Halloween jack-o’-lanterns decorated the Lindens’ front porch. Their soft glow illuminated Mark Linden’s dazed expression. Sheriff Kinkade tried to appear positive as he put a gentle hand on Mark’s shoulder. Having no family of his own, Kinkade could only imagine what Mark was going through.
“Is there anyone we can call?” Kinkade hunkered down a bit so his thick six-foot frame didn’t tower over Mark as much.
Mark’s eyes were shut, and Kinkade waited patiently for him to speak. He knew Mark was an educated man, the kind that had been keeping up with current events. Mark would know that his wife wasn’t dead. Not yet.
The Daily Gazette article had been very detailed, more so than Kinkade liked, about the M.O. of the Riverdale Snatcher.
Mark’s eyes opened. “How long do we have…till she’s found?”
The time between abduction and the discovery of the bodies, ritualistically pinned up like a frog on a dissection slab, varied from two to five days. Away from the press, the FBI had shared with Kinkade that it really depended on how much gratification the Snatcher was deriving from the current victim.
“We’re gonna find her,” Kinkade said. “Long before…”
“I just took the kids out trick-or-treating. We were only gone a half-hour. I can’t believe—oh, God, Karen.” Mark sobbed into both hands.
“We’ll find her.” Kinkade tried to remember what church the Lindens attended. It wasn’t St. Andrews, because that was where he went. “Do you go to First Community?”
Mark nodded, his hands still covering his face.
“Would you like me to call Pastor Johansson? I’m sure he c—” From the corner of his eye, Kinkade saw one of his deputies waving at him from the sidewalk. “Excuse me a minute, Mark.”
Kinkade started down the porch steps. By the time his foot hit the grass, he was angry. Whatever reason Deputy Simon had for interrupting, Kinkade knew it would be either trivial or just plain stupid. Most of Kinkade’s deputies were kids fresh out of high school, and not one of them had enough confidence to handle anything on their own. To a veteran like Kinkade, a man with fifteen years as a city cop and two tours of duty in the Marines, it was infuriating.
Kinkade met the deputy in the middle of the lawn. “What the hell is so goddamn important you need to interrupt me every ten seconds, Simon?”
Looking down, Simon seemed to be searching for words in the vicinity of his shoelaces. “You know how you told me ta take pictures of the crime scene?”
Kinkade was hoping to get some shots before the FBI showed up and shut him out again. “Yeah. Did you forget the camera?”
“No, sir, I brought it,” the deputy said. “Batteries are dead, though. Been meaning to swing by the Walgreens for some new ones.”
Kinkade shook his head. The day he first laid eyes on Simon’s resume, he saw no bullet points that listed idiot or first-class moron as his characteristics. Why did I hire this guy?
“I have a camera in my trunk, so never mind that. Here’s what I want you to do,” Kinkade said.
Simon nodded, taking out a notepad.
“Take Mark inside to be with his kids. Then, call Pastor Johansson. Tell him what’s happened and ask him to come over. Then call Karen Linden’s sister. Think she’s in Idlewood. I’m sure Mark would want her here. Times like this a man needs the support of the Lord and his family.”
Simon stopped writing, and then started reading aloud. “Uh, take Mr. Linden inside, call Pastor Johansson and sister in Idlewood. Got it.” The deputy slapped his notebook shut and marched off toward the house.
Kinkade felt an eye roll coming on, but he stopped it, sighed instead, then headed to the street. His squad car, parked at the curb, had a disposable camera in the glove box, but he was hoping that he’d left his digital in the back compartment. When he reached the rear of the car, he paused a moment, remembering the huge mess he’d left in the trunk. To find his camera, he was going to have to dig.
Glancing back at the porch, Kinkade wanted to make sure Simon was following instructions. The orders seemed simple enough, but that had never stopped Simon from screwing them up before. Simon escorted Mark into the house. He shut the door, leaving the porch vacant save for three jack-o’-lanterns, eyes glowing orange.
Their devilishly carved eyes cast an almost knowing stare at Kinkade. A chill crept over his neck, and he slapped it away. He’d never liked jack-o’-lanterns. Damn things gave him the willies.
He popped the trunk and peered inside. Yep, it was full-on mess. Jeez, the camera is probably all the way at the bottom.
He reached in and lifted Karen Linden’s bound feet off the spare tire, and then tried to roll her further back. She still appeared to be unconscious from the blow he’d delivered to the back of her head.
No sign of the camera.
When Kinkade grabbed a fist full of her hair to lift her head, her eyes popped open. She tried to scream through her gag—a sock shoved so far down her throat only the torn fringes of the toe section dangled outside her bleeding lips. Kinkade leaned in, putting his face inches from hers. “Don’t even think about it. Make one sound and I’ll pull that tongue right out of your pretty little head.”
Karen Linden blinked and sunk back into the trunk.
“That’s better,” Kinkade said. “Besides, there will be plenty of time for screaming later.” He released her hair and slammed the trunk closed.
He glanced back at the Linden’s porch, prepared to meet the watchful leer of the glowing jack-o’-lanterns. But there were two more sets of eyes staring back at him that he hadn’t prepared himself for.
Mark and Deputy Simon stood on the porch, looking astonished.
Kinkade shook his head. Simon, you’re such a screw up. The instructions were simple. Take Mark inside, call Johansson, call the sister. What the hell were they doing on the porch?
The deputy went for his gun, but had trouble releasing the holster strap.
Kinkade knew that hiring deputies who made Barney Fife look competent would prove beneficial at some point. He cocked his head and swiftly pulled his revolver, leveling it at the deputy. Before Simon could get his weapon free, Kinkade fired.
The deputy was hit square in the chest and fell back against the house. As he slid down the wall, he finally managed to unholster his pistol. The gun fell into his lap when his butt hit the porch.
Kinkade turned the revolver on Mark. The frightened man dove out of the way. Kinkade fired twice, trying to hit Mark in the air, but his shots shattered the living room window instead. Mark landed out of sight, toppling a few uncarved pumpkins off the porch banister.
Screams came from inside the house. The kids, Kinkade thought. Jeez, I’m in no mood to kill kids.
Neighborhood dogs started barking, porch lights came on, and behind him, across the street, a screen door squeaked open. Damn. He lowered his weapon. Time to move on. This town was about tapped out anyway.
Kinkade stepped around to the driver’s side of his squad car and reached for the door handle. A speeding glint of orange reflected in the car window. When he turned, the pumpkin hit him in the face. The blow knocked him back against the car. His head cracked against the lights on the roof.
He slid down onto the grass, wiping pumpkin guts from his eyes. The juices stung. Pumpkin seeds slid down his cheeks like unwanted tears. His fingers grazed his nose, and he winced in pain. It was probably broken.
Kinkade should have been angry, but he wasn’t. Mark was now fumbling around Simon’s body.
Nice throw, big guy.
Kinkade searched for his gun in the pumpkin innards on the ground. His piece had fallen into the gutter, hammer still cocked. He clasped it as Mark came down the steps, holding something out in front of him.
Kinkade’s eyes focused with a suddenness that made him blink. He brought his revolver up. Mark had Simon’s gun and was rushing across the lawn, pointing the weapon, and frantically searching for the safety.
Kinkade chuckled. That’s the spirit. Fight for it. Kinkade took aim and pulled the trigger.
But nothing happened.
He pulled again. Nothing.
He examined the revolver and couldn’t believe his eyes. Pumpkin seeds, wedged in like a doorstop, were keeping the hammer from falling. He pushed the seeds out with his thumb, then brought the revolver up again, fast.
A pistol shot boomed and flashed before his eyes. The first shot hit his chest like a baseball bat to the ribs. The second and third pierced his gut with the burning intensity of branding irons.
When the shots ended, Mark stood in front of him, silhouetted in the porch light. He was still pointing Simon’s pistol at Kinkade’s chest and, shaking like a child, kept pulling the trigger. Click, click, click.
“Good job, Cowboy,” Kinkade said, choking up blood. He brought his hand to his face. Pumpkin juice dripped down his fingers, mixing with splatters of crimson.
Kinkade convulsed and pulled in a last shallow breath as he glanced up at the Lindens’ porch. Maybe he was hallucinating, but he swore that the jack-o’-lanterns were grinning at him. Twisted grins with glowing malevolence.
Just before he died, Kinkade remembered…he hadn’t actually seen Mark throw the pumpkin.
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