|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
Who Hunts the Hunter?
The screech of tires was deafening as the Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser slid practically sideways onto Laurel Lane. Its engine roared as the black and white car sped to catch up with the dark red Ford Taurus racing ahead.
"Victor-7, he's now headed south on Laurel at Taylor! Where's that damn chopper?" shouted officer Bilroth into her radio.
She dropped the radio receiver and gripped the steering wheel again as the Ford ahead made a mad swerve around a parked delivery truck, and she followed suit. Then came the voice on the radio, "Base Station. The chopper is in the air. Keep on him until then. Charlie-12 and Mary-9 are on their way to you."
She cursed lightly under her breath. They were heading down a fairly busy street, with pedestrians and cross traffic, at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Even here in LA the chases rarely got up to that speed. A helicopter typically kept the suspect in site while other officers closed down the area, or he ran out of gas.
But most suspects weren't wanted for 43 murders.
The stolen Taurus suddenly slammed on it's brakes and went into a sideways skid. The driver, whoever he was, was good. He timed the turn perfectly onto Fifth. Bilroth followed close behind. She reached for the radio to call in the change in direction when the rear window of the Taurus disintegrated in a shower of glass, followed by star shaped patterns on her own windshield.
She ducked lower, keeping most of her head below the dashboard, but never lost pursuit. She shouted into the radio, "Shots fired! Shots fired! We're now heading east on Fifth, crossing Burin now!"
The gunfire stopped and she ventured above the dash a little more. There were at least five bullet holes in the windshield. She felt the funnel of wind blowing into her face from a few of them, and a few flecks of glass pelted her sunglasses.
The radio came on again. "Mary-9, I'm west on Fifth, about five blocks north. I'll try and block him at Centennial."
"Base Station, roger Mary-9."
She saw the lights of Mary-9 ahead, and began to back off a little. There was no telling what this guy might try. There was a line of cars on the eastbound side waiting for a red light to change, and a lot of cross traffic. Mary-9 slid into position blocking the westbound lanes. There were two large buildings on either side of the street. The suspects only real option was to stop or risk slamming into one of the buildings by taking the sidewalk.
He chose option three.
The red Ford suddenly sped up, quickly going more than 100 miles per hour, and aimed straight for the cruiser blocking his path. Sergeant Bell seemed to realize it at the last moment himself, and Bilroth saw the rear wheels spin madly as he floored the cruiser in a vain attempt to get out of the way.
It was too late.
There wasn't much left of the police cruiser. It had effectively been split into three major chunks, with the engine being thrown fully 100 feet through the front window of a furniture store. The shattered bits of red and blue plastic that had made up the flashing light bar on top ended up scattered all over Bilroths cruiser as she slammed on the brakes.
The stolen Taurus fared little better. It flipped into the air, spraying bits of engine, undercarriage and glass all over the intersection before coming to a halt against a light standard. It fell to the ground upside down, its roof crushed under the force of the blow. Neither car caught fire.
Bilroth yelled into her portable radio as she jumped out of the car, "Send EMS! Send EMS! Intersection of Fifth and Centennial! Officer down! Suspect down!"
She raced to the nearest hulk, what had been the passenger cabin of police unit Mary-9. She didn't have to get too close to see that Sergeant Bell was dead, beyond help. Almost as an automatic motion, she drew her gun and started over to the crushed Taurus. Several bystanders were beginning to approach the car.
"Get back! Stand back now!" She jogged over to the car, jumping lightly over pieces of red fiberglass and twisted metal, as the bystanders stopped to gape at her. She looked around the car quickly. The roof was crushed low, and the doors jammed shut. It was going to take the jaws of life to get the two people out of this car, dead or alive.
The rear passenger window was still off the ground high enough to look inside. Carefully leading with her gun, she crouched to the ground and peered in.
She saw the body of a middle aged woman resting on the roof of the car. Since she already knew that her suspect was a man, this had to have been the cars owner. She was dead, her neck twisted at an odd angle.
But there was no other occupant.
Biroth stood and looked around furiously as the sound of other sirens started to come closer. The intersection was littered with bits of both cars, but no other bodies. She raced into the center of the intersection and looked around in a circle. No sign of him. She looked at the nearest witness. "Did you see anyone get thrown from this car?" He shook his head no. "Did anyone?" More no's from the crowd.
She cursed and clicked on the radio again. "Seal off the area! The suspect may have gotten away." She walked back to the Taurus as her call was confirmed.
She slammed her fist into the side of the smashed sedan out of frustration when she realized that she heard a familiar sound. Looking up, three helicopters were circling the intersection. Looking fast between them, she saw a light blue chopper with a large white "5" on the side, another with a "7" in a large circle, and another with a large "4" situated above a multicolor peacock. The local media.
They had undoubtedly been following the chase for at least a little while, and each of the crews was probably ecstatic about capturing such a spectacular crash on tape, just in time for the five o'clock news.
But if the suspect had managed to flee, then should be keeping him on tape. Why were they still over the intersection?
The debriefing had taken a long time.
Lisa was sure that some of her superiors wanted to blame her for what happened. They had a dead officer, five more dead civilians and the suspect had apparently vanished into this air. They needed a scapegoat.
But they simply couldn't find fault with anything that she did. Not yet, anyway. All three local news stations had caught the crash on tape, and even from three angles, no one could see what happened to the man wanted for so much death. Lisa's own cruiser had been equipped with a small camera mounted above the rearview mirror. That tape showed the suspect still in the drivers seat 1/16th of a second before impact. Chillingly, the brake lights were not on at that moment.
The media had just given him a name. The Hunter.
He was up to 49 now. Men, women, chidden, it seemed to mean little to him. The majority of them were shop keepers or clerks, but there were people from all walks of life, from all races. This guy seemed to show little favoritism. He'd hit fifteen targets in the last six weeks, from gas stations to jewelry stores. His largest single haul was close to $250,000 in gold and gemstones. His smallest, $15 from a walk-up hot dog stand. Despite all that, there wasn't a single witness.
Or at least, a single living witness.
Whatever he did, he was fast. He seemed to know what places had their surveillance equipment on battery back-up, and so far had avoided those. He'd managed to cut the power to the stores that he did hit, killing any cameras. Then he would enter and apparently kill anyone inside. He typically seemed to use a gun, but sometimes he killed more than one way. A knife, a blunt object, and a couple others. He would leave with whatever loot was handy. He didn't always grab it all, but enough to let everyone know he'd been there.
The closest thing to a witness at this point was the grainy pictures taken by a nearby ATM machine one evening. It had so far been one of his only mistakes. The machine had been able to get a basic description of him out, he was male, about 6 foot 1 inch and weight about 200 pounds. That narrowed it down to about 3 million people in the LA area.
But the Hunter had gotten unlucky this time. Officer Bilroth had happened to see him leaving a small convenience store right after the loss of power had triggered a silent alarm. He ran as she came into sight and jumped into a nearby car, apparently killing the occupant and pushing her out of the way. She had guessed that this was the monster they were looking for, and the investigation that followed confirmed that.
But, it seemed that he vanished off the face of the earth.
Lisa had slipped out of the station house after the debriefing as dawn approached. With the help of some other officers, who distracted the press, she managed to get to her car and leave without being followed. She didn't want to have to deal with them at the moment. She had a feeling that someone may be waiting for her at home, so she decided to stop for a little while at a coffee shop and gather her thoughts away from her superiors and the press.
She sat in a out of the way booth and ordered coffee and asked for a menu. She didn't feel all that hungry, but she wanted something in her stomach. She eventually decided on a blueberry muffin. She stared out the widow while she ran over the chase in her head again.
Perhaps an hour later, a voice brought her out of her funk. "Officer Bilroth?"
She turned her head. She found herself looking at a middle aged man in a poorly pressed, but apparently relatively new, brown suit. He had a wide face and thinning hair. He was carrying a tan raincoat with him, but it was draped over one arm. Something about him screamed "cop".
He extended a hand, "I'm Detective Kyle Folkerson of the Dartmouth County, Maryland Sheriff's Department. Mind if I sit down?"
Lisa looked at him for a moment, then shook her head a little absently. "No, go ahead. What brings you to this coast, detective?"
He tossed his coat onto the far side of the booth and sat down. "I understand that you chased a suspected armed robber slash mass serial killer today."
She paused a moment, "Forgive me for asking, detective, but I'm not sure I should talk about this. Do you at least have some ID?" He reached into his inside pocket and pulled out his shield and identification. Lisa looked it over. It seemed legit. "Why are you asking?"
"Last year, starting about mid September and running through the end of October, we had a string of seemingly unrelated armed robberies through the county. All types of stores were hit, there seemed to be no correlation between them. Different amounts of money, sometimes property, were taken. Even a few different methods were used to kill the victims. The only linking factor was that this guy apparently left no survivors. He killed 8 people before it stopped. Sound familiar?"
She nodded. "What stopped your guy?"
He shrugged, "The planets went back into alignment? He remembered to wear his tin foil hat? Who knows? All I know is that he seems to have resurfaced here, in LA, and that you are in grave danger."
He laid out the scene for her. In Maryland, this killer had apparently jumped from store to store, about one a week, for five weeks. As it happened, he hit stores that had just one or two clerks on duty at the time, and never a customer. No one could be sure if that was by design or accident. He always disabled the cameras somehow first, typically by killing the power.
It went like that until the last week of October.
"Then," said the detective, "we caught our first real break. Someone heard the gunshots at a gas station and called the police. An officer responded to the call, and managed to get to the scene just as the getaway car, a stolen Toyota Previa, pulled out of the station. There was a chase. Just like yesterday, it ended with a rather spectacular car accident, that time, though, the result of a blown tire on the Toyota that sent it out of control and into a tree."
He reached into his coat and produced a wrinkled yellow file folder. He opened it and dropped an 8x10 color picture of the wreck. It was obviously the kind that no one walks away from. She looked back at him, "You didn't find a body, did you?"
He shook his head. "No body, no blood, no evidence. It was like he vanished."
"So, what does this have to do with me being in danger?"
He sighed and produced another photo. This one was of a man, at least, it looked like one. The body was horribly mutilated. Lisa had been on the force almost 10 years and had never seen anything even close.
"That is the officer that chased this guy. Starting about two days after the chase, he started talking to friends about some strange things going on. Odd dreams that he was having, things that were deeply disturbing to him, but that he couldn't remember. He said that it was a feeling that he just couldn't shake, like something was wrong with the universe. Over the course of the week, he talked about more and more strange things. A few of us thought that he was just feeling the stress from the chase and accident." He shrugged, "It happens. The stuff he talked about was simply strange. He talked about animals, wild and domestic, that simply seemed to stare at him, unmoving. He started talking about conversations, bizarre conversations, with friends. The friends didn't recall the conversations, though."
He picked up the pictures and dropped them back into his folder. "On October 30, he called the station to tell them that he wouldn't be in the next morning, that he wasn't feeling well. When they asked what was wrong, he hung up. They sent an officer over to investigate and found this mess."
She shuddered a little at the thought. "What makes you so sure that this is the same guy? That the person that killed your officer was the same one out here?"
"At first, nothing. We certainly investigated the link, but frankly there wasn't much to go on. We didn't have any idea who this guy was, what he was doing. Anything. Then, while checking information about another case in Wisconsin, I happened across this article in a local paper."
He handed her an article from a newspaper, dated four months ago. It was one of those retrospectives that papers often run, looking back at a time of tragedy. Nearly twenty five years ago, this small community had been rocked by a series of murders, all taking place in businesses. No survivors, no witnesses. Lisa skimmed the article quickly, then stopped about halfway down and looked at the detective, who nodded grimly.
It seemed that the killer in Wisconsin had the misfortune of leaving a scene just as a local cop arrived. A chase ensued, in which the suspect car slammed into a bridge railing and fell into a river. No body was ever found, and the suspect was presumed dead.
The article noted, though, that the pursuing officer had been found dead himself only seven days later. A grisly murder still unsolved.
Lisa looked back at the detective, "What…?"
Her voice trailed off as he produced a stack of papers. They were arranged in order, starting with a photocopy of the article she had just read. The oldest article was from 1958. A few years were missing, but the twenty or so present had locations from all over the nation, almost all of them in small towns or counties. She skimmed a few. The stories differed in details, in body counts, in the total amount of stolen property. But they all ended the same way: A high speed chase, a massive accident, and a dead officer.
The Hunter had been around a long time.
And now, she was his prey.
The question hung in the air as she turned her Mazda 626 into the northbound lanes of Highway 118. The Maryland detective sat next to her, motionless, for a long moment before he answered.
"I don't know. I wish I did."
She sighed. She still wasn't sure if she should believe this man. After all, the evidence was circumstantial. But it seemed like such convincing evidence. Something was nagging at her, though.
"Why hasn't anyone noticed the connection before? We've been searching through the computers for weeks trying to tie this Hunter in with anything, anywhere. Nothing has ever come up."
He shrugged as he sorted through the papers in his hand. "Partly, I think, because he's had a history of hitting small, rural area until now. This is the first time he's hit a major metropolitan area, as far as I can tell. The records go back for decades, and the vast majority are simply too old to have been entered into a computer. Even the ones that are on the national system aren't all that similar, or even all that unique. The places that he hits are seemingly random, and his methods are different each time. There isn't even a description of this guy. There isn't anything to search for."
She sighed again, and felt herself getting increasingly nervous. "So, what do we do?"
He looked at her and smiled a wide Irish smile, "We nail this bastard."
He explained it as they drove to her small house in Simi Valley.
From what he'd been able to dig up over the last few months, it seemed clear that there was a pattern that the Hunter followed. Following an accident in which he vanished, the officer that chased him would start to change. They would start to lose sleep and act irrationally.
Invariably, between four and seven days later, they were dead.
"The difference" explained Detective Folkerson, "is that none of these men knew what was happening. We do."
She glanced over to him. "Do we?"
They pulled off the freeway and drove through the town. It was characteristically quiet this early on a Thursday morning. When she turned onto her street, though, she could tell that it wasn't quiet here. There were three newsvans parked near her house.
She sighed again. ::At the moment::, she thought, ::I'd rather be up against the Hunter.::
As she approached the house, she reached into the console next to her and withdrew her garage door opener. Ignoring the reporters shouts as she pulled into her driveway, she opened the garage door and drove in, closing it behind her. She and the detective were getting out of the car when she realized that someone was in the garage.
Actually, two someone's.
"Officer Bilroth! Allen Bowman from KCNC news. Can you give us a statement about the Hunter getting away from you yesterday evening?"
She stared at him and his cameraman for a moment in surprise. She hadn't noticed him slipping under the lowering door. Thankfully, Detective Folkerson saved her. "What do you think you're doing?"
The reporter turned his attention to the visiting detective. "I'm trying to get a statement. The public has a right to know what happened…"
Through gritted teeth, Folkerson said, "I'll say this one time and one time only. We are going to open the garage door, and you and your cameraman are going to walk out the way you came in. Any questions?"
The reporter looked dumbly at the man in the rumpled brown suit. For a moment, he looked like he was going to argue, or simply ignore the barely disguised threat. But something seemed to pass between the two men, and the reporter crumbled under the hard look.
Not wasting any time, Lisa pushed on the garage door opener again and it loudly rumbled back open. The other reporters seemed to move closer for a moment before they saw the pair leaving the garage, and the door closing right after them.
Lisa looked over at the detective as the door shut. "Thanks."
He smiled again as he rounded the car, "Compared to the media, the Hunter ought to be a piece of cake."
They entered the house cautiously, but not with guns drawn. There didn't seem to be anything amiss. They crept quietly through the two bedroom house, but other than the typical mess, nothing was wrong.
She motioned for the detective to take a seat at her kitchen. "Would you like some coffee?"
He shook his head, "No thanks. You must be exhausted, though."
She shook her head, "Not really. Nothing like finding out that your life is in danger to wake you up." She glanced up and noticed that the light on her answering machine was flashing. She stepped over and pushed the "play" button.
The first one was from her mother. "Hi, Lisa, its your mom. I saw you on TV last night and wanted to make sure that you're all right. Call me."
The second message was from the station. "Lisa, this is Captain Welch. It's about…six-thirty right now. I just wanted to tell you that Sergeant Bells funeral has already been set for tomorrow. We'll have details in a few hours. Call the station when you get the chance."
Then, another from the station. "Lisa, Welch again. There is some Maryland detective looking for you." She stole a look at Folkerson sitting at the table. "Said that he had to talk to you about a case that he's working on. I've got his hotel number if he hasn't found you by the time that you get this."
The machine made a loud click as it turned off.
She looked back at Folkerson. "You didn't tell them? Why?"
He shrugged. "I doubted that they would believe me, and I didn't want to take the chance that someone would stonewall me, even for a few hours. Before I left Maryland, I did a search for you on the FBI computer. I found a case in which you were the arresting officer and told them that it was related to that case."
She shook her head. "You mean, no one else knows about this?"
He shrugged again. "Lisa, I'm going to tell you this straight out, right now. You could have the entire Los Angeles Police Department stationed around your house and you'd still never be safe."
"What are you talking about?"
He leaned back in his chair. "This is going to sound even more loony than anything I've already told you, but I have my doubts that this guy is even human. Who or whatever he is, he's been doing this for almost thirty years that I can see. God only knows how many years before that."
Lisa lightly gripped the back of a kitchen chair. She was beginning to doubt the wisdom of believing this guy. Sure, he was a detective, but she'd met more than one cop over the years who'd lost it. "Maybe he just started young. Just because you don't have evidence certainly doesn't mean that he's been doing this for a hundred years."
He nodded, "Granted. That's true. I have no evidence. In fact, 1958 may have been the first time that he did…whatever it is that he's doing. But, there are two other things to remember. First, he's got a remarkable knack for vanishing without a trace after the worst of accidents."
She nodded. He continued. "Second. He's a perfect chameleon."
"Before he was killed, Officer Rod was convinced that his father had disowned him, that his daughter had attempted suicide and that one of his oldest friends was trying to blackmail him. The problem is, none of that happened. He was convinced that animals were following him, acting oddly. He even told his wife that he'd been forced to shoot his dog to death when it attacked him. The problem is, the dog is still alive."
"Wait an minute. Are you saying that the Hunter hypnotized this guy or something?"
"No. There was a lot more to it than that. His wife heard the gunshot when he claimed that he shot the dog. He came into the house covered in blood, not his own. No, there was something to it. I think that somehow, the Hunter pulled that all off."
"You mean, he was the dog, the father, the daughter, the friend, all of them?"
"Wait, if he shot the dog, and the dog was the Hunter, then how are we supposed to stop him?"
He looked at her for a long time in silence. "I'm hoping for inspiration. I really don't know. Remember, we may not know what he is, but we know he's there. We know who his next target is. We know his favorite methods. Between us, I'm guessing we have about thirty years experience. We'll keep our eyes open, and keep you alive."
This is the part that she hated. The waiting.
There really wasn't anything that they could do to get ready. They checked both their sidearms, his a police issue .38, hers a semi-automatic 9mm. If what he was saying was true, there wouldn't be much use for them, but you never know.
She should have been tired. She'd been up almost 24 hours. She just couldn't bring herself to nod off. Instead, she walked into her living room and turned on the TV. She flipped it to one of the network morning shows out of New York. She had hoped that they wouldn't be as fascinated with the chase as the local LA stations were. She was wrong.
"..And the President will make a statement about it at noon eastern. From Los Angeles, the story of the man who has been called the Hunter continues." They cut to the footage from one of the news choppers, "Yesterday, he apparently escaped this tragic car accident following a high speed chase through city streets. One police officer and a hostage were killed in the crash as were five others in a conveniece store shortly before. The Hunter apparently escaped. More on this in a moment when June talks with LAPD Captain Allen Welch. In other news, a late season hurricane, Travis, continues to reek havoc on the eastern seaboard, forcing evacuations from Virginia to New York…" She turned off the TV and sighed.
"Don't worry about it, Lisa. This will all be over before long.", said Folkerson.
She looked back at him with a grim smile. "That's what I'm afraid of." Then there was a loud knock on the door. She jumped slightly, but recovered and started over to open it. The detective grabbed her arm and stopped her.
"Remember, this starts now. Trust no one, believe nothing. The person at the door look like anyone from your mother to your mailman, and they may be that person. But be prepared to believe that it's him."
The knock came again, more insistent this time. "What do I do if it's him?"
"For now, nothing. Whatever game he's playing, whatever reason he has for killing cops, it's ritualistic. He plays with them first, makes them insane. Even if that is him, he won't try and kill you now." The knock came again. "You'd better answer it."
She nodded and stepped over to the door.
Lisa reached for the doorknob cautiously and took one last look back at the detective standing behind her. He nodded, but she noted kept his hand hovering near his .38. She opened the door.
She came face to face with a grim faced Captain Welch. He looked tired and more than a little haggard. His dark eyes were badly bloodshot, and Lisa could sense the stress of a long night on his face. "Captain. What can I do for you?"
Welch nodded his head back in the direction of the still present media on her front lawn. "Mind if I step inside, Lisa?"
She hesitated a moment, not sure what to say. This certainly looked like her Captain, but she suddenly wasn't sure. Something about him was nagging at her. Then she decided. "Come in. Have a seat."
The Captain stepped into the entry and say Detective Folkerson. He put out his hand. "Folkerson, right? I see that you found Officer Bilroth all right."
He nodded. "Another officer at the station told me where to find her."
Welch nodded than said, "Do mind leaving us alone for a moment. I have some private matters to discuss."
Folkerson nodded and walked into the kitchen, but not before giving a reassuring look to Lisa. He would be nearby if something did happen. Bilroth motioned for her Captain to enter the living room and she followed, both taking a seat.
"Lisa, I'm going to be straight with you. The brass want a scapegoat, and they want it to be either you."
"But, that's not fair! I didn't do anything wrong."
Wlech shook his head. "I'm sorry, but this thing is bigger than you, and it's completely out of my hands. They are questioning your actions immediately following the accident. Some of them are saying that you should have gone straight to the Hunters car and checked on him before you checked Bell."
Her jaw dropped. "What? That makes no sense. I barely paused when I checked Bell. He was dead, that was clear. Besides, what good would it have done?"
Welch looked at her oddly, "What do you mean?"
Lisa almost told him what she now knew about the Hunter, but stopped herself. She remembered that Folkerson hadn't told anyone. "I mean, he obviously got away before the car came to a halt. Maybe he got tossed from the car or something and just didn't get picked up by the cameras. I don't know. Besides, Captain, we've already been through all this."
He sighed. "Lisa, I know. But I'm afraid that I have to give you some bad news. You're being put on a temporary leave."
"What?? I've being suspended? Why?"
"No, not suspended. It's temporary. You'll still get pay and benefits. This is just until we clear up this whole mess."
She couldn't believe what she was hearing. She knew that they wanted a scapegoat, but why are they moving so fast on her? "Captain, how long will this…"
Her sentence was cut off by the sound of a gunshot behind her, and the hole that abruptly appeared in Captains Welch's shoulder. He cried out in pain and started to stand out of the chair, but sagged to the floor in pain. Lisa spun around to see Detective Folkerson behind her, still training his smoking .38 on the fallen officer.
"What are you doing?!", she screamed.
He reached over to the TV set and turned it on. Even as the picture warmed up, the familiar voice of Captain Welch came over the air. It brightened, and she saw him being interviewed on one of those network morning shows. Her eyes widened and she turned back to Welch. "He's the Hunter? That can't be!", she asked incredulously.
Folkerson nodded. "Don't be fooled. It's him. We have to get out of here."
She looked back at the form leaning against the chair. He seemed conscious, but only barely. "Why? Why can't we do something about him now?"
"There's no time to explain. I was going to tell you, but only when you were ready. He made his move too fast. Suffice it to say that bullets will only slow him down. We have to get out of this house, now!"
He dragged her down the hall. She grabbed her purse off the hall table. Folkerson ran out the door. "Get in the car!"
She got in the car and started it as he got on the passenger side. She started looking for the garage door opener. Folkerson reached over and pulled back the transmission to reverse. "No time! Just go!"
Without thinking, she slammed her foot down on the accelerator and the car suddenly lurched backward through the wooden garage door. The reporters, who had ventured closer to the house at the sound of a gunshot, suddenly scattered as the white blur raced backward down the driveway. Lisa backed the car onto the quiet street and shifted into drive, flooring it.
"Where are we supposed to go?" she asked, trembling a little from the actions of the last few moment.
"We need to get out of the city in a hurry. How long does it take to get out to the desert from here? Someplace isolated?"
"Not that long, maybe an hour or so. Why?"
"The Hunter has changed his tactics, for whatever reason. From what I've been able to see about him, he shouldn't have made such a bold, and really stupid, move so fast. He's always been more subtle, more sinister."
"Maybe this isn't the same guy?"
He seemed to consider it for a few moments. "No, this is him. There are too many similarities. Look, we need to get away from as many people as we can. I'm worried that he may be willing to take out other people. I think that he'll still fixate on you, though."
"So you want to get him away from LA? Okay, but what about what you were going to tell me?"
He seemed to consider it for a moment. "I really don't think that I can tell you, not now."
She looked over at him as she guided her speeding car back onto the 118 highway. "What? Why not? Why no answers? I think that I have the right to know!"
He pulled out his .38 and opened the cylinder, pulling out the spent shell casing. "There are things that we might have to do, things that you may not want to do. You don't need to prepare at all. In fact, you're really just the bait. I'll take care of everything."
She looked at him a long time. She was still trying to sort all this out in her head. It had only been a few hours since she first found out how much danger she was in. Now she was on the run. Folkerson had apparently grabbed his file at some point and started looking through some of the papers. Lisa occasionally tried to talk to him, or top figure out what he was reading, but he didn't cooperate. At one point, he simply told her that he was getting ready for a confrontation.
Three hours later, Folkerson looked out the window of the car. He nodded slightly at the sight of the Joshua trees passing out the window. "Are there any hotels around here? Someplace that we can hole up for tonight?"
She pointed at a rapidly approaching highway sign. "Twenty Nine Palms is just a couple miles up the road. I'm sure that we can find a place there."
He nodded and pulled out his gun again, checking it once more. "Great. Find a place and check us in. I'll take your car and hide it nearby. It might give us a little breathing room."
"You think that he can track us? And isn't that what we want?"
"I know he can. He's done it before, and, yes, we do want him to find us. But I need more time to get ready. I can't do it otherwise."
She pulled into the parking lot of a Motel "6" and she jumped out while he took the car down the road further. She stepped into the office and rang the bell. An older woman came out. She gave Lisa an odd look, something unreadable, but rented her a room anyway. She walked up the stairs to the room, opened the door and took a look around. Satisfied, she hung out on the railing until Folkerson came back.
They spent hours in the motel room. He was still pouring over the sheets of paper, and not willing to let her see what was in them. He seemed to be planning something, but she couldn't be sure what. He didn't want any distractions, so she didn't turn off the TV. She laid on the bed and read a magazine, but she was running the events of the last day through her head. There was something nagging at her, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
She glanced at her watch. She knew that the national news was on right now. She turned on the TV, but kept the sound off. They used so many graphics these days that it wasn't a problem. She could get the gist of most of the stories from the pictures and the printed words.
As the news show started, they showed the skyline on New York, and then faded to an anchor man sitting in a studio. Lisa watched as he started talking about some major news story out of the Middle East. Her eyes drifted around the screen a little. Her eyes idly started looking at the line of clocks on the wall. For a long moment, something bothered her about it.
Suddenly her eyes widened. She looked at her watch and back at the clocks on the wall behind the anchor. She remembered back to the morning, the image of Captain Welch on her TV being interviewed live, even as he sat in her living room.
But those shows are delayed for the west coast. Delayed three hours. Which is why the clock behind the anchor that was tagged "Los Angeles" was three hours slow.
The pieces started falling into place. She remembered the new report this morning. Hurricane Travis had shut down the east coast since the day before. How did he get out of Baltimore do fast? For that matter, how did he even see the news report? She remembered the papers that Folkerson had shown her. They were all from tiny communities, and many from the age before computers. How did he gather them up in just four months? Without telling anyone?
And how did he find her this morning? She'd stopped at that diner on the spur of the moment. She'd never told anyone she was going.
Lisa pulled her gun from its holster and pointed it at the man seated at the cheap desk. Before she could do or say anything, his head slowly rose. He looked directly at the wall and she could hear the smile in his voice as he spoke. "I'm impressed, Officer."
He turned, a too wide smile across his face. "It usually takes you guys a couple days. It's too bad, really. I didn't want to have to kill you so early. I've never done a woman cop before."
Lisa didn't feel any fear at that moment. She simply started pulling the trigger of her pistol. Over and over again.
A good cop can empty the entire nine bullet clip of a Smith and Wesson 9mm semi-automatic pistol faster than the average person could find the safety catch.
Officer Lisa Bilroth was a very good cop.
Time seemed to slow for her as each bullet flew out of her gun and struck the man that she had once thought of as Detective Folkerson. She watched as each bullet passed through his rumbled brown suit, through his skin and penetrated the soft organs below. She saw his body jerk with each hit, she saw the blood splatter against the wall behind the desk and pour out all over the floor.
She reached the last bullet and pulled one more time, hearing a click as she attempted to fire an empty chamber. Without pause, she released the clip and let it fall to the bed. As she reached for another clip in her pocket, she looked at the body of the man still slumped against the desk.
With a sickening feeling, she realized that he was beginning to stand up. She watched the grotesque visage of a man with seven chest wounds and two head wounds pull himself to his feet, pouring blood out of each wound. "You'll have to do better than that, Lisa." He said through a shattered jaw.
She jumped to her feet, fumbling with the clip and started to edge her way to the door. "What are you?" She asked in a frightened voice.
He smiled through shattered teeth and started to walk stiffly toward her. "Death." he said simply.
With new invigoration, she suddenly found her coordination and slapped the clip into the handle of the pistol. This time aiming at his knees, she fired twice. There was no grunt of pain as he fell to the floor and started to pull himself across the ancient brown carpet toward her.
She tore open the door and started running down the second floor walkway. She saw a few people that had ventured out of their rooms at the sound of the gunfire. "Get out of here!" she shouted. "He'll kill us all!"
She looked around the parking lot quickly for her car, and then realized that she had let Folkerson hide it and never asked where. She ran trough the driveway to the street. Stepping into the quiet street, she pulled the badge off her belt and waved it and her gun in front of her as a man in an emerald Ford Explorer drove up. He hung out the window. "What's the problem, officer?"
She raced to the side of his car, "Police emergency. I need your car." she yelled as she opened his door. Bewildered, he stepped out of the car and asked, "What's the problem?"
"No time." she yelled as she jumped into the drivers seat and floored the gas pedal. The massive four wheel drive truck lurched forward, and in moments she was up to a comfortable speed. She let her heart slow down a little. She fumbled for a moment with the gin again. She now had seven bullets, and no more ammunition. The rest of the clips were in her purse back at the hotel.
She looked around the car a little, hoping for some luck. It looked like the guy that had owned this car a moment ago was on some sort of business trip. There was a laptop computer case and a garment back laying across the back seat. She reached over and popped open the glove compartment, but found only maps. She looked back again, running her hand across the floor behind her when something out of the corner of her eye caused her to turn her head.
She looked to her left to see a huge black bird, a huge black ugly bird, matching her 60 MPH pace.
And it was looking right at her.
She suddenly knew exactly who she was looking at.
She slammed her foot all the way to the floor board and the car lurched forward again. As the speedometer passed 80, and she swerved to avoid a slow moving motor home, the bird was abruptly gone. She crouched lower and tried to look up into the sky out the windshield, but saw nothing.
She sat back up straight and gripped the steering wheel harder.
She started to calm down a little.
Her breathing got more regular.
Then something slammed into the hood of the Explorer at high speed.
She screamed out of surprise and the entire car shuddered with the impact of the massive back bird directly into the center of the hood, and then slid along the hood backward toward the windshield. Never slowing, she looked at the mass of rough black feathers on the hood, the windshield flecked with blood again.
Then one wing reached out from the mass of feathers, and the tip began to change. She saw the black feathers begin to fold in on themselves and turn pink. It grabbed the hood in front of the windshield and held on as the rest of the wing began to turn into an arm. The other wing reached out, already half formed into an arm itself.
Then the mutilated head of the vulture-like bird poked out of the bloody morass on the hood and started to waver in front of her. It took on just enough features to sneer. Then it plunged the other formed fist through the windshield.
Finally gaining her sanity back, Lisa slammed on the brakes. The Hunter lost his grip on the hood and slid in a wet, sopping mass in front of the 3 ton truck. Even as he disappeared over the hood, she slammed on the gas pedal again and felt the truck bump slightly as she drove over him.
She didn't stop to see if he was dead. She didn't think that he was. To confirm it, she looked in he rear view mirror.
She saw the gory visage seem to rise from the pavement in a mass of blood, feathers and torn human skin.
Lisa felt herself go ice cold.
She kept driving, not really having a destination. She needed time to think, time to formulate a plan. She didn't know how to stop this guy, and she began to doubt that she could.
Nothing human could possibly survive the abuse that she'd just inflicted. For that matter, nothing human could turn into a vulture, and then back again.
Fifteen minutes passed. The sun began to settle low over the distant mountains as she made her way through the huge Joshua Tree National Park. The freeway was lined with the hideous, cactus-like trees.
Then she heard a familiar sound behind her. She didn't need to check the rear view mirror to identify the familiar sound of a California Highway Patrol cruiser.
She started to pull over the commandeered Ford, then a vision flashed in her mind.
What if this CHiP was him?
As the truck slowed, she slammed on the brakes and put the car into a controlled skid. It came to a stop sideways, with the drivers door facing away from the slowing cruiser. She jumped from car and set herself up over the hood, pointing her gun at the officer.
He had already stopped his CHP Mustang and had been preparing to get out of the car himself. Now he looked through the windshield at the woman holding a pistol on him.
He meekly put his hands up over the steering wheel.
"Get out of the car!", she yelled. "Open the door from the outside handle!"
The ChiP reached out the window with his right hand and pulled open the door handle. He slowly swung out the white door, the huge gold star glinting in the dimming light.
Then he rolled out onto the ground and scrambled to the rear of his car.
Lisa silently cursed herself She should have guessed that he'd do something like that. She had hoped to get his gun and keys.
"Look, officer!", she shouted. "I don't want to have to hurt anyone. I'm being chased by someone, and I need to get out of here."
She heard his deep voice from behind the cruiser. "Then throw down your gun and come out, Bilroth. We'll protect you."
She suddenly realized that he'd used her name. That confirmed for her what something in the back of her head had been telling her. She was a wanted woman, probably for Welch's shooting this morning. "Can't do that. I can't explain it, but I can't do that. The guy after me would kill me, and anyone else that gets between me and him."
The officer poked his head out slightly from behind the cruiser. "You know as well as I do that I can't even consider it. You're wanted, Bilroth."
"I didn't do anything."
The officer still crouched behind his cruiser never had a chance to respond. In the rapidly fading light of day, a massive form seemed to drop out of the sky. It landed on the trunk of the Mustang, shattering out the rear and side windows as the car shifted and bucked under the sudden impact of some sort of malformed bear. It seemed to lack fur on it's muzzle, almost like scales. Even from fifteen feet, Lisa could see that it had claws of unbelievable size.
And it focused on the CHiP on the ground.
She heard the guy yell in surprise and start shooting at the massive animal. This huge beast seemed not to notice the impacting bullets. It reached out with an impossibly long arm and took a massive swipe, sending the brown uniformed officer sailing into the air, where he slammed into a Joshua tree with a sickening thud.
By this time, Lisa had already started making her way over to the partly smashed cruiser. As the Hunter began to turn his head toward his real prey, she was already pulling the 12 gauge shotgun from its clasp on the cruiser dash. She brought it up to the bears muzzle, who seemed a little surprised. She pulled the trigger, and watched the face fill with hot lead.
He seemed stunned, but was certainly not dead. She pulled the trigger one more time, and the hot lead filled its neck this time. Blood gushed from the torn flesh, and the huge bear fell to the ground, grunting and swiping his muzzle with a paw.
Taking advantage of it's moment of indecision, she ran to the officer laying on the ground nearby. He was still breathing, but had four huge gashes in his chest, and was bleeding heavily from a scalp wound. He was moaning a little, but wasn't lucid.
Lisa didn't hesitate long. She couldn't leave him for the Hunter to kill. He was only doing his job, and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She pulled him up and dragged him to the Explorer, throwing him into the back seat. She looked back the cruiser and saw the bear like creature starting to flow into something more man like.
And beginning to slowly advance.
She jumped over the back seat and fell back into the drivers seat. She'd never turned off the engine, so she simply slammed on the gas pedal and felt the car fishtail slightly as it fought for traction on the shoulder, then the pavement of the nearly desolate road.
She looked in the rearview mirror and saw the Hunter again.
A thought began to formulate in her mind.
She turned back to the officer. Still alive, but not conscious. She'd try and leave him at the first place that she could. She took stock of what she had now. She still had her own pistol, and now the CHiPs' .45 pistol, as well as his shot gun. She didn't have any more shells for the shotgun, and she didn't know how many shots were left in the .45, but it was a start.
A few minutes passed, and she saw a beacon in the dimming like. She pulled into the nearly vacant parking area of the small general store and leaned on the horn. She then jumped out and pulled the officer from the back seat. Just then, an older man stepped out the door. "What the hell…" His voice trailed off as he saw the bloody cop.
He jumped down the step and raced over, "What happened?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No time to explain. Let's get him inside and call an ambulance."
He nodded and grabbed the officers feet. They carried him in and laid him on the pale green tile floor. Lisa pressed down on his wounds, but they weren't bleeding badly. From what she could feel, though, he had some broken ribs at least.
The storekeeper put down the phone. "Okay, ambulance is on the way. What happened?"
She looked around the store quickly. "No time to explain." She reluctantly pulled out her pistol. "I'm not planning on shooting you, but I don't have time. The longer I stay here, the more danger you and him are in. I'm being tracked. I just need a few supplies. I don't care about money. Just step out here and get on the floor."
A few looks passed across the mans face, like he couldn't believe that he was being robbed by a woman of all people, but he complied. She quickly stepped behind the counter and grabbed a couple bags. In one, she threw some boxes of shells.
She then jogged over the small camping supply shelf and threw some items that she thought that she would need into it. Without pausing, she raced back out the door, jumped into the truck and jumped back onto the road.
She passed the ambulance going the other way.
Then, she saw a sign. Just the sign that she was looking for. "Joshua Tree National Monument. Park Entrance"
She guided the truck onto the dirt road, and roared into the park.
She would make her stand here.
When presented with a lot of information, sometimes it is best to examine the source.
Lisa had decided that everything that Folkerson, or rather the Hunter, had told her was a lie.
She doubted that there were a string of murders in Maryland last year, or anywhere else for that matter. It was precisely that kind of information that the department had been searching for the last four weeks. They had turned up nothing.
She doubted that there was anything ritualistic about what was happening. For whatever reason, this maniac had focused on her, and now it was her problem.
Perhaps most important, she decided that he wasn't invincible.
She was of two minds on that point. On one hand, she had watched this creature take more than a dozen bullets and it seemed to barely slow him down. He looked for all the world like a creature that couldn't be stopped.
But she knew enough about the world to know that nothing is indestructible, and everything alive can be killed.
Besides, if he couldn't be killed, then nothing she did would matter.
She had never been the type to give up.
As she drove the her commandeered Explorer through the darkened National Park, she thought to her three confrontations with the Hunter. She put eleven bullets into him, and it seemed to slow him down only a little. She hit him with a truck and it barely slowed him down.
But the shotgun. For some reason, he couldn't shrug off the steel pellets of the 12 gauge as fast. For a few moments, she couldn't see the difference. The shotgun had done a great deal of damage to the bear-like creature he had become, but not nearly to the extent that her pistol had done to the visage of Folkerson in the motel room.
But, now, as she raced through the desert, she had an idea. It was tenuous. It was one shot. If she failed, she would probably not be able to escape with her life. Even if she succeeded, she had the sickening feeling that she would wind up in prison for what the Hunter had done, or driven her to do, over the last few hours.
As far as she was concerned, though, she was still an officer of the LAPD. Until they took her badge away, she was still charged with the protection of the public. The Hunter had to be stopped.
She only hoped that they wouldn't be prying her badge out of her cold, dead hand tomorrow.
She found the vacant campsite after about thirty minutes of driving. As far as she could tell, there were no other campers nearby, although it was rather dark. She pulled the truck onto the flat area and turned on the brights for a moment. The campground was relatively bare, only a few low shrubs dotted the landscape. A small crevice ran through the edge of the site nearest the access road, probably cut by water run off. The campsite was bordered on two sides by two large rocky hills, each one about fifty feet tall at the peak.
She rolled the truck closer to the taller of the two hills and turned it to face the road. She checked the gauges of the truck once, and then shut off the engine. She sat in the drivers seat for a long moment and gathered her thoughts.
Then she quickly opened the door and started setting her trap.
Dawn in the desert is a rare sight. The sky is often so clear that it looks like you can see forever. The sky glows with a crystal clarity that is almost impossible to describe.
Lisa huddled a little for warmth in her look out station above the desert. She wasn't dressed for night at all, but her activities through the night had kept her warm enough. She had worked feverishly setting her little trap in the hope and prayer that she would be able to do it in time.
But the Hunter had yet to put in an appearance. She hoped that in some small way this confirmed what she though. She would know for sure soon enough.
She looked back to the truck. It was covered partly by sand in a vain effort to disguise it's shiny green paint from the air. She had used what she found in the van, as well as the materials that she had taken from that general store, to set her trap.
She sighed and looked up again. She could see for miles across the desert, but she didn't know what to…
She saw the shadow before she saw him. Wound up despite her second night of no sleep, she dove out of the way with all her might as the massive shape hit the ground with a thud.
She turned to see the bear creature again. In the light of morning, she could see that it only cursorily looked like a bear. Its body was a patchwork of flesh, and most of it didn't seem to match. It was almost like a committee got together to decide how to put a bear together.
As she backed away and brought up her pistol, she realized that the committee seemed to have decided on the claws, at least. The bear-thing roared, and Lisa pulled the trigger twice.
The massive creature didn't seem fazed, only started to advance closer even as it started to flow. The massive body seemed to move around like thick honey, and it started to take the shape of that fictional Maryland detective again. All the while, it slowly advanced.
"Lisa.", it said, "I'm disappointed. I thought that you would have come up with something more effective than that by now."
Even as she backed up, she started firing the .45 at the Hunter. She didn't expect it to do any damage though.
It was all part of the plan.
The last bullet fired, the started to move to her a little faster. "Ho, hum. You people are so predicable." As Lisa started fumbled around her jacket pocket for more bullets, the man suddenly extended an arm across the ten feet between them and snapped the gun away.
Taking that as her next cue, she dove for the shotgun that she had hidden under a bush nearby. As she brought it into the general direction of him, he seemed to realize what it was. He made a mad dash for her, diving and changing as he did. Lisa suddenly found herself pinned by the massive bear.
For a moment, though, he seemed more interested in the shotgun, and took great pains to rip it out of her grasp. Then, holding it with one paw, he picked her up and threw her into a nearby Joshua tree.
She felt the wind go out of her, and she was sure a couple ribs were broken, but she tried to put it out of her mind. Gasping for air, she started to stumble for the truck. She saw the bear shift again, back into the man. She realized that she had been thrown a good fifty feet.
She was lucky to be alive.
The hunter didn't bother to get closer. He merely shifted leisurely back to his human form. "Sorry, officer, it looks like I need to end this now. Can't say it hasn't been fun." he said with a smile as he pointed the shotgun at Lisa. She brought her hand up the drivers door handle on the truck as he pulled the trigger.
And they both heard the click of the hammer of the shotgun finding no ammunition.
She opened the door of the truck and climbed in. She glanced up to see the Hunter looking quizzically at the gun, then suddenly getting angry. He threw the gun with all his might and leapt into the air, flowing outward into the hideous black bird again.
As she reached to turn the key, the massive bird slammed into the already broken windshield. She screamed and started to climb over the seat into the back. Grabbing her own 9mm off the seat in the back, she climbed into the cargo area, accidentally stepping on two of the cans of white gas that she had grabbed at the general store.
By this time, the bird was inside the car, and quickly flowing back into a man. Gagging on the fumes of fuel building up in the car, she broke out the back window with her fist and jumped out.
She stopped and looked at the Hunter, still trying to climb through the car. It looked like rage, rage over being tricked with an empty shotgun, had made him angry. For some reason that was slowing him down a little. Lisa didn't need any more invitation that that. She triggered her trap.
The night before, Lisa had realized the connection. She thought she knew why he shrugged off the bullets so fast when he couldn't do the same with the shotgun blast. There was little difference between the two.
Except for the heat.
A bullet leaving a gun is a very hot piece of metal, and so are shotgun pellets. But there are a lot of shotgun pellets, which cover a very wide area.
Lisa had hoped that this was the right connection last night. When she had raided that little store, she had taken as many cans of white gas and butane as she could carry in a single trip. Then she spent almost an hour setting up the Ford Explorer into a massive funeral pyre.
She fired the bullet at the can of butane, and it exploded in a shower of sparks. The flames spread through the fuel soaked upholstery of the truck in a flash. The car was fully engulfed in seconds.
The Hunter seemed to realize at the last moment, as he connected the smell I the truck with fuel, that he was in grave danger. Even as the flames spread, and his partly feathered body tried to open the rear passenger door to get out, he screamed out in pain.
Lisa cringed at the sound of that wail, sounding so much like a cross between a bird and a man. As the green paint bubbled on the door, it popped open. The flaming creature fell out to the desert floor.
Despite his pain, the hunter seemed to be crawling toward Lisa.
She raised her gun again and fired. This time she heard something that sounded like a grunt every time a new bullet hit. He eventually stopped moving as the black smoke that rose off his body drifted into the cool, clear desert air.
Fifteen minuets later, the Hunter was dead. The flames had used up all their fuel and had gone out, leaving a charred hulk. The Ford was still burning merrily, and she could see the column of dust coming closer.
Probably a Park Ranger investigating the fire.
She didn't know what he was, save that he was dead. For her money, that was good enough for her.
She didn't know what the future held. She still had some things to answer for, some things to explain. But her wild tale of the last two days had one significant piece of evidence.
She tapped the Hunters charred skeleton with her foot one last time as the rangers brown pick-up came to a halt She found she couldn't stop looking at the sight, the bizarre and twisted skeleton, a skeleton with the head and arm of a man that flowed easily and fluidly with the single wing of a huge bird, and the legs of a massive bear.
Who Hunts the Hunter? copyright 1996 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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