Written and Read by M. Jones
It was ten o’clock in the evening, but it felt much, much later. Greg braced himself as he rode the subway home, a long trek to downtown from Rita’s Eglinton West townhouse. The black shadows within the tunnels were filled with the twisting, inky shapes of tentacles, their slimy grey touch longing to break through the train windows and pull him into a waiting, black maw. Dark places always held the more realistic images, as though the shadows were an actual threat, ready to pull him into dream.
There was a man gibbering to himself at the far end of the car, and Greg knew he, at least, was no hallucination, not with the way the other passengers gave him strange looks and shied away as he spoke above them, the ghosts of his subconscious wreaking havoc on his sense of reality. He had been sleeping on the streets, his jeans filthy with thick crusts of muck, his body layered in several T-shirts and torn sweaters. It was hard to tell his true age, the battered homeless always looked decades older than they actually were. A tattered winter jacket with the insulation spilling out of its torn sleeve completed the sad evidence of sleeping rough. A dirty beard hid a far too gaunt face beneath it, eyes cloudy grey with suffering.
“I told you I was going to get it, you bitch! I told you!” he shouted at his invisible girlfriend. There was something in there about rent, about how she was going to get hers and nothing was going to stop him. Rambling, strange arguments that didn’t exist.
It’s who I might turn into, Greg thought, an infinite sadness welling within him at the prospect, the tentacles tapping at the window beside his head in question. If I just gave up, if I didn’t keep fighting it. My mind’s wallpaper could take me over like they did this guy. I’d be lost in that other world, not able to differentiate. I’d drown in that impossible ocean as I tried to walk across a snowy field.
Rachel Wallace sat in the seat in front of him, her back turned towards him. There were silver bubble gum wrappers embedded in the curls of her long, burgundy hair. Blood dripped from the ends of her locks onto the floor of the train car, leaving a thick puddle of crimson on the grey rubber.
“You know what I’m talking about, you bitch! You fucking know!”
The homeless man paced up and down the centre of the train car as it rolled into place at Greg’s stop. He was muttering to himself now, his steps seeming to take him across a vast, incomprehensible distance. He felt pity for the guy and wanted to give him the ten dollars he had in his pocket. But he knew money was the least of this guy’s worries. If he’d handed it to him it would simply be paper; the man wasn’t in a state to even know what currency meant.
Greg got off at College and headed towards Church St. where a quick dive down towards Homewood Ave. would bring him to his flat. It was a rough neighbourhood with a strong sense of community, and as long as you weren’t one of the problems, you didn’t get hassled.
There were few lost souls on the streets this night, and Greg instantly regretted taking the longer way home. He pulled his hood up to ward off the chill, snow blowing ferociously from between the tall buildings that lined the downtown core. Stop signs creaked on the metal poles, hinges ready to snap with every nasty gust of wind that captured them. By the time he got to the bar, he was frozen to his bones, much like the state of the woman’s corpse he’d met that morning.
The Bull’s Horn was in full swing when he stepped inside the Spanish styled pub. Four fireplaces kept the ambiance going, with cheap beers giving the university crowd something to do on a tundra-capped Monday night. He nodded at Stephen, who was tending bar, and without Greg having to ask, Stephen got him a steaming cup of coffee and set it on the counter. Greg took it with quiet gratitude. Black with two sweeteners. Perfect.
“Someone was looking for you earlier.” Stephen braced his palms on the counter, showing off the reams of tattoos on his muscular arms. He was an older man in his mid-fifties, but ridiculously fit, a fact he liked to show off even now, with winter beating the crap out of the city outside of his bar. He wore a black tank top, his smooth chest accentuated by the heavy gold cross that sat ironically over his goat’s head tattoo.
“Who was it?” Greg asked, sipping at his coffee.
“Some woman. Cop, maybe. She had that look about her, all ‘I’m all in your business’ kind of thing. I told her you’d be back later, and she told me to give you this.” He pushed an envelope towards Greg, who took it and opened it.
It was a cheque. Enough to cover his rent for the next couple of months. The small card inside had a picture of a watercolour sunflower, the message within scrawled messily in Highsmith’s writing.
“You did good today. I know it’s been hard and you’re still waiting on your commission. This ought to cover it for a couple of months anyway. I’m a bitch but I’m no cunt, and if we stick together we’ll come out shining at the end of this. I’ll give you a day and text you on Wednesday. We’ll all meet up and you can tell me what you’ve got.”
Then, after the tiny xx written in lieu of her name, she added:
“Tear up this fucking card and stop smiling. Goddamned sappy jackass.”
He ignored her instructions and kept smiling over his coffee. He finished it and left Stephen with a small wave, who was now chatting it up with some guy half his age, and from the smiles going all around it was clear he was making some progress. Greg pocketed the cheque and, again not entirely following her instructions, tossed the card into a nearby fireplace and watched it burn into ashes before he headed through the back doors and carefully made his way up the slippery metal stairs to his second floor flat.
Heavy bass music boomed through the floorboards, but he didn’t mind. It felt good knowing there were people around, even if he wasn’t particularly fond of hanging around them. He slid off his jacket and tossed it onto a nearby computer chair, the light from his desktop the sole illumination in the small room. The flat was little more than a single square of space with an adjoining bathing room, fashioned out of a closet. The sole furnishings were an unmade double bed and the desk and chair he now sat at, the uploaded images of the crime scene displayed in haphazard order on the screen.
Behind him a solid wall was his workspace where over a hundred of the most relevant pictures were laid out in a concentric spiral. He swivelled his chair around to study the wall, the pictures placed very carefully in chronological order, telling him exactly the progression of the killer’s movements within the scene.
The killer had started here, in the far left corner, hiding in the snowy bushes, waiting for his prey. This was not a premeditated murder; this was a game of patience. He had watched the sun set and lay frozen in place until the early, dark hours of morning, when the victim, Denise Mooreland, made the unfortunate decision to stop at the intersection.
But he hadn’t done this in a while, Greg thought, and the last time had been easier, he’d gotten a clear shot straight through without the victim even knowing what hit them. That was in early summer. The driver’s window would have been open.
The shattered glass shocked her but he had to be quick and let off another execution styled shot, this one instantly killing her. The summer had been different; he hadn’t had to try this hard.
There were pieces of glass on the passenger seat beside her.
He had to move the body back. He had to reach in, past the shattered window, his hands on the broken glass, bracing himself as he pulled her upright after she had slumped to the side, towards the passenger seat, shattered glass dusting the grey suede fabric. He’d moved the body. The rigid form Greg had met, frozen in place in the morning, was a false scene.
Greg searched the images of the smashed window, paying extra attention to the extreme close ups of the frame where the shards of glass jutted out. The killer had braced himself here, pressed his gloved hands over the glass. He may have cut himself. There could be a tiny dot of blood on one of the shards.
And there. So small it looked like a trick of the light, a piece of square glass in Denise Mooreland’s lap that shone pink. From the clean through and through of the shot it was unlikely to be hers since all of the blood had splattered against the passenger window, and this particular shard of glass was next to her right thigh, close to the driver’s seat window.
Greg grabbed his cell phone and quickly texted Highsmith. Check the broken glass from the driver’s side. There was a piece near her lap that had blood on it. I’m sure it’s his. It’s small. Minute trace, but it’s there.
He pulled back from the wall of photographs, the tightening spiral giving him a vast overview into the mindset of a highly disturbed man. Who would do this, waiting for hours in the cold, risking frostbite for the possibility of murdering a complete stranger? Psychopaths were notoriously self-preserving; waiting in the cold wouldn’t be their style. This person had to be delusional, the killing some sort of personal ritual that held a life and death importance.
Always, that question—Why?
This wasn’t entirely random, that was a mistake. There was no prolonged stalking of the victims, no obvious knowledge of them. What the killer did know was his location. He had picked this area for a reason, this was to be the hallmark of his killing grounds.
Isolated. Late at night. Here was a nocturnal predator hunting a very specific prey. Women coming home from night shifts, women who were professionals. Women, alone in cars at night on deserted streets who were foolish enough to obey traffic laws.
He stared at the central image in his spiral pattern, the intense close up of Denise Mooreland’s left eye. The nail had been driven into the pupil post mortem so there was no bleeding. It wasn’t a message, that was placed oh so carefully underneath her dead hand, a series of squiggles and lines betraying some indecipherable code that only the killer knew how to unravel. It wouldn’t matter what it said; like the homeless man on the subway it would be nothing more than nonsensical, mad ramblings. The nail, that was a personal talisman for the killer himself. The nail in the eye wasn’t to blind her, since she still had ‘sight’ in her right, at least according to the killer’s perspective.
He stared at it, tracing the shape and line of the nail with his finger, noting it had a strange spade-like quality to it, its black colour suggesting it was made of iron.
A cold feeling clutched at Greg’s heart and bile rose within him at the memory of where he had seen such a nail before.
Small ones, for a small coffin.
He sighed with shaky difficulty and he could see his breath mist within the dark confines of his flat. Beside him, the bleeding corpse of Rachel Wallace touched his shoulder, offering him comfort. He tried to close his eyes and will her away, but she refused to leave, and after a while he didn’t bother to force her to go. The weight of her damp, cold hand on his shoulder was an easier burden to bear than the thoughts currently residing in his head.
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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