Written and Read by M. Jones
Greg was alone in the bar, the manila envelope she had given him taunting him with its secreted horror. With trepidation he pulled the large 8×10 photographs out and laid them in a semi-circle on the round wooden table. He shuffled and arranged until they gave him a base chronological order of how the crime was committed, a scene that was grossly edited to the point of missing huge chunks of its story.
On the surface, it was a fairly basic murder, two women shot execution-style, each with a single bullet through the temple. It had been a clear, warm night on July tenth of this year, and Georgia and Hannah Linden were driving back to Calgary after spending the night at a cousin’s house who had a farm just outside of the city. According to the initial police report, they had left in the middle of the night when the cousin’s father came home, drunk and looking to start a fight. Hannah, Georgia’s fifteen-year-old daughter, was pushed against a wall after calling her cousin’s father a ‘fucking alcoholic’. After some back and forth name-calling, the father tossed them out, and their two-hour trek back to Calgary began.
Hannah had been shot first. There was some indication that her mother understood what had happened due to the defensive wound on her hand, a circular stigmata from her holding her palm out and pressing her knuckles against her temple. The bullet had gone straight through her hand and then her skull, killing her, like her daughter, instantly. The killer wasted no time and put the coffin nails in their left eyes immediately after the shooting. Like Denise Mooreland, the killer had to prop Hannah’s body up, making sure she was staring straight ahead into what was would usually be a busy street.
The scene on the table seemed disjointed. Rushed.
Greg stared at the collection, barely noticing the bloodied nail that fell onto one of the photographs. He knew without looking up that Rachel Wallace was with him, the bloodied maw that was once her face now pockmarked with rusty, iron nails. He picked up the photo that she, and thus his subconscious, had singled out, the nail falling off the edge and leaving a long smear of blood that gradually faded into nothing. It was a photo of the surrounding buildings that clung close to the exit ramp A pharmacy nestled on the first floor, with a variety store and a brownstone that was a medical building hugging close beside it. He frowned, the close proximity of the buildings puzzling him.
The killer had been there before, Greg realized. He’d watched and waited, pretending to buy cheap coffee from the variety store, had wandered into the pharmacy and bought some random items to appear as though he was a customer. He had staked out the area during the day and had surmised what it was like at night. There was no evidence of him hiding anywhere because the killing had been done quickly. He’d parked somewhere nearby, out of range of the cameras, he hadn’t had to wait long before the exit gave him his victims and he took his immediate opportunity. From what the timeline of the scene told him, the entire event took less than five minutes to execute.
They would have to ask the variety store clerk and the pharmacist if anyone strange or out of place had come into their stores the day before the murders. There would be a lead there for sure, for no one who could be this cold-blooded in his mission would be able to hide his delusional state. The scene suggested killing, seemingly random, was done by a man who wanted it over with as soon as possible. It was an act he was compelled to commit, and one he took no joy out of.
“Jesus H., what the fuck is this!”
Greg was knocked sideways out of his intense contemplation by Stephen, who had come back to his bar after picking up some necessary emergency staples for his kitchen. Greg hastily pulled the photos into a singular pile and shoved them into the grey manila envelope they had come in. “Sorry, I was just doing a favour for a friend…”
“You can’t be doing that kind of work in the front of the house, man. I suffer enough keeping open on Wednesdays when I don’t have any customers, you don’t have to scare off what I manage to grift into coming in.” Stephen began wiping off tables with a clean rag, his usual tight black tank top uniform the only protection he had against the drafty chill that permeated his bar. The fireplaces hadn’t been turned on as a measure to keep his utility bills down. They wouldn’t get fired up until five o’clock when he got a few of the nine-to-five stragglers looking for a quick booze fix to a hard hump day.
“Sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Greg said, and Stephen gave him a shrug, which meant he was forgiven.
He narrowed his eyes at the man, his heavily tattooed, muscular body as much an advertisement for The Bull’s Horn as a brand. It wasn’t technically a gay bar, save for Thursday nights, and Stephen was well known in the local community. He’d hosted more than one LGBT charity event in the bar and was well respected by the local businesses around him. It was how Greg had secured the flat upstairs, through a photo shoot done for a double gay wedding held at the bar back in May. Stephen had been using it as a fairly empty storage room but when he heard Greg was looking for a place in town he’d offered it up without hesitation. Always on the hustle to leap on an opportunity, the mark of a good businessman.
“Have you ever heard of a Dr. Leon Herberte?” Greg asked, curious. “He’s got an office just down from Bloor and Yonge, towards Wellesley where those Victorian houses are on that side street.”
“Never heard of him,” Stephen said, shrugging again, and Greg instantly felt foolish. As if he’d know every possibly gay man in a city of seven million people. But Stephen shocked him when he said, “I know the Badass Bros, though, they got an office in that building. They do all the graphics for my flyers.”
He wiped off Greg’s table, and Greg slid the manila envelope into his lap, still heedful of how he’d upset the guy. Stephen’s movements were fast and rough as he wiped off the table, tough muscles flexing even though it was hardly a workout.
“They set up my business Facebook, too. It’s funny you mention it, because I was going to suggest you go and talk to them about getting your own net presence set up. I know you got a reputation already and all, Mr. Time Magazine, but you can’t be doing that great if you’re hiding out in my attic. You need to jump into the twenty-first century and ditch that shitty blog you got on LiveJournal. Tumblr is where it’s at now. I drum up lots of business thanks to the way it links up with the bands that play here on the weekends.” Stephen leaned up, the rag tucked into the pocket of his tight jeans. He gave Greg a curt once over. “Why are you seeing a doctor? You sick?”
“I…no, he’s…” Did he really want to get into it, tell him the long, sad story of how his dreams were constantly walking around him, full of vibrant, bloodied life?
“He’s a consultant on this case, on these photographs I’m working on,” Greg lied. “We wanted his opinion on the possible motives of the killer.”
“Head shrink, you mean?” Stephen’s face twisted into a judgmental sneer. Good call telling him nothing.
“Yeah.” He raised the manila envelope full of the photographs that had freaked Stephen out. “Guy’s a real sicko.”
“I don’t know anything about a shrink in that building, but the Badass Bros have issues with this crazy drunk lawyer chick who has her office at the end of the hall. She’s always fighting with the real estate developers on the ground floor, they’re the guys who own the building. Apparently they want to take over the entire building and are trying to push all the second floor offices out. She keeps blocking their progress with ‘historical structure’ this and ‘tenancy business practises’ that. Beastie, the front man for Badass Bros, says she’s so much of a pit bull she’s got those realtors’ balls in the shredder with the amount of legal red tape she’s attacked them with.” Stephen gave the whole sorry affair a sad, personal nod. “By the way, if you see the Transparency guy, tell him I got his twenty bucks and that was the worst weed I have ever had.”
Greg tried to concentrate on the photos, laying them out on the floor of his flat, making the circle wider to accommodate for all the missing pictures, the hundreds he would have taken. His thoughts kept drifting to the memory of his appointment with Dr. Herberte, specifically fixating on the way his lip slightly curled when he spoke, as though he were kissing every syllable. Though he had believed him to be pompous at first, and there was still that element within him, there was, beneath it, a genuine kindness that Greg found highly attractive. He’d eased his mind with a quote from Kafka of all things. Articulate and sweet.
And while Greg had bared his soul to bones, it seemed he had tapped into a hidden drawer of Dr. Herberte’s as well. The phone call Dr. Herberte wouldn’t answer, his excuse that it was ‘someone who was only set to use him’, belied that his kindness had left him open to vulnerability and it had been abused. Though he was calmly in control on the surface, Dr. Herberte harboured a secretive fragility that Greg couldn’t stop himself from being attracted to.
The perpetual story of his life, the man who would cross his arms and say no when the crowd said yes. There was a specific reason he enjoyed—yes enjoyed—going to war torn countries ripped apart by conflict. Oppressed people needed the world to stop rendering them invisible. His camera was a punch in the face to the bullies, be they international policies or warlords. He’d travelled the world and had his fill of murdered innocents. He’d always been a fierce fighter for anyone who was treated unfairly. Even in grade school he’d gotten in trouble for it: he’d been suspended for three days for threatening a bully with a pair of ice skates because he’d been picking on a younger kid.
So it bothered him, that phone call that wasn’t answered, the tiny, frightened tremor it put into Dr. Herberte’s voice, all the more cemented by the fact that he refused to go to the police. An abusive ex-boyfriend, maybe?
He hadn’t said a word about being gay, but then, Greg’s gay-dar was in hyperdrive since he’d been single for so long.
The photographs on the floor taunted his growing feelings of chivalry, the murder they displayed the ultimate end game to one person brutally taking control over another. It didn’t matter if the killer thought they were getting instructions from a delusion; he knew it was wrong and he selfishly did it anyway. It could have been anyone in that car.
He thought about Rita, her large brown eye pinpricked with a coffin nail. Highsmith. Ashon.
Dr. Leon Herberte, slumped, lifeless in the driver’s seat.
Greg closed his eyes, knowing he would get nothing out of this tonight, that he was too wound up with worry for a man who he’d only met once. It was a familiar, but sudden and ultimately terrifying feeling that was welling within his heart, refusing to be objective.
Dr. Herberte was a very kind, very good man.
Good men needed to be protected.
No matter the cost.
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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