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By D. A. Madigan

The victim's apartment was a mess. Of course, this kind of crime scene is always a mess, what with the blood, the entrails, the severed body parts... you'd be surprised how far you can get splatter away from the body in these things. But what I mean is, you could see the apartment had been a mess even when the victim was alive. Plates with old scraps of food on them on the coffee table. Empty beer cans lying around. Wadded up fast food wrappers, some in the waste basket across the room, others scattered around it. Trashy confession magazines piled around haphazardly, mixed in with some soft core porn. Clearly, she'd been a slob.

She was blonde, in her late 30s or early 40s, as far as I could tell, what with the blood smeared on her face and her open mouthed, agonized expression. Nice body at one time, probably, but gone sloppy and soft. She was vain, or so I figured, from the photos scattered around the room that were obviously of her at various times in her life, from young pretty clean looking blonde girl in maybe third grade up through what she'd probably looked like recently, in a couple of cheap Wal-Mart frames in a cheap set of shelves against the wall. Several of the pics had men in them, with their arms around her or holding her hand; very few of the pics with men had the same guy. She'd had a pretty varied social life, from what I could see.

My partner, the punk, had found the photo album in a locked drawer in her cheap coffee table and was going through it. The pictures were all Polaroids, and they were also all of the victim, and they showed her wearing little or nothing in most of them. There were nearly always men in these photos, often a lot of them. I noticed that where the guys in the display photos were all white, like the victim, the guys in her Polaroid collection seemed to mostly be jigs. Occasionally there were other women, and from what I could see, across the room and upside down, it looked like a couple of pages were devoted to her adventures with various dogs. So, yeah, she was one of those. You'd be surprised how often cops run into 'em... the ones who can't get off without it being degrading some way or another.

My partner looked vaguely green around the gills as he paged through them, although they weren't anything any 11 year old who could run a dial up program couldn't find at on the Internet in a couple of minute's web-cruising. Well, okay, maybe not the dog stuff.

The assistant M.E. had been and gone and taken the body with him, so all we had was the crime scene, the drying blood, and the chalked outline on the splattered hardwood floor. I paged open my notebook and reread what I'd gotten off the uniforms who'd come on the scene first.

"Brigitte Pilkington," I read. "Unmarried, as far as the neighbors know. Often brought different men home with her, not always just one at a time. Three different neighbors are sure she had company last night." I looked around the room. "No shit," I added.

I looked over at the punk, who had obviously forced himself to go all the way through the photo album out of a sense of thoroughness. Me, I'd have done it just to see the pictures. "There's this," he said, and I admit, he had his voice under control. In fact, he'd done better than I expected; we'd had three of these in the last five weeks and at the last two he'd puked both times. Now he seemed okay with it. Embarrassed, but not queasy. "Looks like she had quite an active social life," he said, with what I'd have sworn was a trace of irony in his voice if I didn't know he didn't have the slightest sense of humor. "And she liked black men. Like the other two."

"Yeah," I said, flipping my notebook closed, "and she sure as shit brought the wrong guy home with her last night." I shook my head. "Maybe a racial angle here... someone killing white sluts who do black guys..." The previous two had both been white and had black love interests, too... and both had slept around more than normal, although neither of them had been quite committed to the wild world of slutdom as this one.

I closed my eyes for a second. "I'll tell you, this guy's got me talkin' to myself," I said. "He cuts these women up like..."

"Like a butcher," the punk said. I looked up at him. "No, really. Like an actual butcher. Like he has experience cutting meat. Like some sort of primitive woodsman, or... " He looked around. "He lays them open almost surgically. It's..." He shrugged. "Like a ritual."

I waved my hand. "Yeah, yeah, leave that headshrinker crap for the Fibbies," I said, referring to our big brothers in the Bureau. "I just want to catch this fuck, and he can do all the rituals he wants in Sing Sing."

We poked around a little more, but there was nothing to find. She had a big stash of video porn... commercial amateur tapes, and what looked like some home grown... in the entertainment center under her widescreen TV. A videocamera on a tripod, shoved off to one side. A decent looking computer system. We'd get some blues to come in, box it all up, take it down to the lab to look it over... maybe there'd be something. Who knows, maybe the guy we were looking for was in her photo album. Not likely, though; so far, we couldn't find any connection between the victims, which tended to make them look like random choices.

In the car, the punk started talking, which was another radical change for him. Usually he'd just sit there like a bump on a log, especially after a bad one like tonight's. "You know, Sully, it's weird," he said, still paging through the album of Polaroids he'd taken with us. "This shit seems to go in cycles, you know?"

I looked over at him and grunted. "Yeah?" I didn't know about shit going in cycles. To me, the shit seemed like a constant downpour. But I'd been a big city cop for twenty seven years.

"Sure," he said. "For example. You take this whacko we're looking for now. He just shows up, outta nowhere... outta the blue. And he starts killing girls here in town."

Now, I'm not the world's greatest detective, but even I was starting to feel like there was something fucked up going on here. The punk... my partner... well, his name is Hernandez. And I'm not going to say he's fresh off the boat from Puerto Rico or anything, but he usually has a pretty pronounced spic accent. Well, spic by way of Spanish Harlem, anyway. And now... well, it was strange. He was using his usual words, but without the spic embellishments, and without his normal accent. Very strange. And he just wasn't acting himself tonight. I mean, not at all.

"You decide your accent was holdin' you back?" I asked him, idly.

He waved his hand. "Forget that," he said. "Look, Sully, I'm serious. This shit goes in cycles. These murders, they start up here five weeks ago. Outta the blue. But you know what? If you got on the horn and started calling every cop house in America... or maybe in the world... or got on the Internet and did a search... you'd find out that there was a string of murders like this in another city somewhere. Maybe not just like this. But a string of murders. Random. All with the same m.o. Not the same m.o. as here, maybe, but they'd all be similar. Like some guy, somewhere, was going through the same things, over and over again, in a different city somewhere."

"A ritual," I said, interested despite myself. "Yeah, well, so what? These psychoes all have different m.o.'s, but they're all crazy the same way, right? What they call homicidal sociopathy."

"Sure, Sully, sure," he said. I was turning at 49th Street and Barnes at the time, and the big red neon NUDE GRRLZ DAY AND NITE sign from the Koy Kitten Kapertorium spilled light like blood across both front seats, through the windshield. I looked over, and behind his horn rims his eyes looked red, like a vampire's in a bad movie, for just a sec. Creepy image.

"But here's the thing," he said. "If you could get all the info... and you can't, I know, cuz it ain't all on the 'Net, and the world's a big place, and the U.S. ain't all of it, and hell, you can't call every cop shop in America, or even all the newspapers, and you know what? Sometimes these things don't even get covered... someone could work for a while in East Asshole, Montana and pile up ten or twelve gutted corpses, bury 'em in the woods... they got woods in Montana, right?... and nobody would know. So you'd have gaps." He paused and pointed out the window. "Hey, Kentucky Fried Chicken. You wanna hit the drive through?"

I didn't, and as far as I knew, Hernandez was a health food nut, but I pulled around to get into the roundabout anyway. He shut up while we placed our order and got a bucket, then started running his yap again as he munched away on the Colonel's Extra Crispy recipe. "But see, if you didn't have those gaps, you know what you'd find?" He looked over at me, all bright eyed. "You'd find that where one leaves off, another one starts, somewhere else, a few days later. All the way back to the first one. Like a big daisy chain."

I frowned at him. "Punk, I dunno what the hell you're talkin' about," I said, finally. "A chain? Of what?"

He sighed around a mouthful of dark meat, crunched a few times, and swallowed. "Of killings. Of serial murders. Ritual serial murders. They'd start with Jack the Ripper. You heard of Jack the Ripper, right, Sully?"

"Yeah, ha ha," I said. Actually, I'd taken my oldest daughter to see that FROM HELL movie a month before... she insisted, she's got this thing for that smooth faced asshole who starred in it, you know, the one who used to be a goddam musician. I'd heard of Jack the Ripper before that, though, of course; I didn't go to college but I'm not ignorant. That particular movie didn't make much sense to me; I liked the one with the time machine and Malcolm McDowell better.

"Okay, so it starts with ol' Springheels," he says, fishing around in the bucket for another piece, "and then, the Ripper stops."

"They never caught him," I said. "I mean, they always catch him in the movies but it was an open case in real life."

"Maybe they caught him and covered it up, maybe the guy just stopped, maybe he died," the punk said. "Now here's the thing. The Ripper stops. But a couple of days later, in some back ass province way the hell over in China, this guy called Fun Lo Tan, who is a frickin' grain merchant, starts cuttin' women up. With a scythe, no less. Just like the Ripper. He gets 14 before he gets caught. Chinese legal system at the time being what it is, he gets his head chopped off pretty quick. And you know what? Around the same time, as far as anyone can tell, this guy off in Russia starts killing people. Now he isn't cutting up women; his thing is, he sneaks up behind people and strangles 'em. Men and women. And what he does is, he always strangles them unconscious, and then waits until they start to come around again, and then he starts to mutilate them. He does this to 23 people, Sully. Russia's a big place and he wanders all over it... does a few in Germany, too. Finally, he gets caught doin' his last victim... a ten year old boy... by the kid's father. He gets shot at close range with a rifle. Somehow runs off into the woods. They find his body, bled out, a day and a half later."

I caught myself staring at him and had to drag my attention back to the road. This was like some fucking Dean R. Koontz thing or some shit. "What the fuck," I said. "So, what, and then you're telling me..."

"I'm telling you, Sully, that it's like a big chain, if you could just see it. They all link up. That guy Holmes in Chicago at the turn of the century who built the house with all the secret death chambers? Snuffed half a dozen women? He's one link. John Wayne Gacy, he's another one. The Boston Strangler. Zodiac, out west. The whackos who killed all those young guys in Texas. Bundy. If you fill in the gaps, they all make a chain. One stops, another one starts right up somewhere else."

I shook my head. "You're nuts," I said. "I mean it. You're clinically fucking bats in the belfry. Some of those guys aren't even dead. Some of 'em are in the can. And some of 'em were in jail for years while other serial killers were working."

He just looked at me, then held out a box. "Biscuit? They're good." I waved him off. He shrugged and took one. "Look, Sully, not all serial killers are part of the chain. You got your homegrown human whack jobs who do ritual killings, too. That distorts the pattern quite a bit. You need to know what to look for. And just because one of the guys in the chain rots in jail for a while doesn't mean anything. He isn't the guy who did the murders, and he isn't the... guy, if you want to call it that... who's off somewhere else, doing more murders at the time."

We were at the station downtown; I pulled around to the side and headed down the ramp, into the underground garage. "So what are we talking about," I said, as I pulled into an empty parking spot, "some kinda demon thing? Jumping from one body to another? Running up a nice score of corpses, then jumping again when it gets caught, or just bored?" I finished parking and killed the engine. "Nice idea for a Stephen King novel, kid. But it won't work. If it's the same thing why all the different M.O.'s? And if it has different M.O.s why not all the time? Why does it repeat itself every once in a while? It's screwy." I undid my seatbelt and opened my door. He did the same on his side.

We were quiet all the way to the elevators. On the way up, he kind of gave a little sigh. "Yeah, Sully, you're right," he said. "It was just a crazy idea. No cop would buy it. But it would make a good movie for the mooks, you know?"

We spent most of the rest of the night looking through some of the other boxes of stuff we'd taken from Pilkington's apartment... her bills and receipts, tax statements, the papers in her purse.. comparing them to stuff we'd taken from the other two victims. Looking for patterns. I checked the task force email to see if maybe anything had come in on similar patterns elsewhere, bothered by what the punk had said, but there wasn't anything. I even jumped on the Internet, went to Google... my younger daughter swears it's the best search engine... and ran a few searches for other recent serial murders in other areas. Nothing. I didn't expect anything; serial murders are big news, and as far as I knew there hadn't been one that had made a splash in years. The kid's demon must have been working Russia or China again. Yeah, right.

Finally we clocked out and went off shift. I got home, didn't feel like cooking anything, and grabbed a big stick of pepperoni, a block of Muenster cheese, and couple of beers from the fridge. Then I sat in front of the tube for a few hours, cutting chunks of meat and cheese off and washing them down with the suds. I can't remember what I watched; something on the Discovery channel about primate tribes in the jungle somewhere, or something.

I must have gone to sleep on the couch, and started dreaming. Naturally, I was dreaming about the bullshit the kid had slung. And in my dream, I just knew, the way you know these things in your dreams, that everything he'd said was true. But he'd only told me half of it. These things came in pairs. You had one spirit... boojum, boogie, whatever... jumping around from body to body, killing its victims in its little ritual way, until it had to move on, or got bored and chose to move on... but there was something else, too. Something sent after it, from wherever it had come from... or escaped from, maybe. Something chasing it around. A hunter.. an avenger, maybe... sent to track it down and bring it back. It would jump from body to body, too, and like the first spirit, sometimes the person it was wearing wouldn't even know it was there...

There was something else in there, too... all jumbled up, but I got some kind of sense out of it, at least, while I was dreaming. Something about our world having very little magical power in it, and this creature being magical in nature... so it needed to do these ritual murders. It liked it, too... enjoyed it, got off on it... but it also needed it, just to live off, and to get the power for its next jump, too. So it used a chain of ritual murders to raise power, and the murders had to be different, depending on where it was, because the magic of every geographic region and the magical power of every different people was a little bit different...

And trailing around behind him, tied to him somehow, pulled along in the wake of his dark magics... the hunter. Always chasing him. Come to bring him back...

The hunter. Like me. I was a hunter, a hunter of men, and I'd been one for 27 years. Or... had I been one for a lot longer than that...?

Something woke me up, and I groaned. I'm no kid anymore, and I always get stiff when I sleep for a while in the recliner. The tube was still on. Thirty years ago, when I was young and my first wife was still alive and I had no kids yet and wasn't even on the force, I could come home from whatever site the old man had had me working at that day and doze off in front of the TV and wake up to find a test pattern, or snow. Now we got cable, and there's always something on.

I sat up, and winced at my aches and pains... especially my hip, where the gun I'd forgotten to take off had dug itself a nice little foxhole while I slept on it.

Something shifted in the room and I realized I wasn't alone.

I focused, and in the flickering TV light I could make out the punk, sitting on my couch, looking at me with a big grin on his face. I looked back, and for just a second, the TV light reflected off his glasses, giving him a blanked out, zombie look as scary as the red vampire light I'd seen on our shift. For some reason, I felt a wave of fear go over me... and then a wave of pure, infuriated hatred.

"You know, dontcha, Sully," he said, grinning that same big grin. "You got it back in your sleep. Oh, I nudged it a little bit. I wanted you to know who you were... and who I was... before I sent you home again, you miserable fuck."

I stared at him. "You..." I thought about it. Where had the kid been, when the murders went down? I knew the times of death as well as anyone. The kid had never been questioned. I didn't know where he'd been; each of the murders had been when we were off shift, and I'd been racked out at home, asleep. He could have been anywhere...

But I knew where he'd been. And I knew why he was suddenly acting so differently.

"Why'd you pick him?" I asked, hoarsely. "He was a good kid." He was. A punk... squeamish... not a good conversationalist... but a decent kid. Wanted to do good, make the world better. I figured he'd get over that, eventually. Still, he really felt that way now.

Or he had.

"He was a good kid," the punk... or whatever was in him... said. And smiled, and it seemed to me to be a mean smile. "I like good people, Sully. They're..." He shrugged. "I don't know. I just like them."

"You piece of shit," I said, feeling furious. But I knew. I wasn't just me. I couldn't feel it, I couldn't remember it... but I knew. There was more than me in me right then, just like there was more than the kid in the kid. The thing sitting across from me was my enemy, from way back, I knew that in my bones... in my soul, if I had one. A hundred years of the chase. A hundred years since the escape.

I hated this fuck. And I was tired of it. I wanted it over. He'd come to me? He'd found me? He thought he was send me back and then go on killing?

Good, then.

I pulled myself up out of the recliner, and suddenly I wasn't stiff at all any more, and I didn't feel like a fat old man past his prime any more, with too little sleep and too much grease and alcohol in my system. But I didn't show him that. I moved slow and stiff, and made a little groaning sound, like I was in pain. "So what now?" I said, but I had that figured. We couldn't just jump out of our bodies into a new one... I remembered that, now. We had to make preparations in advance... we had to get ready, conditions had to be right. So if he killed me now, it was the end of the chase for me.

Of course, the same went for him. All those bodies behind him... and he'd come to me. The gods damned fool had actually come to me. He could have run, but he'd decided to try and end the chase.

And I could end it now, if I moved fast enough.

He laughed. "You took the wrong body this time," he said, smirking. "You'll never get the drop on me, old man. Never."

I let myself slump. "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, I know. I guess you finally got me..."

My draw was a thing of speed and beauty, far far faster than my aging, corpulent physical form should have allowed... faster even than my enemy could ever have anticipated. I felt myself awaken more fully, felt the power of my rage sweep through me and give me strength. The long chase was finally going to be over and I was sending this bastard back where he came from. I reached for my weapon, felt my hand grab it, fingers tighten on it, yanked it up and leveled it.

His hands were still empty. I'd beaten him, gotten the drop on the sonofabitch...

I looked down, and the Sully part of me froze with cold horror.

I was holding the big knife I'd been using to cut the pepperoni and cheese with.

It felt good in my hand. Right...

I looked up again, and I snarled. My enemy had gotten his weapon out... that sneaky, filthy weapon that makes a man's strength into nothing, that makes the puniest mortals the equal of the most potent demons... that gods be damned cold iron pistol. Father and World Serpent, I hated those things.

"I'm taking you back," the kid said, his eyes grim and intent now. "More than a century of bodies behind you, you filth... my fault, for letting you loose in the first place. For trusting your word..."

He had me. The bastard had me. I'd never get to the gun in time... wouldn't want it in my hand, wouldn't know how to use it if I got it out, not as awake as I was now.

"Yes," I said. "It is all your fault." I grinned at him. "And you'll trust me again, my brother. It's your way. You never learn." I raised the knife, and crouched to lunge at him...

His gods damned hand cannon roared and spat mortal death at me, and I spun away.

I looked up, and there was my bitch of a wife, standing over me, holding the chalice between me and the snake. I could hear the venom dripping into it... splunk splunk splunk splunk...

Soon it would fill, and she'd have to take it away to empty it, and the venom would fall on my face, and burn like acid, until she could bring the chalice back again.

Standing behind her, my brother... arms folded over his massive chest, his short handled hammer thrust through his belt. "Never again," he said, in that same deep, booming voice he always says it in.

I was bound pretty tightly, but still. I threw back my head and laughed and laughed and laughed.