The Naked Face / Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Thirteen


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TWENTY MINUTES LATER Judd unlocked his office door to admit Angeli and Lieutenant McGreavy. Angeli's eyes were red and teary. His voice was hoarse. Judd had a momentary pang at having dragged him out of a sickbed. McGreavy's greeting was a curt, unfriendly nod.

"I told Lieutenant McGreavy about the phone call from Norman Moody," Angeli said.

"Yeah. Let's find out what the hell this is all about," McGreavy said sourly.

Five minutes later they were in an unmarked police car speeding downtown on the West Side. Angeli was at the wheel. The light snowfall had stopped and the gruel-thin rays of the late afternoon sun had surrendered to the oppres sive cover of storm clouds sweeping across the Manhattan sky. There was a loud clap of thunder in the distance and then a bright, jagged sword of lightning. Drops of rain began to spatter the windshield. As the car continued downtown, tall, soaring skyscrapers gave way to small, grimy tenements huddled together as if for comfort against the biting cold.

The car turned into Twenty-third Street, going west toward the Hudson River. They moved into a land of junk yards and fix-it shops and dingy bars, then past that to blocks of garages, trucking yards and freight companies. As the car neared the corner of Tenth Avenue, McGreavy directed An geli to pull over to the curb.

"We'll get out here." McGreavy turned to Judd. "Did Moody say whether anyone would be with him?"

"No."

McGreavy unbuttoned his overcoat and transferred his service revolver from his holster to his overcoat pocket. An geli followed suit. "Stay in back of us," McGreavy ordered Judd.

The three men started walking, ducking their heads against the wind-lashed rain. Halfway down the block, they came to a dilapidated-looking building with a faded sign above the door that read:

FIVE STAR MEAT PACKING COMPANY

There were no cars or trucks or lights, no sign of life.

The two detectives walked up to the door, one on either side. McGreavy tested the door. It was locked. He looked around, but could see no bell. They listened. Silence, except for the sound of the rain.

"It looks closed," Angeli said.

"It probably is," McGreavy replied. "The Friday before Christmas - most companies are knocking off at noon."

"There must be a loading entrance."

Judd followed the two detectives as they moved cautiously toward the end of the building, trying to avoid the puddles in their path. They came to a service alley, and looking down it, they could discern a loading platform with deserted trucks pulled up in front of it. There was no activity. They moved forward until they reached the platform.

"OK," McGreavy said to Judd. "Sing out."

Judd hesitated, feeling unreasonably sad that he was betraying Moody. Then he lifted his voice. "Moody! " The only response was the yowling of an angry tomcat disturbed in his search for dry shelter. "Mr. Moody!"

There was a large wooden sliding door on top of the plat form, used to move the deliveries from inside the warehouse to the area where the trucks were loaded. There were no steps leading onto the platform. McGreavy hoisted himself up, moving with surprising agility for such a large man. An geli followed, then Judd. Angeli walked over to the sliding door and pushed against it. It was unlocked. The great door rolled open with a loud, high-pitched scream of protest. The tomcat answered hopefully, forgetting about shelter. Inside the warehouse it was pitch black.

"Did you bring a flashlight?" McGreavy asked Angeli.

"No."

"Shit!"

Cautiously they inched their way into the gloom. Judd called out again. "Mr. Moody! It's Judd Stevens."

There was no sound except for the creaking of the boards as the men moved across the room. McGreavy rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a book of matches. He lit one and held it up. Its feeble, sputtering light cast a wavering yellow glow in what seemed to be an enormous empty cavern. The match guttered out. "Find the goddam light switch," McGreavy said. "That was my last match."

Judd could hear Angeli groping along the walls looking for the light switch. Judd kept moving forward. He could not see the other two men. "Moody!" he called.

He heard Angeli's voice from across the room. "Here's a switch." There was a click. Nothing happened.

"The master switch must be off," McGreavy said.

Judd bumped against a wall. As he put his hands out to brace himself, his fingers closed over a doorlatch. He shoved the latch up and pulled. A massive door swung open and a blast of frigid air hit him. "I've found a door," he called out. He stepped over a sill and cautiously moved forward. He heard the door close behind him and his heart began to ham mer. Impossibly, it was darker here than in the other room, as though he had stepped into a deeper blackness.

"Moody! Moody..."

A thick, heavy silence. Moody had to be here somewhere. If he weren't, Judd knew what McGreavy would think. It would be the boy who cried wolf again.

Judd took another step forward and suddenly felt cold flesh lick against his face. He jerked away in panic, feeling the short hairs on his neck rise. He became aware of the strong smell of blood and death surrounding him. There was an evil in the darkness around him, waiting to close in on him. His scalp tingled with fear and his heart was beating so rap idly that it was difficult to breathe. With trembling fingers he fumbled for a book of matches in his overcoat, found one, and scraped a match against the cover. In its light he saw a huge dead eye loom up in front of his face, and it took a shocked second before he realized that he was looking at a slaughtered cow dangling from a meat hook. He had one brief glimpse of other animal carcasses hanging from hooks, and the outline of a door in the far corner, before the match went out. The door probably led to an office. Moody could be in there, waiting for him.

Judd moved farther into the interior of the inky black cav ern toward the door. He felt the cold brush of dead animal flesh again. He quickly stepped away and kept walking cau tiously toward the office door. "Moody!"

He wondered what was detaining Angeli and McGreavy. He moved past the slaughtered animals, feeling as though someone with a macabre sense of humor was playing a horrible, maniacal joke. But who and why were beyond his imagining. As he neared the door, he collided with another hanging carcass.

Judd stopped to get his bearings. He lit his last remaining match. In front of him, impaled on a meat hook and grin ning obscenely, was the body of Norman Z. Moody. The match went out.


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