Friday, May 5, 2017

Casting Shadows: Chap. 1: You Can Run but You Can't Hide

Summer 2014 was never discussed; perhaps by common agreement; as words couldn’t explain it, no one in the family mentioned that long, hot summer, the events that transpired there in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a gravel road that evaporated into lost dreams and unfulfilled wishes. It was a lonely patch of land with little to cultivate and even less desire to do so, not so uncommon in southern Louisiana. So when she packed up her bag and left no one found it out of the ordinary.

She carried a small case, walked over three miles to the bus stop and purchased a ticket to New Orleans. As she said “New Orleans," she let the syllables roll over her tongue, a melody. It seemed far away, exotic, full of promise. When she climbed the steps onto the bus, a shiver swept over her, hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she was filled with foreboding. Hesitating she glanced behind her but knew she was old enough to venture out on her own and no one was going to hold her back.

Six Months Later on Bourbon Street:
Annalise stood at the window of the Back Door Saloon, staring out at the street, filled with trash, urine, and more than one puddle of vomit. Bourbon Street, the morning after, wasn’t all glitter and gold. It wasn’t all that exotic either as she was quickly finding out. She smiled at herself for that naivety of just six months ago. Yet for all the crude seediness, she liked it here. Being a waitress barely paid the rent but she felt free, finally free of that small house, the source of isolation, self doubt and suffocating dread.

It was ten o’clock, which translates to dawn here on Bourbon, most were still holed up in hotel rooms behind heavy drapes, sleeping off the drudges of too many Hand Grenades, and casting cautious glances at whomever they woke up next to. She had wiped down tables, cleaned toilets, and swept the floor. Now she stood watching the few people on the street; mostly parents, with children who wandered about early to avoid raucous crowds.

Benji was behind the bar checking alcohol supplies and restocking glassware. He hummed as he worked, which she found both endearing and annoying at the same time. Her eye caught someone on the street that didn’t quite fit her idea of 10 o’clockers. With dark hair, dark glasses and a confident swagger, he should have set off alarm bells but for some reason he didn’t. She let her eyes linger on him longer than she meant to and across the street he turned, peering at the dark window of the bar. She stepped back even though she was sure he couldn’t see her inside, behind the smoky window. Nervously, she craned her neck forward but the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street was now empty, he had vanished, leaving her both relieved and deflated.

Down the street, the tall stranger wandered past unopened shops, looking in windows and glancing behind himself occasionally, puzzled by this uncanny feeling of being watched. He had drawn the notice of, not only Annalise, but of another presence, dark and primitive. As he walked, it stealthily followed him with its eyes. He shrugged off the feeling, walking briskly now, anxious to meet with Kaden. His pulse quickened at the thought of a story.

In the bar, Annalise turned and started putting the ketchup and mustard on tables in preparation for lunch, which would be a sparse crowd translating into meager tips. She didn’t mind working the early shift, even though it meant less income, as it gave her some evening hours to wander about on her own, never tiring of the history of the area, she spent a lot of time absorbing the essence of the city. Uncharacteristic for her, she enjoyed the cemeteries, creating in her head stories to go along with the above ground tombs which eroded by time and weather still stood in tribute to lost souls, Cities of the Dead.

The older, St Louis Cemetery 1, grave site of Marie Laveau, New Orleans most famous Voodoo Queen, was open only to tours but tour guides were generous with locals, and they now included her in that significant category, giving her the option to wander on her own at great length.

A few hours later, she stuffed her tips into her bag, waved at Benji and headed out into the afternoon sunshine. Pulling her dark glasses down over her eyes, she scanned the street, blushing when she realized she was secretly searching for the handsome man from this morning. Shaking off her tempting thoughts, she hurried down an alley to Café du Monda, feeling an intense need for strong coffee. As she walked she was unaware of the dark brooding eyes that followed her movements.

The shop, crowded as always with tourists and locals, beckoned to her with its powdered sugar beignets and fragrant coffee. The aromas drifted toward her before she even reached the patio. Glancing around trying to find an empty spot she was startled by the deep voice.

“You’re welcome to join me.” He said, holding out a chair for her.
She sank gratefully into the chair, cocking her head to look into the teasing eyes of the stranger from the street.

“Colton Davis” he said, offering his hand after wiping powdered sugar from it.

“Annalise Catron” she replied, feeling a tingle start up her arm as she clenched his hand in the firmest handshake she could muster while quivering on the inside. She chided herself for her foolishness.

The waiter appeared magically as she was lost in his gaze. She ordered her regular black coffee and a trio of beignets. She looked up again to discover his eyes on her. He didn’t flinch or look away as people often do when caught staring.

“Are you on vacation?” She asked him, just to break the silence.

“Nope, I’m here following a story.” He replied while pulling a business card out of thin air and handing it to her. She barely glanced at it, placing it on the table as her coffee arrived, dark and steaming,

“Are you local?” he asked, watching her sip the fiery liquid.

“Well….I’ve been here about six months. People are starting to think of me as local.”
She replied with a smile, surprised at the lump in her throat. She didn’t want to think about home and all the feelings that collided inside her.

He looked at her oddly, noting the timeline, six months, about the time of the first murder. Shrugging it off, he thought about just how many others had arrived in NOLA six months ago. People come and go all the time, it meant nothing. She was so busy with the beignets that she failed to notice his interest. He watched her eat and sipped his own coffee.

Across the street, in the shadows of a building on what some called Vampire Alley, the dark eyes following them shimmered with hate. He watched silently, with a rage building inside that flooded through him, threatening to collapse his self control in the same way Katrina had overwhelmed the city. He ran a hand across his forehead, wiping the sweat that beaded there, annoyed by her betrayal. He forced himself to breath slowly, locking his eyes on the sigil tattooed on his forearm. Concentrate. He stood there watching them sipping coffee, smiling and talking, the rage building inside him until he struck the building with his fist, turned away, and evaporated into the cool darkness of the shaded alley.

Later that night Annalise replayed the coffee time over and over in her head. She held the card between her fingers, twirling it like a baton and wondering if he might want to see her again. She had offered to show him around the local haunts, jotting down her number, he had slipped it into his pocket before heading back to his hotel, on the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets.

She had never really been in a relationship, stuck in the desolate land of nowhere to go and no one to see, she had never really been interested. There was, after all, no one of real interest to consider. Now she tingled at the memory of his hand on hers and felt herself lost in his eyes again.

“Stop it!: she said out loud, forcing her thoughts onto other things. But as she snuggled into her bed later that night she knew where her dreams would take her and her face burned.

Although she didn’t know, there were two with thoughts focused on her at the very same time as she dreamed of finding love. One filled with desires; dark and brooding, letting them cascade through him and build into an inferno of lust and anger, the two mingling together at dangerous levels. The other simply curious, interested in her bewitching smile, silky hair and her delightful laugh; thinking about how she should laugh a lot, letting the music of her laughter caress the universe.

In the wee hours of the night, he hunted. In this city, prey was easy to find and easier to subdue. He found her three blocks over from Bourbon Street, lost and wandering in a drunken stupor. He laughed and smiled and offered to help her back to her forgotten hotel. Docile as a lamb she followed him through the twisting streets and only protested mildly when he suggested cutting through St Louis Cemetery Two.

Once inside the old rock walls of the cemetery, he led her behind an ancient vault. She barely struggled when he clamped his hand over her mouth and pushed her to the ground. She allowed the alcohol to overcome her, passing out at the same moment she felt his hands ripping her clothes. She was unconscious when he mounted her, thrusting savagely into her and grunting as pleasure flowed through him. He pulled at her hair, excited at hurting her; slightly disappointed that she had passed out before he claimed her. He forced himself to pause so the fiery encounter would last longer. When he was finished he lay on top of her, biting, leaving a trail of bloody bite marks, and sucking the blood that oozed from them.

In the darkness of the night he grew hard again and flipped her over, taking her from the rear, his only regret that she was still unconscious. She was still oblivious hours later when his lust satiated he strangled her with the golden necklace entangled in her hair. Licking his lips he disappeared into the foggy streets, wiping his mouth as he put distance between himself and her tattered body. When he was safely in his lair, he replayed the night, in his memories replacing her face with Annalise’s and he grew hard again from the thoughts.

Her body lay in the early morning light, discovered surprisingly quickly by a caretaker, exposed now to the bright lights of camera flashes, the probing eyes of the detectives and the careful consideration of the coroner as he measured the bite marks.

“It’s the same perp?” Jesse Tucker asked.

Looking briefly at the young detective before answering the coroner sighed and nodded.
“Yes, I’m sure but I’ll check the saliva to verify.”

He stood beside the detective; both staring at the battered body of the young tourist, hoping to find freedom and excitement, a monster had found her instead. They didn’t speak, they didn’t need to, each knew they had a dangerous problem; this was the 4th killing in just over six months, all pretty young women with dark hair. NOLA had a serial killer and few clues as to who it might be.

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