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I picked up the next sheet of newspaper.
‘Rising Star, written by Stark Reynolds,’ the headline of the page said in a large, all-caps font.
‘A young budding violinist, Veronica Jones, played at a concert in Carnegie Hall last night. Her performance was stunning. I haven’t heard talent like hers in years.’
Piffle, I thought to myself, I actually attended that concert last night, and her performance was nowhere near ‘stunning’.
My cell phone buzzed in my pocket, snapping me out of my thoughts. I fished it out and flipped it open.
“What do you want now, Norris?” I snapped at my partner. This was the fifth time he’d called me today. I was really hoping that it wasn’t something pointless like “Guess what? I beat my own high score on Pacman!”
“Geez, Holtz, I was only going to tell you that I have a case for you.”
My annoyance with Sean Norris changed into interest. “What kind of case?”
“The police called us out to look at a body. It’s supposedly a suicide case, but I get this feeling that there’s more to it. I don’t know. I’ll come and pick you up, okay?”
I nodded, though you can’t pick up nodding on a telephone. “Be quick about it.”
Norris picked me up in about five minutes and we drove to the deceased’s apartment. There was police tape covering the open doorway, which we ducked under like we were playing the limbo.
Norris led me to a bedroom. The police were standing in there.
“Go ahead, Dr. Holtz.” One of the officers, who I assumed was the chief, said, motioning to the bed in the corner of the room. After that, he took his officers and left. Apparently, Norris and I could hold up the investigation by ourselves.
“The deceased’s name is Veronica Jones, age twenty-three. She was a violinist, recently played at Carnegie Hall. Cause of death was ruled to be suicide.” Norris informed me.
“Funny. I was at her concert last night. The notes were so out of tune that I got an incredible headache,” I muttered to myself.
Veronica Jones’s body was sitting upright in the bed, a knife in the right hand, her left wrist slit. A small pool of blood lay on the pure white sheets underneath her slit wrist.
“That’s not enough blood. She wouldn’t be dead from that little of blood. That’s not enough blood for her to have even hit the artery,” I muttered.
I picked up her left arm and examined the wound on her wrist. “But the wound reaches the artery. What’s really strange is that the wound doesn’t show any signs of healing…
“Holtz, are you suggesting that her wrist was slit after she died?” Norris asked.
“Of course I am, idiot,” I teased.
I took a look at the rest of her body. The first thing I noticed was a humongous bruise on her abdomen, like somebody had hit her, hard. I ran my finger over it and felt a line of lumps. A rash. The second thing I noticed were light, barely noticeable finger-shaped bruises on her neck.
“Strangulation,” I muttered to myself.
The third thing I noticed was her eyes. There was hemorrhaging in the eyes, called petechia, which indicates death by asphyxiation. Very strange, since the cause of death was ruled to be suicide and her wrists were slit…
And the fourth thing? Her right hand. There was a symbol carved into it, shaped like an X with a vertical line through it. The knife was in an injured hand. This killer had gotten sloppy.
I started to pace around the room. “What kind of motive would somebody have for killing this woman?”
“I don’t know, maybe they were second chair violinist and they were jealous?” Norris suggested.
“I don’t think jealousy over a chair placement would be enough of a motive for killing another human being.”
Norris didn’t say anything back to me. I turned around and saw him walking off in the opposite direction.
“Where on earth are you going?”
“Bathroom. Huh, that’s weird, the door’s locked.”
I tried the door myself. Sure enough, it was locked. I walked over to the nearby dresser and opened the top drawer, which was slightly ajar. The key was sitting right on top of a pile of shirts. It was like I knew instinctively where the key was. I guess I’ve gotten good at investigating.
“Vóila. The key,” I said, tossing it to Norris. He opened the door and screamed.
The floor of the bathroom was covered in blood. There was a bloody towel not too far away. The same symbol that had been carved into Veronica’s hand was drawn on the wall in her blood. Lastly, the bathroom window was completely open, and the curtains were billowing out into the air.
Norris looked out the window. “That’s a three story jump! You’d need to be Spiderman to survive that!”
“Or you could jump to the fire escape,” I said, motioning to the fire escape that was within jumping distance.
I walked over to the blood. “Does this blood belong to the deceased?”
“How am I supposed to-”
“Then get a sample.”
Norris got a small sample of the blood and caught up with me as we left the apartment. As we were leaving, I caught a glimpse of something. Norris, however, had already left the room.
Something was moving through the apartment. I could swear I saw a human figure.
“Norris, there’s somebody-”
I never finished my sentence. I blacked out and fell to the ground instead.
After what seemed like a short period of time, I woke up in my house on my couch. I assumed that Norris brought me here after I fainted and shrugged it off. It wasn’t that strange. Norris would always do that for me.
I nonchalantly walked to my room and to the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I saw something that wasn’t supposed to be there. The hairs on the back of my neck prickled and shivered in fright, and they wouldn’t calm down.
I turned around and saw something written on the wall in blood.
You’d Better Watch out
I’m telling you why
You’ll Be Next
Below the threatening words, the killer’s symbol was drawn on the wall as well.
I looked down at the floor. There was a small, mushroom-shaped violin peg lying on the floor.
The killer was in my house. The killer may very well be in my house right now.
I ran to my kitchen and grabbed the biggest and most deadly knife I could find. I marched around, blade at the ready, but soon enough I realized that there was no killer in my house. Then who wrote on the wall? Was Norris pulling another one of his famous pranks?
I snapped a picture of the message and of the peg with my phone. Then I wiped the blood off the wall and went to sleep with all of the lights on.
The next morning, I woke up to my cell phone blaring Green Day.
“Norris, you’d better have a good reason for waking me up at five thirty.”
“Ok, for one thing, it’s almost nine. For another thing, I do have a good reason. There was another body found. Death was ruled to be suicide by hanging. Same mark on the hand. Could it possibly be related to the Veronica Jones case?”
“Probably is. I’m coming.”
I hung up, got dressed, grabbed a random bagel out of the fridge and was out the door.
When I arrived, Norris was there with the second body. It wasn’t normal. Normally the police call us out to the crime scene, but today they brought the body to us.
“Deceased’s name is Stark Reynolds, age thirty-one. He’s a top notch journalist for the New York Times.”
“I’ve read a couple of his articles. They weren’t exactly a walk in the park to read. He could stand a writing class or two. His articles gave me an incredible headache.”
“Cause of death ruled to be suicide by hanging. However, the mark on the hands is the same and we can suspect that the same killer-” Norris continued.
“I get it, Norris.”
I began to examine the body. There were all of the same signs. The deceased’s neck was broken and bruised from the hanging. The X mark was on the hand. The only difference was that the humongous bruise was on his chest instead of his abdomen. The same rash was there, though.
A sudden realization hit me like a flying football in the face. The bruises and the rashes weren’t just bruises and rashes. They were stab marks that the killer had closed up with super glue. That would explain the large amount of blood on Veronica’s bathroom floor, and the fact that Veronica’s slit wrist showed no signs of healing at all and the amount of blood from the slit wrist was too little. The gluing would explain the “rashes”. The glue wasn’t exactly even. All of those facts point to Veronica already being dead at the time her wrist was slit, and Stark already being dead when he was hung. His neck showed no signs of healing.
I told Norris. He nodded in agreement. “It seems we are dealing with homicide here after all.”
“We need to get an account from one of the deceased’s neighbors. See if they saw anything.”
We drove out to Stark’s neighborhood. We could tell which house belonged to the deceased; there was police tape everywhere. It didn’t take us that long to find a neighbor to interview.
The neighbor’s name was Morgan Smith. She was Stark’s neighbor on the left side. She didn’t look all that surprised to see us, actually. She must have been expecting an interview from the authorities.
“Did you hear anything unusual yesterday?” Norris asked.
“Well, at about six last night I heard a crash from my neighbor’s house. I looked out my window and saw through one of his windows that there was somebody in his house that wasn’t him. The person was wearing a masquerade mask and a ninja suit. I couldn’t possibly recognize any facial features. But I could tell her hair color. It was the same as yours, miss, and she was about your height and build. After that incident, I just can’t stop imagining everyone in ninja suits.”
I fingered my dark red locks. Red hair could help us narrow down a killer.
“Did the ninja do anything… strange?” I questioned her.
“She was, well, dancing, sort of. I thought she was just one of those… you know what I mean. I had assumed Stark had hired her and ignored the commotion.”
Is she saying I look like a prostitute?
“Anything else?” Norris asked.
“Well, when I heard Stark scream, that’s when I called the police. They found him hung, like he’d committed suicide. Nobody believed me about the ninja.”
“Okay. I think we’re done here.”
I pondered what I’d heard. A ninja prostitute? This case was getting stranger and stranger.
I went home early that night.
When I got home, I found my door ajar. Was someone here? I walked inside to my bedroom. There was a masquerade mask hanging on the knob. I screamed and ran out of the room and into my kitchen. I picked up the largest, deadliest knife for the second time and tiptoed around my house, ready to stab anything that moved.
When I found that there was no one in my house, again, I put the knife away and tried to calm myself down.
To take my mind off of the whole affair, I started to play my grand piano. I usually found that playing it helped calm my mind and helped me think straight so I can solve mysteries.
I noticed that a few of the keys were out of tune. I opened the cover on the piano and found a pair of bloody weapons wedged between a couple of the strings. I picked them up. One of them was a bone chisel, the other a scalpel. The bone chisel was the perfect shape and size for the stab wounds, and the scalpel could have made the marks on the hands.
Somebody was leaving things around my house. I took the weapons and grabbed the mask off of my doorknob and put my coat on. I was supposed to meet Norris for dinner. We could discuss this matter there.
I walked into the small, out-of-the-way Italian restaurant we’d agreed to meet at.
“Norris,” I said as I found his table. I sat down across from him. “Look what I found.”
I showed him the chisel, the scalpel and the mask. His eyes bulged in shock, like we were in an old cartoon.
“Where’d you find those?” he asked.
“My house. Someone’s been leaving things around.”
All of a sudden, just as a waiter dropped off some breadsticks at our table, I blacked out like I did at Veronica’s apartment. Soon after, I felt a shaking sensation and was woken up by Norris. His breathing was labored and his hands and stomach were bloody. The bone chisel didn’t lie far from us.
“What did you do that for?” he yelled in shock. Had I attempted to kill Norris?
“What did I do what for?”
“You, you went insane and pulled that weird weapon on me. You, you s-stabbed me,” Norris gasped, clutching at his bloody gut.
Was I the killer? My mind was dazed as the police and an ambulance arrived at the restaurant. Somebody put handcuffs around my wrists and dragged me away as somebody else dragged Norris away on a stretcher.
Am I broken? Had I been the killer all along, without knowing it?