doorways trying to keep warm, considering the scanty clothes they wore, there was little chance they would find much warmth out here tonight. Every now and again a car would slowly cruise down the street, and some of the girls would break from the huddles braving the biting wind. Trying their best to look sexy and inviting they would stand with a provocative posture until the would-be punters cruised past. Then hurriedly return to the warmth of their huddled colleges, business seemed slow tonight and the few cars that did pass appeared to be merely window shopping. Costello watched the pitiful sight and the prophetic words of the old cop came back to him, there was a certain truth in those words, the streets of this city really could be hell.

Costello watched the working girls plying their trade, in the hope he could isolate one by herself. His idea was a girl on her own might be more willing to talk, none of them wanted to appear too cooperative to the cops in front of her friends. The area surrounding the waste ground where the body was found was a maze of streets where homeless people congregated, and hookers, pimps, and drug dealers plied their trade. These were the kind of people that doing their civic duty by helping the cops would not be top of their list of priorities. Normally it would be the uniformed officers who would be sent to canvass the area, but the sight of a uniform on these streets would immediately send all the locals scurrying for shelter. So even though his shift had finished hours ago, he continued to sit here waiting for his chance to have a word with one of the girls.

As the night dragged on the biting wind had intensified dragging the temperatures even lower, and to add to the misery of the girls the wind now drove sleety rain ahead of it. The radio played softly in the background, as he watched some of the girls give up the ghost and make their way home from the sodden streets. The program played the top billboard hits of the day, and Tab Hunter cheerfully belted out “Young Love”. Costello wondered if the butchered girl had ever known young love, or for that matter if the freezing girls on the sidewalk knew anything about young love. He lit a Lucky Strike and looked at the clock on the dashboard, it was creeping towards midnight now and the last of the streetwalkers began to disburse. He started the engine and followed a blond girl, who had moved off in the opposite direction to the rest of the girls.

Costello followed her for two blocks before pulling alongside the pavement where she was walking, it was dark here as the street light was not working, which was not unusual for this area of the city. Public amenities in this place were not a priority for city hall, and it would not have surprised him to learn the light had been broken for a long time now. He leaned across and rolled down the passenger side window, he could hear the distinct tap, tap of her high heels above the moaning of the wind as she approached. The tapping sound stopped as she hesitated before drawing level with the car, he knew she was nervous now that she had not the safety of her companions. Looking out for each other was a big priority for the girls who worked the streets; even so, a large number of them disappeared without a trace every year.

The sound of heels on the pavement began again but they were slower now and more cautious, the girl approached hesitantly trying hard to make out who was in the dark interior of the car. Her features were just a pale blur in the darkness of the wet street, but he could see by her demeanor she was frightened. Costello reached over head and put on the light, before leaning across so she had a good view of his face. She stared at him for quite a while before she began to relax; Costello had been told by a number of women over the years that he was handsome. But he guessed as long as he did not look like a total monster, this would be good enough for the girl on the pavement. Eventually, the girl approached the open window; the clothes she wore were skimpy and wet through. She crossed her arms as if in the hope this would generate some warmth, and she leaned her head in the window.

It was hard to put an age on her but he guessed she was no older than her mid-twenties, once upon a time she could have been described as extremely pretty if not beautiful. But the years working the streets had taken a toll on her prettiness, she was still good looking but there was a hardness to her features now. Costello had seen this look a thousand times before in people of her profession, it was as if her face had begun to turn to stone and there was a faraway look in her eyes. “Are you looking for a good time mister, cause for a few bucks I can take you to heaven”. She treated him to what he presumed she thought to be a seductive smile, but that smile never quite managed to reach those sad eyes. “Get in girl, I just want to talk. At least it is dry and warm in here”. She quickly dropped any pretense of a smiley happy girl and began to turn away. “Get in girl and I will pay you for your time” Costello waved the twenty-dollar bill at her, and she shrugged her shoulders and climbed in.

The short skirt she wore rode high on her thighs, and before she yanked it back down Costello caught a glimpse of the needle tracks on her thigh above her stocking top. “What’s your name girl”? But she would not even answer this until he handed over the twenty bucks; he guessed she had been ripped off too many times before. Costello drove to the parking lot of an all-night café when he returned with the coffee and sandwich he was mildly surprised to see Anna was still in the car. He had been half expecting her to do a runner with his money, but he also knew if he jumped straight into asking questions he would be wasting his time. He watched her greedily wolf down the chicken sandwich and when she was finished she licked the Mayo off her fingers, there was something childlike in her actions, and he was once again reminded of the comment about these streets being hell.

Anna bummed a cigarette from him and inhaled deeply before expelling the smoke with a sigh of satisfaction, and then she sipped the coffee while staring him in the face. Costello felt as if she was trying to see beyond his eyes and into his soul, whatever she saw there she slowly began to relax and some of the hardness left her face. Just for an instant he saw her in a different light; he could easily imagine her in a prom dress posing with her proud Middle American parents. But if she ever did then it was in another life, he wondered if her Mom and Dad still stared out the window of her home hoping she would return. Did they still hold out hope every time the phone rang, that it was their Anna and she was coming home? As if she had read his mind she laughed sadly before adding. “What you see is what you get mister; I am a hooker, nothing more or nothing less. Now tell me what you want to know, twenty bucks don’t buy you an all-nighter”.

Anna’s reaction was not what he expected when he asked her whether she had seen or heard anything strange on the streets lately. Her laughter was just a little too contrived, and her answer that everything on these streets was strange, sounded just a little too glib. But it was that sudden look of fear in her eyes that caught his attention most, and the sudden darting motion of those eyes as if looking to see if they were being observed. Anna was halfway through the second cigarette and a prolonged bout of silence when he realized that she was contemplating whether or not to tell him something she considered important. He had just told her why he was looking for information when she clammed up, now he was desperately trying to think of something to say to get her talking. But to his surprise, she turned to him and blurted it out, and something in her voice told him she was telling what she believed to be the truth.

“Look mister I knew from the first instant that you were a cop, news travels quickly on the streets. We had all heard about the butchered girl, even before you parked across the street watching us. No one is going to take the risk of talking to you, there are rumors spreading like wildfire that something dark and unholy is going on. That poor girl you found is not the first and you can be certain she will not be the last, but here is the kicker, one of your lot is rumored to be involved. I am not saying he held the blade, but it is said he provides the girls. Another thing that you might find interesting is your murdered girl was not a hooker, she was dumped here to throw you off the scent”. As abruptly as she started talking she fell silent again before he had a chance to react she had opened the door and stepped out of the car. She was moving away from the car when she stopped and turned back. “Look for the crooked man, and you will find your killer”.

Costello watched her walk across the parking lot; she looked even smaller and more vulnerable. Her head darted from side to side constantly as she walked; it was as if she was expecting to be set upon at any moment. He had a bad feeling that this particular girl would not live to old age, for a moment his mind took him back to a different time when he watched another blond girl walk away from him. There had been a lot of girls since then, far too many to remember, a lot of them had been blonde but none of them like the girl he had just remembered now. When he looked again the parking lot was empty, the blonde had disappeared into the shadows, and he vaguely wondered what monsters awaited her in the dark. Costello suddenly wondered why he felt so melancholy tonight, but he could not quite put his finger on a reason. He switched on the engine and drove to Murphy’s Bar and the promise of a cure from his melancholy in a whiskey bottle.









Submitted: October 04, 2019

© Copyright 2021 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Robert Helliger

A great, suspenseful horror thriller short story.
The characters are well described, and the ending is fantastic.

Thu, October 10th, 2019 11:34pm


Thank you Robert, please stay tuned in for the remainder. Probably a four part series. Thanks for your continued support.

Thu, October 10th, 2019 4:40pm

Facebook Comments

More Horror Short Stories

Other Content by Patrick G Moloney