A small but perfectly curling twist of smoke drifted out of Ray’s office as he walked toward the cracked glass door, fedora in hand. Candy, who was chewing while wrapping something in neon red gift paper, tried to greet him, but he ignored her, pulling the door open to reveal the ample frame of Detective Donald P. Tannhauser.
“Ray,” came the equally laconic reply. Both men used their words as sparingly as they used their wallets. It came with the territory. “I came over as soon as you called me. The boys finished clearing up the mess downtown a couple hours ago, and I wanted you to take a look at something they found down there.” With that, Don pointed to something on Ray’s desk. Ray didn’t exactly spend much time pushing paper, so he could hardly miss the two inch-thick, brown, leather-bound book sitting in the middle of the otherwise bare desktop.
“Well Don…what’s the deal?” he asked. “You finally finished that novel you were always talking about?”
Don didn’t even crack a smile. He just pointed at the thing, saying, “take a look inside.” Ray opened it, and was, at first, taken aback by the smear of red on the inside of the cover. “We found it on the floor right next to Billy,” said Don. “I figure it was left by the perp. Billy wasn’t exactly the bookworm type.” Ray flipped the pages till he came across something. There it was. The only thing he could find. In faded oil paint, somewhere around the middle of the bulky volume, it was glaring right out at Ray with dark, almost pitch black eyes.
It was the figure of a man, but barely recognisable as such, since it was clothed in a vast, swirling cloak. Ray looked more closely, trying to avoid the feral eyes and malicious grin, being taken in by the furls and folds of the figure’s dress, drawn to their almost hypnotic movements. Movements? Yes, Ray realised, the black and white print of the cloak was floating in front of his very eyes. It was barely perceptible, but it was there. He pulled his eyes away from the page, fearing that if they remained fixed on the image any longer, he might become transfixed, coerced into some kind of trance from which he might not be able to recover. Ray put the book in one of his desk drawers and shut it carefully, muttering under his breath. “Who the hell are you?”
* * *
Later that evening when the soft rain had begun to melt the snow, Ray stepped out of his office and locked the door. He had let Candy go home early since it was her mother’s fiftieth birthday. Though it was probably the least of his problems right now, Ray didn’t want to have Mrs Soosman dropping by to meet Candy at the end of the day. One Soosman was more than enough for Ray Delaney.
As he left the building, however, there were two things he failed to notice. One was the rather bedraggled-looking creature which had been lurking in the shadows of a side alley, waiting for a chance to pounce and which was now heading toward the steps leading up to the building. The other was the steadily increasing rattling coming from inside. A rattling which originated in the top right hand drawer of Ray’s desk.