Puppet Masters. Part 2. One Less Puppet.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: The Dark And Suspenseful
Costello eventually finds out who the crooked man is, but he is too late. Conan tells a disturbing story before ending his life, but this story leaves more questions than answers.
Part 2 of Puppet Masters.

Submitted: October 09, 2019

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Submitted: October 09, 2019

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His mind fled those awful visions that haunted his dreams and his first emotion when awakening was one of welcome relief. Relief from the terrifying visions of mutilated bodies, and the ominous silhouette of a crooked man that followed him in the shadows. But his relief quickly fled to be replaced by a different kind of fear, that awful feeling of having no idea where he was or how he had gotten here. Costello lifted his head from the pillow and the pounding headache hit him immediately, the room he was in, faded in and out of focus but he sensed it was an unfamiliar place. The effort of swinging his legs onto the floor and sitting on the side of the bed brought with it a new and unwelcome feeling, as a wave of nausea washed over him. The heavy drapes kept all but the slightest illumination from the room, his full bladder took precedent and he stumbled about the room in search of a bathroom.

The door from the bedroom led to a narrow hallway at the end of which another open door led to the bathroom, the stream of urine splashed loudly in the toilet bowl and seemed to go on forever, but the relief was tangible. Standing there naked in a strange bathroom brought on a feeling of vulnerability that grew in intensity by the second, his mind was racing now as he desperately tried to piece together last night's movements. Costello stood waiting for the sink to fill and studied his reflection in the overhead mirror; his face was deathly pale beneath the salt and pepper stubble that covered his cheeks. In stark contrast, his eyes were surrounded by dark circles and the whites of his eyes were covered in red broken veins. He submerged his head in the cold water and held his breath for as long as he could; when he surfaced again it was to the sound of another stream of urine. The woman with the short blonde hair sitting on the toilet laughed softly to herself at his shocked expression. For one moment his heart skipped a beat as he remembered being in the car with the blonde hooker, but this woman looked nothing like the working girl he had spoken to last night.

The woman finished her business and brazenly stood before him, naked as the day she had come into this world, a smile played on the corners of her full lips as she contemplated his obvious embarrassment with the situation. Then she winked at him seductively and headed back towards the bedroom, he found himself momentarily mesmerized by the sway of her full hips as she walked down the hallway. By the time he got back to the room she had opened the drapes and the light of the grey morning, seemed to exaggerate his nakedness and he felt his face flush with embarrassment. All the while he dressed he felt her eyes on him; he could not remember having felt this awkward in a long time. Once he had finished dressing he glanced in her direction, the amused expression had left her face now and she gazed at him with a melancholy look on her face. “Catherine is my name, Catherine Boyce, and I don’t make a habit of bringing back strange men to my home. But I suppose things happen in our lives that are out of the ordinary, and last night was one of those things. Take care of yourself Costello and perhaps we will bump into each other again”. Catherine Boyce fell silent and her eyes shut as if she had drifted into sleep, he took this as his cue to leave.

Outside the morning was grey and oppressive and he felt it somehow matched his mood, he hated when he had these blackouts and they had started to become a common occurrence lately. He found the car parked a little further up the street on the opposite side, when he fumbled in his pocket for the key he found a small piece of folded paper, it was a phone number with the name Catherine above it. He opened the door of the car and tossed the piece of paper on the back seat, the driver’s seat had been moved forward and he had to readjust it before he got in. A vision flashed across his mind of the girl called Catherine moving the seat so she could reach the pedals; he knew then that last night’s events would come back to him bit by bit as was the usual case when he had been on a bender. In one way he was slightly relieved that the blonde girl could witness the missing hours.

The hand that held the key trembled just enough to make it difficult for him to place the key in the ignition, the headache had intensified too and he felt jittery. Somewhere in the back of his mind, a small voice pleaded against what he was about to do. But he ignored it, he was feeling rough and he needed to be somewhere, so Costello reached across and took the flask of Irish whiskey from the glove compartment. His stomach rebelled immediately when the first swig of whiskey burned its way down, but he forced himself to keep it down. After the third swallow, he began to feel almost human again, a part of him wanted to keep going until he finished the flask. However, he mustered what will power he had, and capped the bottle before returning it to the glove compartment. His mind felt clearer now and he tried to remember where he needed to be, and then it dawned on him. Costello turned the car and headed across town to the mortuary, he hoped Hobbs would have more information on the dead girl.

Costello began to feel jittery again as he followed the man down the sterile-looking corridor, this place always made him feel like this but the hangover made it much worse. Hobbs walked ahead of him humming tunelessly under his breath and if it were anyone other than old Hobbs; Costello did not think he would be able to go through with this. But the old examiner had a matter of fact way in going about his business, which brought a certain calmness and dignity to the whole thing. Hobbs paused at the doors leading to the examination room as if he suddenly forgot why he was here, but Costello realized this was for his benefit. He was giving Costello a little time to compose himself before entering, then with a reassuring nod, he led him inside. The room was deathly silent except for the soft hum coming from the bank of overhead fluorescent lights; it was cold, sterile and impersonal.

 Off the three stainless steel examination tables only one was occupied, the sheet covering the occupant made the body look child-sized. Hobbs walked across and picked up a clipboard containing notes, and turned and beckoned Kevin Costello to come nearer. He pulled back the sheet covering the body and suddenly he was in official mode before Costello could even take in what he was looking at, Hobbs was giving a running commentary. “The subject is a female in her late teens; she appears to be well-nourished. There is no sign of sexual assault, and she is in fact technically a virgin. The contents of her stomach point to her last meal being a pasta and meat dish, what organs remain, show nothing remarkable. The cause of death, in my opinion, is loss of blood, ligature marks on her ankles point to her being suspended upside down while the blood was drained through a laceration of the artery in the neck. The skin of the facial area was removed post mortem, and the spine and heart are also absent.”

Costello could not drag his eyes from the waxen figure on the steel table; it was as if he was alone with the deceased girl and somehow connected to her. The utter horror of the situation left him cold, yet he felt as if she cried out for him to bear witness to the atrocity that was visited upon her. “Costello! Kevin are you alright.” It took Hobbs shaking him by the shoulder before he dragged himself back from that place he found himself in. “Are you alright Costello, I thought for a moment I had lost you, let’s get out of here we can discuss the rest of this in my office”. It was the act of Hobbs pulling the sheet back over the body that finally broke the spell, but he found himself walking robotically behind Hobbs as he left the room. It was only when they were seated in the office that he finally felt in touch with reality again, he looked up to find the examiner looking at him with a concerned expression on his face.

The silence in the room dragged out and Costello had the weird feeling that Hobbs was somehow accessing his state of mind. Finally, the medical officer began to speak. “We are still awaiting toxicology reports, but I am sure of the cause of death. This has all the hallmarks of ritualistic killing, the poor girl would not have died quickly. Her makeup was applied to make her look like a streetwalker, but in my opinion, this was done to muddy the waters. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to hide their tracks on this one, but he is not your common or garden killer. This is all too precise and planned out”. Costello was at the door before Hobbs spoke again. “The next time you drop by, I will show you the results of heavy drinking on the human liver” Costello did not bother to reply; instead he waved back at the man and kept going.

Back at the station, there was no sign of Conan and anyone he asked could not remember seeing him in two days or more, now that Costello thought about it, apart from the crime scene last night Conan’s movements were a bit of a mystery for a while now. He had not paid much attention up to this, because Jack Conan was a master of finding what sounded like plausible explanations for not attending briefings etc. Now that he thought about it Costello had a gut feeling Conan had been AWOL for a while, and when he checked the signing in book he discovered his partner had not been officially at work in over a week. He was about to ask the desk sergeant if someone had forgotten to mark down vacation time for Jack Conan. But something told him not to bring anyone’s attention to Conan’s absence, at least not just yet. Something in his mind was niggling him about this, but he could not put his finger on it.

The narrow alley and plot of waste ground looked far less intimidating in daylight, but the place still had a depressing feel about it. They had just finished the search of the area when he got there, Costello approached the guy in charge and inquired whether anything significant had turned up. “Just like I told your partner not fifteen minutes ago, apart from a number of used condoms and syringes we turned up nothing that looks like it will help in the investigation”. It took a moment for the significance of the man’s words to sink in, then that niggle in his head suddenly made sense. Conan had not signed in on the job in over a week, yet he was at the crime scene before Costello last night and again this morning His behavior last night was not what Costello would have expected from the man, it was almost as if had suffered a personal loss. Something in the man’s behavior was not sitting right with Costello, and he decided it might be time to track down his partner for a chat.

He started the engine with the intention of visiting some of Conan’s usual haunts, but before he even got a chance to put it in gear the radio squawked into life. Mabel the dispatcher’s bored tones told him he was required back at the station when he asked if she knew why he could picture her shrugging her shoulders with that bored expression she always wore. After a long pause, her irreverent answer ended the conversation. “How the hell am I supposed to know what the old man wants you for”? Was the curt reply in her nasal voice. A nervous feeling came over him now, as he wondered what the hell lay ahead of him. Costello made a quick stop off at the drug store, where he bought some Tylenol for the dull ache in his head and some peppermint mouth spray to mask the smell of stale booze on his breath. By the time he made it back to the station house, a deep sense of foreboding had settled over him.

Lieutenant John Casey was one of the few men left in the precinct that had made it to his position by working his way up the ranks, the last of a dying breed that had actually worked the coal face before getting an office. He was sitting behind the desk with his chair turned to the window when Costello knocked on the glass of the door, he gestured for Costello to enter without even swiveling his chair back towards the door. Costello stood in the middle of the floor feeling awkward and with growing trepidation, from the moment he had turned up at the crime scene last night he had a bad feeling about this whole affair. Eventually, Casey swiveled his chair to face him, in his hand he held a file and Costello immediately recognized Hobbs handwriting on the cover. He threw the file on the desk in front of him and gestured to Costello to take a seat, all the while he seemed to be carefully studying Costello's demeanor.

“This girl that was murdered last night, I have a bad feeling about this one. Something tells me it is not going to be an isolated occurrence, I want you to clear your desk and work solely on this one, give any open cases you have to the rookie detectives. Not only that, but I want you to report your progress directly to me, and I mean any thought or hunches, I want to know everything you even think about this one.” Casey fell silent again and a faraway look came into his eyes, it was as if some thought had suddenly distracted him. Costello waited for him to resume but the silence just grew. Eventually, it became oppressive in the small office and Costello cleared his throat and asked about whether Conan would be working with him on this. The question seemed to halt Casey’s muse and he looked at Costello as if he had just asked him whether Unicorns were real. Something about his boss's reaction sent a cold shiver down his spine, and he was reminded of the feeling that had come over him in the alley the previous night.

“Conan is out of town for a few days, gone to visit a sick relative upstate. That means you carry the can for this one, and I want to know your every movement on this. As a matter of fact, I want to know your whereabouts at all times, if you take a break to go have a shit, I want to know about it.” Casey’s answer left Costello with a sinking feeling in his gut, and he studied the older man and wondered whether he actually believed Conan was out of town. But Casey was too long in the tooth to be easily read by his expressions, and for some reason, Costello felt like he had been chosen as the sacrificial lamb. Casey turned his chair again towards the window effectively ending the meeting, Costello was almost through the door when the man spoke again. “You look rough Costello, you better make sure you get enough sleep in your own bed to stay sharp for this one.” This cryptic statement intensified his feeling of foreboding, and his mind suddenly jumped to Catherine Boyce.

Sitting in the car Costello smoked one cigarette after another as he tried to get his head around this, when he began to question whether he had imagined talking to Conan last night, he had an overwhelming urge to reach for the whiskey flask. However deep down inside he knew that everything depended on him having his wits about him for this, something about this whole thing was rotten to the core. His gut feeling told him that one false step would see him take a big fall on this one, but he was still no closer to getting a handle on the politics of this. That little analytic voice in the back of his mind kept going back to the appearance and disappearance of Conan, and a sinking feeling in his stomach told him that the missing hours and waking in Catherine Boyce’s bed cold have some great significance yet. Cursing to himself he started the car and drove off in search of the illusive Conan.

Costello was just about to call it a night when he saw the car approaching, he had been sitting outside Conan’s apartment for hours. Hours of solitary thoughts had only served to fill his head with the terrifying scenarios, each one worse than the next and every one of them ending badly for him. He had spent the daylight hours searching every bar he knew that Conan frequented; he had even put pressure on some of the hookers that Conan bullied into sleeping with him. But it had all been a waste of time; nobody remembered seeing him for days. So, in the end, he had driven here to the apartment block where Conan lived, he was just about done when the car came down the street. The beat-up old Chevy weaved over and back erratically across the street, before coming to a stop by bumping into the wall outside the apartment block. Conan practically fell out of the car before steadying himself, and then he staggered towards the building with a crooked gait.

“A crooked gait for a crooked man” The voice in his head left him with a giddy feeling, as a piece of the jigsaw seemed to fall into place. Costello waited for what seemed a very long time before the light came on in Conan’s apartment on the fourth floor, then he left the car and headed up to confront his partner.  The door of the apartment was ajar but the interior was in darkness now, he wondered why Conan had switched off the light again. He hesitated on the threshold wondering what he was facing into in the darkened room, he had an inclination to draw his gun but before he could Conan’s voice called from the darkened room. “Come in Costello, I knew you would turn up here sooner or later. I guess I owe some kind of explanation”. Conan’s words were slurred and there was a certain resignation in his tone, and Costello had the feeling that Conan was at the end of his tether. The door hinges made a slight creaking sound as it swung open, and the center of the room was illuminated by the light from the hallway, leaving the rest of the room in darkness.

The sound of curtains being drawn brought Costello’s attention to the far side of the room; Conan was silhouette against the window in the weak moonlight. He made a movement and the chilly breeze that entered the room told Costello he had opened the window. His eyes had adapted to the low light conditions now, and he had a clear look at his partner. Conan had a haunted expression on his face and looked for all the world like a deer caught in the headlights of an approaching car. He looked disheveled and the stink of stale booze carried on the breeze to Costello, Conan looked as if he had trouble staying upright and he really did look like a crooked man. Conan reached in his jacket pocket and Costello’s heart skipped a beat, but all that appeared in his hand was a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. The flame from the lighter illuminated more details of his partner's face and Costello realized that Conan was already dead but was yet to lie down. He had that expression on his face of a man who knew he had reached the end of the line.

Costello caught the cigarette pack and lighter that Conan threw to him, he took a cigarette and sparked it up. Costello made to cross the room to return the cigarettes and lighter, but Conan immediately held up his hand in a halt gesture. “Keep them, Costello, I am giving up smoking, and I won’t need a lighter where I am going.” The ironic laughter that followed his comment carried not a hint of humor. “I knew it wouldn’t take you long to put me in the frame, and I guess I helped you as much as possible. You see that girl was never supposed to surface again, but I made the mistake of being nosy. To tell the truth Costello I had just grown weary and I wanted out, I thought at the start I could continue to do this and walk away into the sunset when my time came. But guess what Costello even evil bastards like me, sometimes get a twinge of conscious” Conan took a drag on the cigarette and Costello was shocked to see the tears pouring down his cheeks, there was something terribly disturbing about this sight.

“I guess I was the perfect candidate always in trouble and with little chance of ever seeing my pension, so they told me if I played ball I would sail through until retirement. It was a piece of cake for a guy with a badge to pick up the runaways at the train station, frightened little girls all alone in the big city. I mean to say if they couldn’t trust a cop, then who could they trust? So I would pick them up and hand them over, then I would climb into the bottle and forget about them until the next one. I was just about getting through it until they started having me dispose of packages, packages wrapped in plastic and the shape of bodies. She was the only one I ever opened and something snapped inside of me, so I painted her up like a hooker and left her on the waste ground. Maybe the family will come looking for her and she will be buried near her home”. Conan took an unsteady step backward and sat on the window sill, it was as if someone had just let all the air out of him.

“You see Costello we are all just puppets, and the men who pull the strings are very high up. They are sick deranged bastards and they worship a different god to us, I mean, you saw for yourself what they did to that girl. She is just one of many over the years, it was happening ever before I was drawn into it. Do yourself a favor Costello turn in that badge and get as far from this place as possible, but then again I fear it may already be too late for you”. He paused again to finish the cigarette, before pitching the butt over his shoulder and out the window. “We are all just puppets Costello, you and I, even the blonde you shagged last night. What was her name? Oh yeah, Catherine.” Before Costello could react to this latest bombshell, Conan got unsteadily to his feet and either staggered or threw himself backward through the open window. Costello had only moved a couple of steps in the direction of the window when he heard the dull thud from the street four floors below. 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Patrick G Moloney. All rights reserved.

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