The Skull Hunter
by S. Michael Leier
Ghosts, demons, witches... What a royal pain in the butt. If anyone ever has any doubt that something happens to us after we die, just send them to me. There is an existence after this life, and some of it is very, very bad. I know: I deal with it every day. I’ve seen it up close and personal. The things that make most people wake up in a cold sweat are par for the course in my job. My name is Rick Vargo. I’m a private investigator, and these are my stories.
part 1 of 2
“He’s screaming again,” said Sara as she buried her head deeper into her pillow.
“So take if it,” moaned Carl half asleep.
“I did it last night,” she replied. “It’s your turn.”
“Fine,” said Carl as he threw the bed sheets and sat up wearily. “Why the hell is he screaming like this every night?”
“You know what it’s like in a new house,” answered Sara.
“Well you need to take him to a doctor or something. I need my sleep and I can’t be getting up in the middle of the night. Shut up your kid.”
Sara rolled over angrily, “My kid?”
“You know what I mean.”
“When you asked me to marry you said that you wanted us to be a family. I thought that meant my son would be your son.”
“It did... I mean it does,” Carl wiped his hand across his face trying to relieve some of the sleep from his eyes. “Look, I’m tired, you’re tired, and these late nights are getting to both of us. You go back to sleep and I’ll take care of it.” Carl leaned over smiling and gently kissed his wife on the forehead then Sara rolled over and snuggled back into bed.
Carl sat for a moment until he heard Sara’s breathing become slow and relaxed as she fell deeper into sleep. The smile dropped from his face as he looked towards the door. “I take care of that pain in the ass right now.”
Carl got up and quietly opened and closed the bedroom door. He made his way down the hallway towards Ben’s room. His face was dark and brooding as he clenched his fists tightly. When he reached Ben’s door he purposely banged against it, and then threw the door open denting the wall. Flipping the light switch he looked across the room and saw the little boy huddled in the corner with a sheet pulled up to his eyes. Sweat was running down his face from screaming and he was shaking uncontrollably.
“Look, you little shit,” said a red-faced Carl, “you’d better shut the hell up or I’m gonna make your life miserable.”
“But there’s something in my room...” said Ben in a quivering voice.
“Are sassing me, boy?” Carl stepped menacingly closer, causing the boy to curl up tighter into the corner. “Damn, I should have know better then to marry a woman with a kid, especially an idiot like you. Now I don’t want to hear another word out of you, do you understand me?”
Ben nervously nodded his head as his eyes darted back and forth.
Carl started for the door when Ben cried out. “Please don’t turn off the light. Please,” Ben pleaded.
Carl turned and stared at the boy with a sick smile. “Scared of the dark, are ya?” Carl looked at Ben and then at the light switch. He reached over and flipped the switch off and quickly on again. “What’s the matter? Scared?” He almost cackled as he flipped it again and again. “Stupid kid,” Carl sneered as he grabbed the doorknob and flipped the light off one last time.
Just as the light left the room Carl screamed out, “NO-O-O-O!” Ben sat frozen with fright as he heard banging coming from the other side of the room. And then all was silent until the door was flung open. The light came on and he saw his mother’s terrified face.
“What’s going on?” she cried as she stared at her son frightened. She ran to him and held him in her arms. “Are you okay?” Ben shook uncontrollably as she pulled away and looked into his eyes. “Where is Carl?”
Ben lifted his arm, pointed toward the slowly closing bedroom door. Sara nervously turned and looked in horror as the door slammed closed and the bloodied, mangled body of Carl slumped to the floor.
* * *
I like Sunday mornings. They’re quite and peaceful, mainly because the hording masses are piled like cordwood into their chosen places of worship. Even in a city like Chicago, which is normally smothering with people, Sunday is the one day you can walk down the street and breathe.
I don’t do the church thing, not because I don’t believe in an afterlife, because I do, but mainly because I deal with it on a daily basis. It’s my job and my curse. My name is Rick Vargo I’m a private investigator. Not the kind that follows scummy husbands around to sleazy neighborhoods while they break a few of the commandments they preach about in church; rather, I investigate what lies just beyond this thin veil that separates us from what comes after. I see things that others only dream about in their nightmares. Call them ghosts, specters, poltergeists, or whatever; I call them a pain in the ass.
Actually, it’s not uncommon for normal people to see these things. It’s that brief shadow someone notices in the corner of his or her eye, or that sudden chill that comes from nowhere. The only difference is when they turn their head, the shadow is gone, whereas I see the figure, the face, and I hear the voice.
If that’s all there was it would fine, but there is more lurking in the dark shadows than passed loved ones: there are creatures of purest evil. Horrid and grotesque beings that prowl the world looking to destroy the lives of people they come into contact. They rip at the very soul of their victims, shredding the lives of everyone they touch, laughing at what they destroy. These are the shadows I chase; these are the criminals over whom only the court of universal law has jurisdiction; these are the bane of my curse.
One such Sunday morning I was having a coffee in one of the panel houses on the south side just off Dearborn called Thilo’s Café. It’s one of those places where you can be left alone and conversations are never heard above a whisper. It was a place where a man’s business was his own and the business he was into was not advertised. I had just gotten my regular coffee, black with a slight kick to the mix, when I heard a rude voice crack the silence.
“There he is.”
I turned and saw two men in long black coats staring in my direction. I recognized one of them as being Detective Sergeant Brogan of the 21st district police. He was barrel-chested, with a nasty face and a personality to match. He was one of those people who hated everybody and everybody hated him. We had bumped heads in the past, and he took a particular interest in harassing me. I didn’t recognize the other cop with him as they plodded towards my table.
“Sam,” said Brogan to his partner. “You know that scum that you wipe off your shoes at night? Well this is the guy who probably put it there.”
“If you’re trying to flirt with me it ain’t working, Brogan,” I replied.
Brogan slammed his ham like fist on the table. “Look, you pile of waste, if I had my way you wouldn’t be sucking in good air from decent people. I’m only here ’cause of the chief, and the only thing stopping me from cracking that scrawny neck of yours is that I don’t wanna to waste city money to bury you.”
“Save the romance talk for the fresh kid here. If you got something to say then say it; if not, then take a hike. You’re souring my coffee.”
“Fine,” Brogan said. “Why the chief wants anything to do with boiled scum like you I’ll never know, but he wants us to take you with us to a crime scene we’re investigating.”
I had helped Chief Hogan when his wife died several years ago. Sometimes when a person dies they have such a tie to the world that they get lost. I helped the chief’s wife find her way to the other side, and ever since he’s been paying me back with a favor here and there. He’s a man of strict living who doesn’t spit unless there’s a guideline for it. If he wants me, then something bad has happened, something really bad. I gulped down my coffee and grabbed my hat from the chair beside me.
“Well, you know me, always ready to bail you out of trouble, Brogan.”
“The car’s outside and you’re in the back, wiseass,” Brogan snorted as his face turned red.
We left the café and drove toward the segregated district where a lot of immigrants had taken residence. It was sectioned into Oriental, Irish, Italian, and a mishmash of other nationalities. They were the poor and unwashed masses who struggle day and night just to put crumbs of bread on the table.
Years ago the city made this area just for them so as to keep them away from the so-called regular people. For the families living there, it was like a prison without walls and no chance for parole. The area smelled of burnt cabbage and fat-laden laundry soap. Children sat in the streets alone with dirty faces and growling bellies.
“How can people live like this?” asked the young detective.
“First week on the job kid?” I asked.
“How’d you know?” he asked. “And my name is Sam, Sam Barras.”
“Two reasons, Sam. One, Brogan’s partners don’t last much more than a week. They either die or quit.”
Sam looked at Brogan nervously. “Is that true?”
Brogan just sat emotionless as his hands tightened their grip on the steering wheel.
“And number two: you’re an idiot.”
The young detective whirled around the seat and grabbed me by the collar. His face was blazing with rage. Brogan slammed on the brakes and grabbed the young detective thrusting him back into the seat then he turned to me. “Shut your yap, Vargo. The Chief said to bring you along, but he didn’t mention how many pieces you had to be in when we got there.”
I just smiled as the car started moving again and didn’t say a word until we pulled up in front of a block long brick building that stood five stories high. Many windows were open and several had sheets hanging out to dry. Young kids gathered around the shiny black sedan, pressing their dirty faces against the glass.
“Get away you hooligans,” bellowed Brogan, as he lumbered out of the car.
A uniformed officer came out of the building and walked over to the detective. They spoke for a moment and Brogan stretched his neck through the door. “Alright, Vargo, here’s the scoop. There’s a lady upstairs who husband was murdered last night and we’re here to find out what happened.”
“Sounds straight. Why do you need me?”
“Well according to the officer the man was gutted like a fish. The only person in the room when it happened was his kid, and the kid ain’t talkin’. There are no other witnesses, and they can’t find anyway that someone could have gotten in or out of that room. That’s where you come in. Apparently the lad had been complaining of monsters in his room for a while now.”
“What’s so strange about that? A lot of kids imagine they see monsters at night.”
“Yeah, well, this imaginary monster left claw marks on the wall.”
“Sounds right up my alley,” I said, climbing out of the back seat. “Let’s go.”
Copyright © 2006 by S. Michael Leier