By the time they had finally reached the casino, Brian had taken several more intermittent naps. His legs were severely cramped and he would have give his left pinky to go for a lengthy walk. Bentley seemed in even worse shape. He was whining louder and louder the more the hours wore on, which wore on both Sharice and Brian’s nerves. They were passing through more occupied places now, away from the wilderness surrounding the open road. As the sun went down they began to see the glow of towns off in the distance. The lights grew in closer and closer clusters until finally, They were there. They pulled into the city limits of Derkatze, Michigan, Narrowly dodging the traffic from a nasty tractor trailer accident on the main road. It still took another twenty or Thirty minutes to get to the casino proper.
The city was similar to ones Brian had seen before. Sprawling steel and glass skyscrapers reached up as high as they could, still lit in the dark of night. A black ribbon of river ran all along the east end of the city, giving the air a nice warm moist scent to it. Pedestrians had more regard for their safety then most in his own city had, they waited at the lights patiently for the myriad traffic to pass. Even the traffic was more polite than he was used to. No one shooting out of side streets desperate to get ahead of the traffic that would never allow them into the queue normally.
When they pulled into the huge, two or three football-field-sized parking lot, Brian and Bentley jumped out of the car as quick as they could. Brian reached for heaven, groaning as the tension built and released in his muscles. His legs still felt pretty stuff but he resolved to stretch his legs more as the night wore on. He didn’t feel much like sleeping. Unlike Sharice, who was looking dead on her feet, exhausted and rubbing her eyes. Brian’s eyes ran over the vacant space that was the parking lot. Something seemed off to him. He looked down at his phone, It was eleven PM. An early time for a casino to be closed. Casinos usually stayed open pretty late where he came from. Here, however, there were no cars parked; there were no drunken patrons being supported to their cars by annoyed spouses; no dejected faces walking from the doors, looking sad over their losses; no gambling junkies twitching in the parking lot, trying to beg bus fair from the other patrons. The place was utterly silent, save for the city sounds in the distance.
The Casino itself was a large three storied building. It was wide and tan with a red wide line painted around the windows on the upper stories. A huge lighted sign hung above the doorway read: “Baker’s Casino”. Here the lights were all dim too. There were lights on inside the building but most of them were out. Brian couldn’t even see cleaning crews or security officers (people his eyes had been trained to watch for long ago) walking about the place. It seemed utterly vacant. Brain was walking around looking for anything to indicate the places closure. He couldn’t really see anything about the casino’s hours where he stood, but the pole supporting the big light that had parked under was practically covered in white fliers. He pulled one from the mass and took a long look at it. He couldn’t immediately make out the text on it. It was badly faded from sun and the rains had left the ink running. Eventually, through much squinting, He could discern the words “Save Chinatown”. The faded image underneath the world showed two Asian children, one boy and one girl, looking sad and holding hands. There was a phone number down at the bottom of the flier that had escaped much of the warping and fading. He folded the paper up and put it back in his pocket, intending to ask Sharice about it later when she looked less likely to fall over.
Bentley, who had followed Brian as he walked dizzy circles, began barking happily looking towards the casino entryway. Sharice and Brian turned at the barking to see a tall man with graying brown hair walking towards them. He was a slender man in an expensive dark gray suit, his shrewd brown eyes were shielded by stylish silver-framed glasses. His face was relaxed but it seemed to have a pinched, suspicious quality about it. His eyes ran over Sharice and Brian quickly, even glancing disdainfully at Bentley who moved forward wagging his tail, expecting to be pet. Brian could tell he was not impressed by what he saw.
“I’m guessing you’re supposed to be the representatives Rhonda was sending?” Brian disliked the way the man formed the words ‘supposed to be’ and ‘representatives’. He managed to make them insulting. Sharice glanced at him just slightly out of the corner of her eye. She put her hands on her hips and cocked her head angrily. She opened her mouth, and all at once Brian could tell she would be responding in an equally offensive manner.
“Why don’t you-!” She began, but Brian spoke loudly and clearly right over her.
“YES!” He said putting a hand on her shoulder and with slight pressure, indicated for her to stop talking and leaving it to him. His voice scaled down to a pleasant, professional tone. “I’m Brian, nice to meet you.”
His eyes flicked to the sign behind the man and back to his face. It was one of the old con’s rules, if you didn’t know what was going on, you pretended like hell you did.
“Should I assume you’re here to represent Mr. Baker.”
The man laughed softly as he took and shook Brian’s offered hand. He shook Sharice’s as well, but she didn’t say anything, just nodded and crossed her arms.
“No,” He finally responded. “I am Mr. Baker.”
“Nice to meet you, Sir.” Brian said, smiling his most charming smile. “Rhonda didn’t tell us much about the nature of your issue. Could you fill in the blanks.”
“What did she mention to you?” He asked, turning back around and moving back towards the doors, giving Bentley a resigned glance as he passed. Brian looked at Sharice quizzically. She simply shrugged moodily and raised her eyebrows at him. They would have to sort out the division of labor later but in the meantime, He followed the retreating back of the be-suited man.
“She just mentioned something about people going missing and appearing the next day….in bits.”
“That’s a pretty succinct description of the problem.” He said, walking through the steel and glass doors. As he walked through them, Brian caught sight of an official sign hung on the door reading “Closed for renovations until further notice, we apologize for the inconvenience”. Mr. Baker lead them through the empty gaming floor. It probably would be sight to see when the lights were on. All Brian could make out in the dark was the slight glimmer of the metal frames of the thousand odd slot machines in one sections. That and the dark felted tops of deserted card tables. Empty bars and vacant restaurants stood all around the floor; all empty, dark and forlorn. It was a depressing sight to Brian, who had spent much of his late teens picking the pockets of those who frequented the river front casino back in Philadelphia. The absence of the bells, whistles, congratulatory cries and sympathetic ‘awww’s was making Brian more on edge than he felt he should be. The emptiness was also making him twitchy, raising goosebumps on his arms and raising the sparse hairs on the back of his neck. Or maybe that was just the knowledge that people had been horribly murdered here. Whatever the reason, he just knew he wanted out of here.
Mr. Baker led them through the casino flood, along a dimly lit pathway, to the back of the casino. Then he took out a thick ring of keys and opened an office door, barely visible in the dim light and given that it had the same purple and white paint job as it’s surrounding walls. Inside was a long hallway, but this was much less ornate and better lit. It had the look of a warehouse more than anything. Pure white with the large tubing of the air conditioning unit visible above. They passed door with plaques on them detailing the name and job of those who owned the offices. Finally they reached a pair of elevator doors. There weren’t any buttons that Brian could see just a key hole. Mr. Baker shuffled his keys around until he found a small brass one, and turned it in the hole. The elevator opened for them and they climbed in, even Bentley, who walked and sat on his haunches to save space. The elevator raised itself and a moment later, opened with a pleasant chime onto a large handsome office.
He gestured to a pair of large ornately carved and furnished mahogany chairs. Sharice and Brian sat in those chairs while Mr. Baker took his place in the big leather office chair behind the desk. He leaned back in the chair, noiselessly contemplating a copy of the Mona Lisa hung on one of the walls. Finally, after looking like he had made up his mind about something, he began to speak.
“About a month ago, several guests began complaining of loud noises in their hallways.” He began in a depressed sigh. “Naturally we put the disturbance down to drunken guests, stumbling to their rooms or something similar. There wasn’t much we could do in any case. We had security walk the halls and keep a closer eye on everything….but….”
He seemed to have trouble here. His eyes were flashing Lisa a very nasty look, furious and disturbed.
“Then my guards started vanishing.” He almost whispered into his steepled hands. It was as though he was trying to look like the villain from a Saturday morning cartoon, and Brian had to work at maintaining that interested but professionally concerned air. The temptation to smile derisively was rising steadily. “No sign, no note or two weeks notice…just…gone.”
“You’re sure it was on the casino premises they went missing?” Brian asked sobered a little.
“Dead sure,” Mr. Baker said to him, voice still coming in that angered hiss. “Most of them vanished in the middle of their shifts. They would go to walk the halls and just never come back. Naturally we called the police. They went over this place with a fine toothed comb, interrogated guests and staff alike. They came up with nil. We had no choice but to conclude if they had been abducted they were taken from the casino. It was a police case at that point and no longer my concern. So I reopened the casino and hotel.”
Sharice let out a soft hiss of air through teeth. He eyebrows were drawn together in disdain and shock. Brian did his best to knock the tip of her boot with his own. Mr. Baker gave Sharice a wry smile.
“I know that sounds bad at this point. But at the time…” he trailed off with a sad look in his eyes. “But that’s when the shit really hit the fan. Guests started disappearing now. Seemingly vanishing from their rooms or from the halls. Again the cops were here, investigations were made, people were questioned, security tapes were endlessly reviewed; but no matter what we did there was nothing to find. The tapes would show the people walking down the hall, usually alone, when they would simply vanish.”
He rubbed his eyes in weariness.
“I wish they were still missing though…” He said ominously.
“I’m guessing you found them in less than commendable condition.” Brian said softly. He was doing his best to control his creeping terror of even being in the same building that these things happened.
“That’s a diplomatic way of putting it.” Mr. Baker said in disgust. He was still gazing at the painting his eyes dark and distant. “A maid went in to clean one of the hotel rooms, one which had been searched just like all the rest. But when she walked into the room, it was covered in blood and…parts.”
Brian swallowed pointedly, feeling the sparse hairs on the back of his neck rise. He had the uncanny feeling he was being watched.
“Well,” Mr. Baker continued in a weary tone. “The police were once again were running all over the place. The took down all the parts and had a good long look at each of them. They couldn’t find any DNA or anything to lead to a suspect. All they could tell me was that the people had bite marks all over them.”
“Bite marks?” Sharice said leaning forward. “Human bite marks?”
“That’s what it looked like but the police couldn’t find anyone with dental record matching the victims. No one living that is.” He said in an almost bitter way. “Obviously cannibalism on such a significant scale would be rather difficult to hide. But the police combed this place for three weeks and finally came up with jack squat. I’ve had to close the casino so no one else dies, not that it matters too much given the publicity this has thrown our way. I need to either get this place up and running again or bulldoze the whole thing. That’s where you come in. A colleague of mine mentioned you deal with…unusual problems. This obviously qualifies.”
“Alright.” Sharice said, reclining in her chair again. She was suddenly business like. “We’re gonna need this place empty for the next few days along with all the information you’ve managed to collect.”
“Done!” Mr. Baker said lifting A cardboard box up and dropping it onto the surface of the desk. “I’ve had a room set up for you, you should be fine for food and anything else you need. The box had security camera footage, files on the missing people, police reports; the whole nine yards.”
“Alright!” Sharice said getting up and extending her hand to be shaken. “Mr. Baker, Show me where I’m sleeping and we’re on the job.”
Brian wanted to say something about the ill-advisability of staying in a haunted casino where people had turned up in gnawed pieces. But he could do nothing after Sharice shook Mr. Bakers hand and quickly followed him out of the office, leaving Brian to hurry along after them with the box of evidence. As he followed them into the dark and empty hallways beyond the casino floor, he knew he was in for a long disturbing night, and if he was lucky, he might just see morning. Brian gulped then remembering that luck had never really been something he’d had in abundance.