Early October, the last gasps of fall. Leaves swirl in an invisible wind and gather in the gutters in deep, russet toned, piles. The weather is damp though there is no rain to speak of, its just typical Boston fall weather, gloomy and cold.
The station however is bright and warm. I make my way to the coffee pot, pour a good measure into my well used mug and make my way through the maze of desks. I manage to avoid all conversation other than the usual hellos I am forced to exchange as I make my way to my little office, my sanctuary.
Door closed I take off my soaked coat, hanging it up carefully before I begin to sift through the documents on my desk. More filing, more background checks on probably harmless leads if the rest of them are anything to go by but no calls to do any fieldwork, not a single one.
I’m too unpredictable for fieldwork.
I boot up my computer and begin going through emails. There are at least three different invites to Halloween parties; what is it about the death of the year that makes people want to dress up in greasepaint and Lycra and run wild? The rest is junk that I can pretty much discard on sight. That done I turn my attention to the first assignment of the day.
The rain finally comes around midday, heavy drops hammering onto the pane and drumming into my brain. I rub at my forehead, trying to stave off a headache that is already beginning to form and wander off to find more coffee, once again ignoring my colleagues. My limp sandwich is hardly a satisfying lunch but it fills a hole and I train my mind back to the task at hand.
Facts and figures whirl past my eyes, I glaze over and rub at my forehead again. Its getting dark outside, surely it’s too early for that? I reach over and click on the desk light, its small pool of sickly yellow light doing nothing to alleviate the pain behind my eyes.
Thunder joins the rain.
Six pm, time to go home if I had anything to go home for. I look at the clock, my eyes straying for a moment to the small framed photograph just down from it. In a few weeks it will be ten years since that cold fall morning. I shudder and quickly push the thought away.
The other desk jockeys are making their way out of the building, their cheerful chatter slowly fading into the noise of the falling rain. A flash of lightning illuminates my dreary office space, highlighting shelves full of relics of my former life. The thunder is soft, almost like a cats purr as it rolls across the torn sky. The night is alive with the power of the storm, this is the type of night cops are wary of, a night when the feral side of human nature comes to the fore. People say its just a superstition but ask any cop, at any level, they will tell you the same thing. For that matter ask EMTs, we all know what storms and full moons bring, it’s not superstition its just understanding human nature.
I cross over to the window and haul it open, letting in the sounds of the streets and the fecund smell of rotting, dying plant life. I take a deep drag on my cigarette and blow smoke out into the night, flaunting the smoking ban without a single care. People hurry by on the streets below me, the colourful umbrellas jarring against the bruised tones of the world around them.
There is a soft knock at my door and I turn sharply. I am not expecting anyone but I shout “enter!” at the door anyway.
I hear the heavy clump of boots on the rough wooden floor and turn to face the figure who has entered my office. Their streaked hair is a little damp from the rain, curling softly around a heart shaped face. The sickly light of the desk lamp illuminates pretty green eyes, thin nose and full cupids bow lips. I motion for them to sit and they do, crossing one leather clad leg over the other at the knee. The dark purple faux fur coat looks expensive, there is no way my visitor has been out wandering the streets in this weather, not with a jacket like that.
A musical accent catches me off guard, eyes painted up like the Egyptians of old fix me with a level gaze, waiting for my response. I sit down, lean back in my chair and prop my feet up on the edge of me desk, crossing them at the ankles. I take another drag on my cigarette and take my time exhaling. “Your about ten years too late,” I mutter. “I do background checks now.”
My guest looks down at the floor and rests a thin hand on the desk. “But I was told you could help me.”
“Sorry kid,” I move my feet to the floor, ready to get up and show my guest out but he remains seated. “There’s plenty of other cops out there that can help ya, just not me.”
Emerald eyes fix me with a heart breaking stare that almost punches through the steely exterior of my chest. I falter for a second and stare back.
“No, it has to be you!” he whispers.
I roll my eyes, “I can’t help ya.”
“Please, just hear me out!”
I can’t take any more of the puppy dog eyes. I lean forward, elbows on the desk and flick my dark brown ponytail back over my shoulder with a sharp shake of my head. “OK then kid, ya have my attention.”
The sweet little thing in front of me takes a look at the floor again, perfect white teeth worrying his full bottom lip. I prop my feet up on my desk again and wait.
“Detective, I think someone is trying to threaten me.”
I watch my visitor as he reaches into his coat and pulls out an envelope. Rather than handing it to me he clutches it in his hands, crinkling it slightly.
“I have been receiving letters for, well, about two months I would say. They don’t say who they are, they just write nasty words. It started off as graphic descriptions of what they wanted to do to me but, in the last few days, I received this.” He leans over to hand the envelope to me. I take it from him and examine it, it’s generic, the kind you can buy at any store. I open it carefully and pull out a single folded page, it’s not written but typed.
Would that I could clip the wings of my angel to keep him earthbound.
Would that I could envelope feathered black wings in my embrace but, alas.
My angel forsakes me, my angel no longer cares and so my angel will bleed human blood.
So my angel will shed human skin, human flesh, piece by piece until I have consumed my angel whole
I look at him over the thin, low quality paper. He is staring off into the distance, eyes like two iridescent jewels. “Are the rest like this?”
“No, no they were different, they were crude. This is the only one like this.”
“So, do you think the two are connected?”
His eyes flick to me and I see a slight glint in them, “in them all I am referred to as an angel.”
I see a sense of pride with those words, a ghost of a smile on his lips. What is this kids game? I study the letter again and steel my resolve. No, threat or no threat I am not being dragged back into this game. “Like I said I’m not a detective any more, not that kind of detective anyway. I can’t help even if I wanted to. If you need help go and hire a private detective.”
“That’s what I am trying to do!” He uncrosses his legs and stands, resting his weight on his hands and leaning over my desk, his face catching more of the light from the lamp. “Mr Higgins I come from a rich family, a very rich family. I heard you were one of the best and I want to hire you. Name your price!”
His emerald eyes smoulder into me and I swallow thickly, “you would think the Internet would be able to supply ya with up to date information. I haven’t done fieldwork in almost ten years, I was suspended for two of those and I’m lucky I have my goddamn job back. I can’t help ya.”
A flicker of anger fires up his eyes and his lip curls back in a little snarl. This kitten does have claws after all, “I said name your price!”
“There aint an amount of money high enough.”
“If not money then tell me what it will take?” He walks slowly around my desk, fingers gliding over the surface. I watch his shapely legs move with feline grace and scoot my chair back as he comes towards me.
“Kid, you have nothin I want.”
He sits down on the corner of my desk and crosses one ankle over the other, tapping one heel of the vicious boots against the leg of my desk.
“Look kid, I don’t mean to be rude but your gonna have to leave. I can’t help, I’m sorry”
I turn back to the papers on my desk, dismissing him from my attention and, hopefully, my office too. Out of the corner of my eye I see his whole body sag, his hands coming up to cover his face. Concerned I look back over. He looks up at me, his calm, steely exterior back in place and reaches into the back pocket of his leather pants. “Please, you are the only one who can help me” he whispers.
The kid is tenacious, got to give him that. I take the proffered card and read the info. “New York? You’ve come a long way to get a no for an answer.”
“Why do you think I am not taking it,” he purrs with a shrug. He leans in close, close enough that I can smell the scent of fine cologne on him and he smiles. “Just promise me you will think about it,” he whispers.
I smile, “don’t get yer hopes up, kid.”
He winks at me and swaggers from the office, the door clicking shut behind him. I stare at the card for a little while before flicking it into my trash can. Out of sight, out of mind.
Next morning I awake to the sound of my cell-phone ringing. Within the hour I am waiting at a greasy table in a diner for an old friend. I spot him through the glass and signal to the waitress to bring two coffees.
We nod to each other in greeting and he sits across from me. We’re not ones for small talk so he immediately hands me his phone. I read through the email on the screen.“When did this happen?”
“About three days ago.”
I read the details again. Male, probably early twenties, Caucasian, dressed in a Gothic style, leather pants, dark make up, chains and spikes, the works, found murdered in an alley off of 53rd street in Manhattan and brutally at that. My mind wanders back to my visitor last night and I begin to wonder if I can get back to the office before the trash cans are emptied.
“McCray says it was a mess,” Harris whispers over his coffee cup. “The kid was flayed and some of the flesh peeled from the skeleton.” He takes a deep swallow of the bitter liquid and makes a face. I wait impatiently as he shakes out a packet of brown sugar and pours it in, watching it melt and swirl into the cup. “There was all sorts of symbols on the ground, blood everywhere and black feathers,” he taps the little spoon against the cup. “Whole heaps of black feathers.” I stare at him and he looks back at me, “just like...”
“No, Harris, its not!” I tell him sharply, “Why is McCray sending you info about New York crimes anyway?”
Harris glances at me and I see the sadness in his eyes. “He’s one of us, remember? Even if he has gone over to the dark side. He sees the similarities too, so does Novik.”
I tut and shake my head, not this again, every couple of years they bring up the same shit.
We sit in silence for a bit and I take the time to look through more of the email. McCray was succinct in the info he gave, just enough to give us a good picture of the grisly scene. “Why are you showin me this?”
“I thought you’d want to know?”
“Why? One murder is the same as any other in that cesspool,” I hiss, “Leave the New York mess to the New York cops.”
“The New York cops haven’t dealt with a killer like this before.”
I rest my elbows on the table so I am a little closer to Harris. “They haven’t? What about the bone crusher? Toe peeler Tom? The cat call killer?”
“They are all different!”
“In what way?”
“They were all human, at least biologically.”
I chock out a laugh. “Our guy was human too.”
“The one we caught, thinkin it was our guy, was human. Somethin never really added up though.”
I sit back and shrug angrily, “So, what? You, Novik and McCray staring a secret union of supernatural cops now? Gonna start solving cases involving vampires and zombies now, are you?”
“We think it might be more of a demon.”
I laugh again, the sullen faces of the other customers turn to us, each one wearing a slightly different look of disgust. I lean forward again. “Is this shit funny to you?” I hiss at him.
“No, I’m serious, Higgins.”
“Harris, I know there was all sorts of talk about this at the time, I know the symbols found around…” I stop, my head filling with the images I had hoped were erased forever from my waking mind. No, why mention that particular murder out loud. “I know that there was a lot of symbols and ritualistic stuff in those deaths but I still believe he was human.”
“Because there is no such thing as demons or vampires, just crazy ass Halloween fan boys who get a kick out of fake Pagan rituals.”
Now it is Harris’ turn to roll his eyes. He takes another sip of his coffee, “Jerry, come on, stop pretendin we didn’t see the things we did!”
I stare at him. I know its serious when he uses my first name. This is no longer a professional cop to cop conversation. “What I saw was an evil guy, a human guy, who enjoyed cutting up young men who looked a little different. It was rockers last time, now it seems ta be goth kids. At the worst we have a copy cat killer, what’s more likely is it’s a coincidence. Not demons There are a lot of sick people out there, Harris”
“A human can’t fall twenty floors and still run. A human can’t take a point blank shot to the chest. A human can’t rip out...”
“Don’t,” I growl. I let my eyes drift to the dirty table top, “just...don’t.”
Harris rests a gentle hand on my arm but I pull back out of his grip. “No one saw how he died,” I mutter half to myself, “anythin could have been used.”
“He looked like a wild animal had been at him!”
I shake my head and pinch the bridge of my nose, “he was killed by a evil human being not a werewolf or vampire or whatever we are thinking it is today.”
“No!” I shout, “I saw his killer put behind bars, that was the last thing I ever did before they suspended me. I may have taken a dirty route ta do it but I did do it, I saw his killer locked up!”
I get up from the table and hear Harris’ chair squeak against the cheap linoleum. I wrench my shoulder away from his grasp and keep walking. Harris falls into step behind me.
“And what if it is the wrong guy? Are you willing to let more innocent people die just so you can put yer mind at rest?”
My mind reels back to a cold, tiled room, splashes of red hit the white walls as my fist slams into the face of the suspect again and again, he’s lucky I didn’t kill him. The possibility of that not being the right guy has never crossed my mind and, if it wasn’t the right guy, then what does that make me? No, my mind is made up, nothing is dragging me out in the field. I don’t belong there.
“If ya want to put yourself in New York, in Burbank’s way might I add, then be my guest..”
“We don’t have to go to New York, We can help them from here! And I am not scared of Burbank.”
We step out into the damp streets almost in unison, a brisk breeze whipping at our coats.
“Help? Is that why you wanted to see me? McCray asked for your help?”
I turn to look at him, his dark eyes are blazing at me, once again he reaches out to touch my arm and this time I don’t move away,“Jerry, its time to face your demons head on.”
I lean in close to his face, “I already have.”
I stalk down the dreary streets, light a much needed cigarette and let my mind sink into the mire of sickly thoughts and worries that threatens to pull me down and drown me. Two calls to go and help in New York in less than twenty four hours? The universe is trying to tell me something.
The universe can go take a rain check.
Why do people feel the need to make a horror out of things, isn’t real life scary enough? I have seen some things on the job. Kids left so long in their own waste that their skin is rotting away. Women beaten to death by partners who felt like they owed them something. Isn’t that horrifying enough. No one is safe from evil but evil is inherently human that’s the truly horrific thing.
Harris and Novik weren’t the ones that stumbled across the body that day, I was. I was the one who saw the wounds for what they were, wounds inflicted by the sick twisted mind of another human. An especially gruesome death for a cop who got too close. I squeeze the bridge of my nose again and chase the images away with cold hard facts.
A grisly death of a young man, a clearly ritualised death that seems to, in some way, mimic a note sent to some rich foreign kid. Both the victim and my visitor are what can be described as Goth. Is there a link or is there something else at play here? And, mores the point, why am I puzzling it over. I should hand over what I know to McCray and be done with it.
My wandering feet bring me to my favourite bar, it may be a little early on a Saturday but Eddies is always open. I push the swing door and enter the dim bar.
“Hey man, the usual?”
I nod at Eddie who fills a glass with two ice cubes and a good measure of Scotch. I down it in one go and shake it at her.
“Looks like its going to go that way.”
Eddie rubs a well worn cloth over the brass taps, brown curls bouncing around her shoulders. “It’s only early, plenty of time to turn things around.”
I offer her a wan smile then look around the bar. “Business OK?” I ask, changing the subject.
“Oh yeah, we get a few of the younger bands on the books now, not as jumping as it was in our day though.” She looks at me as she starts starts examining glasses. “You ever think about picking up the guitar again?”
“No,” I whisper. The music in me died with him, I add silently.
Eddie nods and says nothing more.
As the bar fills I remove myself to a far corner where I can watch the clientele. The skills you have as a cop never turn off and I find myself watching people, the way they move, the way they stand and wonder how they never realise how much those little gestures give away.
The new crop of college kids seem to be the same as any other year. They all wanna try the dive bar, soak up a little genuine Bostonian atmosphere but very few come back, unless they like listening to weekender bands like my old band.
Despite my best efforts my mind wanders off in the direction of my visitor last night. The kid didn’t seem scared, didn’t even seem a little shaken. He had exuded a calm that was almost frightening though it did slip every so often. Maybe he was simply an expert at projecting what he wanted people to see.
I settle back against the worn leather of the cushions and lift my glass to my lips. Were there notes the first time round? Threats? Any other similarities at all? My instinct is trying to tell me something and I don’t like it. I can feel my compass turning, its point set firmly south west.
I approach the bar again and grab a chance to pick Eddies brains as she is pouring the golden liquor into my waiting glass. “You ever heard the name Calhoun?”I say, proud I can remember the last name from a quick glance at the kids card.
She knits her eyebrows together. “Yeah, in passin….my brother got a tattoo done at his studio.”
“He’s a tattoo artist?”
“Yeah, and he does all these really cool pictures too, with an airbrush, he’s pretty good actually. Does…fantasy kinda stuff, you know, lots of colours.”
I nod and tip the heavy bottomed glass to my lips, the alcohol burns slightly on my chapped lips. “How do you know that?”
“My brother said the studio was covered in them, he seems to like birds.”
Eddie heads to the back of the bar and grabs her cell-phone. I look at the screen when she turns it my way. The picture is of a delicate looking multicoloured bird, kind of like a peacock with a shorter neck. Not the kind of stuff I would have expected a kid dressed the way he was to paint.
“My brother bought it. Didn’t pay too much for it neither, said the guy seemed happy that someone wanted a painting of his.”
“Nope, art isn’t really my thing. I couldn’t tell ya anything else about it even if I wanted to. It is kinda pretty though, delicate.”
“I meant about the kid.”
“Well you’re the detective, man, you tell me!”
I grumble under my breath for a bit but then Eddie fixes me with the same smile she had been throwing my way since I first came to this bar. I was just a bright eyed rookie then and she just old enough to help her dad, the original Eddie, behind the bar. Eventually I returned her grin. I think over what she told me. No mention of a rich family but then its hardly a proper check, I could easily go back to my office and find out myself, if this case was any of my business.
Eddie’s voice breaks through my thoughts. “Why do you ask?”
I shrug. “I had heard the name here and there, was just curious.”
“Don’t tell me you are getting into artsy fartsy stuff?” Eddie says with a laugh.
I grimace, “I’m forty, not dead,” I murmur.
“A new tattoo then?”
I force a smile to my lips, “one was enough.”
Eddie nods, smiles at me and then crosses the bar to deal with more customers.
I swirl the Scotch in the glass, my mind wandering off over my conversation with Harris. I have to listen to my gut on this one but my gut is wanting me to take a path my mind wasn’t happy with. I’m gonna go my gut, my gut had never let me down before.