The sign out front of the antique shop read: PARANORMAL PARAPHERNALIA.
One look through the bars that adorned the plate glass window and James could see how the shop had acquired its name. The interior was crammed full with a bizarre collection of knickknacks, baubles, furniture, and clothing from around the world.
An African tribal mask with baboon features hung on the wall next to a disturbing painting of a three-armed Cyclops embracing a lamb. Below it sat a chair made of what appeared to be human bones. A bust of the Greek monster, Argus, stood beside it. Leaning against the bust was a Tibetan ceremonial staff. A meticulously handwritten sign claimed the staff belonged to a Buddhist monk who had spent half his life in the mystical valley of Shangri-La.
James wondered if anyone was gullible enough to fall for such drivel, but considering the three-thousand dollar asking price he figured anyone with pockets deep enough to purchase such an item was doing so more for the story than the staff itself. It would make an excellent conversation starter.
The really expensive stuff was locked away in glass cabinets. Items such as Celtic rings engraved with strange runes, a gemstone necklace said to belong to the infamous witch Marie Balcoin, a handcrafted onyx jewelry box from India, and (surprise, surprise) several shrunken heads adorned the shelves alongside signs detailing each item's history and asking price.
James grinned despite himself. He had heard the store's owner, Paul Delroy, was an eccentric individual, and a cursory glance was all the proof he needed that those rumors were true.
He checked the entrance and saw that the roll gate was down and locked. The shop's hours were listed as nine to five Monday through Friday, and noon to five on Saturday. It was a quarter after five now. When Delroy had called him at the Wharton Gazette and requested an interview, he suggested that James meet him at his apartment above the shop after closing time.
James walked around the side of the brownstone and found a private entrance to Delroy's residence half hidden between two tall bushes. There was no doorbell, but a large knocker in the shape of a bat stared at him with red glass eyes. James banged the knocker against the door. While he waited he checked his briefcase one last time to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
He had been hounding Delroy for weeks hoping for an interview with the reclusive antique dealer. Delroy proved a hard man to reach. All calls to his shop and residence went straight to voice mail, and James had been so busy at the Gazette, as well as finishing the first draft of his latest true crime novel, that he hadn’t been able to pursue the man as efficiently as he would like.
The Gazette was James' main source of income. He worked the City Desk with a preference for the Crime Beat, especially where serial killers were concerned. He was fascinated with them. He had even helped the Federal Bureau of Investigation on a case a few years ago involving the Crossroads Killer, a deranged drifter who left a trail of bodies throughout the Midwest. The case had led to his first best seller, Tracks of a Killer.
Since his first book, James had published two additional titles. Neither was as successful as the first, and that was putting it mildly. An utter train wreck was closer to the truth. But things were about to change for the better. He had a good feeling that his upcoming book would put him back in the spotlight, because this time he wasn't just writing about the serial killer, he was going to take an active role in his capture.
How was that for a twist? He could already see the cover blurb: Best Selling Novelist James Raghnall brings a vicious killer to justice in this riveting new masterpiece. The critics and public would eat it up, he was sure of it.
The killer in question had committed a string of murders right here in James' hometown of Wharton, Indiana. Four bodies had been discovered to date, all butchered in or around their homes, their remains arranged in bizarre patterns that had so far stymied local authorities. James thought it was some kind of cult at first, but the arrangements of the bodies did not match any known cult practices.
Wharton's sheriff, Chris Baylor, had determined that the murders were committed by a single individual, someone with a penchant for knives or the equivalent thereof. Some experts were theorizing a sickle. All the victims had been hacked and slashed to death. There was no strangulation, no smothering, no blunt force trauma. Whoever this person was, he liked it up close and messy.
James checked his mini-recorder to make sure the tape was wound to the start. He then placed it in the breast pocket of his blazer and flipped through a yellow folder containing photos of the murder scenes along with several newspaper articles featuring headlines like ‘Massacre on Forsyth Street’ and ‘The Wharton Goblin Strikes Again.’
He had coined the moniker ‘Wharton Goblin’ in one of his articles about the murders. The name stuck and soon all the papers from Maine to Florida were using the Wharton Goblin when describing the killer. This was much to the sheriff’s chagrin. The last thing he wanted was a public spectacle, the exact opposite of James, who saw these murders as the perfect opportunity to rekindle his flagging writing career.
James placed the folder back into the briefcase and banged the bat-shaped knocker again. He began to wonder if anyone was home. Delroy's message was as cryptic as it was unexpected. He had left it on James' voice mail while James was arguing with his boss about one of his stories being passed over in favor of some fluff piece on the latest teenage fashion.
Delroy's voice was refined and sophisticated, his pronunciation of every word slow and deliberate. The message was short and to the point: “Mister Raghnall, I understand you wish to speak with me in regards to the Wharton Goblin case. I may have information you can use. Come by my home after five. I trust you know where I live. Good day.”
James had every intention of keeping the appointment. Not because he thought Delroy possessed information on the Wharton Goblin. More to the fact, he suspected Delroy was the Wharton Goblin.
He had no real proof outside of a writer's intuition. Delroy simply fit the psychological profile of a serial killer. He had no wife or children to speak of, few if any friends, and those who knew him described him as a real odd duck; the kind of person who kept to himself and only interacted with others when it was deemed necessary to do so.
Delroy's IQ was said to be well over a 160. One of those genius prodigies who coasted through college and could have easily snagged any high-paying job in the country. Hell, in the world.
This begged the question of why such an individual was wasting his time running an antique shop in bumfuck, Indiana. The red flags were so obvious that James was surprised Sheriff Baylor and his button-down brigade hadn't noticed them too, but Delroy wasn't even on the department's suspect list.
James came close to sharing his observations with the sheriff, but reconsidered at the last minute. Why share the glory when he could take it all for himself? Here was a chance to do something totally unique. He could make himself the hero in his own story.
Not that he was going into this blind, deaf and dumb. There was an outside chance he was wrong about the antique dealer. Being a recluse and a weirdo doesn’t automatically make one a serial killer. Still, if he was right—and every instinct screamed that he was—then he felt it prudent to bring along a little protection.
James caressed the .22 pistol in his hip pocket. Its presence gave him the confidence to see this mad scheme through to the end. He knocked again, but there was still no answer. This was getting ridiculous. James pulled his blazer tight against himself to ward off the chill in the late October air and looked up at the second story window.
He could see the faint glow of a light inside…and the silhouette of a figure staring down at him.
The hair stood up on the nape of James' neck. He stepped back for a clearer look, but the figure was gone. Had someone been watching him or had he imagined it? Just for the hell of it he tried the doorknob. Anything was better than standing here in the cold, waiting for someone who may or may not be home to answer. The knob twisted in his grasp and the door creaked open.
James was surprised. Delroy locked his store up tighter than a drum, but left the door to his residence unlocked? Of course, it could have been left open specifically for him. His arrival was expected, after all.
He peeked inside and saw a narrow hallway to the right of the foyer and a staircase to the left. Macabre music drifted down from the second floor. It sounded like Franz Liszt's ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2’.
How utterly proper.
“Hello?” James called. There was no answer. He called again with the same result. Maybe the music was drowning him out? That would explain why Delroy hadn’t answered the door.
Decision time. Should he enter or try back some other time? The answer was obvious enough. Delroy had invited him, hadn't he? And who knew when he would get another chance to speak with the man. There was a story here, and reporters went where the story led them, plain and simple.
Here goes nothing, James thought.
And on the heels of that: No, not nothing. Here goes everything.
He stepped through the door and shut it behind him.
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Copyright, 2013, Jeremy Lee Riley, Wamingo Publishing. All right's reserved.