Konan squeezed her hands and gave her a wink. It felt good to know Lilly wanted him, but there was no time for him to give in to the elation he felt in his heart.
A deep-fried corpse needed his attention.
Tammy Bowen, chief medical examiner for Fredericksburg, wiped at her mouth. The stench of death, coupled with the smell of burnt flesh, had caused her to rush into the yard and vomit.
The fire department had responded to the call first. Once the fire department had contained the blaze, they’d discovered the body. Konan pulled up in time to see Bowen fall to her knees and vomit. He walked through the small metal gate and sipped his coffee.
“Pretty gruesome in there, I take it.”
Bowen stared at Konan and cleared her throat. A tech handed her a bottle of water. She squished some water around in her mouth and spit it out.
“Yeah, it is gruesome. Before you even ask, the remains are in bad shape. I’m going to need some time before I have any kind of information for you. And don’t expect a whole lot of information to come from it.”
“Jeez, Tammy. You’re so negative.”
“Go in and look for yourself then, smartie.”
Konan walked into the house. Investigators of all stripes stood near the door. CSI techs searched for traces of evidence. Konan slipped on some gloves and stepped in.
The stench was the first thing he noticed. An overpowering smell of burnt meat was in the air. Konan wrinkled up his nose and took a shallow breath. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be on his knees in the yard throwing up his guts next to Bowen.
He walked into the sitting room. Even before the fire, the inhabitant had been a minimalist. The corpse was burnt to a crisp. Konan covered his mouth with the back of his right hand and looked away.
He closed his eyes and muttered, “Dear God in Heaven.” Tammy Bowen came and stood next to him.
“I told you it was gruesome.”
“The victim looks like a…”
“Overdone slab of meat?”
“Yeah. Is the corpse dehydrated?”
“Yep. Family won’t be able to identify them by facial features. I will have to verify identity by DNA. That’s going to take some time. Cause of death is going to be tricky. So is time of death. This won’t happen overnight.”
“Didn’t I see an episode of Bones where they hydrated a body? Can you do that?”
“You do realize that Bones is a fictional television show, right? And that ‘Bones’ works for the Smithsonian? We work for the town of Fredericksburg. What am I supposed to do here, Konan? Run a garden hose up the victim’s rump?”
“You could have said it was a dumb question, Tammy. There’s no need to be stupid about it,” Konan grumbled.
“Oh, okay then. That’s a stupid suggestion, Konan. Do you feel better now?”
“Let me or Lilly know what you find.”
“You or Lilly? Are you back on the force?”
“It’s starting to look like it.”
At 1030 the following day, Konan walked into Lilly’s office. She still looked ill. She was on the phone, so Konan sat in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. He looked around the office. Two diplomas decorated the walls. There were no pictures, save one of her and Konan after solving the case that got him released.
They had solved a case involving a faked honor killing. Konan had not been with the 117th for very long at that point. He smiled. Even then he knew he loved Lilly.
She hung up the phone. Stress showed at the corners of her eyes.
“Good morning,” she said. He smiled at her. She smiled back.
“Good morning. I came to brief you.”
“Well, I’m glad. That was the Deputy Chief on the phone. You should have taken a police escort to the scene yesterday. What did you learn?”
“Not much, and Tammy doesn’t think the body will shed much light on it. Yesterday, she said that it was going to take time for the labs to come back with anything useful.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“Yeah. The body was burnt well beyond recognition. Tammy is going to make identification via DNA. The killer broke the victim’s teeth. Tammy said the blaze dehydrated the corpse; cause of death is pending.”
“Do you have any good news?”
“Um, I love you? Other than that, no. There is no good news relating to the case.”
Lilly stared at Konan. She’d quit listening after Konan had slipped up and said he loved her. Konan waited for Lilly to respond, but no response came.
“Well, um, I suppose we should wait for Tammy. I’ll brief Chief Janko. He’ll want to know what is going on. Um…Have you decided to come back to work, or will you remain a consultant?”
Konan laced his fingers and gazed at Lilly. His confession of love had no effect on her. Still, he could do more with the resources of the police.
“Yeah, I’ve made a decision. I’ll come back, but I have a couple of stipulations.”
“You are my partner. I do not have the time nor patience to break in a new partner mid-case, and I want a raise.”
“The partner bit won’t be an issue. The raise I can do nothing about. I don’t have that kind of power. I’ll take it up with Chief Janko, he can run it up from there.”
“Fine, but we all know I deserve a raise.”
“Sure, you do. Everyone who has asked for a raise thought they deserved one.”
Lilly shoved Konan’s badge across the desk. A small smile crossed her face. He reached for his badge, and their hands brushed against each other. Their eyes met.
“I’m glad you’re back, Konan. I’ve missed you.”
Konan gave her a sheepish grin and shoved the badge into his pocket. He looked at Lilly.
“Can you even go into the field given your condition? Or is your time devoted to playing political games?”
“I can go in the field, and I play politics. Janko would prefer I stay behind the desk though and deal with the day-to-day crap.”
“What do you prefer?”
“I prefer being in the thick of the investigation.”
“Yeah, but you’re pregnant.”
“Mmmhmm. I’m going to work as long as I can. When I can’t, I plan to take the max amount of maternity leave. Besides, with my nausea I would be a liability to you in the field.”
“So, you’ll be here. I get it.”
“I’m sorry, Konan. I know you thought it would be like old times, us both tearing things up in the field.”
Konan sighed. He felt tricked in coming back. into coming back. “I haven’t been back on the force an hour, and I’m already I’m tired of their crap. I should have known better.”
“It’s not a problem, Lilly. We can still make it work.”
Lilly smiled and nodded. “I’m glad you feel that way, Konan. I worried you would feel betrayed.”
Konan forced a smile. He would have to work through the complexity of emotions he felt. For now, he needed to focus on the murders. There would be time for him to explore his emotions later.
As he and Lilly finished up, Tammy Bowen walked into the office. She nodded at them and sat down.
“Please tell me you have something, Tammy.”
“I do, Lilly. I called in every favor I had saved up and sent off the tissue to the lab. The victim is Jacob Walton.”
Konan scrunched up his nose and pulled out his notes. He shook his head. Tammy and Lilly watched him as he perused his notes.
“Jacob Walton? That can’t be right.”
“Why not, Konan?”
“Because, Ric Villers said Jacob Walton was the buyer of the Oxy. He inferred Walton was the killer. If Walton is the killer, then there is no case.”
Lilly looked at Tammy. “Is there any evidence to support that Walton is the killer?”
“Um, I’m not a detective, Lilly. I don’t do ‘investigations.’ I’m a lab monkey.”
“So, what now?”
“We wait and see if more murders match this M.O. ” Konan said.
“Do you have any evidence that Walton killed all those folks,” Tammy asked.
“Just the word of a drug dealer,” Konan said.
“Time will tell,” Lilly added.
There was nothing left to do but wait and see if other victims would appear in the future. Konan looked at Lilly’s wall. “Nothing is making sense. If Jacob is the killer, then we’ve closed the case. Still, he sat on the couch and burned himself? There are too many holes for this to be over.”
Hank Calder sat in his dark living room and looked over his notes. His scheme was flawlessly executed. Still, with the removal of Jacob Walton from the board, he knew the cops would be sniffing around. Hank needed another ‘assistant’ to interact with society for him.
Calder’s plans revolved around him remaining incognito. The cops would kick over rocks and try to find out about Jacob’s close friends, associates, and family. Hank wasn’t worried. None of Jacob’s friends or family knew him.
The cops would check Jacob’s employment records and discover nothing there either. He’d paid Jacob in cash, there was no trail to connect him to Jacob.
If everything was perfect, why was Hank worried? His fear bordered on paranoia. The soft white glow of the lamp enticed him to write. He powered on his laptop and began to type.
“It’s time to quit the game while I am ahead. Let the cops scratch their heads and try to figure out what happened. If I vanish now, everyone will blame Jacob. That gives me time to craft my masterpiece. Soon, the world will know that one man can make a difference. My enemies, those who would corrupt the system with their own evilness, I will punish. This I promise you; they will know fear.”
Konan, Lilly and Tammy finished their conversation. Konan left the department to go for coffee. Instead of visiting the small coffee stand, he drove to Parchman to visit his father. “The bikini-clad ladies can wait.”
Mad Michael sat in the visiting room. He was in front of the large window, the same window he and Konan sat in front of yesterday. He never looked around, even when Konan sat next to him.
“I take it you found Ric Villers?”
“I did. He was every bit as tough as you said.”
Mad Michael laughed. “I told you he was a trained fighter. You don’t have any bruises, you must of took backup.”
“No backup. I told him you sent me.”
“Well, how about that. Your dear old dad ended up being good for something after all.”
Konan grunted. His ribs were still sore from the punch that Villers landed.
“Yeah. He calmed down after I told him you sent me.”
“So, what brought you here today?”
“I told you I would come back after I talked to Villers.”
The two men sat together. Silence filled the gulf between father and son. There were many reasons for the silence. Konan supposed it could be the lack of attention from his father. Or the fact that his dad was a mass murderer. Michael finally broke the silence.
“Do you want to know how much time I have left?”
“No. Why brood on what may happen? Why not live each day to the fullest?”
“Because I am serving the maximum?”
Konan choked back his laughter. Mad Michael grinned. Konan couldn’t contain it. His laughter triggered his father’s.
“That’s pretty funny.”
“Yeah. Kinda hard to live life to the max, when you are serving consecutive life sentences.”
“Wanna play Blackjack? Rummy?”
“I don’t have time. A killer is out there waiting for me to come arrest him.”
“So, you’re gonna max him?”
Konan grinned. “I’m going to try.”
“Don’t try, son. Get them off the street. Don’t let them hurt anyone else.”
Konan nodded and stood to his feet. He looked at his dad. “It’s too bad he couldn’t be this guy when I was younger.”
“See you later.”
“Yeah. I’ll be here, for the time being anyway.”
Konan stopped and picked up two coffees, and then continued to the police station. He walked into Lilly’s office, Detectives Manson and Rankin sat in the chairs. They looked up when Konan walked in.
“There he is,” Manson said. She gave Konan a peck on the cheek. “Look at you! You look great. Welcome back.”
Rankin nodded and stood up. He and Konan had worked together at the 112th. Konan had left under cloudy circumstances. He and Rankin weren’t enemies, but rivals. Time had tempered it, and while they would never be best friends, they were friendly.
“Welcome back, Konan. One of these days you should try to hold onto the job without all these breaks between employment.”
“Yeah. I’ll try to keep that in mind, Rankin.”
Lilly, Manson and Rankin laughed. They all knew that Konan wouldn’t try to keep it in mind. Konan had a one-track mind. Once he focused on finding the killer, he would not stop until he found them.
Although finding the perpetrator of these heinous actions proved to be most difficult. After the death of Jacob Walton, the crimes had ceased. Months went by without incident. It was as if a bad stroke of luck passed over the town with a quickness and with the same swiftness it was gone.
On a Tuesday, Lilly’s water broke. An ambulance rushed her to the hospital. The baby was coming. From the back of the ambulance, Lilly punched in Konan’s number on her mobile.
“It’s time,” Lilly snarled into the phone. A contraction caused her to grimace and cry out.
“Um, Lilly? Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay! The baby…”
“Ooh…I’m on my way.”
Konan changed from his pajama bottoms into jeans, pulled on his hoodie and boots, and ran to his truck. He fired it up and raced to Fredericksburg Memorial Hospital.
Manson, Rankin, Janko, and a host of police officers stood in the hall. Janko shook his head when Konan ran up.
“Boy, you are late. Lilly has yelled, cussed, and raised all sorts of sand.”
“I bet. She was rather ferocious on the phone.”
“Someone needs to be in there with her,” Janko said. Konan shrugged.
“I’m here for moral support. Her mom planned to go in there with her.”
“Oh, she went with her,” Manson said. “She was in shambles though. I’m not sure how much help she’ll be…”
At 0118, Lt. Lilly Thompson gave birth to a 9.5-pound baby boy. The doctor came out in the hallway and told them the good news.
“Which one of you answers to Thermie?”
“I guess I do,” Konan said. The other cops laughed, even Janko cracked a smile behind his walrus mustache.
“She would like to see you before she goes to sleep.”
Konan walked into the small hospital room. Lilly and her mother Bea looked up at him. Lilly held her son in her arms.
“I have to name him, Konan.”
Bea winked at Konan and gave him a small smile. She patted the seat next to her and leaned her head against the wall.
Konan sat down next to Bea. His eyes took in the fresh new life that Lilly had given birth to.
“He’s very handsome, Lilly.”
“I want to name him after a great man. Something…classy.”
“I thought you picked a name during pregnancy, not wait until you’ve seen him to label him.”
“There’s no ‘right’ time to pick a name Konan,” Bea said. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him.
“Um, well…how about Walter? Walt? Waldo?”
“No. I thought Gareth. What do you think?”
“Yeah. I like that. If you like it, slap it on paper. Gareth is a nice name.”
“Gareth it is then.”
Konan sat with Lilly and Bea until she dozed off. It was a surreal experience for Konan. He had stared at Gareth, unsure of what to make of the newborn. Lilly handed him her son; Konan fumbled with holding him. Still, a small smile had crept across his lips. The nurse took Gareth to the pediatric center, Lilly and Bea fell into a deep sleep.
Konan walked out into the hall. The crowd had diminished since he went in to help Lilly pick a name. Janko, Rankin and Manson were still there, former police chief Tia Mathers had joined them. She gave Konan a nod.
“What name did she choose,” Manson asked. The others looked at Konan and waited.
“She named him Gareth.”
“Cool,” Rankin said. The others nodded in agreement. “At least she didn’t name him Thermie.”
“Yeah,” Konan laughed. “Poor kid would’ve had a hard time.”
Hank Calder drove to his home. Not the sparse houses he rented via proxies in the city. His home, the one that he resided in when he wasn’t hunting, rested on the outskirts of Fredericksburg.His house was dead center between two counties. No one claimed this forgotten piece of land. Both counties took zero responsibility for its upkeep.
In the late 1930’s, Fredericksburg experience a rapid growth. The population grew, and so did the crime. Walter Calder, Hank’s grandfather, moved his family to the middle of nowhere in response to this surge. There, he built a cabin, a barn, and a leather shop. The family dug a well that provided cool water from an underground spring. For food, they hunted in the woods that bordered their property. They fished in the river and streams that were not far from their new home.
Throughout the years, the Calder family flourished in this environment. World War II and the ensuing conflicts had at least one Calder in each. Military service was a staple in their family. Hank Calder was the most recent heir to serve his country.
People could say anything they wanted about the Calder family, but they could not doubt their patriotism. Hank pulled his Chevy Tahoe into the barn. The sun was setting when he started for the cabin. Walter Calder’s cabin got handed down from father to son, throughout the years. Hank had received ownership of the home five years ago.
He switched on a lamp when he walked in. Hanks plans hung from the walls. He started a fire in the fireplace and removed the plans and tossed them into the fire.
On his cedar desk was a black portfolio. It contained his final goal. His final act of defiance would be a doozy. Hank sat in his recliner and smiled.
It had been months since the last murder. The police had claimed that Jacob Walton was the killer. All the evidence that had been salvageable did not shed any light that would clear Jacob Walton. It remained an open cold case.
Life had gone on. Hank Calder had got away with the heinous acts of violence. He laughed as he leaned back in his recliner.
“The best is yet to come.”
Lilly took the full amount of maternity leave allowed. She returned to work full time on a cold day in February. Konan’s small desk was in the far corner of the room, as it was the last one available. His corner was dark, save for one small lamp. It was on, and she could make out his silhouette.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
Konan looked up from his computer screen and smiled.
“Well, look who’s back. How are things? How’s Gareth?”
“He’s the sweetest kid ever. I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love him.”
Konan nodded and smiled. In the weeks they’d separated, Lilly had reached out and talked to Konan. She had invited him over to see her and Gareth. Konan visited once. It was awkward for him to see her as ‘Mommy’ to a tiny human.
“What are you watching?”
“Uh, video of the bodies when the cops discovered them. There’s something there, but I can’t figure out what it is.”
“Let me get some coffee, and I’ll have a look.”
Lilly came back a mug of hot coffee in her hand and pulled up a chair next to him. She took a sip and looked at the screen.
“So, tell me what you’re thinking. Isn’t this case in the heap?”
“It is, but there’s nothing pressing. What bothers me the most about this case is that the killer stopped. They made it look like Jacob Walton was the killer, heck, the Deputy Chief even went on television and said as much. Still…”
“What did Walton die from? Did Tammy ever figure it out?”
“Yeah, she did. She cut his head open to figure it out, but she determined the cause of death.”
“Sharp object shoved into the ear canal. It was quick.”
“Yeah. You couldn’t see the blood because of the damage caused by the fire.”
“So, you’re thinking assassin?”
“Um, I don’t know. How did this guy or gal manage to dupe Jacob Walton into helping him?”
“You think there’s a mastermind behind the whole shebang? Why would you think that?”
“I don’t know, Lilly. Let’s say that Walton was an ‘assistant’, right? He did the things the killer wouldn’t do. Such as make visible appearances, go to meetings, buy supplies, etc.”
“They have to pay their ‘assistant’, right? There’s no money trail. We checked Walton’s finances. He had two jobs. Yet, somehow, he managed to have one of the most expensive hobbies-train collecting.”
“So, you think the killer paid cash.”
“It would make sense. Walton was a minimalist. He had a nice house, a nice car, and a large collection of vintage trains. The house and car should’ve maxed out his finances, but somehow…”
“…he collected trains. You think there’s an invisible trail of money.”
“Jacob Walton had a third job that paid cash, and he worked for the killer. Then, the killer murdered him and walked away from the carnage they created.”
“So, why watch video of the discovery of the bodies?”
“Because serial killers like trophies. They relive their kills by collecting said trophies, yeah?”
“Nothing is missing from any of the victims. So, how does this killer get their thrills?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m thinking.”
“So, if the killer isn’t recording it, he has to have access to it somehow. Where would he find it?”
“What do you mean? Anything goes on social media. It’s a breeding ground for group think. The killer could upload the video and relive his kill anytime he wanted.”
“Nah man, if you want to watch a video of beheadings, you can find it. There are no less than fifty videos of the victim outside of the news company.”
“What a world…”
They watched the videos of the victims’ discovery. There was nothing out of place in the videos. Still, Konan felt he was missing something. Lilly sipped her coffee and watched the screen. Nothing stood out to her.
“I have a question, Konan. Why use proxies? Sure, it protects the killer’s anonymity, but wouldn’t it also leave them vulnerable?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s say reconnaissance. The killer would need to know all the details, right? How would they do their scouting via proxy?”
“They wouldn’t. Each location required scouting…”
“…and they would need to know ALL the details such as openings/closings, schedules of employees, etc.”
“We’re talking hundreds of hours of video, Lilly. But, if the killer is on there, we could generate a suspect list.”
“Nothing is pressing, right? Let’s get the tapes and set up shop in a quiet room.”
Lilly and Konan spent the next three days watching video. At hour #76, Lilly sat up.
“I see it. It’s a shadow outside of the news company. Someone is watching what happens. What’s that glint?”
“It’s a window. The killer is sitting in a vehicle. The killer rolled down the window.”
“We need to get this to our expert. If we are lucky, they can discern what type of vehicle it is.”
“And if they can get a fix on the license plate, we may have a suspect,” Lilly said finishing Konan’s thought.
Andy Smythe, the police department’s tech genius, came into the room and looked at the screen. He made a noise that was part grunt of frustration and what Konan hoped was part excitement.
“I’ll take it to the lab and see if I can’t clean it up some. The grill, what I can make of it, seems to belong to a late 90’s Tahoe. I’ll let you know what I find.”