I bent and picked it up, the blood hammering in my head. It was a necklace, one of two identical gold chains I had given to Billy and his fiancE, Rose, at their engagement party. I knew for a fact that Rose was terrified of the water. She’d never come near a boathouse. So it had to have been dropped by Billy. He’d probably lost it while waiting for me to show up tonight. If anyone doubted that Billy was alive and that I’d talked to him, here was proof of both.
So I now knew for certain that my old friend was alive, but I still had no clue what kind of trouble he was in. I also hadn’t figured out what connection Billy had to the chain of brutal killings that had Raccoon City in the grip of terror.
I decided to return to the latest murder scene and see if the investigating officers had turned up anything.
Five police cars, a tow truck and a meat wagon from the morgue were parked along the highway. I slid my Shelby in behind a squad car and passed under the yellow police tape cordoning off the scene of bloody carnage.
“You’re finally back,” a raspy male voice said above the din of police radios.
I turned and stared into the greasy face of Chief Brian Iron, head of the Raccoon City Police Department. Brian is the man who organized S.T.A.R.S.
“You were first on the scene, Redfield,” he said. “Mind telling me why you took off?”
“I thought I saw the murderer and gave chase, Chief,” I said, not wanting to tell him about Billy just yet.
“So you saw the perpetrator.”
“I saw something. I’m not sure what.”
“You’re not making much progress solving these murders, are you Redfield?” he said, reverting to the hypercritical leader the S.T.A.R.S. team all knew and loathed. The guy thought so much of his own law enforcement talents, he couldn’t imagine anyone else being nearly as competent.
“You want to take over for me, Chief? A man of your indescribable talents ought to have the case wrapped up in about an hour or so.”
“Don’t give me that sarcastic lip.”
“Get off my back, Chief.”
For a long moment he glared at me with the self-righteous fervor of a Wild West evangelist. The man was a walking ego. I’d even heard that he planned to run for mayor in the next election. Ten years before, Raccoon City had been a sleepy farming community, and the mayor was kind of a glorified dogcatcher. But then the Umbrella Company moved in and built a large research plant, and suddenly there were new faces and new buildings all over the place.
Before anyone knew what was happening, almost half the population of Raccoon City was directly dependent on the Umbrella Company for their livelihood. Suddenly the mayor’s job was a plum to be squeezed, a position of power from which a crafty politician might line his own pockets.
As the population swelled, crime had also increased. It got so bad that the Company proposed establishing a special crime-fighting force, paid for in half with corporate funds. The city had agreed, and S.T.A.R.S. was formed.
Brian had been the unit’s first commander. Then, two years before, he’d been promoted to chief of police, and the mysterious Lieutenant Albert Wesker had replaced him as head of the S.T.A.R.S. team.
“I’ll deal with you later, Redfield,” the chief finally said.
“Looking forward to it, sir.”
He started to say something more, then noticed the newly arrived reporters and photographers. I could hear the wheels turning. Here was a chance for Brian to get some media exposure, and he wasn’t going to waste this valuable time chewing out a mere detective from S.T.A.R.S.
“Give your account of the murders to the deputy chief in charge of the criminal section,” he ordered, then screwed his face up into a look of pained concern and headed for the gaggle of journalists. I caught his first few words, a memorized account of how hard he and his whole force were working to solve the murder spree. The man did his lines so well, he should have been paying dues to the Actors’ Guild.
A couple of minutes later, I noticed the deputy chief scowling at Brian with as much disgust as I felt. He must have felt my eyes on him because he turned and studied me, then walked over with a thoughtful look on his face. “Chris, I understand you came on the murders in progress.”
“Yeah. Almost ran over the girl.”
“We found shell casings on the road. From your weapon?”
“Probably. I emptied the magazine at the killer.”
“Then you must have gotten a pretty good look at the guy.
“I didn’t say it was a guy.”
“Stop playing games with me, Chris.”
I looked at the chief for a long moment, wondering if he’d have me tossed into the nearest rubber room when he heard my next words. Only one way to find out. “I don’t think these people died at the hands of a man.
“You want to run that past me one more time, Buddy-Boy.”
“The thing I shot at, it wasn’t human. It was some sort of immensely powerful animal, a huge black beast that resembled a dog. The biggest freakin’ dog I’ve ever seen.”
The chief said, “If it looked like a dog, perhaps it was a dog. Maybe a Mastiff or some other big breed. As for its vicious attack, that could be the result of rabies.”
“Rabies might cause an animal to bite a human, Chief, but the disease doesn’t suddenly turn dogs into powerful bloodthirsty beasts. If you’d smelled the awful stench of that beast, you’d know that putrid odor wasn’t the result of any known disease. And there’s something else. You can’t kill the thing with bullets. You can’t even slow it down. I know, I emptied my piece at it.”
“Why don’t you ride into headquarters with me, Chris. Give you a chance to tell your whole story along the way.”
“No thanks. If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to go home and collapse on my bed. I’ll file my report in the morning. It’s been a long grinding night and I’m whipped.”
I turned and began to walk toward my car. None too soon, apparently, because when I looked back I saw a reporter break away from the pack and take off in my direction.
“Can I talk to you, Chris?” the journalist called out running toward me with his coat tails sailing out behind. It was a local guy I knew and liked, but I wasn’t about to spill my guts to anyone yet. He was almost to the car when I turned on the ignition and threw her into reverse.
“I heard you witnessed the murders, Chris,” he said, running along beside the rapidly backing car. “When is S.T.A.R.S. going to do something to protect our citizens?”
“Ask Chief Iron,” I said, punching the Shelby into gear and laying a patch right in front of Brian. His furious face in my rearview mirror was a joyous sight to see.
The speedometer was edging eighty when I finally took my foot off the accelerator and let the car coast as I thought things through. Finding Billy was the key. I was convinced that he knew the secret behind the gruesome murders that had Raccoon City in the grip of terror.
But how was I going to find Billy?