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Authors: John Everson

The Pumpkin Man (26 page)

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
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Jenn shrugged. “I don't know. Maybe because his bones are here? I wonder if we can find out.”

“Sure,” Nick agreed. “Can't hurt to look.”

Jenn walked across the room to the gold handles bolted into the limestone. She pulled on them but nothing happened.

“What are you doing?” Nick asked, stepping up behind her and putting a hand on her tummy, but Jenn ignored the intimate touch. “Do you think it's smart to open that?”

“There's something about this room and the Pumpkin Man,” she said. “There has to be a clue here.”

“I thought you were just going to look for a name,” he said. “Your uncle's, I guess. What else are you hoping to find?”

Jenn shook her head. “I'm not entirely sure. But the police were looking for fingerprints and blood and stuff, which isn't going to help.”

“It's not?”

She shrugged and pointed at the seam in the stone. “These handles are obviously meant to open something. And there's a crack here.”

“Try pushing instead of pulling,” he suggested.

She did, and he leaned in to help. They both groaned with the effort but were unsuccessful.

“Maybe it slides?” Nick suggested.

Jenn pointed along the smooth face of the wall. “If it was going to slide, it would have to be in front. There's no place for it to go. All the walls are evenly faced.”

“Yeah, and there are no hinges for a door mechanism either,” Nick noted.

They tried pulling the handles sideways, but nothing happened, just as they expected. Nick walked along the wall, pausing every ten or twelve paces to point out a tiny seam in the limestone. “Maybe they just had handles on the last two pieces of stone to help set them,” he suggested.

“Maybe,” Jenn agreed halfheartedly.

She walked around the stone pedestal twice. There was something about the way it was positioned in the room—not quite at the center, not against the wall—that had bothered her since the first time they entered. While everything else about the circular crypt was geometric, the coffin was off-kilter. She knelt at one corner of its stand where a fist-size chunk of stone had been chipped away from the base. Perhaps the men who'd had to lever it up the hill and then down the stairs had dropped it.

The floor looked darker near the missing hunk of rock. Jenn pushed against the stand, and it shivered a little but didn't budge.

“Hmmm,” she murmured.

Nick was on the other side of the room, searching the outer walls, but Jenn had a hunch. Pressing both palms to the coffin stand's bottom, she pushed with all her might. The entire stand seemed to shift, but only a hair. She could see that the tile beneath looked different. Dull black, not tile.

“Help me move this,” she called. She gestured.

Nick glanced over and shivered. “The coffin stand? I don't want that damn thing tipping over and opening,” he said. “You push from that side, and I'll pull on the other. Maybe we can squeak it along.”

They set to work. Soon the small chamber was full of heavy breathing, grunts and curses of frustration. The veins stood out on Nick's forearms, and sweat stuck Jenn's T-shirt to her chest.
But little by little, the stone coffin stand slid across the tile. Surprisingly, it moved smoothly without scraping.

“I think there's something on the bottom of this that's helping us shift it,” Nick observed. “It weighs a ton. There's no way we could have budged it if the base was flat.”

Jenn agreed. “That, and we're not gouging up any of the tile. Probably it's something like those little feet they put under stereo equipment. Though I'm betting these aren't rubber.”

“No,” Nick gasped, pulling as hard as he could. “They'd have to be hard and smooth as Teflon! So why the fuck couldn't they have just put normal wheels on it?”

Jenn laughed, blowing a strand of sweaty hair off her mouth. “Maybe this was put here before wheels were invented.”

“Okay, one more try,” Nick said. “On three. One, two . . .”

Jenn pushed so hard she yelled, and Nick's cries echoed hers. At last he fell away from the stone to lie on the floor, breathing hard.

“That's all I got,” he said.

“That's all we need,” Jenn whispered. She tapped him on the arm without looking. Her eyes were fixed on the black space they had revealed.

The black tiles she'd first spied at the edge of the pedestal base were only the start. An intricate, undulating design lay beneath, black and highlighted by tiles flecked with silver. At the far end, just before the spot where the pedestal would have stopped in its original spot, a thin pink tongue protruded from a head.

“A snake,” Nick said. “Why would they use a coffin to hide the picture of a snake?”

Jenn crawled across said snake on her hands and knees, staring intently at the intricate yet faint patterns in the tile that gave the stone serpent the appearance of scales. At its middle the shape bulged, obscenely bloated.

She ran her finger across the center of that bulge, and in her
mind Jenn gave a silent whistle.
Secrets hidden within mysteries,
she thought, tracing the circular gap that ran all the way around the center of the snake. Then she fingered a narrow hole directly through the circle's middle. “I don't think the
snake
is what they were hiding.”

“What do you mean?”

“There's a keyhole here.” Jenn pointed it out and looked up at him with a cocked eyebrow. “The belly of the snake is the entry point to something.”

“Sounds almost biblical.” Nick's stomach suddenly felt like a home for bad eggs. This place just got more and more fuckedup. He knelt down next to her and put a finger on the irregular slot in the center of the serpent. “Soooo,” he began, hating to even ask. “Any idea where the key might be?”

Jenn reached into her pocket. “Works for everything else,” she suggested, holding up the key to the basement door. When she fit it into the floor slot, the key slid easily inside.

Too easily. The key to the doorway swam in the opening, and Jenn twisted it back and forth without meeting a tight fit.

“Works for everything
but
this,” she amended. “Figures.”

“Maybe that's not such a bad thing,” Nick suggested. “Where do you think this goes?”

Jenn shrugged. “God knows. But somebody didn't want it accessed very easily.”

Nick agreed. “No, I don't think people were swinging this casket stand back and forth every weekend. But, what were they trying to keep hidden? What's locked up under here?”

Jenn wiped the sweat from her forehead. “No idea. It's too small to be a doorway.”

“Unless it's for rats,” Nick suggested.

Jenn sat back on her calves and sighed. She'd thought they were going to find something or at last uncover an answer. Now she just had more questions. Where was the key to this? What was inside? Did she really want to know?

“I think I need to visit Aunt Meredith's library,” she said finally. “I need to do some more reading. I
don't
think this is a doorway for rats. And I do think we need to find out what it is. Maybe before it's too late.”

Meredith Perenais's Journal

July 2, 2009

George's family were not nice people. They may have died, but they never left their home. Their influence still breathes inside these walls. I can feel them walking here at night. I have felt them since I first came here, I suppose, but now . . . they seem stronger. They will never go away either. Their power is tied to this place, to the things they did here. Just as I am now.

I suppose none of us will ever leave.

C
HAPTER
T
WENTY-NINE

Scott Barkiewicz had always wanted to be a cop. Growing up, you could always find him staked out in front of the tube watching episodes of
CSI
and the reruns of
T.J. Hooker
,
Hill Street Blues
and
NYPD Blue
.

He'd been a thin, reedy kid, picked on by bullies and laughed at by the losers he refused to party with. He'd never seemed to fit in anywhere; he wasn't a jock, he wasn't a stoner, he wasn't even a brain. Good grades came hard. The nerds didn't like him; they thought he was just a little too tight. “Take that stick out of your ass” was a phrase he'd heard a lot more than once. But he'd had a natural affinity with the police, who seemed the force keeping every problematic social group from running amok. As a kid he'd frequently asked his mom why people couldn't just leave one another alone. As an adult, he'd sworn to make sure they did.

River's End was his first assignment after the police academy, and while he liked the little town, he could see that things weren't always run by the book here. The captain seemed just a little too laid-back. He looked the other way sometimes, usually when the crime had to do with people who'd lived here for a long time. Though Scott didn't know why the captain was going easy on this Jennica Murphy. She wasn't local. And truth be told, she reminded him a lot of one of those “too-pretty” girls who had broken his heart in high school and after. She might look sweet on the outside, but inside was where he worried something cruel
lived. He'd been the brunt of many a pretty girl's mean streak, so he didn't trust her.

That was no reason not to do your duty, however, and Scott knew he needed to try to protect Jennica, in case the captain was right and she was an innocent in all this. Scott just felt that in general that Captain Jones had lost his edge. If you stayed in one place too long, that's what happened. You got too cozy. You risked getting too friendly with the people you were supposed to keep in line. That was why he thought that police personnel should rotate town to town periodically, kinda like they did with Catholic priests.

The job of the police was to keep everyone from stepping all over the rights and lives of others. He was proud to have trained to be one of those enforcers, and he was determined to find out now just who the hell was slicing and dicing their way through the people of River's End. The captain was investigating the murders, but somehow he seemed just a little too lackadaisical about the whole thing. As if he didn't really believe they could catch the murderer, so he wasn't going to kill himself trying. Scott knew there was a bunch of hocus-pocus urban legend shit surrounding a killer from a few years back, but he didn't believe some boogeyman was walking out of the night from nowhere to knock people off. Scott was a realist: there was a physical being holding the knives and shedding the blood. And it was Scott's sworn duty—and personal goal—to find and stop that person.

To that end, Scott was now reviewing every murder connected with the Pumpkin Man. On his desk he had old discolored folders from twenty years ago, when the original bloodbath hit. Next to them was a growing stack of folders related to new killings, folders he had put together himself. The names on the folders were disturbingly similar: Hawkins, Smith, Wilbert, Foster, DeVries, Traskle.

The original file folders all dealt with children. The new
ones, two decades later, all dealt with the parents. One other difference Scott noticed was the care for secrecy the killer had taken.

In the original six-year string of Pumpkin Man murders, the killer had taken a child from the town each Halloween, but he had never left any evidence behind. The first couple of kids were even thought to have simply run away or drowned. One was eventually discovered weeks after his death, lodged in the reeds of the estuary, headless. Until some of those heads had turned up in the crypt behind the Perenais house, all the heads of the victims were missing. Then came the eyewitness accusation of another child. That had led to George Perenais turning up dead, hung from a tree and poked full of holes like a ghastly piñata. While the timing of the event and the pitch of town's hysteria led Scott to question the validity of the boy's story, clearly it had been enough for some vigilante. That vigilante had never been found either.

The recent murders were instantly obvious: the killer left behind a body and blatant evidence—evidence clearly intended to link the crime sprees. The head of each recent victim was removed and replaced with an intricately carved pumpkin.

Scott sighed and shook his head. He could imagine the amount of trepidation that had overtaken the town after Perenais was hanged, watching Halloween steadily approach and wondering if at last the ghoulish holiday would pass without the loss of a child. And then he could imagine their joy when no more deaths happened. Some vigilante or vigilantes somewhere had seen their brutal actions justified. For the first time in months, the town slept soundly. But they'd been wrong. George Perenais couldn't be the killer. Not if he was dead. Why had the real killer taken those kids? And why had he waited over twenty years to come back for their parents?

Of course, the killer hadn't taken
all
of the parents. Teri Hawkins had lived alone, as had Erik Smith, but Charlie Wilbert
had been found by his wife. So had Dave Traskle. Those wives remained alive months after their husbands' murders, though the DeVries couple had both been killed.

Only one family remained untouched by the recent murders: Harry and Emmaline Foster. They had lost their son, Justin, in 1986. He was still officially listed as missing; no body had ever been found.

Interesting. The Fosters were the only parents from the original string of murders who remained untouched by the recent rash of killings.

Scott pulled open a drawer in his desk and fished out the local phone book. It covered a half a dozen towns but was still woefully thin. He quickly flipped to the Fs and found only three Fosters. Only one of them lived in River's End. It had to be the same one.

Quickly he scribbled down the address on a small notepad. Officer Scott Barkiewicz was about to take a little ride.

BOOK: The Pumpkin Man
11.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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