Around four on Sunday afternoon, Lt. Van Kley showed Travis, Haley, Daniel, and I the dead bodies. There were three of them — two men and a woman, each of them horribly burned.
The house looked as bad inside as it had outside. Outside, it stood as an excellent example of urban decay in Grand Lake. Built in the 1920’s, the house had cracked, beige paint over wooden siding with spots of greenish moss. It sat in the middle of a neighborhood of houses almost exactly like it.
Inside, threadbare rugs covered the wooden floor of the living room, which seemed to be half couches and half entertainment center.
They had big speakers, and a lot of them. Some hung on the walls. I guessed that they might have been going for surround sound.
The woman’s body lay in front of the television as if she’d been about to change the DVD as the murderer entered the room. The side of her facing the door had been blackened to the point of being featureless ash. The other side of her body hadn’t, which actually made it worse to look at.
One of the men, a big guy, lay on the floor just in front of the couch, burned on his front, ashes made from his skin and clothing on the floor around him.
The other guy hadn’t even made it off the couch. His upper half, along with his clothing and the couch next to him had been blackened, but then spattered with white. Someone must have used a fire extinguisher.
“So this is it,” Lt. Van Kley said, “we thought you should take a look.” She waved her hand in the direction of the bodies.
Daniel said, “How long has it been?”
Van Kley checked her watch. “I’d say forty-five minutes.”
“I’m not usually much good with this stuff after about half an hour unless it was a really intense experience.”
Van Kley folded her arms, and watched Daniel as he walked over to the woman on the floor. “Looks intense to me.”
Daniel’s masked head tilted toward the charred body. “Good point.”
He knelt next to her.
Next to me, Haley said, “This is sick.”
I thought back to the last time I’d seen dead bodies, back at her family’s Christmas party. I’d felt nauseous. I felt okay for the moment, and hoped I stayed that way. The last thing I needed was to puke with the helmet on.
“Hey Night Cat,” Travis said, “let’s try to catch the scent. Rocket, see if you notice anything strange.”
I didn’t know what I’d be looking for, but whatever, we’d settled on having Travis be field commander for the day. I’d look.
From the smile on the unmasked part of Haley’s face, I gathered she found his orders amusing somehow — or maybe it was the fact that he didn’t act any different as field commander than he did normally.
Careful not to touch anything, I looked over the bodies. Nothing unusual jumped out at me.
Near me, Haley said, “The burnt meat smell covers over everything. No, wait. I think I might smell something… Meth, maybe?”
Over on the other side of room, Travis said, “Right. Meth. Maybe marijuana too. I don’t think they’re here right now, but they have been. How did you recognize the smell?”
“Friends of a friend were using them,” Haley said quietly.
I wondered if she meant Logan, and maybe Vaughn. Strange to think that she’d once been dating Sean, and that she’d probably gone to some of the same parties that Vaughn attended before he got sent to treatment.
If events had gone differently, she might still be dating Sean now.
Daniel’s voice brought me out of my thoughts. “I’ve just seen it. Does anybody else want to? It’s… intense.”
I sent him a mental yes.
He turned toward Van Kley. “Lieutenant?”
She didn’t say anything for second. Then, “God. I can’t say I like this, but go ahead.”
Then I was in the same room almost an hour earlier. The people were alive, and not much older than we were.
The woman had just gotten off the couch, and picked a DVD out of the tray. She had long, black hair, and a nice smile.
She said something to the two men sitting on the couch, but I couldn’t understand it. It was in Spanish. That didn’t surprise me. Van Kley had said the people who died were part of a gang called the Southsiders. I’d heard the Southsiders were mostly Hispanic.
She had the DVD in her hand as the door opened.
I didn’t recognize the man who pushed open the door.
He had short, blond hair, a greasy, pimpled face, and a black, jean jacket. “I’ve got a message from Prime. No deal.”
The woman dropped the DVD as he raised his right hand. The air rippled in front of it, and I could see her clothes catch fire, and her skin begin to blacken as she screamed.
I turned away from her in time to watch him point his hand toward a big, heavily muscled guy in a t-shirt. He’d only took a step away from the couch before he began to burn as well.
The man by the door pointed his left hand at the man still sitting on the couch. The guy didn’t have a chance. Along with his body, the couch caught on fire.
As someone from the upstairs shouted, the killer took one last look around the room, and then he left.