They rode in silence for a few moments, Geoff watching the low clouds in an overcast sky scud ahead of them.
“You don’t believe bad people can change their ways; do you?” Trying to read the man was difficult, but here and there, Geoff thought he was catching glimpses.
The anvil jaw clinched a bit. “We’re not talking about boys playing hooky or stealing cigarettes. It doesn’t take much thinking to do things like that. These are minds that lie awake at night plotting ways to destroy lives, circumvent people’s rights, harm the helpless, and make victims of all of us. There’s a difference between a crook and a psychotic. These people have diseased minds. You know what you do with a disease, a tumor, a cancer? You cut it out. You don’t let it fester and grow, allowing it to infect the whole body. They aren’t going to go away; the problems aren’t going to resolve themselves because they have some magnificent soul-cleansing epiphany. They believe they’ve already had their epiphany and it wasn’t a good one. We all have to learn that we can’t run away from a problem. It must be resolved.”
They parked a couple blocks away from the warehouse and approached it on foot. It was a long, low structure on the river, directly in front of the docks. There was nothing eye-catching about it. There were two garage doors at either end with loading docks butting up to them. There were only a few windows on the lower level. It looked reasonably well maintained but virtually abandoned like most of the buildings on the street.
The river moved swiftly beyond the building, wide and muddy, ice chunks in its flow.
They entered through a side door; the lock was easily jimmied. The interior smelled of disuse and the river. “Are you sure they use this building?” Geoff wondered as he looked around. It was empty.
“Middle room is where it meets the wharf dock and the unloading is done,” he said. “They use the south end door for loading because it’s hidden by the other buildings. There were fresh tire tracks frozen in the mud just outside it, which means something was delivered shortly before the snowfall.”
They trod softly on the unvarnished plank floor. Little illumination shone through the grimy windows, but Geoff could see DiMarco’s scowl. Something weighed heavily on his mind.
The central room was larger than the first two. A square of barred light from a skylight brightened the middle but cast deeper shadows at its fringes. The first thing Geoff noticed was a man on a chair in the square of light. His legs were tied to the chair, wrapped with coarse brown rope. His hands had been bound behind him. A brown burlap bag covered his face. His head was bowed as if asleep. His presence startled Geoff.
“What’s going on? I thought you said we weren’t going to do anything to do them for a while?”
Unflinching gold eyes fell on him. The seriousness etched on the planes of his face made him look fearsome. “It’s not one of them,” he replied icily.
Geoff didn’t want to belabor the point, but he could smell the man’s evil. He wasn’t certain what the detective’s motives were in denying that fact, but his own senses didn’t lie. Before he could address it, the detective pushed him into the shadows at the back of the room and held a finger in front of his lips silencing him.
Stepping forward, he announced himself loudly. “I’m back!”
The man’s head snapped up. There was mumbling from inside the sack. DiMarco snatched the cloth bag, revealing the man underneath it. He was blindfolded and gagged. Geoff found something inordinately familiar about the figure. He was overweight, the bulbous stretch of gut in the flannel shirt hanging low over the groin of the blue work pants. The sparse dark hair was greasy and salted with gray. His chin and drooping jowls were peppered with gray whiskers.
The detective stepped back into the darkness of the corner and removed his coat, tossing it to the floor with his cap and sunglasses. He strolled the perimeter just outside the square of light.
“I’ll bet you’re getting a bit cramped after sitting there all night?”
The head bobbed slowly.
Geoff recognized the smell: the sickly blend of alcohol, sweat, and filth. He’d never forget that combination of smells. The recognition alarmed him.
DiMarco met his eyes at that moment. Geoff’s mother’s boyfriend, his rapist, was tied to that chair. “Some things need to be resolved, you understand? They don’t go away with time; the violence doesn’t fade with age, the scars don’t smooth over. They just have to be dealt with,” he said, yanking the blindfold and gag from the man.
The ugly countenance that had haunted every one of his nightmares was revealed, fat, squalid, and red-eyed, squinting against the sudden light. He swallowed hard, looking confused and terrified.
“I… I don’t know what this is about, young man.” His voice shaking, breath visible in the frosty air. “I think you’ve made a mistake. You’ve got to be looking for someone else. I don’t know you and I don’t know what you want. I haven’t got any money.”
DiMarco continued skirting the shadows. He unbuttoned his shirt, tossed it to the floor while Geoff watched.
“In 1984, at the age of thirty, you were arrested for accosting a twelve-year-old boy, the son of your neighbor in Austin, Texas. The charges were dropped because the family suddenly moved out of town. You were suspected of threatening them… although nothing could be proven….”
The bugging eyes tried to follow the voice. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You have the wrong person. That wasn’t me.”
DiMarco kicked his shoes off into the corner with his second pass behind the man. “In 1986 two teenaged boys were sexually assaulted in a rest stop just outside Lawrenceville, Mississippi. They identified you as their attacker. One claimed you raped him. The charges were dropped when your attorney discovered they had misdemeanor arrests for drug possession and petty theft.”
Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead in spite of the chilly temperature in the room. “All circumstantial bullshit. Nothing anyone could prove. The kids were fucking punks, you know what I mean?”
“You do realize an innocent man just emphatically says he’s innocent, while a guilty one claims the evidence against him is circumstantial; don’t you?”
His laughter was nervous. “You’re just trying to trick me into saying something. I have nothing to say. What you’re doing is illegal. It’s harassment. I can sue you for this. I demand you let me go and we can solve this like gentlemen.”
The detective’s pants fell into the square of light just in front of the man in the chair. He looked at them with surprise and befuddlement.
“In 1990 you were living in Augusta, Georgia. Your neighbor had a ten-year-old son who was savagely raped. You were the only suspect, but nothing could be proved because the boy was beaten so badly he went into a coma. When he awakened, he couldn’t remember anything.” The circling continued.
Geoff had been so intent on watching his rapist’s face that he’d hardly noticed the striptease the detective was performing until a naked leg briefly stepped into the light. It was no longer human. It was long and curved, wolf-like, covered in sleek black fur. The foot now a wide paw with long ebony claws.
“It wasn’t me.” The predictable response.
“From 1991 until 2001 there’s a whole series of rapes of underage boys all along your delivery routes throughout three states. In fact, each incident corresponds exactly with a time you were in that location. Investigators have suspected you’re a serial rapist for a long time, but you’re very shrewd about staying one step ahead of their grasp. Most of the boys refused to press charges because they were afraid of being exposed as gay to their families. It seems you found a method to assure your victims’ silence.”
This time there was only a smirk; an impatient shaking of his head.
“In 2011 you moved in with a woman and her son, the Markham family, where you repeatedly raped and threatened the boy, who was also underage. There were whispers all through the town that something bad was going on in that house, but again, you got lucky when no one said a thing. You were able to continue assaulting this boy—”
“All lies!” he spat indignantly. “Everyone in that town knew that boy was trouble; not right in the head. Even his mother knew he was disturbed; didn’t know what to do with him. He was a liar, made things up. I never did one thing to that boy; I treated him like my own son.”
“You’re a liar!” The words had flown from Geoff’s mouth, brimming with more rage than he’d ever felt in a single moment.
The sound of the accusing voice shook the man. Color drained, eyes strained to find him beyond the light. Gradually, after repeatedly clearing his throat, he mustered a trembling voice. “Geoffy, is that you?”
He hated that he’d always called him that. He could see the malevolent slivers of the eyes of his colleague as he walked behind the man.
“I forgot to mention I brought a friend along,” DiMarco said, sounding strangely distorted. He never stopped pacing.
The man tried laughing. It sounded more like a croak. “That’s nice. Real nice. I’ve been worried about you, Geoffy. Your mom and I have been worried about you.”
“You raped him.” DiMarco didn’t mince words. Hearing them made Geoff flinch, but the effect on the man in the chair was far worse. He looked stricken.
His lips twitched. “No. No, I didn’t. That’s untrue. Tell him, Geoffy. You know I always took care of you. I mean, I was the guy who put food on your plate when your mom couldn’t. I was the one who paid the bills so you had a house to live in. I’m the guy who still takes care of your mother. She depends on me.”
Geoff seethed. He would have no more of these lies. “You know what you did!”
“Everyone has to answer for their deeds,” the detective’s peculiar voice announced, dragging nails along the wall. The sound was like the squall of a banshee. It had the desired effect on the bound man: he cringed.
“No. It wasn’t like that,” he protested, rocking in the chair. “He knew he was different. He was gay and he used that against me. He came after me. It was the other way around.”
It required all Geoff’s restraint to not violently pounce on him. He held his position. “You’re a lying sack of shit!”
The man would no longer look in his direction. He was seeking the man walking around him. “It’s not like what he told you. Trust me. He’s not right in the head. He-he seduced me. He’s nothing but an ugly little boy who no one else would pay attention to. It was all his doing. I didn’t want anything to do with it. You have to believe me.”
“You’re a pig.”
“He-he would lay there in his underwear trying to bait me. I tried not to look, but he wouldn’t leave me alone. He took baths in front of me; pissed in front of me. He did everything he could to get my attention. A man only has so much willpower.”
Geoff could feel a turning coming on, did what he had to do to curtail it: held his temper; stayed calm. “I wanted nothing to do with you. I couldn’t stand you. The sight of you made me sick. You forced yourself on me.”
“Listen to him. All that craft and artfulness. Trying to persuade you with his words. But look at him. He’s a pathetic, ugly ragged piece of bone even a dog wouldn’t want. All he could think of was getting a real man.”
Geoff stepped into the light, his shadow looming over the bound figure. Words stuck in the man’s throat. Mouth gaped; tongue fell paralyzed. He blinked like he believed his sight was betraying him.
“Geoffy, is that you?” He gulped hard. “You-you’re so different….”
“I used to lie awake at night thinking of ways I could kill you,” he spat the words. “But I didn’t want to trade one prison for another.” He could feel the hairs beginning to stand on his arms. He drew a breath to steady himself. “You stole the innocence of my childhood. That’s not something I can get back; nothing an ‘I’m sorry’ can remedy.”
He was looking around for the detective again, trying to find an ally. “See what I mean? This is what I was telling you. He’s unstable. Dangerous.”
“Shut the fuck up you worthless piece of garbage!” Geoff shouted over him. The sound shook the walls of the building; made the man in the chair fall back, silent.
Floorboards creaked under the weight of what was walking behind the man. Its silhouette towered taller than the dock doors.
“There was no one lower than you….”
The man found a sudden surge of indignant courage. “Fuck you. Fuck you, Geoff Markham. Eat me!”
Geoff could see the mouth open behind the man. Large white teeth shimmered beneath black lips.
He grinned. “I don’t have the stomach for you,” he said, looking at the repulsive memory tied to the chair one last time. “But he does….” He pointed to the thing stepping out of the darkness.
The thing which had been walking on hind legs dropped down onto all fours in the square of winter gray from the skylight. It was huge, primal-looking, covered in dark fur, spine arched high. Lungs puffed its ribcage, the noise coming from its snout in gusts. Saliva dripped from the rows of daggers in its mouth. Gold eyes fastened on the prey, stepping slowly closer.
The man jumped in the chair, pushing it back several inches as a parched scream greeted the thing moving toward him. “Jesus Fucking Christ!” Were his last words before half the meat of his throat was torn away and the air gasped from him in what would be his final scream.
XPERIMENT The Novel By Dan Skinner: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019UUUTY2