Bad moon rising, p.1
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       Bad Moon Rising, p.1

         Part #3 of Pine Deep series by Jonathan Maberry
 
Bad Moon Rising
Page 1

  PROLOGUE

  Diggin’ in the graveyard—finding all them secrets out I’m digging in the graveyard—I’ll be finding all your secrets out.

  —Oren Morse, “Midnight Graveyard Blues”

  This is a cruel cruel cruel world You have to live in each and every day You can’t hardly trust your next-door neighbor Or they just might steal your life away.

  —Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, “Messed Up World”

  (1)

  The Bone Man was as thin as a whisper; he was a scarecrow from a blighted field. He stood on the edge of the hospital roof, toes jutting out over the gutter, his trousers fluttering against the stick slimness of his legs. His coat flaps snapped vigorously but silently around his emaciated hips. The only sound the wind made as it whipped by him and through him was a faint plaintive whine as it caressed the silvery strings of the guitar slung behind his back.

  Far below, the parking lot faded back from the glow of the emergency room doors, spreading out in a big half-circle that had been cut acres-deep into the surrounding sea of pines. Even this late there were dozens of cars down there, dusted with moonlight but asleep. All around the town there was a ring of black clouds that were invisible against the night, but above the Bone Man the stars flickered and glimmered by the thousand.

  For three hours he had sat cross-legged on the roof, playing his songs, humming and sometimes singing, coaxing the sad blues out of the ghost of an old guitar that Charley Patton had once used to play “Mississippi Boweavil Blues” at a church picnic in Bentonia, Mississippi. Another time the Bone Man’s father, old Virgil Morse, had used that guitar to play backup on a couple of Sun Records sides by Mose Vinson. The guitar had history. It had life, even though it was no more real than he was. A ghost of a guitar in a dead man’s hands, playing music almost no one could hear.

  He’d sat there and played and listened to the whispers and cries and moans from inside the hospital, hearing the beep of the machine that breathed for Connie Guthrie. Hearing the sewing-circle whisper of needles and thread as the doctors stitched Terry Wolfe’s skin, and the faint grinding sound as they set his bones. He heard the whimper of hopelessness from the throat of José Ramos as the doctors stood by his bed and explained to his mother that his back was broken, and then the scream as the enormity of that pronouncement drove a knife into his mother’s heart. He heard the dreadful terror as Dr. Saul Weinstock murmured, “Dear God,” over and over again as he knelt alone in the bathroom of his office, hands on either side of the toilet bowl, his face streaked with tears and his lips wet with vomit.

  He heard all of these things while he played, and then he heard the hospital slowly fall quiet as drugs or shock or alcohol took each of them into their private pits of darkness. That’s when the Bone Man had stopped playing and rose to stand on the edge of the roof, staring across blacktop and car hoods and trees at the moon.

  It was an ugly quarter moon, stained yellow-red like bruised flesh, and its sickle tip seemed to slash at the treetops. The sky above the trees was thick with agitated night birds that flapped and cawed, hectoring him like Romans at the circus.

  2

  “Where are you now?”

  Jim Polk cupped his hand around his cell and pitched his voice to a whisper. “At the hospital, like you said. Back loading dock. ”

  “Anyone see you?”

  “Jesus, Vic, you think I’m that stupid?”

  Vic Wingate’s voice tightened a notch. “Did anyone see you?”

  “No, okay? No one saw me. ”

  “You’re sure?”

  Polk almost mouthed off again, but caught himself. A half beat later he said, “I’m sure. ”

  “Then open the door. We’re here. ”

  The hallway was still dark and empty. He’d already disabled the alarms and the video cameras, permanently this time per Vic’s instructions. He pocketed his cell and fished for his keys, his fingers shaking badly. His nerves were shot and getting worse every time Vic asked him to do something like this. There was no letup, always some other shit to do, always something that was tightening the noose around his neck. The McDonald’s fish in his stomach felt like it was congealing.

  He turned the key, but before Polk could push it open the door was whipped out of his hand and Karl Ruger shouldered his way in, pausing just enough to give Polk a slow, hungry up and down. He smiled a wide, white smile that showed two rows of jagged teeth that were wet with spit. The greasy slush in Polk’s belly gave another sickening lurch. Vic was bad enough, but looking into Ruger’s eyes was like looking into a dark well that was drilled all the way down to Hell. He fell back a step, stammering something useless, and twitched an arm nervously toward the morgue door halfway down the hall.

  Ruger’s mouth twitched. “Yeah,” he whispered, “I know the way. ”

  Polk flattened back against the wall, not wanting to even let Ruger’s shadow touch him. Two other men came in—beefy college kids in Pinelands Scarecrows sweatshirts—their faces as white as Ruger’s, their mouths filled with long white teeth. Vic was the last to enter and he pulled the door shut behind him and stood next to Polk, watching the three of them pad noiselessly down the hall.

  “Yo!” Vic called softly and the college kids turned. “Quick and dirty. Mess the place up, paint some goofy frat-boy shit on the wall, break some stuff, and then haul Boyd’s sorry ass out of here. ” He looked at his watch. “Five minutes and we’re gone. ”

  The college kids grinned at him for a moment and then pulled open the morgue door and vanished inside. Ruger lingered in the doorway.

  Vic said to him, “They can handle it, Sport. You don’t need to bother. ”

  Even from that distance Polk could see Ruger’s thin smile, and he felt Vic stiffen next to him. Jesus Christ, Polk thought, Vic’s afraid of him, too.

  “Mark Guthrie’s in there. ” Ruger’s tongue flicked out and lapped spit off his lips. “I want to pay my respects. ”

  With a dry little laugh Ruger turned and went into the morgue.

  Polk looked at Vic, who took a cigarette from his shirt pocket and slowly screwed it into his mouth, his eyes narrowed and thoughtful. Absently Vic began patting his pockets for a match and Polk pulled his own lighter and clicked it. Vic cut him a quick look, then gave a short nod and bent to the light, dragging in a deep chestful of smoke.

  “Vic…?”

  Vic said nothing. Polk licked his lips. “Vic…is this all going to work out? I mean…is this all going to be okay for us?”

  Vic Wingate exhaled as he turned to Polk, and in the darkness of the hallway his eyes were just as black and bottomless as Ruger’s. “Couple hours ago I’d have told you we were screwed. Royally screwed. ” He plucked a fleck of tobacco from his tongue-tip and flicked it away. “But a lot’s happened since then. ” He took another drag.

  “Does that mean we’re okay now? Does that mean we’re safe?”

  A lot of thoughts seemed to flit back and forth behind the black glass of Vic’s eyes. “Depends on what you mean,” he said with a smile, and then he headed down the hallway toward the morgue.

  PART ONE

  AMERICA’S HAUNTED HOLIDAYLAND

  October 14 to October 16

  Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man.

  —Friedrich Nietzsche

  Walking that Ghost Road is like walkin’ down to Hell Walking the Ghost Road—it’s taking me down to Hell. I’m walking it once, won’t walk it no more Tonight I’m walking down to Hell…

  —Oren Morse, “Ghost Road to Hell”

  Chapter 1

  1

  Malcolm Crow wanted to kill someone. He wanted to take a gun, a knife, his hands…and mur
der someone. He wanted it to hurt, and he wanted it to last. He wanted to run up and down the hospital hallways and find someone who needed killing, some black-hearted bastard whose death would mark the line between the way things were and the way they used to be. Or should be.

  Waiting was excruciating. It had been hours since he’d ridden with his fiancée Val in the ambulance to Pinelands Hospital and then watched the ER team take her away. He’d tried to bully his way in so that he could be with her while they checked to see how badly she’d been hurt—Val and the tiny baby just starting to grow inside of her. Their baby. Crow had tried to stay by her side, but the doctors had been insistent, telling him that he needed to leave, needed to let them work. Yeah, well…what he really wanted was a villain he could find and hurt. He needed to have a big summer blockbuster ending to this madness, with explosions, CGI effects, a big body count, and the sun shining on the good guys as the bad guys lay scattered around them. Defeated, once and for all. That’s what he needed, and he needed it bad.

  A snowball had a better chance of making it through August in Hell.

  The voice in his head was giving him a badass sneer and telling him he’d come too late to this dogfight. It was all over and if the good guys won, it had nothing to do with him. Not in this latest round. He stood looking at his reflection in the darkened window, seeing a small man, barely five-seven, slim, with a scuffle of black hair. He knew he was tougher than he looked, but toughness hadn’t been enough to get him to Val’s side in time to help her. To his eyes he just looked as weak as he felt.

  Karl Ruger was already dead—okay, to be fair Crow had killed him two weeks ago, right in this very hospital, but that was yesterday’s news. Kenneth Boyd was dead, too, but Crow had no hand in that, though he wished he could fly counterclockwise around the world like Superman and roll time back to last night so he could change the way things happened. It would have been so much better if he had been the one to face Boyd down there at the Guthrie farm. Him…rather than Val.

  It was crazy. Ruger was supposed to be the stone killer, not Boyd—his crooked but relatively harmless chum. But after Ruger died Boyd suddenly steps up and takes a shot at being Sick Psycho of the Year by killing two local cops at Val’s farm, breaking into the hospital to steal Ruger’s corpse from the morgue—and Crow didn’t even want to think about what that was all about—and then, to really seal the deal, the rat-bastard tried to kill everyone at Val’s farm. It had been a true bloodbath.

 
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