Cultists, Ex-girlfriends, and Shotgun toting preachers.
For Jackson O’Neil the worst part of the New Year isn’t the killer hangover or the fact that he wakes up in ex-girlfriend’s apartment with no clue as to how he got there. He soon finds himself at the center of a bizarre series of events that threaten his life and the very fabric of reality.
Year of the Worm is my upcoming webcomic series which will be arriving in March 2017. My plans are to upload a page or two at least every Sunday. I’ll be posting it here and also at the webcomic site Taptastic
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Gotta break in the case this morning, turned out a woman reported being assaulted not too far from the warehouse where the cats’ were killed. According to the report it happened a few nights before.
The woman’s name was Rosie and she had a few priors, mainly prostitution and possession. A minor leaguer by criminal standards, but pretty common for that part of the city.
Unfortunately, Rosie had no permanent address and the flat-foot that took the report did a half-assed job of questioning her. Based on the account he took Rosie’s assailant could’ve been anyone. One thing that stuck out to me was that her cat had gone missing earlier that day and Rosie claimed that her assailant had her cat when she encountered him on the street. She tried to get it back, and an argument ensued which escalated to violence.
Jones and me hit the streets to find her. Lucky for us she’d been arrested for hooking last year, so her mug shot was fresh. Rosie was barely twenty. She should’ve had the cherubic face of a girl, but the hard life of the streets had etched lines into her face and despite the makeup she had the pallor brought on by a fast food diet and drug addiction. Her lost innocence was a pallid ghost dressed in a thrift store sundress and worn out sneakers. The saddest thing were her eyes, they were like an empty well.
We went to the usual hang outs. Neighborhoods that were full of porn shops and pawn stores. Chinese food and liquor stores. We spotted her outside a food truck selling burritos. She tried to rabbit on us, but Jones was hot on her heels so she didn’t get far.
“Let go of me,” she screeched while trying to pull her arm free from Jones’ iron grip. “Ya’ll should be out there looking for that sicko, not harassing me.”
I gestured to Jones to let her go. “That’s why we wanta talk to you.”
“I already told your boys everything downtown, and they didn’t give two shits.”
I glanced at the greasy slop the food truck was dolling out for five dollars a pop. Just the sight of it made my heartburn flare up. “I tell you what, you come with us and talk and I’ll buy you some real food.”
Rosie stared at me with her abysmal eyes ringed with smudge eyeliner. “Just talk and then you let me go?”
“That’s right. Now c’mon, let’s get outta here before I lose my appetite.”
Rosie took a sip of her strawberry milk shake and leaned back in her seat like it was an orgasmic experience. I couldn’t help but wonder when she had eaten last. The stack of empty plates piled in front of her and the cluster of empty glasses answered that question for me. Looking at her across the table, past the smudged make-up and hair dye, I could see the sweet girl underneath. How’d a girl like that end up here? Drugs, sexual abuse, teen-age pregnancy, or something else? Street rats like Rosie were a dime a dozen in the city, but they were still people. Flesh and blood. Hopes and dreams. Fears and failures. It was easy to lose track that they were people and not just a nuisance or a suspect.
The slurping of Rosie’s straw shook me from my thoughts. I caught her giving me the stink-eye and shifted my attention to my half-eaten steak and eggs. “So, tell me about the other day, I read the report but I want to hear it straight from you.”
Rosie shrugged. “Like I said, my cat was missing so I went out looking for her. Stupid fucking cat, I should’ve just stayed in bed. But I was down by the river, you know the old warehouse district, calling its stupid name. I was about to give up, when I heard this hissing and growling coming from an alley. I figured that might be her, and when I got into the alley I saw my cat, and this big fucker trying to catch her.”
Jones shifted anxiously next to me and pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. “Do you remember what he looked like?”
“Oh yeah, he was big and ugly. Maybe six foot or more, and walked funny like he had a bad leg or something. He dressed funny too, like in a bathrobe or something.”
I pushed my plate over to Rosie.“Bathrobe?”
“Maybe an over-sized hoodie, I don’t know for sure, but he wasn’t dressed like the homies in the hood.”
I gulped down the last of my black coffee and gestured to the waitress for more. “What about his face, did you get a good look?”
Rosie grimaced. “Yeah, I did. He was a white dude, which was weird. White folk don’t come down there, not even the homeless, ya know?”
Jones peered over her horn-rimmed glasses. “We need specifics. Something I could use to create a sketch of the suspect.”
Rosie glanced at the clock on the wall. “How long’s this going to take, I got work to do.”
I tossed a couple fifties on the table. “Take the night off.”
Rosie’s hollow eyes darted between me and the money before she snatched it. “Why’re you guys so interested in this dude, he just stole me cat is all.”
Jones cleared her throat. “What did he look like?”
“Okay, whatever,” Rosie said, rolling her eyes. “Like I said he was a white dude. Big head on him like a block. A busted up nose like he’d been busted in the face too many times. He had heavy eyelids and long greasy hair that was a mess. Scruffy beard, and his face was too thin like he was a junkie or sick or something.”
“Anything else, anything that stood out like tattoos, scars, birthmarks?”
“Yeah, he had ink, a lot of it too. I saw some on his neck and his hands. It looked like high quality stuff, not the shitty prison ink most of these wannabe gangsters got.”
Jones peered up from her pad. “What type of tattoos?”
Rosie fiddled with her fork. “I don’t remember all of them, but I remember he had a big one on his throat. It freaked me out when I saw it, it looked like a big eye and had these squiggly lines around it. The rest of them, I don’t remember exactly, maybe more squiggly lines? I … I don’t know.”
I pulled out my note book and showed her the drawing I did at the warehouse. “Like this?”
Rosie’s eyes bulged. “Yeah, that’s it!”
“Have you ever seen it before, not just as a tattoo?”
Jones held up her pad. “Does this look like him?”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
I waited until the waitress refilled my coffee. “What exactly happened in that alley?”
“I started yelling at the fucker to leave my cat alone,” Rosie said, while chewing on some ice from one of her empty glasses. “But he snatched her up by the scruff of her neck and shoved her into a canvas bag. By the looks of it he had other cats in there, too. Then he came after me. I ran, but he managed to catch me from behind. I thought he was going to rape me or maybe even kill me. He tried strangling me, and I nearly blacked out but I managed to get my mace out of my coat pocket and sprayed him. That got him off me, and he took off with my cat. I got out there and called the cops from a pay-phone down the street.”
“Well, he was screaming at me while he was chokingl me. Some weird shit I didn’t really understand. Maybe cause I couldn’t even breath. Something about ‘He’s coming or he’s waiting’ and how ‘I must be cleansed’ or some shit.”
I grunted and exchanged a knowing glance with Jones. Rosie’s account confirmed what we’d already suspected. This nut job wasn’t going to be satisfied with killing cats. He was working his way up to people, and that made him far more dangerous. Underneath all the bullshit of ‘He Awaits’ and the eyeball graffiti there lurked a potential serial killer. Me and Jones had to get to him before he killed anyone, if he hadn’t already.
“What way did he go, after you maced him?” I asked.
“Down the alley, toward the warehouses.”
“Where is this alley, exactly?” Jones asked, while slipping her notebook back into her pocket.
“I can show you if you want,” Rosie said. “It’s not far from where I’ve been squatting lately.”
I got up from the table, grimacing at the twinge of pain in my knees as I did so. “Good, let me pay the bill and then we’ll head over there.”
Gotta call last night around 3 am about a noise complaint. Couldn’t understand why Jones called me about it. We’re detectives, major crimes, not flat-foots. But she insisted, so I gotta outta bed, still nursing a heady buzz thanks to a few pints of Guinness for dinner, and got down there.
The scene was at an old warehouse down by the river, not too far from the barrio. I figured it was some gang bangers. But I was wrong, damn wrong. The interior of the warehouse looked like a slaughter house. Thick with the hot stench of blood and piss. Cat piss, to be precise. You see some sick son of a bitch had killed damn near a dozen cats.
Okay, killed is a bit too casual of a term. More like systematical slaughtered them. Each one was cut up like a butcher had done it. The heads and legs were gone, God only knows what happened to them, and the skinned carcasses had been gutted and arranged in a crude circle. Their entrails had been pulled out and arranged into a weirdly shaped star-like symbol in the middle of the circle.
The worm-rotted floor of the place was slick with the cats’ blood and a putrid pile of their hides sat in the far corner in a haphazard state as if someone had mindlessly tossed them over there like pieces of trash.
Strangest of all was the symbol on the wall that was scrawled in the cats’ blood. It looked like some kinda eye and had these weird squiggly lines around it, almost like worms or tentacles. Someone had written ‘He Awaits’ below it.
What the hell does that mean?
At first I figured it was some shit some junkies did while strung out on meth or whatever new junk was making the rounds on the street. But there was too much thought involved in this all. Someone had planned this shit out, it wasn’t some junkie’s frenzied act.
That didn’t really ease my mind, the last thing this city needed was some sorta serial killer on the loose. We had enough trouble with the gangs and the garden variety rapists.
Jones says CSI is still going over the evidence. I talked to the flat-foots’ who first arrived at the scene. Rookies who looked scared shitless, but one of them told me they’d seen graffiti around the ‘hood in the past few weeks like the one on the wall. Said it was spray painted in the usual spots, and didn’t think nothing of it. But on Christmas Eve someone had scrawled it on the front doors of St. Michael’s Cathedral. No one had seen nothing, and the church ain’t got no security camera.
I tried taking some photos of the scene on my phone for my own records, but funny thing is they all came out blurry. Even Jones said her phone was on the fritz. I’m sure the boys in CSI will have better ones. I did some sketches myself, guess it’s better than nothing for now.
But what really bugs me is who would do this, and better yet – why?