The Cryptic Killer

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Chapter 28

For Jack, the Cryptic Killer investigation had taken a devastating twist. What was intended as an act of goodwill to box up Max’s possessions for Caitlyn, turned into the worse discovery of evidence for Jack.

But like a true investigator, he refused to accept anything on face value. He refused to leave any stone unturned. He needed irrefutable, conclusive evidence before he accepted his own son was capable of such atrocities, as desperate as that seemed.

Monday morning was like any other morning in the Homicide bull pen. Detectives with vague expressions staring through weary eyes, sipped on fresh hot coffees. But for Jack, his focus was the case and his recent findings.

To Jack, being able to access Max’s laptop computer was crucial. He was certain there would be something of value on it that would assist with his investigation, but he didn’t have the skills necessary to by-pass the boot-up password.

He decided to visit the Computer Forensics Team to seek their assistance. In the hope he would receive some sympathy, Jack told his colleagues the laptop was his late son’s and he was in the process of finalizing his son’s financial affairs and needed access to his password protected laptop.

The Forensic analyst, Roger was indeed sympathetic to Jack. He was more than happy to offer advice.

‘There are a couple of methods you could use…’ Roger said. ‘The first involves using the Universal BIOS password, or alternatively, you could clear the CMOS and return all setups to default. Both methods will usually work.’

Jack stared blankly at the analyst. His mouth fell open as he slowly shook his head. ‘I have no idea what you just said,’ Jack said. ‘Is there any way you could have a look at it for me?’ Jack said.

‘We’re not supposed to do non-official work here Jobs…’ Roger said. He briefly held Jack’s gaze. He shrugged. 'But you know what... fuck it, it’s for your late son. Leave it with me.’ He slipped Jack a sly wink. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

The SIM card Jack found in Max’s basement storeroom was next to face his scrutiny. The mobile phone TELCO he contacted instructed him to place the unknown SIM into another mobile phone and then send a text message from that phone, to another phone. The receiving phone will show the number of the sending phone.

So as to keep his inquiries private, Jack decided to borrow Spence’s mobile phone. He told Spence that he was having trouble with the SIM card in his own phone and wanted to test it in another phone. Spence willingly obliged without any questions.

Jack placed Max’s SIM card into Spence’s phone, snapped the back closed and sent himself a text message from Spence’s phone.

Jack stared impatiently at the phone on the desk in front of him, waiting for the text message to come through.

Within seconds his phone started vibrating. Then his SMS tone alerted him that a message had been received.

‘Sounds like it’s working now,’ Spence yelled from his desk.

‘Yeah… must be my phone Spence,’ Jack yelled back.

Jack slipped on his reading glasses. His heart sank when he compared it to the phone number Brenton Wylie had listed in his phone under the contact name, “Bear”. The numbers were an exact match. Max was “Bear.”

Jack slumped back into his chair. The pit of his stomach was heavy. Jack slowly shook his disbelieving head.

He replaced Spence’s SIM card and returned the phone to Spence. ‘Thanks for that.’ He placed the phone on the desk in front of Spence. ‘I think I might have to get a new phone.’

Jack had one last piece of the puzzle he needed. His next inquiry was to verify which California police department attended Max’s fatal car accident.

Jack’s interrogation of the Police database indicated that it was the police from Long Beach California who were responsible for the accident reports.

The Long Beach Police switch was busy when Jack phoned. After patiently waiting on hold for several minutes he identified himself and was connected through to the officer responsible for reporting the accident to the coroner.

‘I understand that you attended a fatal motor vehicle accident several weeks back— car versus truck — in which a male person was killed.’

‘That’s correct. How can I help you?’

‘The young man who was killed was my son, Max.’

‘I am so sorry for your loss, Detective.’

‘I’m looking for a huge favor.’


‘I was hoping to sight a copy of the autopsy report.’

‘Really? For what purpose?’ the officer asked.

'Have you ever lost a child…? Jack asked.

‘No. Fortunately I have not.’

‘You know what us cops are like, we have to know everything,’ Jack said. ‘Look. It will help me personally with closure. I will know his official injuries; what he died of, etc. Can you help me out here – cop to cop,’ Jack channeled his best grieving parent voice.

‘Look, I’m not supposed to release official documents…’ the Cop said. A long pause followed. ‘You know what? Fuck it,’ the cop blurted. ‘If it was my kid, I’d wanna know too…and you’re a cop anyway…You got a fax number?’ The officer asked.

Five minutes later, while Jack hovered over the fax machine, his report from Long Beach arrived.

'What ya got Jobs…? Spence asked ‘You on to something...?’

‘Just following a hunch Spence. Probably nothing,’ Jack said. He scooped up the report and disappeared back into his office.

Jack replaced his reading glasses and commenced to read the report. He was like an over eager, but tentative student who had just received his final exam results.

His eyes scanned over the first page. What he looked for wasn’t there. He quickly moved to page two. His eyes darted back and forth across the page, not reading but searching. Not there either.

He turned to the last page of the autopsy report where he stopped scanning and started to read the information under “Scars, Tattoos and Other Identifying Marks.”

“The victim had what appeared to be a healed ¾ inch laceration approximately 1½ inches below the glans on his penis. The wound had healed to form a fresh scar suggesting a recent injury.”

Jack removed his reading glasses and flopped back into his chair. He glanced to the whiteboard, to the three girls staring back at him. They were there because of his son. He was not able to save them because his son had some twisted vendetta against his own father - for simply doing his job.

He rested his head in his hands. It was practically a fait accompli. Jack had sufficient evidence to confirm Max was the Cryptic Killer. There was not a jury in the country that wouldn’t convict, if faced with the strength of this evidence.

He had Max’s confessional letter to his mother — albeit unsigned. He had the lemon yellow paper and envelope, which he was confident when analysed, would be a match to the three previous cryptic letters. He had the printer which could be analysed to match the fonts in the letters.

He had the SIM card from the burn phone that was used to contact Wylie to arrange luxury cars, the last of which included the Audi in which Max used to pick up Emma Fisher. He had the autopsy report recording the injury caused to his penis, which placed him in the car with Emma Fisher. He had the physical description from the two witnesses, who would both be able to identify Max from recent photos. Max was a qualified Criminologist which explained his knowledge of crime scenes and law enforcement. The evidence was almost water tight.

The passing of Max also explained why he hadn’t heard from the killer since Emma Fisher’s fortunate escape; Max had moved to California, or was in the process of moving. Jack’s head remained in his hands. He was flattened, physically and mentally. It was all too surreal. What do I tell Max’s mother? How do I tell her?

‘You OK jobs?’ Spence asked.

Jack lifted his head to Spence standing in the doorway. Jack’s expression was somber, as though another family member had passed away and he had just received the grim news. ‘I’m OK Spence.’ He said as he lifted the Coroner’s report and folded it up.

‘Well, you look like shit,’ Spence said. ‘I’m worried about you buddy…You should take some time off…go and spend some time with Caitlyn,’ Spence suggested. ‘Lean on one another for support.’

‘You’re right, I probably should,’ Jack said. ‘But we’ve got this prick to catch first.’ He tilted his head towards the whiteboard.

Spence glanced at the whiteboard. ‘He’s gone to ground Jobs. Evaporated. We may never hear from him again after he failed with Emma Fisher.’

Jack shrugged. ‘You may be right.’

It had taken over two hours but Roger from Computer Forensics by-passed the boot-up log in password screen on Max’s laptop. The files could now be examined.

Jack collected the laptop from Forensics and quickly returned to his office.

Back at his desk Jack searched for any files that may contain the cryptic letters he suspected Max had prepared, but he couldn't locate them. Every key word he searched for came up empty. He had no choice but to visit every folder and individually examine its contents.

After about thirty minutes of fruitless searching Jack started to question that maybe Max didn’t prepare the letters. He moved to an unlikely folder named “IRS Returns” and opened it.

There were four files inside this folder and each file had an unusual file name. He selected the file named, “A warning to players” first and opened it.

Jack donned his reading glasses and read the open document on the laptop screen. He stopped suddenly after reading the first sentence. His shoulders slumped and his head lolled forward. His aching heart prevented him from reading on.

After a few moments to compose himself, he slowly lifted his eyes back to the screen. Was the pain in his chest normal? Was it grief, or was it disappointment and disbelief? It just couldn’t be – His own son.

Jack had just opened the file that contained the fourth letter he received from the Cryptic Killer. Jack checked the file properties. His blank stare locked onto the date and time stamps that verified the document was created on “Wednesday 28th March by Max Head.”

He reluctantly opened the three remaining files in the same folder, knowing full well what he would encounter. With each file he opened, it was like another piece of his heart had died. As expected, the remaining three files were Cryptic letters one to three that Jack had previously received. The document properties for each file verified they were created by Max and the chronology fitted exactly.

It was a now a water tight case against his son. Once again Jack Head had his man. Normally, after solving a high profile case such as this, they ended up at Rosie’s with drinks all round until the early hours of the morning.

It was always a celebration accompanied by the euphoric feeling of having achieved something considerable. But this one was bitter-sweet. There would be no celebrations at Rosie’s for solving this case.

Jack had spent many sleepless nights longing for the day, imagining how he would feel when he stopped this conceited killer who arrogantly taunted him with clues in a letter. But now he had his man, the feelings of satisfaction he expected to experience were replaced with a heavy weight in his gut and a stabbing pain through his heart.

The hardest part of all this won’t be telling his colleagues, or his bosses: that he would get over with time. After all, in their eyes, Jack has still solved a major high profile case, regardless of who the killer was. The part about this whole situation he dreaded the most would be telling Max’s Mom what their son had done, and why he did it.

Jack’s attention was drawn to Spence entering the office with two hot coffees he had just purchased. ‘You looked like you could do with one of these Jobs,’ Spence said as he placed one cup in front of Jack before sliding into the visitor’s chair.

‘You are a lifesaver Spence,’ Jack said. He lifted the hot beverage and took a sip.

‘Did you get everything finished up at Rumson?’ Spence said. He reclined back, crossed his legs as he sipped on his coffee.

‘Nearly. I should have it all done by this Saturday,’ Jack said. ‘The boxes are being collected the following Tuesday. So there is only a couple of things to tidy up and it will all be ready to go.’

‘You OK buddy…?’ Spence asked.

Jack stared briefly at Spence before responding. He couldn’t bring himself to share his discovery with his colleague. Spence had been shoulder-to-shoulder with him through the Cryptic Killer investigation and he deserved to know the truth. He deserved to know it was finally over, but he couldn’t do it. ‘I’ve been better,’ was all Jack could bring himself to say.

‘Where are the boxes going…? Caitlyn’s…?’

‘Yeah.’ Jack nodded, sneaking in a quick sip of coffee. ‘Eventually she’ll go through them and sort out what she wants to keep, and what to throw out, but it will be a while before she can bring herself to doing that.’

‘Well, sing out if you need a hand on Saturday Jobs…’ Spence offered.

Jack nodded as he sipped on his coffee.

Saturday was a cool overcast day and the evening was even cooler. The salty breeze blowing straight off the ocean made the temperatures feel about ten degrees cooler. Jack stood in the back yard of Max’s Rumson house. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets and his hoodie was draped over his head.

He stared, mesmerized by the flames from the fire he had started in the tin drum. He momentarily enjoyed the warmth radiating from the dancing flames. A cardboard box lay at his feet. The words “Property of Jack Head” were clearly visible across the top.

Jack was hypnotized by the flickering movement of the flames while his feelings and obligations as a father battled ferociously with his feelings and obligations as a career cop.

The decisions he made next could define him as a person; they could affect him for the rest of his life.

Jack loaded a further two small logs into the fire and stood back to watch the fire take hold. The heat radiating from the flames had a calming effect and provided him with some comfort from the cooler temperature.

The distinctive smell of burning logs mixed with the white smoke trailing off at a forty-five degree angle into the darkness.

Jack knelt down beside the box and ripped off the strong duct tape. He levered open the top flaps and peered inside the box. He paused briefly before reaching inside.

First to be removed from the box were the blank pages of lemon yellow paper and the envelopes. Jack paused briefly, mainly to reassure himself. He separated small groups of the pages then gently lobbed the blank pages and envelopes onto the fire. Within seconds the hungry flames stretched skywards.

The scrunched up newspaper articles, all about Jack, followed next and were no match to the insatiable appetite of Jack’s fire. The intense heat scorched them before they burst into flames and disintegrated into ash.

Jack reached into a pocket of his jeans and removed the small mobile phone SIM card and threw it straight into the fire. There was no hesitation. The fire’s intense heat transformed the SIM into a molten blob of plastic in seconds.

He continued emptying the contents of the box, one-by-one until the empty shell of the box was all that remained. He stepped back and watched the flickering flames devour everything he had fed it.

He reached into his jeans back pocket and removed the folded autopsy report he received from the Long Beach cops. He opened it up and looked at it. He read the name across the top of the report –Max Jack Head. He couldn’t read any more. He shook his head as he crushed the report between his massive hands, scrunching it up tightly into a little ball. It was though he tried to squeeze any semblance of truth from it.

He watched as it exploded into flames after he lobbed it into the center of the fire drum.

Everything Jack had stumbled across in Max’s basement that implicated Max as the Cryptic Killer was now reduced to ash. The only non-combustible item that remained was Max’s laptop, but he would wipe the hard drive then destroy it.

Jack’s facial expression firmed. His eyebrows rose as he tapped the back pocket of his jeans. He suddenly remembered something. He removed a folded piece of paper. It was Max’s confession letter to his Mom. He regarded the folded letter in his hand, deciding whether or not to burn it. Should he show it to Caitlyn? Would she want to see her son's last written words to her? Jack shook his head. He didn’t know what to do. He decided to return it to his pocket for now.

Jack had just done the unthinkable. He had perverted the course of justice. He had tampered with evidence in a murder case, destroying it completely. Evidence that would have irrefutably identified the Cryptic Killer. Evidence from a man who murdered three young women and who attempted to kill another, was now gone, nothing but blackened ash in the bottom of the tin drum.

Jack stared at the mesmerizing flames that had devoured Max’s incriminating evidence. The battle in his head over his obligations as a cop and a dad, the battle between right and wrong had been won. His protective obligations as a father, and his feelings to protect his ex-wife had prevailed.

He had broken his oath to uphold the law. His actions questioned his integrity and went against everything he stood for. If caught, he would certainly be jailed for such an irresponsible and serious breach of trust. But he had to do it. He couldn’t expose Max’s mother to the additional grief of knowing her son was a serial killer.

His focus remained on the fire, mesmerized at its hypnotic beauty and comforting warmth, so much so, he didn’t hear anyone approaching him from behind.

Jack startled when Spence placed his hand on his shoulder. He jumped and turned aggressively to his rear with his fists raised, ready to defend himself. It was an action that would strike fear into any man.

Spence raised both his hands. ‘Whoa big boy…It’s just me…’ He said grinning back at Jack and the intense reaction he received.

Jack’s shoulders relaxed. His right eyebrow arched as he quickly shifted his focus back to the fire drum to ensure that all trace of what he had recently fed the fire was now gone.

‘I knocked at the front door but there was no answer. I could smell smoke so I came around back. You were miles away Jobs. I called out to you as I crossed the yard. You OK?’

‘Yeah, good Spence,’ Jack said, although he was not happy to see friend at that particular time. ‘What the fuck are you doing here? You just took ten years off me.’

‘I thought we needed to talk Jobs, so I thought this was as a good a place as any. It’s out of the way. Just you and me, so I came down to see ya… See how you were coping and while I was here I thought we could have a chat.’

‘OK. Talk about what?’ Jack asked.

Spence didn’t answer straight away. Both men stood with their hands in their pockets staring at the flickering flames. The front side of their bodies glowed in the dancing reflection of the fire.

‘When did you first realize Jobs?’ Spence said, keeping his comments short and direct and his focus on the fire.

‘Realize what…?’ Jack said. A lump formed in his throat.

Spence nudged the empty cardboard box towards Jack with his foot, before lifting his eyes back to Jack.

Jack’s head lowered. His friend had caught him out. 'When did you realize?’ Jack said. His tone was somber, probably even embarrassed.

‘Not until the funeral,’ Spence began. 'When I saw the recent photos of Max on the large screen at the funeral, I thought I was looking at the photo fit IDs of our killer. His steely blue eyes, his large frame, everything matched. It all started to come together. Then there were the photos of him being awarded Expert level in Krav Maga…Krav Maga Jack, the Israeli Security Special forces self-defense that teaches you how to immobilize an attacker, maybe even break their neck if you wanted to…’ Spence said, raising suggestive eyebrows. ‘Then Emma saw you through her front door peephole and thought you were the killer returning. You and your eldest Jack…the physical resemblance is amazing.’

Jack stood silent and motionless. His head was bowed submissively. His large shoulders were rounded, almost conceding. What he had done was wrong and he couldn’t justifiably defend it. It didn’t matter to the law that he did what he did to protect his son’s name, and prevent further trauma to his ex-wife.

'Then you came down here to pack Max’s property and it was obvious to me you found something,' Spence said. 'You completely changed at work. You started conducting your own separate inquiries, excluding me. You stopped your daily ritual of studying the whiteboard, which suggested to me you knew something. I ran into Roger in the kitchen and he asked how you went with the files on Max’s laptop. I thought to myself, why were you so interested in Max’s computer? There were a number of questions that needed answering. But you just asked me when did I realize, Jack…? When did I suspect we were looking for Max..? Just now. I previously suspected something was up… but I realized just now.’

Jack was busted. His friend and partner, one of the most trusted and loyal cops he knew, had caught him doing the unthinkable. Spence had caught him destroying incriminating evidence in a multiple murder case.

Jack removed Max’s letter from his pocket and handed it to Spence. No words were exchanged. He didn’t even look at Spence, he just held the letter out in his extended hand.

Spence accepted the letter, unfolded it and read it to himself. When he finished reading his stern glare flicked to Jack. His eyebrows were raised. He held the letter out at Jack, holding his firm gaze for several seconds. Jack was too humiliated to bring himself to raise his head and make eye contact with Spence.

‘How long have you had this…?’ Spence shook the letter at Jack. He sounded disappointed that he was never told.

‘Found it last weekend,’ Jack said with his head still lowered. ‘So…what happens now…?’ Jack asked. His head was bowed in submission. His large shoulders were still rounded slightly.

Spence held his glare at Jack’s lowered head without speaking. His face had firmed. He again held up the letter to Jack. ‘This is a confession Jack,’ he said directly. ‘This is admissible evidence to identify who killed those three girls.' Jack remained unmoved. ‘This will solve the Cryptic Killer case Jack…and it will also identify who attacked Emma Fisher,’ he added firmly with his gaze still fixed on Jack. ‘This is everything we have been looking for to identify the killer and solve the case…’ Jack was unmoved.

After a brief pause Spence stepped to the fire. He took hold of the letter by the top corner and dipped the letter into the flickering flame until the bottom of the letter ignited. The flame slowly climbed up the page. He tilted the letter to encourage the climbing flame, waiting until the last possible moment before tossing the fully engulfed page into the fire.

Spence stepped back from the fire and turned to face Jack. Jack’s lowered head shot up. His eyes flicked from Spence to the fire and back.

'What happens now…?' Spence repeated. ‘You asked me what happens now...I’ll tell you what happens now... There’s a killer out there somewhere and we don’t know who it is.’ Spence said. A wry grin filled Spence’s face as he continued. ‘We’ve got someone out there sending us cryptic letters Jack, and running around killing hookers…and we have no idea who it is. We have no evidence on him and we gotta try and stop him. If we can’t find him it will become a cold case and we will eventually move on. So to answer your question…’ Spence placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder. 'That’s what happens now. Not to mention that you’ve also got one son that you need to get to know, and an ex-wife who I think would be keen on a second shot.’

Jack was overcome with emotion. His head dropped. He silently stared at the dancing flames that had consumed the last of Max’s incriminating evidence. He gave an almost indiscernible shake of his head as tears welled up in his eyes at his friend’s undeniable loyalty.

For years this tough, unbreakable giant was not allowed to show emotion. He wouldn’t allow himself show emotion. His father taught him it was a sign of weakness. For years it was beaten into him that real men don’t cry. This tough six foot eight, broad shouldered, old-school cop stood with his friend’s supporting hand still resting on his shoulder, while a single tear over flowed and slowly trickled its pathway down his cheek.

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