Friday, March 11, 2011


Darkness, Spreading Its Wings of Black
An Adventure Starring
Lazarus Gray
The Rook
Written by Barry Reese
Chapter I
Birds of a Feather
Maurice Chapman opened a small white container and pushed a rubber-gloved finger into the white material it contained. He then smeared the grease under his nose, wincing slightly. He offered the container to the two people who were in the autopsy room with him: the dainty, beautiful Samantha Grace and her employer, the tall and thin Lazarus Gray.  “You’ll want some of this,” Maurice said when neither of his guests took the container.
“We’ll be fine,” Gray answered, his mismatched eyes focused on the body that was hidden beneath a white sheet. The corpse’s feet extended past the sheet and he could see that her toes had been painted red, probably a week or so before the murder. The paint was chipped in places and in need of a touch-up. The scent of medicinal products and cleansers was almost overwhelming but it didn’t come close to matching the odor of putrification that arose from the dead body.
Chapman resisted the urge to press the matter. He was sixty-two years old, born and raised in the cesspool that was Sovereign City. He’d seen burly cops enter his lab and turn away vomiting at the things he showed them. He knew false bravado when he saw it – and neither of these two were displaying it. Lazarus Gray looked like a man who had seen enough death to no longer be disturbed by it. Chapman studied him for a moment, having read about the man in the newspapers but never having met before. The head of Assistance Unlimited hair was more gray than brown, making him look older than he was, though a close examination of his features revealed that he was in his late twenties. He was tall and slender, though with a rangy musculature that indicated he could more than hold himself in a fight.
The girl was another matter entirely and it was only because Chapman had known the girl during her youth that he knew she was more than she appeared. A stunning blonde whose parents were wealthy philanthropists, Samantha had grown up with every opportunity possible. She could speak five languages fluently, was a champion swimmer and was a veritable encyclopedia on topics as varied as fashion, European history and the socio-political climate of the Orient. Chapman would normally have balked at having a female in his lab, especially when he was about to show off a corpse in this state – but Samantha Grace was no mere slip of a girl, despite how she might look at first glance.
Chapman set the container aside and pulled the sheet away, revealing a body that had been horribly mutilated. The nude form was neatly bisected at the waist and the face had been slashed from the corners of the mouth to the ears, giving her a macabre parody of a smile. The dead woman’s black hair was matted and still bore traces of leaves and insect casings. Her body was that of a fit young woman and was admirably formed but the unhealthy condition of the body was consistent with being exposed to the elements for several days before discovery.
“The victim was 24 years of age,” Chapman began. “Her body was found in a vacant lot on the west side of South Page Avenue midway between West 42nd Street and Robeson Avenue.”
Samantha exchanged a quick glance with Lazarus. “That’s not far from our headquarters.” She was obviously troubled to think that a woman could have been brutally assaulted so close to where she and her friends slept every night.
Gray nodded silently, urging Chapman to continue with a quick motion of his hand.
“The body was discovered by a local resident named Betty King who was walking with her four year old son earlier this morning. If you’ll notice, the wounds are very clean. They were done with surgical instruments and the body was drained of blood. There are signs that the corpse was washed, probably in an attempt to remove traces of evidence. Furthermore, the body was posed with the left arm draped across the breasts and the right hand covering the pubis region.”
“As if she were covering her nudity,” Samantha observed and Chapman murmured an agreement. “So she wasn’t killed at the scene? Someone dumped her there?”
Chapman spread his hands. “I’m no detective but in my opinion, that would be the case.”
“Who was she?” Lazarus asked. Chapman found himself staring at the man’s eyes: one was a dull brown and the other a glittering emerald.
“Her name was Claudia Schuller. A packet was sewn to the skin between her shoulder blades and it contained the items you see over there.” Chapman gestured towards a nearby table, upon which a number of papers had been arranged.
Gray moved towards them, slowly touching each one. Claudia’s birth certificate was the first thing he lifted but he also brushed his fingers across business cards, photographs, names written on pieces of paper and an address book with the name Max Davies embossed on the cover.
“Has anyone contacted Mr. Davies?”
“Of course we have. We don’t just sit around waiting on you to solve all the crimes for us.”
Lazarus turned his head to see that Inspector Cord of the Sovereign PD had entered the room. He was a whippet-thin man who had one eye that seemed to be perpetually narrowed. His disdain for Assistance Unlimited – and its founder, in particular – was well known. “Inspector. Just the man I was hoping to see.”
“I doubt that.” Cord reached up and removed his hat, bowing slightly to Samantha. “Afternoon, Miss.”
Samantha gave him a cool smile in reply.
“You were saying that your men had contacted Mr. Davies?” Lazarus prompted.
“Oh, yes.” Cord took out a cigarette and lit it, though he knew that Gray hated the smell. He moved closer to Gray, blowing out a long cloud of smoke that enveloped the taller man. “He’s here in Sovereign, on business he says. Apparently, his father – Warren Davies, now dead – was a newspaperman back in Boston. One of the papers he owned at one time was The Sovereign Gazette. The younger Davies still he has some stock in the paper, though he’s a minority holder. Says he met Miss Schuller for the first time about a week ago, at a dinner party thrown by the Gazette’s current majority owner, Theodore Groseclose. Supposedly, they went out together for drinks two nights later and that was the last time he saw her. Coincidentally, it’s the last time anybody’s reported seeing her.”
Samantha looked at Chapman. “How long ago did she die?”
“I’d estimate it was about five days ago, given the rate of decomposition.”
Lazarus knew what his aide was getting at and so did Inspector Cord. Five days ago would have been the same night she’d had dinner with Max Davies. “Where is Mr. Davies now?” Gray asked, confident he already knew the answer.
“He’s coming in for questioning right now. I think we’ve got him dead to rights.” Cord took a long drag on his cigarette, a look of confidence on his face. “Last man seen with her and there’s his address book right there.”
“Then who sewed this packet onto her back?” Gray asked, his words carefully neutral but his eyes betraying his dislike for the other man.
“What do you mean? He did, of course. Davies.”
“Why would he include his own address book? And these business cards: Robert Phillips, Chairman of the city’s Building Association; Merle Hansome, Attorney; Theodore Groseclose… all of them should be questioned but I don’t think any of them are the killer.” Lazarus looked back at the corpse of Claudia Schuller. He tried to imagine her in life, young and beautiful. It was difficult, with her reduced to a bisected piece of meat. “Whoever did this horrible act wanted us to know these men’s names. The question is: why?”
Cord looked like he’d bitten into something sour. “You’re over thinking things, Gray. In order to kill like this, a man has to be insane. Once you establish that, none of his actions should be taken as a surprise. I’ve seen killers throw themselves into our grasp, explaining every gruesome detail of their acts. That’s probably what happened here. Davies wants to be caught.” Cord lowered his voice, doing a stage whisper that was easily overheard by Samantha. “Besides, this isn’t the first time that Davies has come to the attention of the law.”
Gray looked at him steadily, waiting for Cord to continue. When it became obvious that Gray wasn’t going to say anything, Cord took several more puffs on his cigarette before uttering a sigh.
“Back in Boston, there were accusations that he might be related to a murderous vigilante known as The Rook. Nothing could ever be proven but get this: he’s put his home up for sale. Rumor has it he’s planning to head out west or maybe down south. Why would an innocent man flee the town he’d grown up in? Maybe because he’s not so innocent?”
Gray turned away from Cord and caught Samantha’s eye. Without a word to Cord and just a brief thanks to Chapman, the duo exited the room.
“Where to, Chief?” Samantha asked, the clicking of her heels on the tiled floor seeming very loud. Gray noticed she was wearing a new scent today and he found the perfume to be quite pleasing. He wasn’t blind to her interest in him but for many reasons, he didn’t think it wise to encourage it.
“We’re going to speak to Max Davies.”
Samantha smiled softly. “You’re planning to get to him before Cord does, aren’t you?”
A rare grin seemed to dance upon Gray’s lips but it vanished so quickly that Samantha wasn’t sure if she had actually seen it. “No sense in allowing the Inspector to ruin a perfectly good investigation.”

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