They were tearing up an old road to lay more freeway, a few miles south of Las Vegas. The state of Nevada’s Department of Highways’ digging would be a help to thousands of motorists, but to one other person, it would turn out to be a nightmare.
May 2nd, 8:15pm. Airline stewardess Elena Muñoz and blew a steel-belted radial on a jagged rock. She cursed the power of advertising. She had no idea how cursed her evening really was.
Elena Muñoz pulls to a stop and takes tools from the car trunk to change her tire. She gashes her finger in the process; her blood drips onto the ground. Nearby loose earth begins to move. Like evil flowers, two human hands claw their way skyward. The movement catches Elena’s eye and when she realizes what she’s seeing she screams and runs. Later when she returns with deputies there is nothing but excavated earth – in a construction site – to support her story.
In Chicago it’s one of the hottest springs in memory and Carl is trying to coax a breeze from an ancient table fan without success. He’s also paying an old debt to a visiting friend: Jim “The Swede” Brytowski, now James Bright and a successful television anchorman. From the Swede, Carl learns of a string of murders occurring west of Las Vegas in towns along the route to Los Angeles. Police aren’t saying much; according to the Swede, “the lid is on the pot – but you can sure smell something cooking.” At that point, Tony returns from lunch. It seems the Swede owes Tony money and has to do a fast fade to evade him; Carl can’t learn more.
Ron Updyke has a wire report. The New York office wants someone from Chicago to visit Los Angeles, to do a piece on Mehtamira, a fifteen year old guru. It seems the four reporters from the Los Angeles INS office are all hospitalized following a car accident and Chicago must pick up their assignment. Gears are turning in Carl’s head. Using reverse psychology Carl tricks Tony into assigning him the piece. Then Updyke claims special expertise and Carl panics until some quick quackery convinces Tony that Carl knows more. Tony “forces” Carl to take the assignment. Ron knows exactly what happened and he’s furious, but Carl is able to keep his mirth contained until after Ron leaves.
May 6th, 11:15pm, Los Angeles’ fabled sunset strip. While I was dozing on a cross-country flight, Catherine Rawlins, 25, was stopped on the street by someone she hadn’t seen in three years. A lot had changed in three years. A whole lot.
Rawlins and her old friend return to his apartment, where they immediately begin kissing passionately... Later that night Linda Courtner returned home early with a splitting headache to the apartment she shared with Rawlins’ friend and lover only to discover horror and a painful end.
Carl checks into the Roosevelt and prepares to call Tony when a radio report catches his ear. It concerns a man found in Barstow whom deputies believe succumbed to desert heat. The body was described as “severely dehydrated” – exactly like the bodies the Swede described earlier.
Carl races to Barstow to investigate; these murders are his real reason for visiting Los Angeles. There Deputy Sample tells him the victim, Mitchell, died around 5:30am. Carl suggests Mitchell was murdered right around sun-up; Sample wonders then if Carl’s been chewing mescal – no one said Mitchell was murdered. The deputy tells Carl the car was stolen in Vegas and Mitchell decided to repaint it – that’s why the windows are taped. But Carl points out that the windows are taped on the inside. Then Carl asks if Mitchell had a pair of puncture marks in his throat. Sample has had enough; he lets Carl know that nosy people sometimes get their tires punctured. Taking the hint, Carl leaves.
Carl visits the home of the guru, realizing that he must produce the story for which he was sent west. But he is late and the guru has moved on to Dallas. Left there now are Chandra, the guru’s assistant, and Faye Kruger, who is selling the house. Introducing himself as a representative of the INS Carl learns that Faye Kruger went to journalism school. And Faye knows the guru and his inner circle. Better yet, Faye has discussed transcendental meditation with the guru extensively. Carl hatches a plan. Faye will write the story using her accumulated knowledge and sign Carl’s byline – just at first until they see how good she is. All Carl will do is proof the story.
En route to his hotel with Faye in tow Carl hears a breaking story: two bodies have been discovered; and Lieutenant Jack Matteo is giving a press conference. Dropping Faye off at the hotel Carl races to the crime scene at the apartment where Catherine murdered her lover and his new girlfriend.
Matteo is discussing the case with other reporters. Two members of the Dark Star Coven, a group of Satan worshippers – have been arrested and charged with the murders. They were found in possession of a suction device. Carl points out how long it would take to drain the victims’ blood with such a device. This gets the other reporters stirred up. Why would the suspects risk apprehension by remaining at the scene for so long? Matteo’s only answer is that the suspects are deranged. Carl feeds a colleague a question: are these murders linked to the Barstow killing and the others before that? Matteo replies that any leads discovered will be provided to the press at the proper time. The male victim was a former stuntman who would be difficult to subdue, but Matteo believes that one of his suspects, Constantine Praganos, who is 6’ 2” and weighs 250 lbs, could manage it. Police psychiatrist Dr. Kornbaum believes these were ritual murders, carried out so the perpetrators could serve human blood at their Sabbath. Despite questions from Carl and others Matteo will not reveal certain facts – among them, where the suction device was attached to the victims.
Back at the hotel Faye is pecking away at her story. Carl contacts an old friend in Vegas who is putting together a missing persons list. Carl is dismayed to learn there are eighty-seven names on the list but asks Frank to send it along anyway.
The phone rings and Carl’s worst fears are confirmed: it’s Tony and he wants the story. Carl covers the phone with a towel and uses an electric razor to simulate a bad connection. This and some deliberate misunderstanding of Tony’s questions buys him some time. Carl gives Faye a few tips but otherwise does not proofread her work. The he returns to the murder scene.
Carl again encounters Lieutenant Matteo and shares a theory that the victims were killed for food by a vampire. Matteo dismisses Carl as idiotic and orders him out of town. Outside the apartment Carl chances across the manager. From him Carl learns much more: that the murdered woman’s clothing was taken and that she worked as a high class prostitute for Grace’s Catering Service. He also learns the victim’s sister left for Las Vegas a few years ago and disappeared there. Her name was Catherine Rawlins.
May 8th, 8:10pm. Ichabod Grace, businessman, entrepreneur, was about to make an investment - more of a takeover than a merger. Ichabod’s terms were fair, his pitch persuasive. Ichabod thought he had added another filly to his stable of trotters. In Ichabod’s parlance, his new acquisition was called a fox. He had no way of knowing she was actually more closely related to the bat.
Carl retrieves the missing persons list from the hotel desk. Catherine Rawlins appears there at number 58. Arrested several times for prostitution, she’d disappeared late in 1970. Two things were clear: she was no longer missing, nor could she now be considered a person.
Tony calls again. He’s furious because the story Faye wrote reads like a piece for Better Homes and Gardens, and is not a piece about transcendental meditation. And he’s wise to the shaver trick. He demands a rewrite or it will be the end for Carl. Faye sets to work fixing the story while Carl calls Grace’s Catering and arranges for Catherine Rawlins to deliver “something warm” to “Tony” a little after 8:00pm. He’d hoped for later, around 4:00am, but no luck.
Having set up the appointment Carl sends Faye away, promising there will be time for the required rewrite tomorrow. Locking the door, Carl prepares for Catherine by drawing a large cross on the back of the door with borrowed lipstick. Then he takes a mallet and wooden stake from his bag and begins his waits.
At 8:00pm someone knocks on Carl’s door. Carl tells the visitor that the door is open and she enters; the room is dark. Inside, she asks for Tony. But she’s not Catherine Rawlins, and when confronted by a cross wielding Kolchak she’s a little put off. They have a short conversation and Carl learns about Ichabod Grace, the pimp who runs a string of hookers as Grace’s Catering. He also learns the high cost of prostitution in Hollywood - $200.
Carl finds Ichabod Grace and tells him Catherine Rawlins killed her sister Linda Courtner. Grace doesn’t believe him and at first won’t reveal where Catherine is. Carl asks him about Catherine’s wardrobe. Grace realizes Catherine’s clothes are the same as those that belonged to Linda Courtner, he muses that there might be some kind of family resemblance. Grace finally reveals that he sent Catherine over to “Stacker’s pad” – Stacking being Clayton “Stacker” Shoemaker of the Los Angeles Rams.
10:43pm. Tackle Hugo Maltz and the famous Rams “Godzilla Gang” arrived at the home of Stacker Shoemaker to give their amorous teammate what Maltz had called one hellacious surprise. The surprise was all theirs.
The Godzilla Gang bursts in on Shoemaker and sees Catherine with fangs bared. She throws them around the room with no effort and is about to dispatch Carl, who burst in during the fight. Carl improvises a cross from a pair of crossed fireplace tools and fends her off. Policemen burst in and Catherine flees, leaving Carl and his makeshift cross looking rather foolish.
Carl’s camera and recorder landed in the fireplace during the donnybrook; Matteo helps him retrieve it, but it’s burned and broken. There’s no evidence to support Carl’s claim that a woman did all the damage. Matteo’s men chased her for three blocks but failed to catch her. The football players reported someone with long hair. Matteo believes it could have been someone from the Dark Star Coven, perhaps employing martial arts. Matteo has had more than enough of Kolchak, and calls Tony. Tony orders Carl to cooperate with whatever the police ask on pain of unemployment. Matteo orders Carl out of town.
Packing, Carl answers a knock. His visitor is Faye, who is surprised to see him preparing to leave. He tells her to keep writing, but she disagrees and says she’ll return to real estate. That triggers Carl’s wits. He asks Faye if agents rent as well as sell houses and she confirms that they do. Carl hustles her to the office so they can consult the listings. Ten hours of hard work yields Catherine Rawlins’ new home – but the sun has gone down, and Carl knows if he waits for sunup, he’ll risk being run out of town by Lieutenant Matteo before he can destroy the monster.
Taking gasoline and his improvised vampire kit from his car, Carl approaches a secluded house set in high vegetation. Tripping his way down the hill and making a lot of noise, Carl spooks a black cat that races into the darkness. He’s made enough noise to alert the soundest sleeper and as he climbs the ironwork searching for a way in he hears a soft hiss – behind him. But his flashlight reveals nothing; it could have been the cat. Climbing down, he continues around the outside of the house. The hiss comes again and Carl plays his flashlight low on the ground, perhaps hoping it’s the cat. But it’s not the cat, it’s Cat – Catherine Rawlins has circled behind him. He flees, trips, and she jumps him. It would be the end but Carl manages to wrestle a cross out of his bag and she is forced to retreat. She catches him again as he sprawls back up the hill, and again the cross saves him. This time he presses it to her back, burning her. The delay buys Carl enough time to light a local landmark – an enormous cross that is perched atop the hill. The cross burns quickly and brightly, and its glare paralyzes Rawlins. Then Carl lights a fire around the base of the cross, trapping Rawlins near it. Immobilized, she is helpless to prevent Carl from finishing her off with a mallet and stake.
Matteo had a detective tailing me but he lost me around the time Catherine found me. I wasn’t particularly hard to find after that; it was just a question of following the light. I was told it could be seen from the Sunset strip, west Los Angeles, and Malibu. It was a local landmark, so I had to pay for another one and I didn’t mind at all. I just couldn’t think of a way to get it on the expense account.
They booked me for murder just like I thought they would, but then after twelve hours, they let me go. They never did say why, but as I was sitting in Lieutenant Matteo’s office waiting for execution, I happened to see a coroner’s report on Catherine Rawlins. I quote the coroner: “The tissue structure of the individual appeared to be that of a female, species human, who had been dead at least three years. This is a medical conundrum for which I have no explanation.” Share this article with your friends