Shards of Stained Glass on Wet Pavement, written by Tim Murr, copyright Tim Murr/St Rooster Books 2018. No parts of this story may be reproduced with the sole permission of the author.
There was no use screaming for help, no one would hear. Every house was dark and abandoned. The yards were overgrown and weedy for as far as Ashley could see. For sale and foreclosure signs were nearly hidden from view. Half the streetlights no longer worked and the lights from down town were a good ten blocks away. She couldn’t duck between houses, because her pursuers were traveling through the backyards. She knew they were faster than her and could have easily gotten in front of her by now-they were playing a game. She crossed Dover, where the valley flattened out.
This used to an upper middle- class neighborhood. Most of the houses could be described as McMansions, but now they looked ravaged by war. Years of disrepair and vandalism marred the whole Feliz Valley neighborhood. The water supply had been poisoned back in the early 2000s by a massive chemical spill from Benson Research up in the hills. It made three square miles of prime real estate uninhabitable. The town of Millerton was beaten to half it’s size in the space of a year. The down town had two lives; the day time businesses that all, including the lone grocery store, all closed by 5 PM, and the night time businesses of bars, adult book stores, greasy diners, and strip clubs that were the only things that really kept the local economy going. Millerton had become a haven for a criminal element. It was where you went when you’d pushed your luck in your own town. The drug and prostitution trade flourished under the broken back of an understaffed and overworked police force. It was a good place to find people who wouldn’t be missed, if you were a serial killer.
There was only a sliver of a moon above her, but the stars were amazing. She couldn’t help but glance up from time to time as she ran, it helped her reach her happy place, which was she needed to not lose her head in the moment. She could hear them, rushing through the weeds in the blackness behind the houses. Sometimes she’d catch a loud whisper or a chuckle. They were certainly ahead of her, she’d hear them take off as she passed their vantage points. She heard footsteps on the pavement behind her, but when she looked back, there was no one there. She’d been running straight down the middle of the street since getting separated from her car almost five blocks back at Edison Park. They were in no hurry. The night was young.
Set far off the road, but running at a sharp angle from the houses, was the property of a Methodist church. It was a fairly new building, finished just before the accident. The church had a large main building with two wings; offices and a rec center. It was a modern design with classic flourishes, like gray stone accents, a beautiful ornate steeple, and a round stained-glass window, eight feet in diameter, depicting Christ’s ascent to Heaven. Through the weeds, she could see orange and black no trespassing signs on either side of the main drive that opened into the black top parking lot. Weeds were growing though the cracks in the pavement. As she hit the parking lot, she figured she had almost the length of a football field to clear with no cover. They were closing in around her but remaining out of sight. Her lungs were burning by the time she reached the steps leading into the vestibule. Never mind the locked doors, all the glass in the front of the building had long since been smashed out.
She only slowed down to step sideways between two steel frames on to the moist carpet with pebbles of glass crunching under foot. Straight ahead were the big double doors leading into the sanctuary, to either side were wide carpeted staircases leading up to classrooms and the upper deck seating. There was graffiti everywhere. She paused long enough to look back and try to gauge her pursuers’ ability to see her. They were still invisible out there and she hadn’t been able to see inside from the parking lot. She took the stairs to the right and paused again at the top to watch the doors for a second before gently pushing open one of the double doors leading into the sanctuary.
The door opened into the highest point of the balcony. There were four rows of seats that made a U shape over the seating below. The stage had been stripped bare and was now littered with the evidence of people camping out in there. The vestibule had smelled moldy from where years of weather had ruined the plush carpeting, but the sanctuary smelled like death. A chill ran down her spine. She felt like she’d just stepped into the spider’s web.
Ashley stayed low and tried to calm her breathing as she worked her way to the right of the stage. There was just enough light from the narrow windows, that lined the upper walls, to give her some view of the floor below. Once her eyes had fully adjusted, she could see some bodies scattered about in the seats. The church had put in theater seating, rather than pews. Someone was softly snoring down there, which for some reason, made her situation scarier. Anyone could be down there, but she was sure it would be no one willing to help her. She sank down to the floor, in the corner where the wall and barrier met and drew her knees to her chest. She closed her eyes for just a few seconds at a time, but it was enough.
She listened to someone waking up, stumble among the chairs, and take a long piss below her. He coughed several times, which echoed through the chamber. Others stirred below, one a woman who started quietly protesting. The pisser mumbled something gruffly under his breath and the struggle got louder. Ashley was about to look over the edge to see what was going on, when the doors downstairs burst open.
Shadowy figures filed in, back lit from the streetlights shining through the stained glass. They spread out down the aisles, checking the sleepers. The pisser had left the woman and had retreated on to the stage. The upstairs doors opened, and two flash light beams swept the seats. Ashley held her breath, pushing herself to the side of the row, making herself as small as possible. She almost peed a little when she heard two of them run down the steps, but they ran to the opposite side of the room and ripped a blanket off a woman over there, shining a light in her face. She pleaded with them not to hurt her. They didn’t speak, just swept the room with their flashlights again and left the balcony.
Ashley let out a long sigh of relief and relaxed her legs a bit. She could hear the office and classroom doors being opened and slammed. After a while, she could hear them making their way beyond the stage and into the back halls that lead to the administration and recreation wings. Odds were good that they’d assume she escaped out the back. She wondered if she should try doubling back to her car or just try to reach down town. Of course, staying put until the sun came up didn’t seem like such a bad idea either. She decided to rest a while.
Ashley had grown up in Wheeler, only an hour away. She was old enough to remember when Millerton was just a blip on the map. Benson had made it a thriving mini-metropolis in the space of a decade. She was a senior in high school when the accident occurred. Wheeler being the closest town, saw an influx of a Millerton’s refugees coming to start fresh after losing everything. Wheeler didn’t have much in the way of job options, outside of the railyard, some warehouses, and trucking. The trailer parks and low rent apartments filled up and Wheeler’s unemployment skyrocketed. Seemed like everyone from Millerton eventually got sick. You always knew who they were, because they’d be pale in the summer, with a raspy wet cough and sunken eyes. There were lawsuits brought against Benson, but the owners had abandoned the lab and ran to Mexico with all the company’s funds. The employees were left broke and unemployed like everyone else.
Ashley’s dad was a freelance private investigator that worked for the railroad and two of the trucking firms. He investigated insurance fraud and theft, mostly, but occasionally missing persons. Ashley’s mother had committed suicide when she was five, so Ashley became her father’s shadow, and after two years of community college, she joined the family business. It was just the two of them and a revolving door of secretaries.
A week earlier a woman had come to their office with a wad of cash and laid it on his desk with a picture of her teenage daughter, a high school junior, half white, half Hispanic, big hazel eyes, a sad smile, and a veil of black hair. Her name was Christa Jay, or CJ. The mother’s husband had worked for the railroad and had been murdered a year earlier in a mugging. Ashley and her father remembered him. They’d helped the police find his killer, that’s why she came to them. Ashley’s father had taken the case and told her to hold on to her money. After checking around Wheeler for a few days, he decided to head over to Millerton. Local girls had wound up there in the past, usually stripping or hooking. Some in shallow graves along the highway between the towns. He hadn’t been gone four hours when Ashley got a phone call as she was about to lock up the office. Her father had been shot dead in the middle of Main Street in downtown Millerton. No one saw anything.
When she arrived in Millerton to identify his body, she was shocked to see the crime scene blocking the street in front of the police station. She parked on the edge of the tape, across from the station, by the Catholic church, which was also cordoned off as part of the crime scene. The stained-glass windows had been shot out from the inside, and the shards were all over the sidewalk and street. It was raining hard and no one was around.
Ashley ducked under the police tape and went inside the church. That church was probably as old as the town. It was ornate and beautiful, but very small. From the front door you stepped right into the sanctuary. There was a small area off to the right with a bowl of holy water on a white pillar and a single door on the left side of the alter. The only person in the place was a woman wearing ridiculously high heels, way too much make up and a dress so short it kept riding up her ass. She was tearfully sweeping up glass and splinters in the middle aisle. She didn’t notice Ashley until she stopped to pull her dress back down, after bending over to sweep debris into a dustpan.
“I’ve never seen a nun dressed like you.”
The woman stared blankly at Ashley.
Ashley shrugged her shoulders and looked around. There were bullet holes in the walls and pews.
“What happened here?”
“Oh, ok. I guess I’ll be going then.”
She turned to leave and spun back around.
“Wait, fuck that. My dad got killed in this fucking dump this afternoon and I was told there were no witnesses, but then I walk in here and it looks like the aftermath of a John fucking Woo movie and there’s a fucking stripper sweeping up the place, so when you say nothing happened, uhhhh, I’m not going to be fucking satisfied with that.”
“Sorry about your dad, but he should have known better than to come throwing his weight around here. Take this as a hint and fuck off.”
“He came here looking for a teenage girl we believe was abducted and brought here…”
“Oh, that narrows it down. What makes her special?”
The door opened behind her and a scrawny deputy with a scar under his left eye stepped inside.
“Mam, this is a crime scene, you can’t be in here.”
“Mam, this is a crime scene, you can’t be in here.”
“I’m afraid she’s potentially sweeping up evidence…”
“I was talking to you. You here for your daddy?”
“Wh-wait, yea, but…”
“Follow me. I’m Deputy North.”
The woman went back to sweeping as Ashley followed North across the street. Inside the station, the desk sergeant was staring at his phone, while a detective snored loudly at his desk. No one else was around.
“My heart is full seeing how important finding my dad’s killer is.”
North didn’t look back.
“Shit happens. Especially here. Detective Thorn is looking into a couple of leads. He’ll call you when he has something.”
“That’s not him taking a nap is it?”
“That’s detective James. He’s a little hungover.”
“Hungover? It’s dinner time.”
“Breakfast time for him.”
They walked down a long hallway and down two flights of stairs to the morgue. Her father was still lying in a body bag. The coroner was sitting on his desk, laughing at something on the phone. He held one finger up when North and Ashley walked in and made some joke about sweet and sour cat and hung up. He slid his bony frame off the desk and approached Ashley with a broad smile and outstretched hand. She stared at his hand until he dropped it, then at his face until the smile faded.
“You must be the daughter. We have your father right over here.”
Without sympathy or a prompt to prepare herself, he unzipped the bag and held it open. The bullet wounds were still wet. He had a chunk of his neck blown off and three slugs in his chest.
“Jee-sus!” She spun away and choked down vomit as tears sprang to her eyes.
“Yea,” the coroner said, “it ain’t pretty.”
Ashley got a hold of herself but didn’t turn back to the body.
“Any leads at all?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter one way or another.”
“You can’t even tell me if you suspect a specific person?”
“Not my case, sweetheart. I just-“
She was already heading out the door, no time for bull shit. At the next floor up, with the holding cells, Ashley spotted a young girl unconscious on a cot, her head badly bruised. Down the corridor, a cop and a bald man in a powder blue polo shirt were leaning against the cells chatting casually.
“…and I came up there and she was talking with the PI,” powder blue polo man said.
The cop shook his head. “Dumb bitch. What’d she tell him?”
“I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter now.”
“Uh, yea, it does. If she’s talking to him, who else she gonna talk to?”
“What do you want to do?”
“Take’em both up to Edison Park and feed’em to the freaks.”
“Shit, it’s already getting late, man.”
“I don’t give a fuck. No one gives a fuck. Clean up your fucking mess.”
“Ok, ok. Help me get this one back in my car.”
Ashley heard footsteps behind her and she rushed up another flight of stairs to the main floor and headed out the front door. She put her car in reverse, made a hard U-turn and then a right turn and another right, which put her on a bridge overlooking the back of the police station. She saw the two men drag the girl out and toss her into the back of a sedan. The cop went back in and the car sped up the alley, whipping around the corner on to the bridge past Ashley. She waited a beat and followed.
The car took a hard left up a driveway to a split ranch that looked abandoned. Ashley parked the car four houses down, behind a pick-up truck. A few minutes later, two men were dragging CJ out. Her hands and feet were bound twine and she was wearing a ball gag. Ashley got her .38 out of the glove box and took the safety off. As soon as the back door closed on CJ, the sedan screamed backwards into the street and then fish tailed as it peeled out. Ashley felt more confident that blue polo was on his own.
She followed him through the abandoned neighborhood, keeping a two-block buffer, but all he’d have to do is look in the rearview mirror to see her, as there were no other cars around. As soon as she saw the top of the playground, she took a right and a left and stopped in a cul de sac. She ran through the overgrown yard and jumped the small picket fence in the back and found herself in the far end of the park from the entrance, under a weeping willow. She could see blue polo walking the girls in, holding a pistol on them. ‘Feed them to the freaks,’ the cop had said. It gave Ashley butterflies. She looked around, seeing nothing and heard only the whimpers from the girls and the buzz of the orange streetlights.
She wondered if blue polo had been the one to kill her father or if it had been the cop. How many could she be up against?
She waited, as she didn’t have a clear shot at blue polo and had too much distance to clear. She heard rustling nearby and whispers that she couldn’t make out. Blue polo marched the girls to a pavilion and ordered them to sit at one of the picnic tables. He looked nervous, waving the gun back and forth at their faces, and peering into the darkness.
Ashley crouched down and slowly started to move out from under the tree. She wanted to get at least halfway to the pavilion before she tried to shoot blue polo. Where she was she might miss, and he might panic and shoot one of the girls. As she neared the edge of the streetlight’s glow, three people walked past her, not ten feet away. She froze and then slowly lowered herself to the ground and laid on her belly. As the men stepped onto the pavilion, the girls began to openly sob.
The lead man wore a dark colored long coat and a cardboard crown from a fast food restaurant. The other two were in jeans and long sleeve button up shirts. They looked grimy, like they’d been sleeping rough. The lead man bent down and sniffed the girls’ necks and hair, then turned to blue polo, who had backed away several feet.
“Ok, your highness. Brought you two. I’m gonna go now, ok?”
The king grinned, took off his crown, and bent deeply at the waist with a flourishing hand gesture. The other two men separated the girls and laid them on different tables. It was a numbers game then. Ashley felt sure she could find blue polo again, so she’d let him go, before moving in on these assholes. Blue polo’s car was speeding away when the king turned to the girls and plopped that stupid crown back on his head. The girls were too afraid to move-they just lay on the table without struggle staring into the king’s face.
“I’m so happy to have you both for dinner,” he grinned. “I promise, this won’t hurt for long and that your flesh will serve a higher purpose now than it did out there.”
CJ closed her eyes as all the life seemed to drain out of her.
“What did I ever do to you people...?”
“What did the deer or the fish ever do to the hunter? The cow to the farmer? It’s not about what you did, baby doll, it’s about what you are; meat.”
The tears streamed down her face and she sobbed openly. Ashley slowly stood up, leveled the gun and stepped forward.
“On the fucking ground, pricks.”
All eyes turned to the figure emerging from the darkness.
“Get up, girls, and come to me.”
The king looked around like he just realized he was on some TV prank show. He made a gun with his finger and pretended to shoot her. Ashley already had the hammer back on the .38. He dropped into a crouch, taking a deep breath and then let out an ungodly howl. It sent a chill through Ashley and made her weak at the knees. Then it got worse.
Throughout the park, the neighborhood, came answering howls. They sounded inhuman. Ashley’s hands shook uncontrollably, and she gripped the pistol with both hands. From all around her, she heard a stampede of footsteps rushing at her. Figures began to appear in the dark. She popped off a shot at the king, but it went too far left and clipped one of his men, then she turned and fired into the darkness. The noose was tightening, the only way out was the park entrance. She took another shot at the king as she ran for the street, firing wildly behind her until the gun went ‘click click click,’ and realized to her horror that she’d left the speed loader in the glove box.
The king was shouting behind, “tonight we feast like gods!”
Ashley woke with a start, still covered in shadow, herself, but sunlight streaming in around her. The derelicts sleeping below had cleared out, but there was a bloody figure laying on the stage. By the angle of her neck, whoever she was, she was dead. Ashley covered her mouth to stifle a sob and quickly headed for the entrance. The upstairs and the lobby were abandoned, as was the parking lot. It was deathly quiet at first, before she heard a train far off in the distance. She took a second to stretch and then jogged/ran/walked/jogged back towards the park, turning off where she had last night to collect her car.
“Thank you, Jesus,” she exclaimed breathlessly, when she found her car untouched. She got in, turned the key and locked the doors. She reloaded the .38 and drove around to the park entrance. There was no one in sight and not a sound to be heard, not even from insects or birds.
She got out with gun in hand and moved swiftly to the pavilion, where she found two bloody skeletons lying puddles of gore. Her shoulders drooped, and she turned around and around, scanning the trees and the hills for any sign of the psychos, but she was alone.
She drove slowly through Feliz Valley, searching for signs of life, but didn’t spot a soul until a garbage truck passed her from a cross street once she reached down town. She pulled up to a diner and picked up her phone, that she’d left under a stack of files. It was dead, and she had to plug it in. She had four new messages from Detective Thorn and one from the coroner, who wanted to know what she wanted him to do with her father’s body. Thorn’s messages simply said, ‘call me back.’
She hit the call back button on Thorn’s number and waited four rings before a soft voice said ‘hello?’
“Yes, Ashley. How are you?”
“Pretty fucking bad. Do you have something for me?”
“What do you have, detective?”
“Uh, well, not much, I’m afraid. We had a witness, but she’s skipped town.”
“No, she didn’t.”
“I know what happened to her. And the girl my father came here looking for.”
“Where are you?”
“None of your fucking business. Tell me what’s going on here!”
“Calm down, Ashley. We can’t talk about this over the phone.”
“Too bad, because that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
“You don’t know what’s going on around here…”
“No, but I saw a big chunk of it.”
“You’re in danger.”
“Who are those guys in the park?”
“If you don’t talk to me, I can only assume you’re in on it.”
“Let’s meet and talk about this. We can help each other.”
“I can’t and won’t trust you.”
“Then you’ll never understand what’s happening around here. Good luck. The county coroner is driving your father’s body to Wheeler today. Call me when you grow a pair.”
He hung up.
She put the car in drive and took off out of town. She called 911 and requested the highway patrol. Captain Holden got on the line and she ran down everything that happened up to that point and then blue lights flashed in her rearview mirror.
“Captain Holden, one of the local cops is trying to pull me over…”
“Ok, pull over and put the officer on the phone.”
“What if they kill me?”
“Young lady, you’re sounding a little paranoid here.”
“You would be too.”
“Pull over, I’ve got one of my men heading over to meet you right now.”
She pulled to the side of the road just outside of the city limits. The patrol car pulled up close and North got out, looking around.
“Here he comes,” she said, rolling down her window.
“Morning. Heading home?”
“Yea, listen Captain Holden from the highway patrol is on the phone and wants to talk to you.”
North took the phone from her with a smile.
“Hey, queer bait, what’s going on?...Uh huh…When?...Oh yea, yea…”
North peered in at her, looking her up and down. Ashley’s heart sank.
“Eh, she looks all right. Little thick in the hips, you know, kinda wide ass…I would, yea…”
She saw the highway patrolman pulling up in the oncoming lane. The officer had a big smile on his face. Then an unmarked patrol car pulled up behind North’s car and a detective in a short sleeve white button up shirt, with his badge on a chain around his neck got out. The three officer’s met in the middle of the street, handshakes all around. Ashley had the .38 between her knees. The detective, presumably Thorn, took the phone and spoke to Holden briefly before hanging up and walking the phone over to Ashley, holding it out with a big grin.
“Detective Thorn, Ashley. Let’s have that talk.”
“Step out of the vehicle please,” the highway patrolman said.
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Step out Ashley.”
North slowly pulled his gun from its holster and then the patrolman did the same.
“Easy or hard, Ashley?”
Her answer was a slug between Thorn’s eyes. His brains exploded out the back of his head before he crumpled to the ground. North and the patrolman brought their weapons up, but Ashley was already punching holes in them, back in forth, until both hit the ground. She got out and grabbed her phone from the ground before speeding away. She used GPS to find a back way to Wheeler and avoided all major roads until she got to her own down town. She pulled up behind the county coroner van in front of the police station and peeled herself off the seat.
As she passed around the front of her car, the back of the van opened, and the king hopped out with a few subjects, all armed. She fell against the hood and tried to roll away, but he had a grip on her shirt and threw himself on top of her. He was all over her, working to pin her hands down as she fought and kicked to get away. His face was so close and stained with blood all around the mouth. His breath was a terror. One of his followers tried to help him get Ashley under control, but he nodded towards the door.
“Go cover our escape. Make sure you take care of any security footage.”
Then he headbutted her and the back of her head smacked into the hood of her car hard enough to leave a dent. She saw stars and he took the opportunity to jam his elbow into her stomach. Then the shooting started. The king flung her onto the sidewalk as glass shattered.
For a moment, Ashley considered just giving up. There were so many, how could she fight them all? Then blue polo walked around from the front of the van, looking nervous. Then the anger took over.
“This is fucked, man. Let’s load her up and get outta here!”
“The time to do that was back home, but our piggy pals fucked that up.”
“This is a lot of dead uniforms, man…”
“We commit these murders to the glory of our goddess Death.”
“Whatever, weirdo, help me get her up.”
As blue polo stepped into range, Ashley kicked him in the right knee with everything she had, knocking the kneecap out of place, and making the joint bend backwards, ripping the cartilage and ligaments. Blue polo hit the ground shrieking as she whipped her .38 from her waistband and pumped a slug into the king’s hip. He spun wildly against the van door. She took her time and blew his jaw off. He landed on her hood, then slid off, spraying across it, before crumpling under the bumper.
Inside, the gunfire was becoming sporadic, they’d probably be heading out any second. She got to her feet and yanked the back door of the van open and found an AR-15 lying on her father’s body bag.
It became quiet inside and seconds later the king’s followers filed out, stopping when they saw blue polo trying to crawl away and then the king, bled out and dead on the street. Before they could react, Ashley stepped out from the van and shot them down. Mostly good shots that wouldn’t kill them right away but would hurt like a bitch until they finally gave up the ghost. Two though, got their heads blown apart. Then it was blue polo’s turn.
Ashley walked around and got in front of him. He put his forehead against the pavement and tried to raise his hands.
She stomped the back of his head. Then again. And again. A blood puddle started to form under his head as his body twitched. She stepped back and then stomped harder until she heard the bones cracking and popping. She stood back, and thought about those poor girls in the park, and stomped him one more time and his brains sprayed out under her foot.
The front door swung open and Deputy Thorpe staggered out bleeding from the shoulder.
“Holy fuck…Ashley…you got’em all..?”
“We’re not done, Cam. We’ve got a shit load of people left to kill over in Millerton.”