afternoon. A small time crook named Wilger had been found shot dead east of the Bay. Got two more small time crooks -- Neneo and Marks -- separated into the precinct's two interrogation
rooms, playing the old game of who-will-crack-first. This is the part of the interrogation where everybody's cool and nobody's accusing anybody of anything. But unfortunately, my new partner Mike, he isn't much up on this game. Five minutes into questioning Neneo under the pretense that we thought he might have heard something, Mike starts pounding the table, "we know you
did it Neneo, we got you at the scene, we got your weapon, you are going down
Great, now Neneo's beady eyes are darting around in a panic
. He's thinking he needs a lawyer, and if he asks for one, that's it, discussion over. But I've dealt with this one before, and I know he's not the brightest bulb, so I lean in, real close.... "Neneo, I can see there's flecks of blood
inside your jacket, left side, and we're going to find out pretty quick whose they are. So tell me, did you.... did you do something that you're going to need a lawyer
"What? No!! I tell you I didn't do nothin'!!"
"Come on Neneo, if you did something you need a lawyer for, you better tell us now so we can get you one."
He just looked around, confused. I didn't have time for this. There was a trick
-- an old one, which had stopped working after the bad guys caught on, but maybe it hadn't been done for so long that they'd forgotten it. Maybe with a lowbrow like Neneo, he'd never even known about it. I turned and walked out.
Marks was in interrogation #2. I walked in, put a tape recorded in the middle of the table. "So, Marks, what'd you do last night?"
Smugly, Marks leaned back and shrugged. "Watched the ball game on TV."
"Oh. Yeah, so did I. Good game, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was."
"Johnson really fired 'em off in the third, didn't he."
"Yeah, he sure did."
I clicked off the tape recorder and stepped out into the hall, leaving Marks to wonder what that questioning, so quickly cut off, had been about. I made a few minor adjustments to the tape, and returned to Neneo.
I placed the tape recorder on the table and pressed play. Neneo heard my voice: "This whole thing, it was Neneo's idea?" then Marks' voice "Yes, it was"; mine again: "So Neneo shot Wilger?" and Marks: "Yeah, he sure did."
Neneo leapt out of his seat, "he's lying!! It was Marks that pulled the trigger, I only covered the door. It was all his idea, I can-- I can tell you where he dumped the weapon!!"
I tossed the tape recorder to Mike, whose jaw had fairly dropped open at how easily Neneo was tricked. If only they were all this easy. "Get his statement. I'll see you Monday."
Monday morning was different. Usually on a Monday morning, I'd walked into the department expecting a weekend-shift's sheaf of unsolved cases, most often collateral damage from gang wars out on the edge of the city. But on this quiet, hazy Monday morning, a skinny, straw-haired young officer ran up to me in the parking lot
before I even got in the door. Franklin, I recall, was his name.
"Detective Gable," Franklin motioned, "M-E wants to see you right away." As we drove the seven blocks to that building, I made a quick mental rundown
of my current unsolveds -- any dozen of them might have borne a forensic clue over the past few days. But then we were almost there, so I figured at least one was about to come a step closer to closing. I figured wrong. Dead wrong.
The Medical Examiner
's office was as polished and sterile as the department was worn and dirt-stained. I paused in the lobby to "Martin," I heard a voice resonate deeply from the examining room. It was Stan Washington. Stan was a fixture amongst the ME's, the one you turned to when the question was absolutely mind-boggling. Whatever it was, chances were he'd seen it twice before. Up until this case.
"Morning, Dr. Washington. What brings me here today?"
"A special delivery. Addressed to Detective
Martin Gable, Los Angeles Police Department
." He gestured to a cardboard box
a little larger than a shoebox
, sitting on the examining table. He explained as we walked over. "It arrived at the department for you Friday afternoon, but you had already left."
"Had to make Alison's recital," I half smiled. God knows I've missed enough of those. Stan had met my daughter once, when I'd let her tag along on a visit to the lab. Whip smart
-- face of an angel
, but with more than a touch of mischief in her blessed little heart.
"The package went through standard security, but last night a canine unit happened to be passing by. Dog lit up over it, so they took it to x-ray
, and you'll never guess what they found."
I peered into the box. "Is that-- is that a toe?
Stan looked sidelong at me and nodded. "The box had three, ahem, items, in baggies, surrounded by styrofoam peanuts
. This toe, a finger
-- probably a ring finger -- and the top half of a left ear
. The other two are on the counter over there."
"Jesus," I muttered. Stan echoed the sentiment with his expression.
Stan continued. "All three look to be from the same person. Caucasian
, obviously, and probably male based on the hair follicle density. Adult, could be anywhere from twenties to forties. Probably not much older than that, from skin elasticity
. We're trying to match up the print from the finger." I put on my reading glasses and slipped on a pair of latex gloves, gently lifting the finger from the box and turning it over. If it was ring finger, there was no sign it had borne an actual ring. So it was probably from the victim's left hand, or from a never married victim.
"So the question is, why would someone mail this to me
?" I returned the finger to the box. "And where's the rest of the corpse."
Stan got a pained look on his face. "There may not be a 'corpse' in this case, detective. Based on the condition of these items, we believe they were removed surgically." He looked down at the toe on the table. "From a living victim
Almost involuntarily, I clasped my hands together. Then I slowly brought them to my chin and rubbed the scruff while trying to think through the angle here. This was serious. Something like this was the hallmark
of a very dangerous type of person. Possibly a serial killer
-- but who knew if he'd even killed somebody? I rolled the question over in my mind: What kind of person would cut off pieces of a person and mail them to a cop? To a homicide
detective? Why was I
that cop, was this intended as some kind of warning, was I in danger? Was my family? Or was I picked at random, out of a phone directory? Did some nut simply think 'Martin Gable' had a mellifluous ring to it, of all the names on some list somewhere?
"Could this person have cut them off himself?" I wondered aloud. Stan thought it was a remote possibility -- it would be difficult, but not inconceivably so, to cut in such a neat circle around one's own finger. But then again, whoever made these cuts had done so with apparent surgical skill. I had a momentary vision of a mad doctor, a would-be Doctor Frankenstein
, conducting some strange experiment with body parts.
The rest of my day seemed a blur, checking up on all of my current case files to see if something -- anything -- clicked with this strangeness. I jotted down a page and a half of possibilities. Maybe some nervous killer, fearing his more mundane crime would be solved, had done this to distract the department? With no information on the identity of the victim, not even anything more than the vaguest possible description, there was nothing to go on. And I wasn't about to look through every 'Caucasian male' profile in missing persons.
A week passed. No leads, no identification, nothing. Other cases howled for attention, demanded priority. Another Monday, come and gone as usual.
It was noon on Tuesday. I was at a tenement
on the East side, trying to gauge the approximate distance of the shooter in what was most likely a drive-by
. The bullet had killed Darryl Hopkins, an eight-year old bystander caught in the crossfire. I was about to take his mother's statement when Mike interceded; he would handle that always-unpleasant task, as I had been called back to the department. A second package had come.
This one made me lose my lunch.
This set of offerings cinched it that the sender wasn't cutting off pieces of himself. Stan explained in some detail how it would be impossible for a person to remove their own eyeball
so neatly. And again, he showed me why it was clear that the parts had been removed not from a corpse, but from a living, breathing person. Somewhere, then, this person was probably alive, still -- breathing, terrified, tortured, needing to be found and rescued. He must have been in captivity since at least a few days before the first mutilation. I imagined myself for a moment in that scenario; I'd probably be close to snapping after this second round, and would teeter over the edge if a resolution didn't come in a few days more. And with the nothing we had to go on, prospects for that happening were next to nil. Still, I sat down at my computer and pulled up the file on the case, to add the one detail that I now could, under description of victim -- eyes: blue.
This package, like the last, contained three little plastic baggies. After showing me the eye, Stan moved on to a molar
-- telltale marks indicated it had been pulled out with a wrench
, so out surgeon was less familiar with dentistry
-- and a lump of bone
I didn't recognize. Stan would later identify it as a patella
-- a kneecap. Knowing that made me come close to losing my lunch again. Strange feeling -- only a few hours before I had stood over the body of a shot child and felt remorse, even a bit of anger, but no nausea
, no sense that something grotesque and unnatural lay before me. But here, these isolated body parts might as well have dropped from another world. The eyeball and the patella were lefties, the molar from the right side. I don't know that it did me any good to learn that.
I went through my case files again, poring over the details. A few possibilities sprang up. There was an unsolved case from seven years ago, a dead girl whose father was an orthopedist. He did minor surgery in his practice. Maybe he was still so raw over losing a child that he shifted blame to the cops who couldn't solve the case? Five years ago I'd busted a 'street surgeon' who, with no training, had been running a clinic to do surgery on the poor. Yugoslavian. He'd been deported, maybe he was back? Sixteen years ago, not my case primarily but one of the first I'd worked on as a detective, there was a plastic surgeon cooking the books to cover up illegally selling prescription drugs on the side. A patient had OD'd, and the DA had come down hard. Last year, the nurse we'd investigated for possibly acting as an 'angel of death' for elderly patients, and those dying of cancer
. No AIDS or other blood-borne pathogens in our victim. I'd remember to ask Stan if the body parts I'd been sent had any signs of coming from a person fighting such a condition.
There were a few others that presented leads as good as that, and stacks and stacks with tertiary connections to persons with surgical knowledge or hospital work or known animal-torture pathologies. I nodded slightly to myself in resignation. My days of investigating this would be filled with trips to prisons and hospital wards.
I had nightmares
. Repeatedly I dreamt myself trapped, in a straightjacket
on a gurney
in an obsidian operating theater; a scalpel wielded by an invisible hand darting past me to and fro, occasionally descending to slash a bit of flesh. I woke gasping. A week passed like this. Seven more grueling days, and nothing. No identity for the victim, not from the one eye and not from the finger sitting in a refrigerator at one of the foremost forensics labs in the country. And certainly no clue on the sick sonofabitch who'd sent them to me. I half expected another package, first on Monday, then on Tuesday, then on Wednesday. I stayed late on Friday in case something came in. Nothing did.
The weekend came, and with it my little girl, come to spend time with daddy. At last I forced myself into putting my mind off this case and relaxing. It had not been a quiet weekend, the neighbor's older boy Tommy having learned the old trick of ringing the doorbell and running away, and quickly passing that hard-won knowledge on to his little brother Bobby. I humored them, poking my head out and looking around, going "who's there, who's there?" and pretending not to hear the giggling from the bushes. Alison thought it was absolutely precious. And, after some hours of respite from that game -- probably the boys being called to dinner -- there it went again. This time it rang when I was in the kitchen, poaching eggs. "Just a minute!!" I shouted. Kids playing, no doubt, but I made a show of trundling like a big, burly bear through the living room to poke my head out into the dense night air. "Who's there, who's there?"
No giggling this time -- maybe I'd been too slow to get there. But as I was shutting the door, I glanced down. There was a box. Cardboard. Plain. Small label on the corner, looked like a mailing label. I reached into my pockets, searching for a moment to come up with my glasses. The label read: "Detective Martin Gable, Los Angeles Police Department, Homicide."
My eyes shot to the bushes, the street, all the cracks and crevices of darkness around me. Nothing. I slammed the door shut. "Alison," I barked, "Come here!!"
A deathly silent moment passed. "Alison!!"
The tightening sensation in my throat finally let up when her voice piped out, "Busy."
No time to explain. "Alison, living room, RIGHT NOW!!"
She cantored out confused and upset, "What'd I do?"
"Nothing, sweetheart, come here," I swept her into my arms, pulling her to the floor in front of the couch. "A bad man is in the neighborhood, and I want to keep you safe." Her eyes flipped wide with terror.
There was a phone on the corner of the coffee table; I snatched it, pushed it into her little hands. "Alison, call nine-one-one, tell them an officer needs assistance, give them the address. It's an emergency." She nodded. Smart girl, she would handle that part. I tried to look sincere. "I'll be right back."
I got my gun. Went room to room, turning out the lights; my eyes adjusted; now I could see out, but there seemed to be nothing to see. Went back to the couch; huddled with my little girl in silence. My little girl looked up at me with wide, quivering eyes. "Daddy," she whispered, "is it that man? The one who sent you body pieces at work?"
"How did you--"
"Mommy told me. She told me you'd had a really hard time with it."
I was almost surprised. I hardly had a cordial relationship with Clara, my ex-wife, but we did talk about our lives from time to time, mostly between workmanlike negotiations over who would get Alison when. I suppose I'd mentioned this case to Clara a few times, told her I'd had nightmares, that it was keeping me busier, more on the edge than usual. To Alison's question, I simply nodded. And there we quietly huddled for the seventeen minute eternity before blue lights and sirens pierced the neighborhood. Whatever else had happened, this sonofabitch, this scumbag had come to my house, put my family in fear. He would pay. He would pay.
The box contained two pieces of the victim. One was a portion of the left hand, starting with the pointer finger and cut all the way back to where the wrist would have been, and the thumb. Both were laid out fully extended, perpendicular to each other, as if to make a permanent 'L' shape. Thin steel rods had been thrust through both to keep them in that shape. The kind of rods you would use when dissecting a small animal, to hold it open. And this one had a note inside the box as well, scratched out in a barely legible brown scribble:
Please find me.
He is making me write this note to you.
He wants me to tell you this.
You'd better find me soon.
If you don't I will not have the parts I need to write another note.
Alongside the lettering, on the right hand side, there were streaks on the paper. Sweat or tears. Maybe both. Forensics would later confirm the note's text to have been written in the victim's blood
. And the other thing in the box was his gallbladder
To be continued....
A double shot for The Nodegel from Yuggoth: The 2011 Halloween Horrorquest and THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE 4: FERRASSIC PARK