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Whispers

Whispers

Page 31


The living room was dimly illuminated by thin strips of sunlight that found their way around the edges of the heavy drapes. As far as Tony could tell, all of the lumpy shapes were couches and chairs and tables. The place appeared to be full of big, expensive, and utterly tasteless Americanized Mediterranean furniture. A narrow shaft of sunlight fell across a red velvet sofa that had a large and thoroughly grotesque wrought-iron fleur-de-lis bolted to its imitation oak side.


"Bobby?"


No response.


A clock ticking somewhere.


"We don't want to hurt you, Bobby."


Only silence.


Tony held his breath.


He could hear Frank breathing.


Nothing else.


Slowly, cautiously, he stood.


No one shot at him.


He felt along the wall until he located a light switch. A lump with a garish bullfight scene on its shade came on in one corner, and he could see that both the living room and the open dining area beyond it were deserted.


Frank came in behind him and motioned toward the door of the foyer closet.


Tony stepped back, out of the way.


Holding his revolver at gut-level, Frank gingerly opened the sliding door. The closet contained only a couple of lightweight jackets and several shoe boxes.


Staying away from each other in order to avoid making a single easy target of themselves, they crossed the living room. There was a liquor cabinet with ridiculously large black iron hinges: the glass in the cabinet doors was tinted yellow. A round coffee table was in the center of the room.


a mammoth eight-sided thing with a useless copper-lined brazier in the middle of it. The sofa and high-backed chairs were upholstered in flame-red velvet with lots of gold fringe and black tassels. The drapes were flashy yellow and orange brocade. The carpet was a thick green shag. It was a singularly ugly place to live.


And, Tony thought, it's also an absurd place in which to die.


They walked through the dining area and looked into the small kitchen. It was a mess. The refrigerator door and a few of the cupboards were standing open. Cans and jars and boxes of food had been pulled off the shelves and dumped onto the floor. Some items appeared to have been thrown down in a rage. Several jars were broken; sharp fragments of glass sparkled in the garbage. A puddle of maraschino cherry juice lay like a pink-red amoeba on the yellow tiles; the bright red cherries gleamed in every corner. Chocolate dessert topping was splashed all over the electric stove. Cornflakes were scattered everywhere. And dill pickles. Olives. Dry spaghetti. Someone had used mustard and grape jelly to scrawl one word four times on the only blank wall in the kitchen: Cocodrilos


Cocodrilos


Cocodrilos


Cocodrilos


They whispered:


"What is it?"


"Spanish."


"What's it mean?"


"Crocodiles."


"Why crocodiles?"


"I don't know."


"Creepy," Frank said.


Tony agreed. They had walked into a bizarre situation. Even though he could not understand what was happening, Tony knew there was great danger ahead. He wished he knew which door it would pop out of.


They looked in the den, which was as overfurnished as the other two rooms. Bobby wasn't hiding in there or in the den closet.


They moved warily back down the hall toward the two bedrooms and two baths. They didn't make a sound.


They didn't find anything out of the ordinary in the first bedroom and bathroom.


In the master bedroom, there was another mess. All of the clothes had been taken out of the closet and strewn about. They were piled on the floor, wadded into balls on the bed, draped over the dresser where they had fallen when thrown, and most if not all of them were badly damaged. Sleeves and collars had been stripped off shirts. Lapels had been torn from sports jackets and suit coats.


The inseams of trousers had been ripped open. The person who had done all of that had been functioning in a blind rage, yet he had been surprisingly methodical and thorough in spite of his fury.


But who had done it?


Someone with a grudge against Bobby?


Bobby himself? Why would he mess up his own kitchen and destroy his own clothes?


What did crocodiles have to do with it?


Tony had the disturbing feeling that they were moving too fast through the apartment, that they were overlooking something important. An explanation for the strange things they'd discovered seemed to be hovering at the edge of his mind, but he could not reach out and grab it.


The door to the adjoining bath was closed. It was the only place they hadn't looked.


Frank trained his revolver on the door and watched it while he spoke to Tony. "If he didn't leave before we got here, he has to be in the bathroom."


"Who?"


Frank gave him a quick perplexed glance. "Bobby, of course. Who else?"


"You think he tore up his own place?"


"Well ... what do you think?"


"We're missing something."


"Yeah? Like what?"


"I don't know."


Frank moved toward the bathroom door.


Tony hesitated, listening to the apartment.


The place was about as noisy as a tomb.


"Somebody must be in that bathroom," Frank said.


They took up positions flanking the door.


"Bobby! You hear me?" Frank shouted. "You can't stay in there forever. Come out with your hands raised!"


Nobody came out.


Tony said, "Even if you're not Bobby Valdez, no matter who you are, you've got to come out of there."


Ten seconds. Twenty. Thirty.


Frank took hold of the knob and twisted it slowly until the bolt slipped out of its slot with a soft snick. He pushed the door open and convulsively threw himself back against the wall to get out of the way of any bullets or knives or other indications that he was unwelcome.


No gunfire. No movement.


The only thing that came out of the bathroom was a really terrible stench. Urine. Excrement.


Tony gagged. "Jesus!"


Frank put one hand over his mouth and nose.


The bathroom was deserted. The floor was puddled with bright yellow urine, and feces was smeared over the commode and sink and clear glass shower door.


"What in the name of God is going on here?" Frank asked through his fingers.


One Spanish word was printed twice in feces on the bathroom wall.


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Cocodrilos


Cocodrilos


Tony and Frank swiftly retreated to the center of the bedroom, stepping on torn shirts and ruined suits. But now that the bathroom door had been opened, they could not escape the odor without leaving the room altogether, so they went into the hallway.


"Whoever did this really hates Bobby," Frank said.


"So you no longer think Bobby did it to himself?"


"Why would he? It doesn't make sense. Christ, this is about as weird as they come. The hairs are up on the back of my neck."


"Spooky," Tony agreed.


His stomach muscles were still painfully cramped with tension, and his heart was thumping only slightly slower than it had been when they'd first crept into the apartment.


They were both silent for a moment, listening for the footsteps of ghosts.


Tony watched a small brown spider as it climbed the corridor wall.


Finally Frank put his gun away and took out his handkerchief and wiped his sweat-streaked face.


Tony holstered his own revolver and said, "We can't just leave it like this and put a stakeout on the place. I mean, we've gone too far for that. We've found too much that needs explaining."


"Agreed," Frank said. "We'll have to call for assistance, get a warrant, and run a thorough search."


"Drawer by drawer."


"What do you think we'll find?"


"God knows."


"I saw a phone in the kitchen," Frank said.


Frank led the way down the hall to the living room, then around the corner, into the kitchen.


Before Tony could follow him across the threshold from the dining area, Frank said, "Oh, Jesus,"


and tried to back out of the kitchen.


"What's the matter?"


Even as Tony spoke, something cracked loudly.


Frank cried out and fell sideways and clutched at the edge of a counter, trying to stay on his feet.


Another sharp crack slammed through the apartment, echoing from wall to wall, and Tony realized it was gunfire.


But the kitchen had been deserted!


Tony reached for his revolver, and he had the peculiar feeling he was moving in slow-motion while the rest of the world rushed past in frantic double time.


The second shot took Frank in the shoulder and spun him around. He crashed down into the mess of maraschino cherry juice and dry spaghetti and cornflakes and glass.


As Frank dropped out of the way, Tony was able to see beyond him for the first time, and he spotted Bobby Valdez. He was wriggling out of the cupboard space under the sink, a spot they hadn't thought to investigate because it looked too small to conceal a man. Bobby was squirming and slithering out of there like a snake from a tight hole. Only his legs were still under the sink; he was on his side, pulling himself out with one arm, holding a .32 pistol in his other hand. He was naked. He looked sick. His eyes were huge, wild, dilated, sunken in rings of puffy dark flesh. His face was shockingly pale, his lips bloodless. Tony took in all of those details in a fraction of a second, with senses sharpened by a flood of adrenaline.


Frank was just hitting the floor, and Tony was still reaching for his revolver when Bobby fired a third time. The bullet whacked into the edge of the archway. An explosion of plaster chips stung Tony's face.


He threw himself backward and down, twisting as he went, struck the floor too hard with his shoulder, gasped in pain, and rolled out of the dining area, out of the line of fire. He scrambled behind a chair in the living room and finally got his gun out of its holster.


Perhaps six or seven seconds had passed since Bobby had fired the first shot.


Someone was saying, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," in a quivering, high-pitched voice.


Suddenly, Tony realized he was listening to himself. He bit his lip and fought off an attack of hysteria.


He now knew what had been bothering him; he knew what they had overlooked. Bobby Valdez was selling PCP, and that should have told them something when they saw the state of the apartment.


They should have remembered that pushers were sometimes stupid enough to use what they sold. PCP, also called angel dust, was an animal tranquilizer that had a fairly predictable effect upon horses and bulls. But when people took the stuff, their reactions ranged from placid trances to weird hallucinations to unexpected fits of rage and violence. As Eugene Tucker said, PCP was poison: it literally ate away at brain cells, rotted the mind. Supercharged on PCP, bursting with perverse energy, Bobby had smashed up his kitchen and had done all the other damage in the apartment. Pursued by fierce but imaginary crocodiles, desperately seeking refuge from their snapping jaws, he had squirmed into the cupboard under the sink and had pulled the doors shut.


Tony hadn't thought to look in the cupboard because he hadn't realized they were stalking a raving lunatic. They had searched the apartment with caution, prepared for the moves that might be expected of a mentally-disturbed rap**t and incidental killer, but unprepared for the bizarre actions of a gibbering madman. The mindless destruction evident in the kitchen and master bedroom, the apparently senseless writing on the walls, the disgusting mess in the bathroom--all of those were familiar indications of PCP-induced hysteria. Tony never served on the narcotics squad, but, nevertheless, he felt he should have recognized those signs. If he had interpreted them properly, he most likely would have checked under the sink, as well as anywhere else conceivably big enough for a man to hide, even if the quarters would be brutally uncomfortable; for it was not uncommon for a person on an extremely ugly PCP trip to surrender totally to his paranoia and try to hide from a hostile world, especially in cramped, dark, womblike places. But he and Frank misinterpreted the clues, and now they were up to their necks in trouble.


Frank had been shot twice. He was badly hurt. Maybe dying. Maybe dead.


No!


Tony tried to push that thought out of his mind as he cast about for a way to seize the initiative from Bobby.


In the kitchen Bobby began to scream in genuine terror. "Hay muchos cocodrilos!"


Tony translated: There are many crocodiles!


"Cocodrilos! Cocodrilos! Cocodrilos! Ah! Ah! Ahhhhh!"


His repeated cry of alarm swiftly degenerated into a wordless wail of agony.


He sounds as if he's really being eaten alive, Tony thought, shivering.


Still screaming, Bobby rushed out of the kitchen. He fired the .32 into the floor, apparently trying to kill one of the crocodiles.


Tony crouched behind the chair. He was afraid that, if he stood up and took aim, he would be cut down before he could pull the trigger.


Doing a frantic little jig, trying to keep his bare feet out of the mouths of the crocodiles, Bobby fired into the floor once, twice.


Six shots so far, Tony thought. Three in the kitchen, three here. How many in the clip? Eight?


Maybe ten.


Bobby fired again, twice, three times. One of the bullets ricocheted off something.


Nine shots had been fired. One more to go.


"Cocodrilos!"


The tenth shot boomed deafeningly in the enclosed space, and again the bullet ricocheted with a sharp whistle.


Tony stood up from his hiding place. Bobby was less than ten feet away. Tony held the service revolver in both hands, the muzzle lined up on the na*ed man's hairless chest. "Okay, Bobby. Be cool. It's all over."


Bobby seemed surprised to see him. Clearly, he was so deeply into his PCP hallucinations that he didn't remember seeing Tony in the kitchen archway less than a minute ago.


"Crocodiles," Bobby said urgently, in English this time.


"There are no crocodiles," Tony said.


"Big ones."


"No. There aren't any crocodiles."


Bobby squealed and jumped and whirled and tried to shoot at the floor, but his pistol was empty.


"Bobby," Tony said.


Whimpering, Bobby turned and looked at him.


"Bobby, I want you to lay face-down on the floor."


"They'll get me," Bobby said. His eyes were bulging out of his head; the dark irises were rimmed with wide circles of white. He was trembling violently. "They'll eat me."


"Listen to me, Bobby. Listen carefully. There are no crocodiles. You're hallucinating them. It's all inside your head. You hear me?"


"They came out of the toilets," Bobby said shakily. "And out of the shower drains. And the sink drain, too. Oh, man, they're big. They're real big. And they're all trying to bite off my cock."

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