“Mitch,” Lieutenant Purdy said, “That just isn’t possible.”
Mitch Flanagan raised his eyebrows and turned his hands palms up. “You’re telling me? I fucking know it’s not possible. If you’d asked me to make a list of impossible things, it would be a long damn list, but this would be somewhere near the top of it.”
“So what the hell is it doing in your report?” Purdy folded her arms and looked at him through narrowed eyes.
“It’s the only eyewitness account of one of these deaths that we’ve got. And the pattern it indicates is consistent with the mode of death of all these people. And it corroborates the forensic evidence with the elevated adrenaline level. And I fucking went half way across Nevada to a little town named Bald Mesa and found three hundred people – the whole town – who know Wolf Scudder personally and while they mostly don’t like him, they agree that he never lies. And his father Henry confirms that his nose really is as good as a bloodhound’s. Evidently it runs in the family; Henry Scudder was able to tell me what brands of soap and shampoo I’d used that morning without even getting very close, and said Wolf’s nose was ten times sharper than his.”
“And Wolf says he saw this woman cut her own throat, with a smile on her face.”
“Yep.” Mitch grimaced and sipped at his coffee. “It doesn’t make any damn sense, but that’s what he says. He thinks she was murdered by somebody who could control her mind. You and I can say that’s impossible, but we’re not going to convince him. We’d need a better explanation, and I don’t have one. Do you?”
Purdy looked at him sadly. “‘Fraid so,” she said. “Try this one on for size. This hillbilly killed those women and even though he’s been convicted, he’s making up this story to avoid his own guilt. Poor bastard probably even believes it. There’s a hell of a lot of mental illness that winds up in jail, a hell of a lot of killers that make up crazy shit to blame their crimes on. Scudder’s no different. That’s the only explanation the evidence supports.”
Flanagan considered it. “Maybe. Maybe I’m looking too hard because I want to believe there’s something out there that can be stopped. But look at it in the context of these deaths. In addition to all the damn senseless deaths we’re calling accidents and suicides, I’ve got thirty-four sexually twisted murders in that file, all of them apparently committed by people like Scudder. People with no history of violence, delusion, or sexual deviance, most of them with no criminal records. Upstanding citizens, people with character witnesses six deep. Scudder was convicted of three of those murders, but he was in jail when the other thirty-one happened. And the only thing unique about Scudder, the only thing other than his nose that sets him apart from the other supposed killers in the file, is that he didn’t immediately off himself after it happened.”
“Listen to yourself, Mitch.” Purdy leaned over him looking concerned. “You’re talking crazy here. You want to believe there’s something out there that can be stopped – your words. But you’re grasping at straws. Your job is looking for someone who can be stopped, not something. By saying ‘something’ you’re admitting that it can’t be a person, and criminals are people, not things. If you have to admit that in order for it to exist it would have to be something impossible, then the investigation is over and the conclusion is that it doesn’t exist.”
Mitch sipped his coffee and looked out the window. Then he set the coffee back down on his desk, steepled his fingers, and thought for a few moments. “Reality check’s bouncing, huh?” He paused, thinking about the case file. It occupied an entire cabinet now. “I think it’s someone, not something.” He paused again. “It started three years ago. The manner of death in these cases connects them. There’s a pattern that the coroner can detect. I know someone is doing this. I just don’t know how.”
“Mitch, I’m going to say something and I want you to think about it for a while before you answer. Okay?” Purdy waited until he nodded. “Okay, here’s what I have to say, and I want your answer to this no earlier than tomorrow morning. Do you need a vacation?”
The two regarded each other in silence for a while before Purdy continued. “Just think about it, okay? Meantime, I want you to look at the hard facts of the case again and see if you can find something real.”
The briefing was over. Mitch headed back for his desk. The phone was ringing as he got there, so he picked up. “Detective Flanagan.”
“Hello?” the voice on the other end said when he picked up. “I asked to talk to the detective investigating Lorena Davis’ death, have I got the right person?”
Davis was the latest death, the one who’d who’d gotten killed – and worse – by the dogs in that junkyard. One of those annoying recording beeps sounded before he replied. “Yeah. This is Mitch Flanagan. The Davis file is on my desk.”
“My name’s Mike Clelland,” said the voice on the other end of the line. “I have to tell you that whoever killed Davis is also responsible for the death of my brother Joe Clelland last night.”
“Whoa, back up.” Mitch hit the button on his phone to request a transcript of this recording for his current case file. “You have information about the death of Lorena Davis?”
“Not much, but a little. I know some things that weren’t in the paper. The first is, she was definitely murdered. There’s not a damn thing that was accidental about her death. And the dogs that killed her raped her first. I don’t know who did it, but I think I know how he did it. And if I’m right, he’s responsible for my brother Joe’s death too.”
“Your brother, that would be a Joe Clelland?” Mitch wanted to be absolutely sure he had the name right. Another beep sounded, legal notice that the conversation was being recorded.
“Yeah,” the voice confirmed. “Joe died at the same time as Lorena Davis, or maybe a few minutes earlier. Fell off a roof in the SOMA. He was homeless, and I understand they’re assuming his death was a suicide.”
“Okay, wait. Your brother fell off a roof in the SOMA, and Davis died in a junkyard in Hunter’s Point. How are these deaths connected and how do you think Davis was killed?”
“I can’t explain it over the phone,” said the voice, “But they are connected, and I can explain to you in person how it was done. I think Joe just got caught downrange of the murder weapon, to stretch a metaphor.”
“Can you come in and talk to me?” Said Mitch.
“No. There’s no way I’ll be able to convince you this is real at the station. I’ll be at Morey’s bookstore on Valencia Street at six PM today if you want the explanation.” And then the line went dead.
Mitch stared at the phone. Okay, he was desperate for a lead and this Clelland guy promised one. Better yet, this Clelland guy might actually be the killer. He had legit unpublished information about the Davis death, so he was definitely connected to something. But going alone to meet an unknown informant at a location of the informant’s choosing – especially on a serial murder case – is something that a cop who wants to survive just does not do.
He hung up the phone, then picked it back up and dialed Purdy’s extension. “Remember you said you might assign an additional investigator on this? I think now’s the time. I have an informant who wants to meet me this evening, but the meeting may be dangerous. I’m going to need backup. Besides, if I do take that vacation you’ll want somebody else with their hands in the case file, right?”
“Yeah, I remember,” said Purdy. “Will you be okay working with Jackson?”
Mitch smiled. David Jackson was a big intimidating black cop, which would be perfect for a potentially risky meeting with an informant. He was also as sharp as cops came, and spoke four languages. The file had a lot of people who someone would need to interview, and a lot of the names looked like the names of people whose first language wouldn’t be English. “Jackson would be great. And Purdy? I got one other thing. There’s a death in the SOMA last night – looks like a suicide, but the informant says it may be linked to the Lorena Davis thing, and I want the forensics team on it today if that’s possible. It happened outdoors, so I want them to get to any evidence that might be there before we get any more weather.”
“Just a minute while I check,” said Purdy, then, “They’re already assigned to the case today, working on the Davis thing. If you got an additional site on the same case, you can do the paperwork yourself.”
“Thanks, Lieutenant. I owe you one.” Mitch hung up the phone.
He checked his watch. It was a little after three PM, so he had some time before the meeting. If he had an accidental killing here, a murder two that the killer might not even know about, the killer might not have been so goddamn careful to clean up the evidence at the scene. And he had to do the paperwork to assign the forensics guys, and that meant there had to be an open investigation. So he reclassified Joe Clelland from “suicide” to “suspicious death” on the statement of his brother Mike, and opened the investigation.
Jackson arrived while he was working on that, and spoke softly, in a rumbling basso that reminded Mitch of James Earl Jones. “Purdy assigned me to the Freakshow case with you, Mitch. Where’s the file?”
Mitch gave him a sympathetic smile and pointed at the cabinet under his desk. “It’s the whole damn cabinet. My notes are the stuff in the red folder, my reports so far are in the blue folders, and the rest of it is previous investigations and stuff that may be related. Mostly coroners’ files. You’re not going to have time to read it all before we have to go meet an informant this evening, but I’m glad to have you aboard.”
Jackson surprised him. He got through the notes and the earlier reports in under an hour, and he’d plowed a good quarter of the way through the related files before they left. Mitch wished he could read that fast. But the big man didn’t say a word until they were in the car and headed for Morey’s Bookstore. “This is a fuckin’ weird case, Mitch.”
Mitch looked over, at found David’s big brown eyes focused intently on him. “Yeah, tell me about it. I feel like I fell down the rabbit hole into Never-never-land working on this one.”
David smiled. “I understand what you’re saying, Mitch, but down the rabbit hole was Wonderland. Never-never-land was the second star on the right and straight on ’til morning.”
“Whatever,” said Mitch gloomily. “I figure wherever we are now is the really bad part of the map that both of those countries are on.” His attention had strayed, for just a moment, from the road, as the complexities and impossibilities of the case swirled in his head. David said something else, but he didn’t quite catch it.
Then David’s hand came across and up, surprising him. In bafflement, Mitch watched as the hand closed around the steering wheel and shoved it hard to the left. He thought there was something wrong with the movement of David’s arm and hand, but he couldn’t quite figure out what. Then, crazily, he realized it was too late to push David’s arm away from the steering wheel and they might miss the truck. But that thought was wrong, there wasn’t any —
“Truck?” Mitch said, finally looking up through the windshield. There was a panel wagon coming at them in their lane. David had cranked the wheel over to try and miss it on the left, but as Mitch watched, the bright red man behind the wheel of the truck was cranking its wheel over to try and catch them. Bright red? People weren’t supposed to be bright red, was his final thought before the panel wagon connected with the left rear quarter panel of the car.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.