Since Max’s funeral Jack maintained regular contact with Caitlyn, visiting her when he was able. She welcomed his support and attention. She joked that she had seen more of Jack in the weeks since poor Maxie’s tragic death than she did through twenty-eight years of marriage.
It was late afternoon and Jack had taken time out from his pursuit of the Cryptic Killer to take the drive out to Maplewood to see how Caitlyn was. They sat on her back porch drinking strong coffee and just being there for one another.
‘I have a really big favor to ask of you Jack.’ Caitlyn appeared nervous. She held her coffee mug in two hands. ‘Please say no, if you don’t want to do it, but it would mean a lot to me.’ She sipped her coffee.
‘Sure. Just name it.’ He sipped his coffee.
‘I told Max’s landlord what had happened and he said that he would obviously void the remaining rental agreement. But he asked me if I could have all Max’s possessions cleaned out before the rent expired in two weeks. Of course I agreed to do it.’
‘OK,’ Jack said. ‘Do you want a hand?’
‘No…’ Caitlyn firmly shook her head. ’I was hoping that you could do it for me. I don’t think I could go there and pack up all his property, Jack. It would just kill me. It’s too final…All his possessions,’ she shook her lowered head. ‘I was hoping you could do it for me, if it isn’t too much trouble.’ Her pained eyes lifted to Jack
‘No problem Lynne.’ He placed a comforting hand over hers. ‘I’ll go there this weekend and get a start.’
‘Thank you so much. You have no idea how much that means to me,’ she said. Her face wore a genuine smile of relief and gratitude. ‘I’ll have the storage boxes delivered, they’ll be there waiting for you.’
She reached into her pocket. ‘This is the landlord’s number and this is Max’s front door key.’ She paused and stared silently at the key in her hand for several seconds, then passed the key to Jack.
Spence arrived at Jack’s office door and paused when he noticed Jack sitting at his desk with a blank stare. Jack didn’t notice Spence in the doorway.
The Gnome told Jack to take whatever time off he needed to recover from the tragic loss of his son. But true to form, Jack waved it off and attended for work as normal. But everything was far from normal for Jack.
The events of the last few weeks had been a distraction for Jack. He had not dedicated quality time to the Cryptic Killer case since Max’s passing. His mind was firmly on the memory of his son he never really knew.
He tried to recall events from Max’s life; things they shared together, and as a family, but the cupboard was bare.
The stark realization hit home. His boy was gone and he never spent any quality time with him. He didn’t really know him. He had no memories. He had nothing to keep Max’s memory alive, and that devastated him.
Fortunately not much had happened with the case. Numerous calls were received in response to the publishing of the photo fit IDs, but to this stage, none of the sightings were the Cryptic Killer.
‘Jobs…?’ Spence said gently.
Jack eyes slowly moved towards Spence. His expression was still frozen. He held the blank stare for a few short seconds, then his eyebrows arched upwards when he noticed Spence at the door. ‘Spence…didn’t see you there - come in.’ He motioned towards the visitor’s chair. ‘What’s happening?’ Jack said.
Spence moved to sit in the chair opposite Jack. ‘Are you going down to Rumson this weekend?’ Spence said.
‘Yeah,’ Jack said. His nodding head lowered. ‘I’m planning to go down there this weekend to get a start on cleaning up Max’s stuff.’
Spence clapped his hands together and rubbed them eagerly. ‘Do you want a hand big fellow,’ Spence said. ‘I have nothing planned. We could knock it over together.’
‘Thanks Spence…But you know what…?’ Jack began. ‘I really think I need to do this on my own. It’s just something I have to do. You understand.’
Spence raised both hands to Jack. ‘Hey, no problems Jobs. Just sing out if you need any help… I’m only a phone call away.’
‘Much appreciated,’ Jack said. He wasn’t used to these emotional feelings churning inside of him. He fought to suppress them. These were feelings of gratitude, of being touched by the genuine caring friendship and support of his close friend. A lifetime of burying these feelings deep inside was now being eroded by the tragic passing of Max.
Max’s house overlooked the beach in the picturesque coastal area of Rumson, New Jersey. The narrow single fronted, two-story weatherboard house was tastefully presented. The chocolate milk tones of the weatherboards were complimented by fresh contrasting white eaves and trims around the windows and doors, while white balustrades stretched across the width of the house on the upstairs balcony. Small white pebbles replaced lawn in the low maintenance front yard.
Jack unlocked the front door and slowly stepped inside. The uninhabited house that was once his son’s private retreat had an eerie solitude to it. He moved to his left and entered Max’s lounge room where he stood for a moment taking in a typical first-time look around the room. Luckily Max’s lease was for a fully furnished house, so most of the furniture in here belonged to the landlord: No heavy lifting and no moving vans.
As he surveyed the small lounge room a wave of sadness engulfed him. It dawned on him that he stood in his son’s home, his sanctuary, and it’s a place to which he had never been invited. He never knew anything about his oldest boy’s life.
Jack noticed the extensive collection of framed photos proudly displayed in various vantage points around the room. Jack moved from photograph to photograph. He took the time to examine the captured moments depicting happier times in Max’s life.
Some photos pictured a happy Max on his own smiling down the camera lens, while others were of Max and his friends that Jack never knew.
He smiled proudly when he noticed a recent framed photograph of his two boys, Max and Dan standing with their arms around each other, both holding a thumb up to the camera. He paused when he noticed a number of photographs in close proximity. Each one depicted Max, Dan and Caitlyn, all smiling, all happy.
It wasn’t until Jack noticed the photographs of Max with his elderly grandparents – Caitlyn’s Mom and Dad – and how these photos took pride of place on his lounge room mantle that the harsh reality hit home. These were Max’s treasured pictorial memories on display. All the photographs adorning the walls, mantelpiece, coffee table and side tables were Max’s special memories depicting important people in his life that he chose to frame and proudly display. Yet Jack wasn’t depicted in any of them. He was the glaring absentee from every one of the photos. He had been estranged for so long he wasn’t even a faint memory to Max. Clearly to Max, Jack was never a part of his life. Not even one small photo in his extensive lounge room collection. That was a tough reality for any father to rationalize.
The flat-packs that had to be opened out and assembled into boxes to pack Max’s property into lay in bundles in the hall beside the stairs, waiting for Jack’s arrival.
Jack started with the ground floor and moved room-by-room placing everything that was once Max’s possessions into a box and tightly sealed it with duct tape.
Once he completed the downstairs he moved to the upstairs bedrooms where he followed the same ritual. Everything that once showed Max’s tastes, preferences, personality and his presence in the house was all carefully packed away and sealed in a cardboard box.
After the last box from upstairs had been brought down and placed with the others at the front door, Jack did a sweep of the house to check he hadn’t missed anything.
Although fully furnished, the house was now devoid of all the personality it had previously boasted. The photos, the nick-knacks, all the little possessions that made it Max’s home were now gone. Only a blank canvass remained, waiting in readiness for the next tenant to decorate and characterize to suit their individual tastes.
After checking he had everything, Jack returned to the front entry foyer. He was satisfied he had gathered everything. All that was once reflective of his son’s life was now neatly sealed in the boxes piling up at his feet at the front door.
As Jack stood in the entry foyer running through a mental check list, he noticed a door under the staircase. He rolled his eyes. The basement.
Jack opened the basement door. The natural light from the hall bled down the stairs and blended into the darkness below.
He flicked on the light. A single globe dangled from a cord above the stairs. The light was dull, but enough to show the way. He commenced to make his way down the stairs into the basement. The timber treads creaked as his towering frame shifted over them.
The air was dense and much cooler in the basement and there was a musty odor. The basement stored minimal property, all of which fitted neatly into one single box.
Jack dragged the last of the duct tape over the top of the box and sealed it. As he lifted his eyes from the last box he noticed the small room tucked away in the corner of the basement. The door was locked with a large pad lock. Was that a room where the landlord stored his own possessions under lock and key, or was it Max’s room?
He slipped the landlord’s business card Caitlyn gave him from his pocket and called the landlord, just to be sure he wasn’t leaving anything behind. The landlord confirmed the room and its contents belonged to the tenant.
Jack held the large padlock in his hand. He glanced around the basement wondering where Max would keep a spare key. His searching eyes scanned around the many nooks and likely hiding places in the basement. Where would I hide a key down here if it were me?
Jack’s eyes locked onto the timber stairs. The light from the open doorway above still bled down the stairs into the basement. It was a brighter source of light than the dull globe hanging above the stairs.
Jack made his way to the darkened underside of the timber stairs and commenced to search for a key. But there was nothing.
Jack rubbed a hand across his mouth. He was about to concede when his focus locked onto on the bottom tread, which was about six inches off the ground. That’s where I’d put it.
With nothing to lose, Jack knelt down and swept his hand back-and-forth under the tread. His hand hit something. It was a key taped to the underneath of the last step. Jack peeled off the key and examined it.
The padlock offered no resistance to Jack when he slid in the key and turned it. The lock sprung open. The outwards opening door creaked as Jack peeled it open to reveal a small room in total darkness. Jack ducked his head under the low door way and moved into the darkness of the unknown room. He looked around for a light switch, while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Jack squinted when he flicked on the light. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the dull light. He scanned the small room for any personal possessions. A laptop, a desk lamp and printer were the first items he noticed. Jack’s wandering gaze shifted to his left. His eyebrows dipped. He leaned his hands on the small desk while he examined the wall above the desk.
The entire wall was plastered with newspaper articles — each one about him. Some dated as far back as ten years. Why did Max have all these articles about me, yet he couldn’t put one picture of me in his lounge? Maybe he was secretly proud of my achievements, but didn’t want to show it to the rest of his family. Jack slowly shook his head as his eyes moved from article to article.
He searched the room for any of Max’s property. He started with the desk drawers. The first drawer contained a box of latex gloves. Jack raised a curious eyebrow.
As he slid the next drawer open his heart skipped a beat. Tucked away in this drawer was a ream of lemon yellow paper . Beside it was a packet of lemon yellow envelopes. Jack pulled his hand back from the drawer, as if it burned his hand.
He stared in disbelief at the open drawer. He rubbed a heavily perspiring hand across his mouth and chin as he scanned the room. His eyes locked onto the newspaper wall.
‘What the fuck’s going on here?’
Jack lifted the screen of the laptop computer and started it up. The boot up process stalled at the password login screen. ‘Shit,’ he said, then slammed the screen shut.
Jack continued to search the desk. In a desk caddy cluttered with pens and other stationery items he noticed a mobile phone SIM card stored in a small transparent plastic holder. After briefly studying the SIM he placed it into his pocket.
Jack fell back into the chair with his hands clasped behind his head and stared at the wall. Max wasn’t secretly proud of him at all. Jack’s eyes flared with realization. ‘Fuck,’ Jack said. His eyes dropped to the laptop in front of him. He had to check the contents of that laptop.
Jack reached down and one-by-one opened the remaining drawers and checked their contents. He no longer searched for Max’s property to box up, he now looked for answers.
Jack stood from his chair and started ripping at the newspaper articles on the wall. They had to go. One-by-one he ripped them down and dropped them onto the desk top. He paused when the removal of one news article exposed a white envelope pinned to the wall. The word “Mom” was hand written on the front.
Jack unpinned the sealed envelope from the wall and sat back in the chair. His eyes never left the envelope in his hand. He held it up to the light. It appeared to contain a folded up piece of paper. He could make out typed writing on the paper inside. He placed it on the desk and stared at the envelope, almost too frightened to open it, too frightened for what it might contain.
Jack scanned the room again. He looked at the remaining newspaper articles on the wall in front of him, then back at the envelope. He stood and peeled off every other newspaper article, in case there were any other hidden messages. But the wall was bare.
Jack dropped back to his seat. He rubbed his brow as he stared at the envelope on the desk. It was addressed to Caitlyn but he had to open it. He had no choice. He lifted up the envelope and flipped it over to examine the back. He exhaled heavily, paused and then ripped it open. He glanced inside before sliding out the single piece of white paper.
His mouth was dry. His temple throbbed. He slowly unfolded the letter and started to read. His worst nightmares had just become his reality.
If you are reading this letter it means that I am probably dead, more than likely shot by the police.
I have written this letter to you so you can understand why I did what I did.
I could no longer sit by idly and watch how that man you called your husband ignored you - ignored us. How he put his work before his family. It was a disgrace. I saw how upset you were when he didn’t come home at nights. You thought you were being discreet, but I saw you crying when he missed your anniversaries, or family events. I saw your disappointment and what the psychological abuse and torment was doing to your health and your sanity, and it was killing me. It was eating away at me from the inside. I felt so helpless. I hated him with all my being. I despised him for what he was doing to you.
Who did he think he was? He was an arrogant man who placed more interest in solving a crime than spending precious time with his family. He never gave Dan or me any time. He didn’t care about us, about any of us. His work always came first. Catching criminals came first. His reputation came first. He was only happy if he solved a case and if he didn’t, if he couldn’t, he was hell to be around.
Well Mom, I couldn’t take it anymore, sitting by and watching what he did to you; to all of us. I simply won’t take it anymore. I knew that if he had a murder case that he couldn’t solve, it would eat away at him, and eat away at him in such a way that it would break him mentally. I would love to break him physically, Lord knows I’m more than capable, but that wouldn’t do. But this way, he is so focused on his job he could not accept losing, he could not accept that the great Jack Head failed to solve a case, or failed to save his victim. I know he could not live with himself. I had to psychologically beat him into a blithering mess, where he was unfit to hold a badge.
I don’t expect you to understand the extents that I have gone to, but you have to know and understand that I did it for you; for us. He couldn’t put his family ahead of his work, so if I do this right, it will be the very thing he cherished more than his family that will be his undoing. It will be his work that will be his demise. If I do this right Jack Head will implode.
I hope you can forgive me but I couldn’t see any other way to make him accountable for the abuse and hell he has put us all through.
I love you Mom
Jack’s mouth fell open. He dropped the letter onto the desk and buried his head into his hands. He could not believe what he read. The person he had grown to despise, the vermin who brazenly killed young hookers, the person he longed for the day he could look him in the eyes as he was being led away…The Cryptic Killer…was his son.
The killer was the son he had grieved for over for the last two-weeks. The son he wished he had taken the time to get to know better.
The irony was not lost on Jack. Max resented Jack for investigating violent killers, instead of spending time with his family. Yet Max had become one of those very same people who kept Jack from his family all those years ago. He could not believe it had come to this.
Jack sat for several minutes while he composed himself. The melting pot of emotions he experienced was consuming: Anger; disappointment, shock, embarrassment, regret, denial and disbelief. But despite the feelings churning inside of him, he couldn’t bring himself to hate his boy for what he did. He was his boy and now he felt responsible.
With the exception of the laptop and the letter, Jack placed everything else from the small room into a box and sealed it. On the outside of the box, in thick black permanent marker, he wrote “Property of Jack Head” so it wouldn’t be confused with Max’s boxes.
Jack took the laptop with him, but secured the box in the store room for safe keeping.