I edged back down the alleyway behind the yards of the Forber Street houses and rounded the corner. Once the body was out of sight I bent double and retched, eyes streaming, stomach turning. After a few deep breaths I found my radio.
‘Yankee Mike Three, Yankee Mike Three, this is Yankee Mike Eight. Over.’
‘Yankee Mike Three, go ahead. Over.’
‘Assistance needed, unidentified body behind Forber Street. Over.’
Within minutes the alleyway was cordoned off and Forensics were on the way. We started a door-to-door but apart from the 999 caller no one had seen a thing. She found the victim when she’d gone to take her wheelie bin out extra early that morning. It had been there several days, judging by the flies and the smell.
‘It was such a shock, that poor man’s face all mangled and his hand missing, did you see? I didn’t imagine it did I?’
‘I saw, Mrs. Haskins, you did not imagine it.’ Her graphic language was not helping me to clear my mind.
‘I can’t think he’ll be easy to identify. Poor man. Who would do such a thing?’
Back at the station Banks and I started writing up our report.
‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’ Banks rubbed his eyes.
‘Me either. I can’t get the image out of my head.’
‘Not that you sleep well anyway, Peterson. Did you try those new pills?’
‘I did, they knocked me out for a good ten hours but I still woke up exhausted.’ I covered my mouth as another yawn took shape.
‘What does Miriam say?’
‘She sleeps in the front bedroom now, can’t stand me tossing and turning. Insomnia is no good for your sex life.’
‘Still dreaming about crime scenes?’
‘Yes, in great detail. The latest victim will only add to the problem. We need to catch this guy.’
Damien Burrows was walking home after a shift in the Kings Head, checking his phone. There was a powerful blow to the side of his face, it came from behind, a sharp edge ripping his cheek. Blood poured down the front of his jacket. Then a blow to his shoulder as he turned, and another to his hip, forcing him to the ground. Teeth at his throat, a deep growl building as he fought to free himself. He jammed his fingers into the jaws, trying to prise them apart. Long snout, hot breath. He didn’t get a good look, he had blood in his eyes before he was knocked unconscious against the pavement, bleeding to death in the dark while the mauling continued.
‘All units, all units, this is Control. Body found behind Stratford Road garage.’ Came the voice over my radio.
Banks and I were closest to the location. Being first on the scene is always gut wrenching. Crowd control is the worst, especially now everyone has a camera in their pocket. Teenagers are insensitive. Even at 7.12am there are enough people about to be a nuisance at a crime scene.
‘Control, Control, Yankee Mike Eight, Over.’
‘Yankee Mike Eight go ahead. Over.’
‘Victim is deceased. Male, white, six foot two. Over.’
‘Any identification? Over.’
We tentatively identified 25 year old Damien Burrows from the driver’s license in his pocket. But I couldn’t equate the youthful face on the card to the torn flesh on the pavement. We heard later that it took his dental records to confirm it.
‘Maybe you should take a break.’ Said Banks as he waited for me to stop puking in the gents. ‘The Sarge would understand.’
‘I just want the guy caught.’ I emerged from the stall.
‘Peterson, I think this is some kind of animal. Forensics aren’t saying it yet but think about those wounds.’ Said Banks. ‘Same thing at Forber Street last month, and outside the Leisure Centre in May. I’m amazed the papers haven’t got hold of it. Could be a bear or something.’
‘A bear?’ I splashed my face. ‘In the middle of Worcestershire?’ My eyes were so dark in the mirror that I hardly recognised myself.
‘A wild dog then, escaped from the Safari Park.’
‘We’d know if there was an escaped animal.’
‘I just don’t think a man did this.’
‘With the right weapons and enough strength a man could do all of this. It’s not the physical elements that shock me, it’s the mentality. What goes through the mind of a man when he lacerates someone’s face so much they can’t be recognised?’
When I slept my dreams made me wish for morning. My eyes drooped, my voice cracked, I heaved before and after every meal. Miriam begged me to take a holiday. I got two weeks leave and we went to the south coast. The salty air didn’t smell fresh to me, it reeked of blood on pavements. My restlessness disturbed my wife and neither of us slept. We went home on the Wednesday, three days early, both exhausted. Frequent stops at services to share the driving only extended the travel time. As soon as we got back she went to bed. It was only quarter to five. I crashed on the sofa in a daze of quiz show television, desperate for sleep but dreading the dreams. I woke up sweating in my bed on Thursday morning with no memory of how I got there.
Donna Fairbrother paid her share of the bill and left her friends to order cocktails in the Birdsong restaurant at 10 o’ clock on Wednesday night. She was determined to get home before the 11pm deadline she’d given her babysitter. As she crossed the small playground near her house there was a howl from the scrubland behind her. She stopped and turned to face the noise. A shadow appeared along the treeline, a large dog perhaps, lumbering across the park. It turned towards Donna, picked up speed then stopped a few meters away and stared, red eyes glowing, hot breath rising from its jowls. It howled again, bared its teeth, and pawed the ground. Donna turned and ran. She was found at 2.17am on Thursday by a group of young women on their way home from a bar. Clothes torn, face shredded.
‘Say that name again. Donna Fairbrother?’ It sounded familiar.
‘Yes,’ said Banks, ’36, lived on Gosling Grove.’
‘Did she have a record?’ I asked.
‘She did. Illegal puppy farm. Picked up by the RSPCA last summer. Banned from keeping live animals for ten years.’
‘Ironic then, if you’re right and the attacker is canine!’ I made comedy dog ears with my hands on my head and panted at Banks. ‘And remember that bloke found at the leisure centre, he ran the dog fighting ring that killed my terrier.’ I touched the scar on my wrist.
‘How could I forget?’
We checked out the others with Detective Inspector Hodge.
‘Now you understand that this is highly confidential. I’m only sharing this with you two as it sounds like you might have a hunch about the case.’ Hodge was usually willing to bend a few rules if it meant getting to the bottom of something faster.
‘All four victims had a history of animal abuse. Palmer, found at the leisure centre in May, was awaiting trial for dog fighting. I’m sure you remember him well, Peterson, wasn’t it your maimed terrier that partly led to the arrest?’
‘Yes, vet couldn’t stop the bleeding after a member of the public found him with his front paw mangled. Little bugger bit me when I tried to stroke him.’ I rubbed my scar again. ‘He bled to death.’
‘Slate, killed behind Forber Street in June had hung his girlfriend’s Doberman when he suspected she was cheating. Burrows, found on Stratford Road in July, had knifed a neighbour’s rottweiler when they failed to stop it barking. He was also done for breaking and entering in order to carry out the attack. Then there was Fairbrother in August with the puppy farm, as you know.’
‘We do have a hunch. But it might sound far-fetched.’ said Banks.
I shook my head. Was he really going to say it?
‘Go on.’ Said Hodge.
‘Well, we’ve seen three of the four victims, first-hand. They were all a proper mess. What if a wild animal did this? They all looked like animal attacks.’
‘OK, here’s the thing.’ Said Hodge, pulling his office door closed. ‘The injuries could all have been inflicted with weapons of various kinds, apart from the severed hand on the first victim. The hand looked like it was chewed off by a large dog, and probably before Palmer was dead. Forensics found the same DNA on all four bodies, in traces of saliva and skin samples they think belong to the attacker. We’re not releasing this to the press, or anyone, so keep it strictly to yourselves.’
We both nodded.
‘The thing is, the DNA is not entirely human. The team can’t identify exactly what it is. They’re wondering if it’s been engineered somewhere to confuse us, planted on the bodies, a kind of biological calling card. Maybe the attacker is connected with a lab where they do animal experiments. And maybe the attacker is accompanied by a dog.’
‘Did they find dog DNA?’ I asked.
‘No, just short, dark and silver hairs with the same non-human make up that’s in the saliva and skin samples. That’s why it’s still a maybe.’
‘And there’s just been one attack a month since May?’ asked Banks, ‘No others connected to this?’
‘None that we know of.’ Said Hodge.
Banks could never ignore a hunch. DI Hodge had already called the safari park and the zoos in neighbouring counties, they reported no missing animals. Banks started calling kennels, animal sanctuaries, rescue centres, private breeders. No one would admit to anything escaping or being released. He looked at the police reports from the crime scenes from each of the murders and started fishing for a pattern. One a month for four months now, always at night, never in the same part of town and not on the same days of the week, or of the month except for possibly June and July. The murder in July had taken place on the 24th and the coroner estimated the death of the June victim as being the 24th as well.
Banks searched for what the dates had in common. The only thing he could come up with, and it seemed coincidental, was that May 26th, June 24th, July 24th and August 22nd had all been full moons.
‘Surely not.’ He said to himself as he drained a bottle of Stella and gazed out at the stars from the comfort of his sofa.
He glanced at the doodles and scribbles adorning his note book.
Animal DNA? Not human.
Once a month. Full moon.
Banks googled the date of the next full moon. September 21st. Then he googled ‘werewolf’.
‘Silver bullets? I’m losing my mind.’ He trudged up to bed.
Tricia McKenzie didn’t notice the red eyes glowing outside her living room window as she looked around for an ash tray. The nearest one was on the end table next to the opposite sofa, well out of reach. She couldn’t have the ash dropping onto the carpet.
‘Get over here!’ she reached down towards the sleeping collie and grabbed the scruff of his neck. ‘I said get over here.’ Tricia yanked the dog towards her, flicked the ash into his coat and stubbed out the butt on the side of his pock marked face.
The dog whimpered and whined and tried to pull away but she held his collar until the smoke stopped, then pushed him away from her again. She laughed at the way he circled on three legs, pawing his snout with the fourth.
Before she stopped smiling there was a loud thud at the window, then another. A huge dog with glowing eyes was throwing itself at the glass, teeth bared, hackles up.
‘I knew it.’ Said Banks as he fastened his seatbelt. ‘I knew there would be another victim last night.’
‘How did you know?’ I yawned, begging my americano to be stronger.
‘They’ve all been on full moons. All of the killings since May.’ He started the engine.
‘Why didn’t you say anything?’
‘Because I thought you’d think I was crazy.’
‘What’s crazy about it?’
‘I think it’s a werewolf.’
I slammed my hand onto the dashboard and nearly spat out my coffee.
‘I know it sounds mad, but think about it. The DNA, Palmer’s hand chewed off, full moons, and all the victims are dog abusers.’
‘I can see how a horror fan or a teenager might come up with this theory, but you are neither.’
Banks felt inside his breast pocket. ‘No harm in being prepared.’ He pulled out a bullet. ‘I had this made.’
‘Is that silver? A silver bullet?’
Banks nodded. ‘I’ve got three.’
‘What’s the plan? Wait ‘til the next full moon and hang around the animal shelter?’ I rolled my eyes.
‘If I point out to the Sarge that the killings always happen on a full moon then he might deploy us in the Armed Response Vehicle. I think apprehending a murderous werewolf definitely counts as “stopping an imminent threat to life”.’ Banks made air quotes around the phrase with his fingers. ‘It doesn’t guarantee us catching the thing but it massively improves our chances.’
Mark Fisher yanked the lead of his long-haired Alsatian.
‘Get out of that bush you stupid animal.’
Fizzer continued to sniff and pull.
‘Get over here!’ Mark started walking and dragged the dog along with him.
Fizzer appeared from inside the bush carrying a large stick. Mark yanked the dog along the pavement so he skidded towards him. He grabbed the end of the stick, ripping it from the dog’s mouth. Fizzer yelped.
‘Shut up!’ Mark slammed the stick down across the dog’s back and followed it with a sharp kick to his hind leg. Fizzer yelped again, sank to the floor and cowered.
A cop car came round the corner ahead. Mark stood still until it passed then kicked the cowering dog in the ribs and dragged him along the street before he could stand up. When Fizzer did get to his feet he was limping badly and whimpering.
Banks and Peterson pulled into the curb a hundred yards after they passed the man walking his dog. Banks got out and went inside the late-night café. He emerged a few minutes later with two coffees and a couple of donuts. The passenger door was open and his partner was gone.
‘Peterson?’ he ran to the car, ‘Peterson?’ Banks looked up and down the street. The dog walker had disappeared round the corner, a young couple were holding hands on the opposite pavement, there was no one else around.
‘Yankee Mike Eight, Yankee Mike Eight, this is Yankee Mike Three, Over.’
‘Yankee Mike Eight, come in Peterson, Over.’
Banks shut the passenger door and climbed into the driver’s seat, stuffed the drinks into cup holders and stuck the donuts on Peterson’s seat. He checked his sidearm and slowly pulled away.
‘Control, Control, this is Trojan. Over.
‘Go ahead Trojan. Over.’
‘Proceeding down Green Street alone, Peterson missing from the vehicle. Over.’
‘Proceed with caution. Keep us updated. Over.’
Banks drove slowly down Green Street, stopping suddenly when he spotted a pile of clothes on the pavement. He got out of the car and found a police uniform torn, and discarded against the wall of the Chinese takeaway. It was Peterson’s. He reported this back to Control and requested back up, then got back in the car and continued.
At the end of the road was a small recreation ground. Banks stopped and put his window down. There, towards the goal posts, it looked like two men on the ground and a large dog barking and joining in the fight. Banks called it in to Control and reported his position before getting out of the car and drawing his gun. He ran towards the brawl.
‘Police! Stop right there. Back away from each other and hold your hands up.’
But it wasn’t two men.
‘Help me! Get this animal off.’ Came a cry from ahead.
‘What the Hell?’
Alongside the barking of the Alsatian and the cries of the man on the ground there was a loud growling and gnashing of teeth. With moonlight shimmering off its black and silver back a huge wolf was baring down on the struggling man. Enormous forepaws holding his shoulders into the mud, hind ones ripping at his stomach and thighs as its teeth sank into his face.
Banks slowed his breath, lined up his sights with the shoulder of the beast, and fired his first silver bullet.
The wolf cried out, a line of blood ran down its shoulder and foreleg but it kept up the attack.
Fernley and Stag appeared either side of Banks as he fired his second shot. He hit the animal in the rib cage, eliciting a louder cry of pain. The wolf paused its onslaught and crumpled to one side, away from Banks’ direction, howling at the night.
The three policemen ran forward. Fernley grabbed the barking dog and pulled it away as Banks and Stag rushed towards the victim.
In the short moments it took for them to arrive at the side of the injured man the wolf had visibly decreased in size and lost a lot of its fur. As they stared at the victim, and then at the wolf, its snout receded into its face and its tail shrank back into its body. In only a few seconds a naked man was lying on the muddy grass where the wolf had been.