The Mask of Romek - Chapter Three


Chapter Three: Dead Man Walking
March 21st 2009. 0445hrs
Parking Lot of Benny's All-Nite Shopper

I left Marcus asleep in a cot in his office and drove to the convenience store for supplies. Junk food mostly and a decent bourbon.
Marcus had laid it out for me. It seems that Romek was not just a high priest of the Maya but the high priest. The guardian of the gates to the underworld no less. Said to have the power to raise the dead. He was the guy Mayan parents scared their kids with. I had assumed that the mask was a burial mask but legend was that he wore it in life. It all pointed to some heavy duty magicks. The carvings formed some kind of spell. What for I didn't know yet. Books don't have all the answers.
I was walking back to the car still mulling this over when a figure slid out from the shadows in front of me. Shit, I'm not usually so damn careless.
“Hey mister, can you buy us some booze?” Kid looked about 17, long greasy hair, pierced everything, standing slightly hunched over going for that goth/punk/I wish I was just like totally dead look kids prefer today. Further back in the shadows I could see he had a larger dumber friend. Looked like they shopped for clothes together.
“Scram kid, happy hours over,” I growled. I was painfully aware that my hands were full with liquor and enough potato chips to feed a star trek convention for a month. Then I saw the knife.
“How 'bout I just take that bottle o' Jack old man,” he sneered.
I don't know what pissed me off more, the crack about my age or the threat to one of my few sources of pleasure in this life.
I tossed him the bottle. The larger one made a noise like a blocked drain which I took to be laughter. As he stared down at his prize he didn't see the kick to his groin that would have got me a place taking field goals for the Cowboys. He went down in slow motion, gasping for air. The larger one took a step forward but was brought up short by the barrel of my revolver.
“Get lost, leave the booze,” I advised. They duly obliged. I wasn't about to shoot either of them over a bottle of Jack, but they didn't know that. Don't get me wrong, I've shot things that look like people and people that looked like things. But I'd seen plenty blood already that night and I was going to see plenty more before this mess was done. I rescued the Jack from the ground and went to the Miskatonic. I needed some sleep and to try and piece together what was unfolding around me.
It was getting light when I found myself being shaken awake.
“Yeah I'm up Doc, dammit,” I mumbled my eyes still shut.
“John, I checked the details of all the new arrivals for the past two weeks.” he enthused at me.
“So what did you turn up?” I sat up rubbing my eyes.
“The mystery package was sent to Archie with a fake return address. I still can’t understand why he felt the need to include the mask in the display,” he said flipping through the images again.
“You mean apart from the fact its solid gold and would probably be a big crowd puller than King Tut's mask,” I pointed out.
“I thought I had put the damn thing in the vault with the rest of the lot,” he groaned.
“How could I have been so stupid John?” he said slapping the images down in disgust.
“We have to find Archie and save him,” he began pacing as he talked his eyes wide.
“We find him, remove the mask and if needed I'll perform an exorcism to free him from whatever is driving him to do these awful things,” he was in full flow now. It was down to me to snap him out of his untimely bout of optimism.
“Doc, even if we find him. We have to put him down. You know that,” he stopped pacing and drew me a look of disgust.
“Besides after what's happened to him, he wouldn't thank you even if we managed to old friend.” I could only imagine what Beman would feel snapping out of his nightmare to discover he was a murderer, blind for life, brain damaged and probably out of a job.
“The truth is John, Archie had been acting a little out of character the last six months. He told me it was trouble at home, at the time I believed him, gave him room. I…I,” he faltered.
The Doc sat on the edge of the cot, his head in his hands. A normal person would have reached out to his friend, to try and reassure him. But frankly, I had too much respect to lie to him and tell him everything would be okay. He knew the truth as well as I did. Beman was already dead and when I found him I would have to make sure of that.
Marcus Lockhart wasn't always an academic. When we first met he was a medical doctor here in Arkham. Life changed for him when he was carrying out an autopsy and the body got up and chased him round the room and tried to eat his brain. As the years went by he studied more than just medical journals. He learned things I can’t begin to describe about the true nature of the universe. He saw more blood practicing magick than he would have done practicing medicine. After the war he got out of medicine completely and into history instead. Old habit of mine to call him “Doc” when now he was a Professor. I guess he got tired of correcting me. Any further discussion was cut short by my cell ringing. It was Swaggart.
“Agent Marx. We need to talk?” What now.
“I'm in autopsy down at the Medical Centre. How soon can you get here?” He sounded strangely formal. Never a good sign, that meant this wasn't a personal call. Come to think of it, I've never had a personal call.
“Doc, something’s come up. Are we good?” He simply nodded and poured himself a coffee.
“Go John. I have research to do,” he was all business again.
“I'm curious how Romek has power over the dead,” he turned back to his books. The Doc was back.
It was about 8am when I found Swaggart catching a quick smoke outside the Morgue.
“What's up Bill? You sounded serious on the phone.” He looked about 10 years older than when I had last seen him.
“I've been a cop twenty years man, Jesus,” his voice faltered.
“Start at the beginning” I said as he lit another smoke. He paused letting the nicotine do it's work.
“After the museum I got a warrant for his house. Beman's I mean,” he took another long draw.
“He got there before us, butchered his wife and little girl Marx. Laid 'em out in the cellar for us to find,” his eyes were distant, seeing it again as he spoke.
“By the time I got finished at the scene, Patrol had found another two bodies, same M.O.,” he was through grieving and was into the anger now.
“It looks like Beman has become our little town's latest spree killer and I need your help to catch him Marx” he threw down the butt and stepped on it.
“C'mon you need to see this...” he turned gesturing for me to follow.
Turned out Romek had been busy. Arkham's small morgue was chock full of his handiwork. Swaggart was back to himself as he led me through the carnage lying on slabs.
I saw the wife and kid first, then Gerber the secretary. Throats cut and disemboweled. Swaggart led me out into another hallway and two more bodies on gurneys. The punk kid and his buddy from outside Benny's.
“Bet you thought your night couldn't have got worse eh kid?” I whispered. Swaggart looked up from his notes.
“These kids tried to hit me up for booze down at Benny's on seventh. Where did they turn up?”
Swaggart flipped a page on his notes then nodded, “Benny's parking lot. Beman's Lincoln is still at the museum so I reckon he took off on foot, stumbled into these two lowlifes and offed them too.”
“I saw them both still breathing about a quarter to five,” I offered. Swaggart was scribbling again, he paused and shook his head.
“Marx that kinda messes up my timeline. Why go all the way out to his home in the 'burbs, kill his family then come back downtown and kill these guys?”
I knew why he came back to the campus. That reason was an ill tempered professor who liked late night pizza.
“Oh, I nearly forgot the best part,” Swaggart closed his folder over and swung an all encompassing arm across the remains.
“The prelim report says he took out their hearts. Who does that?” I hoped he didn't expect an answer. I had a long list that would’ve turned his thinning hair white. Before I could make a suitably smart ass comment my cell rang again.
“John, can you talk freely?” It was Marcus. I stepped to back into the autopsy room and told him yes.
“I think I have it John. I know how he did it!” the coffee had kicked in for the Doc.
“Did what Doc?” as always I was struggling to keep up with his train of thought.
“Raised the dead of course. Ask your detective friend if the organs of the body from earlier were missing.” I was getting a bad feeling. I stepped back into the hallway where I had left Swaggart.
“When you called me last night about this you mentioned a missing body. What else was missing Bill?” I could feel my guts tightening. Swaggart tilted his head as he cast his mind back.
“Yeah now you mention it, whoever took the chic's body took the medical waste from her autopsy too. That's a student prank Marx. I've got my hands full here,” he said his voice full of fatigue. I walked back into the examination room for privacy.
“What are you telling me Doc?” I said gripping the phone like it was his shirt collar.
“The hearts John. He controls the dead by using their hearts somehow!” he hissed. Awww Shit. I hung up and drew my revolver.
“Bill we need to leave. Right now!” I barked. Out the corner of my eye I saw the bloodied body of the little girl sit bolt upright on the slab.