Written and Read by M. Jones
“Do you believe talking about it with me will help?” Dr. Herberte asked.
“Yes. The details may upset you.”
“I have heard many terrible confessions over the years, Mr. Wells, you need not worry about finding me squeamish.”
“Okay.” Greg took a deep breath. “He puts a small iron coffin nail in the eyes of the women. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of that is. Does he want them to see death? To blind them in the afterlife?”
“Many mythologies consider iron to be purifying,” Dr. Herberte said. “Perhaps he believes their sight is diseased.” Greg could hear the bedsprings creak again, and the sound of footfalls as Dr. Herberte left his bedroom and began a creaking descent down a flight of stairs. “It is a common myth that the image of the murderer is burned into the pupil upon death. This may also be his way of preventing discovery.”
The sound of a running tap echoed into Greg’s phone, then rummaging in what had to be Dr. Herberte’s kitchen. He could hear the elements of an electric kettle beginning to brew.
“Are you making coffee?” Greg asked.
“We are having an interesting conversation, I would like to be alert for it.”
Cursing, Greg checked the time on his phone. “Three in the morning. I am so sorry, Dr. Herberte, I had no idea it was this late…”
“De riens, it is nothing. Tell me about these murders and how you are working on this case. It is very interesting. I have never been involved in such a thing before. I feel like I am in a policier, comme un detective en Engrenages. Tres excitant!”
“I don’t want to keep you awake, I should let you get back to sleep.”
“Please. Don’t hang up.”
The fragment of desperation in the man’s voice gave Greg pause. The sound of a spoon hitting the sides of a ceramic cup softly chimed in his ear. He relented, relaxing back onto his bed, propped up by pillows after fixing the sheets over his mattress. Dr. Herberte had his own mysteries, and it appeared Greg wasn’t the only one having night terrors.
So, he gave Dr. Herberte the distraction he was seeking, emptying his impressions of the Calgary case superimposed on this one into his eagerly listening ear and leaving no detail free from scrutiny. He didn’t leave out June’s cat and mouse game with Superintendent Jackson, either, a ploy that he still considered foolish. It was a pleasant relief having this kind of a confidant, one who was involved solely on the far periphery. Greg found it gave him a renewed perspective, and Dr. Herberte’s oddly cheerful discussion of the nature of psychopathology and blood rituals kept the mood from growing dark, despite the subject matter.
“And you are sure they are coffin nails?” Greg could hear him put his empty coffee mug in the sink. He checked his phone—they had been talking for over two hours. A marathon for him in any conversation.
“We think we can get a trace on him by investigating possible suppliers. That has to be one hell of a niche market.”
“Bien sur. I may be of some help to you in this regard. I had a patient who was fixated on demonology. I cannot go into much detail other than to say she was brought to me by her parents because she kept offering her dinner to a shrine she had dedicated to Satan.”
“That’s an after-school special waiting to happen.”
“Her parents were Unitarian. They were not so concerned about her peculiar religious tendencies as much as her need to keep rotting food in her room. I mentioned her case because she used to keep coffin nails in her pocket as a kind of talisman.”
Greg hugged his knees close, the phone pressed tight against his ear as he gave Dr. Herberte his full attention. “You know where she got them?”
“The Occult Bookstore. I believe it is somewhere on Bloor Street West. She spent all of the money she earned at her part time job at the grocery store there. I am not understanding why there are so many who fixate on these obviously fabricated cures for the human condition. To be lucky in love and wealth, one just lights a candle and plugs in a crystal lamp. In my experience, it is more difficult than this.”
“I should buy some candles myself, banish a few demons of my own here and there.”
“Truly, the only benefit it gave this poor girl was that the scented candles and incense masked the stench of her room.”
Greg chuckled at this. “She must have got some benefit from it if she was spending her entire paycheque there.”
“A reinforcement of her delusion. However, I am happy to report she moved on from her worship of the Prince of Darkness and is now obsessed with the lives of the latest boy band. She offers their shrine no candles or food, so while she is still pathologically a teenager—for this there is no cure but time—her parents are relieved to not fight the halo of flies every time they open her door.” He dared to yawn, and Greg was again reminded of the time. “I digress. She would buy her little baggie of coffin nails there, infused of course with voodun magic or some such nonsense. It is highly likely your killer has been there.”
Greg could feel his pulse quicken at the thought. “You have no idea how much this helps our case.” He bit his bottom lip, thinking. “They’re fairly small nails. I have a suspicion he’s built a coffin with them.” He was quiet a long moment. “A small one.”
“What makes you think this?” Dr. Herberte asked, concerned.
“It’s a long shot, but I remember the way the coffins were made when I was on assignment in Haiti. The size of the nails reminds me of the ones they used for the smallest ones. For infants.”
Dr. Herberte let out a sad, and horrified, sigh. “Mon Dieu. That must have been very difficult to witness.”
“No one gets used to death, Doctor.”
“Please. Call me Leon.”
The darkness was beginning to lighten. Though it was still several hours away, the influence from a morning sunrise could be felt in the unnatural, early hour.
“I would like to propose a meeting.” He could hear Dr. Herberte turn on the tap, rinsing out his coffee cup. Greg had an impression he was impossibly tidy. “It would give me great pleasure if yourself and Inspector Highsmith and whoever else is involved in this case came to my home for dinner. An informal gathering of minds that still resides in the strict confines of confidence. As a psychiatrist I can offer insights into the possibilities of the killer’s motives. There is considerable strength in combining talents. I am eager to help in any way I can.”
“We need all the help we can get,” Greg said, frowning. “You do remember, however, the part where I said June has been keeping key details from her superiors. If there’s a worst case scenario and this whole scheme of hers starts crashing, having an association with her could tarnish your reputation.”
“Though I am appreciative of your protective concern, you need not worry. Our relationship makes us immune to such scandals.” The tap was shut off. “Shall we say seven o’clock?
“They may need some convincing, and I’m sure she’ll be pissed I even said a word about any of it to you.” Greg inwardly smiled. “This sort of meeting is a tad unconventional. I feel like we’re all throwing out rule books.”
“I believe it started with our first meeting. You have become a bad influence on me.” Dr. Herberte chuckled. “It seems our conversation has stirred the sun from its dreams, though it is still lazily remaining beneath its covers. Cette phenome est tres etrange por moi. I am surprised to not feel tired.”
“Same here,” Greg said. It was an intimate confession, Greg realized, for with his head reclined back on his pillows and his body stretched out long and near nude in the softening dark, he had brought Dr. Leon Herberte into bed with him. He could feel his body stirring in a familiar heat at the thought, a pleasure he was sure Dr. Herberte would not appreciate from his patient. “Thank you again, for helping me. You were a real lifeline.”
“Never hesitate to call me, Greg,” Dr. Herberte (“Call me Leon”) said, and Greg could sense his sultry lips near kissing the phone, a delectable tease he wished he could dive through the space between them to steal. “I will see you tonight at my home, at seven. This is my address…”
Greg hastily leapt out of bed and grabbed a pen from his desk, using the back of one of the Mooreland’s stray crime scene photos as he scribbled down the detailed instructions. “I’m curious to see what you are like on your home turf.”
Dr. Herberte was surprised at this. “I am no different from the person in my office.”
“No need for a professional mask?”
“Masks are for those who have something to hide. I am fully transparent. Perhaps, at times, to my detriment.” He hesitated, as though he wanted to say more. Instead, he kept the goodbye simple.
“Tonight,” Greg answered. Tiny silver wings poked out from the back of his cell phone and he liked the way they tickled his fingers. He hoped he didn’t sound too eager.
© 2016 Copyright M. Jones
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