By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 25: To Silence a Madman
Two years before Tom Eastman fell into the Brennon’s basement, Darren Brennon had taken it upon himself to seal his basement. He had grown tired of the periodic flooding from an underground wet-weather spring the builders had inadvertently covered when they built his house. Even with the sump in the basement, the drainage was a constant problem. After his third mold abatement, he had had enough and decided he would take it upon himself to seal the basement. After doing a little research, he chose a waterproof pool mat surface for the floor and then painted the walls with a thick layer of impregnable waterproof sealant like that used to paint the hulls of boats. He had done a very good job and the next time it rained, water ran around his house without a drop finding its way into the basement. Unfortunately for Tom, what keeps water out also keeps water in. When he crashed through the floor, a pipe that had been running across the ceiling where he fell through snapped and began to pour water into the basement at an alarming rate. This added to the flow already dripping down the wall from the leak in the attic, and the water began to quickly rise. The little sump was not made for this kind of load and had already ran more in the last few weeks than it had in all of its previous life. The water began to back up and an already taxed pump began to falter.
Tom woke up just over two hours after falling through the floor from the hall above and found himself lying flat on his back on a strange spongy floor. The water had already risen to cover his ears in a chilly embrace. He leaped to his feet, shivering uncontrollably. Light filtered through frosted half windows at the top of the walls which lent just enough light for him to see, but left many shadow darkened areas that would only grow as the afternoon sun continued to fall below the horizon. During his unplanned nap, debris from the hole he had created – along with the miscellaneous trash that finds its way into basements – accumulated around the floor drain and sump. Plaster, paper, and insulation sealed the pump and blocked the impeller. The pump burned out with a loud pop, and as the water began to rise the dramatic design flaw in Darren Brennon’s waterproof basement became all too apparent.
“Well don’t that fucking beat all,” Tom whispered through teeth clenched against a freezing chatter.
He looked at the jagged hole in the ceiling twelve feet above him and blinked in surprise. He had fallen straight through floor joists. How the hell had he done that? That was impossible. He chuckled. That which used to be impossible did not seem so impossible now, not with Mary Sue around. He could see her in the decay of this house. It had her mark all over it. Unfortunately, she appeared to have abandoned him to his fate. At least he was alive.
That old Eastman luck, he mused. Dumb luck, Dad called it. “Fuck him and Mary Sue!” He spat. “You’ll pay for this bitch. Nobody leaves Tom Eastman. Nobody! Do you hear me? Nobody!”
Mary Sue did not answer.
He bent down and poked the strange soft floor beneath the water. He would have to thank Darren. This weird floor had likely saved his life. He had seen floors like this around pools and hot-tubs and wondered if the Brennon’s were planning on getting a hot tub. Sarah Brennon was a little chunky for his taste, but she probably filled out a bikini quite nicely. There had to be better places than a dank basement for such as that, though – unless, maybe, they were a bit kinky too. He shook his head. He had been drifting again. He needed to focus. He shrugged and stood back up, looking at the hole above him again. That twelve-foot drop could have easily snapped his neck or back if he had hit the ground wrong. Hell, he could have drowned had he not woken up. He tried to get a better look at the broken boards, but the sun had dropped just enough for the ceiling to be in shadow.
“That’s one hell of a termite infestation you got there, Darren old buddy,” Tom surmised sagely. “You’re gonna be one pissed asshole when you get back from vacation.” He sighed and then said, “Maybe it’s not termites, maybe it’s Mary Sue. Is this all your doing, Mary Sue?” He was speaking rhetorically. Apparently, Mary Sue no longer thought him worth a response. Was she even listening anymore? Of course she was listening. It was him, Tom Eastman, after all. She would want to know how it all ended. The invasion of his mind bothered him a great deal now that she wasn’t with him. Bitch, he thought as loudly as he could manage. Get out of my head.
Mary Sue did not respond.
He fished around in his pockets to assess what gear – if any – he still had with him. He was weapon poor now. He had lost all but two of his weapons. He pictured the punch dagger sticking out of the side of the cop’s head. Ronald, the lady on the radio had named him. He had been carrying Ronald’s pistol when the floor gave way, but it was now hidden underwater, likely somewhere nearby, but he could not find it. He had saved his Sig Sauer 220 as his final backup should all else fail, but it was wet and he may have broken it when he fell on it. Would it even fire? Maybe, he had no idea really. He hoped it would because he had a feeling he was going to need a gun before this was over. He was not entirely weaponless though. His trusty hunting knife still hung from his belt. And if all else fails, well there were tools and building supplies lying all over the basement.
His stomach rumbled in hungry irritation, interrupting his thoughts. When was the last time he had eaten? Mary Sue could bring him some food, right? Of course she could, he thought.
“Mary Sue,” he said, but not too loudly as there might be cops outside still wandering around the neighborhood. Surely they figured out it was not him in the forest by now.
Mary Sue remained silent.
Why wouldn’t she answer him? Was she even real? Had he imagined her? No of course not, Tom Eastman did not imagine things. Had he disappointed her in some way? “Mary Sue!” He tried again a little more forcefully, but still not above a hissed whisper.
Still no response.
“Damn bitch,” he mumbled. She had abandoned him, of course she had. Don’t they always? He shook his head and said, “Just like a bitch. Just when you think they understand the rules, they leave your ass high and dry when all you want is a bite to eat. Fuck! Fucking, bitchy, bitch, damn it all to hell, fuck!” He cursed splashing around.
Tom took a deep breath and blew it out in a long low sigh. He needed to calm down. This whole situation had gotten out of hand. And just how had that happened? Why, Mary Sue of course. All he had wanted to do was get back at Amy and see his daughter again. Was that so much to ask? Granted there would still have to be some discipline meted out. One did not just walk out on Tom Eastman. No sir, one did not just do that. Had this been Mary Sue’s plan all along? Was he just some tool to be used and discarded?
“Hell no, not Tom Eastman. I ain’t nobody’s tool. Fucking bitch!” He exclaimed.
First things first: he needed to get out of here. He sloshed over to the stairs that lead up to a doorway which exited out from under the main stairs on the first floor above. He grabbed the railing to start climbing the stairs. The railing was covered in a thick layer of black slime. It might just as well have been covered in grease. His body, already in motion, pitched forward. Tom twisted as he fell and threw himself back to keep from slamming into the stairs and lost all control. With a splash and a jarring thud, he fell hard into a seated position back onto the basement floor.
“God damn it!” He yelped louder than he intended and then clapped a hand over his mouth.
He pushed himself to his feet and looked at the railing. A dark black mold covered every square inch of the rough wooden rails. He looked at his hand. The fungus covered his palm in an oozing layer. It was disgusting. Could this be what weakened the floor above? He studied his hand for a few seconds. He thought he could feel the stuff eating into his palm. With a shiver, he stuck his hand in the water, then scrubbed it against his jeans. The mold came off readily enough, although it clung with tenacious strength to the denim of his pants. He could not be sure in the waning light of the basement, but his hand did look a little red.
“Rubbed it too hard. That’s all,” Tom mumbled, but he would not touch the railing again if he could help it.
Tom took a tentative step up and then froze. Through the hole in the ceiling behind him, the clear sound of the front door crashing inward sent panic racing through his chest.
“Franklin PD. If there’s anyone here make yourself known and come out with your hands up!”
He had been found and there was nothing he could do about it. Or was there?
Del Fuller and Nina Houle peeked into the front windows of 006 Silent Glade Drive. The windows were fogged on the inside, occluding much of what they could have seen behind the smoky glaze. There were no lights or other obvious signs of inhabitants, but that meant nothing. Tom Eastman would be a fool to leave a light on in a house he must know had been vacant for a month. Up to this point, he had not acted as if he were a fool that wanted to get caught, or as the type who would make stupid mistakes. They had to assume he would continue to behave in such a manner. It was as if the Devil himself protected this man.
“I don’t see anything. Do you?” Nina whispered.
“Not a thing. I still hear water running though. Did you notice how dark the rooms were painted?” Del replied, but before she could answer he turned to Officer Wade Craig who stood with three other officers by the front door, one of which carried a large door busting ram he called “Old Charlie”. Del said, “Listen, it’s very dark in there. If we’re lucky we’ll still have power. If not – and I’m betting not, we’ll have to be extra cautious. There’ll be a lot of shadows this late in the day. Nina?” Del looked up at his partner, asking with a look if she had anything to add before they proceeded.
Nina nodded and said, “We should split up. You, Wade, and Officer Marshal go upstairs and clear it. I’ll take Officers Coleman and Emerick and clear the downstairs. I want this by the book, people. I know you have at least six good reasons to want this man dead. Those were good officers and they did not deserve the death they were given, but vengeance is not our job. If Tom is in there, we want him alive if at all possible. He will answer for his crimes, but we are not his judge, or jury, and certainly not his executioners. Do I make myself clear? We take him alive.”
“Yes, ma’am,” the three junior officers said in unison.
“We know our jobs, detective. You don’t have to remind us,” Officer Craig said testily, but he nodded in agreement all the same. “Are we ready?”
Officer Craig turned to the officer holding the ram and said, “Do it.”
Del was always amazed at how efficient a ram could knock a doorknob through a door. He had never seen a door in a modern home that could stand up to one. Only a solid metal door had any hope of resistance and the Brennon’s front door did not look like that type of door. When Officer Emerick pulled back “Ole Charlie” and slammed it into the door knob, the point was proved as the door crumbled like paper. The knob disappeared into the house with a clatter as it slid across the floor and slammed into the wall on the other side of the small foyer.
Emerick dropped the ram to the side, pushed the door open, then slid in and to the right with his gun raised. Officers Coleman and Marshal filed in behind him.
Wade Craig followed and said, “Franklin PD. If there’s anyone here make yourself known and come out with your hands up!”
He heard nothing in return except the steady splash of water running into a large pool. Del and Nina stepped in behind them, and Del immediately sneezed.
“Damn. It’s that black mold again,” Del said, trying the lights.
Nothing. The power in the house was off.
He walked over to the wall across from him and grimaced. He had been wrong. The Brennon’s had not painted their house in dark colors. The walls were covered in mold. He pulled his kerchief out of his pocket and made a quick mask for himself. On every wall, every piece of furniture, and the floor and ceiling for several feet out from each wall, Del could see a thick layer of black mold. It had even grown half way up a family photo that sat on a small table in the foyer.
Del wondered how long it would take for a leak to ruin a house like this. Longer than a month, he was sure of that. There was no way the Brennon family would not have left the house with an ongoing leak of this magnitude, so it had to have happened while they were gone. He put on gloves and then pressed the wall with a finger. The drywall behind the mold was soft and his finger popped right through the wall. He pulled his finger out quickly and a fat spider crawled out of the hole as if it had been waiting all day for him to come along and free it. He knew then he would regret coming into this house. If nothing else, his mold allergy would make sure of that. Something told him his allergies would be the least of his problems today. This house just felt bad. Tom Eastman was here – or maybe something worse than Tom. Would any of them survive if they met whoever – or whatever – attacked that SWAT team in the woods? He didn’t think so.
Wade Craig could not believe his eyes. He had never seen a mold problem like this before. It tickled his throat, and filled his nose with an acrid smell that reminded him of ammonia more than anything else. He envied Del’s handkerchief. They all needed masks of some kind. This stuff could not be good for them.
Officer Marshal stood in an archway across the room and waved to get Wade’s attention, then pointed in the room behind and signaled he had found the stairs up to the second floor. Wade tapped Del on the shoulder and pointed towards Officer Marshal. The three of them left the foyer and climbed the stairs.
Nina and Officers Emerick and Coleman began the task of clearing the first floor. She did not expect it to take more than a couple of minutes. After the first room though, Nina had a thought. If this house were like the Eastman’s, it would have a basement. She stopped. Tom could crawl out a window if he were in the basement. She pointed to Officer Coleman and brought him close. She leaned in and whispered for him to step out and make sure the backup outside had all sides of the house covered. Tom would not escape, not again. When he left, Nina motioned for Emerick to continue the room to room search.
Emerick stepped into the next room and swept the area. The sparsely furnished office held only a desk, a chair and a small glassed in bookcase. Emerick stepped to the center of the room. There was nowhere to hide. Suddenly a loud pop exploded around him and his entire body bounced. For a second, he thought he had been shot, but there was no one there.
Nina was right outside the door looking toward the kitchen. A strange dark place on the floor near the back door had drawn her eye. She could not tell if it was some kind of rug, or a stain, or maybe more mold like that on the walls. It looked like a giant hole in the floor, but that was impossible in a house like this. It was at that moment that the pop sounded from the room in which Officer Emerick had just stepped. She spun and entered with her gun raised when the floor fell out from under them with a loud crash and they tumbled into a water filled basement.
Nina awoke to the unpleasant sensation of being slapped hard. Her left wrist, clearly broken, screamed in white hot pain. A heavy weight pressed into her stomach, and it was hard for her to catch her breath. She lay on a slight incline created by the office floor which had fallen into the basement. Water covered the ground at least 6 inches deep, but fortunately her face was higher than her feet. She craned her neck to see who had smacked her. The dim light did not make this task easy, but she did not have to wonder long.
“Wakey, wakey, ya’ big ass bitch,” Tom Eastman said. He knelt beside her on the floor with one knee pressing on her stomach. His large hunting knife was poised above her face, held casually as if he might drop it at any second. His eyes darted around the room and up through the hole in the floor. He cocked his head to one side, listening.
Nina opened her mouth to scream, but Tom moved with frightening speed and punched her in the chin. She bit her tongue hard and blood gushed into her mouth. He leaned in close and held the point of the knife just above her right eye.
“I heard a funny thing a couple of days ago,” Tom said as if he were talking to a friend at a bar. “It seems someone’s been telling folks I cut out Beverly’s eyes. Hell, I didn’t even know that hot little bitch had an accident until I heard I was the cause of it. Now ain’t that a bitch? I think that’s a bitch. Don’t you?”
Nina was shaking her head side to side. She had to play along, because this asshole was going to cut her and probably kill her, but she could not move yet, not yet. She was not even sure she was ok. Everything in her body hurt. She looked to where she thought Officer Emerick had fallen, but Tom moved the knife in front of her and directed her back. The glimpse she had gotten had been enough though. Officer Emerick’s guts lay next to him on the floor.
“Oh yes, I understand it’s hard to believe with your buddy all carved up and shit. Hell, I wouldn’t trust me either.” He shook his head and waved the knife in front of her eyes. “I didn’t do it, though. No sir, I didn’t, and you can take that shit to the bank.”
Nina nodded. Her breath wheezed in and out. She must have broken a few ribs in the fall.
Tom stopped to listen again. A small ribbon of drool fell from his mouth as he tilted his head to one side. He nodded as if he heard what he expected, then turned back to her with a smile that seemed far too wide. He said, “Now I figure your fat partner’s around here somewhere, and you probably got a shitload of cops outside just waiting for me. I can hear them moving upstairs you know. Between you and me, I don’t think I’m going to get out of this alive.”
A tear slipped out of one of Nina’s eyes. She was not crying, but she had not blinked in a long time. She studied this killer with a professional eye. His blood lust was up. She could see his hard-on pressing against his pants. Did he even notice? She didn’t think so. Tom Eastman was a psychopath and that meant that he might be completely numb to normal sensations. Only extreme situations would arouse him, which explained quite a bit when she thought about it, but he did not appear to do this for the sexual pleasure. Or did he? No, she didn’t think so, at least not with those he intended to murder. All he wanted to do was hurt her. And of that, she had no doubt.
“Oh now, don’t cry there, bitch. I’m just going to give you a little something to remember me by. I figure you assholes’ll pin Beverly’s blinding on me anyway, so… you guessed it. Oh yes, I might as well blind me a bitch. You must know me a little by now, and if I’m going to take the blame anyway, I wouldn’t want to miss all the fun.”
And with that, Tom popped Nina’s eye like a ripe grape with the point of his knife.
Nina screamed. Adrenalin flooded her body like a river of power. She flung him off of her like he was a cardboard cut-out. Tom flew ten feet and landed in a heap. That was it for the adrenaline, though; that was all it could give her. The pain in her face felt like the worst headache of all time mixed with the intense burning sensation that a giant splinter in her eye might cause. Her perception was completely screwed. She knew the wet glob she felt on her cheek was her ruined right eye plucked from the socket when she flung the madman off of her. There was still a little sight in that eye, and now that it pointed at the floor, nausea and dizziness where all she could think about.
How do chameleons do it? She wondered in her delirium.
Suddenly, a dark shadow rose from the water covered floor in front of her.
“Damn! You’re one strong bitch. Kind of turns me on if you want to know the truth of it. Too bad I got to kill you now. Oh yes, that’s just too fucking bad,” Tom said and pointed a small caliber handgun directly at her face.
Nina heard him cock his gun and closed her one good eye, waiting for death to find her.
“Freeze, asshole,” Del barked from somewhere across the room.
The cavalry has arrived, she thought and fell back into the cool water. She did not want to lay down. She wanted to get up and help, but this disorientation and the unrelenting pain in her face would not let her. Shivering with shock, she knew she had to gather herself for a moment or she would be completely useless. Give me just a minute, Del, she begged.
“Fuck you, fat boy!” Tom Eastman cried as he turned and started firing.
Tom’s first shot hit Officer Marshal in the forehead. He died before he could pull his gun from his holster. Wade Craig’s first shot whizzed past Tom’s ear wide of the mark by less than an inch. Tom’s second shot blew out Wade’s left knee and he tumbled down the slick stairs into the waiting pool of water, cracking his head against the concrete wall. Del’s first shot did not miss though, and Tom was blown backwards off his feet. Tom was not finished yet though, and he spun over in the water and shot twice more. The first bullet hit the ceiling far from its mark, but the second hit Del in his gun arm. He dropped his .38 and fell to a seated position on the stairs, grasping his shoulder.
Tom pulled the trigger again, but nothing happened. He tried twice more before tossing the gun to the side. He walked a few steps to where he had fallen when Nina threw him. He bent and picked up his hunting knife. A look of wicked pleasure crossed his features as he made his way towards Del. A hole low on the right of Tom’s stomach bled freely. Tom did not appear to notice.
“I’m going to kill you, fat boy. You and that big bitch over there have been a pain in my ass. Oh yes, a serious pain in my ass. It’s made my last days pretty interesting though. So, kudos on that, asshole.”
“Why did you do it?” Del asked. “Why murder all those people? Why blind Beverly?”
“Why?” Tom asked, amused as he stepped warily across the basement. He glanced at the unmoving form of Officer Craig and Officer Marshal. “Why indeed? Do I need a reason? Can’t my wife just be a bitch? I mean maybe she needed her ass kicked. Did you ever think of that?” He took a deep breath and winced but didn’t slow his approach. He nodded at the downed officers. “I thought you sons-a-bitches would kill me. Turns out, not so much.”
Tom grimaced as he closed the last few feet, “Fucking nice shot by the way. Shit hurts pretty good.” He winked and slowly licked his lips. “It’s kind of nice.”
The thunder of footsteps could be heard above as officers from the outside poured into the house. Del looked at the ceiling with real concern. This house was not stable. They could all be buried down here at any minute.
Tom continued as if the reinforcements and the risk of being crushed did not matter in the least. “Good thing I like pain. Like I told your partner, I don’t think I’m going to make it out of here alive. Do you? No? Me either. So, I figure, if I got to go, I might as well take you with me. Oh yes, I’m going to take you with me, asshole.” He swiped at Del, even though the stair railing stood between the two.
“But why?” Del asked.
“Why? For Her of course,” Tom said in worshipful tone as if that should be all the explanation needed, then he lunged at Del through the railing.
Del caught Tom’s arm and tried to hold it, but Tom was too strong. He pulled free, slicing Del’s hand with the knife in the process. Fortunately, Del had seen something Tom had not. Nina had appeared out of the gloom behind him. She walked slowly across the room with a one-inch diameter iron conduit pipe held high in one hand while the other hand was held over her right eye. When she reached a good position, she had uncovered her bad eye, and taken hold of the bar with both hands. Her appearance was a shock and horror Del would not soon forget. Blood ran from her mouth on both sides in a steady stream and her right eye hung from its empty socket and stuck to her cheek in a shapeless shriveled lump. She aimed for Tom’s head as best she could as he shifted and moved, trying to strike at Del through the railing. When she was ready, she swung as if Tom’s head were a soft-ball she was trying to knock out of the park. The pipe connected with a sickening thock and Tom Eastman never spoke another word again.