The Last Night in the Office
The blinding white light slowly subsided from Detective John Mulrooney’s eyes, and he raised his head slowly, shaking his head and shielding his eyes. What on earth was causing that?
He blinked, and the white light slowly shrank to the small amber glow of the lamp on his desk across the room. He didn't remember it being on before he went to sleep. And why had it been so bright?
Mulrooney slowly sat up in his worn black chair. The lamp was the only light in his office; otherwise the room was shrouded in darkness. He saw that a case file was lying open next to a stack of other papers, and he smiled darkly.
It was the file for the Hangman killings.
It was because of that damn psychopath that Chief Barks had kept him and Sergeant Robertson doing double shifts for weeks now, working them to the bone to solve the recent murders around around town. The three of them had finally caught him last week, and he was happy to see that Barks had written their final report for them. It really was the least he could do.
Mulrooney leaned over and read the interchanging scribbles of his or Robertson’ handwriting. The first entry was from two months ago, in July. It was an account of the first victim:
Gregory Geras, grocery store clerk. Hung by the neck until dead while in his store, with a piece of paper pinned on his head, on which was written the letter “G”.
The second and third entries would only be a week and two later, Mulrooney remembered. And sooner still would bodies hanging from makeshift gallows start showing up like flies.
Erik Olsen, fisherman, hung by the neck until dead. An “O” was pinned on his fist.
Mortimer Armstrong, undertaker, hung by the neck until dead. An “A” on his left arm.
This was when he, Roberts and Captain McElhaney had begun compiling the list on the victims of the “Hangman”, as he was popularly known in the papers. Mulrooney had never thought that a two-bit copy of Jack the Ripper would sell very well, but the city's growing hysteria had proven him wrong. And as July drifted into August, the names on the list grew.
Husband and wife Adele and Alex Eaton, both hung by the neck until dead. Pinned with “E”s on his right arm and her left leg.
Henry Voss, a banker, hung by the neck until dead. a “V” on his right leg.
And then, after the first week of August, the Hangman stopped his killing spree, leaving behind six victims, six clues, and one great mystery.
It didn't take a man of great intelligence to see that the victims had been marked with the first initial of their last names. But what was the Hangman trying to spell? He and Roberts had spent hours scrawling the possibilities on paper, mixing up the letters to try and make sense out of them. Every time, they came up short of any real word.
After a while, Mulrooney came the conclusion that the letters didn't mean anything at all. Geras had been wearing that letter for some reason before he was hung, and the killer simply picked his gimmick from there. You already had to be crazy to be a serial killer. It took a serious wacko to base his murders on a children's game.
He then read the third and final page in the file: the Hangman’s final kill and his capture, as described by Chief Barks. It was funny; for happening so recently, Mulrooney could hardly remember it.
On August 16, Detective Mulrooney, Sergeant Robertson and myself pursued the Hangman to his hideout by the lake. He asked them us our names. I stayed silent, but the sergeants gave it, which caused the Hangman to laugh. ‘Good’, he said in a low, sinister voice. ‘This is to be the end, then’. And, pulling out a gun, he fired at me, and I fell.
When I came to, my shoulder bleeding, I observed the aftermath of the Hangman’s work with horror. The madman was dead, his body floating in the water. I called for Captain McElhaney, and told him to bring a photographer to capture the Hangman’s final act.
An autopsy proved the Hangman to be Jack Ketch, an escaped mental ward patient from six years ago. According to an interview with the ward, the only way to soothe Ketch’s schizophrenia and violent tendencies was to make him play “Hangman” with his doctors. Whenever he won against them, he would yell “Game Over!” and his fits of violence would resume.
Mr. Calvin Meyer, a photojournalist from the Gazette, took the three pictures that for two months now have haunted our minds.
Mulrooney felt cold with shock. Two months? The capture of the Hangman had been less than a week ago, on the 27th of August! He remembered everything Barks wrote in this report, remembered the laugh of the Hangman as he rushed at him and Roberts. He remembered the rope he picked up from the floor. He remembered….
The shock Mulrooney felt was instantly replaced by dread. He saw the photographs behind the last page, and with trembling hands, he picked them up.
The first picture showed the body of the Hangman-Jack Ketch-floating face-down in the lake. He had three bullet-wounds in his back.
The second showed Robertson’s body swinging from the streetlamp at the end of the street. A large black “R” was pinned to his left eye.
Grief, confusion and fear flooded Mulrooney. He did not want to look at the last picture. He knew what he would see- a giant “M”- and he didn't think he could bear to see and live. But if he was right, that wouldn't matter. His eyes creeped down to the picture in his hand, and looked.
The body in the third photograph-the last man to be hung- was hung by the opposite lamppost, and the black “M” was pinned through his right eye. The man was John Mulrooney. Him.
And now, with him and Robertson dead, he saw what the Hangman had been spelling out for them.
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