Cover

A Most Deadly Game

Walking through Rose Park in the middle of a Spring afternoon, for most, is a therapeutic experience to say the least, as any psychiatrist, worth their weight in salt, will proclaim. The sweet-smelling nature of the Spider Lily is a catalyst for memories of love making on the beach, a first kiss on a moonlit night, or just maybe, something as fantastical as floating high above strawberry fields and marshmallow clouds. For others, the same sanity saving scent may conjure demons of suppressed pain. The kind of pain that breaks people. The kind of pain that strips them of their pure unadulterated lust for life.

Richard Wells, a much lesser known psychiatrist in town, considered just these elementary theories as he cautiously approached the alluring rustic Japanese bridge at the Western edge of Rose Park. Richard stooped a few hundred feet from the bridge, ducking behind an ancient red maple in anticipation of making just another sweet memory. He bent down slowly, grasping the large trunk of the mighty maple with one hand. He was cautious not to make a sound that may alert the few passersby to his location.

Discretion is the key, he thought, as he felt the sharp edges of the maples deep grooves scrape his soft fingertips.

After just a few moments, she came into view. Richard continued to watch as her long auburn hair flowed freely back and forth over her small rounded shoulders, in perfect rhythm with the warm Spring breeze. His heart began to beat heavy in his chest as he noticed small muscles ripple on her left calf. He closed his eyes and imagined her small but powerful legs wrapped tightly around his waist.

Those are runner’s legs, he thought, as he felt the head of his warm erect penis pulsate against his inner thigh.

 “I was always a sucker for a pair of runner’s legs in high red heels,” he stated in a whisper so slight, his voice gently melted into the sound of the rustling maple leaves just above.

As the woman stopped directly in the middle of the Japanese style bridge, Richard looked around like a panther closely guarding a fresh bloodied kill.

The auburn-haired woman turned to face the other side of the bridge, unknowingly with her back to Richard. She leaned carefully over the rail and looked down to the water lily’s below resting peacefully on the moss-covered pond.

Richard walked carefully until he was just a few feet from the end of the bridge, and then crouched as low as his office jockey knees allowed before cracking and popping, like twigs in a fire. Richard watched as the woman placed ear pods into each ear. He could hear Goodbye Horses playing clearly through the pods now firmly placed into each small soft ear.

Perfect! he thought as his heart quivered violently in his chest like a man slipping into an ice-cold bath. Richard slid softly on the balls of his feet until he was directly behind his prey. His fully erect penis was just inches from the shallow gap created by her tightly clenched cheeks as she bent over to hold on to the unsteady wood chipped railing. Unable to waste any more precious moments, Richard grabbed the woman with his right hand and pressed firmly to muffle her inevitable scream. With his left hand, he reached around her front grabbing her right breast and gently squeezed with just enough pressure to cause discomfort, but not tight enough to cause bruising pain. The woman struggled violently with all her strength and bit Richards hand until he was forced to release her. Richard released his grasp and staggered the three feet backwards until his back touched the railing of the rickety bridge with enough force to cause light cracking sounds. Richard struggled as he tried to regain his balance listening to the microscopic fractures spider webbing throughout the rail. He was sure he would fall into the dark water below.

Both stood looking at each other with wide eyes but otherwise expressionless faces for a few moments just before smiling and quickly wrapping each other in a warm passionate embrace.

“Hey baby, now that was a fun one,” stated Richard as he ran his hands across Rachels hard nipples.

“Yea, that was pretty exciting. I think Goodbye Horses was an especially nice touch,” replied Rachel throwing back her head with her tongue slightly protruding from between her moist red painted lips.

Both lovers released their embrace and walked hand in hand toward the North side of the park.

#

The North side of the park was more secluded with thick rows of sixty-foot-high maple trees blotted with bright orange and red leaves, signaling the middle of Spring. The sugar maples are spaced a perfect forty feet apart and extend from the edge of the winding Northern path back toward Wheeler Street some two miles away. Between each sugar maple, park goers enjoy a wide range of short and tall shrubbery laced with the hopeful emerald green leaves of the tequila sunrise, the calming bright orange of the Golden Dragons, and the passion inducing red of the amaryllis.

“Come with me Richard baby,” whispered Rachel Benson, as she giggled nervously pulling Richard into the seclusion of the Golden Dragons and tall Emerald green shrubbery.

“Rachel, this is too close to the path. What if someone walks by and sees us. I am a married man for Christ sakes with so much to lose. My practice….my family.”

Even before feeling the sharp sting of Rachel Bensons right cross, Richard realized that he went too far. In one sentence, he turned his eager lover into an enraged wildcat ready to pounce on its stunned prey.

“You son of a bitch. What am I your little whore on the side?” Rachel did not wait for an answer. She looked deep into Richards wide eyed shocked expression and savored the scent of fresh blood. Confident that she had him right where she wanted, she pushed Richard to the ground and slowly began to walk away toward the path.

Shaking his head to regain some semblance of rational thought, he began, “Please don’t go baby. I am so sorry for bringing that up. You know I would leave that bitch in a heartbeat for you.” Realizing that his halfhearted attempts at reconciliation were ineffective or, inadequate at best, Richard decided to up the ante.

“I promise my dear, I will leave her by the end of the year.”

With her back still toward the exit path, Rachel smiled to herself and thought, “That’s exactly what your goanna do sucker. She quickly turned around and jumped on top of Richard placing her knee gently to his groin as a gesture that he was her puppet and she pulled all the strings. His will is an illusion. Her will controls all things.

Both lovers passionately kissed, tore at each other’s clothes, and gently clawed each other’s skin with just enough pressure to leave tiny white lines that will fade just moments before Richard reaches his front door. Two lovers indulging in the timeless act of making love under a bright afternoon sun among the multicolored sweet-smelling flora of Rose Park. Two lovers, oblivious to the hungry wolf that always stalks such seemingly safe landscapes of life.

#

This was nothing but another job for the professionally dressed man standing behind the tall maple just five feet from the frolicking lovers. He quietly inspected his grey Armani two-piece suit through the black lenses of his Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses. Knowing that just one wrinkle, just one tear, just one slight discoloration of the intricately woven fabric could signal disaster for the entire operation. He looked across the smooth field of grey of his neatly pressed suit and pants. Satisfied that not a single blemish stood between him and his latest job, he reached into the left inside pocket of his coat and felt the cold steel of the Ruger .22 Long Barreled handgun equipped with a sound suppressor. Approaching the couple with the deliberate grace of a predator stalking vulnerable helpless prey, he slowly placed the silenced weapon into a two-ply plastic bag and recalled the phone conversation with his recent client, Ms. Catherine Wells, spouse of the man currently squeezing another woman’s ass in the bushes of Rose Park.

“Hello, Mr.……Mr. I don’t even know your name sir,” came the sad voice over the other line. Richard could hear the heartbreak in the woman’s voice. He judged her to be around fifty, married to the same man, the only man, she ever had intercourse with. A woman alone, lamenting lost looks and lost opportunities. A lonely queen of an empty nest kingdom he thought, without any stirring of his own emotions.

He replied with the professional cold calculating voice of an unattached IRS agent, or a doctor giving a cancer patient just a few months to live. This image sent a momentary shiver through his spine as a vision of his emaciated Mother lying on soiled nursing home bed sheets flashed through his mind.

Mam, my name will never be known. My face will never be known. Just give me the facts of the case, and let me know what I can do for you.”

 Without hesitation, Mrs. Wells began with a voice that now stressed confidence, determination and, what he perceived as, aggression. “I want my son of bitching cheating husband and his whore lover dead.”

“Very well Mam. Give me their meeting place, her address, and his route to work. I need as much detail as possible.”

The man in the dark glasses listened closely without taking written notes. He prided himself on his compartmentalization skill set. Lock it up in its own storage unit for later use, he thought, as he listened to the daily routine of his targets.

The broken voice over the phone became like a distant echo from the other side of a deep dark canyon as he became lost in thought. He quickly snapped back to full attention mode when he heard Mrs. Wells mention Rose Park.  As a lover of nature, he was a keen observer of patterns. He considered the countless hours observing the flight and feeding patterns of the very pigeons that inhabit the same park of his newest prey.

  No. not prey, he thought, forcefully stuffing a coming adrenaline rush back down to its rightful mental compartment. This was business, and enjoyment of the kill has no place in the process of conducting business.

 “Very well Mam. I have enough information to complete the job. As soon as I confirm that twenty thousand dollars has been deposited in the following account, I…. He was quickly interrupted by a shocked crackling voice over the line… “I can’t pay that amount. Where will I find that kind of cash?”

“Mam, I am not in the charity business. I am going to solve your problem within the week. My fee is actually very small for such a job. I guarantee your quick satisfaction. However, you can always choose to the job yourself.”

The silence over the line was short just as he expected. He knew people, and this was no sudden violent outburst of passion. Nobody calls a hitman unless they plan on living many days after the fact, mentally, or literally, pissing on the grave of their tormentor.

“Very well, I will have the money in your account by tomorrow afternoon.”

 Without allowing any further unnecessary discourse, the man behind the dark glasses finished by saying, “After confirmation of funds, I will get to work. Good day Mam.”

As the past conversation with Mrs. Wells ended in his mind, he looked down at the lovers on the ground and leveled his weapon.

#

Detective Eric Lewison sat under the dimly lit light hanging just a few feet above his scared Craftsman work bench. He felt the droplets of sweat slowly rolling down his nose and watched each one drip, causing a puddle to form between his arms. To his left sits a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels and to his right, a loaded 9MM service pistol with the safety off. He could not ignore the connection between both deadly objects. He thought with a deepening depression how one habit has become impossible to perform without the other. He could not clean his weapon any more without a full shot glass of Jack Daniels close by his side. He could no longer drink his favorite beverage without his trusted blue steel friend within arm’s reach.

 My wife was once my best friend he considered with mixed feelings of nostalgic bliss and unexpected loss. He could not remember when or, why, he drifted so far from the emotional warmth of his wife and daughter. He remembered through a blurry haze of intoxication, days of sobriety and happiness. Kissing his wife tenderly before leaving the front door of their modest three-bedroom home on Kensington Circle. He remembered, vaguely now, days spent pushing his beautiful blonde haired little girl on park swings and late nights reading The Happy Octopus until his throat strained from overuse. What happened to us, he thought as he placed the service revolver to the roof of his mouth and slowly applied pressure to the trigger.

Just before applying the required six pounds of pressure, sending him to peaceful bliss, he was snapped back to reality like an overstretched rubber band breaking from the tension…

“Eric, you have a phone call,” came the tired sound of his wife’s voice from the top of the stairs.

“I will take it down here,” he replied in a flat voice with just a hint of annoyance at being disturbed from his task. He heard the cellar door slam shut without another word from his wife. He followed her footsteps from above, judging her to be moving toward the upstairs line.

She’s going to listen in,” he stated softly to the dimly lit dust filled room. He was surprised that this realization did not annoy him half as much as he thought it would. At least snooping is better than indifference, he considered. Nothing sadder than not being either loved or hated by those around you. Eric walked to the dust covered phone in the far corner of the room and lifted the receiver to his ear.

“This is Detective Lewison.”

He heard a female dispatcher’s voice over the other end. He heard this woman’s voice before and could never escape a feeling of deja vu when hearing the soft yet slightly raspy voice on the other end.

“Detective, we have two bodies located in Rose Park.”

“Are the lab people finished on their end.”

“Yes sir. As usual the forensic team completed their duties. The coroner has agreed to remove the bodies only after you have finished your…your….”

 “Ok, thank you. I will call when I am finished my work.”

 He hung up the phone with a slight chuckle. He always thought it amusing how nobody at work could explain exactly what he does. He could not even explain it himself. He laughed again as he considered his nickname, only spoken behind his back. They called him Mr. “I see dead people.” I really hated that Fucking movie, he reminded himself.

 What a stupid name he thought. He knew like no other person, except for maybe his wife, his strange gift for recreating the past through observation and feeling. He remembered the day he discovered he had such a gift just twelve years ago on the mountainous battlefields of Afghanistan.

 He was a Lieutenant in the Criminal Investigative Division of the Army. He remembered with an almost perfect clarity the day he was called out to investigate a car bombing. He remembered the horrific events like looking through a crystal glass adorned with intricate designs. He could see events clearly but still with a slightly skewed world view.

 He closed his eyes and remembered standing in the middle of smoking twisted metal covered in torn human tissue and bloody gore. He remembered taking in the entire scene, closing his eyes, and shutting out the outside world with all its unnecessary chatter. Within just a few moments of meditation, the events leading up to and after the bombing raced through his mind like a bullet traveling through the soft grey matter of his brain. He trained himself to slow down the images to a speed appropriate for human comprehension. Having completed this, he was able to locate the exact location of the three-man team responsible for the detonation of the explosive and the subsequent death of five service members.

Now he was being called again to use this gift to find an elusive killer on the loose.

He walked over to the rusted sink of his basement and ran cold water over his head until he felt sober enough to drive the twenty miles to Rose Park. He reached for his service pistol and hesitated before placing the 9MM back into his holster. As if gently caressing the soft skin of his loving wife during a time when life was filled with hope, he whispered, “We will finish our dance later my love,” He placed the pistol in his holster and used the cellar door to face the bright yellow sun shining on the quiet suburban street.

#

Eric Lewison knew the Pittsburgh Homicide Operating Procedures Manual like the back of his hand. He considered with much relief a definite benefit to having such a freakish gift at reconstruction as his. By the time he was called into action, the scene was already secured, the victims were definitely dead as a doornail, and the lead investigator was busy doing all the legwork.

That poor sap will canvass the neighborhood for witnesses, taking pictures of curious onlookers, drowning in a sea of paperwork and, as he thought with pity, notifying loved ones that someone they cared for just had their soul prematurely released from their body.

Is it premature? thought Eric, as he approached the location of the two naked lifeless bodies. Is it really the destiny of some to be randomly killed? Cut down like an overgrown weed to make room for the blossoming beauty of the rose. Or cut down like a rose to make room for the noxious strangling weed. Eric laughed to himself, as he realized that he was engaging in the same old philosophical tripe he always promised he wouldn’t do when approaching a crime scene. “Old nervous habits die hard,” he stated, as his heart began to race as he cautiously stepped over hedges to reach his mark. He could smell a faint odor of what he always described as old wet fur. He was always reminded of the way his dog smelled after disappearing briefly in the woods during their weekly walk. He knew that his old beagle Roscoe would always find something dead and rotting to roll on in anticipation of a deep massage bubble bath in the backyard. “That little clever son of bitch he thought with a growing smile.”

He stopped just a few feet from the naked forms lying on the grass. He knew again that his next task was to skip ahead a few pages in the manual to the chapter on initial documentation of the scene. His main task was to walk slowly around the bodies and check for any type of scene contamination.

“These crime scene lads are sometimes sloppy,” he whispered softly as if in reverence for the peacefulness of the dead. “Sometimes just as sloppy as the initial beat cops on scene.”

Satisfied that nobody moved the bodies or, left any candy bar wrappers lying around, he reached into his black overcoat inside pocket and brought out his 2015 Polaroid Snap instant digital camera. He just bought this camera for two hundred dollars and considered it a very wise investment. The picture came out of the side with a rich clarity that would rival any other type of phone or recording device.

Perfect for reviewing details of the scene he considered as he snapped two dozen pictures of the two bodies and surrounding grass.

Eric continued to search the area using a standard grid method searching technique. He walked in perpendicular lines along the entire scene, allowing him to scan each small section twice. This time he was not looking for scene contamination. This time he was looking for clues. Just as he suspected, the scene was sanitized.

“I’m either dealing with a professional or, a very smart act-focused serial killer,” he stated to himself lightly under his breath.

He was no stranger to the serial classification theory, dubbed the Holmes typology. As he inspected the scene thoroughly, Eric looked for indications of what type of killer he was dealing with. He stooped down close to the bodies to inspect their position and wound patterns. Each had a dime sized hole directly in the middle of the forehead. Without needing a tape measure, he could clearly see each cherry-black colored hole approximately one inch from the bridge of the nose. He also observed that each victim died with eyes wide open in surprise.

Eric leaned closer to the female’s wide eyes and could see bright specks of blue peering through a rapidly growing grey film of death. He thought of a thick grey fog slowly sweeping across a calm lake that reflected a bright blue early morning sky. Possibly a childhood memory from camping with my family on Lake Tahoe, he thought.

Eric continued to complete his sweep of the two stiffening bodies before him. Both had two of the same dime sized holes just an inch above the sternum.

The killer approached quietly from behind and shot both victims in rapid succession in the forehead, he thought. He could take his time with the shots to the chest. If he wasn’t quick enough, one of the victims would have their eyes closed as part of a natural reflex and, one would at least have placed their hands in front of their face to stop the bullet.

Knowing that complete surprise could only have come from the direction above the lover’s heads, Eric followed the freshly cut grass to the only hiding place at the closest distance. Behind the maple tree he noticed a small area of disturbed grass barely visible to an untrained eye. A few pieces of tall grass missed by the caretaker of the park were slightly bent toward the direction of the bodies.

“This is where our boy was standing, waiting, and watching. But were you dreaming? Where you dreaming of a woman who wronged you in your past? Were you sexually excited watching the sunlight glean off their sweat soaked bodies?”

He didn’t think so. This was an act-focused killer. Unlike the process-focused killer who works slowly torturing victims, this individual was fast. This individual did not spend time with abstractions. This killer was organized, he considered, by the lack of shell casings at the scene.    Richard considered the pristine undisturbed grass surrounding the bodies. Not a blade unturned for a good ten-foot radius. He reasoned that if the killer walked to pick up the empty shell casings: the blades would be disturbed surrounding the bodies. This meant to Eric that the killer must have used a plastic bag to catch the casings.

This leaves out our first type of act-focused killer, the visionary killer, he surmised. This man did not hear voices or, see signs commanding him to kill random people. In Eric’s experience, the visionary killer is never so organized as this person. He normally leaves clues behind. That left the other type of act-focused killer, the missionary killer. This individual believes that it is their mission to get rid of a certain group.

“Could this psycho believe that the world must be rid of middle aged people who have sex in public places.” He laughed out loud at his own mood breaking levity.

“No, these people were secret lovers. One of these people were married and this was a regular meeting place. The killer knew where to wait. This was either revenge on all cheaters or, a professional hit. His money was on the latter.

Returning to the bodies now stiff with rigor mortis, He knew that he could no longer put off a ride on the emotional roller coaster to come. This was the part that left him feeling drained like the next morning after coming close to alcohol poisoning the night before. Each time he placed his hands-on bodies, closed his eyes, and meditated deeply, the world would spin. The world would blur into swirling colors of reds, yellows, and greens. Then the pain would come as he would take the place of the victim and feel the final moments of terror as life slowly gave way to the approaching blackness of death.

He compared this experience to his first time killing a buck hunting with his father at the age of just eleven.

“Take err easy son. Take err easy. Don’t make a sound. Squeeze the trigger boy,” he remembered his father whispering in his ear as he looked at the shinning wet eyes of the deer in his sites.

BOOOM…the kick of his father’s 30. 06. rippling through his boney shoulders like a jack hammer shattering cement.

It was on this day that young Eric placed his hand on a dying animal and could feel the fear penetrate every nerve fiber in his body. He felt a desperate urge to be held. Held by his Father. Held by his Mother twenty miles away preparing warm soothing soup for the Father-Son hunters. He felt alone and cold, as if lost in a midnight forest…naked…alone…in the cold. It took years to ever want to touch another dying creature. It was not until later in a war zone that he would discover that his empathic abilities could be put to better use than just personal suffering. He was a re-creator of the past. He was the only link between the dead and a ruthless killer at large.

#

Eric walked slowly back to the bodies lying on the freshly cut grass. The world around him began to slowly melt away as he nudged himself between both victims as carefully as possible so as not to disturb their position. He placed both hands carefully on the chest of each lover covering the two blood encrusted holes caused by the assassin’s gun. He cringed as he felt the cold tightening skin beneath his large smooth hands. He never could feel but just slightly revolted when touching the skin of a cadaver. To him it felt like the rough skin of a cantaloupe that has slightly softened under a blazing sun. Gaining his composure, he closed his eyes and let his mind go blank. Through the darkness he began to see swirling colors come in to view. Mixtures of greens, reds, and yellows swirled behind his eyes like a kaleidoscope reflecting mirror images of the surrounding palette of colors that made up Rose Park. The rotating colors quickly changed direction into a counter clockwise position as if time itself was reversing to just a few moments before the fatal shots brought death to two people once full of so much life. An image took shape out of the slow-moving mass of color. Eric could make out water flanked on two sides with large globs of various greens and browns. He identified the color symbolism as trees.

A wooded area, he thought, with some level of uncertainty.

He continued to concentrate harder, no longer feeling the coagulated holes formed by the assassin’s bullets, or the tough cantaloupe type skin with a soft underbelly. A bridge spanning the gap between the greens and browns came into his view.

I know this part of the park, he realized, as he opened his eyes fully prepared for the

temporary vertigo to pass. The world of Rose Park quickly took its original shape allowing him to gain a foothold without tipping over on his side.

He walked to the familiar spot of the Japanese style bridge. He cautiously walked along the length of the bridge hearing every creek, every hairline fracture created under the weight of his heavy step. He carefully scanned the wooden railing, searching for any sign of recent human activity. He came to an abrupt halt as he noticed three faint horizontal scratches running across the natural vertical grain of the wood. Peering over the side of the railing, he noticed a bright crimson square just an inch or so in diameter floating on a lily pad directly beneath the three faint scratches on the railing. Despite the six-foot drop, he easily recognized the object as a woman’s painted artificial nail.

He closed his eyes and absorbed the fresh smell of the pond water laced with the faint woodland scent of the lily pads below. A slight breeze kissed his cheek bringing the sweet scent of the red and orange maple blossoms located just ten feet away on the opposite side of the bridge.

The world did not need to spin for him to figure out the recent play enacted just a few hours ago. Eric knew that the killer waited for the lovers to reach their rendezvous spot just off the deserted path. The nail belonged to the female victim, and the scratches indicated shock or surprise.

 This was a fun little sex game, he considered with some embarrassment as if intruding on the intimacy of the two lovers.

 Eric continued to walk the path leading out of the park past the lifeless forms of the two lovers, contemplating everything he witnessed and, wondering if any of this information was enough to catch a killer.

#

Detective Dale Lawson adjusted his large frame on the black swivel office chair he cursed every day for being too small. He requested a new chair once a week for the past three years but with no reply. The Pittsburgh homicide unit was obviously underbudget, he thought, as he scanned the small office occupied by just three other detectives, apart from his overworked self.

“This place looks like a damned paper bomb exploded,” he shouted to the other three detectives in the room.

Each desk contained stacks of case files filled with victims of cold murder, screaming for vengeance against the evil that carried them away into that great dark unknown. Behind each desk sat men well into their middle age with wrinkles that never should have surfaced for another twenty years.

 He thought, Too much caffeine. Too much nicotine. Too many nights committing slow suicide sitting on a bar stool, trying to forget the blood splatters, bullet wounds, and indescribable gore contained in the towers of manila folders. Just like the most recent folder placed on his desk just an hour ago by an emotionless clerk with no name.

  Detective Lawson no longer hesitated when opening a new folder placed on his desk. He remembered his time as a rookie when he was filled with piss and vinegar ready to take on the world using nothing but his intuition, and his wits. He grew up watching Kojac and Columbo reruns. He would sit glued to the television after school and marvel at the ease with which Telly Savalas and Peter Falk would catch, with just the slightest of effort, clever killers who could make it look like Santa Claus was the perpetrator. Now, he considered the carelessness of his hands opening a new case. He felt numb as he considered how skepticism and cynicism can slowly eat at a person’s soul like a cancer undetected until the final stage. The final stage when it was too late to do anything but kiss your ass goodbye.

 Opening the folder, he looked on with the dispassion of a camera, simply taking a snapshot of the horror before his eyes. He scanned over the photographs of a naked man and woman looking up at a bright blue sky with cold dead grey eyes. Each had a bullet hole in the forehead and two in the chest. He sighed deeply, closed the folder, and threw it on a small pile labeled potential contract killings.

#

 The man in the dark glasses sat quietly in his dark basement cleaning his .22 caliber weapon of choice. He carefully ran a square lightly oiled rag through the long barrel, feeling the slick cloth give slightly each time it passed over the barrels inside grooves. He thought about his last job and was slightly surprised as he felt himself become hard thinking about both naked bodies, still slick from the hot afternoon sun. He slowly pulled the rag back out through the barrel and felt small trickles of oil slide down the smooth barrel onto his fingers. Replacing the rag with a fresh one he lightly oiled with a few drops, he continued sliding the rod in and out of the barrel. He closed his eyes and watched himself firing two shots into each forehead of his naked targets. He relived this scene over and over for the next seven minutes until finally releasing the oiled rag with a quick motion sending large splashes on his face and hands. Breathing heavy, he opened his eyes and with a slight pang of numbing embarrassment, felt the warm wetness spread across the front of his pants.

 Without another thought, he opened a thin manila folder on the bench in front of him. He gazed at the picture of the middle-aged man stapled to the center inside edge of the folder. The man in the picture looked very distinguished to him with a full head of salt and pepper hair, large rimmed bifocal glasses, wearing a clean pressed dark suit, and carrying a polished ornamental cane.

  The man looks very intellectual, he thought, with a brief touch of what could only come close to compassion. The man in the dark glasses did not particularly enjoy killing. The hits were professional and devoid of any real emotional satisfaction. He did not even consider his most recent episode just a few moments ago as he was cleaning his gun. He looked at the information below and retained to memory, addresses, routines, and any information necessary to his job. He was not sure why this one was picked for death. The phone conversation was brief, only giving the most rudimentary details.

 That’s fine by me, he considered with the cold indifference of a snake stalking its next meal. I figure he stole some money. Maybe he owes some money to the wrong people. People you should never take a loan from.

 The man in the dark glasses walked to the other end of the room and dislodged a loose stone from the cellars wall. Reaching in to the dark cavity with care, he retrieved a black box with about the same dimensions of a shoe box. Placing the box carefully on the table, he opened the lid and inventoried the contents within. Satisfied that each instrument of his work was in place, he removed a coil of piano wire attached on both ends to two wooden blocks. His .22 was his weapon of choice, but he was skilled in the use of other destructive devices.

 “Variety is the spice of life!” he exclaimed to the dark cold room. However, he knew that although variety may very well be the spice of life. His intellect told him that variety in murder makes it difficult for police to establish a connection between those murders. Especially since this job was just fifteen miles from his masterpiece in the once virgin Rose Park.

#

 Just fifteen miles from Rose Park, rests another not so slice of heavenly bliss, Carson Park. The one-mile square patch of grass sits directly in the middle of the small city of Smithville, Pennsylvania. For a population of just over one hundred thousand souls, the city of Smithville achieved fame for the finest restaurants in the state, the third highest standard of living, and one of the worst drug infested sections of any city. Just ten blocks away from the Chase Manhattan Tower and just five blocks away from the Louvre French outdoor café, resides some of the poorest residents of any state in the union. Poverty, drugs, crime, and to the embarrassment of the wealthier residents, nightly homicides remind the affluent that not all is well in the Garden of Eden.

 In the middle of this jungle of greed and murder, is Carson Park. A little patch of overgrown weeds, broken patches of cement, and a five-hundred-yard trash littered dirt path leading from the park entrance directly under the George Washington Street bridge. During the daylight hours, few people could be seen using the dilapidated park. Both corporate lawyers and drug pushers alike filled their days plotting their next crooked move or, next big score respectively. At night, the park would spring to life like an Ipomoea Morning glory flower spreading its pedals to greet the soft glow of the hovering moon. Because, not all flowers need the light to thrive.

  However, every Friday morning at precisely six in the morning, Walter Fry, chief accountant for Brandon and Sons accounting firm, uses the park to meditate before entering the concrete jungle just blocks away.

Mr. Fry sits on the same graffiti littered paint chipped park bench every Friday to feed the few pigeons still not smart enough to find more fruitful places to forage for food.

Walter sat in a state of deep meditation contemplating his contributions to his fifty-three years of life. He closed his eyes feeling a cool breeze blow under his grey fedora cooling the small droplets of perspiration that covered his high forehead. Mr. Fry suffered through the same tired routine every Friday morning. Remembering that which should be forgotten. Trying to forget that which should be remembered. He missed his wife. Cut down by breast cancer in 2016, just one short year ago. He regretted the long hours of work as a low man on the corporate totem pole. Hours he could have spent with his only daughter.

 “Maybe she would not have run away at just sixteen never to be heard from again,” he whispered to a world that cared nothing for his sorrow. “Some people really do just drop off the face of the world.”

   After emptying his pockets of the last remaining seed for the parks only inhabitants this time of day, Mr. Fry continued with his usual ritual of a short walk on the littered dirt path. With head held low and tears threatening to spill from the corner of his eyes, he continued walking the path slowly supporting himself with his ornamental polished cane. 

#

The man in the dark glasses watched as Mr. Fry walked unsteadily down the dirt path. He felt a momentarily lapse of concentration race through his mind like a temporary surge of electricity through a damaged wire. Shaking his head, he considered what this confusion was all about. He never experienced doubt, guilt, or compassion on any other job he could remember.

“And that’s all this is. Another simple job,” he whispered to himself, peering carefully around the corner of the concrete support under the George Washington Bridge.

“But is this just another job?”

He reached into his right coat pocket and felt the sharp smooth piano wire rub against the tip of his middle finger. Bringing the wire out of his pocket into the humid air, he remembered the moment of orgasm as he was cleaning the barrel of his gun. He dropped the wire and without thinking bent down to pick up the garrote, exposing the top of his head. He was startled back to reality by a voice that sounded too close for his own usual level of professional comfort.

  “Who are you? Why are you hiding behind that beam?” demanded a voice cracked by the weight of a sad life. Like a cracked damn ready to burst under the weight of a raging river.

 The man in the dark glasses looked up in surprise. A surprise intense enough to cause his head to dizzily swim with numb incomprehension. Realizing that his target was turning to move away from him down the path towards the entrance of the park, he ran after Mr. Fry with uncharacteristic rage. Mr. Fry looked over his frail shoulder and quickly switched gears into an awkward limping gait along the path. He could not move fast and further hindered his progress by bringing his cane down on an empty forty-ounce bottle of cheap liquor. He lost his balance and fell on his face, causing his wrinkled short nose to explode in a spray of black red blood.

 The man in the dark glasses seized upon this good fortune and grabbed both of Mr. Fry’s frail ankles. They felt like two chicken bones under his powerful grasp. He dragged the bleeding Mr. Fry back twenty yards to the concrete pillar and wrapped the garrote around his small frail neck. He laid across Mr. Fry’s back pushing the frail man’s body hard against the dirt and scattered rocks of the broken path. At the same time, he pulled hard on the wire causing trickles of blood to drip slowly down the dying man’s neck and onto the dirt of the path.

Through heavy gasps and desperate gulps of life giving air, the dying man gasped, “why are you doing this to me?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, the man in the dark glasses answered flatly, “because your wife is waiting for you in heaven. I am giving you a one-way ticket to see her.” With this statement, he pulled hard on the wire using all the strength of his upper body. The wire sunk deep into Mr. Fry’s neck causing blood to squirt in a steady stream from the left side of his neck like an engorged garden hose that sprung a leak.

The man in the dark glasses felt the warm thick liquid seep under the black leather glove of his left hand. To his shock and horror, he felt his stomach churn, as if warning him that his job was finished and soon his DNA would mingle with the dying man’s blood. Without looking to confirm that his target has passed to that other plane of consciousness, he ran to the opposite end of the park, still cautious of any potential witnesses to his departure. He reached Alexander Boulevard which ran in an East and West direction just off the rear entrance of the park. He stopped short of the rear gate and removed his bloody gloves, glasses, and suit coat. He slowly walked to a large boulder just a few feet from the gate and reached behind for the plastic bag he placed there just a few hours before taking his position under the bridge. He removed a blue baseball cap, thick rimmed reading glasses, and a plain grey T-shirt from the bag and hastily changed his appearance. He considered using a fake mustache and beard after jobs but decided that this would be overly dramatic. He knew that witness identification was the most unreliable source of information, so the need for such dramatic disguises had no more than a theatrical value.

While walking to his car parked one mile away in a secluded lot, he had time to contemplate the details of the latest job. Like an annoying tune that plays repeatedly invading the orderliness and peace of ones waking thoughts, he remembered the uncharacteristic nature of a part of his actions.

“No, not uncharacteristic actions. They were big fucking mistakes,’ he mumbled to himself as he crossed the busy intersection of Hamilton Street and Liberty Boulevard.

He felt his body jerk upright as he was torn from his thoughts by a blaring horn. He looked at the angry face of the driver of a blue Ford Fiesta.  From what he could tell, the driver was an old woman of no less than sixty-five and was giving him the middle finger. Without responding he looked straight ahead and continued to cross the street. From the corner of his eye he could see in large orange letters the message, Do Not Cross.

Shit, please don’t let there be a co……

He heard a loud commanding voice from behind him say, “Wait right there buddy.”

The voice reminded him of an army drill sergeant about to chew the ass off a green around the gills private.

His legs jolted toward the direction of his car and immediately cramped as he forced them to change direction. He thought, I will not run. I will not run. Use your head old boy. He forced a casual smile and turned to speak to the police officer with the drill sergeants gruff voice.

“Yes sir, I realize what I did wrong. I was lost in thought. I apologize.”

The police officer looked at him suspiciously with lifeless grey blue eyes. He stood six feet four with shoulders that screamed, I almost made professional linebacker but got stuck doing this instead.

“Where are you coming from in such a hurry?”

The killer looked at the officer’s name tag and read the name Mahoney.

“Well officer Mahoney, I came into town to meet a realtor to show me a house.”

As the officer processed this information. The killer searched his mind’s filing cabinets and pulled out the sign he must have observed either coming or going from the park. He looked carefully and read the words, Braxton Avenue two-bedroom home. Open house with agent Kelly Clews.

The officers face lightened with a sly smile. He looked to the killer as a cat ready to take the final death blow against his heart racing prey.

“So what house you looking at?”

“I am very interested in the quiet little street of Braxton Avenue. I was supposed to meet Kelly Clews there but she did not show. I parked my car a few blocks from here to avoid having to pay the meters.”

Officer Mahoney frowned because he knew Braxton, and he was an acquaintance of his neighbor, Kelly Clews.

“You know sir, he began, I could give you a jay walking ticket. Especially because you feel you could avoid our lovely city meters.”

“I do apologize sir. I will watch the signs next time. In addition, I promise never to cheat the city of its extra meter revenue.”

Please don’t ask for ID. Please don’t ask for ID.

“Ok sir. I will leave you with a warning this one time. Lucky for you that another one of my colleagues didn’t catch you.”

“Thank you, officer, have a great day.”

He turned confidently and walked at a normal city goers pace out of Officer Mahoney’s sight to his parked black Chrysler Sedan.

#

Detective Eric Lewison felt as if he was running on fumes. He sat on the edge of his bed unable to accurately recall the events of the last several days. As if walking through a thick London fog, he could only recognize familiar shapes and patterns of recent past events. Shapes and patterns, he thought wearily, only hints of true events without any real clarity.

He was no stranger to such a surreal state. Episodes of blurred reality brought on by obsessing over a case while swimming in a sea of Mr. Jack Daniels, pockmarked his past like so many craters on the moon. To sleep is a chance to dream but, dreaming was the last thing he wanted. Dreaming meant reliving the horror of another’s gruesome final moments. Dreaming meant feeling the final adrenaline rush of fear and the inevitable crash of loneliness just before the end.

He felt the soft warmth of the plush comforter on the back of his bare legs and slowly sank back into bed giving into the charms of the incubus that hovered in his mind. A beautiful naked siren beckoning him to slumber, only to turn into a horrid creature devouring his sleeping soul. Before drifting into his awaiting hell, he turned his body to its side and strained his right ear to listen for other signs of life in the home. He thought he heard a familiar faint crying coming from the upstairs bathroom. He did not hear the pitter patter of his daughter’s small feet running through the hall giving life to an otherwise darkening home. He started to move out of bed to see what he could do for his wife, but the power of the incubus was too great. Eric fainted with exhaustion and, the smell of Jack Daniels and gun oil still on his breath.

#

Eric’s dreams came on fast like a bolt of sizzling lightning cutting through the soft pulp of a spruce tree. Bits and pieces of random images spliced together to form a collage that could very well be made by a psychotic child. Flashes of green, blue, and orange raced through his sleeping brain causing his body to jerk violently…. randomly…on his bed. In one instant, he was standing in front of the late Richard Wells and Rachel Benson. Each body a mixture of grey and blue with cold grey eyes and bullet holes in their foreheads. Both sitting up with mouths wide open as if their jaws became unhinged. Each mouth moved in slow motion as if trying to speak, but Eric could not hear any sound. The dream world was a deafening silence without any air. He felt as though he were suffocating as he attempted to communicate with grey muted corpses.

Within what felt like an instant, he was transported to another scene. A scene of complete unfamiliarity. He was standing under a bridge alone and felt as if he were waiting for someone to come. He felt anxious and afraid that he may never see this unknown person again. A small piece of paper blew past his foot and landed in the tall grass that grew along the opposite side of the path. He could see the paper fly into the air like a butterfly soaring steadily on the wings of a Summer breeze, but he could not feel any air. Eric walked over to the fallen piece of paper and picked it out of the grass. Written on the inside was the message, “Do Not Walk.”

Lifting his head in confusion he finally could feel something in his sterilized vacuumed dream world. He felt the sharp sting of wire wrapped tightly around his neck from behind. As the wire dug deeper into the soft unprotected flesh of his throat, he felt his warm sticky blood pour from the eight-inch circular gash.

Eric continued to spasm on his bed desperately trying to open his eyes. He could only see darkness mixed with swirling colors as he gasped for breath. He struggled to move his arms and legs but was paralyzed for what felt like an eternity. Finally, he could suck in a large gulp of air, and forced his muscles to move his arms and legs. He quickly sat up in bed resting his back against the cherry wood backboard. He instinctively looked for his wife on her side of the bed and only found puddles of his own sweat deposited during his sleep paralysis struggle.

After shaking the cobwebs that still spread a fine film across his mind, Eric began to cut and splice the random film that played through his tired mind. The first part of his dream, although disturbing, was more a re-creation of events he already lived.

“But what about that other shit?” he asked the empty half lit room.

He focused on the bridge and the dirt path. Squeezing his eyes closed tight and concentrating until he felt a dull thudding behind his forehead, he recognized the area,

“That’s Carson Park!” he exclaimed, jumping out of bed and fumbling with his pants. Within just a few minutes, he was dressed and running out the door to his dark Sedan to drive the short twenty minutes to Carson Park.

#

Walking down the littered strewn dirt path of Carson Park, Eric felt uneasiness creep into his bones as he saw what appeared to be a foot sticking out from behind the concrete pillar.

“I never felt this type of anxiety before,” he whispered to himself. “I’ve done this how many times before?”

He stopped in his tracks as the question picked at his brain like a cricket deep inside his mind gnawing on the grey matter. His head began to ache as he strained to recall the other cases he was called upon to use his special talents.

Squeezing his eyes closed tightly and taking a few deep meditating breaths, the phantom cricket grew quiet, allowing him to continue his work.

He walked briskly down the path and began his usual grid pattern search surrounding the body of Mr. Fry. Having taken several dozen pictures of the scene, he stared at the large puddle of black blood thickening in the hot afternoon sun. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply through his nose breaking down individual scents and placing each in its individual mental compartment. He smelled the strong odor of copper mixed with the earthy aroma of wet dirt.

“This man was killed no more than two hours ago.” he stated with a tone of absolute certainty and confidence in his skills.

He did not consider the fact that the body was not yet discovered as being unusual. Carson Park was known for being a nighttime spot of illegal activity. During the daytime, the park is mostly empty. White collar citizens steered clear of Carson Park, even in the daytime. He considered that it is possible a homeless individual or prostitute and her John discovered the body. Very unlikely that either would even report such a discovery.

Eric worked in reverse now, walking from the lifeless corpse of Mr. Fry along the bloody drag marks, and to the large puddle of thick black mud. He crouched low placing his right hand just on the outer edge of the thick puddle of blood. He placed his sunburned face closer to the edge until his eye was level with the surface of the puddle. To Eric, from this vantage point, it looked like the surface of a calm lake on a windless day. The surface of the thick black lake was perfectly undisturbed, except for a small depression directly in the center. This slight depression was impossible to see from someone standing above and looking down.

“I got you, you son of a bitch!” he exclaimed as he jumped back to his feet thankful for the fresh air now flowing through his nose. Careful to keep his balance, Eric crouched down sitting on the heels of his patent leather dress shoes. He reached the two feet across, almost losing his balance and falling face first into the warm copper smelling soup. Regaining his balance, he reached into the small depression and pulled out a button caked in black coagulated blood. He placed the button in a clear zip lock bag and walked to the body hidden behind the pillar. He walked closer to Mr. Fry’s body and bent over to lay his hands on his small emaciated shoulders. Eric was disturbed from his work by a rustling sound in the bushes lining the dirt path toward the back entrance to the park. He looked in the direction of the noise and waited for the culprit to emerge placing his mind at ease enough to return to his work.

“Just leave now Eric. Just leave now because you’re not armed and getting too old for this shit.” He repeated this over and over watching…. imagining the killer leap from the bushes with gun in hand, ready to take him, his next victim.

A cold shiver ran through Eric’s spine, giving him the needed motivation to walk quickly to the entrance to the park. All along the dirt path he looked behind him feeling a presence walking behind him at a quickened pace. He slipped on the empty bottle of cheap liquor, taking a mental note of the black streak that ran across the red and white label.

“Looks like marks made from something black and made of rubber,” he stated under his breath as he continued to quicken his pace up the path.

When he reached the end of the park, he felt at ease watching the traffic speed by on the main roadway just a few feet away. He looked to his left at the empty bench, except for a few sickly-looking pigeons scrounging for stray kernels directly on the ground. Eric closed his eyes and could see Mr. Fry sitting on the bench. He looked so lonely to Eric, like a man patiently waiting for a lover he knows will never return.

This is an easy one to piece together, he thought. This man lost someone close. A wife, I would bet. He comes here to the park every day before going into that concrete jungle to earn a meagre pay. He’s tired. He’s alone. One foot already in the six-foot hole. But many things don’t match.

Who wants to kill a clerk or accountant?

Why would a professional killer pick this location in the middle of the day?

Why would a professional killer lose such control?

Eric thought about this last question as he continued out of the park toward his home to review the photographs. It was obvious to him that the killer did lose control. The site of the strangulation was twenty yards from the final resting spot of the dying man. The heavy splashes of blood all along the twenty yards indicates that Mr. Fry’s heart was still beating wildly as he was being dragged.

Why would a professional not wait until the man was slightly past the pillar in the opposite direction? Eric conjured a mental image of the scene and could clearly see plenty of room behind the pillar for hiding from his quarry.

“The only explanation is that the killer was surprised. He was distracted and became sloppy.”

Do professional killers make mistakes?

Everyone makes mistakes, he thought with some amusement. He considered how ridiculous it sounded to talk about a killer making mistakes during his murders as if he were talking about an accountant making a wrong calculation on the job. “But it’s true I guess, professional killers can make mistakes,” he stated to out loud to himself.

 But something still did not jive with this theory. The button. The time of day. The hasty retreat without hiding the body.

 Eric continued home to review the evidence, photographs, and delve further into the private life of the man now beginning to decay under the Washington Street Bridge.

#         

 Detective Dale Lawson stared at his top desk drawer with growing unease. A man prone to obsessive problem solving, he carefully placed his hand on the cold steel handle. His anxiety mounted as he considered the two case files contained within. Each file containing the shattered lives of people. The shattered hopes and dreams of people cut down in a singular moment of senseless animal violence. He looked to the mountain of case files on his desk threatening to topple onto the dirty linoleum floor, like a macabre leaning tower of Pisa, containing the images of blood and gore. With a pang of guilt he thought, why are these people so unimportant compared to the files in this paper clip littered drawer. But without further consideration, he opened the dark compartment and placed the two files on his desk.

 “I know what makes you different,” he stated out loudly to the lifeless folders on his desk. His voice echoed through the dimly lit room as if speaking inside a dark tunnel. His colleagues have gone home for the evening, back to family, friends, or the neighborhood bar to wash away the days sorrows. He sat and stared as seconds stretched as if falling through a deep hole in space and time. He knew the consequences of opening the files on his desk. The obsession would stick to him and slowly grow with each passing moment. The obsession would grow greedily consuming his thoughts until nothing was left but a lonely broken man. A man oblivious to losing everything that mattered to him in an otherwise uneventful life.

 “Ah, Fuck It! He exclaimed, as he opened both files and jumped head first into the proverbial rabbit hole.

 He looked at photographs of both sets of victims and, was reminded of his days as a youth killing time looking at, “Can you find the difference?” games in one of those cheap fun games puzzle books.

  “Or maybe more like Can you find Waldo puzzles,” he stated out laugh with a quiet chuckle.

   No, I must think in reverse, he thought. What is the same with these horrid photos and descriptions of death. What matches?

  He began with the obvious as this seemed like the most logical place to start. He talked quietly to himself until he was completely unaware of his own tired voice.

   “All three of you unfortunates were killed in a park.”

   “All three of you were killed during the day.”

    He looked at the coroner’s report for the estimated time of death. The secret lovers of Rose Park died somewhere around one in the afternoon. The lonely accountant was killed around two in the afternoon. Dale knew that the medical examiner estimated time of death is not entirely accurate. He leaned back in his chair straining the thin wooden legs under his heavy weight. He closed his eyes and remembered back to a simpler time of learning forensics at the University of Pittsburgh.

   “Normal body temperature of the living is ninety-eight point six degrees. The body loses one point five degrees with each hour upon the cessation of body functions.”

    Dale looked at the times that each victim was found. The lovers of Rose Park were found by Ms. Karen Jacobs, a regular jogger in the park, at approximately three in the afternoon. According to her report, she stopped to take a rest under the maple tree used by the killer for concealment.

   Dale chuckled lightly as he realized that there was no reason to jump over waist high bushes to take a jogging break. She needed to take a piss, he thought, with another slight giggle that shook the extra girth around his waist like a bowl of disturbed jello.

  He slid a small pocket calculator from his front shirt pocket and subtracted 98.6 minus 96.5, the approximate temperature of each corpse.

 “That brings us to two point one hours, minus the time of discovery.

   He made the same calculation for Mr. Fry, and everything added up. He knew that the chances of the coroner making a mistake is slim, but knew very well that this is always a possibility.

    He further scanned the coroner’s report confirming time of death by the presence of black fly eggs in the bullet holes left on both Rose Park victims, and the right side of the deep gash in Mr. Fry’s neck. The black fly quickly sets to work laying eggs in an open wound within just a few hours during the humid months of Summer.

  Sighing deeply, and rubbing his eyes, restoring his growing blurred vision, he continued to scan the files.

 “But this tells me nothing,” he stated, with a tone of disgust as he threw the files to the dirty linoleum floor. He leaned back on his chair, closed his eyes and shook his head. Dale looked at the scattered contents on the floor and fixed his vision on a single photograph. Without touching the picture, as if he was fearful of changing the image, he leaned closer for a better view. His bulging mid-section only allowed him to bend so far toward the photograph. He strained, turning his face a bright red, still not willing to touch the picture. He noticed a small dark depression in the middle of a large pool of Mr. Fry’s blood.

 “Is it possible that something from a tree dropped into the blood?”

  He carefully grabbed the bottom edge of the photograph between his pointer finger and thumb and sat back on his chair, restoring the natural color to his face. He looked closer at the photograph and determined that the dark depression was not a naturally occurring pattern of drying blood.

You dropped something you son of bitch!” he exclaimed, jumping up excitedly, turning the wooden chair on its side.

He placed the photograph into one of a dozen plastic bags on the top of his desk marked it as evidence in large red letters.

 “This one’s going to Abe in the photo lab.”

“You are not a professional my friend. You are a smart son of a bitch, but not a professional killer. That makes you dangerous my friend because you don’t even know how sick you really are.”

 Dale yawned loudly, as his final energy reserves subsided like a neglected flame deprived of oxygen. The adrenaline rush of his discovery subsiding bringing the dull sting of reality crashing down on his large tired frame.

 “Well goodnight old prison cell,” he stated to the empty room on his way out the door. Back to his lonely one-bedroom apartment and only companion in the world, his tiger striped black and grey cat, Felix.

Dale decided to find the people closest to the victims, and submit the files to his old friend Dr. John Sloan, forensic psychologist and, sometimes drinking buddy on particularly lonely nights.

#           

"Hello Ms. Wells, we talked on the phone,” stated Dale as he held out his large hand to the frail old woman.

 Dale had to remind himself that the woman he was looking at was anything but old. At least her chronological age could not be considered old, he thought, careful to not show his surprise.

 Ms. Wells did not extend her hand to Dale. She looked in silent suspiciousness, scanning him from foot to head and back again.

“May I come in to talk please?”

 Without a word, Ms. Wells turned her back on him and disappeared into the vestibule of her three-bedroom first floor apartment. Dale slowly walked into the apartment behind her turning to shut the door. He had to adjust his eyes to the darkness of her living room. Her living room was adorned with modest polyester furniture and cheap dollar store throw rugs to cover a splintered wooden floor. Dale sat on a broken lazy boy missing its legs and, of a lime green color that did not match the accompanying brown couch and loveseat. Only a thin ray of sunlight spliced through the drawn curtains exposing the deep wrinkles around the woman’s tired brown eyes. Her hair was thin and grey with random streaks of natural red showing through. Dale watched as Ms. Wells slowly lowered herself onto the couch opposite of his position on the out of style chair.

  She looks like she’s seventy, he thought, not a woman of fifty-one according to his file.

As if reading his thoughts, she stated, “I have cancer detective. I was diagnosed two years ago with Ductal carcinoma in situ.” She looked at Dale with an emotionless stare as if waiting for a response. Dale was a smart man but, he was not up to date on his medical terminology.

“I’m sorry Mam I do not know what that is.”

   Ms. Wells smiled and laughed between a coughing fit, breaking the growing tension in the dimly lit room.

“It’s ok. You’re a man, and as a man, could be forgiven for not knowing what that is. She emphasized her words, as if to mock him for being so clueless.

 “DCIS is breast cancer that has not invaded the surrounding tissue. I was actually relieved at this diagnosis. That is until just six months ago I was told that I now have IDC.” Without waiting for a reply, she held up a thin emaciated hand that looked to Dale as that of a teacher working with an exceptionally dull-witted child.

  “IDC sir, is invasive breast cancer, I am dying good detective, so please ask me your questions and leave me to my work of journeying on to that other side.” She waved her frail hand in the air as high as she could reach as if she were waving at a thick mist revealing the life beyond this one.

   Dale looked stupidly into the air as if he would catch a glimpse of a place where so many of his clients have passed. Yes, my clients he thought, suppressing a chuckle. My clients who need my services but only after they are turned stone cold.

 “Yes Ms. Wells.” “Please tell me about your late husband.”

 “He was a son of a bitch. He was a psychiatrist without patients. A dreamer. A womanizer. A drunk.”

 Dale tried hard to conceal his surprise. Normally, people he interviews try to conceal their hatreds behind the usual mask of feigned civility. He stared in amazement at a woman who may just be making a death bed confession. He thought to himself, I better tread lightly here.

 “Did he ever mention any enemies. Any people who wanted him harmed?”

“No detective, I did not have him killed. Not that I haven’t fantasized about such a thing. But look around you sir. I can barely afford to eat.”

 This woman did not hire a killer, he thought with some measure of disappointment. I feel like the baby who just had the lollipop snatched right out of my mouth, he realized. His fantasy was to walk in and use some creative questioning to nab the woman who ordered the death of her husband. Now, he knew that the trail was cold before it even had a chance to warm.

 “How about anyone else?”

 “No. I would know. He was either here drinking himself silly in that very chair where your sitting, or off screwing that whore at her apartment downtown.” She wiped her face quickly at eyes that appeared to Dale as eyes that have been cried dry for all eternity.

She began again, “I’m glad the bastard’s dead. I’m glad his whore is dead. There must be a God detective. Because only a God would allow a dying woman to see an end to her tormentors before dying.”

“Thank you, Mam. I won’t be coming back.”

 Dale left the three-bedroom mausoleum and squinted his eyed against the bright sun. He decided not to investigate the past of Mr. Fry. He had a hunch of what he was facing. He had a revelation that brought a feeling of a heavy weight crashing square on his large shoulders from far above. “There’s going to be more victims, and the blood is going to flow in greater volume.”

#

 “Dale my good old friend, and I do mean old,” stated Dr. John Sloan, slapping Dale on the shoulders and laughing loudly. Each time Dale heard John’s laughter he envisioned Santa Clause swooping by just over his head spreading his magical cheer and good will. But the Dr.’s appearance did not match his infectious mythical laugh. Dr. Sloan stood over six-foot-tall, with a full head of jet black hair miraculously void of any grey for a man of sixty-seven.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice,” replied Dale.

“Oh nonsense. I have few patients these days. Sadly, people would just much rather turn to the Internet or, daytime television therapy for their psychological needs.”

  “Well I have permission for you to bill the department for your time my friend.”

   This was a lie, but Dale knew that any help his old psychiatrist friend could give to help catch a killer would be dutifully compensated, if not happily compensated.

 “That’s fine. Just fine. I can’t deny that I am a bit excited about this case. I read the files Dale. May as well get comfortable.” Dr. Sloan motioned to the cream-colored leather chair directly in front of his large cherry wood desk. Dr. Sloan sat behind his desk and with a professional gracefulness, opened the case files.

    He began without looking at Dale, “You are not dealing with a professional killer.” Now before you go on, here me out. I am running off the assumption that both crime scenes are the work of the same person.”

   “I have a hunch they are,” replied Dale.

  Dr. Sloan looked up from the files with his thick plastic framed glasses resting on the tip of his nose. “Ok, I will trust your hunch. I never had a reason to doubt your skill before.”

  “Skill shit doc, I just get lucky ninety-nine-point nine percent of the time.”

 “Well if these crime scenes are connected, I am saying that you are not dealing with a professional. The professional killer is a sociopath. Normally an individual above average intelligence, living the same organized life as you and I live. The professional killer is motivated by either greed or a need to feel the thrill of the kill. Usually motivated by both.”

  “So, what makes this guy of ours different.”

  “This guy has had a psychotic break. This guy is a professional killer, when his mind decides to sway in that direction. However, this killing of the old man in the park has elements of both the professional, and the disorganized killer. That distinct line between killer, and the other personalities are crashing together. Think of it like asteroids in space nearly colliding, sometimes just nicking each other, and on rare occasions, smashing each other into rubble and dust.”

 You think the big collision is coming?”

 “I know it is. The big collision is inevitable.”

 “We no longer call this split personality disorder. The term now is dissociative identity disorder. The dissociative identity disorder is characterized by an individual who has more than one personality, sometimes without one knowing about the other. Each personality has its own memories, behaviors, and social relationships. For example, John may be a pleasant psychiatrist. He may also be Rick, an angry raging alcoholic or, a sensitive starving artist always on the brink of a dramatic suicidal end. Maybe all three will exist in the same body. Very complicated diagnosis and, very rare.”

   “What about this one.”

 “Impossible to tell but I am suspecting just one. Normally, an individual with many personalities would not be able to plan and execute such complex murders. I think your boy is one normally confused and sad individual.”

 What else do you think.”

 “Well, there are some obvious points. The parks are significant. A trauma of some kind maybe. A mugging. A killing. An accident. Very hard to say.”

  “Are you telling me that a trauma could cause such a disorder?”

 “No, not at all. Theoretically, the disorder develops through prolonged incidents of abuse. The child is normally shy and isolated, so he or she, reverts into a world of fantasy for protection from the trauma. However, I am a modern man and I always consider physical damage as a more than likely cause or, organic damage if you will.”

 “So, what about the trauma of the parks,” asked Dale, readjusting his weight in the chair.

“Trauma can cause a reemergence of the “other personality.” “In the case of this person, I would say that the trauma concerning the park occurred in his or her normal state and has carried over, completely unaware, to the other dark personality. The killer personality if you will.”

“So, far we may be looking for an individual who suffered a brain injury and had some type of trauma in his life involving a park.”

I would say that is a good place to start. I am not one to make predictions, but I would say this person lives alone, probably does not work, and may suffer from some type of delusion even in his normal personality state. For example, hear voices, severe headaches, a belief in supernatural abilities or superpowers.”

“Thanks doc. I think I know where to begin but I am not confident I will be in time to stop the next murder.”

 “Why do you say that.”

“Because I am looking for a guy who suffered a head trauma at some point in his life, has a thing for parks, and lives alone. This covers a lot of people in the Pittsburgh area I’m sure. This will be like finding a needle in a hay stack.”

 Dale left Dr. Sloan’s office feeling just a little lighter. He had his work cut out for him, but was much closer to the killer than before.

#

“Ok what do have for me Karl?”

“I magnified that photograph as far as I could take it and I think you will be pleased with the result.”

 “Karl Nelson, pulled out a black and white photograph twelve foot by twelve feet in dimension. He laid the photograph on the work table in front of Dale and began, “The photograph was too small to make out much. I have no idea how you noticed that little dimple in the blood.”

  Before Dale could respond, Karl interrupted, “Well it was not really a dimple. It was a hole made in the blood by a button.”

  Dale looked at Karl in surprise.

 “But if that was not enough luck, the blood mixed with some mud and created a surface area soft enough to make an impression.” Karl pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket and placed the lens just a few centimeters from the depression in the picture.

  I still couldn’t make out the details until I turned the photograph into black and white after using motion deblurring computer software.

  Dale looked at Karl and had to suppress a laugh. The short and balding Karl looked at the photograph with the wide-eyed excitement of a kid looking in the window of an old candy store shop.

 “Right here detective. What do you see?”

 Dale strained his eyes still wet and blurred from several sleepless nights. Nights of dreams being confronted by the three park killer victims with dark eyeless sockets dripping bright red blood.

 “I see what looks like the head of an eagle and what appears to be two initials.” He looked at a definite G as clear as a bright sunny country sky. He strained harder and could see what appeared to be the top portion of an A. Within a few minutes that silent voice, usually muted or safely tucked away in the background of his conscious, roared to life and said, Georgio Armani.

Thanks Karl, you’re an angel in disguise,” he stated as he rushed out the door. He was now looking for a man with a head injury, a hatred for parks, and very expensive taste in suits.

#

  Eric sat and stared at the plastic evidence bags sprawled across his coffee table in no organized manner. Within each bag, encased in airtight tombs, contained a little piece of unsolved crimes across the State of Pennsylvania. He opened the bag closest to him and pulled out an adult tooth still speckled with tiny spots of dried blood. He remembered this case with the crystal clarity of a Colorado mountain spring. The woman’s name was Maggie Karns, a beautician from Erie Pennsylvania. When he received the call to employ his special talents, he found her body still lying face down in the river. Her body was bloated twice its original size. Black and blue discoloration formed around the eyes, nose, and mouth. Inside her mouth he fished out small bits of nearby vegetation and tiny granules of sediment from the body of the river. She was missing a tooth but without any signs of blunt trauma to the face. He closed his eyes and rubbed the incisor between his fingers, feeling the smooth ivory run across his fingertips. Occasionally he felt the small indentation of a cavity just on the tip of the almost perfectly preserved tooth. His head began to pound with the rising rhythm of his beating heart. His temples started to thump in unison to the painful beat. Colors swarmed in cool blues and greens as an image began to form behind the movie projectors of his eyes. He saw the dark shape of a man reaching inside the woman’s mouth with pliers and pulling out the tooth with a sickening suction sound. Eric quickly jumped up startled as his stomach felt as though it flipped completely upside down.

“Don’t stop now Eric, just one more to go,” he said loudly to the dust filled living room.

He grabbed another bag and emptied the contents on the table in front of him. A man’s gold wedding band spilled onto the glass table top, causing a loud chiming sound. He closed his eyes and copied the process of reconstruction. The movie began and started with an image of the rings owner, Mr. Wats. Within a few fleeting moments, another dark figure entered the scene and began stabbing Mr. Wats in the throat with a large butcher knife. Blood sprayed in thin streams of bright crimson rivers as the man’s arteries were severed into pieces.

Eric snapped awake again, feeling a sense of accomplishment for having finally reviewed each item in the thirteen bags on his food stained glass table.

“No need to look at the others a second time,” he stated out loud to the lonely room. He quickly scanned the bags including the blood-stained Armani button he retrieved from the Fry crime scene. He gathered each of the bags and replaced them to their proper place within his large Brinks heavy duty vault. Eric started to run through his mind the button found at the Fry murder and the polished red nail from the Rose Park crime scene. He closed his eyes and tried hard to concentrate on each scene. His headache returned with a vengeance as the image of a girl on her tricycle raced across the freshly cut green grass of a familiar, yet unfamiliar, park. He estimated the girls age at about ten years old. She had beautiful long blonde hair that shined in the afternoon radiance of the sun. She wore a blue and white dress and bright yellow ribbons holding each pig tail in place. He felt a growing anxiety well deep within his stomach, threatening to explode upward like a geyser relieving eons of pressure into the air. He opened his eyes to escape the nausea that now threatened to double him over on the mud stained plush carpet of his living room floor. As if the colors and smells of the real world rushed into his body to expel the suffocating anxiety of his fantasy world, he vomited his breakfast on the carpet and dropped to his knees in tears.

His final thought before submitting to the dark of unconsciousness was, where are you my dear wife when I need you?

#

The man in the dark glasses walked slowly down the creaking stairs to his dark basement below. Why he came down the stairs to the basement now alluded him for the first time that he could remember.

“Something is off with me!”

He thought about his performance in Carson Park and the mistakes that were made. He allowed a cop to see his face. Pleased with himself for the quick cover up story of the realtor appointment did not last long. His pleasure with himself faded as he considered what he must do to repair the damage caused by his so many mistakes. Mistakes that threaten to destroy his most dangerous game.

I have to kill that nosey cop and that house selling bitch!”

#

 Eric awoke from his darkened state with his head buzzing inside like an angry wasp’s nest just beaten with a stick. The left side of his body felt numb forcing him to roll on his side and push himself off the carpet with his right arm. His stomach turned as he felt his face stuck to the carpet by his own vomit, smelling of bile and half-digested breakfast. Slowly rising to his feet, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head violently from left to right. He stopped cold in his tracks as the name Kelly Clews blinked deep inside his mind like a cheap motel sign with the M blinking on and off on a deserted desert road.

Who the Fuck is Kelly Clews,” he shouted, slicing the deafening silence of the pitch-black room.

“Jesus Christ, how long was I out?”

He closed his eyes again and concentrated hard, breathing in the silence and dark of the room like a witches’ magical elixir. It was just this darkened silence he needed to concentrate hard enough, deep enough, into the small recesses of his mind to find the answer.

 Kelly, Kelly, Clews, Clews, he thought repeatedly until other words began to flow as smoothly as a gentle river. Kelly Clews….real estate…Carson Park…real estte, Clews. He opened his eyes and ignored the light thumping growing stronger just behind his vomit stained forehead.

“The son of bitch is going to kill this woman next,” he shouted, turning the light thumping headache into a full-grown migraine, making his knees slightly buckle.

#

Detective Dale Lawson sat behind his usual cluttered desk, after hours, with a heavy feeling of failure pressing down on his gaunt shoulders. The psychological profile from the good doctor, although spectacular for tea party conversation, did not bring him any closer to his prey. The missing Armani suit button did not help to generate any new leads that would help him identify the killer. Just before throwing his hands in the air and journeying to that sweet green pasture of contented laziness. The one he knows from time to time when you can finally breathe a sigh of relief after just saying, fuck it, I give up. He decided to open a street map of the Carson Park area. Dale Lawson was an old school veteran and shunned the comforts of electronic gadgetry such as GPS and other, as he called them, electronic interference. He savored the feel and smell of the coffee stained street maps of the city. He felt like a real detective as he scanned the two-dimensional landscape using his cheap dollar store magnifying glass. The simpler the better is what his Father always taught him growing up on the poor lower class East side of the city.

He allowed his glass to gently glide across the map as if white magic were guiding him to the answer that, until know, has led him helplessly down dark alleys with abrupt dead ends. He stopped the glass over the back entrance to the park. He considered that the killer only had two exits to choose.

“You wouldn’t risk jumping a six-foot iron fence in the middle of the day.”

“You would leave the park closer to where you strangled the poor bastard.”

  “If you left the park using the back exit, someone may have seen you.”

He pulled out a second map without the care he used with the first. The second map was a breakdown of all the streets in the city with electronic surveillance devices. He quickly unwrapped this map with the care of a five-year-old unwrapping the biggest present under the Christmas tree. He looked at the intersection closest to the exit and read Hamilton Street and Liberty Boulevard. His brightened mood darkened as he looked at the color of the tiny square colored on the map. The square was blue, indicating a traffic monitoring camera. He realized that this type of camera did not record and store live images. The traffic monitoring camera is solely for the identification of incidents created by heavy congestion, stalled vehicles, and accidents. This information is then relayed to other motorists through radio and Internet to warn of the hazardous conditions. Not one to give up easily on a challenge, he searched his mind for another avenue of attack.

 “That’s it! He exclaimed. A flat foot patrol officer should always be walking the beat near busy intersections. He knew it was a longshot that a police officer just so happened to spot his killer, but it was worth a shot.

 “Maybe this guy was in a psycho episode like the doc explained and looking kind of funny or something.”

 I will check this out first thing tomorrow, he thought with only a half full enthusiasm for the result. Before leaving, he checked the foot patrol officer schedule for the day and approximate time of the Fry murder and read the name out loud to the empty room.

  He read, “Officer Frank Mahoney. Now there’s a good Irish name.”

#

“Officer Mahoney, my name is Detective Dale Lawson, Homicide Division.” Dale pulled out his gold detective shield and placed it a few inches from Officer Mahoney’s face. Mahoney looked at the badge without changing his facial expression. Dale looked with interest as he watched not one deep wrinkle on the mans sunburned stoic face move in any direction.

 Now this is my kind of guy, thought Dale with feelings of respect.

 “I’m sorry to bother you officer, but I was hoping for some information.”

   Officer Mahoney looked at Dale with a slight grin and stated, “I’m pretty busy but if this concerns a homicide, I will gladly to help.”

  “Last Saturday, there was a murder in Carson Park.”

  Officer Mahoney began to chuckle lightly. He looked at Dale with an expression that struck him as pity. The kind of look you give a young child when they tell you that babies are delivered by storks from heaven.

  “I know officer, began Dale, there are lots of murders in that wonderful park. But my interest is in a person who may have left the park this way directly after the murder.”

 “Detective, do you know how many people I run into each day on the beat?” Besides, I…he stopped talking to yell at a jay walking pedestrian crossing at the intersection. “Hey sir, if I see it again, you get a ticket!”

 “So, you normally don’t give tickets, do you?” asked Dale, trying to rattle the man’s cage just for some fun.

  “Now listen here Detective, I don’t think…

 He stopped in mid-sentence like a robot experiencing a short circuit in its program. He looked at Dale with piercing eyes and explained his encounter last Saturday.

“Yea, I remember a strange duck that day. He was talking to himself with his head held low. He walked across the intersection of Hamilton and Liberty against the sign. I stopped him and questioned him.”

 “But you don’t normally question jay walkers?”

“No detective,” he stated with sarcasm, “I don’t question people normally. That’s your job obviously. I questioned him because he was acting very odd. He was acting like a man intoxicated or, having some type of crisis.”

Do you remember what he was wearing, what he said, asked Dale, trying to hide his childlike enthusiasm.

I remember he was wearing a blue cap and thick reading glasses. I remember almost feeling sorry for stopping him once I saw those glasses. I figured maybe he just couldn’t see the walk sign.”

Did he say where he was going or coming from?”

“That I do remember crystal clear. He said he was coming from a house showing with my neighbor Kelly Clews, a realtor.”

 “Where can I find your friend?”

 She’s everywhere sir. I don’t keep track of all my friend’s activities. I do know that she is trying to get rid of this house on Braxton Avenue. It right down the stree…

 “I know where it is, yelled Dale as he ran across the street against the Do Not Walk signal.”

#

“Ok thank you for coming out. You’re a lovely couple, this house would be perfect you.” Kelly Clews stood in the paint chipped doorway, waving goodbye to the young couple.

 I will never see you two again, she thought, as she turned around with a startled jump as she looked at Eric Lewison standing behind her.

 “You gave me a startle, Mr.” She held out her hand waiting for a response.

 “Sorry Ms. Clews, my name is detective Eric Lewison with the Pittsburgh homicide unit.” Eric produced his gold badge and quickly placed it back into his front Armani suit pocket. The suit now missing a top button.

  “What could this be about. Homicide?”

 “Yes mam, I….I….I…, Eric felt his head swarm again like that same hornets’ nest sensation he felt just before picking himself off his living room floor.

   “I…I…I’m sorry I don’t feel so…so…so goo, Eric fell to his hands and knees on the living room floor.

  “I’ll call an ambulance!” exclaimed Kelly. She frantically looked into her black leather purse for her cell phone, spilling make-up, pens, and change onto the floor. Remembering she left her phone in her car, she ran to the empty kitchen tripping over the chipped linoleum floor. Reaching the phone, she nervously dialed 91 and was suddenly interrupted by a blow to her right cheek. After just a few moments of hitting the floor, she regained her blackened sight and saw Eric standing over her holding an ice pick. She had to close her eyes and quickly open them again to confirm that this was the same man she just met a few moments ago. The same man who just cold cocked her as she was trying to help. This is the same man she thought but, different in some strange almost imperceptible way. Despite the dark glasses now adorning his face, he seemed to her twisted in some way. Like a trusted dog you once knew, now transformed by an expression of bloodlust and ancient rage.

Eric lifted the ice pick over his head with a quick upward thrust. Just as the point of the pick came violently crashing down, aimed at the top of Kelly’s head, three loud bangs echoed through the empty fixer upper house.

  BANG…BANG…BANG

Eric fell forward catching his balance on the doorjamb directly next to the curled-up Kelly Clews. The tip of the ice pick contacted the top of her left shoulder causing a burning pain to radiate throughout her left arm. She screamed as she saw a stream of her own bright red blood pour from the sight of the wound.

“Dear God, help me!” she shouted just before passing out from the burning pain.

  Eric regained his balance and turned toward his killer…his salvation. He moved slowly toward Dale Lawson.

“Stop right there partner,” stated Dale, with a voice slightly cracking from the pressure caused by his wildly beating heart. Later he could not be sure, but he believes that he saw Eric silently mouth the words Thank You, as he moved slowly toward his end.

Dale fired one more shot directly into the man with dark glasses barely beating heart.

#

 Dale sat in Dr. Sloan’s office rubbing his tired eyes and trying to erase the images from his mind.

“Dale my friend, are you ready to talk about what happened?”

 Dale did not want to talk anymore. He just wanted to sit and listen. Listen for a thousand years without ever having to talk to another living soul.

“Tell me what happened to our Mr. Eric Lewison, the Pittsburgh Park Killer.”

Well as you know, he killed over the last three years in five different states. But that is not the interesting part.” Are you sure your OK for this?” He asked with the concern of both a psychiatrist and, more importantly to him, a friend.

“Just go-ahead doc so I could put this shit behind me.”

Well we know that he was in Afghanistan and suffered a head trauma during a car bombing. No doubt in my mind this caused organic damage to the frontal lobe, as well as centers of the brain involved in auditory and visual. Hence, the hallucinations. Hence, the delusions that he was a detective with a special clairvoyant gift.”

What about the family.”

Well we know that his daughter was killed seven years ago by a stray bullet in a recreational park in South Carolina. This happened right before he moved to Pittsburgh, a few years after returning with his war wound.”

And we know that his wife committed suicide shortly after moving to Pittsburgh.”

What’s up with the hitman personality?” asked Dale, still rubbing his tightly closed eyes, struggling to fight back a growing headache.

 “Not sure how he picked up that little personality. Maybe this was always something he wanted to do. You know we all harbor very violent fantasies. Alternate personalities struggling to break through to the light of day.”

 Dr. Sloan continued, “I would even bet that he had actual conversations with people on the phone directing his hits. He probably even thought his family was still alive.”

I wish he were here so I can examine him on my couch.”

 Dale stood up slowly, looked at his friend and said, “I’m sure you will have plenty of opportunity to talk to someone like Eric Lewison.”

 

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

           

                                         

 

 

           

           

 

 

 

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Publication Date: 08-09-2017

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