There was no Code 0, no shout for help. But the Sheriff had been gone long enough that I started to get uneasy. No one else seemed to feel it; the desk sergeant was playing some game on his phone, the secretary busy filing some report about an auto accident. Tuesday night was the slowest night in a town known for slow nights.
“He probably stopped in at Duke’s for a burger, Cal. Just keep his chair warm,” was the response over the radio from the deputy on patrol.
I tried to push the worry out of my mind, to swallow the bile in my throat, but the night seemed wrong. Like it was unreal. A dream, a movie. I couldn’t walk through the fluorescent-lit hallways without noticing the artificial wood veneer on the door frames.
I got in my squad car and drove the 7 miles out of town to the Hackett House, a huge property that probably would have been a State Historical site if it weren’t for its remote location and the heaps of scrap metal the only remaining Hackett family member had piled around it. The Sheriff drove out to speak to Tom Hackett about a case; a girl accused a man matching Hackett’s description of watching her through her window as she undressed.
Hackett was a loner, damn near a hermit. He found rusted metal husks in abandoned fields and dragged them back to make deranged semblances of vehicles. Cadillacs with four foot tail fins, Chevys with toothed grilles. Most never ran. He seemed like the kind of guy to be a peeper. Hell, his goddamn name even fit the bill.
The Sheriff’s car was in Hackett’s driveway, edged in between some horse trough-come-coffin and an acetylene torch. It was empty.
My hand subconsciously moved to the butt of my weapon and I walked toward the dark house.
I saw the Sheriff sitting at Hackett’s dinner table, a steak knife in his right hand.
His gut hung over his brown State-issued trousers more loosely than his typical paunch. In the tan uniform shirt, it looked like a bag of broken butterscotch pudding cups. The skin of his forearm, visible in the flickering light of a candle, was pale and thin. He hadn’t moved since I first spotted him.
Something was wrong.
I moved in silently, finally seeing that the Sheriff’s wrist was tied to the chair’s arm with bloody nylon. I touched his shoulder lightly and he stirred, the tied hand tugging at the string instinctively.
“Cal!” whispered the Sheriff. “You have to run. Get out!”
The Sheriff’s mouth was covered in fresh blood, his mustache matted. His entire left forearm had been picked clean of skin and muscle, it sat limp on a silver platter on the table.
His other hand tugged against the twine toward the arm, the fingers manipulating the knife to get closer to the oozing flesh.
“I had to tie it up,” the Sheriff said, his head lulling back. He was going to die if I didn’t get him out.
“Deputy Cal? Is that you?” a soft voice called from further inside the house.
Tom Hackett strode out of the living room, a cloth napkin tucked into his shirt. “The Sheriff and I were sharing a meal. You look hungry, Cal.”
I tried to run, but my legs wouldn’t listen. I couldn’t tear my eyes from Hackett.
“Sit,” he said. And I did.
“Eat,” he said. I picked up a fork and moved closer to the Sheriff’s platter.
Tom Hackett laughed.