As soon as I finished re-loading, Nadine headed for the classroom door only to find it locked. “Seriously?” she hissed, “They lock classrooms doors an abandoned school? What did they think kids were going to break in and start rummaging through textbooks so they can catch up on homework or something?”
Suppressing a smile I joined her and explained, “Teachers always lock the doors to the classrooms when they leave, and when they left this school they had no idea it wasn't going to reopen. Besides, even if they knew they'd still have locked things up because the school district would still be responsible for anyone, even trespassers, hurting themselves in here.”
“I know one I won't mind hurting,” she murmured under her breath and reached for the handle.
I stopped her, “Too much noise. If the Cannibal's nearby he'll hear it. The hinges are on this side of the door. Do you think you can pull the pins out?”
Smiling she elongated her fingers and with a little super-human strength, the pins were out.
Together we managed to silently pull the door out of the frame, then stepped into the hallway.
Seeing no sign of our quarry, I quickly determined our location and led the way towards the stairwell leading downstairs. I have to admit, even if we weren't hunting a psychopath, the old hallways I'd wandered down so many times seemed kind of eerie. The district had been right to close the place down. Some of the ceiling tiles had collapsed, littering the floor with debris and dust. Not to mention the occasional opened locker which revealed cobwebs and abandoned notebooks. I found myself starting to wonder what might be hidden among the closed ones and shuddered.
Upon reaching the old stairwell, I could see more fallen ceiling tiles and exposed wiring.
“This place is starting to feel more and more like a horror movie set,” Nadine whispered as we carefully made our way down the steps.
“And we're headed for the boiler room where creeps like Freddy Krueger hang out,” I replied in a hushed voice, then a thought hit me. “Hey, Nadine, how about you changing back to your normal form?”
My companion paused on the steps and gave me a curious look. “Why?”
“Because I watched enough of those old slasher movies to know the only girl left always makes it out alive. But any guys with her, especially if they're black like me, they're toast,” I told her.
Rolling her eyes, she glared at me. Then a wicked smirk crossed her face and she whispered, “See you downstairs,” and took off down the steps in a blur.
Cursing myself for having said anything I quickly followed. And for the record I wasn't the least bit annoyed with her for abandoning me like that. I knew damn well if she had sensed the Cannibal anywhere nearby she would never have left my side, even for a joke.
Just before I reached the last step a light came on and I saw my partner standing near the switch staring into the most unnerving area we'd encountered yet. Old white brick walls surrounded us on all sides, with the occasional dark hallway staring at us almost begging us to come and take a look. There was an old chair and abandoned pallet in one corner, along with some big old rusted bins that had seen better days.
Then I noticed Nadine's breathing sounded louder and faster. “He's getting near... and so is someone else.” Closing her eyes she trembled slightly as she concentrated.
'Going back inside his head,' I told myself and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She seemed to appreciate it as the shaking stopped and her eyes flew open. “That way,” she snapped, pointing at one of the dark corridors.
Gun drawn I led the way. As we moved I could here noises up ahead including moaning. Quickening our pace we soon found ourselves in a huge room filled with machinery, boilers and God help me... a fucking cage with a young woman inside it. She was curled up in a ball in one corner of her prison, rocking back and forth in a rhythmic fashion that told the entire story. From what little remained of her torn clothing it was obvious she had suffered much at the Cannibal's hands.
This time Nadine didn't hold back. She rushed right up to the door to the prison and ripped the thing right off its hinges and flung it aside. The sound of tearing metal seemed to cut through the girl's almost catatonic state as she looked up and stared at the two of us, not certain if she could believe what she was seeing.
I placed a hand on Nadine's shoulder and whispered, “Gently, she's been through a lot.”
She gave me an annoyed look and then nodded. “Got it,” she replied and was about to say something else when the young woman stood up and rushed into her arms crying uncontrollably. In the distance I could hear the sirens of my fellow deputies' cars drawing closer. No doubt the killer was nearer too.
That's when I heard the first hint of footsteps coming down the stairs. He was close than I'd thought.
“Nadine!” I murmured, cocking my revolver.
“I know,” came her muffled reply.
Puzzled I turned and saw my companion's face buried in the girl's neck. “What are you...?” I began, when she turned and faced me.
To my relief, there was no blood on her lips. “What did you do?” I asked.
“Gave her peace,” Nadine replied and gently placed the now strangely calm victim into my arms.
“You wiped her memories?” I hissed, in disbelief.
“No, just gave her some strength to cope and recover with time,” my partner answered as she stepped past me.
So she'd given the girl a bit of herself, that was a relief. I was about to say more when our rescuee blurted, “Don't! He'll get you too.”
Nadine paused and gave us both a reassuring smile. Then without saying a word, she headed out of the room.
“What's she going to do?” the girl asked me.
Before I could answer a voice bellowed from the other room saying, “JOANIE! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME? I'M GOING TO...” the rest the words were lost on a cry of despair.
The girl in my arms stiffened for a second and then became calm. “That cry, it was his voice, not hers. What's happening?”
“Let's find out,” I told her and led the way out of the boiler room and down the hallway. As we moved I could hear Nadine speaking softly as we drew closer.
“It's all right, I'm here,” she was saying.
As we stepped into the white bricked room I could see my friend approaching the Cannibal who was slowly backing away until his back was pressed against the far wall.
“DON'T TOUCH ME! I'M FINALLY THE STRONG ONE, NOT YOU!” the killer wailed, his face contorted in a mask of fury as his hands clenched into fists. Yet in spite of all that rage, his arms remained seemingly pinned to the wall. But why? Then it hit me, the Sangui-Sapio was holding him back. It wasn't about to let him harm the one who had shared her life with it.
Nadine took another step closer then stopped and said softly, “It's okay, you can let you go. I'll catch you.”
It was hard to make out in the dim light of the room but then I noticed the bullet holes in the Cannibal's shirt began to move as if of their own accord. Peering closer I finally made out particles of deep red were slowly exiting the tears in the fabric and floating across towards Nadine's extended hand. Once there, they seemed to disappear into the flesh of her palm, and I could see a sense of relief take over my friend.
As the last of the stream of particles disappeared back into her, the Cannibal slumped against the wall and sat there staring at nothing.
Then Nadine turned to us, and I could see her shoulder finally began to heal properly. Within seconds there was no trace of the injury she'd suffered earlier. Smiling she said to the girl in my arms, “It's over, he's done for. Let's get you out of here.”
I caught the faintest glimpse of green mist waft from her hand into the girl's nostrils as she spoke. No doubt the sight of red particles coming out of the Cannibal and going into Nadine's hand would be forgotten.
'Good job,' I mouthed to my partner as we led the girl upstairs.
We'd just reached the top of the steps when Sheriff Parkes and several deputies appeared down the hallway. Upon seeing us they called out and quickly joined us.
“What are you doing here...” my boss began, when he and the others unknowingly inhaled some faint green mist. After a moment, he continued, “You found her! Good job you two. What about our suspect?”
“He's just down those stairs in the basement...” I began when.
“JOANIE! JOANIE YOU BITCH!” came the Cannibal's voice from the stairwell. “I won't let you get away this time. I'll prove I'm stronger than you... you bitch.”
“Get this girl out of here!” Parkes barked at our back-up.
Two of my fellow deputies took care of our charge and moved her down the hallway to safety, the rest of us turned to face the nightmare figure coming up the stairs.
As the Cannibal came into view I noticed fresh blood stains had appeared exactly where he'd been hit by our bullets earlier.
“Joanie...” he said spying Nadine, his voice was husky and his breathing more labored. “You keep coming back to prove I was never enough of a man for you... I joined the army to become stronger... and proved it overseas. I practiced on the whores I found there and found it wasn't me it that was the problem... it was you. You never knew how to satisfy me... but they did. I taught them how, with they're screams, their blood, their flesh.. And then I came back to show you but you'd left... and I had to find you. I had to find you over and over... and prove and prove it all over again, and again and...”
Suddenly the man's eyes rolled up into his head and he toppled back down the steps, ending with a sickening thud at the bottom. Even before we reached him I knew our quarry was dead.
“It's finally over,” one of my fellow deputies breathed.
Parkes nodded, then turned to me saying, “You and Collins two did great tonight. Finding the girl while we had him on the run was a great move. Speaking of having him on the run, we heard from the hospital while we were chasing the bastard. Terri's awake and identified her assailant as our friend here.”
A wave of relief swept over me. Knowing she was out of danger really brought the entire chapter to a close for me. I made a mental note to head to the hospital as soon as we were done here. Unfortunately, there was one last piece of business to attend to here, and I wasn't looking forward to it.
I glanced over at Nadine who gave me a sad little smile. We had agreed back at the bar that it would probably be best for no one to remember her or her part in all of this, but I was having second thoughts about it.
As Nadine approached I said to my boss, “You know to honest I couldn't have done any of this without Detective Collins help. I think it would be good for us to keep her in mind if we need her expertise again down the road. She's something of an expert in handling unusual cases.”
“Is she?” Parkes remarked turning to her. “I know asking you to become part of our team would be a step or two down for you, but I would appreciate it if we could call upon you again in the future.”
For a pregnant moment I half expected to see more greenish vapors, but instead Nadine smiled and extended her hand saying, “Of course. Michael... I mean Deputy Rhodes knows how to get a hold of me.”
“Glad to hear you say that,” my boss replied taking her hand. And he wasn't the only one. I had grown rather fond of this 'other' side of my Uncle Nathan, and I was happy to know may get to see/work with 'her' again one day.