It was early evening. The police car passed by the usual riff-raff, pretending not to see the locals straightening up, their hands swinging behind their backs, as the cruiser drove past. The officers were late into their shift and in no mood to hassle a few strung out addicts. The radio crackled.
Speaking in French, the nasal voice of the dispatcher reported a code 609 in the alley behind Crescent street, opposite Montagne. A passerby-by had called in after hearing a man scream.
As the call came in, officers Beaudoin and Leblanc looked at each other blandly. Without a sound or a gesture, they rapidly came to an agreement.
“This is unit eleven,” responded Officer Beaudoin into his transmitter. “We’re in the area. We’ll have a look.”
Leblanc stepped on the accelerator. The code referred to an unspecified noise, other than gunfire. It could turn out to be anything, but it was rarely something noteworthy. Some vagrant had probably run out of liquor and was venting his frustration. The report had been made from a neighbourhood just four blocks over. Within minutes, the car was stopped and the officers climbed out. The agonized screams of a man could be heard coming from a nearby alley.
The two officers exchanged surprised looks and drew their weapons. They approached the alley quickly, but cautiously.
A gunshot rang out in the night. Complete silence followed. The man’s screams were loudly absent. The officers threw their backs against the side of the nearest building as they crept toward the alley.
“This is unit eleven. Shot fired at Crescent and Montagne,” Officer Beaudoin spoke tensely into his radio.
He flexed his fingers around the grip of his handgun, then peered carefully around the corner over his shoulder. He saw a man standing over a prone form, looking down at it, his hands at his side. Beaudoin gestured to his partner, and the two rounded the corner with their weapons raised.
“Put your hands up!” yelled Beaudoin. As the standing figure slowly obeyed, he yelled again. “Drop the weapon! Put your hands on your head!”
The policemen strode into the alley as the standing man complied. Beaudoin kicked the handgun to his partner and handcuffed the suspect. Leblanc bent down to check the prone man. After a few moments, Leblanc looked up at his partner, his face grim.
Officer Beaudoin shook his head in disgust and roughly shoved the offender against the alley wall. Starting under the man’s armpits, he patted the criminal down, stopping at his inside jacket pocket. The policeman reached inside and pulled out a heavy plastic bag, tightly packed with snowy white powder. He turned and showed his find to Leblanc.
“Feels like a kilo,” he said flatly. “Is this shit worth more than a man’s life to you asshole?” he snapped at the suspect.
“I didn’t take it from him, if that’s what you’re implying,” replied the man. “Anyway, he was already dead when I got here.”
“Oh, he was already dead, was he? So, you figured he wouldn’t mind it if you shot him?”
Without waiting for a retort, Beaudoin pulled the suspect away from the wall and shoved him in the direction of the cruiser. He heard Leblanc reporting the situation over the radio as he opened the back door and shoved the criminal into the car. As he was about to shut the door, the offender looked up at the police officer, his face illuminated for a moment by the revolving blue and red lights. Instead of the usual indignation, anger or even remorse that Beaudoin was accustomed to seeing, the man’s face expressed a weary sadness.
“The poor bastard would have thanked me, if he could have,” said the suspect soberly, staring into Beaudoin’s eyes.
The officer hesitated for a moment, actually believing the man despite himself. Beaudoin’s enraged disgust of the criminal was momentarily forgotten.
The officer recovered quickly and slammed the door. He turned his back on the murderer and headed toward the alley where the unfortunate victim lay, still warm.
cheek, dripping from his mouth. With enormous effort, he managed to turn his head. There, a few feet away was a shadowed figure, its arm raised, holding a pistol. Thin tendrils of smoke seeped from the weapon’s barrel. The figure slowly lowered its arm and approached Lumen.
As he emerged from the shadow, Lumen recognized Venatio. A subdued sense of joy erupted somewhere near the back of Lumen’s dulled mind. Venatio stood over Lumen’s pathetic form. His facial features were twisted, not with elation, but pain. His breathing was shallow and rapid. He raised his pistol, aiming it at Hugo’s drool-covered face.
“No… no…” Lumen managed.
“It’s over, doc,” his voice was flat, hollow.
Lumen could only stare down the dark barrel of Venatio’s gun. He felt unsure of whether or not he wanted to die. His mind told him that dying was something terrible, but his body begged him for release.
Lumen watched Venatio’s contorted face, more with a sense of curiosity than dread. After a moment, Venatio lowered his gun, and let it drop to the pavement. He stepped over to the creature and knelt beside it, leaning over it.
After a tense period of silence, Venatio began to sob. His body shook as rivers of hot tears released years of suffering.
For several minutes, Lumen stared numbly as Venatio wept. Eventually, Lumen found some control of his muscles returning. Straining as hard as he could, he slowly raised himself into a sitting position, his back leaning against the cold brick wall.
Venatio quieted. The night was silent, perforated only by the sounds of traffic and the occasional sniffling.
Then, Venatio howled.
It began as a cathartic scream of frustration and anguish, but grew louder, more strained. It was almost inhuman. The screaming stopped, but Venatio was clearly still suffering. He doubled over suddenly, as if to vomit, but made no sound. He clawed at his face, then brought his hand sharply before his eyes. He was transfixed by it. Slowly, he rose and turned to face Lumen.
His fingers had somehow elongated, and ended in dully gleaming sharp claws that dripped yellow liquid. His nose had shrunk. His pupils were dilated. He leaned over Lumen and a pair of long, thin proboscises unfurled where his mouth used to be. They stabbed forward.