Faithless…the conclusion to Chapter Four…unedited…

Once the bomb squad gave all clear, forensics swept the scene in the back yard. Lilly sat on the back porch, while I searched for a nearby convenience store that sold coffee. There wasn’t one, so I sat next to her.
“You should bring a thermos with you,” she said.
“I will from now on,” I grumbled.
Murder scenes are hard to take, and coffee somehow made it more tolerable. Besides, you never see a cop show where the detectives go hours without their brain juice.
“Every house in this community, save this one, was abandoned. It’s a ghost town. Why would they stay when everyone else left?”
I stared at my partner for a bit. She was as beautiful as she’d always been. We’d been through a lot together, but this case tested my faith like none other. It wasn’t the horrendous nature of the crimes that tested me, it was my inability to see humanity as nothing more than vicious animals that needed to be put down.
Which made me an animal too.
Ashley came over and sat next to us. She flipped open her notebook and read her scribblings.
“Two victims, both killed approximately 7.5 hours ago, just like the first victim. Names are Susan and Willa Titus. Susan was killed in the same manner as the first-two rounds to the chest. Both Susan and Willa appeared to be outside when the first victim was killed. Willa was shot once, right here,” Ashley said, tapping her pencil between her eyes.
“When will you schedule them for autopsy?”
“Immediately.”
A crime scene tech came over and handed me a bag of brass casings. Lilly looked at it but said nothing.
“Guy didn’t even police up his shell casings. I guess he figured he didn’t need to since no one else lives out here. That’s Golden Saber casings isn’t it?”
“It is, the +P variant too.”
“A cop did this, Konan?”
I looked at the tech and gave him a forced smile. “Yep,” I mumbled. “A disgraced one.”
The Fredericksburg Police Department issued, and demanded, that all officers use Remington Golden Saber ammunition in their sidearms. All officers used +P ammo. The specialized ammunition created a higher chamber pressure and offered a flatter trajectory and more speed, but also caused more recoil. Only seasoned shooters, such as police officers, used the ammo.
Which meant that Jackson Titus was back. The disgraced cop had killed his family, killed Bradley Freeman, and now roamed the city streets hunting and killing. The only question left was why.
I would have killed for a cup of coffee.
Lilly and I watched as the crime scene technicians finished their duties. Ashely and the medical personnel carted the dead away. Once everyone left, we got in our vehicle and drove back to Fredericksburg.
“Three dead, and not a living soul around to help them in their hour of trouble,” Lilly said as she drove.
“Yeah.”
“I can’t think of a more lonely way to go, Konan. What must have ran through their minds as they waited for their turn.”
I said nothing. Our victims couldn’t answer and I had a thing about putting words in the mouth of the dead. Lilly let it drop, and asked, “do you want a cup of coffee?”
“I’d kill for a cup of coffee.”
She pulled off into the gravel parking lot of an old country store, a rusty Shell Oil sign was nailed to the broken wood fence, and a busted Pepsi sign stood a lonely vigil out by the road. We got out and made our way into the store. It was dim inside, the cooler lights flickered off and on, the whole place smelled of cigarette smoke and booze.
Shuffling feet came from a corner office, and an old woman came into view. A sign next to the coffee pots read: We serve Community Cafe Especial.
“They got the good coffee,” I whispered to Lilly. She nodded.
“Help you?”
I turned and gave the old woman a soft smile. Her face was lined with every bad decision she’d ever made, the corners of her eyes-the crow’s feet we called them-was testimony that she’d tried to laugh when she cried.
“We’re just passing through and wanted a cup of coffee, ma’am.”
The old woman’s eyes were bloodshot, but not from booze. I smelled alcohol when I first walked in, but it didn’t come from the woman. She pointed at the pots. Lilly was pouring coffee into a tall red and white cup that had Community scribbled on the side. She poured the rest of it into another mug.
I added sugar, lots of sugar, into my cup and stirred it. She doctored hers and we walked to the counter.
“You’re cops,” the old woman remarked.
“Yes ma’am.”
“What brings you out this way?”
“There was some trouble and we got dispatched to come out here,” Lilly responded after tasting her coffee.
“City cops out here in the country? What kind of trouble brings your type out here with us poor folk?”
“We’re not at liberty to say, ma’am.”
The old woman stared at Lilly and gave her a grim smile. Her eyes held no light and were cold, dark orbs that bored into Lilly’s. I cleared my throat and gave her a soft smile, and said, “thanks for the coffee. Have a great evening.”
Lilly dropped her gaze and followed me out into warmth of the late afternoon sun. Halfway to the car, Lilly turned and put her empty hand over her eyes to shield them from the sunlight. The old woman watched us from the rickety screen door.
“Come on, Lilly. I’ll drive.”
She dropped her hand and walked to the car. We rode in silence for a few moments, enjoying the smooth taste of the coffee. Both of us let out a ‘mmm’ when we sipped.
“That old woman was something else, wasn’t she?”
“In what way, Lilly?”
“She seemed nosy. ‘What are city cops doing out here,’ like we need permission to cross her crummy little world.”
“That upset you?”
“It didn’t upset you, Konan? She acted as if we trespassed onto some sacred ground.”
I hadn’t noticed anything untoward in the woman’s demeanor. It was a cold, hard world out there, and sensitive people weren’t bred out in the untamed rural districts. Hard land and hard times bred hard people.
I was lost in my thoughts, and I focused on the road. It had been a long day, and I wanted nothing more than to get home, get a shower, and fall asleep.
The big black truck escaped my attention, as I drove past the city limit sign on the outskirts of Fredericksburg.

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