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“… Cops, cults, cryonics, corruption, conspiracy, carnage; PAGAN MOON packs mystery, suspense, police procedural and the supernatural into one tough punch.” Douglas E. Winter, award winning editor and author
“… it is a mystery; it is a thriller; and it has supernatural aspects to make one's skin tingle...” Midwest Book Review
a novel by
William G. Davis
Copyright 2000, 2012 by William G. Davis
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission from the author.
She wasn't the first corpse I'd seen, but her murder would haunt me. A naked female floated face down in the West Palm Canal, my first dead civilian.
"Was checking the area for poachers," the game warden said, his khaki shirt pitted from the oppressive heat. "Saw the buzzards hovering."
Responding to dispatch's call, I'd seen them, too. Orbiting lazily against tropical clouds, the winged scavengers eyed their target. We were out in the Glades, twenty miles from nowhere. The tight silent air signaled rain.
Staring down from the embankment, I said, "Have something we can pull her in with?"
"Got a boat hook over here," the warden said and sauntered over to his pick-up.
Arms outstretched, she floated in the murky water, auburn hair glistening in the morning sunlight.
Remember details. They had drilled that into me at the academy. No signs of violence on her backside, she had petite hips, no moles, tattoos, or birth marks. She couldn't have been there long. Scavengers had yet to tear at her.
"Here you go." The warden handed me an eight-foot pole, a metal gaff on its end.
I stared back.
My grizzled companion spit a brown stain into the sandy soil and shrugged. "It’s your job, ain't it?" he said through a snuff-stained grin.
"Guess so." I turned and stretched out the pole. Her body was too far away. "Hold on to me," I said, edging my foot over the embankment.
The warden grasped my left arm, while I reached out with my right, extending the gaff. The long shaft wavered, dancing about awkwardly. It caught her armpit, and I gave a gentle tug. Her body bobbed like a cork. I nudged it toward me, hoping not to tear flesh.
The corpse had a ripeness like the dead I'd seen in combat. A familiar sensation gripped me, my gut churning, a tightness in my throat.
Her limp arm drifted amidst the shoreline reeds.
"Going to need some help," I said.
"Lucky no gators got her yet. All we'd've found is pieces."
"Don't remind me."
Grabbing one of her arms, my leg sank knee deep into the muddy bank. The warden reached down and grabbed her other arm.
"Easy now. Let's get her up here," I said.
“Little thing, ain't she?" he said. "Damned if I know what's goin' on around here."
"Found another one `bout eighteen months ago, out near Belle Glade," the warden said. "In the canal, too. Young, like this one."
A rookie, I was too green to have heard about it.
"Got devil worshippers out here," he said. "Find strange things sometimes. Animal carcasses, circles drawn in the ground. They might be bored just cuttin' up critters"
I gave him a sideways glance as we dragged the body up the bank, laid her face down amidst the saw grass and gently stretched out her slender arms.
"Don't touch a thing," I said. "Got to make sure homicide and the crime lab are on their way."
"I know the drill, sonny."
I sprinted back to my cruiser, feeling a sick sense of thrill that I'd finally been confronted with real police work. Dispatch reported a crew on its way, followed second later by, "Sierra sixteen, over."
"Sierra sixteen, go," I said into the mike.
"Keep the crime scene virgin as your sister. Ten-four, sierra sixteen?" Detectives were breaking in, not wanting a rookie to screw things up.
"Ten-four," I said, cut the transmission and jogged back.
The warden swung his sad eyes from the girl to me. "Wonder if she's like the last one?"
"The last one?"
"Did some nasty things to that poor 'lil gal. Don't care to see that again."
"Heart torn out. Like some black magic thing."
My insides shuddered. "Better not touch her until the detectives get here."
"Fine by me."
My eyes drifted to the body at our feet. I can't say why I didn't notice right away. Perhaps the shock of the moment had blanked out my senses. Much as I tried to maintain my cool, her lifeless form drew me in. My sense of denial fought what I saw, but what was becoming too obvious forced me to my knees.
If I simply looked at the ears, I would know. My hand trembled, moving toward her damp auburn hair. Carefully, I drew back a thick strand. I saw pierced ears but no angel earring. And yet I'd kissed a tiny ear like the one I was staring at. I brushed her hair away from her face and pulled green slime from a tender cheek.
My grief shattered the silence.
All that is dark, buried deep, unrevealed in the mind,
should be manifested in a sort of physical projection
The trailer park squatted three miles west of Military Trail, one of the few developers hadn't gobbled up, leveled, and then replaced with tract homes or stick-built apartment complexes that would be slums in twenty years.
Two sheriff's cruisers blocked access to the shabby mobile home where an ambulance sat between the squads. All had their lights flashing. I pulled my unmarked Chevy beside yellow crime scene tape holding back curious onlookers. Half were retired pensioners. The remainder were young, white, and redneck.
Admiring the chromed-out Harley chopper parked outside the trailer's single entrance, I nearly collided with a rookie edging out the door, wiping his brow against the muggy afternoon. This kid always gave me an uneasy stare. His eyes liked to fix on the scar on my left cheek. I wondered how he'd react to the gash defiling my abdomen.
"What've we got?" I said.
"Domestic, Sergeant Gage," he said, his face green from what he'd seen inside. "Detectives are talking to the woman."
I nodded and stepped up inside.
The air was close and thick, a mixture of bacon grease, cat litter, and recent death. Smells too familiar.
Eyes downcast, a woman sat on the couch between Detectives Joe Zelski and Richie Pantera. The sofa was one of those cheap flowered types she must have purchased at some warehouse outlet.
"I killed him," she said, her stare vacant through blood shot eyes. "Had the Devil in him. Told him not to hit me no more."
"She been Mirandized?" I said.
"Yeah, Mike," Zelski replied. The detective's flat expression said he'd heard it all before.
The woman's hardscrabble life was written on her face. Rail thin, she was middle-aged, had stringy blond hair. A Marlboro trailed smoke from between her bony fingers. A bruise the size and color of a ripe plum swelled her left cheek. Others fought for prominence up and down both arms.
"Got it handled?" I asked.
"We'll take her downtown for a statement," Pantera said.
"Where's the body?"
Zelski motioned toward the bedroom. A paramedic squeezed past me in the narrow hallway shaking his head. In the bedroom, his partner shrugged and shuffled out. The trailer's cheap paneling portrayed the victim's leanings to Waffen-SS, Reichsparteitag derN.S.D.A.P emblazoned on Second World War Nazi posters framed in unfinished pine. A glass case displayed variations of the Iron Cross. They surrounded a German combat helmet on a red Nazi flag.
Like a beached whale, the biker lay face up in the bed, his beer gut a mound of unmoving flesh bisecting bed sheets soaked in blood. Three star-shaped entry wounds triangulated his hairy chest. The tattooed arms of the wannabe storm trooper were flung over his head like he was a referee signaling a touchdown. His assailant had scored all right.
A large handgun lay at the foot of the bed, a .50 caliber Desert Eagle, the closest thing made to a hand-held cannon. I wondered how the woman had managed the recoil.
Could be he got what he deserved. We'd charge her, book her, then the state's attorney would arraign and try her. Florida's judges and juries weren't known for their lenience. I'd heard stories like hers before. She'd been his ‘old lady’, a biker's gal who'd been passed around between his gang brothers to prove her devotion. Her man most likely drank hard, cooked his brain on crystal meth, and savaged his rage on her bony body. Maybe judge and jury would see things her way. If so, she'd get manslaughter. Be out in three years with good behavior. At least she'd feel safer in prison, comparing notes with her brutalized sisters.
Annoyed, I turned, gave the rookie a hard stare.
Still gawking at me like I was God or the Devil, he said, "Dispatch calling for you. The Greeks say they got a possible four-oh-seven. Found a girl wandering around out near the Glades. Got her at West County Medical. They said you’d be interested."
"Don't eyeball me like that again, kid," I said, shouldering past him as I rushed out the front door.
The woman, her wrists cuffed, was being ushered into a sheriff's cruiser. "Kept sayin' the Antichrist was a comin'," she said. "Wouldn't let me watch my TV preachers no more." She posed a gap-toothed smile. "I killed him real good."
Pantera put his hand on her head and gently guided her into the cruiser's back seat. I got in my unmarked car, glanced around at the empty faces staring at the woman, and backed out.
I was going to see two deputies. They’d found a young woman, a possible kidnapping. Both of Greek ancestry, we called the uniformed partners the Greeks. Something the girl said had prompted them to call me. Maybe we'd finally found one alive.
Racing out toward West County Medical Center, I dodged the Chevy in and out of rush hour traffic, its siren wailing like an angry banshee. The trip evoked a bitter memory. Myself as a rookie. Nearly twenty years ago. Proud of how good I looked in sheriff's green, I tried putting the war behind me. I'd bust heads all day. Drink and carouse all night. In one of those after-hours forays I'd met and bedded her. Maybe even loved her. I was too naive to realize she was a hooker, barely out of high school. Then I found her dead. Out in the Glades.
That's when I first arrived in Palm Beach County fresh out of the Corps. The county was different back then, a sleepy backwater that only awakened for the snowbirds. Since then a pristine wilderness had been replaced by concrete, asphalt, high rises, and strip malls. We were one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, a dreamland fed by tourism and developers. People moved down in droves looking for something. Some found paradise. Most didn't. Others wound up dead.
Of course, I'd changed, too. Maybe my scars were a road map for the wounds on my soul. The perp who'd slashed my face and body had been too freaked out on PCP to realize he'd taken a knife to a gunfight. My sandy shock of hair had thinned somewhat over the years, but I still took pride in how my six-foot frame carried two hundred pounds. People said I looked younger than I was. It was hard to believe I was six months away from qualifying for retirement. Packing it in wasn't necessarily part of my game plan, but it did give me a certain sense of give-a-damn the brass was beginning to notice. Nearly twenty years searching for the beasts who slaughtered young women up and down the Florida peninsula. Maybe this one had escaped the others’ fate.
A cement truck blasted a complaint as I swerved my car in ahead of it and cut hard into West County Medical Center.
Two hundred seventy pounds of Deputy Gus Demos met me near admitting.
Barging past him, I said, "Where is she?"
"Easy, Mike. Frank's with her. Got her upstairs already."
We rushed down the hallway toward the elevator bank.
"How is she?" I asked.
"Tired, bruised, scratched up," he said, massive arms bulging his uniform.
"What'd she say?" I said as we entered the elevator.
His craggy face in a snarl, the huge deputy said, "Some sickos snatched her off I-Ninety-five. Held her captive out in the Glades. She didn't see it, but she thinks they might have murdered a kid out there."
"Don't know," he said. "Maybe a lead on those hooker murders you've been followin' since God-knows-when. That's why we tracked you down."
"You did good. I want this one."
The elevator opened on the third floor. Gus filled me in on the girl's condition as I followed him halfway down the corridor. Though she was weak, the ER doc had given the girl a positive prognosis. Though the young woman had denied being sexually assaulted, they had examined her anyway and found no evidence of rape.
As we walked in Frank Persis, Gus' partner and younger face man of the duo, sat beside the bed holding a glass of water for the victim. I noticed Frank's ice blue eyes flaring anger.
"Mike," he acknowledged me.
I offered the girl my comforting smile. "Sergeant Mike Gage, sheriff's detectives."
Her dark eyes betrayed a frightening ordeal. "Gina Guivera," she said with a slight hoarseness.
Pulling up a chair, I said, "You doing okay?"
The girl returned a tentative nod.
"I understand you were on I-Ninety-five around Stuart. And got a flat?" I said.
She had cuts and abrasions on her feet, arms, and legs. Appearing to be of Latin heritage, she had fine cheek bones, a petite, angular nose over full lips. She was suffering dehydration. The hospital was keeping her the night for observation.
Gina told me she wanted to talk while her impressions were still fresh.
"Mind if I record this?" I said, taking a digital recorder from my silk sports coat and placing it on the tray table.
"Okay," she said.
I clicked on the recorder and gestured for her to begin.
"I was on my way to the University of Miami," she said. "I'm starting graduate school in international business, the summer session. I'd been driving all day. It was getting dark, but I was trying to make it straight through to Miami. Then, I got the flat."
"So you got out, started to change the tire, then what?"
"A van pulled up behind me," she said. "I was kind of afraid, you know? I was out in the middle of nowhere. It was getting hard to see."
"What happened then?"
"The driver got out and came up to me. I told him I had a flat."
"What'd this guy look like?" I asked.
"Tall, blond, kind of good looking."
"Did he have any distinguishing marks, scars, tattoos?" I asked.
Gina's full lips compressing, she thought for a moment. "No, but he did talk with an accent."
"Accent?" I said. "What kind?"
Her brow crinkled. "Kind of like German, I think.” Then, as though recapturing the image, she continued, “Then his friend got out of the van and they had a few words between them. I didn't understand what they were saying."
"They spoke in this other language?" I asked.
"Only a little."
"What did this other one look like?"
"He was shorter, had dark curly hair. Stockier than the blond."
"Could you describe them to a police artist?"
Her mouth forming an angry line, Gina said, "Their faces are burned into my brain."
"Good," I said. "Did you get a good look at their van?"
"A darker color. It looked new but didn't have the windows all around."
"You mean more of a commercial type, no windows behind the driver's seat?"
Gina said the would-be Samaritans discussed something in the foreign tongue, then the blond lured her toward her car, while the stockier one went back to the van. Getting her to bend down near the flat, the blond discussed how they might fix the tire with a sealant they carried in their van.
"And the blond guy had you feeling around the top of the tire?" I said.
"Uh-huh, but then he grabbed my wrist," she said, stuttering slightly. "I really knew I was in trouble. He was pretty strong, but I managed to jab the base of my palm up to his chin." Like one familiar with the martial arts, she demonstrated the move with her open hand. "Then, I felt the other one moving in behind me, so I tried kicking backward, but missed. He, he—" she choked, and swallowed hard.
Frank offered her a glass of water. Gina drank the whole thing down. She thanked him with a bashful smile.
"Feel okay now?" I asked.
She gave a quick nod, and continued, "I felt his arm across my neck, could barely breathe. I was choking, then he yanked me backward, stuffing this rag into my face. It smelled like a doctor's office. I remember kicking out hard. Think I got the blond a good one on his knee, because he screamed. I know I was fighting, but I just don't remember anything till I woke up."
"Okay," I said, putting my hands on my knees and leaning back in the chair.
Gina Guivera could have been wandering around out there for any number of reasons. None of them made sense other than what she'd told us. The area was wilderness, a wildlife refuge populated with snakes, gators, and other hazards. Swamps and bogs peppered the area. I knew something sinister had been going on out in the Glades. I'd never been able to prove it. Maybe this frightened young woman was the key.
"So you don' t remember your ride in the van?" I said.
Gina shook her head in frustration. "The first thing I remember, after trying to fight those guys off, was staring face up in the dark."
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Born in the Northwest Indiana, Mr. Davis served in the U.S. Marines and was discharged a captain. His early civilian career kept him well- travelled and involved sales, human resources and advertising. His most recent involvement has been in the gaming industry. Florida is the setting for his novels where he lived for a number of years. He and his wife now live in Indiana.