"Courage!" he said, and pointed toward the land,
"This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon."
The Lotos-Eaters, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Detective Michael Bormeo watched the medical examiner turn the body over, his stomach turning slightly as he thought of the raw flesh making contact with the plastic laid out to preserve evidence. "Mike," the woman began, "look what we've got here. I'm not a betting gal, but I think I've got your cause of death."
Mike stepped forward and peered over Ginnean Ferra's shoulder.
"Is that blunt trauma?"
Ginnean looked up at him skeptically. "See the neatness? This is sharp. This looks like a hatchet. It's…" she pulled out a ruler, "three inches, almost four. That's a significant blade. And the compression around it… this was a powerful blow. It damn near caved his head in."
"So he was well dead before…" Mike made an awkward gesture.
"What about the wife?"
"She took the blow facing the attacker. And she's lacking this kind of overkill."
"What is this kind of overkill?"
"Ritual flaying? The skin was excised, very neatly. This wasn't a hack and slash job—or at least, after the perpetrator cleaved their heads in—the work here was done with a very good blade. See—" She rolled the body back over. "We're down to muscles and fascia, but there's not a nick to the underlying material. This one knows what he's doing."
"Jack the Ripper-ish." Mike immediately felt childish and stupid.
"Something like that." Ginnean stood and stretched her back. "I'm going to get them back to the lab to run the gauntlet."
Mike nodded and went back to surveying the room. He'd been at home, curled up around Jenny when the call came in. Mrs. Gennusa's niece had come to pick her up for their Jazzercise class that morning and found them. The news crews beat Mike to the scene, and he had to push past gumdrop journalists reporting on the "brutal killings" before he'd even seen the bodies. Now he'd gathered precious little in the way of details.
Well, this beats a vanilla tourist mugging or drunken brawl any day he reasoned, and noted the list of the house's contents. Nothing taken. Nothing moved. Nothing out of place except for the killings. Blood spatter was consistent with the cause of death and the subsequent skinning. No fingerprints. No sign of forced entry. Mike walked past a one of the cops at the backdoor and went out into the backyard.
Nothing at all except for that weird hole in the French doors. Mike made a note to ask the niece if she happened to know if that was old. He directed the crime scene photographer to snap a few of it.
Nothing but a hole, and a whole lot of nothing.
Melissa looked up as Erik entered the darkened Coven Club. "Can I help you?"
"Miss Touchet." He gave a mock bow.
"Who are you?"
"Erik." She gave no indication of recognition. "The violinist?"
She crossed her arms and looked perturbed. "I thought you wanted to wait until after Mardi Gras to audition."
"It was foolish of me to delay our meeting. I trust you can accommodate an audition now?" Erik said with a mocking lilt to his voice.
"A lot of people want a job here. There are a lot of musicians in this city."
"To be sure. But I suspect," he said, setting his violin case on the table and opening it with a creak, "I might be able to offer you something unique."
"Do you have a resume?"
"I prefer to let the music speak for itself. What does it really matter, where I've played?"
Melissa gestured to the small stage, where a small piano was illuminated with a single spotlight. "Please excuse the workers," she said. "We open tonight, you realize?"
"Hoping to appeal to the swell of tourists?"
"Of course. Now, if you please." Melissa sat back down in plush booth and crossed her arms again.
Erik stepped onto the stage and felt a pointed sensation rush down his spine. He looked out, noted the red paint on the walls, the dark velvet décor, the brand new bottles of liquor behind the varnished bar. Closing his eyes, he could see a smoky tavern in Paris. Or was it London? He'd been in a similar one in Germany, then in Portugal. How could he possibly distinguish between them? They were all moments when the music meant everything, when he could lose himself and forget his own name. To be consumed by the work, to let it infect everyone around him so that he could be seen, not as himself, but as the bringer of such great beauty—such great and terrible beauty as to upend Heaven and send an angel careening down to touch his nearly impenetrable heart.
Nestling the violin under his chin, he began to drag the bow across the strings. He might have moved, he might have stood still. He could not hear the workers, he took no notice of Melissa— he simply played. Something he composed so very long ago, long before he bargained for immortality. For Sylvie. He nearly faltered as the memory came back to him. Yes, he wrote this for Sylvie.
Lowering the bow and the instrument, Erik looked out to Melissa. She started to speak, then simply nodded and cleared her throat. "The piano, can you…eh… play it?"
"Anything in particular?"
Erik grimaced. "If I must…" He sat down and plunked out a blithering little jazz ditty, letting his mind wander back to the night before. Holding a life in his hands was much like playing his sacred music, the life itself much like this silly music he was playing right now. He had the power to transform those meaningless people into something greater than their dull, whitewashed selves. Oh his face, Mr. Gennusa's skin became a thing of beauty, sampling immortality before it withered away. And now, his killing had even more purpose—he'd never considered the freeing nature of a murderous rhyme scheme. Always before, he killed out of necessity: For his hides, for Christine, to protect himself and to protect her. But this, in this place—his music and his vicious nature could marry with thrilling consequence. Why had it taken him so very long to connect the two?
Too long he'd rebelled against his new nature. In his lust for his music, he'd never fully given himself over to his Master.
But in this city, he would make amends.
Melissa was smiling and applauding as he cleared his mind of these pleasant thoughts. "Perfect," she cheered. Even a few of the workers stopped to clap with her.
"How is that you aren't playing in New York? Or touring across Europe?"
Erik smirked. "Who's to say that I haven't?"
Melissa walked towards the stage. "What's brought you here? I mean, forgive me if this is presumptuous, but… it seems… that you've fallen on hard times."
"That's a lovely way to put it."
She crimsoned. "I'm sorry, I just—is it alcohol? Drugs? I need you to be forthcoming about this."
"Nothing of the kind," he said, rising from the piano bench and stepping off the stage. He towered over her, shadowing her. "I take my music very seriously, shall we say. I have been restless in my life, and I have spent a lifetime—several, perhaps—searching for a sanctuary where I could devote myself to my passion." Melissa rocked back slightly as he spoke. "I felt compelled to give up everything and come to this place."
He caught her gaze and held it as he would hold a struggling victim in his arms.
"I hope I have not erred in my judgment."
"You haven't," she whispered. "I want you here. You belong here."
Erik caught her hand and kissed it. "I believe I do."
"Anything else I can do for you today?"
Erik smiled and folded the crisp bills into his wallet. Melissa had been easily persuaded that he needed a little money in advance, and so he had her make the check out to "Erik Delacroix." The poor little teller had taken the driver's license he proffered (one of his pick-pocketing treasures) and shyly made eye contact with him. "Erik is my middle name, the one I use in pleasant company," he had said amiably, though his eyes had been hard and cold. She'd quickly typed in the account number he'd provided and cashed the check.
"Nothing at all. You've been terribly helpful." He gathered his things and made his way out. Retrieving his cell phone, Erik dialed the Perrin's realtor.
"Nancy Feldman? I believe you handle the Perrin's condominium? Yes, that one. Yes, I've heard about the rumors. No, I'm not a reporter. I'd like very much to make them an offer. I believe I can frighten their ghosts away."