My left index finger rested gently on the volume slider. I could feel the ridges in the plastic, the curve that was meant to mimic the shape of a human digit. The fingers on my right hand tapped rapidly on the cheap folding table.
Where is it? I knew the story was coming. I'd been waiting for almost a full day. There was no way we weren't going to cover it. The footage had already made the rounds online, garnering thousands of views. We had to say something about it. So where the hell was it?
"Mic her." Rich's nasally, high pitched voice piped directly into my ear by virtue of the headset. Hastily, I moved the slider responsible for Julia's microphone into place, simultaneously silencing the audio from the previous clip. A low hum could faintly be heard from the speakers, a sound I attributed to the air conditioning system in the studio. But it wasn't until Rich's next command, directed toward the camera operators, that her voice was heard.
"Cue." It had quickly become my favorite word, as it always preceded the melodious tones of her beautiful voice. Julia was a pretty girl; a bit short with straight dark hair, kinda busty, a couple years older than me. Her looks alone put her way out of my league, and normally, I wouldn't be so bothered by that. I was used to it. But her voice; I found it both calming and exhilarating just to hear such vocal perfection, and what luck that I would be paid to ensure that it came across with clarity so that all could enjoy it as I did. My dream job, no question.
But it wasn't what I was most excited for. No, more than Julia's vibrant voice, I was eagerly awaiting the words that would be wrapped within. It had been less than a day, but I already felt as though I had waited a lifetime. And my patience had been rewarded, at last, when I heard her begin.
"A viral video has been circling the Internet depicting a brutal exchange between two homeless men. The individuals involved appear to have gotten into an argument regarding spacing limitations of the underpass they were living in. That altercation erupted into a fistfight which ultimately resulted in the death of one of the men." Julia paused momentarily, glancing down at the IPad in front of her. "Now, we want to warn you that what you are about to see may be disturbing to some viewers."
I wasn't worried. I'd already seen the video a half dozen times in the few hours leading up to this. I was fascinated with these sorts of things. There was a sort of primal sensation that I would feel every time something gruesome and raw like this would surface. My secret obsession was mostly in good fun, a solitary activity that I alone could enjoy. But there was a certain satisfaction that I could only get from a video such as this.
"SOT in A." Rich interrupted, ensuring I did my job correctly. I despised that pompous tone, that implication that he was superior to me. Normally, I might have become disgruntled at this interruption, but for the first time in a long while, I appreciated it. I wanted to hear this; perfectly, and in its entirety. I raised the volume control responsible for the short clip of the fight. The footage was shaky, taken via cell phone by what seemed to be a passerby. The audio was not much better, due to both the quality of the device recording it and the rainstorm drowning out the voices. Fortunately, subtitles had been edited in before airing.
One of the two men stood with his back to the onlooker, a tan coat draped around his shoulders, thick black gloves on his hands, and a dark, woolen beanie covering his head. The other man, more clearly visible, had a thick green coat zipped up to his chin, which was mostly obscured by his thick, unkempt beard. One of his eyes was dull green, while the other was milky white. Understandable, given that he seemed to be in his late fifties and there was significant scarring on that side of his face. His hands were bare. He didn't seem to have the same luxury as his opponent, though he did have a red wool cap of his own.
The two exchanged words briefly before their fight began. "Mic her, and cue." Julia's voice overtook the audio from the clip as the two fought on screen. "The men got into this territory dispute late Wednesday night, and as you can see from this footage, it didn't take long for it to come down to a brawl." The men exchanged blows as she spoke, but it only got more interesting. Briefly, the man whose back was to the camera pulled back an arm, plunging his hand frantically into his back pocket. Then, for a split second, there was a silvery glint.
"Then, you can see one of the men retrieve a switch-blade knife from his back pocket and stab the other man with it repeatedly." I shuddered with each blow. The sensation that overtook me was not fear or disgust, but rather exhilaration. This vicarious, visceral display was playing a tune on my neurons that I was more than prepared to hear. Goosebumps spread upon my arms and legs, each hair raising as a result.
There was disappointment mixed in, though. Someone had gone over the video with a fine-toothed comb, making sure to censor anything that could be offensive. Why bother blurring this part? We all know what blood looks like. It doesn't really matter that it's all over the place. It's still blood. But the producers had different plans, I suppose.
"The victim of this tragic crime has not yet been identified, but police are investigating at this time. If you have any information regarding the identity of the attacker, please call your local police station or Crimestoppers." I sighed internally. Poor Julia. You're the type of person that really means it when you say that kinda stuff. That sickening positivity is why I gravitate to you, but all that happiness is the antithesis of my personality. It's bittersweet.
The camera cut back to Julia at that point, and the show moved forward as normal. "Another man was discovered dead today, the latest in a long line of homicides known as the 'monogram murders'." Although this story piqued my interest, my morbid curiosity was sated. I knew that the satisfaction wouldn't last, but I could at least hold out long enough to get back home without disrupting my co-workers with my strange behavior. They wouldn't understand, and I wasn't eager to have them start asking awkward questions.
"Good work today, Nathan."
"Yeah, you too." I mumbled, almost to myself. I reciprocated Rich's compliment, mostly to keep up appearances. I shouldn't have to hear that I'm doing my job well, and neither should he. But I guess it's all about being nice and courteous. I got the distinct impression that his rotund, freckled ass was bullied through all twelve years of school, and this job was just a way for him to feel like he was on top. I couldn't care less about his problems, but that sense of superiority was a thorn in my side, a nuisance that spoke directly into my ear on a daily basis. I was finished for the day, practically out the door. Checking my mail bin on the way to the stairs, I scratched absentmindedly at the nape of my neck.
I stepped out of the station building onto the pebbled sidewalk, taking in a breath of the moist remnant air of last night's storm. There were no people out that I could see. I took solace in that. I had parked around the corner past a row of trees that had been planted in the walkway, wood chips and metal grates at their bases rooting them in place. I always thought it was an appropriate comparison to the world as a whole. A blossoming thing surrounded by concrete, caged by metal, and founded on the death of what came before. That realization brought with it a sort of reverence for these things. I placed a hand on the slender trunk of one of the trees, just taking in the rough texture of the papery bark.
I smiled to myself, soothed and calmed for the first time in hours. I stepped away and walked toward my car, allowing my finger to scrape lightly along the building I had just left. The color of stucco that the station sported didn't match well with the coarse concrete substance that it was built with. The scraping ended abruptly as my hand reached the edge of the building, transferring over to the low, pebbled wall that housed our business parking lot.
I hadn't parked back there. That lot was used for company vehicles; cars, vans, and SUV's that the reporters and production personnel could transfer equipment in. We had no actual employee parking, instead finding whatever place we could on the street to leave our vehicles. I quickly located my white minivan and strode toward it. I stepped over a puddle that had pooled against the curb as I reached for the door, key already in hand.
As I ducked into the car, I felt a humid wall of heated air billow out. It had been rather warm earlier in the day, and it seemed that the still, cool air of the night hadn't had enough time to undo the influence of the sun. I took note of the various bottles of soda, most only half emptied, that littered the floor around me. Glancing to the center console, I found my cup holders occupied by two unfinished cans of Mountain Dew. Sandwiched between them, my belt cutter and window breaker peeked out toward the back seats. I really need to clean this thing out. I paused, contemplating. Tomorrow. Something I'd told myself dozens of times before.
Returning home, Metallica blaring from the speakers, I started getting the itch again. I scratched incessantly at it, hoping it would go away. There was a ringing in my ears. My eyes were trained on the road ahead of me, but all I could see was that gleaming blade, and the blood splashing all over. I had to see it one more time. To take in every little detail, and know as much as possible about that horrific, beautiful scene.
The obsession for this macabre voyeurism gripped me. I could feel my foot pressing more heavily on the gas as I raced to my home, just five minutes away. My hands tensed up, fingers digging into the steering wheel. I started to sweat profusely, overcome with an odd nervousness. The itch returned, worse than before, like a rash treated with mosquitoes.
Am I really having a panic attack over this? What the fuck? My heart was pounding in my chest. It felt like my ribs were cracking. The rock music faded away as the sound of blood rushing through my head grew louder. The tension in my hands intensified; I could see the veins and arteries on the backs of my hands, raised and quivering. I had to do something about this. I had to get home. I had to see it again. I had to...
Realization spread through my entire body, and the horrible discomfort started to subside. No. My hands relaxed, and the fake leather cover of the wheel slowly expanded back into place. I have a better idea. The pulsating rush in my ears grew silent, and my heartbeat calmed to normality. My eyes glanced down to the hooked pommel that housed the belt cutter, the conic point of the window breaker gleaming in the light of the streetlamps. Yeah. Much better. I took a sharp u-turn and calmly directed my vehicle toward the interstate.
The day crawled. It seemed like time had slowed down, and each second, each minute, each hour, was far longer than it should have been. Where is it? Nearly a full day later, a witness to call the police, and a conspicuous hiding spot should all result in a rapid discovery. We had to cover this story. I knew it was coming, so where was it?
Julia's melodious voice rang out through the room. "Another man was found dead with deep puncture wounds in his chest. 52-year-old Martin Copeland was discovered beneath the overpass of Interstate 37." A surge ran through my spine that I could feel in every nerve. My hands reflexively curled into fists, accentuating the small, fresh scratches. I had to fight against this motion, lest the other people around me get suspicious of my habits. I don't know why I cared what they thought; I guess I was more concerned with my own privacy. Nonetheless, the ecstasy that I felt was far more intense than I imagined it would be, and it continued to swell as Julia continued.
"Police began investigating late last night in response to a call placed by an onlooker. From their testimony, the attacker lured Copeland using the ruse of a flat tire. The witness says that the culprit brandished a switch-blade knife bearing markings associated with the American naval forces." I really didn't think she would notice that. It wasn't going to help though. Turns out ordinary knife shops will sell you a naval knife. Wait, does the navy even use switch-blades? I would have to consult Google later.
"We reached out to this witness for a statement, but they declined to comment, asking that they not be on camera." Not surprising. The bitch was scared shitless. Apparently, she had never seen a crime show before. I actually kinda felt bad for her. I could remember a time when that sort of thing would bother me, but it'd been ages. By that point, all of that unseemly stuff was just part of everyday living.
"Based on the type of wound inflicted, as well as the distance between the overpass and the location of the call, police are certain that Copeland's tragic death was a homicide." Of course it was. There could be no doubt. I closed my eyes momentarily, recalling every tiny detail in seconds.
The helpful motorist pulled to the side of the road to assist the beleaguered traveler with a flat tire. His kind demeanor was actually endearing. He looked like any average guy, just helping out. He may have been a father on his way home from work. He didn't acknowledge the fact that I didn't say a word when he approached. He didn't notice the odd way I was standing, at once approaching and avoiding him. He didn't notice the phone propped against the 'flat' tire. If the itch hadn't been so strong, I probably wouldn't have troubled him. I would just mumble that I was fine and give up on the whole thing. But I needed it. Another car approached, blinding Copeland with its headlights.
Then, there was the pressure, the resistance of his flesh. His coat was thin, but effective. It took a couple tries to really get results. The bright lights of the oncoming motorist illuminated the crimson streams that were coating the gray cotton of Copeland's jacket. He struggled, sputtering, desperately scratching away at my hands that were drenched in his blood. Soon enough, though, he stopped moving altogether, and I had the arduous task of pulling him to the rear of my van. It was already unlocked, a plastic tub set there ready to be filled.
I heard the car screech to a halt behind me. Looking over my shoulder, I knew that it was time to go. She already had her phone to her ear, and she was rapidly approaching, shouting at me. I slammed the rear door closed and made my way to the driver's seat, making sure to scoop up my phone. The keys were already in the ignition, simultaneously keeping the doors unlocked and ensuring a quick escape.
As I drove, I took constant care to ensure that everything was where it should be. License plates glimmered in the passenger seat as I drove. Despite speeding away at first, I maintained a legal velocity once I was sure I wasn't being tailed. I took several odd paths in order to loop back around without being seen. The last thing I wanted was to talk to the cops, or anyone for that matter. Soon enough, the overpass came into view.
"At this time, police have been unable to gather forensic evidence. They are now asking for anyone with information regarding this case to come forward." Only one witness, and she won't talk. No chance anyone will be able to help police with this one. It took a long time to wipe the skin and blood out from under his nails. It took even longer to rinse the tub, scrub the carpet, and wipe down the rear bumper. The only evidence left was the video file silently sitting in my phone. With the conclusion of the report, I relished in the overwhelming satisfaction of it.
Seriously, why didn't I do that sooner? I got the thrill my body demanded, my beautiful muse was singing my praises, and I had something left afterward that could tide me over until the itch became too strong again. I actually felt confident about being around people, a feeling that was entirely foreign until then. Where was the downside?
But more important questions were wading through my mind. What should I do with my little keepsake? Should I release it, or should I keep it for myself? What are the possible repercussions of letting that video loose? Can it be traced back to me? What are the benefits?
The thought occurred to me that perhaps I should share with the world. Not for their benefit, obviously. But, more than anything else, I just wanted to hear my darling Julia serenading the people of this town with tales of me. I hadn't thought such a thing possible, but what else could describe what I had just heard. I have to. I have to let her see.
But then what? Then I would have nothing left. Nothing for me, after hearing that one glorious speech. The video would be ruined, because the magic secrecy I felt in keeping it would no longer be there. And once that report went out over air, that would be it; we'd be done. I would only be able to glimpse Heaven, and then crash back down to Earth. What could I do? The golden gates were closing, and I had to think fast.
Well, the answer was obvious. If I wanted this adulation to persist, then I would have go out again. Not immediately, but soon. After I released the video to the station, anonymously of course, I would have to be ready for another trip out to the overpass. Maybe more than one, to keep up supply. Having a stockpile, I decided, wasn't going to hurt. In fact, it would prove to be very, very fun.
Several weeks passed since that epiphany. I felt better than I ever had. I was in control while sitting on the sidelines, absentmindedly adjusting volume and pitch. My beloved had told the people all about my exploits, and I was starting to gain national attention. The company of others bothered me much less now, as long as Julia wasn't around; I still couldn't really talk to her. None of that mattered to me, though. Just hearing my darling speak, and knowing that it was I who made her feel so strongly was more than enough.
But there was something more happening behind the scenes. My work was not the only thing that had captured that graceful voice. There was another. Another man, doing my deeds, and stealing the voice that enchanted me.
Prolific didn't begin to describe him. After three years of nonstop searching, the police had yet to discover his identity. His signature calling card was infamous though. A large letter "M", written on the victim's foreheads, carefully sketched to include intricate swoops and swirls. His body count numbered fifty-three, including the corpse of the day.
I had heard this story before. We had covered it many times. It was always something that intrigued and fascinated me. Aside from the initial, fatal wounds, the rest of the body was carefully carved with beautiful looping patterns. Most people didn't notice, but these were inflicted postmortem, evidenced by their persistent nature, existing as open fissures in the skin. It must have taken a long time to learn to do that, and even longer to pull it off to this degree. Unsurprising, in retrospect, given the longevity of his career.
Not long after I started with my 'side hobby', though, I started to feel very differently about him. I regarded him as a thief, a swindler who had stolen the voice of an angel from me before I ever had a chance to hear it. He was a major problem for me, a thorn in my side that I had to be rid of.
I started to learn how to talk with Julia more after that. It wasn't easy; my hands shook the entire time, though she probably didn't notice since I hid them in my pockets. There was no way she noticed the sweat beading down my face, a result of her presence. I thought I would be more prepared for conversations with her. I guess I underestimated the difference between the screen and real life. I did manage to choke out a few questions: what she thought of these murderers, and by proxy, what she thought of me.
"It's awful. How can anyone do that? How broken does someone have to be to think that that's okay?"
She said things like that a lot, but I could feel something different. I heard intrigue in her voice, something that was a shock for me. She had reported on many different stories throughout the years, but I had never heard her so moved by any of them. It made me smile on the inside, despite my exterior discomfort and agreement with her sentiments.
But I was also distraught. I hadn't only asked her about the killer that I had become, but about the other one as well. I had no idea which one she was really interested in, and that lack of knowledge rattled me. I had to know. I had to know what she really thought. And the only way to do that was to track the "M" killer down.
What will I do if I find him? That question proved to be harder to answer than I thought. I couldn't just line us up and have her pick, now could I. Not only did that make no sense, but worse still was the thought that she wouldn't want to be with me, that I would be inferior to this mysterious murderer. The ridicule and heartbreak would be too much to bear. So, what then? What could I do to resolve this problem?
I would have to get rid of him. Get rid of him and ensure that he never threatened my love for Julia again. Ensure that her voice would speak only of me, and that this man's legacy would be silenced and forgotten. It was the only way.
I started researching everything I could regarding the crime scenes. It took some doing, and more time than I care to admit, but I became a volunteer Crimestopper. Unfortunately, as I discovered, the volunteers are about as useless as the personnel at the news station. Their lack of information was more disheartening than I thought it would be. I would have to try something else.
"Hey, Nate. How are you, man? It's been a while." That baritone was always an insult to me. I was sure that it was what landed him all of his dates. We were brothers, but he was the only one that was blessed like that.
"I'm alright. How are you? How's work?"
"Ah, you know. It's always a bit hectic, but I'm doing pretty good."
"Yeah? What's so hectic about it? Something big happen?" I just needed an in. I just needed a way to get him talking.
"No, nothing like that. It's just a lot of work. We've been getting a ton of calls recently, and we're all just sort of scrambling." Yeah, I bet. A bunch of corpses showing up out of nowhere will do that.
"Well, what about that other thing. The monogram guy. You catch him yet?"
I heard a loud sigh on the other end. "That guy is just the biggest kick in the ego ever. You'd think with the entire force working around the clock we'd make some kinda progress, but this one's got us chasing our tails."
"Have you thought about bringing in some outside help? I mean, like, more than just the Crimestoppers?"
"Obviously." The snark in his voice was not lost on me. "But we can't bring just anybody in. I mean, average people just aren't equipped to deal with this stuff. Besides that, there are protocols in place to prevent outside involvement. It's all corporate type stuff, but they're there for good reason. Basically, we're out of luck there. Unless someone calls in with something useful, we can't really do anything more than what we're doing now."
Alright, I just need to convince him to let me into the police station to look around. I need to know what they haven't told the news. "So, the guy just gets to run free while you sit and wait? That kinda sucks."
"Well, what would you do?" He was almost shouting into the phone at me. I felt a little bad, but he wouldn't understand anyway.
"Let someone in that can actually help. You guys need a new perspective. Someone else to look things over and point you in a different direction."
"We don't have anyone like that. Why are you so invested in this anyway?"
Shit. I didn't think he would ask me that, and I wasn't really prepared to answer it. My motivation wasn't particularly moral, but I was doing what I needed to do. He wouldn't understand. No one would understand.
I thought on my feet. "Someone I knew wound up on the news the other day. I had to listen to Julia telling everyone about the nasty things that were done to him; how his skin was all torn up and how he was found just laid out in the middle of a park. I'm tired of it. He wasn't the first one we reported on, but I want him to be the last."
There was an extended silence from the other end. What's taking him so long. He believed me, right? I mean, I tried my best to keep my voice steady. Was that wrong? Would it have been more suspicious if I was distraught? Ah, fuck. Now I'm confused. There's no way he believed me. He would have said something by now. Does he suspect me? Does he know what I've been doing?
"Look, I understand how you feel, but there's nothing we can do that we aren't already trying. I can't help you, man. Sorry."
I knew he was about to hang up. I had to give him something, anything. Something that would get me to the station with him.
"My friend was already dead when your killer made those decorative cuts."
He stopped again, but only for a moment. He put the phone back to his face, and his voice was far more serious this time. He spoke in a hushed tone. He was probably at work.
"How the hell do you know that? No one was supposed to know details like that."
I suddenly felt a bit nervous, like I could feel his eyes scrutinizing me. I could tell he was taking careful note of my words. He was definitely suspicious of me.
"Th.. The cuts. They were smooth, clean. They were shallow, like the skin was sliced away with a potato peeler. They weren't bloody. They weren't raised at the edge. If he were alive, they would look different."
Bruce must have thought there was something wrong with me. I mean, who the hell knows that type of stuff? But I knew. I had seen so much macabre stuff online over the years, and I paid attention to the details. Most people probably wouldn't have noticed something like that, but it was easy to see after a few times through. My sick hobby may very well have spooked my brother out of helping me. I knew I shouldn't have told anyone.
He sighed under his breath. "I don't want to know how you know that. I should just hang up the phone and pretend we never talked."
"Y-yeah. I guess so. Sorry." I started to put the phone down, my thumb creeping toward the icon that would end the call.
"If I wasn't so desperate to get somewhere I wouldn't say this, but I want to come pick you up and bring you to the station."
No fucking way. There is no way that worked.
"You know what you're talking about. You already know more than you should about this. And it's not like you're an idiot."
A brief rustling emanated from the earpiece of my phone. I heard Bruce's voice, but it sounded far away, like he had the phone away from his ear.
"I can't believe I'm even considering this."
Another rustle. His voice returned to full volume, and he continued. "When's your next day off?"
"Alright. Stay at home. I'll come pick you up, and we'll go together. I'll let you know when I'm on my way."
"Okay, sure thing."
"Alright, I'll talk to you then."
I hung up before he could respond. My hands were drenched in a sweat I hadn't even noticed. It was hard to hold onto my phone because of all the shaking. I had to take a few breaths and try to calm myself down. I retrieved my laptop from my bag. I already knew what I needed to see.
Bruce arrived later that week. He brought his cruiser, a white SUV with 'POLICE' spray-painted in black across the doors. He was kind enough to let me ride in the front seat, moving a laptop over to the central armrest to accommodate me. The drive was short, and silent. I could feel the tension, like a pressure over my entire body. The day was cool, but I was sure I was sweating.
We arrived at the police station just after 2:00. The air conditioning was unnecessary for the weather, but much welcomed for my anxiety. He led me past the various desks and low cubicle walls as various officers greeted me. I was uncomfortable with this on many levels. Just leave me alone. I'm not here to talk to you. Soon enough, we were able to break away from the small group, and Bruce led me toward a glass door with Venetian blinds on the inside. There was some text plastered on the door in bronze paint.
'Reggie Hanson, Chief'
I presumed it meant that he was the chief of police. Bruce knocked lightly on the door, and a larger, heavier-set man answered. His dark receding hair seemed to be translated into the length of his bushy mustache. He looked stern, and the thick rimmed glasses he sported somehow served to reinforce this. His voice was slightly gravelly, and a peculiar smell tipped me off that he may have been a heavy smoker.
"What do you need, Bruce?"
"I..." Bruce froze up. I'd never seen that happen before. At least, not to him. I recognized the expression on his face from my own experiences. He was intimidated, afraid of what he was about to hear. He was expecting rejection. He made up his mind to initiate the conversation, but lost his nerve before it really started.
"What is it? I'm busy here." Hanson prodded Bruce to continue. Apparently that was all he needed.
"I need to talk to you about the monogram case. My brother wants to help us out."
The portly man glanced over to me. I felt my body recoil away from that discerning glare. He turned back to my brother.
"Why doesn't he join up with Crimestoppers. They're helpful." The way he said that, I wasn't sure he really believed it. There was a sort of sarcastic inflection buried in the words that told me exactly what he thought about them.
Bruce apparently already knew about his chief's lack of faith. He seemed annoyed that his boss was playing with him.
"Come on. I'm serious about this. He already knows that most of the cuts were made postmortem. I didn't tell him. He figured it out on his own."
This made Hanson stop for a moment. He looked back at me again. He stared for a long time, eyes narrowed. Without noticing, I maneuvered behind Bruce, seeking protection from this gaze.
"Why don't you have a seat out here? I need to talk with your brother about some things."
He ushered Bruce into his office, leaving me behind. I took a seat in one of the plastic chairs lined up along the wall. Thoughts ran through my head at lightning speed.
What are they talking about? Why was that guy looking at me like that? Does he know? No, there's no possible way he could figure out that I'm a serial killer. Not just like that. Right? But if he doesn't think so, then why is he talking to Bruce in private? Is it just protocol? Why am I so worried about this? There's nothing that can tie me to those bodies. Come on! Calm down. Just breathe. Relax. Just get what you came here for and get out.
It was nearly 10 minutes before Bruce came back out. He seemed exhausted from his conversation with the chief. He turned to me, wiping his brow.
"Well, I managed to convince him that you could help. He gave me authorization to let you see those files. But I have to stress that NONE of this leaves the station. You can't write anything down, and you can't let anyone learn about what's in those files. Understand?"
I nodded silently. I could tell he was deadly serious. I'd never seen him so strict in my life. It unnerved me.
He led me back to a room full of boxes. The musty smell of old paper was overwhelming. Each box was labeled with a range of time, day-month-year to day-month-year. Several boxes were set apart from the others. They had two labels. Some of the boxes said 'Cold Cases'. The rest read 'Current'.
Bruce started rifling through one of the 'Current' boxes. There were dozens of files inside. They had all sorts of labels, although most simply had a name. He retrieved a massive stack of files, all contained in a manila folder that was clearly too small for that many pages.
"Here. This is everything." He solemnly handed me the folder. It felt more like he was handing me a live grenade, afraid that I would pull the pin. I took it, quickly catching the few files that started to slide out to one side.
"Thanks. I appreciate it." I meant it, but not for the reasons he thought. I was one step closer to eliminating my competition and securing Julia's adoration for myself.
I set the file on the wood-top, folding-leg table that was set in the room. I had to wipe away a thin layer of dust to clear a space to work. Opening the folder, I spread out nearly seventy files across the surface of the table. Some were a single page thick. Others rivaled some short stories I had read. I asked how long I could look them over.
"I'll stick around a while, help answer any questions you think of, but eventually, I'm gonna want to get home. I can't let you stay here after that."
I nodded, looked over the files, and started reading. I could see why this criminal was such a problem for the police. He was careful, meticulously ensuring that no physical evidence was left for them to find.
Even more interesting, I discovered that he took his victims long before the first was ever found. Files regarding earlier victims didn't reveal much that wasn't already known. After a while, though, the police started soliciting help from states with greater forensics capabilities in an effort to break the case. DNA sequencing of the victims that were examined by these other institutions resulted in several abnormalities. Autopsy and subsequent testing revealed severe damage to the cellular structure of those found. After several days scratching their heads, coroners concluded that the victims had all been frozen for an extended period of time, being discovered shortly after thawing. The killer had taken them out of storage long enough to carve a masterpiece, and left them out on display.
This discovery created chaos within the police force. Most of the files I could find were dated after the coroner's report, and suddenly anyone with a deep freezer was a suspect. No one was ever convicted, however, because there was a complete lack of any physical evidence. Despite the police stopping at over three-hundred houses, businesses, and even government buildings in the three years since the bodies started appearing, the murderer had still evaded capture. I started to think that this was impossible. There's no way anyone is this good. Three years of searching, and nothing to show for it. How?
I turned to Bruce to get some confirmation about what I had read, and found that he wasn't looking at the case files as I read them. He was watching me, carefully studying. I started to realize that this was why Hanson had spoken with him while I was out of the room. I was allowed back here, but Bruce was still trying to pin me as a suspect. I decided that I had seen enough after that. I told Bruce that I could understand why this was so tough, but I didn't think of anything that I could add. I apologized, but he didn't seem satisfied. Despite that, he led me to his cruiser, and drove me home, though I could feel his scrutinizing gaze on me the entire way.
I ruminated over that newfound information for over a month. It dominated my thoughts, and even started influencing my dreams. I started to get sloppy, making mistakes that got the cops snooping around my house. Bruce himself even made a house call. He was the worst one, searching more fervently for anything that he could use to prove I was involved. I had prepared for this, moving the video files onto a separate hard drive that, along with my trusty knife, was hidden a half of a mile away in the woods. It was difficult to function without them, but it didn't matter. I had to lay low, I had to know who this person was, and I had to find him.
I came to a realization in early October while at work. Another victim had been discovered, but I was on high alert, carefully analyzing everything I could about this new occurrence. And then she said it. In her report Julia mentioned that much of the information regarding the culprit had come from an anonymous source. It wasn't just a one off thing. Every time we ran a story on the bastard, Julia would always cite an anonymous source as an informant.
The police had questioned and investigated everyone related, but I was certain that whoever the guy was, Julia had to know him. Her informant had to be the one I was looking for. My hands started violently shaking. I tried to hold them steady, to no avail. I had to talk to Julia. I needed to know who her informant was. We were mid-show, so I couldn't just barge into the studio asking questions, but I couldn't hold it together.
I started making little mistakes that Rich harped on me for. He didn't understand. None of them understood. The lengths that I had to go through to get this far, the things I was about to do; how could he have any clue? I brushed him off, snapped back at him, but ultimately just stopped listening. Trying and failing to focus, I used every bit of patience I could muster just to finish out the day.
It was nearly 11:00 at night when I finally got out to the studio to talk to Julia. The sounds of my footsteps echoed around the room as I strode up to the glass-top desk where she sat. She was wearing a black suit top and skirt, which blended together like a dress that extended down to her knees. She was smart; it accented her well.
"I need to talk to you."
"About what?" She seemed nervous, and I became embarrassed, realizing that I said something strange and frightened her.
"Th-the person telling you about the serial killer we keep reporting on. Th-the one that..."
"I can't talk about that." She interrupted me, understanding what I was after, and stood up from her chair. "All of that stuff is confidential." She retrieved her purse and stepped down from the rolling stage the desk stood upon. Her heels clacked loudly against the dark tiling as she walked. I followed her downstairs to the front door, talking the entire way.
"It's important. I-I've been working with the police, looking over case files, and I think I have something to go on, but I need to know who you've been talking to about this."
She stopped for a moment, and turned to look me in the eyes. It was a moment I was unprepared for. I pulled back a bit.
"You're working with the police? For how long?"
"A-about two months, give or take." I could hear the embarrassment in my own voice, reminiscent of a teenager asking his crush to prom. I wasn't precisely truthful, but it was close enough.
"Why didn't you tell anyone about it?" she asked, turning to continue down the stairs.
"I can't. The police files are sealed, locked up tight. No one is supposed to tell anyone what they know outside of the station."
Julia opened the door leading out to the street. I held it as she stepped out. The cool autumn air was a sharp contrast to the warmth of the building. The sky was overcast, a sea of dark waves, pierced only by the shining moon.
"But you want me to tell you all of the things she told to me in confidence?" Julia's face held an uncharacteristic, stern expression. I hadn't thought it was possible for her to become this upset with someone, and the whole situation put me on edge.
"If it means I can find the son of a bitch. I know that whoever your informant is, they can lead me to the killer."
"Well, what would you do if you actually did manage to find him?"
I was worried about this one. I didn't want to lie to Julia, above all else. At least, not any more than I already had. But if I told the truth, whether she really cared about the guy or not, I had a feeling she wouldn't like what she heard. I had to force myself to give an answer she might accept.
"Give what I found to the police, and make sure the guy goes to jail."
She stopped for a second, and nodded, a her lips curling up into a smile. I smiled too, seeing that I had earned her trust. Inside, though, I was cursing myself for betraying her.
"Come on. My notes are in my car." she said, after a moment of internal deliberation. She turned away from me, walking purposefully along the side of the building. I caught myself staring, her hips rocking as she walked. I was enamored, but equally uncomfortable. I followed as she led me past the low wall into the station parking lot. As an anchor, she had the special privilege of being permitted to park in an enclosed space.
Julia leaned down, unlocking the rear passenger door of her black family sedan. Pulling it open with a satisfying 'kachunk', she ducked inside with her back to me, rummaging around, before crawling in. I admired the view, but was caught off guard when she spoke.
"Are you coming or what?" I pulled myself back to reality, reluctantly stooping down into the vehicle. Despite the fact that this was a 'business meeting' of sorts, I still felt a little awkward getting into Julia's car. She handed me a large manila envelope stamped with that signature 'M', a small, patient smile adorning her face.
"This is everything I've been told. Everything that made it into the newscasts, and a few things that didn't." I folded in the tiny metal tabs that held the envelope closed, pulling the upper tab free. I slid the papers out, using the envelope as a rest for them. I started reading, but Julia suddenly threw herself at me. Then the pain in my chest started, and I gave Julia a confused look. She wasn't smiling any more, and I glanced down to find her hand wrapped around something silver.
"It is with great sadness that we bring you this story. This morning, a missing person's report was filed with regard to our very own Nathan Renier. He was last seen leaving our station Thursday night at approximately 11:00 PM. Police have issued an APB for Nathan's vehicle, a white Ford minivan. They are encouraging anyone with information regarding his whereabouts or the location of his vehicle to contact local authorities or Crimestoppers. A link has also been set up on our website for those of you looking to help our search. Reporting live, I'm Julia Monroe for Channel 6 News."
Written by TheWizardOfTheWoods