The door to Frank’s apartment splintered on the first impact from the Blackhawk battering ram, it shattered inwards on the second. Officers in riot gear stormed into the hallway, flanking the entrance. They were dressed in black tactical gear and each held a Colt LE901 rifle, the sights of which they kept trained on the other doorways in the apartment as they entered in well-disciplined formation. One by one, the officers at the rear came forward and surveyed the rooms coming off of the hallway, under cover from their colleagues. The first swung, gun raised, into Frank’s bedroom.
The short, sharp declaration that the room to the team’s left was bereft of danger was followed by a second as another officer strode forward and kicked open the door to the bathroom at the end of the hall.
A third officer advanced, intent on risk-assessing the last room off the right of the hallway, but as he wheeled skilfully into the doorway he let out a shriek and discharged two rounds into the room before falling backward, his face smeared with blood, and barging his colleague out of the way to go and vomit into the basin in the bathroom. The rest of the team whirred into action immediately, silently advancing to surround the kitchen’s ingress. One by one, they stood at ease as they saw what had startled their colleague; hanging in the doorway, still swinging from its collision with officer Rembrandt, was a naked body, its skin completely flayed. Partially congealed blood slid across the shiny exposed muscle and tendons lazily as it fought for anchorage against the persistent beckoning of gravity. Captain O’Malley, a twenty year veteran of the force and a close friend of Markus Hopkins stood with his hands on his hips, studying the scene.
“Ah, shit Frank.”
Captain O’Malley didn’t know Frank, but he’d heard enough of Markus’ old war stories to know that he’d been a damn good cop. In fact Markus had asked him to head up this raid as a personal favour so that Frank wouldn’t be harmed unless absolutely necessary. But if there was one thing that Cap O’Malley could glean from what he now stood staring at, it was that Franklyn Ward had lost his mind. Beyond the hanging body, which O’Malley presumed was the remains of the priest witnesses had reported seeing Frank dragging into his car, was a room unfit for purpose; where food should be prepared and eaten in cleanliness were countertops thick with grime, a floor tacky with partially decomposed body fluids, and bloody smears and fingerprints decorating nearly every surface. He wondered how many people had been killed here, and prayed that none of them had suffered as much as this priest looked to have done.
Likely been driven crazy by the fucked up shit he’d seen throughout his career, poor bastard.
O’Malley shook his head, as if acknowledging a fallen comrade. He could still hear Rembrandt vomiting in the room behind him.
“Is it HCK, Cap? Is he HCK?”
The officer behind his right shoulder was new to the task force, a relative rookie called Jonas Mile. O’Malley considered ignoring the rookie’s question – he had to know when to be respectful and keep his mouth shut – but he liked his enthusiasm, it reminded him of himself all those years ago.
“No, Mile. No he’s not.”
“WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON IN THERE??? WERE THOSE SHOTS FIRED??? I THOUGHT YOU SAID NECESSARY FORCE ONLY MIKE!?”
The sudden eruption from O’Malley’s two-way radio made half of the task force jump out of their skin; they’d been captivated but revolted by the eerie atmosphere in the apartment and were already on edge. Their captain gave them a stern look, holding up a hand in a gesture meant to instruct them to remain silent. He pulled the radio, attached securely to his left epaulette, closer to his mouth and hit the button to respond.
“It’s OK Markus, it’s all clear. Just a -”
O’Malley paused, thinking how best to explain the gunshots without demeaning the resolve of his men.
“False alarm. You better get in here Markus, and you better call that chick in forensics you’re so hot for.”
The other end of the transmission remained silent for a moment before Markus came back, his voice was dejected and bereft of its usual vigour.
“OK thanks Mike, pull your men out. And make sure they don’t touch anything.”
A swift wave of Captain O’Malley’s hand in the air signalled for his team to move out, and without a sound they retreated from the apartment, leaving its contents to the New York homicide department, and Markus Hopkins.
Frank was clearly gone and it wasn’t clear if he’d be back, but he knew the drill; if he did return home he’d see the squad cars lining the street, lights flashing like an attack of blue and red visual Tourette’s, and he’d disappear. This gave Markus’ team ample time to sweep the apartment for evidence. Forensics had already been summoned but were yet to arrive, and Markus grimaced as he carefully stepped around the crusted puddles of yellow fluid that had pooled on the kitchen floor. He looked around the room and saw, on the walls and on the inside of the open refrigerator, the tell-tale brown smears that betrayed a shoddy attempt at cleaning up blood spatters. The smell of rotting fish and iron wafted through the whole apartment, an odour of the damned, and one that Markus was familiar with in his line of work but one that reviled him nonetheless. He reached the far side of the kitchen and paused, looking out of the window to the sunny courtyard beyond the glass; the people in the surrounding apartments were no doubt oblivious to his friend’s fall from grace, and the ensuing horrors that had occurred just metres from their homes. They would continue going about their daily business believing themselves safe, but Markus knew there was evil potentially lurking around every corner. He closed his eyes against the glare of the sunshine refracting offensively through the window onto his retinas, and a picture formed in his mind; a thrumming black cloud of concentrated hatred loomed around a dark street corner as an unsuspecting courting couple strolled happily hand-in-hand towards it. An uneasy feeling began to rise in Markus’ gut, like he’d gorged himself on spicy food and was about to suffer its revenge, and he couldn’t help but feel that this imagined evil was looking back at him from his imagination. Despite the warmth of the sun shining over him, his skin felt cold and slowly goose-pimpled as the couple drew nearer to this malevolent thing in his mind. He opened his eyes and blinked heavily to dispel the image, rubbing his palms over his forearms to warm them and turning away from the window to oversee his officers. Finlay Rourke, an Irish immigrant who had recently been sent to the precinct, meandered across the room clutching a piece of crumpled paper, a grim expression on his face. The two men’s eyes met as Finlay negotiated the last of the crusted serous puddles.
“Sir, I found this over on the table over there,”
He offered the piece of paper to his superior with a trembling hand as he continued,
“next to that.”
Finlay rotated his torso and pointed back across the room with his free hand to the liquefied remains of what appeared to be a small fish lying on the kitchen table; tiny shards of bone and patches of scaly skin adorned a tiny lake of putrefied tissue. The sight was kid’s stuff compared to the skinless corpse still hanging in the doorway, but something about the violent disintegration of a loving relationship between pet and pet-owner was just as disturbing as the mutilation of a priest. Markus matched his subordinate’s grimace; it seemed Frank had allowed nothing to remain alive once it had entered his apartment. Finlay looked expectantly up at his boss as the crumpled piece of paper was seized from his hand, unmoving as if waiting for further instruction.
“OK Rourke, back to the scene please.”
The younger man dutifully spun on his heels and hurriedly joined the other officers scanning the room for evidence. Alone again, Markus hesitantly unfolded the piece of paper and began to read the scrawled message written on one side;
When someone gives you this letter, there will be a lot of things people are saying about me. Things I’ve done.
It seems these things are true. I know that’s a dumb thing to say, but I don’t clearly remember any of it. There is evidence though, I found bodies at my place. Dead bodies. And I keep getting flashbacks and dreams of hurting people. Really hurting people!
I don’t feel myself anymore, it’s like something’s controlling me, like I thought Aaron Stokes was being controlled, remember? (Sorry to mention that name but this feels so connected)
I’m scared of what I might do next, so I’m going to put a stop to this. I’m going somewhere I can’t hurt anyone, somewhere I’ll be secure, but somewhere I’m sure I’ll die. From this darkness will cometh a light, I’m convinced of that.
I’ve tried calling Daisy, to say goodbye. She ignored my messages. I guess I’ve just been away too long to be a part of her life anymore, but please remind her every day of how much I love her, how she’s my entire world. Every day Michelle. And tell her that I wasn’t such a bad guy once.
Goodbye, and sorry.
Markus folded the letter in half and slid it into his breast pocket, he wanted to fulfil Frank’s wish and deliver this note to his ex-wife but wasn’t sure if he should; the man that had written these words seemed confused, desperate, and quite possibly insane. What had he meant by being controlled by something? Was he hearing voices telling him to commit these crimes? After all it seemed he had, in part at least, confessed his guilt. Something still didn’t quite fit though; the only murders definitely attributable to Frank had been haphazard and messy, and far lacked the precision and spectacle of the HCK homicides. Still, Markus was hunting a serial killer and Frank was certainly living up to that billing so it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that he was indeed the Holy Cow Killer. Frank’s note would be logged as evidence while the investigation was open, so Markus knew that he’d have some time to decide whether or not to give it to Michelle but he knew deep down that eventually he would. She had a right to know that Frank’s final thoughts, if indeed he was dead as the letter suggested, were of her and Daisy.
The officers attending the scene busied themselves securing Frank Ward’s apartment, covering the doors and windows with police tape and continuing to search for damning evidence that their boss’ former colleague, by all means the man he seemed to respect above all else, was a serial killer, possibly even the Holy Cow Killer himself. Markus was all too aware of the nervous mumblings amongst his team, and that they promptly ceased as soon as he was within earshot. He too was having trouble believing that Frank could be capable of murder, but there was already enough evidence to testify to the contrary, and that note; if Frank had gone insane as that note implied, he could be capable of anything. Markus made his way to the centre of the kitchen, his back to the window as he faced into the room, hands on hips as he watched over his fellow officers performing their duties like well-drilled worker ants. He had to project a strong image despite the feeling of sorrow eating away at his brain, and the regret infecting his heart. He’d witnessed the demise of many a good man but Frank had seemed far too strong to succumb to the calling of homicide, even if he had been fuelled by madness. He’d been a good friend to Markus, who had fought of many of his own demons along their journey together, and just seemed too resilient to be the perpetrator of what had been unfolding over the past weeks. As he scanned the room, Markus noticed that a red light was blinking on the phone hanging on the wall by the kitchen door, indicating that an incoming message had been left on the machine. He pondered his next move carefully before booming a command to all of the officers in the room,
“Ok fellas, give me the room. Fifteen minute break then we get straight back into this.”
He ushered his subordinates towards the hallway, where he paused to watch until the last of them had exited the apartment and the remains of the shattered heavy door had swung closed behind them. Most of his unit smoked, so Markus knew that he’d have the full fifteen minutes of privacy he’d requested as they attempted to chain-smoke as many cigarettes as they could in this time. He rounded the kitchen doorframe, dodging the hanging priest, and stood facing the telephone; without the bustling officers the room was occupied by an eerie silence, and Markus felt an air of expectancy surround him, closing in on him like the silence before the gladiatorial execution that preceded an eruption of cheers. The sun was beginning to set and the room was starting to get dim, the blinking red light taunted him in the insidious gloom; would retrieving this message exonerate his friend or plunge him deeper into a desperate manhunt? As Markus lifted the receiver, being careful not to contaminate the crusted bloody fingerprints, and pressed the flashing red button, instead of acquittal or condemnation he was greeted by a familiar voice. One that brought a tear to his eye as the message drew on.
“Hi Dad, it’s Daisy. Sorry I didn’t get back to you, I’ve been away.
I’m glad you got in touch though, I’ve been in the Seychelles with Justin and, well, he proposed. I’m engaged, Dad!
I know you two haven’t had a chance to meet properly yet, but you trust my judgement right? Hahaha.
Anyway I couldn’t wait to tell you, I’ve not even unpacked yet! And I’m glad you mentioned Christmas; it’ll be the perfect time to celebrate. All of us, together again properly. Plus, you can get to know your future son-in-law.
Anyway, give me a call back when you can.
I love you Dad.”
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