Brian couldn't sleep. Maybe it was because he had slept so much in the car ride over here. Maybe it was the hotel full of murderous undefinable things. More than likely it was a dangerous combination of the two; no matter, he was awake and going over the evidence in the box trying to make himself useful.
Sharice had passed out almost as soon as Mr. Baker had put the card key into her hand and waved them good bye. They had emerged through the door into a huge hotel suite. The kind with several adjoining rooms and a full sized working kitchen. With barely a few words, Sharice lugged her bag through the door, handed him the bag containing her laptop and closed the door behind her, clearly intent on a long sleep. Brian had shrugged at Bentley, who had stayed by his side, and they went into Brian's room, after raiding the thankfully well stocked fridge.
One by one, he went over the police reports, finding exactly the tone of confused impotence he expected to find. According to the reports, three different investigation teams and several different leading detectives had been attached to this case. All of them found the same thing, bupkis. The autopsy reports were a little more informative, though a thousand times harder to get through. The coldly cataloged folders of human bits and pieces, turned Brian's stomach over and he has trouble looking at the pictures for any length of time. What he could understand of the coroners reports continued in the utterly confused tone of the police reports. The victims had all been eaten alive, their limbs and flesh ripped from them with inhuman strength. All the marks on the bones were congruent to those made by human teeth and there were even enough viable markings that they had been able to get some dental impressions off of them. But that ended up going nowhere because, just as Mr. Baker had said, the marks didn't match any living person they could find.
He froze reading that line again and finding it odd. Both the coroner's report and Mr. Baker had specifically mentioned the marks didn't match any living person. Were they just using common jargon? Or maybe they were making the observation in the interest of not leaving anything out, but also, not really wanting to say exactly what they had found. He poured over that for a while and finally shook his head, unable to come to any conclusion.
He then took out the dossiers on the victims and started combing through them for similarities. An hour or so later, he rubbed his tired eyes in frustration, having been completely unable to find a common link. The guards were all the same kind of large chunky guys, meant to intimidate and keep rules from being broken in the first place rather than be reactionary. Yet as far as he could find, none of the missing men were close, they didn't live particularly near one another, hell they didn't even seem to work out in the same gyms. The casino guests were much the same. They had been vacationers most of them, down from more rural areas to see the city. They had jobs of every kind, from lawyers right on down to housewives. Male or Female, 18 or 87, nothing seemed to matter. They were taken indiscriminately and eaten alive.
He put the last folder down onto the bed with a long sigh. It had struck him as he read, just how much his criminal career had prepared him for just this kind of work. How many times he'd poured over his stepbrother's notes after they'd cased a liquor store or an electronics shop, finding weaknesses and open spots to bum rush the security. Not that he'd ever enjoyed that work, he had only been fifteen or sixteen at the time. But Rodney was four years older than him, and thousand times stronger, it seemed. He had done what he was told or he paid the price. He suddenly had never been so glad that Rodney was serving a fifteen year sentence in maximum security.
Finally there was nothing in the box but a large external hard drive, its case glinting silver in the low hotel light. Brian supposed this must be the security footage. Brian was about to put it back in the box, not up to sorting through hours of superfluous footage, but then he saw the post-it note on the underside of the hard drive.
“Annotated footage of the victims approx. 20 minutes before abduction.” It read, written in a messy scrawl. Brian sighed, relieved, plugging the hard drive's cable into the USB port on the laptop. Within seconds he had the video files pulled up and was sifting through them one after another. Here he actually did find something that all the victims had in common. We watched them in the twenty minutes leading up to their disappearance. It seemed like the instant one of the victims found themselves alone down a hallway, the footage would distort. Sometimes the rolling black and white flecked bars of static disruption would scroll through the image. Sometimes the brightness or darkness would wildly increase. In some cases the camera would wildly go out of focus over and over again. Finally, common among all the victims, the footage would give one last distortion crossing the image in a wave of static. When the wave had passed, the victims had, invariably vanished completely. He also noticed something about the time stamps in the bottom left hand corner of the security footage. It looked like all the victims disappeared only after midnight. Not one of the victims disappeared during the daylight hours or even before twelve A.M. but once the clock his midnight it seemed to be open game. Watching the footage was vaguely eerie. He could feel chills start to run up his spine every time a patron disappeared in hallways just like the one right outside his door. He looked down at the laptop's clock. It was just a little past three in the morning. He was trembling slightly as he forced himself to dig through the footage.
A sudden whine from below the bed made Brian start so bad he slipped sideways off the other side of the bed, landing with a crash onto the carpet. The large gray form of Bentley hopped up onto the bed, wagging his shaggy tail with glee. Brian had completely forgotten he was there. He got up off the floor, dusting himself off and settled himself back down on the bed. Bentley laid down across his lap and looking up at him with those soulful golden eyes. Brian ruffled his fur affectionately, as some of the terror he'd felt earlier began to leave him. He leaned back into the pillows behind him, closing his eyes and letting his fingers run themselves absentmindedly through the dog's shaggy fur. It felt good to gaze into the quite dark after hours of squinting at screens and papers trying to bully information into his weary brain.
Bentley began to scoot upward until his head was resting on the pillow next to him. Brian sighed, not having the heart or the energy to shove the big lovable dog back onto the floor. Instead he wrapped an arm around the warm body next to him, and he let the sound of Bentley's steady deep breathing send him off to a light troubled sleep.
A sound woke him, barely an hour later. It was something like the distant cry of a loon, lilting and haunting. He jaunted out of bed sitting straight up in bed, frantically scrubbing his eyes back to functionality. Bentley was already up and moving, he had leapt toward the door at the sounds and was still standing there ears back and a ready attentive look in his movements. Brian was fairly glad, now, that he had slept in all his clothes. He got up so fast he knocked several files to the ground. He opened the door to the rest of the suite and Bentley shot out of the room sniffing madly at everything he passed. Brian toyed for a moment with the idea of waking Sharice up, as he passed her door, but he thought it would be wiser to make absolutely sure he needed her before he woke her.
Bentley had wound his way to the door leading out into the hallway, whining and nudging the door with his snout. He looked back at Brian with the canine equivalent of an expectant smile. The last thing on Earth Brian felt like doing, was opening that door before the sun rose. However, Bentley was getting more insistent, jumping up and scratching the door with his forepaws.
“Alright, alright,” Brian hissed to get him to stop his insistent scratching. Maybe Bentley just needed to go out and relieve himself. Brian, tentatively poked his head out of the door looking up and down the hallway with a tingle of genuine fear. Bentley however, had no such compunctions. He shot out of the small crack in the doorway like a bat out of hell and was running halfway down the hallway before Brian could run after him. It took all the athleticism Brian had to keep up with the dog, not that this was saying much. Eventually Bentley was courteous enough to slow to a faint, driven trot. He was still sniffing like mad, Brian could just hear the constant in and out of air over his own ragged breathing.
“Stay!” Brian managed to gasp at the dog, clutching his side and barely keeping up. Bentley mercifully stopped his roaming to look back almost confused at the floundering human behind him. As Brian caught up to him, leaning heavily on his knees, panting and looking at the ground. He was trying desperately to keep his midnight snack in his stomach, Bentley came over and licked the sweat off his forehead. The affections of the amiable hound took a moment to fend off, as did getting his breath back. Once both goals had been accomplished however, Brian had the presence of mind to look up and get a grasp of where they were. Closest door too them bore a plague bearing the room number 408.
Brian's blood ran with an icy dread. He couldn't move for the sudden penetrating fear. He hadn't noticed where the dog had been taking them, but had he noticed he might have just let Bentley run and pray for the best. They were down on of the back hallways, a place where most of the rooms were spaced further apart than the one he'd been staying in. This particular part of the casino had been reserved for large conference and dance halls for some of the richer patrons to rent out for special occasions. This particular room, 408, happened to be the large empty space where all the victims had been found barely a month before.
Brian just stood for a few minutes staring at the closed wooden doors and their silver handles, shining a little in the light cast by the exit sign at the end of the hallway. Bentley had bounded forward and placed his forepaws on the wood of the doors, scratching as he had back in the suite. Brian looked down at him and back to the door, unable to remember a time when he wanted nothing quite so much as to run screaming away. A draft brushed the back of his neck and he spun around looking desperately for a ghoulish face peering at him out of the darkness. Nothing what so ever moved. His breath was coming in painful gasps again, his heart hammering far more fiercely than it had in his chase after Bentley. He wanted to be gone, needed to be gone.
Without warning a cold, wet, slimy thing touched his sweaty palm, causing him to jump about a food in the air and emit a small high pitched squeak. He looked down to see Bentley, wagging his tail serenely having just touched Brian's hand with his nose. Brian found himself feeling a little silly. He wasn't alone, he had Bentley, and whatever the things that went bump in the night here might be, they had always waited until someone had been alone to take them. Plus hadn't Rhonda said something about animals having better senses of monsters than humans did? Surely if there was something to be afraid of, Bentley wouldn't be here wagging his tail.
Forcibly calming himself, Brian followed Bentley back to the double wooden doors and with an inward squeak of poorly contained terror, he pushed the doors open.