Phil sat Indian style on the ground behind a garbage can a few houses down from Ashley’s under a burned out street lamp. He opened a chewy granola bar, the wrapper crinkling loudly, and earned a scowl from Adam. Phil shrugged and stuffed half the granola bar in his mouth. Adam growled to himself.
“We’re going north first, probably to Hashman Street. If you spot anything, wave this at us,” Adam said, handing an LED flashlight to Phil. Phil jammed the rest of the bar into his mouth and grabbed the flashlight. He pressed a red button on the light and swirled the beam around on his hand, then clicked it off, and gave Adam a thumbs-up.
Adam and Oliver, each taking a side of the alley, walked slowly and, Oliver hoped, silently north, peering into backyards and listening for any signs of movement. Adam was somewhat surprised by how still and quiet the neighborhood was. No dogs barked. No cats scurried across the pavement. The only noise was the occasional car passing on a cross street.
“This is kinda creepy,” Oliver said. The sun had been down for a while, and although the moon was out, it didn’t seem to have much strength that night, so the only light was from the windows of houses and the occasional garage lamp. Adam nodded.
They reached the intersection where the alley met Willow Street, and Adam looked back down the alley. Phil had turned the flashlight on and was wiggling the light on the fence across from where he was sitting.
“Fucking moron,” Adam hissed to himself.
“What?” Oliver asked.
“Nothin’. Just watching that idiot down the alley giving his position away to any fucking thing that’s stalking the night looking for a snack,” Adam said.
“Oh. Yeah, that’s probably not good. You want me to go tell him to knock it off,” Oliver offered.
“Sure. I’m heading up a bit further. You wait for me with the dumb-shit, then we’ll do the southern sector,” Adam said. Oliver nodded, smiling, and headed off, quickly but quietly, he hoped.
The alley between Willow and Hashman was gravel instead of pavement, so Adam had to step more carefully. Unfortunately, there were even fewer lights, so he was constantly scuffing his shoes and making what he thought of as an unholy racket. He blamed his lack of stealth, of course, on the dumb-shit down the alley who had ruined his concentration by his amateurish shenanigans.
“Goddam fucking moron. I’m gonna kick his ass tomorrow, just for good…” he mumbled, then stepped on something squishy in a shadow. As he bent down, the smell of rot wafted up to his nose, undoubtedly stirred into action by his careless step. It appeared to be part of another possum, but the head and most of the guts where gone.
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam caught a fleck of light. He turned toward his team and saw the flashlight waving frantically. His chest stiffened and his fingers went cold. Wiping any gore that might be still on his shoe into a tuft of grass, Adam stuffed his hands into his coat pockets and paced, quickly and meaningfully, towards the waving light. He paused at Willow, looked both ways, and jogged quickly across the street.
“Goddam it, you’ve got my attention. Now get back in cover you fucks!” he grumbled. “We need a protocol meeting, fucking tomorrow.”
Adam paced quickly, but not too quickly, towards Phil and Oliver. Once they spotted him, Oliver tapped Phil’s arm and Phil shut the light off. Adam shook his head.
“Give me that goddam flashlight,” he hissed, and snatched the light from Phil’s hand, who looked a bit hurt. “Now what’s so fucking important? I was looking at a kill down there!”
“Down the other way, maybe halfway down the alley, a cat screamed,” Oliver whispered.
“Sounded serious,” Phil said.
“Okay—Oliver, send a note to Mikey and Charlie. Tell them to stay put, but that we heard something that we’re gonna check out. Then you follow us, once you’ve heard back from them. And you, dumb-ass, you come with me.”
“What? Why am I a dumb-ass?” Phil asked.
“’Cuz you’re supposed to be on a stakeout—staying hidden—and your puttin’ on a fuckin’ light show for the whole goddam world to watch.” Adam said this through teeth, which really didn’t want to part. “Now shut up, and let’s go see what’s chomping on that kitty.”
They walked quickly to the cross street, slowing drastically after crossing the road. Adam motioned for Phil to take the right hand side, and he took the left. They walked carefully, looking between fence planks and behind garbage cans. Suddenly, a bright flood light came on as Phil stepped behind a garage. Adam heard Phil breath in deeply, then turn his face towards Adam, but the light was so bright behind him that Adam could see Phil’s face.
“Motion detector,” Adam said. He saw Phil’s silhouette nod.
“Hey Adam, look on the ground,” Phil said as the light on the garage went out.
Adam clicked his flashlight on and spotted a splatter of fresh blood. He followed the drops with his light up to an overgrown hedge. Adam turned towards Oliver and waved the flashlight around. He wasn’t certain if Oliver had seen or not, but he turned the light off after just a few seconds, not wanting to alert whatever was on the other side of the hedge.
“I think that’s the Borstein’s backyard,” Phil whispered. The Borstein house had sat empty for nearly five years. Adam walked further down the hedge and until he came to the wooden gate near the center of the hedgerow.
“Locked,” he said. Climbing over the hedge in the dark was going to be tough—and noisy. “Let’s collect the newbie and walk around to the front. Easier than trying to climb this shit.” Phil nodded.
They got back to the cross street as Oliver was just coming out of Ashley’s alley.
“We’re going round the front of the Borstein place,” Phil said.
“Something left a trail of blood up to their hedge behind the yard. Makes sense that something would be hanging there. Place has been empty for a while,” Adam said. “Can you send a note to the guys letting them know we’re closing in on whatever it is!”
Oliver nodded and started typing, taking some uneven steps between words, but quickly falling behind Adam and Oliver. Adam pocketed his flashlight and pulled the strap on his helmet as tight as he could. It was action time.