The barn was harder to find second time around; as it turned out the farmer and his wife had been so taken aback by the gruesome discovery on their property that they had put their farm up for sale and, having been cleared of any wrongdoing by NYPD homicide, moved on to pastures new. Thus the narrow track through the tall grass had become obscured as the greenery grew wild in the absence of regular tending. Frank drove straight past the turning in the first instance, and only managed to locate it on his way back by leaning out of his window and searching for tyre tracks in the mud with a flashlight. The foliage was so thick now that his car wouldn’t pass through and so he pulled over to the side of the lane, grabbed his torch from the passenger seat, killed the engine, and embarked into the dense vegetation on foot. After some time picking his way through the web of undergrowth, and after nearly turning back fearing he was lost, Frank emerged in the clearing surrounding the barn. Even in the dim moonlight he could make out slivers of the yellow tape used to denote crime scenes stubbornly hanging from the building’s entrance. They wavered gently in the soft breeze, quietly cracking and whipping as they did so. The earthy clearing was undulated by the tread from the tyres of what seemed like hundreds of squad cars, and Frank’s ankles groaned as they tilted back and forth over the terrain while he made his way carefully towards the imposing structure. The mud underfoot was crusted, and it crunched as he stepped over it, the noise almost deafening in the relative silence of the now abandoned farm. Where there were once lights in the distance, indicating the occupancy of a cottage, there was now pitch darkness, the accommodation now no more than a blurred shadow on a canopy of blacks and greys. It was clear that no one was around, but Frank still thought it wise not to turn on his flashlight until he had entered the barn so as not to attract unwanted attention, so when he reached the vast, cracked wooden door he ran his hands carefully along it, trying to find the handle and simultaneously avoid getting any splinters from the aged timber. His fingers soon connected with the cold metal of the handle, and he heaved the door sideways, opening the barn to the outside world and revealing yet more pitch blackness inside. As the door moved on its runners, air from the barn’s interior rushed outward like ghosts escaping their trappings in a haunted mansion. This ethereal breeze brought with it the putrid smell of decomposing flesh, and caught Frank by surprise who responded by doubling over and gagging into his coat sleeve. After a brief pause to be sure he wouldn’t vomit, Frank righted himself and paused at the entrance to the barn; the atmosphere was thick with the stench of decay which stung his eyes as he cautiously stepped inside and turned on his flashlight. The click of the device echoed in the cavernous structure, frightening a family of bats from the rafters who made a hurried escape through the window Frank had inadvertently shattered during his last visit. The beam of light from the torch swayed to and fro as Frank first scanned the interior for signs of life, and after finding none aside from scattering several rats into the rotting hay, he turned the beam up high into the beams above him where he had first seen Alice’s body. The cadaver had long since been removed, and aside from a pair of subtle notches in the middle of one particular beam where her razor wire restraints had been fixed there was no evidence to suggest such a horrific scene had ever existed. Sighing to himself in disappointment, almost as if he had hoped to have found the Holy Cow Killer’s name and address etched into the beams, Frank made his way to the other side of the barn. His footsteps, soft though they were, reverberated inside the structure and the rotten straw underfoot crunched with each step until he found himself directly under where Alice had been suspended. He remained still for a moment, the column of light from his torch hovering motionless in mid-air, as he remembered the sight of mutilated Alice staring down at him like a disfigured human gargoyle. The hairs at the back of his neck stood erect as if saluting a fallen comrade, and the skin on his forearms became frigid and goose-pimpled. The longer he stood, Frank felt pinpricks infest his entire body, starting around his spine and moving around to his torso and up his neck to his face. It felt like his skin was alive and reacting to some otherworldly force that loomed, unseen, in the deepest recesses of the barn. He blinked forcefully and swallowed hard, trying to dispel the feeling that he was not alone. His throat was dry and his Adams apple scratched the inside of his oesophagus as it reluctantly moved up and down with the motion of the gulp. Frank composed himself, rubbing his neck with a sweaty palm, and returned his attention to the task in hand. He redirected the beam of his torch to the floor, swinging it side to side as he scanned the dusty ground around his feet; aside from the obligatory strands of rotting straw and the occasional droplet of congealed blood that had fallen from Alice’s suspended corpse there was nothing of note to see, no clue that may have been missed by Markus’ officers. A mixture of dejection and desperation rose inside Frank like a stinging, poisonous brew of uncertainty starting in the pit of his stomach and climbing the inside of his ribcage like a ladder to get at his throat and strangle him. He moved, his steps slower and heavier now, to the makeshift wooden ladder that led to the mezzanine adjacent to where Alice was hung. His skin burst into life once again as if sensing that this was the path taken by the Holy Cow Killer on his way to creating his latest depiction of horror. Ignoring the eruption of pins and needles, Frank continued up the ladder to scan the upper level for any hint of a clue. Nothing. He remained still, overlooking the floor of the barn. The spotlight from his torch was larger now given its elevated trajectory and it quivered slightly across the smattering of hay that lay criss-crossed on the dirt below as he came to a daunting realisation; there was one more crucial piece of this scene he hadn’t yet inspected, the body of Alice herself. Visiting the morgue alone, this late at night would be risky, especially as he no longer worked for the police department, but there was a better chance of getting in and out unseen at this time than if he were to attempt it during daylight hours. He could ask Markus to help but something about the tone of his voice in that message had made Frank feel uneasy, like he should do everything in his power to keep away from his old friend for the time being. His brow furrowed as he weighed up his options, no longer noticing the vibrations in his skin, before descending the ladder, clicking off his flashlight and making his way back out into the open and towards his car.
The morgue was located in the basement of Brooklyn Hospital Centre. Navigating the hospital corridors unnoticed proved to be simple; the doctors, students and nurses were busy tending to patients, who were far too concerned themselves by their pneumonias, stab wounds and head injuries to pay any notice to an errant stranger skulking through the halls. Frank followed the signs and slipped unnoticed into an elevator which whirred enthusiastically as it began its descent into the depths of the building. The entrance to the mortuary was directly opposite the elevator doors, with a small custodian’s cubicle set into the wall to the left where visitors were required to sign in on arrival. The entryway was a large, hollow cube with dull cream walls and enormous, heavy-set metal doors that separated it from the chilled compartment beyond, where the cadavers were housed. There was no furniture in the reception area; no one who ventured this far into the depths of the hospital ever wanted to hang around longer than was necessary and so seating was unimportant. Frank had been through this entryway many times during his career in homicide, and the impersonal nature of the space always made him uncomfortable. It was as if once you died you were no longer entitled to the decorative trappings and creature comforts that your erstwhile state of living afforded you, and the absence of any shred of sentimentality or comfort in this ingress was symptomatic of that. Frank took a slow, cautious step out of the elevator – he knew from previous experience that the beige linoleum floor was particularly squeaky underfoot – and craned his neck to peer through the Perspex window of the custodian’s miniscule compartment; light reflected against the plastic from the single bulb hanging in the reception area, which was unfurnished like the rest of the room, and obscured the view into the cubicle instead casting a halo of bright flame across the transparent surface as if it was occupied by a fiery, demonic guardian. He edged forward, hoping to get a view of the guard before he himself was spotted, and the reflection shifted away towards the edge of the Perspex. Frank winced as the sole of one of his shoes emitted a tiny screech against the polished floor, then relaxed slowly and opened his eyes to see that no attention had been drawn from beyond the plastic screen. Edging forward further he could finally see clearly into the cubicle; the guard was asleep in his chair, hands folded across his lap and head dipped forward under a navy blue peaked cap emblazoned with the hospital insignia and ‘Security’ in bold black letters above it. The hairs on the back of Frank’s neck had been standing to attention, electrified by the anticipation of being caught during his approach, but now stood easy, falling back into rank against his skin as he realised that, although he now stood in full view of the security guard, detection was unlikely; if the pinging of the elevator and the clunking of the sliding doors hadn’t awoken the morgue’s sole attendant then he would easily be able to slip by unnoticed. Calmed by this insight, Frank walked casually to the large metal doors at the far end of the room. They were painted a dreary beige colour to match the rest of the walls, and the large levered handle bisecting the two doors was cool to the touch as Frank’s fingers encircled it. He cast one final look back over his shoulder at the attendant – still sleeping – and winced once more at the low creak of the heavy door as he slowly heaved it open and slipped into the mortuary proper.
The sound of the door thumping back into its frame echoed inside the morgue, causing Frank to pause as he half expected the pathologist to come and investigate the noise. But the pathologist wasn’t there; despite the harsh, almost blinding light raining down from strip-lamps imbedded in the ceiling it was clear that the room was empty of human occupation, at least the living kind, prior to Frank’s arrival. He scanned the room as his eyes adjusted to the glare. He supposed the light had to be immaculate so that the doctors could identify the tiniest clues to the demise of each of the mortuary’s tenants. Said occupants were housed in compartments that lined the far wall; a bank of square, silver metal doors each about the size of a manhole indicated twenty four separate cubicles where bodies could be housed, lying naked under a thin hospital sheet in the chilled darkness while they awaited inspection, and in some cases evisceration. Frank pondered the 6x4 grid of silver doors, in a way they were all manholes. And womanholes. And childholes. A chill embraced Frank’s spine, causing him to shiver as icicles spread across his skin at the thought of the decaying bodies that were slowly rotting inside that wall, skin collapsing like leathery, under-filled beanbags as their organs liquefied. Of course this wasn’t the case, the bodies weren’t that old and the frigid temperature in each compartment would help stave off decomposition until he pathologist’s work was done. Nonetheless Frank averted his gaze from the far wall and took in the rest of the room; a long, trough-like basin ran along the entire length of the wall to his left, with three sets of faucets protruding from the wall above it. The handles of the taps were the elongated kind Frank had often seen slick, handsome doctors in TV dramas manipulate with their elbows whilst holding wet hands aloft and barking instructions to nurses. Above the faucets was a single shelf that housed bottles of luminous pink soap and stacks of coarse blue tissue paper for drying newly sanitised hands. In the centre of the room stood a large gurney which was bordered by an intricate frame of guttering that descended to a basin, which itself sat on the floor over a drain at the foot of the bed. There was a furrow down the centre of the gurney, underneath where the cadavers would be laid, that ran off into the guttering system just above the basin, and the legs of the bed were bolted to the tiled floor to prevent it from moving and spilling any exuded bodily fluids over the pristine white surface on which it stood. The height of the bed was such that the subjects lying on it would be just above waist height for Frank, and suspended from the ceiling on a length of metal wire above the centre of the gurney was an empty plastic bracket presumably designed to hold a Dictaphone which would enable the pathologists to report their findings contemporaneously and hands-free. All the appliances were made of steel, and they were polished to a clinical shine that reflected the harsh light from above into halos that littered the ceiling like angels ensuring that patients’ remains were treated with the appropriate amount of respect as they were ushered into the afterlife. Attached to the head end of the bed was a pressure pad, which would display the weight of various organs on the digital screen that was attached to the wall on Frank’s right. Also hanging on this wall was a large whiteboard used to make notes on the identities of the dead, and the outcomes of their autopsies. The whiteboard was grubby with the remains of patients past, creating a ghostly smear of faded grey and red as if the souls of those who had passed through the room had created a hurricane on its surface. A clipboard hung from the lower rim of the whiteboard, and above this was a hurriedly scrawled message;
Gone to fetch Mrs Webster, will be back soon
Frank smiled to himself; he knew Dr Hannah Winters from his days on the force. She was a whirlwind of uncontrollably curly ginger hair, pale skin and logorrhoea. Outwardly she never seemed to be in control, but her mind was brilliant and she was exceptional in her work. Frank had learned so much from Dr Winters during their conversations both over the phone and hunched over exposed body cavities. He presumed Daryl was the security guard dozing in the foyer, and chuckled to himself as he imagined Dr Winters finding him asleep, angrily blowing her strawberry blond curls away from her face with a puff of her cheeks then spinning on her heels, perplexed, to scribble her message on the whiteboard instead of delivering it into Daryl’s ear as she had intended. Despite the warm feeling currently occupying Frank’s stomach, brought on by his fondness of Dr Winters, he knew he had to move fast; this message implied her imminent return and despite their friendship he may not be able to charm his way out of this situation if he were to be caught red handed. He moved with a new found guile as he approached the whiteboard and snatched the clipboard hanging from it. Scanning the list of cadavers detailed on the mortuary’s roster, he found that only eight of the twenty four man-woman-childholes contained bodies. He ran his finger down the names, pausing at one female who for some reason caught his attention; Josephine Le Reaux. Age thirty four at the time of her death, the cause of which had been entered in the appropriate column as ‘mutilation’. Frank wondered if this was another HCK case, but something inside him told him it wasn’t, something about this woman seemed familiar. He felt a twitch in his finger, as if something was trying to move it, then saw a flicker of movement under the skin around his knuckle. Shocked, he dropped the clipboard which clattered noisily onto the white-tiled floor in the otherwise silent room. Frank looked around apologetically at the bank of silver doors, as if worried he would somehow disturb the eight bodies resting behind them, then bent to retrieve the stricken clipboard from the icy floor. Resuming his scrutiny of the list Frank felt his heart skip a beat; seven names were written on the paper. He extended a trembling finger to the line that had just moments ago read ‘Josephine Le Reaux’, but which now gave details of the demise of one Daniel Hendricks. Frank stood, frozen, trying to make sense of this sudden disappearance as the now-familiar fear that he was losing control of his mind gripped him like a vice. His breathing hastened and sweat began to stain his shirt in dark patches under his arms and around his sternum, his chest felt tight and his skin became so sensitive that the harsh light shining down on him seemed to bore holes in his forearms. He scanned the list again and again, each time he did his eyes danced more frantically over the seven names written there, and each time noting the absence of anyone called Josephine Le Reaux. He began to feel his heart race in his chest, and was just starting to feel faint when a familiar voice interrupted his panic.
Calm down dear, look at the name second from the bottom.
Frank purposefully slowed his breathing and composed himself, his heart rate obediently followed suit. He complied with his mother’s instructions and moved his attention to the penultimate name on the list;
6. Alice van der Linden, 18, presumed cause of death:
a) Massive blood loss
Notes: Likely HCK, do PM before eating.
Frank smiled half in triumph, half in response to Dr Winters’ quirky note to herself. He returned the clipboard to its place and approached the wall of silver doors. The cabinets were not sequentially filled and so locating the drawer containing Alice van der Linden was not as simple as opening the door numbered six, but the names of the diseased were scrawled on cards that were attached to each door and so it didn’t take Frank long to find the correct compartment, number thirteen. He hauled open the door, remembering he could be caught at any moment, and pulled out the metal tray containing the remains of Alice van der Linden. The tray was on extendable runners and so remained suspended in mid-air, sticking out of the wall like a filing cabinet drawer. Number thirteen was on the second row so Frank had to stoop as he partially lifted the sheet covering the remains and began to examine the body for clues. Alice had been rearranged to resemble a human cadaver as much as possible, but Frank had no intention of seeing any more of her than he already had, so he began at her feet and lifted the sheet inch by inch, carefully inspecting the lacerations, gouges, an exposed, broken bone as he continued up her leg. Her skin was firm and rubbery now, and her blood had settled along the backs of her legs where she had been supine for so long giving the impression that her entire back side was bruised, from ankles to buttocks. This also had the effect of draining most of the blood from the front of her body, so her shins and thighs shone with a stark pallor, the wounds here not inflamed or pink as they should have been but were simply openings in the rubbery skin like rips in a light-grey wetsuit. Most of the wounds were simple lacerations or blunt impact trauma, designed for nothing other than to impart pain, but there was a more meticulous lesion that Frank could see just below Alice’s left buttock. He had to tip her slightly on her right side to see the wound fully, her stiff body was heavy and lifted up like a board; there was a patch of skin that had been removed, exposing deep purple flesh underneath the dullness of the surrounding tissue. Compared to the more simple cuts and blows further down the leg, this one seemed calculated and deliberate. The shape of the missing skin was familiar too, the top edge was straight and the rest of the shape swooped downward like a frayed curtain, it was the lower border that betrayed its identity; even in the crudely carved out flesh Frank could make out the contours of Throgs Neck, Clason Point and Port Morris. The puzzle piece removed from Alice van der Linden’s upper leg was unmistakably the shape of the Bronx. More so than this, there was a small puncture wound near the bottom of the map. The mark was deeper than the incision that had removed the skin and had penetrated the flesh below, thus accumulating more of the blood as it had pooled inside Alice’s body and making it darker than the surrounding tissue. The mark had seemingly been made with a Phillips head screwdriver and wouldn’t have been visible among the bloody mess at the crime scene, only now with the deposition of blood products in the fatty flesh surrounding it could Frank see the X-shaped mark on the map of the Bronx carved into Alice van der Linden’s leg. He didn’t realise he was smiling, his face contorting into a Nicholson-esque grotesquery of triumph as he once again felt his skin come alive. Worms seemed to wriggle under his skin, excited by the prospect of catching the Holy Cow Killer, and his pupils dilated so as almost to entirely consume his irises. A throbbing in his head evolved into a gushing sound as if he could hear his own blood circulating around his brain, giving him focus, giving him power. All of a sudden he knew his next move, and the thrill was exhilarating. The marker on the grisly map would be just north of Castle Hill, somewhere near Parkchester, and what better place to create gruesome tableaus with almost feral acts of brutality and animalistic influences than the Bronx zoo. Frank wheeled around and strode to the door almost involuntarily, reaching it in just three strides. He heaved the door almost off of its hinges with a new found strength before racing across the lobby to the elevator doors, which were invitingly already open and seemingly awaiting his return. As the elevator began its ascent Frank heard the mortuary door slam shut behind him, but even over that and the unforgiving drone of the elevator he heard his mother once more, spurring him on.
X marks the spot, darling.
Daryl was abruptly stirred from his nap by the crashing of the mortuary door, somewhere in his slumber he could swear he’d heard a woman’s voice moving past him. He pulled himself out of his seat, stretching out limbs that had become stiff with inaction, and trudged to out of his cubicle to the mortuary door. He knocked courteously before cracking it open a little and peering inside.
Daryl’s voice echoed around the clinical environment as he scanned the room. Everything was in place just as Dr Winters liked it, except for her mind it seemed. His eyes settled on the message written on the whiteboard and, satisfied, he smiled to himself, returned to his booth, and went back to sleep.