What does one thing have to do with another? At what point do the two intersect? If a person murders another, are they automatically related? Are passionate impulses triggers for homicidal rage?
At some point, observation will lead one to clues, and the clues will lead eventually to a hypothesis. Once a hypothesis becomes supported with facts, you can test it. Testing the hypothesis can lead you to the truth.
There is no method or pattern to madness. No hypothesis, observation or clue will lead you anywhere but deeper into the depths of despair. No formula will show that madness, love or passion followed a set pattern.
Thermopolis Konan sat in his mobile home and sipped his coffee from a yellowish mug that was crafted by an amateur potter. The glaze refused to stick to the clay. It was a flawed mug, and Konan thought it deserved a home. He spent his free hours looking for broken and flawed items at his local Goodwill.
He finished his coffee and wiggled his toes. The sun had not risen from its bed yet. He changed from his pajamas into Wrangler jeans, Red Wing boots, and a Carhartt pull over. He had not slept for two days. Konan shoved his knife, a 13-round magazine for his 9mm Springfield Hellcat, and his bundle of keys into his pocket.
A hypersense that something bad had occurred often brought his lack of sleep on. He had spent the past two days wired for trouble. It had not come. Still, sleep eluded him. As he put on a tan cap that advertised a local oil rig, a knock came from the door. Given the early morning hour, he peeked out the peephole and saw two police officers standing on his porch.
“Can I help you?”
“Former Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan? Of the 117th?”
“We need to speak to you.”
“Please open the door.”
“No. What do you want?”
“There has been a murder….”
“So? Call the cops.”
“Lilly Thompson sent us to pick you up.”
Konan opened the door. “What does Lilly want?”
“She wants you to come observe the body.”
“I am no longer a cop. The former Chief of Police took my job.”
“She told us. However, she insisted this was right up your alley. We need to get you to the scene.”
Konan locked the door and walked to the car. The two officers took the front seat, Thermopolis sat in the back. They rode in silence until they reached the abandoned warehouse section of Fredericksburg. Years ago, this section of town had been a major hub for shipping. Companies from all over America had a warehouse in town. Now, it served as the stomping ground for the homeless, and a junkyard for the debris the town no longer wanted. It was where dreams went to die.
Of course, Fredericksburg’s glory days were before what was now known as “The Town-Killer Incident.” The officer who had spoken to Konan through the door looked at him in the mirror and cleared his throat.
“Captain Thompson didn’t inform us why you lost your job at the 117th. Is it a secret or do you guys not talk about it?”
“Naw, it ain’t no secret.”
“I punched out Chief Mathers at the Christmas party.”
Both cops laughed. Konan shrugged and went back to staring out the window. He knew what was coming next.
“Why did you do that?” Thermopolis met the driver’s gaze and gestured with his hands. He continued to stare at the abandoned warehouses they passed.
“Seemed like a good idea. She had it coming.” The cop stared at him through the rearview mirror. Thermopolis ignored him.
“Come on, man. There has to be more to it than that. Why would you punch out your boss?”
“There is more to it than that, and why wouldn’t I? Haven’t you ever wanted to smack the stupid out of your boss?”
“Thompson is my boss.”
The cops clammed up, and Konan was thankful for the silence. Both cops seemed frustrated with the shortness of his answers. Konan saw no reason to explain himself. The explanation he gave of what transpired would have to suffice.
“What do you guys know about the murder? Were you first on the scene?”
“Yeah, we were there first. It was pretty gruesome. We are almost there.”
“Any ideas of who might have done it?”
“None.” Both cops paled when he asked about the body. The two cops seemed new to discovering the depths of human depravity. Konan changed the subject.
“Is Lilly on scene now?”
“Yeah. She is on scene. Most of the detectives thought they could handle it without involving you. Lilly wouldn’t hear it though.”
The driver brought the car to a halt next to a warehouse that stood next to a railcar depot. “What a horrible place to die.” Buildings were in ruin; the old rail cars rusted beyond use. Hobos stood next to burn barrels; their clothes were in as poor condition as the railcars.
In the distance, Lilly stood outside of the ticker tape and watched her people secure the scene. Konan walked up and stood next to her.
In the nine years that Konan had been off the force, Lilly had not changed. Her hair was the same length, had the same curls, and she had not gained a single pound from the look of things. Lilly gazed at Thermopolis from the corner of her green eyes and lifted her chin in greeting.
“Thermopolis Konan, you haven’t changed a bit. Were you gentle with my officers? They’re green. This is their first murder.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Hello to you too, Lilly. Why am I here?”
“You remember our last case together, right?”
“We didn’t solve my last case. The city council fired me before we could solve it.”
“They fired you because you cold-cocked your superior.”
“Yeah. She had it coming though.”
Lilly’s mouth twisted into a grin, and she chuckled. Konan’s face remained bland of emotion.
“Well, I suppose we all have it coming.”
Thermopolis nodded. Lilly lifted the ticker tape and beckoned for him to follow her into the warehouse. He ducked under the ticker tape.
“Come on, Konan. I need you to look at the victim. It’s been a while; you want a facemask?”
In the back of the warehouse, where there were no windows, and the shadows were the longest, sat the victim. The killer had nailed her to the floor. Long cuts were on the victim’s face, the body naked. Konan pushed his nose into the sleeve of his shirt.
“Dear holy God…”
Lilly looked at Konan and nodded.
“Yeah, she is young.”
“According to her school ID she turned fifteen last month.”
“Jesus. Where did she go to school?”
“She attended Fredericksburg High. According to the school ID, she was a freshman.”
The Medical Examiner came up to Lilly and pulled down her mask. Ashley Wilkinson nodded to Konan and averted her eyes. He returned her nod.
“This is a horrific crime, Lilly.”
“Okay,” Ashley said, as she pulled off her gloves. “First off, the perpetrators raped her brutally. There is swelling in the vaginal tissue and lacerations. There was semen deposited, and we took a sample. The cuts didn’t kill her. She was alive when the nails got drove in. From what I could tell, she was conscious.”
“Poor girl. How soon before we know who raped her?”
“It was multiple assailants. There were two samples. I should have said that to begin with. Sorry. I have a fifteen-year-old daughter myself. Um, I will put a rush order into the lab. Two or three days maximum.”
“Okay, thanks Ashley. Let me know when you have the results in.”
Konan and Lilly watched the medical team place the body in the back of the ambulance. Ashley loaded into the back with it. They watched the ambulance disappear from view.
“What do you think, Thermopolis?”
“I don’t miss it.”
“I meant about the case.”
“The only similarity that they share is that the killer nailed the victim to the floor. Other than that, it’s two different cases.”
“Maybe the modus operandi changed. It has been years since the last victim. Did the killer get bored, or perhaps it’s a copycat?”
“Who knows with these sickos?”
“I want you to consult with my lead detectives. We would appreciate any help you could give us.”
‘I’m sorry, Lilly. I can’t do that. Your lead detectives would not appreciate my involvement.”
“I’m not asking, Konan. I need you working this case. Leave the past where it belongs. You’re a cop, whether you hold a badge now. The town needs this psycho caught.”
“I can’t, Lilly. I’m sorry.”
Lilly watched as Konan walked toward the car that brought him to the scene. She nodded to the officer when he looked her way, as if to ask permission to take Konan home. She nodded and went back to the body.
At home, Konan tried to get the young girl’s face out of his mind, but he failed to do so. He sat in his maroon recliner and leaned back. He turned his television on and tuned in to Tom and Jerry. It wasn’t long before he was sound asleep.
At 0330 in the morning, a knock came from his front door. Konan cracked his eyes open and reached for his sidearm. Quietly, he sneaked to the front door and peeped out. Two patrol officers stood on the porch.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“Lilly Thompson requested your presence.”
“What now? Jesus, y’all need to take a hint.”
“There has been another murder, sir. This time it’s a cop.”
“Look, I told Lilly….”
“Sir, we need to go right now.”
Konan shoved the door open and stormed out onto the porch. “Listen…”
“Sir, it’s LT. Daniels.” Konan stopped talking.
“Let me get dressed.”
Konan threw on jeans, his boots, and a T-shirt. Then he shoved his keys into his pocket and walked out. He slid into the back seat of the vehicle.
“Who is LT. Daniels?” The officer started the car, checked his mirrors and shrugged.
“She was Lilly’s partner, um, after…”
“After, I got canned.”
They rode in silence until they reached the warehouse portion of town where the cops had discovered the last body. Like the previous victim, Daniels was naked. Ashley Wilkinson knelt beside the body. Long cuts scarred her face. Konan blinked back his tears and shook his head.
“Ashley, was she raped?”
“Thank God,” Konan whispered.
Carved into Daniel’s chest was the word “PIG.” In the same vein as the other body, the killer nailed her to the floor. Konan stood and walked out the door. He wanted to rage, to hit something or someone, instead he looked into the window of the patrol car and stared at his image until he calmed down.
Lilly walked to where Konan stood. She put her hand on his shoulder. Konan turned and looked at her.
“I worried about you, Lilly. I’m sorry you lost your partner.”
“Me too. Daniels wasn’t the brightest tool in the shed, but she did her job. She didn’t deserve to die in this manner.”
“Why am I here, Lilly?”
“There was a note stapled to her chest. It’s addressed to you.”
She handed him the evidence bag, and inside it was the note. In black ink on an old piece of parchment, the killer had written: “Hello, Thermopolis. Let’s see you ignore this.”
Konan’s breath caught in his throat. He struggled to breathe. Lilly waited for him to gain his composure.
“Chief Janko would like a word with you before you return home.”
“I don’t know. I was told to pass on the message.”
“Fine. Can you spare an officer to take me there?”
“I’ll take you.”
She flagged over an officer and told him to take charge of the scene. Twenty minutes later, Konan walked into the building. Mayor Tim Smith had his office on the fourth floor of the Municipal Building. Konan took the stairs.
A wooden door with gold letters announced he had made it to the Mayor’s office. Konan pushed the door open and walked into the foyer. A secretary sat behind a glassed-in portion of the room and looked up.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I am Thermopolis Konan. I am expected.”
She nodded and walked around to the door. She motioned for him to follow. At the inner door, she pushed the intercom. A deep voice came across the speaker.
“Mayor Smith, Thermopolis Konan is here per your request.”
“Send him in.”
She pushed the door open, and Konan walked in. Mayor Smith sat behind an antique desk. Chief Janko sat in a chair beside it.
“Have a seat, Konan.”
Konan nodded and sat in a plush chair. It was apparent to Konan that the mayor had spared no expense in outfitting his office. Chief Janko said nothing. He sat in silence while Konan sat down.
“Do you know why we summoned you here?” Konan shook his head no. “You’re here because we need your help.”
“I am no longer a cop, Mayor Smith.”
“Chief Janko and his department are more than capable of solving this, sir. There’s no reason for me to be involved.”
“I’ve already told him that, Konan.” Janko crossed his arms and continued. “He wants you to consult with us on this case.”
“Lilly wanted me to consult, and I turned her down.”
“Yeah, I know. Now, we have two bodies, one of which is a cop,” Janko responded. Konan bit down on his lip to keep from responding in anger. It didn’t work.
“Don’t lay that on my doorstep, hoss.”
Mayor Smith slammed his hands down on his desk and leapt to his feet.
“Both of you shut up. You have no choice, Konan. You either help or you can sit in jail until this case gets resolved. Janko, I expect Konan to be treated with the utmost respect by you and the department. Do you understand me?”
Janko nodded his head yes, but Konan was not through.
“Put me in jail, I don’t care. They retired me nine years ago. I don’t play this political nonsense.”
“So, you don’t care if we catch this killer? Some cop you are, Thermopolis,” Janko sneered. Konan leapt to his feet and grabbed Janko by the throat.
“I busted your buddy Tia in the mouth at the Christmas party, didn’t I? I’ve done more for this stupid town than they’ll ever know. Don’t throw this crap in my face, Janko.”
Janko snarled like an angry wolf. Spittle formed in the corner of his mouth. “He looks like a rabid dog.” Konan let him go.
“You’re not worth the jail time, Janko. Your city council fired me. Who do you think I am, Sherlock Holmes? I don’t consult on cases.”
“The police will give you a car for transportation. You will receive a daily stipend of 150 dollars per day, and you can fill up at the fuel depot. Now that I have properly motivated you, I suggest you get the case notes and do your job.”
“Understood, Mayor Smith.”
Janko rubbed his throat and glared at the former detective. Konan flicked his hand down his shirt and met his eyes.
“I will see you soon, Thermopolis.”
“Whatever, Janko. I’ll catch ya later.”
The police station was only a few blocks away, so Konan walked to it. The fresh air did him some good. His anger had cooled to a small inferno by the time he arrived.
Detectives Tomas and Wiggins waited for him in the records cage. Tomas was a large built man. He was an older man and shaped like a burrito. Wiggins was a tall, thin man with a permanently broken nose. He wheezed every time he took a breath. Tomas gestured at Wiggins and himself and muttered, “Wiggins and Tomas, we were told to bring you up to speed.”
“Here are the notes that we’ve compiled so far concerning the two murders. Chief Janko doesn’t want you to pollute the environment, so he put you down here in Records.”
“How nice of him.”
“Did you expect him to roll out the welcome carpet? We all heard you grabbed him by the throat in front of the mayor.”
“Alright. I better get on with it.”
“If you need anything, you can reach us at Extension 32.”
Tomas and Wiggins turned and walked out of the cage. A singular light bulb hung from the ceiling. It burned dimly. Konan moved a chair under the bulb and looked over the notes. “Nailed to the floor, fifteen years old, long lacerations on face.” The results from the lab concerning the samples pulled from the young girl would not be in for another day, at least. Konan checked anyway.
Ashley Wilkinson met him in the hallway. “Hey, Konan. I have some news.” Konan nodded and waved her over to an empty bench.
“What do you have, Ashley?”
“DNA came back off the samples that I took from the first victim.”
“Who did it belong to?”
Ashley handed him the two sheets of paper. “Joe Waterson and Billy Crump,” Ashley said. Her eyes bored holes in the floor.
“Thanks, Ashley. Anything from Daniels, yet?”
“No,” Ashley replied softly. “She is up next. I can’t believe someone killed her. She was a sweetheart. Some people would say naïve, but she had an innocence about her. Like, she only saw the good in people. ”
“I’m sorry she’s gone.”
“She talked about you, you know.” Konan looked at Ashley and studied her face. He didn’t remember Daniels, but must have crossed with her at some point.
“Yeah. She didn’t think it was fair what happened to you.”
Konan chuckled. “Did she know why they fired me?”
“Some. She said you had a strong sense of justice, and that you thought the ends justified the means. The rumor was that you punched Tia Mathers in the throat and then kicked the crap out of her.”
“Yeah, but Tia…”
“Had it coming? Everyone else thought she deserved it too.”
“It’s ancient history, Ashley.”
“Tia Mathers revealed case details to a journalist, right? That’s what got you heated, right?”
“Yeah. She told them our case was thin, and then the killer skated. He killed three people within 24 hours. “
“Yeah, but you killed him.”
“I defended myself.”
“Yeah, by killing him.”
“I didn’t have a choice, Ashley. It was me or him, and I decided my life was more valuable.”
“I will let you know what else I find.”
Thermopolis made his way to Wiggins and Tomas. Janko glared at him when he entered the room. Konan ignored him.
“Can you guys run these two names?”
Wiggins took the paper and typed in the names. “Well,’ he wheezed, Waterson is a two-bit wannabe. He knocked over a laundry and a couple of 7/11’s. Billy is a cat of a different stripe. Billy Crump has ties to an underground network of criminals. He is a white supremacist, and he has done time for rape. “
“Okay. Can you guys go pick him up, along with Waterson?”
“Sure thing. You want to ride along?”
“Nah, I better not. Let me know when you start back this way.”
Konan watched Tomas and Wiggins head out, then turned and gave Janko a small wave. Janko flipped him off. Thermopolis grinned and walked back down to records. He stopped by a white board and pored over the menus of different restaurants in the area. Konan chose a Korean restaurant and ordered Kimchi.
Thirty minutes later, he walked into Records munching on a Spring Roll. The telephone was ringing. Konan picked up the receiver.
“Yeah,” he said around a mouthful of spring roll.
“Both perps are in Interrogation Rooms #2 and 3, if you would like to observe.”
Konan tossed his lunch onto the dusty desk and ran to the elevator at the end of the hall. He pressed the button and ascended to the main floor.
Joe Waterson was in Room #2. He had thin greasy hair and a scraggly mustache that turned down into the corners of his mouth. His clothes were filthy, so were his fingernails. Tomas sat across from him.
“You know what happens to kiddy rapists in the joint, Waterson?”
“I didn’t rape nobody.”
Tomas put a picture in front of Waterson. “You see this kid, Waterson? We found your deposit in her. She was fifteen years old, and that my friend is rape. Even if she agreed to have sex, she wasn’t old enough to consent to it.“
“I ain’t touched her.”
“No, you did a lot more than touch. You raped her. You and your bud, Billy.”
Waterson clammed up. Tomas leaned back in his chair. “Tell me what happened, Joe.”
“Okay, kiddy rapist. Sit here until you die. I am sure your pal is smarter than you. I bet he is singing like a canary.”
“Naw, he ain’t. He hates cops.”
Waterson leaned back against his chair and smiled. Tomas resisted the urge to choke him right in front of the video cameras. In Room 3, Billy sat calmly. He uttered not a word.
Wiggins stared at him and Billy stared back. Janko stood behind the glass and watched as the two matched wills. Janko walked to room 2 and stood next to Konan.
“You have a minute, Thermopolis?”
“Ain’t got nothin’ but time, Chief.”
“Got a hard nut in Room 3. I want you to take a run at him.”
“I’m just here to consult.”
“Just do it. You know how to get through to these punks. We don’t have all day to wait for them to lawyer up.”
“Fine, but you clear the air with your detectives.”
Thermopolis walked into Room 3 and gave Wiggins a nod. Janko tapped on the glass and Wiggins got up and left. Thermopolis stood over Billy and smiled.
“How do you know the victim?”
Billy smiled. “I don’t speak English.”
Thermopolis smiled back and punched him square in the nose. Billy grunted and Konan grabbed him by the nose and twisted. Billy squealed like a wounded hog. Wiggins started for the door, but Janko stopped him.
“Listen, Billy. I asked you how you knew the victim. Don’t make me ask you again. A little girl is dead, and I think you killed her.”
“Her mom, Daisy. I knew her through her mother.”
Konan twisted the wounded snout again, and Billy cried out in pain. “See, that wasn’t hard. Let’s try this again. Did you rape the girl?”
“It ain’t rape. Daisy, Joe and I had an arrangement.”
“Oh. What kind of arrangement?”
“That little slut got pregnant at 12. Daisy made her get an abortion. She caught Joe and me tussling with her daughter at Circled T on Highway 12. She said since she had raised a whore, we could have our way with her anytime we wanted.”
“Daisy pimped out her fifteen-year-old daughter? To you two clowns? Why? Was the reflection staring back from the mirror hitting too close to home?”
“Daisy ain’t no pimp. She figured the girl had ruined her life already. Daisy cut her loose.”
“So, you and Joe saw the girl nailed to the floor and decided on one last ride?”
“No, man. We ain’t seen her since Tuesday. We had our fun and then she left. That’s it.”
“Where di you last see her?”
“We would meet up at the abandoned truck stop off Highway 11. She took care of us and left.”
Konan let go of Billy’s nose. Billy clutched it gingerly.
“What you and Joe did was rape. It is worse because her own mother allowed you two idiots to paw her own flesh and blood.“
Behind the glass, Janko sent Wiggins to fetch Tomas and sent them to bring in Daisy. Inside Room 3 Billy pressed his hand against his broken nose, and Konan thought about what he had been told.
“Alright, Billy. I am going to pay a visit to your friend, Joe. Let’s see if he tells me the same story. Be back soon.”
“You ain’t supposed to hit a suspect, pig.”
Konan stood and slapped Billy in the face with his open palm. In the tiny room, it sounded like a gunshot across open water.
“I ain’t a cop, Billy. Just a guy asking you a few questions about the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl.”
Then he walked out of room #3. Waterson was waiting for him. When Konan walked into the room, Waterson sat up straight.
“What happened to Billy?”
“He played tough. I broke his nose and tried to twist it off.”
“You have something you want to tell me?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t rape. We had an arrangement with Daisy.”
Konan sat in a chair across from Waterson and listened as he outlined what Billy had told him. It took all of five minutes for Waterson to tell it all.
“Thanks,” Konan as he stood to leave.
“Her name was Amber,” Waterson said. “I loved her.”
“You’re 36 years old, Waterson. You and Billy took advantage of her. Love had nothing to do with it.”
Daisy Louise Wainwright, 38, mother of 15-year-old Amber Wainwright, sauntered into the police station between Tomas and Wiggins. She wore Hello Kitty pajamas, and a cigarette hung out of the corner of her mouth. Daisy’s eyes were narrow slits, and she appeared to not have rested at any point in the last century. Tomas led her to a chair next to his desk. Wiggins waved Konan over.
“Konan, this is Daisy. She is in the finals for Mother of the Year,” he wheezed. Tomas nodded and sat down. Daisy scowled at Wiggins and Konan.
“Screw you pigs,” Daisy snarled.
“As Wiggins said, she is in the running for Mother of the Year. She is also a full-time street walker and goes by: Josey, Tina, and Bae-Bae.”
“Oh, y’all got jokes. All of you must be in the running for Comedian of the Year.”
Tomas glared at Daisy. Konan stepped in front of her and made eye contact. Her fierce gaze met Konan’s eyes.
“Hey, Daisy. I am Konan. Did you have a daughter named Amber?”
“What do you mean, did?”
“I mean Amber Wainwright, 15, has taken up residence in the morgue. Now, is she your daughter or not?” Tears rushed out of Daisy’s eyes and streamed down her cheeks. “I have a daughter that is 15. Her name is Amber. I want to see her.”
“Do you know two clowns named Joe Waterson and Billy Crump?”
“I WANT TO SEE MY DAUGHTER!”
“Answer my question first. Do you know them?”
“Yes! Take me to my daughter.”
Wiggins took Daisy by the arm and led her to the morgue. Tomas and Konan followed behind. “When she identifies the daughter, take her out and put her in a cell.” Tomas nodded.
Ashley Wilkinson pulled the sheet back and revealed the face. Daisy fell to her knees and sobbed. Wiggins turned to the window and shrugged.
“My baby! Oh my baby,” Daisy screamed. Wiggins helped her from the floor, Daisy pushed her face into his thin shoulders.
“Go help him, Tomas. Let me know when you get her situated.”
An hour later, Tomas entered the records cage. He seemed worn out, if not a bit frazzled. He ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair and sat on a box of records that was piled on the floor.
“We had to get a doctor called in to sedate her. She’s passed out in her cell. Doc said she would sleep most of the night.”
“Mm-hmm,” Konan muttered. Tomas looked at him and shook his head. To Tomas, Konan showed little emotion or sympathy for the victim or her family.
“Do you think Waterson or Crump killed the girl?”
“No. Their records show that they have a tendency for violence and rape, but the killer of Amber Wainwright and Lilly is smart. They quit killing for almost a decade and started back with a different M.O. The killer is intelligent. Waterson and Crump don’t fit in that category.”
Tomas nodded. “Do you have any suspects?”
“No. I planned to take my original case notes home, but I can’t find them anywhere in here. We should know something soon about Daniels.”
“I hope. Everyone liked her. You must have been her hero. She said you had a nose like a bloodhound for murder. I am glad you agreed to consult with us.”
“They didn’t give me much choice, Tomas. I appreciate the sentiment though.”
“Did you really punch Tia Mathers in the throat at the Christmas party?”
“Do you suspect the killer is a male, or is it one of those rare female killer types?”
“I don’t know. I suppose we will see.”
“Yeah. Well, I will let you get back to it.”
“Tell the guards to put Daisy on suicide watch. She is going to be livid when she comes to.”
“Yeah, I will tell them.”
Konan made one more pass through the cage in search of his old notes. “Where did they wander off to?” The file from his last case was nowhere to be found. Konan walked down the hall to the office of the IT guy, Ashton Fulton. He hadn’t left for the day. Konan knocked on the door and walked in. Ashton stood behind the counter, shutting down lights.
“Well, open back up because I have questions.”
“They can wait until tomorrow.”
Konan gripped his shoulder and spun him around. Fulton put his hands up and backed away.
“A 15-year-old girl is dead, and I have another murder that is possibly connected to it. Your PlayStation can wait.”
“Okay, okay. What do you want?”
“Run a search for Case File #3695.”
“You can run a-“
Konan flipped out his knife and stared into Ashton’s eyes. Ashton typed in the case file number, while Konan cleaned his fingernails with the knife while he waited.
“There is no file #3695.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.”
“You knew there wasn’t a case file.”
“Yeah, I searched for it before I came down here. There used to be a file, but now it has vanished into the abyss of cyberspace.”
“You mean someone deleted it.”
“That’s what I mean, yes.”
“Okay, can I go home now?”
“Sure, if you will do me one last favor.”
“Sure, whatever man.”
“I want you to run a recovery of the hard drive. I want everything from the past decade that got deleted from the hard drive.”
“That could take a while.”
“Then, you better get started.”
Without another word, Konan walked out of the IT shop and went home. It was time to think. “Someone erased the file. They nailed two victims to the floor. There are too many threads and no answers.”
At home, Konan hung up pictures of Amber and Lilly. It sickened him to look at the victims. Still, he studied the photos for something that he had missed.
“I was out of the game for nine years, but here I am again. My investigative senses aren’t as sharp as they once were.” He brought out his magnifying glass and studied the long cuts on both women’s faces. Every cut was deep into the flesh. The cuts were smooth, not as if a saw or serrated blade had done it. Konan could make tiny pieces of bone in the cheeks.
Both victims’ eyes were wide from shock. Amber and Lilly both had bruising on their faces. The only exception in the victims was Waterson and Crump raped Amber. “I need to know the type of knife used. Maybe it will give me a clue about the killer.” Konan dialed Ashley Wilkinson.
“Hello,” Ashley answered groggily.
“Hey, it’s Konan. Sorry for calling so late. I need to ask you something.”
“Do you know a blade expert? I need to know what kind of knife the killer used.”
“No, but you can ask my grandfather. He is a connoisseur of bladed weaponry.”
“Okay, where can I find him?”
“You can’t. Pawpaw is usually out of the house. I will shoot him a text and ask him to meet you tomorrow.”
“Okay. Thanks for your help.”
The night passed quickly, and Konan got little sleep. He was out of bed and dressed at 0530. He walked into the cage and switched on the light at 0624. Something bothered him about the cuts. There was little blood photographed in the images. “As deep as the cuts are, there should be some blood. There is little blood directly in the face. It’s like the killer wanted to erase the beauty of the victim. Who would do such a thing?”
The elevator doors opened a few minutes after seven. A soft ding resounded down the hallway. Heavy footsteps drew closer to the records cage, and Konan looked up. An old man with a long grey beard stood in the doorway.
“Howdy, son. I’m looking for a Thermos.”
Konan grinned and waved him in. “Are you Ashley’s grandfather?”
“I am. She said a Thermo-something another needed my help about a knife or something.”
“Well, I am your Thermos. I am Thermopolis Konan. I asked for your help.”
“That’s it. Ther-moplis.”
“You can call me Konan.”
“Thank you, son. I ain’t good with names. Now what’s this about a knife?”
Konan laid out the photos on his desk and handed Jim Wilkinson a magnifying glass. Jim stepped back.
“Those poor girls. Who would do such a thing?”
“That’s what I am trying to figure out. Do you recognize the wound?”
Jim leaned over the photo and looked again. “I can’t say for certain, but I think the killer used a fleshing knife.”
“A what knife?”
“A fleshing knife. Taxidermists use it for skinning animals and other taxidermy work.”
“Where would you find a knife like that?”
“Any sporting goods store, Walmart, or Amazon. They are fairly common.”
Konan let out a heavy sigh. “Of course they are. So much for identifying suspects by that method.”
“Sorry, son. I was hoping I could help you.”
“No, sir. I appreciate you coming in. You have been a great help. I just don’t know how the puzzle piece fits in yet.”
“I hope you catch ‘em, son. Make ‘em pay for what they did to those girls.”
“I will try.”
“Don’t try, son. The world has enough evil in it without men doing this type of thing to young women.”
Konan walked him to the elevator and went back to the cage.
He began an internet search on fleshing knives and their uses. Konan emptied his mind of anything not related to his case and the many threads that required searching. His search was going nowhere, so he called a local sporting goods store.
“Big Tony’s Sporting Goods, how can I help you?”
“Hi. Do you guys carry fleshing knives?”
“Great. what time do you close?”
Following the phone call to Big Tony’s Sporting Goods, Konan checked with Walmart and local pawn shops. They all carried fleshing knives. Disgruntled with his search, he went out to the main square and got some fresh air.
He walked through the square and took a seat on an empty bench. Konan watched as people went about their daily lives, unaware of his presence. “They’re gullible like sheep. So unaware, so killable.” A sharp buzz brought him out of his trance. It was his phone. While he drifted through his thoughts, he had received a message.
“Hello, Konan. Let’s play a game.” The message was from an unknown number. He would try to have Ashton crack it when he returned. Konan typed out a response and pressed send. It wouldn’t send.
Konan glanced around the town square. No one seemed out of place. People looked at their phones, or hustled to a second or third job. Nothing was out of place. His phone buzzed again.
“God, you are so dull. What happened to the sharp investigative mind you once possessed?”
Konan got up from the bench and started for the police department. He hurried back, taking the shortest way possible. His phone buzzed again.
“Do you need help with the case? Should I give you a hint?” Konan’s mind was abuzz with questions but no answers. The killer’s texts made the murders personal, as if the killer held a grudge against Konan. It was a mistake to make things personal. Surely the killer knew this. Still, Konan could not get his head around what was going on. His phone buzzed again.
“Come on, Konan. Think! Is there a connection that you don’t know about?” Konan stepped into the lobby and stopped. Connections. What are the connections? He walked to Wiggins and Tomas.
“Dig up every case that is like our current case. I don’t care how trivial it seems. Let me know when you have them.”
“Why,” Wiggins wheezed.
“The killer has made it personal. I have messages and a hint from them. Let’s get to work.”
Konan took the elevator to the basement. He hurried to the IT department; Ashton sat behind the counter.
“How’s it going with the recovery of the hard drive?”
“It’s 18% complete.”
“I received some messages today from an unknown number. Can you crack it and tell me who sent it?”
“Let me see it.”
Ashton put the phone down on the counter without looking at it. Konan fought off the urge to punch the acne ridden kid in the face. Repeatedly. With a hammer.
“You didn’t even look at it!”
“It’s an unknown number and if it is your bad guy, they used a burner phone.”
“You could have said that without the freaking show.”
“See ya later, Konan.”
Thermopolis scooped up the phone and stormed out. He went to the cage and began pulling out files. Stacks of boxes, row upon row, held unsolved murders from every decade since the founding of Fredericksburg. Wiggins and Tomas entered the cage. They began helping him cross reference the murders that had similarities with the new murders. The hours passed in silence.
“Tomas, did Daisy wake up?”
“Oh yeah. She wasn’t happy.”
“Did you forget how to use a phone?”
“Uh, no. Sorry, I forgot to call you.”
“Okay. Did she have anything to say about who may have murdered her daughter?”
“Um, I don’t think anyone questioned her, Konan.”
“Why not? Does no one think she might have an idea who would kill her child? What is going on here?”
“Stay here. I’ll interview her. At least then, we will know for certain.”
Konan left Tomas and Wiggins going through the cold cases, searching for links to their investigation. He walked to the elevator and took the lift to the holding cells.
The doors opened, and Konan stepped off the lift. Down the hall, he could hear Daisy screaming. Police officers stood next to the holding cage, watching. Konan walked up and tapped the desk sergeant on the shoulder.
“Take her to one of the interview rooms. I’ll be along in a moment.”
Daisy continued to scream. The desk sergeant and two other officers entered the cage. Konan walked to the coffeepot and poured him a cup. Daisy’s screaming died down as the three officers led her to an empty room.
Konan started down the hall and met the three officers on their way back. The desk sergeant held up three fingers. Konan nodded and said, thanks.
He walked into the room and shut the door. Daisy looked at him and wiped at her tears. Konan sat across from her and sipped his coffee.
“You want something to drink, Daisy?”
Konan walked to the door and stuck his head out. A few moments later, a rookie patrol officer brought in a cup of black coffee. Daisy sipped it, Konan watched her. Once she had drained the contents of her cup, Konan leaned forward, closing the gap between them.
“Daisy, who would want to kill your daughter? Do you know of anyone who would want to hurt her to get to you?”
“Daisy, someone came by after Waterson and Crump had their way with Amber. This guy didn’t rape her. He nailed her to the floor and gave her some fresh scars.”
“Oh God,” Daisy sobbed. “My baby…”
“Are you sure you don’t know of anyone who would hurt Amber.”
“Okay. If you think of anything, let us know.”
Konan stuck his head out in the hallway and waved down an officer. She escorted Daisy back to the holding cells. Daisy sobbed and called on Almighty God for mercy. “How horrible it must be to know that your daughter is dead, and you might have played a role in it.”
He walked down the hall to the elevator and boarded the lift. Konan pressed the button for the sub-basement and leaned back against the wall. “I hope Tomas and Wiggins found other cases that linked with ours. Maybe we can get a picture of who this killer is.”
Tomas and Wiggins were on the last box when Konan walked in. They had found 19 files with similarities to their case. Wiggins and Tomas leaned back and sighed.
“Dang, man. You guys got on it. How many files are there?”
“19,” Wiggins wheezed.
“You two take six files a piece. Lilly and I will take the other seven. If anything stands out to you, I want to know.”
Tomas and Wiggins nodded. They grabbed their files and left. Konan had just cracked his first file when the phone rang.
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“This is Mayor Smith. I thought I would check in and see how the investigation is going.”
“We are pursuing a few leads. At the moment we have nothing solid, sir.”
“You’re going to have to do better. If more murders occur, the entire town will panic.”
“Yes, sir. We know. We are working on it.”
Mayor Smith slammed down the landline and Konan grimaced. “It’s hard enough to solve a murder without a politician breathing down your neck.”
Freaking politicians. It would be different if they brought something to the table other than their complaints and demands, but that was seldom the case. Konan put the phone down and stepped back from everything. His mind twirled with doubts. Facts were few, and the killer relentless. “He has tormented me every step of this case!”
Konan looked through the first case file. The victim, another woman, had long cuts in her face, but it appeared less practiced than the cuts on Amber and Lilly.
“This could be one of his first victims. Or maybe he changed tools.” He sat the case aside and pulled out another. A knock sounded from the door. He looked up; Ashton stood in the doorway.
“Whatcha got, IT?”
“I have,” Ashton flashed a two-inch thick file in front of him, “every deleted email and file from the mainframe.”
“Thanks man. I appreciate your help.”
“You didn’t ask for help. You demanded it.”
“I see. Let me ask you something, Ashton.”
“Knock yourself out, slugger.”
“If it was your wife, daughter or sister lying there on a slab, would you mind if we sat it to the side and investigated only when we had time?”
Ashton shook his head. “You misunderstood…”
“No, I didn’t. You have a job to do, and it is an important part of our investigations. If you don’t like being held up or working late, do us all a favor and quit.”
Ashton sat the file down on a stack of files by the door and walked out. “This dude’s a punk. He doesn’t even work here anymore.”
Konan picked up the file and locked up the Records cage. He took the elevator to the main floor. Chief Janko waved him to his office. Konan nodded to Wiggins and Tomas and closed the door behind him. Janko motioned to the chair, Konan sat down.
“The Mayor called,” Janko said.
“Yeah, I spoke to him.”
“He’s not happy.”
“And? He doesn’t strike me as the model for the jovial type.”
“He claimed that the people of Fredericksburg have lost faith in the police. What do you think?”
“About the murder, Konan.”
“I think I found the first victim. I have to do more studying, but I think I found where it all began.”
“Well, that’s something at least.”
“Yeah. This whole thing is personal. Or at least that’s what I think.”
“He’s fixated on you.”
“Yeah. He has kept referring to the crimes as a game. It’s my belief that he is an intellectual, and he wants to be challenged.”
“Why does he go after women?”
“That’s the question, isn’t it? He may like women, but had an unpleasant experience that warped his perspective. Or maybe he hates them. I don’t know yet.”
Janko’s lips tightened into a fierce smile. “That is paper thin, Konan. We need something solid. What’s in that file?”
“Every deleted file and email from the mainframe.”
“Do you think the killer is a cop?”
“Maybe. It would explain certain things, such as why the killer disappeared for a decade and suddenly reappeared.”
“Jesus. So, you’re taking it home to do some light reading.”
“Something like that.”
“Okay.” Janko had a few follow-up questions. Konan answered them as succinctly as he could. The goal was to provide information but not reveal everything at once. Konan departed when the phone rang. He exited the building and walked to the nearest bus stop.
Konan caught a bus and sat in the back row. He didn’t want to go home straight away. The bus allowed him to ride and think. He opened the file and read. Most of the deleted files and emails were unimportant memos, memes and other garbage. However, one thing stood out to Konan. It was an email from Mayor Smith to Tomas.
“I don’t care what you must do to secure this verdict. You do what is necessary. Don’t worry about repercussions. I have always taken care of you. Remember, you owe me.”
Konan got off the bus near the main square and walked to the nearest pay phone. Yes, a few pay phones were still in existence, and Konan preferred the old ways to the new-fangled way of doing things. He dialed Tomas’s cell.
“Tomas, it’s Konan.”
“Hey, what’s up.”
“Can you meet me at Mary’s Pub? I am half-starved, and I want to run something by you.”
“Sure. Give me fifteen and I will be there.”
Konan walked to Mary’s and took a seat in the back corner of the room. He told the hostess that someone would join him. She nodded and said she would bring them to the table when his friend arrived.
Twenty minutes later, Tomas walked into the pub. He smiled at the hostess, and she smiled back. She and Tomas walked to the table. After placing their orders, Tomas waited for Konan to open up.
Konan called Lilly before he had called Lilly. He explained to her what he found. She told Konan that she would check with Janko to see if he knew the mayor used his officers in ways that besmirched his department.
“I have something I want to ask you, Tomas.”
“Does Mayor Smith get involved with many cases?”
“What do you mean?”
Konan sipped his water and paused for a moment. He pulled out the email and showed it to Tomas.
“I mean, does he often tell you to violate your oath? How often does this type of behavior occur?”
“Now hold on, Konan. You don’t understand what that was about.”
“I’m listening. Explain it to me.”
“From jump street, that case was grave. We knew it was this guy, and we couldn’t find the first piece of evidence to convict him. He was hurting kids, Konan.”
“So, you manufactured evidence and framed him.”
“You don’t understand, man. He was hurting girls no older than six. He was….” Tomas trailed off and Konan watched him. “I have a six-year-old daughter, Konan. I just wanted her to be safe.”
“I get it. Nobody is going to raise a stink about a baby-raping pedophile. Did the glue stick?”
“Yeah. There was enough evidence to convict him.”
“Did the crimes stop?”
“Mayor Smith never interjected himself into another investigation?”
“That cat is weird, man. It was like he got off on setting this fool up, but no, he never got involved again.”
“Has Mayor Smith tried to apply any pressure to you on this case? If so, I want to know about it. You best not forget. Do you understand?”
“He hasn’t applied pressure. I understand, Konan.”
Thermopolis finished his glass of water and asked for a carry out box. The server disappeared into the back. Tomas shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He licked his lips and wiped his hands on his grey slacks.
“Konan, I’ m-”
Konan stopped him from speaking by holding up his hand. He stared at Tomas for a long moment. The silence that grew between the two was awkward.
“You do not get to apologize, Tomas. I’m not a father. Any chance I may have had to step into that role has vanished from my life. There is only the case. If Smith has asked you to manufacture evidence or frame a suspect, I better be the first person to know.”
“Yes, sir. You will be.”
The waitress appeared with the container. Konan boxed up his meal and stood. “Enjoy your meal, Tomas. It’s on me this time.”
Konan tossed a 20 on the table as a tip and walked out of the restaurant. He boarded a bus and leaned back against the seat. “
“Who is killing these folks? There is minimal evidence left at the scenes. That screams intelligence, or knowledge of investigative techniques. Is it a cop?”
Konan got off the bus one stop from his usual drop off. He started for his house. Few lights stood along the path to his stoop. The quiet night air was humid, it hung about Konan like a wet blanket. This case caused him to fret. He had never been afraid to face human depravity, but this was something different.
He arrived at his door, deep in thought. An envelope jutted out from the door frame. Konan unlocked his door and went in. He flicked on his light and realized who the letter was from. It was from Doctor Judith Waters, his psychologist of many years.
He opened the letter. She had written it on old parchment. Judith had a fondness for antique stationery. Konan read.
“It has been some time since we last spoke. Time, like all things, passes ever quickly. I read in the paper that you had taken on a job as a consultant for the police department. Are you okay? Does this have anything to do with your last case? I worry for you. You have exhibited an unrelenting tenacity to uncover killers. It is unhealthy for you to fall back into the trap of obsession. I am here if you need a sounding board, or if you would like to renew our friendship.”
Konan sat the letter down on his desk. It had been years since he last saw Judith. Their friendship, if one could call the many ‘Netflix and chill’ hookups a friendship, had ended on a sour note. Judith wanted more out of their mini-adventures. Konan found her intellect to be frigid and unappealing. He had severed all ties with Judith over a voicemail.
This was the first time he had heard from her in eight years. Konan showered and dressed. He pulled bacon from his fridge, along with eggs, cheese, onion, bell pepper, and jalapenos. He took down one of his many Yeti mugs and made coffee. Then he constructed his omelet. Konan’s brain worked better when his stomach was full.
As he sat in his recliner and ate, he considered who would do the killings. It had to be someone who knew him or knew of him. During his time on the force, the local paper featured him on occasions. Over time, Konan developed a reputation for doing what was necessary to uphold the law, even if it meant breaking the law.
Because Konan refused to grant interviews to journalists, the ‘journalists’ crafted an image of a hard man out to right the wrongs of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Still, it had made him out to be a folk hero of sorts. “It could be someone who followed my career. It could be a doctor.”
His thoughts turned to Judith. After all the time that had passed, she still thought of him. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I should renew our friendship. Just the friendship. She is cold, calculating, and sordid, but she is a great sounding board, and provides adequate feedback. I’ll go see her tomorrow.”
Konan stretched out on his couch and turned his television on. Tom and Jerry were on. The last thing he saw was Tom plotting the destruction of Jerry as he drifted off into dreamless slumber.
Amber Wainwright haunted Konan’s sleep. In his dream, she smiled at him. He reached out his hand to save her, but she refused to accept his help. A figured clothed in darkness cut her face and drove long, rusty nails into her tiny body. Konan watched helplessly as the murderer killed her. The killer then sent a text message.
Konan came out of his sleep to the tune of his phone buzzing. Sleepily, he patted the bed to find it. He cracked one eye open and picked it up. It was Ashley Wilkinson. “Come to the lab, I have something to show you.” Konan showered, dressed and made him a cup of coffee in his favorite Yeti mug. At 0606, he boarded the bus and rode into town.
Ashley stood in the lab dressed in a black tee and a pair of khaki slacks. Her shoes were sensible, no stripper heels for her. She nodded to Konan.
“Morning, you look rough this morning,” she said. Konan sipped his coffee. He nodded.
“Yeah, I’ve been rode hard and put up wet. What do you have for me?”
Ashley smiled proudly; she placed a knife on the countertop.
“Me and Pop-pop figured out what kind of knife the killer has used.”
“What is that?”
“This is a taxidermist double-edged fleshing knife. One side is razor sharp; the other has a moderate sharpness. The razor edge is to cut through gristle and tough fur. That is the side the killer used. “
“It would explain the depth of the cuts, but look at it. It’s unwieldy. An amateur could not use this without practice.”
“No. The assumption would be that the killer has experience in using this tool.”
“Finally, we have caught a break. Thanks, Ashley. Tell Pop-pop I said thanks for the data.”
“You bet.” Konan turned toward the door but turned back around. “Hey Ashley, do you have a moment?”
“Sure,” she replied as she shrugged on her white lab coat. “What’s up?”
“Do you drink coffee?” She smiled, and Konan waited for the rejection he knew was coming.
“I do. It gives me an edge.” She wrinkled her nose and grinned. Konan felt a smile tug at his lips.
“Maybe you would like to grab one someday.”
“Sure, we could do that.” Konan nodded and smiled a small smile.
“Okay. I will let you get to it.”
Konan turned and walked out the door. Ashley watched as he walked away. “He is so cute when he is awkward.”
Konan thought about the fleshing knife. He walked into the squad room and found Tomas and Wiggins neck deep in their files. They looked up when he approached.
“You guys found anything?”
“Nothing so far,” Wiggins wheezed. Tomas shook his head no. Konan dragged a chair close to their desk and sat down.
“I received a text from Ashley this morning. She has figured out the weapon. It’s a double-edged fleshing knife. The razor-sharp edge was used to make the deep cuts on the victims’ faces. “
“Jesus,” Tomas muttered. Konan didn’t think was possible, but Wiggins grew even more pale.
“Start a search for taxidermists that have a violent past. We need to get someone in here before Mayor Smith has a meltdown, or the killer takes another victim.”
“Roger that,” Wiggins wheezed.
There were three taxidermist businesses located inside of Fredericksburg, five outside of the city limits. “Surely, one of them has a dark past. Someone has to know something about this.”
Wiggins showed up in the Records Cage after lunch. He snacked on a Snickers bar as he gave Konan the lowdown.
“Of the eight taxidermists, two have a checkered past. Adam Philter had several run-ins with the law when he was younger. He spent most of his teenaged years in a juvenile delinquent center. He is a scrapper. Adam was always in a fight somewhere.”
Konan listened and sipped some coffee. “Okay. Who is the other?”
“Brandon Watterson. He spent nine years in Parchman for assault with a deadly weapon, specifically a bladed weapon. To boot, his victim was a woman he met at a juke joint.”
“Where is he?”
“He lives way out in the woods.”
“Okay, you and Tomas pick him up. I want to talk to him. Lilly and I will go see Adam.”
“Alright. Maybe one of them is our guy.”
Lilly waited for Konan in the building’s foyer. She wore jeans, boots, and a thin, green button down. Her green eyes sparkled when she saw him.
“Hiya. Where are we headed today, partner?”
“We need to go see an Adam Philter.”
“Cool. Let’s get on the road and put an end to this psycho’s reign of terror.”
“Maybe. Tomas and Wiggins are going to visit the other one. We can hope that one of these two will fit the crime.”
Tomas and Wiggins left the station a little after 1300. It was an hour and a half before they got close to where Brandon Watterson lived. Tomas nodded out the window at the black water that pooled up on both sides of the road.
“What are those called?”
“What? The swamp?”
“Swamp. Yeah, that’s what they’re called. I heard someone call it a slough one time though.”
“Yeah,” Wiggins wheezed. “It’s the same thing.”
“You think gators are out there?”
“Probably. I would imagine there are all sorts of evil things lurking in it.”
“It’d be an evil place to die.”
“That’s why the water is so black, Tomas.” Wiggins wheezed for several moments. The humidity made it almost unbearable for him to breathe. “All my life I’ve heard that black water covers the dirty deeds done out here.”
Tomas pulled the car in front of a rickety shack. Heavy swamp moss hung from the branches of the old cedar trees. The front porch stretched in front of the shack; it was in a state of brokenness. Wiggins took point. A shop was parallel to the house. A noise came from the shop. It sounded like a grinder running over metal. They walked to it and pushed an old wooden door open. A figure leaned over a metal table; a blacked out helmet covered the face of the figure. Sparks flew in every direction as the blade cut through.
Tomas looked around. Knives of various sizes hung from rusty nails. Animal heads hung from the walls. The grinder switched off. Tomas turned his attention back to the figure. Wiggins wheezed.
“What are you doing in my shop?” A large hand lifted the mask. A pair of angry eyes stared at the two Detectives.
“I’m Detective Wiggins. This is my partner, Detective Tomas. We’re looking for Brandon Watterson.”
“Why? I ain’t done nothin’.”
“You’re a taxidermist?”
Brandon gestured at the mounted heads on the wall. “Did ‘em all myself. Killed ‘em too.”
“That’s great,” Tomas muttered.
“Look, Brandon. We need your help with something. A killer has used one of these things,” he gestured to the knives on the wall, “to kill. We need your expertise to bring them to justice.”
“What do you mean no,” Wiggins wheezed.
“I ain’t helping no cop.”
“Okay. Then you’re under arrest for suspicion of murder,” Tomas said. “Place your hands behind your back.”
“No,” Brandon growled.
Brandon Watterson stood 6’8 and weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. His weight was not fat but muscle. A long, jagged scar ran down the left side of his face as a testimony of his violent nature. He ripped off the helmet and threw it in the dirt.
Upon hearing no, Tomas and Wiggins backed up. Tomas was a solid 225. Wiggins weighed in at a buck fifty, if he wore concrete shoes. Watterson charged Tomas and swung a wild haymaker that collided with Tomas’s temple. Tomas crumpled to the ground.
“You’re next, little man.”
Wiggins dropped into a defensive position. Watterson charged him like a wild bull. He threw his arms wide to bear hug Wiggins. At the last moment, Wiggins deftly sidestepped the attack. He rabbit punched Watterson in the throat. The big man hit the ground. Wiggins took two steps and soccer-kicked him in the jaw. Watterson crumpled to the ground.
“You okay, Tomas?”
“Yeah, I guess. It felt like Thor’s hammer had hit me.”
“Well, we got him.”
“Where did you learn those moves? I always thought you were a bookworm.”
“Just because I’m a bookworm doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to defend myself.”
“Huh,” Tomas grunted.
Wiggins handcuffed Watterson, and with Tomas’s help, they got Watterson in the back of the car. After another hour and a half drive back to Fredericksburg, they placed Watterson in the interrogation room #3. Tomas informed Konan via phone and explained what happened.
Konan and Lilly stopped in front of the 14×70 mobile home the GPS declared as the residence of Adam Philter. Konan stepped from the car and answered his phone.
“We’ve got Watterson. He didn’t make it easy. Alright, we’re here at Philter’s. Be back shortly.”
“Alright, talk soon.”
Lilly waved her hand and scrunched up her nose. At the end of the mobile home sat a pen. Two hogs lay in the man made pig pen. They saturated the ground with mud and manure. Konan lifted his chin in their direction, Lilly nodded and shook her head.
“How does anyone live like this?” Konan looked at her and chuckled.
“That’s the price of self-sufficiency.”
Lilly turned to face the voice that came from their blindside. An old man limped toward them. The old man stabbed his walker into the soft ground and grunted with every step.
“It’s A-dam. But yeah, I’m him. What do you want?”
“I’m Detective Thompson, and this is my consultant Thermopolis Konan.”
The old man took a seat on the steps that led into the trailer. He moved his walker to the side.
“A detective and a consultant? To what do I owe the honor of this meeting?”
“Are you the taxidermist?”
“A long time ago, I was a taxidermist. I haven’t messed with it since my accident.”
“Do you have children, Mr. A-dam?” The old man laughed and shook his head no.
“No, I never settled down. If I had known beautiful women were cops, I might have had more luck.”
“What kind of accident did you have,” Konan asked.
“I got into a fight with two old boys over a land dispute. One of them hit me in the knee with a crowbar. The other clubbed it with a lead pipe. You don’t fight well with a broken knee.”
“Do you still have your taxidermy tools?”
“No. I got hard up for money and sold them.”
“So, you gave it up for good then?”
“Yep. Cold weather makes my knee ache, and that hinders me from doing the things I like to do.”
“Alright. Well, take care of yourself. Thanks for the help.”
“My pleasure, detective. Y’all be safe.”
Lilly and Konan watched the old man struggle into his home. The hogs grunted from their muddy domain. The pair walked back to their car and headed back to town. Lilly sighed heavily.
“Do you think the old man could commit such a crime?”
“I don’t know, Lilly. It would seem impossible, given his condition.”
“That’s what I thought, but could he fake the extent of his injury?”
“That’s possible, but his performance would have to convince everyone. I don’t see it.”
“I guess that leaves Watterson.”
“I guess so.”
The pair arrived at the police station and walked to the elevators. Janko waited for them in the foyer. He wrinkled up his nose as the two drew near.
“What’s that smell?”
“The other suspect had a hog pen. That’s what you smell.”
“Well, what did you find out, detective?”
“He’s crippled up and sold his tools. Adam Philter may have once possessed the capability, but now he’s no threat to anyone.”
Janko nodded and pressed the button. After a brief pause, the doors opened. The trio loaded into the lift. So far, their journey to identify a suspect had landed them nothing.
Konan, Tomas and Wiggins stood behind the glass and watched Watterson. Chief Janko joined them.
“Who is this monster?”
“Chief, that’s Brandon Watterson. He resisted arrest until Wiggins got ahold of him,” Tomas explained.
“Asthmatic Wiggins took down that behemoth?” Chief Janko looked at Wiggins skeptically. Wiggins grinned at the Chief’s remark. Everyone underestimated the little guy.
“Yes, sir. He did it with a rabbit-punch and a soccer kick.”
“Konan, get in there and get some answers.” Konan nodded. When he opened the door, Watterson looked up.
“Who are you?”
“I’m nobody, my mom is somebody, and my dad could be anybody,” Konan responded. Watterson glared at him. Konan sat across from him.
“You’re a pig. A dirty rotten cop.” Watterson snarled.
“Nope. Just a guy asking questions.”
“I ain’t got nothing to say to you, pig. I ain’t answering your questions.”
“Yeah, you’re going to answer my questions. Because if you don’t, I’m going to get that 150-pound ankle biter that put you to sleep and turn him loose on you.”
Behind the glass, Wiggins grinned. Tomas slapped him on the back. Janko just shook his head in disbelief. Watterson clammed up.
“How long have you been out of prison, Watterson?”
“I ain’t talking to you.”
“Come now, Watterson. When I was a boy, my dad always told me to not corner anything meaner than you are. You don’t want to get on my bad side.”
“Oh yeah? What are you going to do? Beat a suspect? Frame me? I ain’t scared.”
“You didn’t hear me, Watterson. I’m not a cop. How long have you done taxidermy work?”
“All my life.”
“How often do you go into town?”
“Rarely. Only when I need something.”
“Supplies for my work.”
“Such as new knives? Glue?”
“No. I order knives and glue online. Things such as toilet paper and sugar for my coffee.”
“Do you know Amber Wainwright?”
“Do you know Lieutenant Daniels?”
“No, should I know them?”
Konan placed the pictures of the victims in front of Watterson. He pointed at the scars.
“Do you see these wounds, Watterson? Someone used a double-edged fleshing knife to make them. Who uses those tools? Taxidermists. When the killer got done scarring these women, he nailed them to the floor.”
“You have the skill and the temperament to commit these crimes.”
“So…? Are you accusing me?”
“No. We’re just talking.”
“I ain’t killed nobody, boss. Ever. I didn’t even kill the woman who landed me in jail.”
“Why did you assault an officer?”
“His face irritated me.”
Watterson stared at the photos. He pointed at the photo. “I know her. She was a cop.”
A slow burn worked its way through Konan’s body. The veins in his neck tightened and his breathing became shallow.
“How did you know her?”
“She was one of the good ones. There wasn’t an ounce of backdown in her. I tried to intimidate her once. It backfired.”
Konan guffawed. Watterson grinned. “It doesn’t sound like you’ve had much luck running into officers.”
“Nah, man. She was looking into some murder or something. Asked me questions about taxidermy work. That was months ago though.”
“Where did you learn the trade, Watterson?”
“I learned it from this old man. He didn’t stay in one place very long, but he stayed long enough to teach me.”
“Did he have a name?”
Watterson scoffed. “Yeah, I’m sure he did. I never used it, I just called him Pop-Pop.”
“Pop-Pop?” Konan instantly thought of Ashley’s grandfather. “Describe him for me, Watterson.”
“He was an old man. You know how old men are. They always got their eye on some pretty young woman. He had white hair and a beard down to his waist. The old dude was stout looking.”
“When did you see him last?”
“Months ago. I wanted him to teach me a new technique with the fleshing knife.”
“Is Pop-Pop good with the blade?”
“Good,” Watterson snickered. “To say that he is good is an insult. The old man knows the ins-and-outs of the blade. It is like the blade is part of him.”
Konan stood and turned from Watterson. “It could be nothing, but if Ashley’s grandfather has taught more than just Watterson the skills, he may have trained the killer.”
Of course, it was possible he was the killer as well. Konan didn’t want to consider this possibility.
He walked out of the room and headed for the morgue. Ashley deserved to hear this new piece of information from him. “Plus, I need her to get him in here so we can talk.”
As he walked across the square, he considered how he could tell her without offending Ashley. It seemed to Konan that everyone he met had thin skin. It didn’t matter how much care you took; someone somewhere would end up butthurt.
The Mississippi heat and humidity soaked his clothes by the time he arrived at the morgue. When he stepped through the door, the cold air sent a chill through him.
A lone guard sat at the curved desk. He watched the monitors. Konan stepped to the desk, and the guard looked up.
“Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you?”
“Good afternoon. I need to speak to Ashley, please. My name is Konan.”
“Ah, you’re him. Ashely has told us all about you.”
“Yeah. You’re a former detective from the 117th, right?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jacob Mathers.”
“You’re Tia’s brother?”
“That’s right. You punched out my sister.”
“Of course, you are. Well….”
“No worries, hoss. There have been days when I wanted to punch her out. You can go on back.”
“Thanks.” Konan was at a loss for words, so he nodded and walked down the hall to Ashley’s office. She was neck deep in a new cadaver. She smiled at Konan when he walked in.
“Well, there he is. What brought you down here?” Konan forced a smile.
“Hey, Ashley. Could you reach out to your grandfather? I need to talk to him.”
“Sure. Is tomorrow okay?”
“Tomorrow would be great.”
“Do you want to tell me what is going on?”
“I’m not at liberty to say right now. Do you have time for that coffee?”
She held up her hands, that were covered with blood. She giggled.
“Now’s not a good time. Mrs. Johnson would go bad if I left her in this state.”
“Yeah, I gotcha. Maybe some other time.”
“I would like that.”
Konan nodded and said goodbye. He walked out to the square and sat on an empty bench. The solitude did him good. He watched as people rushed by. Tomorrow, he would have to question Ashley’s grandfather. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have some answers.”
Konan’s phone rang interrupting his thoughts. He looked at the screen. It was the mayor’s office.
“This is Mayor Smith’s clerk,” came the clipped voice. “Mayor Smith would like to see you.”
“Okay. I am on my way.”
She hung up abruptly. “Freaking people, God forbid they use the manners their parents taught them.” A few moments later, Konan entered the foyer of the mayor’s office.
The secretary looked up when he walked in. She motioned for him to move to the door. He walked over and she opened the door. Silently, she escorted him to Mayor Smith’s office and introduced him.
“Mayor Smith, Mr. Konan is here per your request.”
“Send him in.”
Konan forced a smile at the snooty woman that led him this far. She stuck her nose in the air and walked away. Konan walked in. Chief Janko sat in one of the two chairs facing the desk.
“Have a seat, Konan.”
Konan dropped into the empty chair. Mayor Smith glared at him and Janko.
“Explain to me how none of you have one solid piece of evidence. EXPLAIN IT TO ME!” Janko stared out the window. Konan leaned back in his chair and remained silent.
“Sir, if I may-“
“You may not, Janko. Have you clowns even attempted to solve this case?”
“We are in the pro-“
“Shut your mouth, Janko! If I want to hear your lip, I’ll scrape it off my zipper!”
Smith glared at Konan. His silence further angered Mayor Smith.
“You,” he started. “You’re supposed to be some magnificent bloodhound. Some great thinker. What do you have to say for yourself?”
Konan looked Mayor Smith in the eyes. Smith returned Konan’s stare with one brimming with hatred. Konan shrugged.
“Nothing. I have investigated leads; they have led nowhere. We have brought people in and questioned them. That has produced more leads. The police and I are investigating them now.”
“I don’t care what it takes. You find someone that could be good for it, and you nail them to the wall. Do you understand me?”
“No, I don’t understand. Did you just tell me to manufacture evidence and find a scapegoat?”
Smith jumped to his feet and got in Konan’s face. Spittle splashed on Konan’s face as Smith did his best to intimidate him. Konan wiped it off and smeared it on the arm of his chair. Veins protruded from Smith’s forehead.
“You find someone to take the fall. Do not make me do your job for you,” Smith snarled. Konan pushed his chair back and stood to his feet.
“I don’t work that way. Also, I don’t do threats. Find someone else to do your dirty work. Maybe you could use Tomas again. I have your email safely tucked away for future use.”
“You dare threaten me, boy?”
Konan drew close to Mayor Smith and smiled.
“Boy? You see a boy, hoss, come put your hands on him.”
Janko stood to his feet and put his hand on Konan’s chest. Konan looked at Janko, then at his hand. Janko removed his hand from Konan’s chest.
“I think it’s time for you to leave, Konan. However, before you go, I want to say something.”
Smith turned to Janko. He stood next to Konan. “This man right here has worked non-stop on this case. Any leads we have found came from the work Konan has done. My officers have helped, but Konan’s work has been instrumental. He is not going anywhere. I move to reinstate him as a detective of the 117th.”
“Reinstate him, sir. My department could use an outstanding detective on the team.”
Janko pulled a badge out and took the Bible from the Mayor’s shelf. Smith ordered Konan to place his hand on the Bible and repeat the words he uttered. A moment later, Janko shook his hand.
“Welcome back, Konan. It’s time to find this killer.”
Konan took his badge and shoved it in his coat pocket. Janko and Smith watched as he left. Somehow, Konan felt complete. As if the stars had aligned perfectly and all was right with the world.
Of course, both Smith and Janko had assumed incorrectly that he had not attempted to catch this murderer. “What do you expect from people who’ve spent their entire lives playing political games?”
Given that the way his day had spun out of control, Konan went by Judith’s office. He needed advice. “This investigation has got me turned around. Everything is chaos. Even the killer’s modus operandi is chaotic. Nothing makes sense.”
Judith’s office sat at the top of the tallest building in Fredericksburg. The Laban Building, named after the town founder Laban Fredericks, was a testimony of having too much of a good thing. Many companies from all over the globe, all with various interests, had offices in the building.
Three security officers occupied the front desk. Konan nodded to them. He reached for his wallet, but remembered he had a badge. Konan flashed it to one of the security members.
“Afternoon, fellas. I am here to see Dr. Judith.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No,” Konan responded.
One of the security officers reached for a phone. He conversed in hushed tones with the other person and placed his hand over the speaker.
“What’s your name?”
“Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan.”
After a few mumbled acknowledgements, he hung up the phone. He motioned for Konan to follow him to the elevators.
“Take the lift to Floor 16. When the doors open, go left to the end of the hall. She is the second door on the right.”
The officer nodded, and Konan pushed the button. While the elevator made its way to the sixteenth floor, soft music played through the speakers. His heart raced as he thought of what he might say to the woman who helped him through some of his darkest days. “God, I hope this is not awkward.”
The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Konan walked to the end of the hall and turned right. He knocked on the second door.
“Come in,” Judith called.
Konan turned the knob and stepped in. Judith sat behind her desk. It was fancy, like all the other furnishings in her office. It complimented her perfectly. Judith was what people called high maintenance.
“Hey, Judith. How are things?”
She looked at Konan and smiled. He smiled back. Judith stood and walked to him. She leaned forward until her nose almost touched his, and peered into his eyes.
“Hello, Konan. Is that a spark of madness I see in your eyes, or are you just happy to see me?”
“Both, maybe. It’s been a while since we last spoke.”
Judith giggled and gestured for Konan to have a seat. She kept her eyes on him as she made her way back to her desk.
“Look at you,” she sighed. “I am thrilled you came by. It’s been so long. I remember little speaking. As a matter of fact, the last I heard from you was through text.”
“ How have things been? Are you still saving people from themselves?”
“It’s been busy. Of course, it’s always busy during election cycles and the aftermath of such things. One guy said what he thought, and people couldn’t stand it. So, they sought counseling to sort out their feelings. Another guy threatens to nuke his opposition, so those in disagreement seek counseling. It’s the same ole story. The wheel constantly turns, and we are all broken upon it.”
“Yeah. It’s a nuthouse.”
“ I take it you’re still opposed to voting. So, you’re counseling the police department on a case. How’s that going?”
“Oh, you know. Bad guys do bad things, and as usual, we’re too late to thwart it. I forgot who I was talking to. It’s a mess.”
“Is it related to your last case before they fired you for throat punching your boss?”
Konan reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the badge. He tossed it to Judith.
“It’s no longer former Detective Sergeant Konan.”
Judith raised her eyebrows. Konan grinned. “She has always known how to make my heart race. God, she is so beautiful.”
“Well, how about that for good news? Can you share anything about the case?”
“No, but it is like my last case. That’s about all I can say without divulging sensitive information.”
“I see. Is the killer using the same M.O.?”
“Yes, and no. It’s like the killer’s modus operandi grew, but then again, it’s different.”
“Konan, you know that the reason the killer nailed their victims to the floor is, so the killer feels empowered. They have forced their will upon an unwilling victim.”
“And the cuts on their face?”
“Power. Your killer is a person who has felt diminished, unaccepted, unaccomplished.”
“I appreciate the perspective, Judith, but that doesn’t narrow down the suspect list. It made it larger.”
“I am sure it did, but it’s the truth. Some people have misplaced anger, or they blame others for the flim-flam in their life. Your killer is one such person. Most folks fall to their knees and scream at the sky or punch a wall. The killer manifests their anger by perpetuating violence on the people they victimize.”
“They couldn’t just go get counseling,” Konan sighed. “I am so tired of dealing with people who have showcased human depravity.”
Judith watched Konan for a long moment in silence. “I’ve never seen him so tired. It’s like this case has broken him.”
“You’re just tired, Konan. You need a good meal and plenty of sleep.” Konan nodded.
“Yeah. So, are you seeing anyone, Judith?” She smiled at the question and wrinkled her nose.
“You could say that. I got married four years ago.”
Konan looked at her and smiled. She smiled back. Konan cleared his throat and averted his gaze. While he was liberal with his partners, he had a rule about messing with married women.
“Well, how about that? Congratulations, Judith. I knew you would find someone who made you happy.”
“I never said I was happy, Konan. It is a marriage of convenience. He needed a wife to show stability and growth. I needed someone to give me a child.”
“Love was not in the equation, but he didn’t want love. He wanted a possession. Besides, my heart belonged to someone else.”
“So, it was a math problem? A business arrangement?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
Konan and Judith sat in silence for a long moment. Konan looked out the window, long shadows had appeared with the setting sun.
“I hate to, but I must run. This case will not get solved if I spend all my time in this chair. It was great seeing you again, Judith.”
She smiled and walked to him. Konan stuck out his hand, but Judith pulled him into a hug.
“You didn’t ask what my child’s name is or what gender they are.”
“Sorry. What is your child’s name? What did you have?”
“I had a son, I named him Konan.’
He pulled out of Judith’s warm embrace. Konan took her hands in his and smiled. “Well, he sounds wonderful.”
“I am very proud of him; he is a carbon copy of the man I named him after. Studious, aggressive, and firm in his beliefs.”
“Thanks for the perspective. I will stop by when I am in the neighborhood.”
“Okay, be careful out there.”
Konan left Judith’s office and started his walk back to the station. As he made his way across the town square, he thought of his visit. “All these years have passed, and Judith still looks the same.” He thought of her perfect face, her relaxed posture, and her child named Konan.
“It’s too bad she got married. Things may have been different this time around. “
Student protestors had gathered outside of the courthouse/city hall. It’s nothing new here in Fredericksburg. Today, they protested against the new poultry plant that would bring new jobs to the area. Tomorrow they would be back protesting something else.
Konan shook his head.
“There are so many angry young people in the world today. Where did all this anger come from? They’re angry about nothing.”
Konan’s focus was all over the place. Try as he might, Konan could not focus his attention on the case. He wanted to go back and convince Judith to try again. “You’re an idiot,” Konan chided himself. “It didn’t work the first time. Why would you go back to someone you dumped through a text message?”
Still, his desire for Judith grew. Konan thought about the bodies of Amber and Daniels. His mind drifted away from Judith, and his focus returned to the case.
Dark clouds had rolled in, and large drops of rain fell to the earth. Konan hurried toward his destination. By the time he made it to the station, his clothes were wringing wet.
Tomas waited for him on the steps. He waved Konan over to a bench that was underneath an overhang.
“What’s up, Tomas?”
“Ashley’s grandfather is waiting for you in room #1.”
“Dude, do none of you know how to use a phone?”
“He just got here.”
“How did he react? Does he seem stressed?”
“No. He walked in, sat down, and asked for a cup of coffee.”
“Did he bring in a lawyer?”
“Alright. Let me go talk to him.”
“Okay. I’ll be behind the glass.”
Konan peeled off the button-down shirt he had worn and walked into the room wearing a soaked white t-shirt and his slacks. His shoes made a squish, squish, sound when he walked to the table.
Pop-pop watched him with an amused smirk on his face. His lips pulled back into a wolfish grin. Konan shook his head and grinned.
“Hey, Konan. Looks like you ran into some rain.” The old man chuckled. Konan nodded his head in agreement.
“Yeah, it came down a few minutes ago.”
He sat down across from Pop-pop. The old man kept grinning, and Konan watched him. “He doesn’t look like a killer.”
“Ashley said you had some questions?”
“Yeah. Do you know a taxidermist named Watterson?”
“Know him? Yeah, I know him. I trained him.”
“Did you know he was a criminal?”
The old man guffawed. Konan watched him for any signs of deceit, but the old man never wavered.
“Son, you’re better than that. Everyone makes mistakes. Should they hold our mistakes against us for the rest of our lives?”
“I don’t know,” Konan answered truthfully. “It probably depends on the type of mistake you made.”
“So, you don’t forgive and forget? There’s no room for mercy in your heart?”
“No, I’m more discover and arrest. I have mercy in my heart, but when you see what we see daily, it’s kinda hard to not forsake mercy.”
The old man smiled and ran a hand through his white beard. His eyes locked on to Konan’s in some bizarre type of challenge. Konan returned his gaze.
“Was Watterson a talented student?”
“Yeah, he picked the blade work up pretty well.”
“He said you were exemplary with the blade yourself.”
“I should be,” the old man retorted. “I’ve done the work for five decades. I’ve trained hundreds in the craft as well. If you have learned nothing about your craft in five decades, you suck. No offense meant to anyone.”
Konan leaned back in his chair and squirmed uncomfortably in his wet clothing. Unable to stand it anymore, he stood up.
“Pop, I hate to ask you to stick around, but I have more questions. These clothes are driving me nuts. Do you mind if I change right quick?”
“No, knock yourself out. I’ll be here. Can I have more coffee?”
“Sure. Thank you, I’ll be right back.”
Konan walked out of the room, his shoes went squish, squish, squish. Tomas and Janko stepped out of the room behind the glass. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know, yet, Chief. He is a cool customer. Let him stew while I change. Oh, and somebody get him a cup of coffee.”
“You got it,” Tomas responded.
Konan decided that a bird bath was in order. A bird bath was a quick wipe down of everything that stinks on the human body. Konan always carried a backpack with extra clothing and baby wipes. He pulled out his pack and pulled out three baby wipes. After he wiped down his body, Konan applied fresh deodorant. Then, he changed into a pair of Wrangler Jeans, Red Wing boots, and a Carhartt tee. He felt like a new man. He made his way back to room #1.
Pop-pop looked up when he walked in. He sipped a fresh cup of coffee. Konan sat across from him and sighed.
“Thanks for letting me change. I needed to get out of those wet clothes.”
“Does Ashley know the taxidermy trade by chance?”
Pop forced a smile and laced his fingers. He nodded his head, but his eyes locked onto Konan’s.
“She does. Ashley was the first one I taught the skill to. That gal is handy with a blade.”
“Yeah, you would expect her to be handy with one. After all, she is our medical examiner. Do you have a list of the people you trained? I need to speak to these folks to get them off my list.”
“Or put them on one…”
“I’m just doing my job, Pop.”
“Yeah, I know. I do not have a list, but I could generate one for you if you would like.”
“Great. That would be an immense help.”
“I’ll run it by in the morning.”
“Sure. One last thing. Who taught you the craft?”
“I learned it from my old man. He learned to use a blade in the service. I learned from him and Uncle Sam. I have passed my knowledge on to others, so the craft doesn’t die.”
“I understand, sir. Thank you for coming in and answering my questions.”
“Sure, Thermos. No problem.”
Konan walked him to the foyer and shook his hand. The old man waved and walked out into the sunset. Konan turned and boarded the lift.
Janko and Tomas stopped by Konan and Lilly’s desk after Pop-Pop left and sat across from him. Janko’s face was tight. His grey eyes narrowed, and his breathing was shallow. Tomas looked at the floor.
“What do we have, Konan?”
“I don’t know yet. However, the suspect pool expanded.”
“We need the suspect pool narrowed,” Janko shouted. “I gave you a badge, I have given you resources, and you have not delivered on any front!”
Tomas sat still as to not draw any attention toward himself. Konan waited for Janko to take a breath. Janko pounded on the table, his face red with fury. Finally, he calmed down enough to sit back down. Konan waited for another outburst, but nothing came.
“Ashley has the skill; her grandfather and great-grandfather have the skill. It’s passed on to people to maintain the craft. What if…”
Tomas and Janko leaned toward Konan. Both seemed apprehensive but enthralled to hear what would come next.
“What?” They shouted in unison.
“What if we aren’t looking for a single murderer? What if there are multiple murderers?”
“Like an organization of killers,” Tomas asked. Konan nodded.
“Yeah. They all use the same M.O. to keep the organization secret. It would explain why no one has caught anyone in the past decade. We think we’re hunting one killer, instead of however many there are.”
“We need that list.”
“Yeah. Start looking for links to fraternities, club and gym memberships, that sort of thing. Leave no stone unturned. When we have the list, we need to sort through it quickly,” Janko said. He leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Konan nodded.
“There’s one other thing to mention.”
“What’s that,” Tomas said.
Konan looked at him. He took a deep breath and then said, “if we are correct in our guesswork, that means some of these people work here with us. We must keep our lips sealed; We keep the information between us. There can’t be another Tia Mather’s situation.”
Janko nodded his head.
“I don’t disagree. What Tia did was wrong on many levels. That’s not to say I condone your breaking her jaw, but I can understand why you did it.”
“I have a question,” Tomas began. “How did you conclude that there was an organization of killers? I heard nothing that would have led me to make that assumption.”
“Pop-Pop led me to the conclusion. He hid nothing from me. I asked about Ashley, and he laced his fingers. The rest of the time, his hands were on the table. He stroked his beard. All are signs you’re on the right track.”
“He basically outlined the whole thing. I know it, I taught it to 100 others, the craft can’t die.”
Tomas nodded and muttered, “I got it.”
“How are we going to figure out who killed who?”
Konan smiled and said, “every chain has a weak link. We just have to find ours.”
They spoke for several moments, and nothing more came from our conversation. The knowledge that they may face a team of trained killers did little to comfort them.
Janko was the first to leave. Tomas, his face still bruised from the punch from Watterson, sat across from Konan.
“Do you think there are more killers in this circle that we don’t know about?” Konan shook his head and shrugged.
“I don’t know, Tomas. I’m sure there is more to it than, “I wanna kill somebody.” Whatever it is, we need to find them before they kill again.”
“Yeah. I hear you.”
Both men sat in silence for a long while. Konan did some paperwork. Tomas sat in the corner and watched him and Lilly work. When Konan finished, he walked out to the bus stop. Tomas had crashed out on the couch in the break room.
The darkness seemed to encroach ever closer. Lilly bid him goodnight. As the former partner to Lt. Daniels, she cleared out Daniels’ desk, helped answer questions the family might have, and attended the funeral. Lilly would return as Konan’s partner once things had calmed down.
Konan sat in the middle of the bus, on the left-hand side near the aisle. Small white lights lit up the aisle. Konan stared at them until he came to his stop. When he disembarked, he noticed Ashley sitting on his steps.
His heart raced, cool sweat dampened his neck. Konan cleared his throat and made his way to her. She smiled when he drew close. In her hand were two cups of coffee.
Her smile was brilliant. Ashley’s eyes were clear as a sun-filled day. Her whole manner felt like summer.
“Hey, Ashley. What brings you by?”
“I seemed to recall you asking me to go for a coffee on a couple of occasions. I thought I would surprise you with one.”
“I am surprised. You know it’s after midnight.”
“Yes, silly. I know it’s after midnight. Still, we nocturnal creatures need our caffeine.”
“True enough. Come on in, Ashley.”
Konan unlocked the door and pushed it open. Ashley stepped into the dimly lit foyer. Konan flipped a switch and his floor lamp clicked on. He motioned to an over-sized chair, and Ashely put the coffee on the table and sat down.
“Pop called and said you guys had some more questions for him today.”
“Yeah. I got caught in a downpour outside of the city hall. I ended up asking him to wait until I changed.” Ashley giggled.
“Yeah, he mentioned that. He said your shoes had an attitude. They went squish, squish, squish.”
Konan took one coffee from the table and blew on the hot liquid. Ashley sipped hers and watched Konan.
“Is Pop able to help you with your case?”
“He provided some answers to us.” Konan redirected the conversation. “He mentioned you had some taxidermy skills. I didn’t know that about you.”
Ashley rubbed her neck and sipped her coffee. She finally nodded and met Konan’s eyes.
“Yeah, he taught me the craft. He said a woman in today’s world needed to stand on her own two feet. He felt I needed to know how to handle a blade.”
“I agree with him on that point. Although, I have always felt that a sidearm would beat a blade in a fight.” Ashley smirked.
“I guess it would depend on who had what weapon.” Ashley sipped more of her coffee; Konan put his cup down.
“Have you eaten Ashely?”
“No, I stopped and got coffee but skipped dinner.”
“I haven’t eaten either. Let’s go in the kitchen.”
They walked into the kitchen. Ashley sat at the bar; Konan rummaged around in his nigh-empty fridge for something to eat. He pulled out tortillas, ham, and a crate of eggs.
“How about a make-do sandwich?”
“You don’t have to cook for me, Konan.”
“Well, I don’t know about you but I’m hungry.”
“I could eat, but…”
“Then, that’s settled. We will have a sandwich.”
“Okay. Can I ask you something, Konan?”
“Why did you ask about my taxidermy skills?”
“Why not? You are a friend, and friends get to know each other, right?”
“Yes, but that’s not why, right?”
“Maybe, maybe not. Ashley, I have to do my job. It doesn’t matter whom it may implicate. I want to know about you. Also, this case has me asking people questions. So, it is part professional curiosity and part wow, I want to know her.”
Ashley nodded. Konan buttered one side of the tortilla and placed it in a pan. In another pan, he scrambled eggs and warmed up the ham. He stuffed the tortillas with ham and eggs and folded it in half. Konan pushed a plate to Ashley.
“Since I asked you a question and put you on the spot, it’s your turn to ask me. Hit me with your best shot.”
Ashley munched on her ‘make-do’ tortilla and looked in his eyes. She wiped her mouth with a paper towel and swallowed.
“Okay, Konan. Do you believe in love?”
Konan sipped his coffee and put down his sandwich. He met Ashley’s eyes and shook his head.
“Because no one wants to accept what love is, Ashley. Everyone thinks it’s this magical thing, like in fairy tales. In reality, love is brutal. It’s work. Most people are unwilling to work their butts off to keep it. Therefore, they fail. It takes two to tango, but it takes a deeper commitment than people will make.”
Ashley grinned and finished her sandwich. She giggled when Konan grew uncomfortable.
“So, love is dead.”
“I knew better than to explain it. Love is out there, but it’s difficult to find someone willing to meet you halfway. I think both partners must realize that on certain days you have to be your partner’s strength, on other days they have to be your strength. It’s dang near impossible to find that in another human being.”
“I agree. Ask your next question, Konan.”
“Okay. Did you enjoy taxidermy?”
“No. But Pop didn’t give me a choice in the matter. I detested stuffing dead animals. Pop thought it was necessary, but I was a girly-girl. Blood, sinew, and muscle did not interest me. Barbie dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens were my thing.”
Konan nodded. “I can see why you didn’t enjoy it. Animals are our friends.”
“Yeah. I felt wrong while I did it. When I got older, I went to school and got my degree. Then, I got hired as the M.E.’s assistant. That brings us current.”
“Thanks for telling me, Ashley. Your turn. Make it a doozey. I am tired.”
“Okay. You were a soldier, yes?”
“Yeah. For over a decade.”
“What did you do?”
“I killed people for Uncle Sam.”
His answer caused her to pause. She sighed; Konan waited for what would come next.
“Do you regret it?”
Konan and Ashley sat in silence for a long moment. Together, they looked out the window at the moon. Its slivery rays drifted lazily to Earth, and everything seemed right in the world.
“See the moon, Ashley?”
“Over there, I’d never seen it as big as I did there. It literally was the most massive thing I had ever seen. I felt minuscule as I looked upon it. It was so bright and full. I stared up at it and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Do I regret my service? Sometimes.” Ashley leaned against Konan and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Tell me of the moon…”
Ashley and Konan sat and spoke of big things and small, of love found and lost, of betrayal and things they wished had never happened. It felt like heaven. Somewhere after four in the morning, he dozed off to sleep. Konan woke up at six. Ashley lay sprawled out on her half of the couch. Konan was half on the couch at the other end. He wiggled his toes and looked at Ashley. He got up quietly and tiptoed to the bathroom. After a quick shower, he slipped from the house and headed to the police station.
Tomas had not moved from the couch. Wiggins was already in pecking away at the computer keyboard. He looked up and nodded to Konan.
“Morning. You look like crap.”
Konan grunted and sat down at his desk. He pulled out his coffee cup and walked into the break room. After he brewed a cup, he walked over to Wiggins.
“Morning. I feel like crap. It’s these nights with no sleep.”
“I heard you interviewed Ashley’s grandfather again. You have a theory?”
Konan nodded and brought Wiggins up to speed. Tiny lines appeared on Wiggins’ brow as he frowned. He stared at the hot black liquid in his cup. Finally, he spoke.
“Doesn’t that all seem like a lot of suspicion and conjecture? You refused to pin this string of murders on anyone when Smith ordered you to do so, but now you ‘suspect’ that it is a group of killers operating within the boundaries of Fredericksburg?”
Konan leaned back in his chair. He felt like a fool. Tomas and Janko both jumped on the bandwagon when he presented his theory of a band of knife-wielding psychopaths. It took Wiggins two minutes to deconstruct the whole theory.
Wiggins noticed the turmoil in Konan’s eyes. He held up both hands. “I’m sorry Konan. I wasn’t trying to undo…”
“It’s alright, Wiggins. You’re right. This needs to be thought out .It all seemed to fit when Ashley’s grandfather admitted to training all these people.”
“Yeah. You said he was bringing a list by this morning, right?”
Wiggins sipped his coffee and let out a satisfied sigh. He made Konan want some more. He walked over to the K-cup machine and set it to brew. The hot liquid poured from the machine into his stainless steel Yeti cup.
“Well, that should help us find the killer or killers, right?”
Konan spooned in sugar and nodded. Coffee made everything seem right in the world. Konan took a sip and smiled.
“Yeah, it could be our first big break.”
“We said the same thing about Watterson.”
Konan sat down and sipped his coffee. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes throughout this case.” He stared at Wiggins and pulled out a pad and pen and doodled. The doodle resembled a raven.
Pop-Pop entered the room. He waved at Konan, Konan nodded back. The old man wandered over, a piece of parchment in his right hand.
“I brought you that list, son. Although, I’m not sure it’s complete. I trained many people.”
Konan took the parchment and sat it on his desk. He extended his hand to the old man. They shook hands. Konan noticed the rough, calloused hand and the strength with which the old man gripped his hand.
“Thank you for getting it to me so soon. It will be a tremendous help.”
“You bet, Thermos. I would do anything to bring this circle of jackals to justice. Be careful out there, son.”
Konan and Wiggins watched the old man saunter off toward the door. Konan sat down at his desk and put on his glasses. The paper was old and wrinkled. Wiggins leaned over and looked at it.
“Doesn’t that look like….”
Tomas stumbled into the room. His belt had shifted to the right, his buttoned down shirt was half tucked into his pants, and he seemed disoriented.
“Morning,” he mumbled.
“Yeah,” Wiggins said. Konan stood up and took off his glasses.
“I’ll be right back, Wiggins. I’m going to the evidence locker. Start a coffee IV in Tomas and bring him up to speed.”
The evidence locker was in the sub-basement, along with Records and IT. He walked along the long, narrow hallway until he arrived at a caged room with one lone guard. A yellow legal pad sat on the countertop. The guard looked up. She was bookish looking. Round glasses framed her round face, trifocals if Konan was not mistaken, and a slender body. She had yellow teeth and a crooked nose.
“Can I help you?”
Her nasal voice caused Konan to grimace. He nodded and stepped back from the window.
“Yes, ma’am. I need to sign out a piece of evidence regarding my case.”
“I assume you have the required paperwork to remove said piece of evidence?”
“Say again? What required paperwork?”
“You need CF 3643 signed by your Chief to withdraw any evidence from the locker. Surely, you knew this.”
“ I am in the middle of a murder investigation. I do not have time for your bureaucratic nonsense. How about I just get the chief down here?”
“He will need CF 3643 to withdraw any evidence…”
Konan pulled out his phone and called Janko. The call did not go through. The guard waved at him.
“Yes,” Konan growled in frustration.
“We do not get a signal down here. You would have to use a landline to call someone.”
“Do you have a landline?”
“Yes, but it is only to be used by the Evidence Locker staff.”
Konan slipped his phone into his pocket and considered throttling the guard. Instead, he glared at her and turned to walk away.
“Would you like for me to call someone for you?”
“Please dial Chief Janko and ask him to bring Form 3643. Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan requires his help in securing a piece of evidence.”
The guard nodded her head. Her blonde curls bounced with the movement. “Typical bureaucratic nonsense,” Konan muttered. “No wonder nothing ever gets done.”
“Certainly, Detective. Standby.”
Konan found a chair and sat down in it. He leaned his face into his hands and waited. He could barely overhear the whispered words of the guard. Moments later, Janko walked in with Form 3643.
“I see you met Patty.”
Konan grunted, “yeah.” Janko smiled and chuckled. He handed Patty the form, and she buzzed them in. Janko stepped to the side and motioned for Konan to lead the way.
“What are we looking for, Konan?”
“You remember the letter stapled to Lt. Daniels chest?”
“Sorta hard to forget that.”
“Yeah, well, Ashley’s grandfather brought in the list this morning. He wrote it on the same parchment. We may have caught a break.”
Konan and Janko made their way to the evidence that was housed in a room not much larger than a trailer closet. The room was dimly lit, shelves ran parallel along the wall. They stacked overflow boxes on the floor. Someone scattered loose paper here and there. Konan’s case evidence sat crossways on top of another box. The lid was slightly ajar.
Konan took the lid off and shuffled through the various objects in the box until he came across the letter. He pulled it out and headed back to his desk. Tomas and Wiggins had divided the list among themselves and were trying to contact people.
He laid the note next to the list. The killer had written both notes on the same paper as far as he could tell. His thoughts turned to Ashley. If he had her run test to see if the paper and handwriting matched, it could compromise the chain of evidence. If he sought an outside source, she would feel slighted. Konan took the note and the list and walked into Janko’s office.
Janko had just arrived at his office and pulled out his chair when Konan walked in.
“What’s on your mind, Konan?”
“To me, it appears to be the same paper. I am going to send it off to be verified, but I don’t want Ashley to do it.”
“It could implicate her grandfather, and she may feel like she has to protect him.”
Janko took the note and list and studied them. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked at Konan.
“You doubt her professionalism?”
“No sir, I only want to protect the chain of evidence. Whoever the killer is needs to be caught, and I would hate for them to walk because an attorney said we tampered with the evidence.”
“Do you think her grandfather is the killer?”
“I don’t know, sir. It could be a group of knife-wielding bandits or one killer. This may point us in the right direction.”
“Alright, Konan. I have a friend at the FBI who could run it and tell us whether it’s the same paper. However, if Ashley has questions, you are going to explain it to her.”
“Figures. I will explain why we circumvented her if she asks.”
Konan took the evidence and walked to the post office. It sat directly across from the town square. As he walked across the square, he thought of Ashley. “She deserves to know that we went around her, but we need everything about this case to be on the up and up.”
He packaged the evidence into a manila envelope and sent it off to the FBI. Konan pulled out his phone to call Ashley, but his phone buzzed. It was Mayor Smith.
You are to report to my office immediately.
Konan put his phone back in his pocket and made his way to the Mayor’s Office. The clerk did not get up to let him in. Instead, she pressed a button and the door swung open. Konan walked through. Mayor Smith stood in front of the large window in his office and looked out over the city.
“Are you trying to ruin my reputation, Detective?”
Smith turned from the window and glared at Konan. The veins in his neck and forehead were taut, his mouth a hard line. “He has the eyes of a snake,” Konan thought silently.
“I told you to find someone and make them pay,” Smith rasped.
His voice was low, but there was an edge to it. Konan stood unmovable as Smith drew closer. He jabbed Konan in the chest with his finger.
“Find someone that fits this crime, and throw their butt in jail. Or you will pay.”
Konan jabbed Smith in the chest with his finger and stepped close to him. He lowered his voice so only Smith could hear him.
“I told you I don’t work that way. Apparently, you didn’t get the memo. I could find the killer if I didn’t have to babysit a ‘grown man’ whose only concerned with his ego. Do not call or text me anymore. Good day.”
Without another word, Konan walked out of the office. Smith threw a lamp against the wall. Tiny pieces of plaster flew in every direction. He shoved his computer off his desk and screamed like a madman.
Then it was over. Smith sat at his desk and breathed deeply. Konan walked out of the building and kept his anger from boiling over.
Konan stormed across the square. “God, I can’t stand that idiot…”
Being paged to the Mayor’s Office wasted his time. Why would he hinder the investigation for an update? Smith didn’t want an update, he wanted to accuse Konan of not doing his job. Worse, he wanted him to pick someone so they could slam the lid down on this case. All to appease those who had voted him into office.
As he neared the police department, Janko waited for him on the steps. Konan cringed inwardly. Janko waved him over.
“What’s up, Chief?”
“Give me your badge.”
Konan handed his badge to Janko. He shook his head in frustration, but Janko had more to say. Janko scratched at his right eyebrow and looked at Konan. He sighed with exasperation.
“You’re fired, Konan. Smith wants you off the team.” Konan nodded and muttered ‘okay.’ He walked to his desk and took the few items he had left there, and turned to walk out. Wiggins stood behind him.
“What’s going on?”
“They fired me again. Smith wants me out of here.”
“Dude, I’m sorry.”
“Ah, it was going to happen, eventually. I sent off the evidence to the FBI. Expect it back soon.”
“Okay,” Wiggins said as he extended his hand.
Konan gripped it and slapped Wiggins on the shoulder. “Take care of Tomas. Don’t shortcut it Wiggins just because it’s hard.”
With a nod, Konan walked out of the building and caught a bus home. He stepped off the bus and walked up the stairs to his trailer. He walked in, threw his gear on the floor, and took a shower.
After drying off, he put on his pajamas and sat in his recliner. The Looney Tunes played while he considered his plight. “All this started because Lilly asked me to consult. Now, I am fired and my last case is unsolved, again.”
He studied the pictures that hung on his wall. He pored over the notes he had made. Nothing made sense, but he felt as if he was on the brink of some major discovery.
‘It all started with Lilly asking for help…’
Konan continued to search for anything that would shed light on his investigation. Well, it was now the cops investigation. He sprawled out on the couch to get some rest. The last thing he saw was Bugs Bunny tricking Yosemite Sam. “What a maroon…”
Konan dreamed of his time at war, of the bodies that he had seen, the people he had killed. He dreamed of Lilly. In his dream she reached for him, but as he tried to grasp her hand, hands gripped her ankles and pulled her away.
He awoke with a start. Sweat drenched his bed, his body was clammy. Konan sat in the dark and forced himself to take shallow breaths. His mind kept going back to Lilly. “What caused her to look into his last case? She had fast-tracked throughout her career. Why go back to the unsolved case?”
Konan picked up his phone and called Lilly. She answered on the fifth ring.
“Hey, it’s Konan. Are you busy?”
“No, just sleeping. What’s going on?”
“I need you to come over. I’ll make coffee.”
“Yeah, okay. Gimme twenty minutes. This better be important.”
Twenty minutes later, Lilly pulled up in his front yard. She slammed the door of her Camry and started for the trailer. Konan opened the door. Lilly glared at him and punched him on the shoulder.
“What is so important that I had to drive across town at 3 in the morning?”
Konan handed her a cup of coffee and led her into his small library. He motioned for her to sit in an oversized chair. He sat on a stool and sipped his coffee.
“Why were you looking into our last case?”
“Are you kidding me? Because the killer nailed the victims to the floor, just like in our last case.”
“Did you know our notes disappeared from the mainframe? All the work we did on the original case just got up and walked out.”
“That makes little sense, Konan. The mainframe doesn’t get scrubbed, they store case files on the hard drive.”
“Except it got scrubbed and our file ended up deleted. I finally caught a break today, and they fired me.”
“I heard Smith threw a fit about you disobeying him.”
“He wanted me to frame someone for the killings. I told him I didn’t work that way. He jabbed me in the chest, so…”
“…you jabbed him back. Typical.”
“Yeah, but he had it coming.”
“You can’t keep doing that, Konan. People know if they get you riled up, you’ll do something stupid. What else did you learn?”
“I suspect there is over one killer. At first, I thought it might be a group, but I believe there are two.”
“What makes you think that?”
“The M.O. changing. It makes no sense for the killer to change it unless he got injured and took on an apprentice.”
“I’ll look into it. You…take care of yourself. It was nice to have you back, even if it was only for a moment.”
Lilly stood and handed Konan her cup. He took it and put both in the sink, then he walked her out to her car. She turned and smiled at him.
“Look at you, you’re the perfect gentleman.”
“Only for those I like.”
“I’ll see you later, Konan.”
“Okay. Be careful out there.”
Konan watched Lilly drive down his driveway. He and Lilly had come a long way since they first met, and she had stood by his side through thick and thin. This time wouldn’t be different. Lilly had a proven track record when it came to loyalty.
Konan stepped lightly to the bathroom and ran his hands through the cold water. He wet a rag and ran it across his body and hair. Konan made coffee and walked into the second bedroom of his mobile home. He had converted it into a library of sorts. It was his refuge, his palace of solitude. He flicked on his lamp and pulled out his laptop. Something was amiss. He needed coffee.
Konan backtracked into the kitchen and brewed him a cup of coffee. Satisfied that his morning routine was more or less done, he sat down and opened his laptop. He opened up the word processor and began to type:
–Who is the antagonist? Why are they the antagonist?
-Suspects: Mayor Smith, Pop-pop, Ashley, unknown.
He decided to contact Tomas and Wiggins in the morning. Someone would have an answer to his question. They would give him the answers, or he would be forced to extract them in a most unpleasant manner.
At 0800, Konan picked up his phone and dialed the police department. He asked for Wiggins. After a moment his call was transferred.
“Hello,” Wiggins wheezed.
“Hey, it’s Konan. Any breaks?”
“You know I can’t tell you that, bud.” Wiggins sounded like a wounded grizzly with the amount of panting he was doing. Konan nodded his head as if Wiggins could see him.
“Yeah, I know. Look, I want to meet for lunch. Why don’t you meet down by the waterway. There’s a small park and a burger joint not far from there.”
“Yeah, okay.” Wiggins continued to labor with his breathing. ‘The humidity must be killing him,’ Konan thought.
“My treat, Wiggins. Make sure you bring Tomas. We need to talk. Be there at noon.”
Konan printed off his list of questions, and finished off his coffee. His doorbell rang. He walked to the door and looked out the peep hole. Ashley stood in his yard. Konan opened the door. She forced a smile .
“Hey. What brought you by?”
He motioned for her to come in, she stepped in and sat on his couch. She clutched a manila envelope in her left hand.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Ashley?”
“No. I want to know why you went behind my back with this.”
Konan sat down beside her and took the envelope from her hand. It was still sealed. Konan looked at her. Tears welled up in her eyes and there was a frightening hint of anger in them. Konan licked his lips.
“You didn’t open it?”
“Okay,” Konan grunted.
He flipped open his pocket knife and cut the envelope open. He removed the list and the note that was pinned to Lilly’s naked body. He laid them side by side.
“This was the note found on Lilly’s body,” he said as he pointed at it with his finger. “This is the list given to me by your grandfather. What do you see?”
Ashley leaned forward and looked at both items. She wiped her eyes and shrugged. “It looks like the same paper.”
Konan took the lab workup from the manila envelope and read the results. Ashley slid closer to read the result. She gasped and covered her mouth.
The lab had confirmed both the note and list were written on Sierra Parchment Paper. The handwriting was only a 35 percent match.
Ashley leaned back and looked at Konan. He waited for the outburst that was bound to be coming at any moment. It never came.
“You suspected Pop-Pop? So, you suspected me too.”
“Don’t, Konan. Don’t say anything to me. You went to the FBI behind my back. You never once let on that anything was amiss.”
“I was doing my job, Ashley.”
“That’s all that matters to you, isn’t it? The job. You don’t care about anything else. Everything outside of work is crap to you. You live only for the job.”
“That’s not true. I no longer have a job thanks to Mayor Smith.”
“Why? Did you punch him out too?” Konan guffawed.
Ashley tried to contain her laughter. They both failed. Raucous bouts of laughter broke loose between them.
“No, but I will always regret I didn’t leave him toes up in his office for someone else to find.”
“I’m sorry you lost your job, Konan.”
“Ah, it’s not the first time.”
Konan grinned, and Ashley giggled. They stared at the two pieces of evidence. Ashely shook her head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that Pop-Pop was a suspect, or that this is even real.”
“It doesn’t mean that he is the killer. It means that he likes the same paper as the killer. There are some characteristics they share in handwriting, but there is not enough to convict him.”
“I know but…”
“Ashley, you can’t tell him. I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but this has to remain quiet.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Konan?”
“Because if you had done the test and your grandfather was the killer, the defense could say that someone tampered with the chain of evidence. Or it could have put you in a position to protect your grandfather or your career.”
“So, you were just doing your job.”
“I was trying to protect you and your reputation.”
“I don’t need your protection, Konan. Was I considered a suspect by the people I help solve crimes? Am I guilty by association?”
Konan said nothing to her question. The gulf of silence between them grew until it was deafening. They sat on the couch with nothing between them but suspicion.
Ashley nodded her head and stood up. Konan stood up, but Ashely waved him off. Hot tears burned down her face.
“I didn’t know you real well when you worked here, prior to this firing. Let me tell you something, Konan. I loved Daniels, like she was my own. Like we were sisters. Never in a million years would I hurt her, much less kill her. That you can take to the bank.”
Without another word or look, she walked out of the trailer. Konan stood in the middle of his living room not knowing what to say, or how to begin to repair the damage he had caused.
Konan scooped up the evidence and returned them to the manila envelope. The clock on the wall read 11. He grabbed the envelope and walked to the bus stop. Konan caught the bus and arrived at the small park at 1145. Tomas and Wiggins sat on a rundown picnic table, their feet resting on the seat.
“You guys are early,” Konan said. They both nodded.
“What’s in the envelope?” Wiggins was busy taking shallow breaths. Konan handed the evidence to Tomas.
“It’s the lab results from the note and list. Ashley brought it by.”
Tomas tossed it on the table between him and Wiggins. Konan lifted an eyebrow but said nothing.
“You can quit investigating, Konan. Mayor Smith applied pressure to Janko and got the case closed. It’s labeled ‘unsolved.’ Thanks for bringing this by.”
Tomas and Wiggins walked to their car and left. Konan sat at the picnic table and watched the river. His phone buzzed. On the screen was this message:
“Hello, Thermopolis. How goes your second forced retirement?”
Konan’s heart raced at the sight of the message. He quickly typed out his response and pressed send. If the killer wanted to play games, he would engage with them. After all, he no longer had to play by the rules.
“Hello, Mayor Smith.”
Konan waited for a response. One never came. The park was empty. In the distance, a Rat Terrier chased a squirrel into a large oak tree.
For, the second time today, the silence was deafening. Konan walked across the street and ordered a double bacon cheeseburger from Chicken Kenny’s and ate it.
He finished his dinner, threw his trash in the can, and walked to the bus stop. He took a window seat and looked out over the waterway. The sun was going down, but the sky was the color of blood.
The ride home was silent. Konan’s mind was plagued by the day’s events. He felt as if he betrayed Ashley. Now, Wiggins and Tomas informed him that Mayor Smith had shut down the case. It was a day of betrayal and bad news.
‘I should call myself Benedict Arnold.’
Konan got off the bus and walked into his mobile home. He was alone with his thoughts and a twice-closed case. Since he sent the text to the mysterious caller, his phone had remained silent. Every so often, he would check to see if he had missed something.
No text messages were on his phone’s screen. Konan had no clear picture of the antagonist. While he considered the few facts of the case, a knock sounded at his door.
Konan walked to the door and flicked on his outside light. Mayor Smith’s secretary stood at the base of his steps.
“Yeah,” Konan called out.
The woman turned her head left and right furtively. She kept glancing behind her as if someone lurked in the shadows waiting for a prime opportunity to pounce.
“Detective Sergeant Konan? I need to speak with you.”
Konan waited before he responded. The woman shifted from one foot to the other and rubbed her hands together. She kept looking around as if she expected to be mauled at any moment.
“Sorry. I’m no longer a cop. If you’re in trouble go to the police.”
“May I please come in?”
Konan shoved one of his sidearms into his waistband and unlocked the door. He held open the screen door, and she walked into the foyer. Konan shut the door and motioned for her to sit on the couch.
“Lady, it’s late and you aren’t high on my ‘nice person’ list. What do you want?”
She wringed her hands again and wiped at her mouth. She looked at Konan with the saddest eyes.
“I think Mayor Smith has gone nuts.”
“Okay. What does that have to do with me?”
“After you left, he went on rage-filled spree. He threw lamps, computers, and cursed like a madman. He screamed until his voice was hoarse. Then he had me call Chief Janko to his office. That’s when things got weird.”
“Look, that’s all very interesting, but it’s late. You should go to the police in the morning and tell them this story.” Konan got up and started for the door.
“He called someone and told them to kill you.”
Konan stopped short of the door and turned around. The secretary stood behind him with a blade in her hand. Konan forced a smile. She returned it.
“Well, that escalated quickly.”
She motioned with her free hand and said in her usual clipped voice, “it’s nothing personal.” Konan chuckled.
“Well, excuse me if I don’t take your word for it. It feels rather personal.” She nodded and began her approach.
“I’m sure it does.”
She plunged the blade straight at Konan. At the last moment, she brought the blade up and across his torso. Konan tried to dodge the blade, but it caught him across the left pectoral and shoulder. He winced from the pain.
“Look, I don’t want to kill you. Put the blade down and let’s talk.”
She smiled, and boy, was it a brilliant smile. Konan shook his head and backtracked to the kitchen. She followed him with the blade.
“Look, we can talk about this, okay. I mean, you didn’t kill Daniels, right?”
“Heh,” she snickered, “Daniels served as a pawn to get you back into the game. A chess piece sacrificed to get you on board. You were such a disappointment. What happened to the great mind you once possessed?”
She lunged at Konan and nicked his right side with a quick flash of the blade. To his left, his coffee machine sat on his bar. She drew close, her eyes filled with the thrill of the impending kill. She faked going left and dashed right. Konan waited until he could feel her breath on his cheek and smashed the coffee machine into her skull.
She crumpled to the ground. The blade slid underneath the bar, out of reach. Konan looked at his wounds. They weren’t deep enough to puncture any organs, but they were deep enough to get an infection. Konan reached down and grabbed her by the throat, and dragged her to a chair. He duct taped her ankles together and handcuffed her at the wrists.
He went to his closet and pulled out his ‘bug-out’ bag. Konan had been out of the military for over a decade but kept a bag filled with various items in it. He cleaned his wounds and bandaged them the best he could. Then he checked on his uninvited houseguest. She was still unconscious.
Konan walked to his utility closet and pulled out an extension cord. He twisted it into a formidable knot and splashed cold water on her face. She stirred. Her eyes blinked several times as she focused on her surroundings. When she saw Konan, she glared at him.
“Howdy, cupcake. How was your nap?”
“You’re not getting anything from me.” Konan laughed out loud. Smith’s secretary glared at him.
“I haven’t asked you anything yet, darling.”
“Do your worst. I can take it.”
“Who sent you to kill me?”
She spit at him. Konan smiled and backhanded her. Blood dribbled out of the corner of her mouth. She spit and cursed at him, Konan shook his head and laughed..
“Come on, man. Don’t make me hit you. Who sent you?”
She said nothing. Konan picked up the extension cord.
“I really don’t want to hurt you. You do realize that you are a chess piece, right? Whoever sent you, sent you here to die.”
“Come on and do it. What’s the matter? You ain’t got the guts, tough guy?”
She giggled, Konan slammed the extension cord across her thighs. Tears welled up in her eyes, but she said nothing. Blood pooled under the welt, tears streamed down her face from the pain.
“Let me tell you what is going to happen here. The longer you hold out, the worse pain I will inflict upon you. I will continue to beat your legs until you suffocate from the pain. Now, who sent you?”
Konan slammed the extension cord over her thighs again. Her tears rolled down her cheeks freely. She sobbed and her breath caught in her throat. She said nothing. He slammed the cord over her thighs again and again. Still, she said nothing.
“You’re going to die a miserable death, you piece of garbage. I can’t wait for you to die,” she screamed.
Konan kicked the chair over and she landed with a thud. She wore heavy steel-toed boots. Konan pulled them off along with her socks.
“I really didn’t want to hurt you….” She laughed, and leaned up to spit at him.
“This is nothing compared to what he did to your pig friend. She screamed your name for hours. He bled her and made her beg for death. When he could extract no more screams from her, he granted her wish.”
Konan smiled and nodded. His temper caused his hands to shake. Konan thought of Amber and Daniels suffering at the hands of this lunatic and whoever her partner was. He took the extension cord in his right hand and lifted her legs into the air.
He lashed the bottom of her feet until there was no skin left. She screamed and thrashed as the cord ripped into the tender flesh. Konan put his boot on her chest and held her down as he flailed her. She sobbed and wailed.
“You came to my house to kill me, and look at you. Tied up like a Christmas turkey, and beaten like a punk. Did the victims sound like you?”
She laughed through her tears. She leaned up and whispered, “you best kill me, pig.” Konan nodded his head.
Blood made the cord slick and difficult to grasp. Konan laid it to the side. He pulled out his fighting knife from his days in the military. He pulled her toes apart and drew the sharpened edge between them. She screamed. Konan walked into the kitchen and picked up his salt shaker. Her eyes grew large.
“I’ll tell you, don’t…”
Konan grabbed her by the face and stared into her eyes. Terror filled her eyes, and Konan smiled.
“Now you want to cooperate.”
She nodded her head yes and sobbed. Konan shook his head and leaned close to her. Her eyes grew large, her sobs caught in her throat.
“But it’s too late for you, hon. I gave you a chance, which is more than you punks gave your victims.” Without another word, he poured salt into her fresh wounds.
She thrashed on the floor and screamed. She rocked from the pain, and it was not long before she swallowed her tongue and died. Konan dropped to the floor beside her. He felt inhuman at the brutality he inflicted upon his attacker. Torturing the secretary had exhausted him. He stared at the damage he had caused. He shook his head. The thought of the victims’ suffering was almost unbearable. After all this woman endured, she had the last word. Konan still did not have proof Mayor Smith was behind the murders.
Konan gathered his strength and walked outside. No one lived near him, but he checked the grounds to make sure no one was there. He walked back in and bagged up the body. He loaded it into his vehicle and drove it down to the waterway.
He wrapped the body with a heavy logging chain and kicked it into the water. He waited for an hour to make sure the body did not resurface. It didn’t. Konan walked back to his vehicle and drove home.
There was still much to do. He bleached his entire house and got rid of his knife and extension cord. Konan wiped down every part of the house the woman had touched. Satisfied that there was no evidence to be discovered, he stretched out on the couch.
Tom and Jerry played on his television. Konan watched as Jerry turned the tables on Tom. He thought of the woman who attacked him and her invisible partner. Apparently, they underestimated his will to live.
“What a maroon…”
Konan dreamed of Lilly. It was the same dream he had before. Lilly reached for him, and he tried to grasp her hand. Except this time, he watched as the killer nailed her to the floor, and she screamed his name.
He sat up in the bed covered with sweat. His sweat drenched the sheet, and his mouth was dry. Konan licked his lips and picked up his phone. He had a text message that read: Murderer.
Konan got up and wiped down his body with a cool rag. He started some coffee and stripped his bed. Konan tossed his bedding into the washer and started it. Frustrated with the night’s event, he sat in his library with his coffee and watched a few videos on YouTube.
Bored with the videos, he called Lilly. She answered and let out a heavy sigh.
“Konan, this better be important.”
“I dreamt of you. It was bad, um, I needed to hear your voice and know that you are okay.”
“Yeah. I am okay. What happened in the dream?”
“Um, the killer had you. He nailed you to the floor, and um, you screamed for me, but I couldn’t help you.”
“Jesus. Um, are you up for company?”
“Sure, but you don’t have to do that, Lilly. I just wanted to know you’re okay.”
“Okay. I will swing by tomorrow and check up on you. Try to get some sleep, Konan, you sound tired.”
At 0800, he heard a knock at the door. He picked up his sidearm and peeked through the peephole. Tomas and Wiggins stood on the steps. Konan shoved the sidearm into his waistband and covered it with his t-shirt.
“We need to talk,” Wiggins wheezed.
“I don’t think so. Have a good day.”
Tomas banged on the door, Konan glanced out the peephole again. Wiggins had moved down to the bottom of the stairs and waved more officers into the yard.
Konan opened the door. Tomas backed up. Wiggins turned and looked at him.
“What do you want? What’s with all the backup?”
“We received a call last night about some woman screaming in your trailer. We came to check it out.”
“Do you have a warrant?”
“No,” Tomas answered.
Konan forced a smile. His fake hospitality fooled no one.
“Then you better go get one. Because you’re not coming in without one.”
Wiggins edged around the corner of the steps, but Konan blocked his view into the mobile home. Tomas shook his head in frustration. He knew Konan would not make this easy, but Janko had sent them here to search his property.
“You don’t want to do this, bud.”
“Sure, I do. You’re not getting in here otherwise.”
Wiggins tapped Tomas on the shoulder and nodded toward the car. He gave Konan a nod.
“We’ll be back with a warrant,” he wheezed.
They walked hurriedly back to their vehicles. Konan watched them go. He returned to his library and sipped his coffee.
At noon, Tomas, Wiggins, and a platoon-sized element of police officers showed up at Konan’s mobile home.
“Here’s the warrant,” Tomas said as he shoved it at Konan. “Get out of the way.”
Konan took the warrant and opened it. He didn’t move. Tomas glared at him. Satisfied that the warrant was legitimate, he allowed the officers into his home.
“You guys have fun, I’ll be in the yard.”
Wiggins walked out into the yard with him. Konan sat under the shade of a large oak. Wiggins sat down next to him.
“You shouldn’t have made this difficult, Konan. They’re going to rip your place up,” he wheezed. Konan laughed.
“So, you think I should have let y’all in and let you look around without protecting myself?”
“You know us, Konan. We are only doing our jobs.” Konan laughed out loud. Wiggins shrugged his thin shoulders.
“I would assume that sounded better in your head,” Konan said. “There are plenty of examples why that is a bad idea. Plus, I have proof that Smith has used the police to manufacture evidence to hang people he didn’t like. So no, I wasn’t about to let you in without a warrant.”
“Yeah. I guess nothing sounds right when your belongings are being ransacked.”
After hours of searching, Tomas came into the yard. He glared at Konan and spit in his direction.
“Forensics hasn’t turned up anything but bleach. How often do you soak your house in the stuff?”
“Often, Tomas. I like things clean.”
Tomas glared at him. Wiggins laughed out loud.
“So, you have found nothing?”
“Nothing definitive, but we have enough to bring you in for questioning. Go ahead, make me do this the hard way.”
Konan smiled a humorless smile. He stood to his feet and winked at Tomas.
“Are you going to arrest me, or should I follow you to the station?”
“You will ride with me and Wiggins. A witness overheard the woman yelling last night. We will sort this out soon.”
Tomas and Wiggins escorted Konan out to the vehicle and pushed him into the back seat. The ride to the station was quiet. Wiggins kept staring at Konan in the rearview mirror. Tomas stared out the window.
At the station, Tomas grabbed Konan’s arm and led him into Room #1. He sat across from Konan. Tomas wasted no time in questioning Konan.
“Where’s the body of Mayor Smith’s secretary?”
“Her name was Abbie. Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“We know you killed her. Where is her body?”
Konan leaned back in his chair and uttered one word, “lawyer.” Tomas’s face blushed fire engine red. He jumped to his feet and leaned in Konan’s face.
“Say that again.”
Konan smiled and stood to his feet. He stretched his arms overhead and yawned.
“I said, Lawyer. As in, ‘I evoke my right against self-incrimination.’ I want my phone call.”
Tomas grabbed his chair and threw it against the wall. Janko walked in and escorted his officer out of the room. Wiggins walked in and escorted Konan to the pay phone at the end of the hallway.
He placed a call to his longtime friend and attorney, Kathy Thurston. She answered on the third ring.
“Hello, this is Kathy Thurston speaking. How may I help you?”
“Kathy, it’s Konan. I need representation. I am at the station being questioned.”
“Don’t say another word, I’m on my way.”
Konan hung up the phone. Wiggins escorted him back to room #1. Tomas was back in the room along with Chief Janko. Konan sat in the chair. Janko sat across from him.
“You just have to make things hard, don’t you? You can’t make things easy.”
“Don’t rise to the bait, Konan,“Kathy said as she walked into the room.
She looked like something from Old Hollywood. Her brains matched her beauty. Brown, curly hair fell to her waist, a pixie nose, and grey eyes set her apart from the rest of womankind. She was one of a kind.
She pulled a chair next to Konan and sat down. Kathy smiled at Chief Janko and jerked a thumb to the door.
“I need a moment with my client.”
Janko nodded. The officers left the room, and Kathy turned toward Konan. She leaned forward and whispered her instructions to Konan.
“From this point forward, you say nothing. Let me find out what they have on you, and we will get out of here.”
Kathy stood and left the room. Konan leaned back in his chair and yawned. She had left for only a moment when she walked back into the room. Her face was tight, her mouth a tight line.
“How bad is it, Kathy?”
“They claim to have a witness that saw you murder the secretary.”
“Oh, I bet they do.”
“It’s not a joke, Konan. They’re going to put you in a line-up and see if he can identify you. If he does, you will be in jail until your court date.” Konan shrugged.
“Whatever, Kathy. Let’s get this dog-and-pony show on the road.”
She shook her head.
“You haven’t changed a bit. How in the world did you step into this?”
“It started by accepting my old job back. I guess this time I stepped into something I can’t scape off.”
“I’m sorry about the victims.”
“Yeah. She didn’t deserve to die like that.”
Kathy and Konan sat in silence until Tomas came in to take Konan to the lineup. He stood at the end of the line, in slot number five. They faced to the right and then told to face center.
“It’s number five,” the witness said.
“Are you sure?” Tomas asked. The witness nodded and said yes.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
Chief Janko shook the witness’s hand and thanked them for coming in. Kathy shook her head in disgust. The prosecutor, Allen Wickham, stood by the glass and smiled.
“Well, at least this murderer won’t skate. We can put him in lockup until I’ve arranged a court day.”
Kathy walked up to him and whispered, “not so fast hotshot. We will seek bail. Be ready to go to court.”
An officer escorted Konan out and slapped the cuffs on him. Mayor Smith stood to the side and smirked. Tomas and Wiggins refused to meet his eyes. Kathy came up and put her hand on his chest.
“Stay safe, I will get a bail hearing as quickly as possible.”
Konan forced a smile. He struggled to keep his rage under control, but he knew that unleashing it would not help his case. So, he kept his mouth shut for the time being.
“No worries, Kathy. It will be fine.”
Kathy nodded and watched as the officers led Konan to a vehicle. The small jail was two large cells. An old, white cinder block wall divided them. The first cell was for those who waited to go to the state prison after sentencing, the other large cell was for those who awaited bail hearings. To round out the facilities, a drunk tank was on the other side of the building, and two cells with the same layout held women prisoners.
Between the cells and the drunk tank was a security office that had five officers who monitored the prisoners. They led Konan to Cell #2 and shoved him in. The prisoners looked up like hungry wolves slobbering over a new meal. Konan met their eyes. He walked over to a corner and sat down. The eyes of the prisoners followed his every move. A feeble old man came over and extended his hand.
“I’m Earl Whittle, everybody calls me HardHead.”
Konan stared at the old man. His hair was frosty white, but his beard was dirty. Earl’s eyes were red, like he had visited Italy during wine season, and he drank until he forgot what sobriety felt like. He smelled of cheap hooch. Konan shook his hand.
“My name is Konan.”
“Like the barbarian,” Earl asked. Konan chuckled and nodded.
“What brings someone like you to our humble abode?”
“They have accused me of murder.” Earl grimaced as he took a seat next to Konan. Alcohol seeped from his pores.
“Did you do it?”
“Ah, you know how it is, Earl. I am here, but I am innocent.”
“Yeah,” the old man chuckled, “ain’t we all.”
Konan grinned and leaned his head back against the cool concrete blocks. He and Earl stayed quiet for a bit. The prisoners watched them between playing cards. Earl seemed agitated, but Konan figured it had something to do with his hangover.
“You’re not gonna ask what I did to get in here?”
“Why are you here, HardHead?”
“Public drunkenness and Tomfoolery.”
“Yeah,” Earl said with all seriousness. “I thought I was peeing on a tree or shrub, but turned out it was the cop’s leg. How was I supposed to know? I was drunk.”
Konan laughed, Earl joined in. The other prisoners watched in silence. Earl quieted down.
“You see them boys watching you?” Konan nodded and said, ‘yeah.’ Earl lowered his voice.
“They’re with the Brotherhood. They’re going to attack you tonight in the shower. Those boys know who you are, Thermopolis.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured that.”
Earl wet his lips and nodded. “How do you know who I am though, Earl?”
“We have a friend in common.”
Konan looked at the old man. He’d never seen him before in his life and could not imagine who they might have in common.
“Oh yeah? Who would that be?”
“Ashley. She’s a good girl. She came by and told me to look out for you. Ashley said to tell you that the bad guys have paid the guards off, and they won’t intervene with what happens tonight.”
“Well, it sounds like I’m not supposed to survive it.”
“You’re not. Mayor Smith himself put this hit on you, supposedly. Of course, there’s no evidence that he did it, but that’s the rumor.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up.”
Earl smiled and walked over to his bunk. Konan stayed in the corner. Predatory eyes followed his every movement. “Breathe, let them make the first move.”
At 1500, a guard came in and called his name. Konan stood to his feet and walked over to him. The guard instructed him to place his hands behind his back. Konan complied. Then the officer led him out to the visitor’s center.
Kathy waited for him at a table near the door. She winked at him as he drew near.
“You ready to get out of here?”
She and the officer led him across the street to the courthouse. Judge Winnie Smith presided over his bail hearing. She finally set bail for 50,000 dollars. Kathy informed the judge that they would post bail within an hour.
At 1545, the bail bondsman posted the bail. Konan was free.
“We need to talk, Konan. Let’s get you out of those state pajamas and into something else. Then, we will grab dinner and talk about this mess you’re in.”
“Sounds good,” Konan replied. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”
She smiled, and they walked out to her car. He changed into Wrangler jeans, a Chaps button down, and Red Wing boots. They ordered dinner from Sonic. As they munched on burgers and tater-tots, Kathy asked about what led to the police holding him.
“Look, they called me in to consult on the case. I turned down Lilly, but then Lt. Daniels got murdered. Mayor Smith demanded I investigate the case. So, I did. There were no solid leads. Every time I thought we found something, it ended up being a big nothing-burger.”
“Smith demanded I frame someone for the deed. I told him I didn’t work like that, and he said I would pay.”
“Did you kill his secretary?”
Konan looked at his friend and didn’t answer. Kathy sighed. She locked eyes with him and said, “you have to tell me. I have to know so I can prepare for the worst.”
“Yeah, I killed her. After, she came to my house and tried to murder me.”
“So, you defended yourself. Why didn’t you call the cops?” Konan stared at Kathy like she was stupid.
“You’re kidding, right? I was just fired and threatened by Mayor Smith. This chick shows up and cuts me here and here.” Konan lifted his shirt and showed her the wounds. “All while telling me how the victims died.” His voice cracked with emotion, and Kathy put her hand on his knee.
“So, it wasn’t a clear-cut case of self-defense, was it?”
Konan shook his head no. Kathy cleared her throat and waited for the other shoe to drop.
“No, Kathy. It was a clear-cut case of vengeance.”
Konan laid it all out for Kathy. Her vehicle was running, so there was no chance someone would overhear their conversation. As they talked, Kathy listened to every detail. She never interrupted him. Suddenly, Konan had an epiphany.
“Holy Jesus,” he muttered softly.
Kathy looked at him and waited for her friend to answer. Konan stared out the window and shook his head.
“What is it, Konan?”
“I have a note that would prove that Mayor Smith ordered Tomas to set up a pedophile to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. Then, he ordered me, twice, to set up someone else for the killings. What better way to cover your tracks than to have the cops do the dirty work?”
Kathy nodded her head in agreement but said, “yeah, but both of you are still alive. Whoever sent the assassin after you didn’t expect you to survive.”
“True. However, Earl told me in jail that someone hired The Brotherhood to make sure I did not survive the night. And once again, the mayor’s name got mentioned.”
Kathy shook her head in disgust. Konan rubbed his face and yawned. It had been a long day, and he wanted to shower and fall into a coma.
“Are you okay, Konan?”
“Yeah, just tired. Do you mind dropping me off near downtown? I need to find someplace to lay my head for the evening.”
Kathy patted his knee and smiled. Not for the first time did Konan think she was beautiful. “Come home with me. You need a shower and a good night’s rest. You will get both at my place.” Konan went to say something, but Kathy put her hand up like she was silencing a child. “I’m not hearing it tonight, Konan. If you don’t like it, we can make other arrangements tomorrow.”
Konan leaned back against the plush leather seats and closed his eyes. Kathy’s phone kept him from sleeping, but it was nice to just rest without seeing Lilly reaching for his hand. Kathy pulled into her driveway and pressed the button to open her garage door. She pulled in and they both got out.
The garage door closed, and Kathy led him into her home. She pulled off her blue blazer and tossed it over a chair. “Come on in, Konan. Make yourself at home. The television is in the den, the remote is on top of the entertainment center. I’m going to change out of this monkey suit.”
Konan found the remote and turned on the television. He turned it to the local news and found himself featured prominently in the day’s headlines. Mayor Smith stood at a lectern and held a press conference. He pointed to a petite Asian woman who had her hand up.
“Go ahead,” he said. She smiled and began her question.
“Is it true, sir, that your police department had the suspect of a triple homicide within your grasp, and Judge Smith allowed him to go free on a bail of 50,000 dollars?”
“We can only speculate as to the ruling made by Judge Smith. Regardless of what this suspect may have done, he still has rights that are provided to him via the Constitution.”
“What if he kills again?” Mayor Smith chuckled and forced a smile.
“There is no need to worry, sweetheart. The fine officers of Fredericksburg have him under constant surveillance. He is going nowhere but jail for the heinous crimes he has committed.”
Konan heard a noise behind him. It was Kathy. She had changed into Hello Kitty pajamas, a white t-shirt, and stood watching the news.
“Mayor Smith is a clown, but I find it hard to believe he is a serial murderer.”
Kathy walked around the sofa and leaned back against the arm. She placed her bare feet on Konan’s lap.
“Yeah, well, what do serial murderers look like?”
Kathy wrinkled up her nose at his response. She wiggled her toes.
“Rub my feet, and I’ll tell you.”
Konan gripped her left foot and rubbed. Kathy groaned with pleasure. Konan shook his head and continued to rub.
“In my experience, they are ugly inside and out. There are no attractive features to them. They are trying to fill some void in their soul, but nothing comes close to filling the ever-growing chasm.”
“They lack attractive features. That’s your big giveaway? What, don’t they possess the ability to rub a woman’s feet?”
Kathy winked at him and sighed contentedly. She wiggled her other foot. “Don’t forget I have two feet.” Konan laughed.
“Yeah, and you have two hands.”
Kathy grinned. Konan turned his attention back to the press conference. “They killed her to get you back in the game.” Kathy watched Konan. ‘
“What’s going on in that brain of yours, Konan?”
“The secretary said the killer murdered Daniels to get me back into the game. I’m trying to figure out what that meant.”
“Do you think Smith is the murderer?”
Konan looked at her and shook his head no. Kathy waited for him to respond.
“I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to not believe that. His secretary tried to kill me last night. Earl told me in jail today that Smith had hired The Brotherhood to end me tonight. Of course, there is no evidence of them being ordered to kill me.”
“Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
“Do I think he can be a serial murderer? Sure, we all have that capacity. However, I think there is something else going on. The attack last night tells me I am getting close.”
“Who else could it be?”
Konan shrugged; his tired mind would not let him generate any more ideas. He needed to rest. Kathy took him by the hand and led him to the bathroom. “Everything you need is here,” she motioned to the cabinet. “I laid out some shorts and a clean t-shirt. They should fit you.”
Konan undressed and climbed into the shower. The hot water rushed over his body, relaxing the tense muscles in his back. He sighed heavily, exhausted from what seemed like the longest day on record.
He stepped out and dried off. Konan changed into the shorts and t-shirt. He sat down on the couch and fell sound asleep. Kathy watched him sleep for several moments. She leaned over and kissed his forehead and whispered, “good night, sweet prince.” She turned off the lights and made her way to her room.
The early morning rays filtered in through the cracked blinds. Konan woke to the smell of bacon cooking and coffee brewing. He stretched and stood to his feet. Konan shuffled into the kitchen. Kathy sat at the table; a case file opened up before her. She smiled and came around the table to hug him.
“Morning, handsome. How did you rest?”
“I feel as if I hibernated the whole winter.”
“You certainly snored like it. Several times last night I thought you might have died, but then you caught your breath and went back to snoring.”
Konan sighed. “Well, that’s unattractive.”
Kathy laughed and wrinkled up her nose. Konan liked when she did that.
“I can think of things much less attractive.”
“Oh? Such as?”
“Cheating, murdering your spouse, deadbeat fathers, the list could span infinity in both directions.”
“Well, those are certainly traits not to be emulated.”
“Right? Would you like some breakfast?” Konan’s stomach grumbled at the mention of food.
“Well, you know where the fridge is. Help yourself to whatever is in there. I have a court appearance at 10. Are you going to be alright staying here?”
“Sure. Do I need to let the cops know where I am?”
“No. I will check in and see if there are any recent developments. I don’t think Mayor Smith and his friends need to know where you are at the moment. Besides, my neck is on the line now too.”
“Yeah,” Konan said softly. “Sorry about that, Kathy. I would not want you to be hurt because you’re associated with me.”
Kathy smirked. “Let them come. I’ll send them home packing.” Konan smiled at her bravado but could pick up the tremble of fear in her voice. Another of his friends could get murdered, and he was helpless to stop it.
Kathy leaned forward and kissed Konan on the cheek. Her grey eyes shined with passion, and Konan found himself smitten. “Don’t worry about me, Konan. I’m a big girl, besides I am armed.” She winked at him and patted her purse.
“Be safe, Kathy.”
He watched as she walked out to the garage and got in her car. Konan appreciated the movement of the female form. She noticed him staring and blew him a kiss. A smile tugged at his lips.
He walked back inside and locked the door. Konan stretched back out on the couch and closed his eyes. He felt secure knowing that no one knew where he was. A few hours later, he woke when he sensed a presence in the house with him. Konan cracked his eyes open. Wiggins sat in the chair across from him.
“Hello, Konan.” Konan sat up on the side of the couch. Wiggins silenced 9mm sidearm followed his movement.
“Don’t be stupid, bud. I would hate to kill you before I am ready.”
The asthmatic wheeze had disappeared. Konan said nothing, he just waited.
“Aren’t you going to say anything? Why am I doing this? Why am I the bad guy? No?”
Konan said nothing. Wiggins’s mouth formed a hard line, his eyes narrowed. He looked like a venomous snake that was about to strike.
“Say something, Konan or so help me God, I will end your ability to reproduce.”
“Why the act?”
“I wanted to see that great investigative mind of yours in motion, but you’ve grown dull. For a moment, I considered killing Lilly to get you back in the game, but I have other plans for her. I knew it would take something drastic to bring you back to the game, so I killed Daniels and Amber instead.”
“So, you killed them, to bring me back into your sick fantasy.”
Wiggins chuckled like a hyena. He shook his finger at Konan in a scolding manner.
“Now, now. No trying to get in my head. I am prepared for that, aren’t I sweetie?” Judith pushed Kathy and Ashley into the room and winked at Wiggins.
“That’s right, babe. Konan doesn’t stand a chance.”
Wiggins and Judith laughed. Konan stared at Judith and tried to piece together what was happening.
“I thought Smith was behind the killings. What is going on here?”
Kathy and Ashley were both bound and gagged. Tears wet their cheeks. Wiggins sighed.
“Was he always this dense? Smith was a distraction, Konan. Just like Pops. Just like Ashley. Judith treated Amber in a couple of sessions. She knew that those two redneck idiots met her in the warehouse section to get their freak on. They would leave her alone after they finished, and then she would catch a cab back to town. We caught up with her after their last encounter.”
Judith smiled and nodded her head. She leaned close to Konan and smiled at him.
“The expert hunter of killers could never see the forest for the trees.”
Wiggins sat on the edge of the chair and looked at Kathy and Ashley. Judith sat next to the two women. Wiggins sighed and continued.
“Konan, I wanted to test myself against the best. YOU were the best, but you have this inflated sense of right and wrong. You fight every battle. It’s frustrating. You could not let Tia Mathers slip information to the media, so you punched her out.”
Judith walked up and slapped Konan across the face. Wiggins smiled.
“I had just killed my first victim. It was messy. I hadn’t perfected my technique. However, I got excited when they assigned you to my case. But before we could start the game, you went and got fired.”
“So, you waited all these years to start a new game.”
“Do not interrupt me, Konan. Do not leap ahead. You want the story, sit there with your mouth closed and listen.”
Judith giggled; Konan wanted to punch her. In his mind, he imagined slamming his right hand into her face until she died.
Wiggins walked into the dining room and brought back a chair. He shoved it close to Konan and sat down. His sidearm never moved from Konan’s torso.
“I came up with a plan, you see. I went to the Academy and got a badge. Like you, I studied various investigative techniques and memorized your cases. I didn’t want to be like you. I wanted to absorb your essence.”
Konan snorted and started laughing. Wiggins and Judith looked at him. The looks on their faces triggered more laughter.
“Look at you two idiots. A serial killer that needs an audience, and a whack-a-do doctor of soft science. You two miscreants deserve each other. Are you the father of her child, Wiggins? How bad did it sting when she named it after me?”
Wiggins screamed and punched Konan in the face with his sidearm. Konan laughed through the blood and broken bone. Judith balled up her fist and punched him repeatedly in the face. Konan continued to laugh.
“Instinct told me it was a cop. Oh man, that old saying doesn’t work here, does it?”
“What old saying?”
“How’s your wife and my kids? Do you get it?”
“You should have listened to your instinct, Konan? If you had, I wouldn’t have had to kill Daniels. It’s your fault she’s dead.” Konan cut his eyes to Wiggin’s face and grinned.
“For that, I am going to kill you, Wiggins. This ain’t even about justice. This is good ole fashioned revenge.”
“Yeah, Daniels said something about that when I cut her open. She went on and on about how the great Thermopolis Konan would avenge her. You didn’t just disappoint me Konan, you disappointed her.”
“So, how did you get mixed up with this crazy minx here?”
Judith scowled at Konan and punched him in the mouth. Wiggins laughed.
“You rejected her, and she wanted revenge. She was going to be one of my victims, but she asked me to teach her how to kill. So, I took a chance on her. Judith has never disappointed me. She is going to kill you, and I am going to spend some time with these two wonderful women in your life.”
Konan flexed his hands. Judith watched him. Konan grinned at her.
“Did Wiggins tell you what I did to the last broad he sent to kill me?”
Judith backed up and looked at Wiggins. She raised her eyebrows and pulled a hunting knife from its sheath.
“It ain’t nothing, baby. You’ve got this.”
“No, you don’t. The other broad showed up at my house last night and had the element of surprise. I killed her, but only after I beat her to the point of death. Then I tossed her dead body into the waterway. You don’t stand a chance.”
Judith paced back and forth, muttering to herself. She smacked herself in the head and grew more irritable with every passing second. Wiggins had his attention on Ashley and Kathy. Judith glared at Konan. Konan smiled at her and winked.
“I’m gonna cut you and take your worthless heart! You never should have rejected me.”
Judith shouted and rushed Konan, the blade extended. Wiggins turned to watch the show. Konan waited as Judith bum-rushed him. She plunged the blade toward Konan’s sternum. At the last moment, he leaned out of the way, and she flew over the couch.
She landed with a thud, and the sound of bone breaking filled the house. Wiggins ran around the sofa and looked at Judith’s lifeless body.
“Baby? Come on, baby. Answer me!”
Wiggins shook Judith’s body, but the broken neck kept her from responding. Wiggins roared with rage. In his rush to check on Judith, he had put the sidearm down. Konan picked it up and checked the magazine. The magazine held its maximum rounds.
Wiggins turned to Konan; fury shined in his eyes. Konan smiled at him and pointed the sidearm at him.
“You killed her,” Wiggins snarled tearfully. Konan laughed.
“Nah, man. She committed suicide. Did you not see her fly over the couch? She didn’t nail the landing and broke her neck.”
“I am going to destroy you, Konan. There is nothing you can do to stop it besides kill me. You don’t have the guts to kill an unarmed man.” Konan smiled and shook his head.
“You know, Wiggins, you would be right normally. However, these are extenuating circumstances. “
“How so? Enlighten me, Konan!”
“You killed an innocent girl and a cop to get me back in the game. Well, today’s your lucky day.”
Konan shot Wiggins through the throat. Wiggins crashed to the floor and gasped for air. Konan walked into the kitchen and pulled out a knife. He freed Kathy and Ashley.
“Get out and call the cops. I need to finish this.”
Konan walked over to where Wiggins fell. A black bag sat next to where Wiggins had sat when Konan woke up. The bag held a hammer and rusty nails, along with his fleshing knife. Konan pulled out the hammer.
He leaned over Wiggins and showed him the hammer. His eyes grew large at the sight of it.
“This is for Amber and Daniels. You should have left me be.”
Konan lifted the hammer and brought it down on Wiggin’s left ankle. The bone snapped in half, and Konan smiled at the crunch. In the distance, sirens sounded, but Konan continued to swing the hammer.
Janko and Tomas rushed in and pulled Konan off the lifeless body of Wiggins. Ashley and Kathy stared at the scene in front of them. Officers led Konan out to a vehicle and shoved him into the back until they secured the scene. Janko rushed out of the house and puked his guts up on Kathy’s manicured lawn. Tomas looked visibly shaken. A patrol officer drove Konan downtown and escorted him into room #1.
Lilly watched from the two-way mirror. Konan sat at the table and waited. It seemed to Lilly that her partner had finally snapped.
Six months later:
Konan sat on a boulder overlooking the city of Colorado Springs. The cool, brisk air hinted at an early winter. Streaks of red highlighted the mountain crags.
He sipped his coffee and considered his past. Konan realized the mistakes of his past had not hindered his present. The future was unwritten, and the people that had hurt his friends would hurt no one again.
Life was good for the moment, and that was all he could ask for. Tomorrow would bring a new day and fresh problems. His leave would not last forever.
But come what may, he would be there when his friends needed him.