The Soul Poacher
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by James Scott DeLane
Description: A killer is butchering sexual predators before detective Gloria Fuentes can arrest them. The mysterious vigilante leaves no clues, other than dead bodies and puzzling tarot cards. During her investigation, Gloria meets an unusual young man who demonstrates keen insights into the psychotic mind. Bennett Spice leads Gloria into the dark world of demons. Together they track cruel killers and confront a sadistic demon from Gloria's troubled past.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon Publishing, 2010 Double Dragon eBooks
eBookwise Release Date: August 2010
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [150 KB]
Reading time: 89-124 min.
Gloria Fuentes slept with her nightlight on and a butcher knife tucked under her pillow. She stored a thermos full of ice on her bedside table to avoid any need to walk through her shadowy apartment after bedtime. Gloria suffered no fear of the night. She dreaded the in-between areas where light and dark struggled for dominance. She knew evil hid in the shadows.
Her chiming cell phone disturbed her restless sleep. She woke covered in sweat, as she often did. She checked the caller ID. The area code was New York City, but she didn't recognize the number. The clock on her dresser read two-thirty. He always called this time. Gloria steadied her nerves with a deep breath, held the phone to her ear, and accepted the call without a greeting. Her shoulders tensed when she heard his foul breath. Memoires of his vile hands on her breasts caused her skin to crawl. Her grip tightened around the phone. She knew he was there, gloating over his triumph, reveling in his power to torment her.
"Are you having bad dreams?" his sadistic voice asked. "I have nothing but good dreams of you." She heard him licking his vile lips. "Do remember our private evening? Do you remember how I enjoyed you? You tried so hard to get away, but the cuffs were too tight. How long did those bruises last?"
Angry humiliation flooded Gloria. She grabbed her knife and visualized driving the blade into his belly. If only she could find the bastard. She heard him smile. She knew he enjoyed toying with her.
"I'm looking at lovely pictures I took. Would you like me to send you a copy? I store your underwear in a special drawer with the belts I used on you."
Gloria spoke through her clenched teeth. "I'm going to gut you," she threatened.
He laughed and whispered in his disturbed voice. "I'm planning our next experience. I'll visit all your private places as I did last time. No one will help you. No one will hear you. I'll spread you open for my pleasure."
"You sick fucker," Gloria growled. "I'll peel the skin off your cock."
He laughed hysterically. Rage forced her to end the call. She pounded her pillows with closed fists. She fought back her tears. I'm not going to cry, she thought. If I cry, he wins. She should have forwarded the number to NYPD, but his dreaded voice rattled her so badly she couldn't think clearly. That sick bastard, she fumed. How does he keep getting my number?
Her phone rang again. She thrust the receiver to her ear. "I'm not scared of you!"
"Are you all right?" a man calmly asked.
Gloria recognized Sergeant Nathan Pickett's familiar voice. Gloria swabbed the sweat from her face and composed herself. "This is Fuentes."
Sergeant Pickett continued. "We found another body in an alley on East Sixty-Ninth Street. He has two puncture wounds on his neck. There is not a drop of blood at the scene."
Gloria's spine stiffened. "What else?"
"A tarot card was stuffed in his mouth."
"This card is like the others: a laughing red devil pointing at the sky."
Gloria sipped chilled water from her ice thermos. She tucked her knife under her pillow. "Don't let anyone touch the body until I get there."
"The ME is already here, but I'll keep everyone else clear."
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Gloria snapped her cell phone shut. In the prior four weeks she had investigated six dead men, each with a tarot card jammed in his mouth. Their naked bodies were drained of every drop of blood. No witnesses came forward, and forensics uncovered nothing. Bizarre deaths might normally draw attention, but these victims died unmourned.
Gloria tossed on her jeans, a US Navy sweatshirt, stuffed a pack of Lucky Strikes cigarettes in her pocket, and strapped on her powerful 9mm automatic pistol. She skipped down six flights to the parking garage. She stopped and surveyed the threatening shadows cast by the uneven overhead lights. She knew the evil bastard could be hiding anywhere. She wasn't going to fall prey to him again. She walked with her hand on the pistol grip and her finger on the trigger. She wished the bastard would jump her in the garage. I'll blow his fucking brains out.
She walked a careful path to her NYPD black sedan. She strapped into the driver's seat and peeled onto the street. She opened the windows to let in the night air. A sudden chill gripped her spine. She stomped the brakes and pulled to the curb. She jerked out her pistol and aimed into the dark backseat. She would have blasted anything that moved. A sigh of relief escaped her lungs. She glanced at pair of pedestrians gawking at her.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" she growled.
Gloria stuffed her weapon into the leather holster, and punched the accelerator. She gripped the steering wheel, secure in the knowledge she had work. Activity kept her mind busy, free of shadow fears and haunting memories. The night air soothed her face and evaporated her sweat. She lifted her thick hair and allowed the wind to cool her neck. She pressed the CD player and listened to pulsating sounds of Jamaican drums.
She gazed at the passing faces. She knew the bastard was out there. Eventually, he would make a mistake and she would track him down. At a stoplight, she gazed into a dark alley. Her neck tingled. She instinctively knew the shadows cloaked menace. Gloria understood evil preferred the nighttime.
She stopped behind police cars parked outside an alley cordoned by yellow tape. She exited her sedan and walked toward the crime scene. Flashing red and blue lights cast swirling shadows over her face. Veteran Sergeant Nathan Picket and his young partner, Craig Delmont, waited for Gloria to join them. Craig wasted no time flashing his lighter to the tip of Gloria's cigarette. She sucked the flame and blew grey smoke in the air. She and young Craig exchanged a glance.
"You're out of your league," Nathan advised his young partner. "Fuentes is older and smarter than you."
"Meaner too, I'll bet," Craig added before lighting his own cigarette. He stared into Gloria's appealing brown eyes. "I can take anything she dishes."
Dr. Solomon Grant, the medical examiner and department pathologist crossed under the yellow tape and jerked blood-smeared latex gloves from his stubby hands. The short, stocky man removed his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped away the smudges with a handkerchief he plucked from his white coat pocket. "Give me a cigarette," he said tersely to Gloria.
"You can have one of mine," Craig offered.
Solomon cast a disparaging glance at young Craig. "I've already removed my gloves. God only knows where your hands have been."
He accepted Gloria's cigarette and flamed the tip with a sterling silver lighter. He pointed toward a naked corpse half-visible in the dim alley. "Not a drop of blood in his body. In thirty years, I've never seen anything like these tarot card killings."
"Was he killed elsewhere and dumped here?" Gloria asked.
"I'm a medical doctor, not a dime store psychic," Solomon replied in his naturally-condescending tone.
"Can you estimate the time of death?" Gloria inquired.
"I'll need a full autopsy to be certain, but I would guess he died recently."
Gloria glanced at Solomon with frustrated eyes. "Can you tell me anything of value?"
The medical examiner dropped his half-finished smoke on the pavement and ground the red ash with his scuffed shoes. "Give me another cigarette while I think about it."
Gloria handed the pathologist a fresh Lucky Strike. She turned her questioning gaze to Nathan. "What can you tell me?"
"A hooker tripped over him in the alley, or so she says. When she found him, he was already naked and probably dead." Nathan handed Gloria a bent tarot card featuring a laughing red devil. "That was jammed in his mouth, like the others."
Solomon blew smoke into Craig's face. "How old are you?"
"Old enough," Craig replied and waved the smoke from his eyes.
"Can we move the body?" Gloria asked.
"I'm sure he won't mind," Solomon sarcastically answered. "He is an adult male, age forty-two, one-hundred-ninety pounds, and a former Marine Corps rifleman. His blood was drained from two punctures on the left jugular. He has no other lacerations. The killer was left-handed and very strong."
"He bled to death?" Gloria asked.
"Possibly. His crushed spine and broken neck may have contributed to his untimely demise." Solomon drew a deep inhale and blew thick smoke. He pointed at the corpse. "Whoever killed that man is a person to be avoided."
"I need to find the perpetrator before he kills again," Gloria replied.
Solomon tapped her arm. "Be careful what you ask for. This killer is not your ordinary psychopath. If you get too close, he might suck your blood."
Gloria crossed under the yellow tape and knelt beside the naked body. The dead man lay face down on the pavement. She shined her penlight into his open eyes. "I'll be damned," she said. "This is Eddie Pearl, the serial rapist. He was released two days ago; I remember seeing his picture on my desk."
Gloria inspected the two puncture holes in the dead man's neck. She noticed the grotesque lump in his back from his snapped spine. She noticed the killer left bruises on Pearl's throat from deep finger impressions. She estimated the killer was a man of extreme strength and severe violence. She felt an odd sensation, as if someone stood behind her. She glanced over her shoulder into the dingy alley. She didn't see anything but she felt uneasy. Gloria ducked under the crime tape and rejoined her colleagues.
"Eddie's raping days are over," Gloria observed.
"One of his victims must have settled an old score," Craig suggested.
"Maybe he ran into a prison buddy," Nathan added.
Gloria glanced at the laughing devil painted on the tarot card she clutched in her hand. "Eddie finally ran into someone more evil than him."
Solomon glanced at the bloodstained card. "Do you believe in evil, detective?"
Gloria gazed at the shadowy alley. "I have no doubt."
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