They let the boathouse burn. There was nothing else they could do. As the paint bubbled and peeled and the flames blackened the wood from the inside Todd and Terri related their very different impressions of the showdown.
Prescott held his phone up to the fire and analysed the image it showed him, "That's a hot one. We'll be lucky to get any remains out of there."
Crystal didn't look convinced, "There's an app for that?"
"Of course. Infra red spectrum and chemical analysis based upon the colours of the flames. I wrote it myself."
"Why am I not surprised."
"Hey, I have many skills."
"You're sure this was our guy?" Tiffany asked Terri and Todd.
"Of course it fucking was." Todd was indignant, "He wore black with a hood, had his face covered by a scarf and tried to beat me to death with an oar. Who else could it be?"
"Well, if you put it like that...."
The floor of the boathouse collapsed and the walls and roof folded inwards. Burning wood splashed into the lake and hot embers billowed out, striving to move the fire to the forest. Everyone took a few more steps backward.
"If there's nothing else you can do why not come on back to the house?" Freddy's voice came over the radio.
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." Sam agreed.
"We'll look for body bits in the morning." Prescott suggested, "It's not like our clients knew who this guy was to get a positive ID anyway."
As they headed into the woods again Terri stopped by a tree. "Did any of you see my goggles on the way down?" she asked.
"Nope." Crystal answered, "Are you sure that's the right tree? I mean there are, like, millions of them."
"I guess so. I'll find them in the morning too."
* * *
Loomis had broken down his rifle and packed it away soon after the shooting had stopped. Freddy hadn't touched his viewer. "You not coming downstairs?" Loomis asked.
"In a while, dude. The infra red images are trippy. Think I'll watch them for a while."
"Okay, whatever turns you on." Loomis shouldered his bag and headed for the door.
"Save me a few beers, 'kay."
The lights were off in the room. The only illumination was from the fire over the ridge line and the false colour image of it on the monitor Freddy was rapt by. He imagined he could see symbols in the heat pictures of the smoke, faces of all the other slashers they'd taken down over the years, weapons and places. Who needed drugs.
Freddy fished his smart-phone out of his pocket, checked the signal and started composing a message.
A panel in one of the walls slid silently aside. Freddy remained blissfully unaware of the door or the figure which crept out of it.
* * *
They kicked the mud and leaf mulch off their shoes before entering the house, but still managed to trample a mess into the dining room. They dropped their guns onto the table and slumped into the various seats in the room. "Well, that could have gone better." Crystal eventually said.
"It wasn't a clean kill, I admit." Terri sighed, "And there's not going to be much of him left for our client to pay for."
"We will still get paid, won't we?" Tiffany squeaked.
"Of course we will." Todd yawned, "We cleared out their vermin didn't we?"
"Property damage was about normal." Terri mused. "I mean, I don't think we've ever burnt down a building before, but it was only a boathouse."
Loomis added his rifle and side-arm to the pile of weapons. "You'll have to fill me in on what happened. All we got was radio chatter."
"Some other time." Crystal muttered. "Where's Freddy?"
"He's watching television."
Todd jolted to his feet, "Fuck this. We won, it's time for alcohol."
There was a globe by the window, a big free standing one decorated in lacquered wood. Todd had obviously seen its like before, because he knew exactly where to find the latch so he could hinge the top over and reveal cut glass decanters of deep brown liquid and various tumblers. "I bet this stuff was primo when the old owner was killed, and that was almost twenty years ago. It's supposed to get better with age." He freed the stopper from one of the decanters and poured himself a generous measure. "Oooh, that burns." he commented after taking a gulp and coughing on it, "Did we bring any cola?"
"Philistine." Loomis muttered, opening and sniffing at the spirits until he found a nice brandy, then pouring some into a fine balloon glass. He sat in a large wing backed leather chair in the corner and swirled the liquid around the glass. His efforts to play the sophisticate were hampered by the leather jacket and the Ramones T-shirt he wore.
"I think there's a wine cellar off the kitchen. I'm going to find something in there." Crystal announced.
"I'll come with you." Tiffany announced.
Terri looked around. Prescott had disappeared, but there was a bluish glow from the library. She found him sat at the big central table, typing commands into his laptop.
"I just thought I'd add him to the database. Get a start on the report writing, y'know."
"Seems like a good idea. Plus, Todd's enough of a douche bag when he's sober and in character. It'll be nice to avoid him for as long as possible."
Prescott didn't say anything, but he did give a little nod. They watched a clock icon tick around as the laptop synced with their central database. It was connected, by very powerful wireless, to a setup in the back of the Fort which relayed signals to and from a satellite network. Out here, in a wood halfway up a hill in the middle of nowhere, they had faster broadband than in the centre of some cities. Even so, the security protocols for patching into the database still ground slowly.
"So," Terri ventured, "was I reading it wrong, or are you looking to audition for Todd's role?"
"Muscling up, playing brain dead and getting to fuck Crystal? I guess their are worse jobs. I can't see him playing the geek though, can you?"
"No, not really."
"I might need to work on my long staying for the horny teenagers trap, though. I wouldn't want to repeat Todd's mistake. Perhaps you could help me practice?"
Terri looked like she was seriously considering this. She was saved from having to say anything by the end of the login. Slashbook was a networking site for the teams- recently entering double figures- who tracked down and eliminated the boogeymen, axe maniacs and Cropsey killers who had proliferated since the eighties. They could swap jobs, trade anecdotes and share information on techniques. But most of all, they could record their kills, filling in physical and practical information on each bagged slasher to see what, if any, patterns emerged. Prescott clicked on the link to the database.
"The Norman crew got another motel slasher." Prescott observed, "It's a surprise so many people survive their coast to coast drives."
Terri tapped the third entry on the Recent Kills list, "I was hoping we could get the ski chalet killer. I wanted to do some snowboarding."
"Bagging him in Summer does seem like cheating. Maybe Aspen has one for you."
"A girl can dream. Let's add our boy to the list."
Prescott flipped open a notepad. "Okay, based upon Crystal's report from the bedroom- male, tall. I estimated six foot to six four based upon the angle she fired the gun at."
"Really? There's no way the guy in the boathouse was that tall."
"I'll put 'uncertain' in there then. Next, clothing. Hooded top and dirty jeans."
"Nuh-uh. He was wearing a long cloak with a peaked hood and ragged hems."
They looked at each other, uncertainty creeping in. "Mask, plain white with eye holes."
"Black balaclava or scarf with only the eyes and a bit around them visible. I remember Crystal mentioning the white mask, but that's not what he was wearing when we got him."
"Are we talking about the same person here?"
"It's possible. It's happened before." Prescott hit the log off button and closed the laptop.
"Yeah, but sequels don't show up until a few years after the first event. When enough people have forgotten and another bunch will fall for it."
"Maybe you and Crystal both missed some details and that's why the descriptions don't match. Even we can miss stuff when we're in stress situations."
"Details, yes, but not so completely."
"Todd was there both times, maybe he can confirm the info."
"He was face down in a cum daze at the first one and busy getting his ass kicked at the second. I don't know if he'd be any use at all."
They sat back and stared at different corners of the room, each pondering the conundrum. "How do we check this?" Prescott asked after a while.
"I don't know. But if there's another one, and he's still out there...."
"We need to go on another hunt."
"Yeah, but...." A perfectly timed crash from the dining room ended Terri's sentence for her. She stared over her shoulder for a while, toward the noises from the dining room. Her shoulders sank and she shook her head, "Do you think they'd be up to that?"
"Just us, then?"
"We'll start at the boathouse and look for evidence around it."
"I'll get my guns."