Part Four – Finding a Ghost

Story Beginning

Hanging a map of Philly had required removing a few pictures from the wall, but Martin couldn’t be bothered to care. Hand clutching onto a notebook, his eyes jumped from the page to the pins he’d positioned across the metropolis, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips. The project had taken two days and required weeding through not just his initial twelve cases, but the other unresolved ones on his docket. Honing in on the ones which featured postmortem knife wounds consumed the most time. Those got the red pins.

AshtrayRunning his fingers through his messy hair, he reached for his cold cup of coffee and swallowed a gulp. A half-eaten bagel and an ashtray full of cigarette butts lay on the table beside his files, which were strewn about in a haphazard mess. Martin sighed, knowing he should shower and wishing he could summon an appetite, but the crime scene photos from the Davies murder kept playing in his head like a bad song on repeat. Pools of red had soaked through the plush, white carpet. The victims bled out, the same way Jill Franklin should have, had she merely been stabbed.

Peter Dawes must not have had a taste for the stuff yet.

Martin shook his head. The rational part of his mind still thought this was all insane, but the dots were finally connecting in what was once a nonsensical investigation. Even if the improbable wasn’t true, Dawes could have been acting under the influence of this woman – whatever she was – and locked in some form of hypnotism. Maybe Carlos only thought he saw teeth. Or maybe the woman had dental prosthetics and was using Dawes as her muscle. Martin hadn’t figured out how to explain the supernatural yet, but he was sure something could force this to make some twisted sort of sense.

Vampires didn’t exist. Regardless of how he was treating this case now.

Reaching into his pocket, Martin plucked a cigarette out of his pack and continued staring at the wall. Bill had done a meticulous job of picking out the cases he felt had the strongest connections, but there was still an undercurrent of suspicion within the other cases; an eerie omen that told Martin they could very have been orchestrated by Dawes, too. “People snap…”

… The doctor sold his soul to the devil…

“… All of the time,” he told himself. “This one just happens to have a vampire fetish.”

Smoke rose from the end of the cigarette when he lit it. Martin reached for the notebook and went back to revisiting the crime scene locations on his list. The collection of red dots had formed a cluster, with a few others scattered about the city as though he’d wandered off and…

Got hungry

… Pursued another victim somewhere else. But the largest concentration of points seemed to be establishing some sort of base of operations. Perhaps that’s where he’d been living this whole time while surviving off the radar. Martin stuck the final pin into the map and backed away, his eyes fixed on the Strawberry Mansion area of Philadelphia. The pins branched out several blocks to a couple of miles in each direction before becoming sparse, but this only served to affirm where the killer’s home was.

“Fucking snake in the grass,” Martin muttered. “Hiding in plain sight with the gangs and crackheads.” Was this what happened to Bill Frazier? Did he see this area staring back at him and decide to wander into the lion’s den? Martin considered someone with Peter Dawes’ level of insanity and wondered how good of an idea it was to go there alone. If Dawes really was the murderer…

“Sidearm. Loaded. Even if he’s got fifty fucking knives, I’ll be armed.” Martin wasn’t sure how to scare his target out of hiding, but canvassing the area would at least feed the pangs of intuition driving him. A distant voice in the back of his mind issued the words of warning, reminding his better judgment that others went before him and vanished. He knew more than most of them had, though. Wasn’t this what he was supposed to do? Wasn’t he a police officer, after all?

“No such things as vampires.”

Silently, he wondered if those would be his last words.

***

What Keeps Me HereThe evening was mild for late May, with the wind providing enough chill to necessitate the use of a jacket. Pedestrians wandered up and down Ridge Ave., a transit bus screaming toward the Northwest and pausing only to pick up new passengers. Dilapidated buildings had been interspersed among houses with bars and gates. Small, urban churches painted a bleak picture of light inside the darkness. Martin found himself lost in the morbid thought of how many funerals they probably paid host to throughout the year.

He had attempted to dress as casually as possible; something reminiscent more of an unassuming neighbor, than a cop looking for a killer. The shoulder holster had remained at home and the gun tucked into the back of his pants. His jacket concealed his police microphone and the inside pocket carried his badge. Prepared or not, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a child playing an adult’s game.

Perhaps he should call for backup.

“And explain this to Graham?” he asked himself. “Yeah, right.” No, this was up to him for now. If he could catch Dawes, then Martin would talk to the Lieutenant. Martin wouldn’t have to mention the word vampire, then. It would be sufficient enough for him to say he located a murder suspect.

But first, Martin needed something to go on.

“You’re around here somewhere, you bastard.” Martin continued walking around the area he had outlined in red with his marker. He wrote down cross streets and possible intersections to examine, encompassing a swatch of asphalt approximately ten city blocks either way from his starting point. The city was active and alive, with plenty of people…

… Prey…

… Starting their night as Philadelphians often did. Lots of liquor. A lot of mischief. It all made Martin wistful for the simpler days, when he was carting off drunks and arresting disorderlies; not chasing after pseudo-immortals. ‘Think like your target,’ he chided himself. ‘You’re evading an arrest warrant while still wanting to get your kicks. Where do hide out?’ Martin paused at an intersection and peered up at a non-descript estate he figured housed a few floors of apartments. A quick glance at the cross-streets summoned an image of the map hanging from his wall. The epicenter laid somewhere around the corner, just a block or two down the street and maybe a little more North. Turning to head in that direction, he glanced first at the front doors of the apartment building and froze when one of them opened.

Martin’s heart leaped into his throat at who he saw walk out.

While a few others emerged with him – all of them a little too well-dressed for the neighborhood – the man Martin honed in on broke away from the pack, a deliberate tenor to his walk. He jogged down a short set of stairs, his black, wing-tipped shoes moving swiftly toward the sidewalk, and adjusted the black suit jacket he wore. At the bottom of the stairs, he hesitated, affording the detective a better look. Martin swallowed hard. There stood the medical student whose picture lay in Peter Dawes’s file folder.

Or, at the very least, he looked like he was the same height and build. Short, brown hair; sunglasses concealing his eyes. They called to mind the person Jill Franklin had last been seen with and the black suit added further credence to the suspicion. He did appear to be in his mid-to-late twenties and even if he wasn’t Dawes, he was close enough to the scene of Jill Franklin’s murder to be pulled in for questioning.

No, it was Dawes. Martin knew it. Yet, at the same time, there was something a bit different about the man. The great humanitarian and model citizen seemed far removed from the man who placed a cigarette into his mouth and pulled a lighter from his pocket. No, this man screamed of danger, emanating enough intrigue that the ladies probably ignored the warning sirens for the chance at a romp in the sheets with him. The Peter Dawes of the interviews sounded like he wouldn’t be caught parking in the wrong spot. This one looked more than capable of murder.

046/365: Room 317 [#4]The end of his cigarette burned a brilliant orange and with the first puff, he flicked the lighter closed and pocketed it. His temporary stop transformed into a purposeful stride again, and Martin realized it was now or never. Call for back up? Write down the location he just emerged from? While both appeared the options of a sane man, Martin imagined Dawes on his way to another murder and opted for the third door. He started tailing his target, staying as far from Dawes as possible while studying him as much as he could. The former doctor seemed oblivious to everything around him; stuck on whatever task he had set his mind to accomplish. Other people passed him and both parties remained apathetic toward the other, although his walk did slow a little when a woman passed and looked him over.

He stopped as if debating something. Then he stepped up his pace once again. Martin smirked to himself.

Not this one. Right, Dawes?

Only a half block down and across another intersection, Dawes made an abrupt turn down a side street. The light turned, forcing Martin to stop and look both ways, crossing quickly when the endless stream of oncoming traffic abated enough to allow him to run. Martin frowned and looked ahead. The fading figure of Peter Dawes was continuing down the street without skipping a beat.

“Shit,” Martin said, picking up the pace of his stride. When the rest of the traffic passed, the buildings flanking them created a quiet vacuum, with them the only two people walking down the street. Dawes was ahead of him by at least a hundred yards, but Martin slowed his pace in favor of moving with more stealth. Reaching behind his back, Martin drew his gun and kept it concealed by his side. His suspect appeared none-the-wiser to the fact that he was being followed.

Until Martin’s shoe hit a rock.

The noise was slight, but Dawes stopped immediately and raised the cigarette to his mouth in one careful motion. Martin paused as well and sized Dawes up, wondering if he was going to turn around and look behind him. A cloud of smoke rose from Dawes’ mouth and still, the man did not motion one way or the other. Instead, he remained frozen in place.

Martin took a deep breath to steady his racing heart.

As Martin exhaled, a smile broke out on Dawes’ face. He flicked the cigarette away, toward a neighboring building littered with construction warnings and scaffolding. The detective remained still, his gaze fixed on the man in front of him. Out of instinct, he cocked back the hammer of his gun. Finally, Dawes shifted to face Martin.

An eyebrow raised, he examined Martin while the detective kept the gun lowered at his side. The two engaged in a stalemate, neither moving except to breathe. No, Martin appeared to be the only one doing that; he couldn’t see any sign of the characteristic rise and fall of the other man’s chest. Instead, the statuesque posture returned, interrupted only when Dawes tilted his head and furrowed his brow.

Martin finally spoke. “Are you Peter Dawes?” he asked, shouting toward the tall figure. The traffic resumed its steady flow, but neither one acknowledged it; both seemed intent to carry on the staring contest for a few beats longer. Martin expected Dawes to start running. With his list of charges there was no way he’d stay to face the music. Yet, Dawes remained in position.

Dawes smiled. Then he began to laugh.

The sound bore a sadistic amount of pleasure to it. Advancing a few paces, Dawes stopped again and continued staring at Martin while grinning like the Cheshire cat. “Well, that has to be one of the more interesting questions I have been asked lately,” he said, his voice carrying an odd intonation. Chilling. Educated, and yet cold-blooded at the same time. “And, who might you be?”

Martin felt the impulse to flash his badge, but didn’t motion for it. “My name is Detective Martin Sanchez. I’m with the homicide division of the Philadelphia Police Department.” Martin listened to the echo of his voice, which sounded a lot more confident than he felt. “Mr. Dawes, you have a warrant for your arrest, for the murder of Lydia Davies and Liam Collins. You are also wanted for questioning in connection to several other murders, including Detective Jill Franklin.”

The laugh from before was nothing compared to the one that followed the list’s enumeration. Martin felt like he’d slipped a punch line into the statement without intending to and was forced to wait for the suspect’s laughter to subside before hearing a response. “My, you must be a clever mortal,” Dawes said, using the final word with a hint of disdain. “One of you has not has not come snooping around in some time. You daft creatures are still working on that adulterous wench’s case?” Dawes shook his head. “I hardly thought you would be so persistent.”

Martin didn’t want to admit he was the first one in years to touch the case. “That’s what happens when you keep killing people, Dawes…”

Dawes flicked his hand up to stop Martin, grimacing as he did. “Please stop using that name.”

“What would you prefer I call you?”

“Nothing, thank you. And spare me the lecture. If you expected me to issue some sort of remorse, you came to the wrong being.”

“No remorse, huh? Not even for Jill Franklin or Bill Frazier?” Martin swallowed hard, struggling to maintain an air of authority despite how much the exchange unnerved him. “How about those other people you’ve murdered? Not a shred of fucking remorse for any of them, Dawes?”

While Martin expected saying his name again would generate some response, Dawes only continued peering at Martin until a grin swept across his face once more. The heart inside Martin’s chest continued to pound and Dawes knew it; he was feeding off it. Martin was scared out of his mind.

“Come alone, Detective?” he asked.

Martin shook his head. “I have several units dispatched as we speak,” he said.

“Don’t con a con artist – you reek of fear. You have no cavalry. It is simply you and I, is it not?” The air around him changed, from annoyed to cunning within moments. Martin raised his gun a few inches as his skin began to crawl, but Dawes did something far different than Martin expected.

He looked to his left, at an alleyway intersecting the side street.

Then he looked at Martin deliberately before dashing toward the building under renovation.

Dawes disappeared down an adjoining alley. Martin swore under his breath, ignoring that he’d just been issued a dare as he uncovered his police microphone and keyed it. “Officer needs assistance. Murder suspect being pursued close to the –” He spun to glance toward the street signs again. “– Intersection of 31st and Page. Request all available units as suspect is believed armed and dangerous.” Releasing the button, Martin started a sprint for the alley, turning the corner and charging several paces before stopping. Dawes had vanished again like a ghost. The area contained no sign that he’d been there and the construction site was…

A plastic sheet covering an open doorway fluttered as if it’d been disturbed. “Got you,” Martin muttered as he dashed for what appeared to be a side entrance. Lifting the sheet with his free hand, he aimed the gun in front of him and slipped into the vacant building as quietly as possible. The plastic fell behind him when he let it go. Clutching the gun now with both hands, he snuck down a corridor which emptied out into a main vestibule. Two large rooms jutted from the left and right, but a quick glance revealed no sign of the suspect whatsoever.

Martin frowned while slowly pacing toward a flight of stairs. The son of a bitch was here somewhere, he just knew it. “Come on, Dawes, where are you?” he said as his gaze jumped around, afraid to settle on one place for too long. Closing the distance between himself and the staircase, he looked upward and began ascending. The building had to have been at least four stories tall, with God only knew how many rooms on each floor above. It was a fucking rat trap and now, he was the rodent.

Releasing a sigh, he walked up the next stair, but hesitated before proceeding any further. He was five seconds from calling it off when two things happened, one right after the other. First, the recollection of those damn crime scene photos resurfaced as if Lydia Davies was calling out from the great beyond and asking him to avenge her murder. Jennifer Graham spoke next, asking Martin if he thought it wasn’t worth setting all of these victims’ families at ease. Compelling, though they were, Martin still didn’t know if he was keen to search this building from roof to cellar for his killer.

That’s when Martin heard a shoe scuff against the floor on the next level up. At once, Martin’s fear was replaced by a sense of victory. “There you are, asshole,” he said, a smile breaking out on his face.

Martin started up the stairs again, this time taking one after the other, ascending without hesitation. As the stairs twisted in a ninety degree angle, he leaned against the railing and snaked around the bend without giving his target a clean shot at his chest. Dawes was probably armed with something; might have had a gun as well for all Martin knew, but there would at least be a knife. Yes, the sociopath wouldn’t be caught without his weapon of choice. ‘Brought a knife to a gun fight…’

In and out, like the guy was some fucking butcher…”

… Did you, Dawes?’ Martin mused as he reached the second floor and pressed his back against the wall. He lifted his gun and looked from side to side, but didn’t have time to do much else.

The room in front of him was encased in shadows, with a tiny amount of moonlight sneaking through one of the plastic-draped windows. The moonlight caught a glimmer, but no sooner did Martin see the sheen of the blade than it sank deep into his shoulder and pinned him square against the wall. Yelping, Martin let go of the gun inadvertently and heard it hit the gritty concrete underneath him. One fleeting second was all he had to regret letting go of the pistol before his shoulder wailed at him.

He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth against the pain, then forced himself to gaze at the knife once more. The handle jutted out of him and a patch of crimson red blood was already staining Martin’s coat, but the laughter of Satan distracted him from studying it much further. Martin turned his head and glanced toward the shadows again.

“Stupid fucking mortal.” The words came out deliberately, with a condescending tone permanently etched into the man’s voice. “I am not one easily given over to mercy, Detective, but I thought I would see if your confidence would outweigh your sense of self-preservation. Should have listened to that petrified little heartbeat of yours.”

Dawes emerged from the shadows, staring Martin down with a wicked smirk curling the corners of his lips. The sunglasses on his face did nothing to mask the coldness in his eyes and Martin knew right then and there he had just made the worst mistake in his life “You wished to capture me?” Dawes asked, almost intentionally hiding something in his mouth. “You wished yourself a waltz with the devil?”

This time he grinned widely, and when he did, Martin’s heart became a permanent tenant in his throat.

“Then let us begin.”

Story Conclusion (Coming Soon)

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