“It’s Hugo Petrusch. I swear it’s him.”
The man was lying face down in the mud, naked from the waist up, a yellowish-pink hole in the back of his head.
Police Chief Ames knelt beside him and shone his torch on the deep gash in his back. The flesh was grey; there was almost no blood. And what was the deal with all the metal? It looked like he’d been rigged up after a terrible accident and they’d forgotten to take the belts and screws out.
“Someone really went to town on this guy,” he muttered to himself.
“Hey, Chief, move your worthless carcass out of the way,” said Officer Len Pederson, a thin, silver-haired man with skin like crispy chicken. “I’m tryin’ to get some clean ones.”
Pushing himself to his feet, Ames rejoined Sam Morgan, who was just getting off the phone.
“What do you think?”
Morgan shook his head. “Not your run-of-the-mill prowler, I’ll give you that.”
“Shirtless? In this weather? He must have been some tough-skinned son-of-a-bitch.”
Morgan nodded to himself. This one was nothing like the monsters they’d found in the Six Hills. Apart from the metal banding, it looked almost human. A strange, chalky consistency to its skin, yes – not to mention the curious lack of blood – but all the limbs and muscles seemed to be of the right size and proportion.
“Is he one of them you’re looking for?”
Morgan glanced sideways at him. “I’m pretty sure, yeah. We’ll take him back to base, check him against the files.”
“Hey, Len,” Ames called out, scratching his beer belly, “when you’re finished with the pictures and shit, turn him over so’s we can get a good look at him.”
“Oh yeah,” muttered Pederson, “let the old guy break his back the month before his retirement.”
He struggled to turn the body over. “Sheesh!” he cried. “This fella weighs a ton.”
Morgan went to help.
“On three,” said Pederson as they took hold of the dead man’s shoulder and hip. “One, two … three!”
They heaved together and the huge body rose and fell on its back. Pederson gasped. The cause of death was now clear: a bullet had entered the man’s left eye and exploded in the back of his skull.
“What’s with all the metalwork?” asked Ames, coming in for another look. He leaned closer and screwed up his nose. “Some new type of body art? Looks like it’s bolted into the bone. Haven’t seen nothin’ like that before. Maybe it’s next gen S&M.”
Pederson said nothing, which was unlike him. The chief glanced up and saw the blood had drained from his face. “What’s up, Lennard?” he asked. “Looks like you’re about to throw up. Don’t go messing up my crime scene again.”
“Lordy heaven,” breathed Pederson. “It can’t be.”
Morgan, who was inspecting the bolt in the thing’s head, looked up. “You know this man?”
Pederson was staring wide-eyed at the thing.
Ames answered for him. “No one from around here,” he said. “At least no one with a record.”
Morgan got to his feet. “Len?”
Pederson blinked a few times. “It can’t be … But it looks just like him.”
“Who?” asked the chief.
Pederson shook his head.
He opened his mouth, but no words came out.
“Come on, Len,” prompted Morgan. “Just say it.”
“It’s Hugo Petrusch,” Pederson blurted out at last. “Hugo ‘The Block’ Petrusch. I swear it’s him. But … it’s not possible. He was a local thug. He …”
The police chief raised his hands in exasperation. “Come on, Len, spit it out.”
“… died in a fight. In the lockup. Almost … fifteen years ago.”