Written and Read by M. Jones
“I wasn’t expecting a blind date, so imagine my surprise.” Greg feigned innocence as he took a swig from his pint and licked the froth from his lips. “I can’t wait to go to next week’s session. I’m going to tell him I’ve been having the strangest, most realistic hallucinations, mostly of him naked, walking towards the edge of my bed.”
Highsmith cursed over her cup of coffee but she was grinning with him. “Using your brain injury as a way to seduce your psychiatrist. Really, Greg? You’re like a douchebag Harlequin romance novel.”
“I’ve always imagined myself more of an epic, flowery Fabio douchebag. Classically gothic and prone to rape fantasies.” He laughed as Rita sputtered her root beer, her hand hastily wiping the droplets off of her T-shirt.
“I can’t believe you even know about those,” Rita said.
“Oh, come on, you read them too, those big fat books with the oil paintings of hot, muscular half-naked men and swooning women. There was always a pervy read in the bathroom. My mom would go to used bookstores and buy them by the box, I swear. As a healthy hormonal, bookish teen, I’d read the racy bits, especially the long descriptions of man-meat.”
The Bull’s Horn was deserted on Wednesday afternoons, and though the sun was brilliantly shining into the usually dark space, the cold snap hadn’t let up. Wind gusted outside the large window, leaving drifts of snow piled up against the far edge. The beer did nothing to put a sense of warmth into him, and drinking it was more of a stubborn promise to himself that the winter wasn’t going to ruin his enjoyment of a good IPA. Highsmith and Rita were still technically on duty, and while their male counterparts routinely had liquid lunches in the bar two blocks away, the two women had long been in the habit of not courting easy reprimands.
“I got your text about the glass shard,” Highsmith said.
Greg eagerly nodded at this. “It’s his blood for sure. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to get any DNA off of it, but maybe if they tried…”
“There’s no glass, Greg.” Highsmith cursed over her coffee. “When they scooped it up, it all went into one bag. There’s no way they can find it now, it’s all mixed in together with the victim’s.” She sipped at her coffee giving Greg’s angry expression a raised brow. “What, you think this is like TV? You think you can pull out teeny bits with every case and catch yourself a killer? It doesn’t work like that, Greg. We need more obvious evidence, the miracles are for gods and devils.”
“It’s not all bad news,” Rita reassured him. “We were thinking about what you said about the killer bracing his hands on the broken window, and how he was probably wearing gloves. He tore them, the lab found a chunk of lambskin and they are definitely homegrown organic, probably bought from a farmer’s market. They’re testing to see if the lambskin is Ontario-based and that can narrow down any possible suppliers.”
A round object, like a large marble, rolled across the floor and circled the base of Greg’s chair. He glanced down at it, the round, glassy stare of Denise Mooreland’s eye piercing him. He tried to pay attention to his beer and the conversation happening around him, but the eye rolled and rolled around the base of the chair, the iron nail in its pupil pinging and scraping against the slate floor.
“Did you get my text about the nail?” Greg asked Highsmith and she slowly nodded.
“How sure are you it’s a coffin nail?” Her coffee was just about gone and she was ready for a top up. She stood up and approached the bar, walking behind it to get to the coffee machine Stephen had thoughtfully set up especially for her. “I didn’t think they used pine boxes any more. It’s all cardboard and cremation now for the ones who can’t afford a burial.” She poured her coffee and Greg mimed that he could use a cup as well. The cold beer and the howling wind outside had finally convinced him to seek warmth.
“Pine is too expensive for the city to use,” Greg said. Highsmith sat back down and gave him his mug, served up the same as her own—black, two sweeteners. “If he’s got coffin nails, he didn’t get them from around here.”
The eye was rolling again, the nail in its pupil a delicate death chime against the floor. “He must have ordered them,” Greg added.
The eye on the floor wedged against the leg of his chair. He glanced down to see it pop, its diseased centre oozing out from behind the iron nail. The nail itself began to move, writhing within the remains of the eye like a black leech. It slid away, leaving a sickly dark green smudge across the wilted eyelid.
“He would have gone online,” Greg said, and both Highsmith and Rita took note, the significance of what he was saying taking firm root. “Maybe eBay, that’s the most obvious choice, or Craigslist.”
“We’ll start hunting down possible suppliers and sellers of coffin nails within the last year. Who knows, we might even end up with an address.” Highsmith remained reserved, but there was a simmering feeling of excitement brewing around her, one that electrified the air with nervous tension.
Rita, as usual, was more cautious. She pulled out a large, grey manila envelope and passed it along to Greg. “Those are the Calgary photos you wanted.”
Greg frowned. “You didn’t need to print them up, all you had to do was email them to me.”
“I wanted to make sure you had good quality prints to work from. They used up all dad’s printer ink, though, he’s pissed.” She gave him a warm smile as she slid on her coat. “Put them on your wall and see what you can figure out with this one.
“The big question in Calgary was, where was he hiding? The two women killed were driving on a busy section of highway before turning off an exit onto the main road. There’s an intersection there, but it’s all parking lots and buildings, no cover at all. There’s even a camera at the next intersection that’s focused directly on the exit, and it caught nothing. He slipped in and killed them and put nails in their eyes and then disappeared. No witness saw anyone suspicious.
“You said he likes to stake places out, so like the boys in Calgary I got to wonder—how did he make himself invisible?” Rita held up her hand before Greg could even make the request. “I sent the video from the traffic cam to your email. A good hour’s worth of footage. There’s not much to see, it’s grainy and dark, and you get a gunshot flash and that’s all.
Greg was loath to see them gathering up their coats to leave, for while he wanted to get back to work, there were still some lingering questions he wanted answered. Like why Highsmith was risking her career by keeping the correlations with this case and the one in Calgary a secret. “How’s your man?” he asked, by way of a segue.
Highsmith paused, her long coat halfway up her arms. She shrugged it on but didn’t do up the buttons. “He’s all right. He took me out for dinner to that new Italian/Indian fusion place at Yonge and Eglinton. The ravioli pumpkin curry is to die for.”
“Does he know what you’re doing?”
Highsmith gave Rita a look, searching for an ally against this question and didn’t find one, the juniour officer crossing her arms and waiting on her superiour to answer him with guarded expectation. “He doesn’t know about you. You’re my best kept secret and I want to keep it that way. He does, however, know I’m keeping what I know about the Calgary killings under wraps until I’ve thoroughly investigated this one. It’s not often you get two serial murderers in a row, so I’ve got the stats on my side.”
Greg wanted to warn her, to tell her that relationships were fickle things, that her coroner boyfriend was just as likely to turn on her the second things went sour between them. Highsmith didn’t have the greatest track record from what Rita had told him. Two failed marriages, one of which ended in an ugly divorce that left her penniless. She tended to pick men who were far weaker than her and then expected them to carry her many emotional burdens when they were barely capable of holding their own. This guy was no exception.
Greg had met him early in their friendship, and while Dr. Morgan Wainwright was an excellent medical examiner, he lived an isolated existence in the bowels of the Toronto East General morgue, spending far too much time with the dead. Highsmith was a woman who needed distraction and cheer, her energy channelled into happy weekend getaways and travel to tropical beaches, not tired dinners where the conversation inevitably became morbid and weirdly self-centred.
Dr. Wainwright was no listener, he enjoyed talking and he exercised his tongue non-stop, letting no words in that didn’t have to do with his own interests. Greg had a private bet with Rita that it would last another month before Highsmith dumped him, and there was a sense of relief at the hope of this. Neither Greg, nor Rita, could stand the guy.
Though it was strategically smart, Greg didn’t like the idea of Dr. Wainwright knowing what Highsmith was up to. The man had a childish streak, and when the time came for her to end it—and she would, messily and loudly—he was destined to run and tattle to Superintendent Jackson.
“Just watch your back,” was all Greg could say.
Highsmith shrugged on her coat, clearly annoyed at his concern, but thankful for it nonetheless. Rita followed behind her in a leather jacket ill-suited for a rough winter’s day, but she rocked it and knew it.
“I’ll be expecting an email.” Highsmith’s shoulders braced, and she nodded for Rita to follow her out. “No matter how small it is, give it to me. I know I bitched about the glass but the facts are one idea leads to the next and this case needs all the headspace it can get.”
They left through the front door, a gust of wind rushing into the bar that left Greg breathless. He shivered as the door closed behind them, Rita giving him a friendly wave through the window as she passed it. Her quick, long steps took her away before he had time to give her one back.
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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