Murder was a messy business; torture even less clean. As Hutch walked through the inn’s lobby, taking care to avoid the streams of dried blood that had drained from [the woman’s] body, he struggled to swallow. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen such a thing and he doubted it would be the last. But seeing the most evil side of human nature was never easy.
Each fingernail had been wrenched from [her] hands, as were the front teeth from her upper jaw. One eye was sealed shut, lost beneath a contusion the size of a lemon. A clean split opened her lower lip, giving her mouth an un-natural ‘V’ shape. As he looked at her features, it was hard for him to see where her nostrils had been, as dried blood had caked in clumps around her unrecognizable nose.
He kneeled at her side and touched the wire binding that strung her wrists and ankles together. The woman hadn’t been kind to them, not exactly, but hers was a fate undeserved. Hutch didn’t doubt a bag of coins would have opened her mouth freely to the comings and goings of A’ris and Hutch, and yet the level of torture the middle-aged woman endured wasn’t just unnecessary, it was brutal beyond reason. As if whoever committed the crime did so with the pure intent to kill, regardless of what information they extracted.
He smoothed the hair from her face and pulled a nearby throw off a wooden chair, draping it over her still body. She’d been bled dry, and though the entire room would forever show signs of her demise on the floors, walls and counters, he could at the very least give her soul respect by covering her violated body.
Someone out there was angry.
As Hutch took the stairs up to the room he’d shared with A’ris just days before, and found it cleaned out and empty, he could only hope that the dead man behind the Gear Maker’s shop was the man who had gone through the town, eliminating all who breathed. Either all signs of A’ris were being wiped clean, or any and all who crossed her path were struck dead simply for seeing her. Hutch knew A’ris was in trouble or soon would be.
The kind of trouble that drew blood in lethal amounts.
“A’ris, please be safe,” he whispered into the fresh sky.
His boots sank into the damp earth as he set off to the west with a pack of supplies he pillaged from [the inn’s] kitchen. Hutch didn’t even bother to change his muddy clothes, just slung a coat over his shoulder in case it should rain again. The bartender wouldn’t need it anymore. He, along with his patrons, had been shot dead.
Unsure if the hole in his heart was truly mended or would only heal once he set eyes upon the girl again, living and unharmed, he set out for the town of Calypso, determined to find what he had lost…
– Chapter 18 from The Dry Lands, a Hutch and A’ris novel