It was like some kind of red soup. I knew it was mostly water, but the color . . . I kept thinking of the cups you use to dye Easter eggs. It looked like a great big cup for dyeing Easter eggs, and just like sometimes happened if you didn't get the mix right, it wasn't exactly red, or pink, but both. I concentrated on the thought of Easter eggs, the smell of vinegar, and better times than this.
The water seemed to swirl, heavier than it was. Probably illusion, but I suddenly had this image of something floating right below the surface. Something that would pop up and try to grab me. I knew it wasn't true. I knew it was just too many horror movies, but my pulse was in my throat, my heart thudding.
I glanced back at Zerbrowski. "You guys don't have any rookies to do this?"
"How do you think we got the first piece out?" he asked.
"That would explain the uniform that was throwing his guts up in the bushes as I came through."
"It's his first week on the job."
"Maybe, but no one else wanted to put their hand in there. When you're finished looking, the techies are going to pump the water out and filter it for evidence. But you get to see it first. Tell me this wasn't a lycanthrope kill, Anita, tell me, and I'll tell the media. It'll quiet down the witch hunt."
"But not the hysteria, Zerbrowski. If this is a second killer, then we've got two of the worst psychos I've seen in St. Louis. I'd love to prove it's not a shape-shifter, but if it's not, then we've got other problems."
He blinked at me. "You'd really be happier if it's the same shape-shifter?"
"Traditionally two separate killers slaughter more people than just one."
"You still think more like a cop than a monster expert, Anita."
"Thanks." I turned back to the tub, and suddenly I knew I was going to do it. I wasn't fishing deeper than the gloves. Too f**king unhealthy, but if I could find a piece with the shorter gloves, I was going to do it.
The water was cold, even through the gloves. I reached down, the line of cold, bloody water creeping up my skin, and with my hand less than halfway in, I hit something solid.
I froze for a moment, took a shallow breath and ran my hand down along what I'd touched. It was soft and solid at the same time, meaty flesh. I came to bone, and it was enough to grip, and raise it free of the water. It was what was left of a woman's arm. The bone showed pinkish white as the water streamed away from it. The end that had attached to the shoulder was crushed. There were man-made tools that would do that kind of damage, but I doubted anyone would have gone to the trouble.
I set the arm aside and went back to where I'd found it. My hand sunk in a little farther this time, and I pulled out a nearly meatless bone. It didn't look like a piece of person, so I didn't think of it that way. I just looked at it as if I'd found an animal in the woods and was trying to figure out what had eaten it. Big teeth, lots of crushing strength. Very few real predators had this kind of bone-cracking strength, but most lycanthropes did. I doubted that some hyena had escaped from the zoo to rampage in a suburban bathroom.
I let the bone drift back into the water, slowly, easing it down, because for some reason I really didn't want it to splash on me.
I turned away from the bathtub, walked carefully to the doorway, stripped off the gloves, threw them in the sack that Zerbrowski held open for me, leaned against the doorjamb, removed the booties, threw them into the garbage sack, stepped out of that awful room, and kept walking until I hit the bedroom.
The air seemed cleaner, more breathable here.
Zerbrowski followed me out, and it was Merlioni who said, "She did it, didn't she?"
Merlioni made a sort of crowing sound. "I knew it, I won."
I looked at him, then at Zerbrowski. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
Zerbrowski didn't even look embarrassed when he said, "We had a bet going on whether you'd actually fish around in the tub."
I sighed and shook my head. "You are all such unmitigated bastards."
"Unmitigated, ooh," said Merlioni, "if you use big words to insult us, Blake, we'll never figure it out."
I looked back at Zerbrowski. "It's a shape-shifter. I don't know if it's the same one. The first vic was done in her bed. Was the second?" He nodded. "This was in the bath, and there's at least two bodies cut up in the bathtub."
"Why two?" Zerbrowski asked.
"Because the pile is too damn high to be only one woman's body, especially since he ate parts of it."
"You say 'he,' like you know."
I shook my head. "I don't know, but I'm assuming male, because you don't find many women willing to do this kind of shit. It happens, but it's rare."
"We actually got a witness that the woman who owns the house and another girlfriend were seen entering the residence at about 2 A.M." Zerbrowski had his eyes closed, as if he were quoting. "They appeared drunk, and there was a man with him."
"You have a witness?" I asked.
"If the man who brought them home is the shape-shifter, and not part of what is in the bathtub, yeah."
I hadn't thought about that. "He could be in the tub. By the way, why is the water so deep, why isn't the overflow valve working?"
"Our rookie says a piece of body has been stuffed into the valve."
I shivered. "No wonder he freaking threw up."
"I lost on that one," Merlioni said.
"Lost on what?" I asked.
"Most of us bet you'd be sick."
"Who bet I wouldn't be?"
Zerbrowski cleared his throat. "Me."
"What did you win?"
"Dinner for two at Tony's."
"What did you win for me fishing in the tub?" I asked Merlioni.
"Money," he said.
I shook my head. "I hate you all." I started for the door.
"Wait, we got one more bet," Merlioni said, "who was the chickie on the phone when Zerbrowski woke you?"
I was about to let loose a scathing comment, when a voice from the door stopped me. "Haven't seen anything this bad since New Mexico?"
I turned to find my favorite FBI agent in the doorway. Special Agent Bradley Bradford smiled and offered me his hand.
Bradley was with the Special Research Section; it was a new division set up to handle preternatural crime. We'd last worked together on some very gruesome murders in New Mexico.
I took his firm handshake and gave one of my own. He smiled, and I think we were both actually glad to see each other. But his gaze swept the room until he found Zerbrowski. "Sergeant Zerbrowski, you must be living right."
Zerbrowski moved towards us. "What do you mean, Agent Bradford?"
He held up a slender manila folder. "There's a store across the street from the club where the two women went to last night. The store got robbed last year and put in a very nice surveillance system."
All the joking was gone; Zerbrowski was very serious all of a sudden. "And?"
"They caught a picture of a man matching the neighbor's description with the two women last night. They walked right past the store window." He opened the folder. "I took the liberty of getting a still made."
"And passed it to all of your men," Merlioni said.
"No, detective, this is the only copy, and I brought it here first."
Merlioni looked like he would have argued, but Zerbrowski cut him off. "I don't care who solves this, as long as we get this guy."
"I feel the same way," Bradley said.
I didn't exactly believe Bradley. Last time we'd talked, his little division had been in jeopardy of being disbanded, and their cases given back to the Investigative Support--read Serial Killer--Unit. Bradley was one of the good guys, he really did care more about solving crimes than career advancement, but he also cared about his new unit. He felt strongly that the feds needed one. I agreed with him. So why was he handing over the only copy of the picture? Sharing made sense, simply giving it to us didn't.
"What do you think, Anita?" he asked me.
I glanced down at the photo. It was black and white, pretty good quality actually. Two women were laughing up at the tall man in between them. The brunette on the left matched some of the pictures downstairs. I hadn't asked the name of the woman who owned the house. I hadn't wanted to know. Not knowing had made it easier to go into that bathroom and paw through the remains.