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The empty sheets beside me remind me of my new reality. I feel around, but nobody is there. It makes all the memories return.
“I thought we were supposed to be in this together!” I yelled, almost shaking the walls.
“Ever since this new ‘job’,” she made quotations with her fingers. “If that’s still the story. You never come home anymore! How do I know there isn’t another woman?”
“Paige-,” I said softly. She rolled her eyes. “Paige, there is no ‘other woman’. I love you!”
“Then, where are you in the middle of the night? I go to sleep, and you’re not there. I wake up, and you’ve already left for work. The only time I get to see you is holidays.”
“Would you rather live on the street?” I said as tears began to form in her eyes.
“Whatever, it’s just-,” she grasped for the words. “too much.” she crossed to the bed, picking up a suitcase as she went. “I’m done. I can’t handle this-you anymore,” packing as she ranted, all of her things quickly vanishing from the room.
“Please, stay. Just, give me another chance,” I pleaded.
Looking up, into my eyes, I saw how much it hurt her to do this. She took a picture of the two of us on a vacation off the table and breathed, “I can’t.” With that, she left, slamming the door as she went. And that was the last I saw of her.
My work life isn’t much better. My current case is almost impossible. When I walked in the office this morning, I immediately got to work. My case is on a serial killer. He’s left a message with every victim; sometimes only a word, other times, a sentence. He has killed at least fifteen people so far, a few each week.
I haven’t found a connection between any of the victims. All had stable relationships and families. This has definitely been my most frustrating case ever.
“Jennings!” I turn on my heels to see the boss man: Mr. Calloway.
“Another one- last night. If you cannot handle this assignment, I will find someone who can!” he hands me a folder, my sixteenth.
“Yes, sir. Right on that, sir!”
“You have one week, Jennings.” I nod curtly and head to my office. Plopping in my desk, I sigh as I open the folder-the fourth one this week. Inside, is yet another report: a twenty year old girl named Wendy was found in a dumpster outside of a supermarket.
My heart goes out to the family- she had a little sister who was eleven, and I vow to myself that this will be the last one.
She looked up at me with hate-filled eyes that burned into my soul. I looked away, feeling the weight of her stare.
“I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you- a stranger,” she hissed.
“Well, who’s mistake is that, huh?” I countered.
“Why are you doing this?” she croaked. Her voice had left after hours of screaming.
“Never mind that, I just need to figure out…” I stared into space, thinking. I pushed a hand through my hair.
Her face changed; a terrified look came on it, and her shoulders started to tremble slightly, “Figure out what?” she asked. I pushed a hand through my hair, working out scenarios in my head.
“How,” I half yelled in response. I felt a maniacal look cross my face. “I know.”
Tears started to drip from her eyes, before…
“Do we know how she died?” I turn to one of the investigators, whose name is Sasha.
“Seems it was strangulation- maybe some suffocation, too,” she points to the picture of Wendy with bruises around her neck.
“And we’re sure that it was him?”
“Pretty positive. See the message? It’s just like the others: blood written on the walls. We don’t know what it means, though.”
Staring at the picture, I try to decipher the message: Amor est Damno. Straining my brain, I struggle remember my college Latin. “Love is loss.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, frowning. “I just-”
A voice blasts over the intercom: “Jennings, report to the office.”
A grim face awaits me there. Mr. Calloway has another folder. “Another one was found outside a local home. The homeowners are in the questioning room.”
He hands over the folder, and I walk out the room reading it. Another girl, died just after the first. Two in one night? Maybe he does need someone else to work on this case. Their lives depend on it. I keep thinking to myself as I run a hand through my hair.
When I walk into the questioning room, a frightened-looking couple is sitting in the chairs. I sit down and go to work. “Can you go over exactly what happened?”
The husband speaks first, “W-well, neither of us had to go into work today, so we didn’t leave the house until around ten.” he scratches his brown beard anxiously as he talks. “When we walked outside, the first thing we noticed was an awful smell. Then, we saw it-her.”
The wife is on the verge of crying. “She-she was bloody and mangled. We-we...”
The husband finishes for her, “... called the police as soon as we found her.”
“Do you have any idea how she got there?” They both shake their heads. “You didn’t hear anything last night?” They say no, again. “Where were you last night?”
The wife pulls herself together, but her makeup stains below her eyes reveal how close she is to tears. “I went to the grocery store and then came straight home.”
“The supermarket near the RiteAid?”
“Yes, I always go there.” She is twirling her long blonde hair, seemingly well recovered.
“When did you arrive?”
“Quarter after eight.”
“And when did you leave?”
“After about thirty minutes, like eight forty-five”
“Hmm. And where were you, Mr.-,“ I flip over a piece of paper, searching for the name.
“Dowell. I was watching football at the neighbor’s house until about ten o’clock; then I crossed the road again to our house.” He takes his wife’s hand before he continues. “It was dark, but I didn’t smell or see anything or anyone,” he quickly adds.
“And neither of you have any relation to the young woman?” They shake their heads. “Thank you for your time and cooperation, Mr. and Mrs. Dowell.”
I shake their hands and leave the room. When I get back to my desk, Ben, my partner and best friend, is sitting in my chair. “I just got out with the homeowners where the girl was found, and I don’t know exactly what to think.”
“Explain,” he says as I take his chair and sit in it, facing him.
“Well, they seemed like good people, but the woman was at the same place that Wendy showed up at. And she seemed pretty nervous.”
Ben thinks for a moment. “Well, why don’t we just go down to the supermarket?”
“This is why I need you.” I smile and pat him on the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
“I’ve gotten so used to wearing this mask over the past month, that even my eyes have gotten used to it. It’s my trademark. Like the Joker’s scars or Voldemort’s lacking his nose, I’ve got my mask.” I paced back and forth. “I’ve never been so happy, you know. I’ve always liked the dark. It reminds us that we are not all knowing. But I like being all knowing over some things. That’s why I’m in this profession. It lets me be in control. Plus, I only have to work at night, so I can sleep during the day. I feel like a vampire.” I laughed really hard, because I’m just hilarious. She didn’t think I was so funny though. I knew I would have to think of a special one for this girl. “I know!” I exclaimed. “I’ll throw you off a roof!” The terror on her face just made me happier.
So, I prepared her. I untied her, but I still had a hold on her- my fingers pinched her wrists. She wriggled against me, but I was much stronger. “You know, you’re quieter than most.” Silence. “Oh well.” I said as we traveled in my truck to the set location I picked out.
We headed to the top, climbing the ladder, her ahead of me. “You’re a pretty one, Juliette.”
“My name’s not Juliette.” she squeaked.
“Ah, she finally speaks. Well, we can pretend. You’ll be Juliette and I’ll be Romeo, only this time, you’ll be the only one dead.” I laughed again as we reached the top. “I almost wish I could keep you, but where’s the fun in that?” I fixed her hair. It was long, brown, and beautiful. “Off you go.” I said, about to push her off. “Wait! I almost forgot!” I pulled out my Polaroid camera and took a picture of her. “Can’t leave without a picture!” I looked at it. “This won’t do! Another!” I threw the first picture away from me and decided the next was adequate.
Then, I pushed her off. A few seconds later, I heard a thud. Smiling, I took out the red spray paint in my bag. “What to write, what to write…” I thought for a second. “I know!”
I show my badge and we are given access to the security footage. “This is when she said she came.” I say watching the tape. The footage shows her, entering the front, then thirty-two minutes later, leaving through the same door.
The interesting part is that the parking lot footage shows a man with a white kabuki mask on in a truck. He just sits there, unmoving for over an hour. Then, he speeds off behind the building. The camera switches to the back of the building, showing the same man driving, then the video buffers, and he is gone.
“Did you see that?” Ben asks, looking at me as I nod. “How did he patch the video?”
“I have no idea. Let’s go out back. Call the technicals to come and look at this.” I order. The dumpster outside smells, but that doesn’t compare to the overwhelming feeling I have when I get there. My stomach twists, and the nausea rises into my throat.
Ben senses my uneasiness, “You okay, man?” I nod, breathing through my mouth as I shake the feeling off. The technicals, as I call them, arrive a few minutes later. Unfortunately, our investigative skills were not as sharp as we thought. Nothing had jumped out at us.
The technicals find a chip on the camera that had a code imprinted on it, but it will take a day for them to crack it. I could do it myself, but I have other things to figure out and worry about. For example, I try for the fifth time to group his messages together to find a connection or something that would give some type of clue away.
I group the boys with the boys and the girls with the girls, the young with the young, anything I can think of, but to no avail. The day drags on slowly, inching minute by minute to when I can finally sleep. I get home an hour earlier than I usually do, and I head to bed almost straight away.
“Let’s brainstorm! I can’t figure out what I want to do with you yet.” I told him. I had picked him up off his bike on his way home. He probably wasn’t more than thirteen.
“How bout you let me go?” his eyes were slitted. He was as far from my last one as a person could be. He was brave, sarcastic.
“How ‘bout, no,” I thought, humming. “How ‘bout…, no. Oh! I know! But it’s going to be a surprise.” Smiling, I walked over, got my keys, and picked him up by the arm.
We went outside, headed for my car, but before I could shove him in the trunk, he bolted. “You little…” I silently cursed myself just before running after him. He was fast, but we were a mile away from town. I would get him before then.
I ran for as long as I could, but that boy just kept on going. I cursed myself again, bent over, and caught my breath. I walked back to the truck, defeated.
When I walk into work this morning, I notice a young boy and his parents in Mr. Calloway’s office. He is about thirteen, and he looks familiar, maybe the neighbors’ boy. “Good morning.” I say to Ben and Sasha as I walk in.
“Hey, the kid’s on our case. Claims he got away from the psycho. Go talk to him,” Ben says.
As I walk in, the boy looks me up and down, then shakes his head, internally deciding something. “You’re the detective?” The woman looks over. It’s her. It’s Paige. With another man beside her. They are holding hands.
I numbly nod my head, unaware of my surroundings and catch myself in Paige’s resentful glare. “So, this is him? I heard you had moved on, but he has a kid?”
Paige grits her teeth, obviously annoyed with the situation. “Yes. This is Harry, my fiancé, and his son, Christopher. Now, can we get back to the man that tried to kill Christopher?”
“Of course,” I say, startled out of my reverie but obviously not done with my jealousy. “Tell me exactly what happened, Christopher.”
I wake up in the middle of the night, groggy and find I haven’t even changed out of my work clothes. I am too lazy to move, so I just lay there, waiting to fall asleep. But sleep never comes. My brain feels like it is about to burst through my skull, my face has a weight on it that I can only describe as “worry,” and my body aches with stress.
After what feels like forever trying to sleep, I can’t lay there anymore, so I decide to take a walk. I grab my phone and my police belt, weary of leaving this late at night with a serial killer still loose, but I dread the idea of staying inside even more.
I walk down to the subway station, heading to a bar. I can’t handle this aching anymore. I board the subway and sit at a far corner. A young man at the opposite end keeps eyeing me. Probably drunk, I think to myself, though I am too out of it to care.
When I enter the bar, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. A window to another room shows a man garbed in jeans, a grey shirt, and a black jacket in a strange white mask. Something in my mind clicks, and I snap out of my groggy state.
I watch him out of the corner of my eye as I walk to the bar. He is headed to the bar in the other room, too. I sit down just as he does, and order a drink. I radio the station, requesting backup immediately. I get up with my drink and head to a seat nearer the door. I notice that he is headed for the door, as well. I discreetly open the door, trying not to draw attention, but nobody is there. I look around, puzzled, to find him still inside.
I head back in, and he is standing by the door, hand on the handle. I decide to take measures in my own hands, so I take out my gun. He has anticipated my move and has taken out a gun, as well.
“Put the weapon away!” I scream, causing the few people who are there to stare. “I said, put it away!” I step forward, and he does too, mirroring my steps. He is deadly. He is deadly. Just shoot. He has killed people! My brain is trying to motivate itself. I work up the courage, and shoot.
The glass falls to reveal that it isn’t a window.
It is a mirror.
My gun falls from my hand, hitting the floor with a thud. One shaky hand comes to my face. I look at my hand. It is blackish-red, with cracks appearing when I moved it. I feel cool plastic where my warm skin should be. It realize it wasn’t worry weighing down on my face, it was a mask.
I fall to my knees, realizing what this must mean. I killed all of those innocent people. But how? I must’ve done it in my sleep. No, I didn’t do that. I would never do something like that. Someone framed me. I lay there, crying with the mask in my blood-covered hands.
And that is how they find me.
Even in denial, I can’t say a thing when in Paige’s part of the closet, the police find an old shoebox with seventeen Polaroids in them.