****Another note from the author: Sorry gang, I know I said this would be the final installment, but the story is just too big. Next time will bring about the end of this saga from Nathan's long life, with a possible epilogue installment from Nathan's point of view. In the meantime, enjoy.****
“You four okay?” my boss asked as he helped us to our feet.
I was glad to see he'd finally climbed out of the pond and had not been seriously injured, but the same couldn't be said for his equipment.
“My radio didn't like taking a dip,” he told me gesturing at his shoulder, “But I saw which direction he was headed in. So I need to you get a hold of the patrol cars on the south side of the park. Tell them to intercept if possible and to use force if necessary. I don't know what he's on but that guy is more dangerous than we ever suspected.”
As I did so, Nadine suddenly grabbed my arm and snapped, “Cancel the last part of that order. Tell them to pursue but not engage!” Then she quickly turned to my boss and added, “He's got another girl stashed away somewhere. No doubt that's where he's headed. If he we follow he'll lead us right to her, and right now with him all pumped up we're her only hope.”
I could see my boss' expression was about to turn ugly when a greenish mist snaked its way from behind his neck and into his nostrils. In the blink of an eye, he face softened and he nodded. “You heard the lady, Rhodes. Give the order.”
Obediently I relayed the message, then checked on the two deputies who'd been thrown at me and Nadine. Aside from being bruised and a little shaken, both were ready to rejoin the pursuit. Just then my radio came to life as two of the patrol cars had caught a glimpse of a figure in fatigues racing down Maple Street and had started to follow.
“We've got him in our sights,” one of the driver's reported, “But damn the guy is fast. Every time we start to close in he pours it on and starts pulling away and... HOLY SHIT, he just vaulted over the ten foot fence around the high school basketball courts.”
“That's seven blocks from here...,” Sheriff Parkes began then stopped. “Wait...Jenkins repeat what you just said about the fence!”
“They guy just jumped over it like runner in the middle of a hurdle race,” came the incredulous reply. “What the hell is he on, Crystal Meth/steroid combo or something?”
I stole a quick glance at Nadine who was now standing unusually silent with her arms clutching each other across her chest. She seemed to be breathing rather heavily, as if she herself was there in the middle of the chase. Then it hit me. She was still in touch with the Sangui-Sapio! That was how she knew about the other girl the guy was already holding. And now she was trying to see inside the Cannibal's head and figure out where he was holding her.
Just then the other patrol car called in saying, “This is Unit 3 we've just finished circling around to the front of the school. But there's no sight of our perp.”
“He's either hiding somewhere inside the building, or he he's laying low somewhere on the grounds,” my boss surmised, then snapped, “Rhodes, Collins, you're with me.
“Boiler Room,” muttered Nadine suddenly as her eyes snapped open.
All eyes turned towards her.
“What was that, Collins?”
“He's got her hidden away in the boiler room,” she replied darkly.
One of my brothers in brown began to protest. “There's no way he could keep a girl hidden down there, that's where the janitors hang out. I should know, a bunch of us used to visit with them in between classes.”
“You're thinking the senior high school,” Parkes pointed out, “What about the old junior high building on the far side of the campus? It was closed down about seven years ago due to structural issues and was fenced off from the rest of the grounds to keep the kids out, while they decided whether or not to salvage the place.”
“I remember seeing something about that. They decided last year to tear it down and a construction company put up a portable office so they could have someone there at all times to keep an eye on the equipment they were moving in and...” suddenly I stopped myself. If our boy was part of the advanced crew who was getting things ready for the demolition project he'd have had time to explore every part of the building including the old boiler room down in the basement.
Sheriff Parkes seemed to be thinking the same thing, as he turned to one of the deputies, “Have the patrol cars surround the construction zone and begin casing the area. He may not have gotten inside yet. Tell them to enter the building only if they spot him going in. Otherwise they're to wait for my arrival. You two with me.” This was directed at our assistance. Then turning to me he baredk, “Rhodes, you get Collins seen to at the hospital. Her back and shoulder aren't looking too good.”
I began to protest, but Nadine stopped me with a glance.
“I'll get her checked out,” I told him.
Nodding he took off with the other two deputies.
“Now what?” I hissed in case they were in earshot.
“You're getting on my back and directing me to that school,” she replied and hunched down.
Obediently, I did as she instructed and in a flash the scenery around us turned into a blur, only occasionally snapping back into focus as Nadine waited for where to turn next. In the distance I could hear my boss' siren blaring telling me we were still way ahead. After one last blur, the abandoned junior high building stood before us.
We'd approached from the back, so the patrol cars already on site had no hint of our presence. “I really should alert them...” I began.
“And possibly give our position away to the Cannibal?” Nadine cut in abruptly. “He's not here yet, but he is close.”
I frowned. “He had a huge head start, especially with the speed he was moving at.”
“Yeah, but now he and the part he stole from me he are having a disagreement,” she replied looking around.
“How do you mean?” I asked, eyeing her shoulder again. In spite of having finally closed up, it looked like it might re-open at any time, and I began to worry about the one in her back as well.
Nadine didn't answer right away. Instead she closed her eyes for a moment before answering. “The Sangui-Sapio is all about preserving life and our friend the Cannibal...”
“Is all about torturing and killing,” I finished, as my mind flashed back to a moment in the park. “So when you were saying all that stuff about being frightened you were talking to the Sangui-Sapio, trying to coax it out of him.”
She nodded. “It's found itself trapped inside a mind that's full of rage and a desire to end life. And it's realized that it cannot get him to change. It wants to reject him, but because of all the repair work it's done on his body, he was too quick and got away. It needs me to be nearby so it has somewhere to go. Otherwise, it won't survive for very long on its own. That's what happened when it found me all those years ago. It had just been driven out of another host and was desperately trying to find a life form to merge with.”
This time she cut me off by asking, “How well do you know the layout of this building?”
“Like the back of my hand, I spent three years in this place,” I replied, studying the structure. “And as you already surmised the boiler room is in the basement, just below the gym.”
Nodding we headed towards the nearest broken window and carefully climbed inside.
As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I could make out the rows of empty desks all facing a big desk at the front of the room. There were old posters and even a few old homework assignments still attached to the bulletin boards that were parked next to the blackboards. I could barely make out an old faded chalk message on one of the blackboards that simply read “Goodbye”. Apparently, during the time the school board was deciding whether or not to save the old place, they'd never bothered having anyone clean out the rooms. There were even stacks of old textbooks piled up in a corner.
If it was like this on the main floor, God only knew what the basement level must be like. I'd gone down there once looking for the janitor and had gotten lost. There had been so many doors and hallways leading to all kinds of storage rooms along with the heat, electrical, and water systems down there. There was no telling where the Cannibal might have stashed his latest victim.
“Hey, wait a minute,” I whispered as we reached the door that led out of the classroom. “You said earlier that the Cannibal already has a girl captive down in the boiler room. Why did he try to grab another girl tonight if he already has one still alive?”
Nadine didn't look at me as she answered, “The last couple he killed weren't quite as 'satisfying' as the earlier ones. So he decided to increase the level of excitement. The more terrified they are the more fun it is for him. And what's more terrifying than seeing what someone has in store for you, by watching it happen to another?”
Quietly I reloaded my gun. The nightmare had to end, tonight.