This is my first draft of Hunters Chapter Eight (a) for comparison, and for an example of the extent of changes during the editing process. You can check out the current version of Chapter Eight (a) here.
The street artist slashed his charcoal stub across the sheet with the precision of a swordsman. Fat drops of water, rustled by the damp breeze from the trees overhead, popped against the umbrella that sheltered him. He sat back for a moment and adjusted the lamp above his easel to examine his work.
“Are you done?” I asked. The street lights around us were flickering to life in the encroaching dusk.
He picked up the smoldering joint resting in a cracked Bob Ross mug that served as an ashtray. “You can’t rush it,” he said, holding his lighter to the tip and taking a deep drag. His voice squeaked as he held in the smoke. “Especially not with a slice like you.”
I tugged a crumpled twenty from my jacket pocket and thrust it toward him. He rolled his eyes. “Or maybe you can.” His words washed a cloud of foul smoke over me. He stabbed a last few marks with his free hand, then whipped the sheet from his easel. He handed it to me and took the bill in the same motion. “Suit yourself. Price is the same.”
I glanced at the drawing. As I had requested, the rendition was more realistic than his displayed art selection of cartoon motifs and exaggerated features. The bruises across my face were nowhere to be seen. I had slept for hours after getting home, and the rest had made more difference than I expected. I smoothed my tangled hair before folding the drawing into squares and slipping it in my back pocket. The artist winced but said nothing, filling the air around him with a nimbus of pot smoke.
I turned my attention to the glass and concrete office building across the street. A large gold police shield flashed on the building’s doors. I searched the street to make sure no one was watching and snapped invisible.
At this hour the lobby was empty except for two security guards, one watching the nightly news and the other reading a tattered novel. The one at the television looked up as the doors opened on their own, followed by a breath of cool wind. He grunted and returned his attention to the program. I walked around the metal detector, scanned the display of offices and floors of the building, and found the King County Medical Examiner. Neither guard reacted when the elevator chimed and opened. I was used to people, even guards, giving little heed to doors and elevators misbehaving.
Getting in the building was never going to be the problem, anyway.
I dropped my invisibility as the elevator doors opened. The click of my boots on the laminate roused the man behind the desk. He closed his laptop and pushed his bifocals down, clinging to me with his gaze.
“Can I help you, miss?” He straightened his green smock to hide the paunch it did little to conceal. A fringe of gray hair ringed his glistening pate. His nametag said Grayson. He had yet to look me in the eye. “Are you lost?”
“No.” I stopped at the edge of his desk. “I’m looking for someone.”
His eyes refused to lift from the curves of my body. He smiled broadly, displaying teeth stained by coffee. The indent of a wedding ring stood out on his finger. His nails were chewed to the quick. Sweat gathered on his upper lip, stirring to life the sickening spice of his cologne.
“I’d say you found someone,” he said.
Desire already held him in its grip, and I had done nothing proactive. I could brush my fingers against his cheek, stare into his eyes, and his will would crumple. It would be that simple to get what I wanted.
Instead I pushed a hundred dollar bill across the desk toward him. It was the last cash I had, but it was worth the expense. My next victim had better be loaded. “I’m afraid a friend of mine might be here.”
Grayson stared at the bill, then looked back up. Our eyes finally met. “We would have notified the family if-”
“I’m actually looking for many people,” I clarified, pushing the hundred closer to him. “I just need to see the bodies. Or see that they aren’t here.”
A look of apprehension displaced the desire in his gaze. The change unsettled me. “Who are you looking for?”
“Have any unidentified teenagers died recently?”
Grayson’s face settled into a grim cast that unsettled me even more, as if whatever worried him had been confirmed. “Are you a reporter?”
I shook my head.
“You look too young, anyway.” He stuffed the bill in his pocket and stood up. He motioned for me to follow him through the double doors behind the desk.
I pushed through the doors in his wake. Florescent lights arced from the gleaming floor and cabinets of the room. I paused for a moment, staring at the multitude of warped reflections in the stainless steel surfaces. Nothing for it but to depend on inattentiveness. I took a step into the room, then froze. The doors swung back on me and I stumbled forward.
Six corpses in the middle of examinations rested on wheeled autopsy tables. Grayson did a silent circuit around the room as I stared, pulling out at least as many more body drawers. Similar corpses occupied each one. All of them cold, gray, undamaged but for the autopsy incisions.
Bodies just embraced by the transformation of puberty. None over thirteen at most. Bodies not just dead, but empty. Bodies ripped of their souls.
Fuck. The edges of my world started to crumble. The smell of antiseptics and Grayson’s cloying aftershave faded. The air grew colder, deader.
And carried the flutter of a scent I hadn’t smelled in decades. Memory swelled. I could smell him on all of them.
Grayson pulled out the last drawer and gestured at the room with an air of futility. “The media would go crazy if this got out. I don’t know how it’s stayed quiet so long.” He gnawed at the nail of his middle finger. “All of them John and Jane Does. If you know any of them, we could use some help identifying them.”
“When did this start?” I could barely form words.
Grayson shrugged. “A few weeks ago. They’re from all over. These are just in King County.”
My body trembled. “It’s happening in other areas.”
“They have at least this many in Tacoma. A couple more in Snohomish. If it weren’t so spread out and happening so fast, we’d be thinking serial killer.” He walked among the gurneys, his eyes darting from the bodies to me. “None with an apparent cause of death, no identification, no one asking about them….”
He might have kept talking, but I lost his voice in an encroaching silence. I stepped closer to the nearest body. She was the only one not yet scarred by an examination. Her blonde hair spilled down her shoulders and over the edge of the table. Acne concealed under makeup, breasts mere bumps under the autopsy sheet, face peaceful in a death so thorough it left nothing of her behind. I could smell her even in death, faint but newly blossomed. Mixed with the dark, intoxicating scent I dreaded.
A delicate golden cross lay askew at the hollow of her throat. It flashed in the colorless light above. I couldn’t tear my gaze from it even as the crush of bombs shattered the air around me.