Max Crawford's

Walt was hungry. It was 2AM and he hadn't eaten since the night before.

He leaned against building and waited for the johns in their cars to come by. Someone would come. Someone always did. The bars were closing right about now. There'd be guys out hunting, prowling. Someone would need him tonight, he was sure of it.

A light breeze husked down the street, picking up scraps of paper and the occasional leaf. During the day this was a busy commercial street, full of important people in suits carrying briefcases. The cops always chased Walt away when he tried to hustle here during the day, but at night they generally left him alone. The halo about the yellow streetlights would have looked intimate and even pious if the rest of the street wasn't so seedy.

Headlights approached. Walt tried to look cool. He took a drag on his cigarette and watched the vehicle pass. It didn't look promising. It was a beat-up old van. It had been dark blue at one point, but now was just rusty and dirty. The van slowed, the driver made eye contact, then pulled around the corner.

Walt sighed. The john would be back, or he wouldn't. Walt pealed his t-shirt over his head and tucked it into his jeans at his right hip. His body was lean and his ribs showed. But his abdomen still rippled too. It hadn't been so long ago that Walt had lived in a house and had a family who cared about him. He'd had his own little set of weights and had worked out almost every night.

A set of headlights pulled out from an alley and turned toward him. The van again. Good. Maybe they'd feed him, or at least give him enough money he could get a burger. And cigarettes. Walt thought his father would die if he saw Walt smoking, then remembered the last words they had exchanged, and the blows. Walt rubbed his right eye. The bruises were gone now, at least the ones that showed.

The van stopped at the curb in front of Walt. He took a final drag on his cigarette, stubbed it out on the sidewalk and sauntered up to the van. He leaned on the passenger side and peered in through the open window. "Hey."

The inside of the van was filthy, full of crumpled fast food containers and stained clothing. Something smelled very bad. "Hey yourself." The man's voice was high and whiny and he sounded like he needed to clear his throat. A grimy cast encased his left arm. "What's a nice young man like you doing out so late?"

Walt pulled his dark hair back from his forehead. "Hey, you wouldn't have a cigarette would you?"

The man patted at the seat beside him and grinned. He looked creepy, but Walt was hungry.

Such a simple thing it was, a pickup, a shared cigarette, maybe some shared sex and mutual comfort in exchange for food or money. It was as simple as that really, with a pitiable tatter of hope, that Walt's life ended.

II.

The man in the leather motorcycle jacket swaggered through the student union cafeteria. He wore tight denim pants with a button fly and a clinging black t-shirt.

Alain averted his eyes.

Leather Jacket stood in line, gazing over the noontime cafeteria crowd. His dark hair was buzzed close to his head and he had a short goatee. His hushed eyes probed. A predator's eyes, thought Alain.

Alain gulped his coffee. Time to go, before he got hard. People might see. Leather Jacket's eye's had long, delicate lashes. They were a deep brown, almost black. Foreboding and alluring at the same time.

Leather Jacket's gaze snapped onto Alain, riveting him to his chair. Alain felt his cock stiffen, felt his heart pulse. Danger. This was danger. Alain was marked, prey frozen and exposed.

Leather jacket moved on in line, paid for his coke, and left the cafeteria. Alain's chest heaved, he wiped his suddenly sweaty palms on his slacks. He was safe. Disappointed too. For there is a symmetry to the universe, and it is not only predators whose needs are met by the hunt.

Alain returned to Pike Hall, to the Office of Admissions. He spent the rest of his afternoon processing applications to the Browning College of Arts and Sciences. This one will be a freshman next year, that one's scores are too low even for BCA&S. A stroke of Alain's pen and another fate is settled. A small job in a small college in a small state. For a small soul. Or so it seemed to Alain.

That was Seth, the registrar. Seth had somehow wound up at BCA&S thirty years ago in the sixties. He'd been strung out on drugs and fleeing a boring middle class Bronx family. He was now old and fat and mostly bald. The only remnant of his youthful rebellion was a shoulder length fringe of iron-gray frizzy hair.

Seth slapped Alain on the shoulder.

Alain hated being touched, especially by Seth. He didn't quite cringe.

Alain gestured vaguely at the applications piled on his desk.

Seth had been married four or five times, depending on which story he felt like telling. He currently lived alone.

This time Alain did shudder.

Alain nervously straightened papers on his desk, worrying frantically about fending off a pass from his creepy boss.

Alain licked his lips, and glanced nervously up at Seth.

Seth slapped Alain again on the shoulder.

Seth was already walking away, having dismissed Alain from his thoughts.

Alain stood. He was short, only about five eight, and very lean. He had once worked out, hoping to build muscles like Arnold or van Damme. Instead he'd just gotten more sinewy. Still, he was not bad looking, with handsome features and crystal blue eyes. But his inverted manner, his shambling and huddled gait, his geeky clothes and his crew cut left him with few romantic opportunities. Of course, he was not especially interested in romantic opportunities, and certainly not with women. But no one at the office knew that. Alain himself didn't ponder what he was interested in. Alain didn't really live his life, it just happened to him.

Alain followed his usual path to his efficiency apartment, about a mile from campus. Alain's route took him by the intramural athletic fields. Despite the hazy fall drizzle, there were a group of young men out playing touch football. Alain pulled his coat tighter and walked to the far side of the field.

Alain walked on.

Alain looked across the field. Several young men in athletic shorts and sweatshirts stood staring at him. He could see their chests heaving from their game. One of them had a muddy wound on his knee with a trickle of blood running down his hairy muscular leg.

One of the young men pointed.

Alain looked around. There it was, a football, not twenty feet from him. He knew he'd never be able to throw it all the way to the young men, but how could he ignore them? Alain looked around for rescue, but there was no one else there. Alain looked again at the young men. He was trapped. He inched toward the football, picked it up. It was large in his hands, rough and hard. He gripped it as hard as he could, rotated his body and flung the ball toward the players.

The football floundered through the air, bounced once, then rolled to a stop about a third of the way to the players. Alain stood, grief-stricken and humiliated.

Alain heard scornful laughter from the young men. No one said thank you.

Alain turned and rushed on. He didn't want to face anyone else. Not tonight. Not in person, anyway. He'd take a short cut home, across the railroad tracks and through the old Parish cemetery.

The sun was just setting when Alain got to the cemetery. The skeletal branches of autumn trees fretted in the wind. The rain had turned to infinitesimal droplets of gray mist. Alain, like the colorless stones about him, was covered with a dewy gloss. In the middle of the cemetery stood the cowled figure, the resolute concrete statue of a monk with a hooded veil obscuring his bowed face. Alain paused, disgusted. Someone had defaced the statue with red paint, spattered over the veil and chest. In the misty effluence, it almost appeared that tears of blood flowed from the shrouded eyes of the figurine.

Alain felt his throat constrict with anger, close to tears himself. The statue was innocent, had hurt no one. Why would anyone deface this solemn figure, too humble and sad to even reveal its features?

III.

Dr. Lucy Wallach, Professor of Zoology, had this thing about spermophilus beecheyi. They were her life, really. She was immersed with their loves, their families, their diets, their grooming habits, their genetics, with everything about them. No one knew more about spermophilus beecheyi than Lucy. Or at least, no one at Browning College of Arts and Sciences.

Nearly thirty years ago, when Lucy had first arrived at BCA&S, she had persuaded her dean to let her use a remote five acre tract of land owned by the College for her research. Every day for the last thirty years she had visited her furry friends. Every day, of course, except for her regular treks to meetings of the Western States Section of the American Zoological Society. Nearly every month she presented a new paper at the Section's meetings. One month it might be on promiscuous behaviors in spermophilus beecheyi, another month it might be on housekeeping in the nest. Last year she'd presented a paper on same gender pair bonding that had even been written up in the big city newspapers. Lucy loved her little creatures with a dedication most people reserve for their children or their spouse.

The town of Lagrange had grown in the last thirty years. Lucy's little research park and her beloved spermophilus beecheyi now were surrounded on three sides by housing developments. Children from the cracker-box houses played in the little wilderness, sometimes disrupting her observations. More and more Lucy had found evidence that her research habitat was being degraded. Children used her research lab for a sandbox. Teenagers left beer cans and condoms scattered about. Totally degenerate, that'2s what they were.

Even worse, the neighborhood didn't appreciate the importance of spermophilus beecheyi. They thought only of yards and gardens and believed the fascinating animals were a nuisance! There had been several nasty meetings with the neighborhood association and threats of lawsuits over "ground squirrels." Ground squirrels, indeed! Just last week someone had even planted underground traps in her research park and had killed several of her subjects.

So far the administration at BCA&S had been supportive, but lately Lucy had heard that a developer had offered to purchase her research park.

Lucy almost stomped through her little domain.

Lucy halted abruptly and bent to examine freshly disturbed earth in the middle of the park. The dried late autumn foliage had been scraped aside and the soil was heaped up where someone had filled in a small hole. Something was buried something here in the midst of her children. "Bastards!" Lucy was certain that someone had set another underground trap, like before.

A cold drizzle misted through the bare branches, glistening on the exanimate ground cover. Lucy knelt down and began to dig at the soft soil with her hands. She stopped momentarily to wipe her glasses against her blue jeans, clearing the accumulated mist. Glasses back on, her hair in disarray, she dug more carefully, wary of snaring her fingers in a trap. A streak of mud now ran across her forehead.

There! Something was buried right there! The sandy clay was stained brownish-red, almost like it was blood-soaked.

Lucy fingers clawed more frantically at the loose soil, certain she would find a tiny, furry corpse. There was something buried here, all right, something cold and purplish. Clearly recently buried too, given how easily Lucy's fingers displaced the soil.

There it was! Lucy pulled the object from the soil.

Lucy froze, then flung the object to the ground. It was then that she started screaming, endlessly screaming. It was nearly ten minutes before one of the neighborhood boys came to see what the fuss was about. Not too much later, the police arrived.

IV.

Alain was almost home. He was still angry at how the figure in the cemetery had been defaced. He felt unclean, as though it had happened to his own body. He just wanted to get home, draw a hot bath and rest.

A beat up old blue van wheezed by in a foul cloud of exhaust. Alain waved his hand in front of his face in irritation. It would have been better to just stay in bed today. The van stopped about a half a block away. Alain saw a stooped man get out, struggling with some packages. His right arm was in a cast. The van pulled off, leaving Alain and the man alone on the street.

Strange. This was not a residential district. In fact, this was not the greatest neighborhood — the south side of the cemetery had been a warehouse district, running along the old railroad tracks. Now many of the buildings were abandoned, others were used by marginal businesses that opened only intermittently. Why had the van let the man off here?

The man struggled with his packages. Just as Alain was a few paces away, one of the bags split open and the contents spilled onto the sidewalk. The man's shoulder's visibly slumped.

Alain stooped down and began to pick up canned goods.

The man's voice was whiny and high-pitched.

The man's speech was rapid and without inflection, wheezy and irritating despite his words. The man was thin and curiously proportioned. He had long arms and legs and a short torso.

Alain looked about at the shabby warehouses. His apartment was five blocks away, near where some newly dilapidated apartments had recently been built.

Alain wished the man would clear his throat. His high whiny voice would be easier to take if it just didn't gurgle.

Alain couldn't imagine where the guy lived, unless he was a homeless squatter living in one of these buildings. Anything was possible, he supposed. Poor guy.

The man's voice trailed off. His wide-brimmed fedora shadowed his face, but his eyes seemed to peer with a supplicant glow from within the adumbration of his hat. Alain caught a glimpse of a lantern jaw and missing teeth.

Alain truly felt sorry for the man. He really wanted to go home, to end this nasty day, but he couldn't abandon a fellow human in need. He took a deep breath.

He managed a faint smile. He trudged off, following the pathetic man whose arm was in a cast.

The whiny man led Alain up the stairs at the back of one of the old warehouses.

It looked completely abandoned to Alain.

The door creaked open and Alain stepped inside, grateful to be out of the cold drizzle. Even with the door open it was pitch black inside. Alain turned to face the pathetic man.

The man gestured vaguely. Alain noticed a faint tremor in his hand, an eagerness in his voice.

Alain turned and inched forward in the darkness.

The man heaved a bubbly sigh.

Alain's shoulder rubbed against a wall. He decided to follow that. It was darker still, and his nose was picking up a most unpleasant scent. No electricity probably meant no plumbing or sewer lines either. Who knew what might be in this building. Alain was more convinced than ever that the poor guy was homeless.

Without warning Alain was shoved from behind, between his shoulder blades. He gasped and reached out to break his fall, canned goods cascading to the floor. Even as he fell, he felt a heavy weight tumble onto him, felt his arms trapped in an iron grasp.

That had to be the homeless man. How was Alain supposed to hold anyone down? He struggled to at least roll over, but was trapped by something, by someone on top of him. If only he could see!

Then Alain felt a sharp jabbing pain in his leg.

Yes, that was the homeless man. He must be talking to Alain's assailant!

There was another sharp pain in his thigh, followed by a dull ache.

Alain struggled, but now he felt a dullness between his eyes, a vague aloofness in his arms and legs. Then his hearing began to fade. I need to get out of here, he thought. What is happening to me?

He tried to scream, but all that came out was a whisper.

Then he was silent.

In the flickering light two men stood over Alain. The homeless man had removed the fake cast from his arm. His companion, shorter and with a much heavier build, stood by him.

The shorter man rubbed his arm.

V.

Lucy sat and stared at her ruined research park. Ever since that dreadful discovery this afternoon her life had seemed to come apart. First there had been a seemingly endless stream of men in uniform stomping through her research park. Then the digging had started, destroying the natural environment so necessary to her research. Finally a bulldozer had arrived on a flatbed truck, and was even now plowing up the homes of her subjects, her children, her spermophilus beecheyi. Her whole reason f2or existing had been destroyed, just like that, in one evening. And no seemed to care. Worse, no one seemed to notice.

Lucy pulled a scarf more tightly over her head, huddled and wept. In the distance men murmured to one another. Lucy was beyond caring.

The police chief stood next to his only detective, Sam Sondergard, and the county coroner.

Sam sighed. No doubt he'd have to do all the work, micro-managed by Chief Watson who would take all the credit.

The coronor chimed in,

Sam sighed again. The idiot. Maybe the mayor would listen to reason.

Sam looked angrily at this boss. The only reason he was in this rinky-dink town in the first place was to work on his master's degree in criminology at Browning.

Sam made no comment. Rinky-dink town, blubbery, fat-ass, stupid small-town politicians, and no union to protect him.

The chief stared at Sam belligerently.

Sam sighed. Maybe he could work something out with his professors.

Just then a huge bus pulled in with a huge red CNN logo on the side. Sam saw the satellite uplink antenna on the roof of the bus. Oh God, the national media have already picked this up, thought Sam.

The chief made a futile effort to pull in his belly as he swaggered over to where the news crew was setting up. Sam and coroner stood and watched the bulldozer.

Sam pulled at a cigarette and gazed over the site. Red strobe lights from the emergency vehicles pulsed across the landscape. The bulldozer growled, plowing up trees and shrubs, searching.

The coroner shrugged.

Both men stood inside the yellow police lines, with thrill-seekers from the surrounding neighborhood jammed behind them.

Sam inhaled, then let the smoke seep from his nostrils.

Sam stroked his goatee.

The bulldozer's roar interrupted their conversation.

Sam snuffed his cigarette and pulled his leather jacket tighter. The bulldozer continued to prowl, the rain continued to fall. Lucy Wallach huddled in Sam's patrol car, weeping. For everyone else, life went on.

VI.

The smell was the first thing that Alain noticed. It was a putrid rotting smell, mixed in with shit and piss. Alain wanted to breathe through his mouth to avoid the smell, but for some reason just his nose was working.

Sound came back to him next. He heard a murmur of low voices, muffled, as if in another room. And there was a dripping sound from a leaky faucet. Plop, plop, plop. Sensations were slowly returning; his arms and shoulders ached, as though they had been straining for some time. He felt a chill breeze from someplace waft across his body.

Alain pried his eyes open. For some reason they were encrusted with a gritty husk. There were candles arrayed around him, dozens of candles in an otherwise dark room. Candles on the floor, candles on shelves, candles behind him.

Then the scene abruptly came into focus. Alain would never forget the moment when those vague shapes so suddenly coalesced into horrible reality there in the gloomy, flickering light. Alain tried to scream, but his mouth still wasn't working. He tried to flee, but his wrists and ankles wouldn't move. His body could only writhe helplessly, pleading futilely for escape.

Alain was spread-eagled upright, bound with duct tape to an X-shaped cross. He was totally naked and someone had shaved off all of his body hair! He wondered if his head was shaved too? His legs were stretched taught just above the floor so that, if he stretched, his toes would just touch the ground. Alain did so, and the muscles in his arms and shoulders relaxed somewhat. He must have duct tape about his mouth too, which would explain why he couldn't open it.

But it was the shapes in the room that held Alain's attention. There, in that rusty brown puddle, that had to be a severed human head. It gleamed purplish and swollen and was covered with filth, but even so it was recognizable. And nailed to the wall over there, those slimy bloody things had to be severed arms and legs. One whole wall appeared to be a rack for small jars of some kind. The room was too dim for Alain to discern what was in them, but his imagination was running wild.

And now that he saw the source of the smell, it was unbearable.

What was happening to him? Where was this place?

Alain remembered walking home, remembered the mutilated statue and remembered helping the homeless man with his groceries. Wait! He'd been mugged! He looked down and saw two nasty purple bruises on his right thigh. Now that he saw them, they ached. That must be from an injection. They must have drugged him and dragged him here! But why, oh lord why, would anyone do that to him?

Alain jerked his head and saw the homeless man enter the room. He was chewing on a piece of fried chicken and his cast was gone. What was going on?

The man took another bite from his chicken. He chewed with his mouth open.

His short companion came into the room, also gnawing on a piece of chicken.

The man's mouth was full of food and crumbs dribbled down his chest as he spoke.

Both men wore dungarees, t-shirts and laced-up leather boots. The lure, the homeless guy, also wore a leather vest. Both had skulls tattooed to their forearms.

The homeless guy slapped the fat one, Bubba.

Bubba lowered his eyes, chewed and swallowed. He brushed chicken skin and breading from his belly.

His voice was still bubbly and coarse, but it had lost its irritating whine. Now it was frothy and menacing.

Bobby lit a cigarette and walked up to Alain. He stopped directly in front of him and blew smoke in his face.

He stuck his face closer to Alain.

Alain shook his head, his eyes rolled this way and that. What did this creep want? What could he do? Suddenly he felt Bobby stroking his genitals, rubbing up and down his cock.

He yanked on Alain's cock, then took another drag on his cigarette.

Bobby squinted at his cigarette, then casually, almost as an afterthought, snuffed it out on Alain's right nipple.

Even the duct tape couldn't completely muffle Alain's howl of agony.

VII.

Sam sat at a picnic table with a pitiable pile of evidence in front of him. He had been given the storage garage where the city usually kept road maintenance equipment as his evidence barn. It was full of trays of dirt and mud, but here in front of him was the little evidence they'd been able to find.

There was a Browning class ring with the initials DAG. That would belong to Douglas Antony Gleason, missing person from five months ago.

There were several cigarette butts and a filthy rumpled empty Camels pack. There were no prints on that, but there were some bloodstained smudges. It was human blood, type AB negative.

There was a bloody jock strap with the name "P. Moulton" penned into it. Pete Moulton was another missing person; his blood type had been AB negative.

He had also found a badly damaged polaroid negative. He'd taken that to the imaging lab at the college. They might be able to produce something for him by later today.

Of course, the coroner had the forensic evidence, for what it was worth. Moulton had been in ROTC, before being kicked out for being gay. But he'd been fingerprinted. The hand was his.

Gleason was rumored to be gay too, although his girl friend denied it. But Sam thought otherwise — he'd remembered meeting Gleason in Lagrange's only gay bar. The two had talked one night nearly a year ago, but Gleason wasn't really Sam's type so nothing had ever come of it.

Sam thought. There was one other missing persons report, Walt Sedgewick, a kid just out of high school. His father had found him in bed with his boyfriend and had kicked him out of the house. Two weeks later his mother, a mousy little woman, had reported him missing. At the time Sam assumed that he'd run off to the city, like so many abused kids. Now he wondered if parts of him had wound up in Professor Wallach's research park.

Sam picked up another piece of paper from the picnic table. There had actually been five other young men reported missing in the little towns surrounding Lagrange in the last year. One of the young men had been arrested for public sex (with another man, of course, the police never arrested hetero couples for sex in "lover's lanes"). The report on another indicated that he was "openly gay" — a phrase Sam hated.

Sam was pretty sure that he was dealing with a serial killer who targeted gay men. He sighed. It was almost inevitable that the Chief would find out that Sam was gay too, which would almost certainly cost him his job. What shit. Gay guys get killed for no reason, and the gay officer assigned to the case gets canned for no reason.

Sam lit a cigarette and leaned back. So far, he had no clue where to look. He knew that serial killings were the most difficult to solve since the victim and the murderer usually had no prior connection. The killer was likely to be someone his neighbors thought a mild-mannered recluse. Which described lots of people, including myself, thought Sam.

Sam gestured at tiny pile of evidence.

Brad was another criminology student. He worked part time for the Browning security force.

Town-gown relations had been at a low ebb lately.

Brad grinned ruefully.

As they walked across campus, Sam stopped in the imaging lab.

Marcie smiled up at him from her computer.

Outside the lab, Brad said,

Brad grinned and nudged Sam. Brad and his wife knew that Sam was gay and had no problem with it. Still, there was no reason for Sam to out Marcie to them. That was her business. Sam and Marcie had met helping out at the local high school gay student group.

The video tape was black and white and grainy. The lighting was poor, but the Dean's daughter was certainly identifiable. Sam's eyes were riveted on the tape — not on the sexual images but on the background. Perhaps he'd see something. The two youthful figures left. The tape ran on. The little woods was remarkably quiet, not a creature was stirring.

Brad grinned.

VIII.

Sweat gleamed on Alain's body. The candles gave everything a threatening ruddy hue. The two men stood before him, smoking. The smell was as strong as ever, but somehow Alain no longer noticed it, proof that in time the body can adjust to almost anything.

The two men had moved the cross Alain was attached to. Now he was horizontal, on his back. That was a relief: his legs and arms no longer ached. Even his abdomen had started to hurt. Alain had read that crucifixion had killed people through collapsed rib cages. He was relieved to be on his back.

Bobby's unclean voice bubbled over the candlelight. Bubba circled around behind the table had held Alain's head up. Alain could tell from the feel of the fingers on his skull that his head had been shaved too.

Bobby slowly started to unbuckle his pants. Alain could see his hard dick sticking up inside his underwear. He wore little-boy style briefs, loose on his skinny body. He walked between Alain's legs and stuck his fingers up Alain's ass.

Alain's eyes widened. Actually, he had been fucked. He'd even had a boyfriend, once. Then Tim had moved away and Alain's life had devolved to insensate monotony. But for sure Alain did not want Bobby to fuck him, not like this. He tightened his sphincters.

Alain felt the fingers massage his ass and, despite his fear, he felt his own cock start to harden as his prostate was massaged.

Alain gasped when Bobby finally stuck his cock inside of him. He tried again to scream when Bubba began twisting at his tortured, blistered right nipple. The duct tape about his mouth muffled his screams. The duct tape at his wrists and ankles give him just enough freedom to writhe about, trying vainly to avoid the tortures being administered. Alain felt Bobby's hips slam again and again into his buttocks, felt his ass turning raw from the friction inside. Worst of all, Alain felt his own cock harden and begin flop in rhythm with Bobby.

Bobby's whispers frothed from his lips, a yellow spittle ran from one corner of his mouth down his chin. Alain could hear Bubba's heavy breathing, and saw that he too had exposed his cock and was jacking off above Alain's face.

Suddenly Bobby's thrusting came harder. One, two, three hard jabs into Alain. Bobby's face was turned heavenward, his eyes closed. He groaned hoarsely, then looked down at Alain.

Bubba trotted around between Alain's legs, his trousers at his ankles. Bubba apparently did not believe in underwear. Alain again felt the thrusting between his legs, the raw friction inside of himself. This was less painful somehow, even though Bubba was repugnant. Alain could smell his foul breath even over the other horror orders of this place.

Bubba took less time than had Bobby. It minutes he was grunting, grasping Alain's thighs, then was finished. He didn't bother to pull up his pants.

Then Alain felt something hot washing across his body. He lifted his head in time to see Bobby standing next to him, pissing on him. Bobby redirected the flow over Alain's face. Alain shook his head. The stench was overpowering. He felt himself gagging, and desperately controlled it. If he threw up now, with the duct tape over his mouth, he'd strangle. Bubba laughed and started to piss on him too. What else would they do to him?

Bobby walked away. Maybe they'd let him alone now. At least for a little while. Alain's body ached inside and out. His ass felt afire where they'd fucked him. His skin burned, especially his tit where the piss had boiled against the blister.

Bobby came back with his hands behind his back.

Bobby's right had drifted into sight. He held a small jar, apparently from the wall Alain had seen when he first woke in this place.

Alain stared. Something floating in liquid, something with a ragged end. Was that a single eye? Alain's eyes widened as he realized that the jar contained a severed cock.

Bobby stroked Alain's still hard cock.

Alain felt his heart racing. How did he get into this nightmare anyway? Who were these insane animals?

Alain felt Bubba pulling at his cock, then saw that Bobby was approaching with some kind of tool. NO, not now! Alain started to writhe on the table, his eyes bugging out of his head. He felt the tape digging into his wrists, he saw blood seep out from underneath his bonds. Surely they were not going to cut off his cock? Not now?

Alain saw the tool fold over his cock, then felt an enormous pressure at the base of his cock.

Bobby held up the tool.

Bobby smiled at Alain.

Bobby smiled. Bubba snickered. Then the two men left the room.

IX.

The cell phone shrilled, startling Sam hunched in the glow of the television screen. Without taking his eyes off the screen, he pulled out his phone.

Sam turned off his cell phone and stared at the TV screen. The picture was grainy and hard to watch, especially as basically nothing had happened for the last three hours. He leaned back in the chair and restarted the tape.

Five minutes later Sam was on the edge of his seat. At the edge of the screen, almost out of camera range, he had seen headlights and the front of a vehicle. It looked like a van of some kind, certainly not the Professor's VW bug. The lights had gone out, then Sam had seen someone's legs. The rest of the person's image was truncated and out of camera range, but someone had certainly visited that night.

There was nothing more for a minute or two, then a figure walked from the bottom left of the screen directly toward the van. It appeared to be a short, slightly overweight person of indeterminate gender, carrying a small spade. The figure approached the van, then the parking lights came on, and then was gone. Seconds later the tape ended.

Sam leaned forward and immediately re-wound the tape to when the van appeared. He played it two more times, then sat back and thought. The full figure was only visible from behind, but from the person's gait Sam could swear it had been a male. Female joints and male joints have responded differently to the evolutionary pressures of bipedal locomotion. Sam could always pick out drag queens when they walked or used their arms. He was sure this was a male in the tape. This was definitely progress. He'd hav2e to secure the tape back in the evidence garage tonight, plus make notes on Marcie's call.

Sam hurried out of Linda and Brad's home, locking the door behind him.

Sam decided to take a short cut through the old warehouse district on the way to the city maintenance yard where his evidence garage was located. All of the developments of the last twenty four hours buzzed through his head. The tape was some help. There was apparently only one perpetrator, and he drove a van of some kind. Even more useful was Marcie's photograph analysis. Someone would know something about a "Toedt's." If he could find a crime scene there was a lot more hope that Sam could actually develop evidence to find the perp.

The rain had mostly stopped, but the streets were still wet and a light fog obscured the night. Sam's windows started to fog over. He cursed and started the fan, slowing down until they cleared.

The buildings in this part of town were very old, many built at the turn of last century. They had been used for many purposes and were covered with old, faded signs. Sam always found it depressing here. Once these buildings had represented someone's vision for a new life through a new enterprise. The signs painted on the sides of the buildings had been bright and full of hope. Now they were dismal reminders of finished dreams, some completed and some failed, of lives and times that had moved on to better things.

Sam suddenly skidded to a halt, then slowly backed up. He carefully positioned his car so that his headlights pointed to the side of that old two story warehouse with the boarded up front. There, on the side, in faded red and white paint, it said

Toedt's Wholesale — best prices in Lagrange.

Shit! This could be the place!

Sam snuffed his lights and sat, thinking. He'd have to investigate this, but he should call it in too. He pulled out his cell phone and called the police office. This late it would ring through to the Chief's home. Lagrange was too small for a round-the-clock on duty police switchboard.

The phone rang a dozen times with no answer, not even an answering machine. What the fuck! Sam imagined that the Chief's kid was tying up the phone line again, playing on the internet. The Chief was too cheap to get a second line.

What to do? Sam thought, then dialed again.

Unlike the town, the College kept an active switchboard to take emergency calls from students in the dorms.

Sam hung up.

Sam reached into his glovebox and pulled out his weapon. He hated this part of the job. He checked to make sure it was loaded, that the safety was off, then strapped it on. Next he pulled out his nightstick and his flashlight.

Sam slowly, quietly exited his car and approached the warehouse. There was no evidence of recent use from the front. He skirted around the side of the building to the back. Shee-it. A dark blue van was parked there, ancient and in disrepair, but with current license plates on it. It could be the van he'd seen in the video.

Sam's heart was racing. He approached the van, stopped and listened carefully. Silence. Sam felt the engine; still warm. He circled to the back and flashed his light in the rear window. It was full of trash — fast food wrappers, garbage bags, filthy clothes. But no one was in the van.

Sam looked again at the warehouse. There were steps here in the back, leading to a second floor door. It was dark, but the door itself was ajar. Sam took a deep breath, pulled his weapon, and went forward.

He hoped that the Chief got here soon.

X.

Alain drifted in and out of consciousness. Fatigue pummeled his body, his joints ached. His tit, where Bobby had extinguished his cigarette, exuded a yellow puss and burned constantly. Worst of all his cock ached, with a cold fury. Alain could raise his head and look down at it. It was engorged and purple, narrowing at its base where the elastrator band had been applied.

How much longer would this go on?

Alain lowered his head and closed his eyes. He felt a tear leak down his face and onto his neck. What had he done to deserve this?

There was a scrabbling sound from across the room. Alain had visions of rats coming and gnawing on his helpless body. His head snapped up and his eyes focused. Bubba stood there, wearing only a grimy t-shirt, rubbing his eyes.

Bubba waddled over to him and stroked Alain's cock. Alain could feel the pressure, but that was the only sensation in his cock, that and cold.

Bubba was stroking his own and Alain's cock now.

Alain felt his heart racing. The candles still flickered. He could still see the severed arms and legs nailed to the walls, the putrid head in a puddle on the floor. He was sure that there was no escape from this horror, that he would soon see his own body slowly, painfully destroyed. He just wanted it over.

Bubba had wandered across the room, was rolling some kind of table next to Alain. The angle and the lighting conspired so that Alain couldn't quite make out what glimmered there on that table.

Bubba returned between Alain's legs, then reached across him to the table. Alain could see that he held what appeared to be a knitting needle.

Still jacking himself off, Bubba began to rub the needle up and down Alain's cock, slowly, almost lovingly. He lifted Alain's cock on the point of the needle, then moved it on, up and down. Alain could feel cold and pressure, but no pain from the needle pricks.

Bubba's eyes were hooded, his voice was almost dreamlike. Slowly, carefully, Bubba stuck the point of the needle into Alain's piss-hole, pulled out, then stuck it in again. Without warning, he jabbed the needle out through the head of Alain's cock, then removed his hand.

Alain felt the pain this time. He looked in horror to see the needle protruding from the head of his dick, the skin hooded up where it punctured through under the cockhead. A wine-dark fluid seeped from the wound and trickled down his cock, onto his smooth crotch.

Alain strained against his bonds, tried futilely to call out, but only muffled screams came forth.

Then Bubba reached across him again, and Alain saw the knife. It gleamed ruddily in the candlelight, at least eight inches long with an ebony handle and a serrated edge. Bubba ran the blade up and down Alain's cock, using it to pluck at the embedded needle, making small incisions on the shaft, just breaking the skin.

Bubba looked him in the eyes.

Still looking him directly in the eyes, Bubba moved the blade now down to the base of Alain's cock. He grabbed the both ends of the embedded needle and used it to pull Alain's cock out away from his body, stretching it.

The knife blade started to bite into Alain's skin again, exactly where his cock joined his abdomen. Alain was in an agony of horror and pain and fear. Every muscle, every joint strained, his eyes bugged out from his head, the tendons in his neck strained. The knife was sawing back and forth, slowly, blood was flowing again, onto his smooth crotch, between his legs. Blood started again to seep from the bonds at his wrists and ankles as he strained.

"Please, please, please," he wanted to say, but only inchoate grunts passed the duct tape.

What? What was that? A new voice! Alain's head whirled about. Was this rescue or another cruel trick? His heart pounded in his chest with hope and fear.

Bubba froze, the knife still at Alain's cock.

Bubba let go of Alain, then turned and started to run.

A shot rang through room, then another. Alain felt Bubba's foul breath at his face, felt something sharp against his throat.

Suddenly there was an explosion of blood across Alain's chest. He heard a splattering sound, then a thud as Bubba dropped to the floor.

A young man with a buzz haircut and a goatee came into view. He was crouched with a gun at the ready. A police badge was clipped to his leather jacket. Gradually he relaxed and stood.

Sam came up to Alain and started to cut the duct tape at his wrists and ankles.

Safe? But where was Bobby? Alain wasn't safe yet! He had to tell Officer Sam Sondergard to watch out, that Bobby was still here.

Sam removed Alain's bonds, then carefully cut away the duct tape that wrapped around his mouth.

He pulled sharply, and Alain gasped for air, then doubled up coughing, gasping, gagging and fell to the floor.

Sam looked at Alain's wounded genitals, then removed his coat and placed it over Alain.

Alain lay there looking up at Officer Sam Sondergard. His hands groped under the jacket and felt his cock. It was still there! Alain started to gasp again, sobbing with relief. Please, please, let it be over!

But behind Sam, behind the officer's back, Alain saw Bobby coalesce from the shadows, standing there watching, waiting, impassive, calculating. Sam was punching numbers into his cell phone.

"Look out! Look out! He's right behind you!" Alain wanted to call out to Sam, to warn him, but he could only croak meaninglessly. Alain knelt next to him and stroked his head.

Sam put his gun down to finish dialing his call.

Alain saw Bobby creep across the room, saw him gently, ever so quietly, pick up a piece of pipe, saw him approach Officer Sam Sondergard. Alain croaked again, Sam again softly, lovingly stroked Alain's head while he spoke into his phone.

That was as far as Sam got before Bobby slugged him with the pipe.

Sam fell and Bobby started to kick him. Alain looked on in horror. Then he looked at Sam's gun. Sam, Bobby, Alain, and the gun, a quartet arranged in perfect harmony. Alain picked up the gun. It was unbelievably heavy in his hands. He could barely lift it. It wobbled as he pointed it at Bobby.

Off balance, mid-kick, Bobby saw the gun lifting, slowly, unsteadily lifting toward him. Bobby roared and swung the pipe at Alain, but too late. The gun exploded, once twice, three times, planting bullets in Bobby's stomach, chest and finally in his face. His body too recently dead to know it, Bobby completed his swing, striking Alain in the head with the pipe, then he crumpled to the floor.

Four still bodies lay there. Wine-dark blood oozed underneath Bobby onto the floor, puddling at Sam's ankles and Alain's head. The candles flickered in a hint of a breeze. Sirens whined in the distance.

XI.

Six months Alain and Sam huddled close together in the Lagrange cemetery. They knelt, hand in hand, in front of a small plain monument. Inscribed on it were the words In Loving Memory followed by six names. Daniel Antony Gleason. Peter Moulton. Walter Sedgewick. And three others. The victims of the Lagrange Serial Killers.

Alain squeezed Sam's hand.

Sam squeezed back.

Alain said nothing, but looked about the cemetery. He saw that the statue had been cleaned up, the red paint no longer defaced the hooded one. Alain gestured toward the cryptic figure.

Sam looked over at the impassive figure.

Alain knelt and left a small bouquet of pansies at the monument.

Hand in hand, Sam and Alain departed the cemetery.

Historical Note. In fifteenth century Burgundy the tombs of important personages were often decorated with life-size figures called pleurants or weepers. These figures were robed and their faces were completely shrouded. The artistic idea behind these figures was to assure that mourners would always attend the tombs.