Another victim, another clue. Meet "The Chameleon"
| Chapter 3
It is six past midnight and Shirley Allseif is returning to her apartment from a long night of candy colored cocktails and sugar coated lascivious whispers from sharp tongued lads with neckerchiefs and little French hats. It was a party held in honor of a suspiciously androgynous, definitively auspicious distant friend and the release of his new film, (which, in the opinion of Shirley, exhibited much of the same characteristics of it’s creator; pretentious, pedantic, beautiful and intentionally enraging.) Having fumbled around with the lock for a while, Shirley stumbles drunkenly into her apartment. Again she does battle with the dreaded Lock-ness monster, fighting to liberate her key from its toothy jaws and looking very much like a young King Arthur rending that fateful sword from the infamously unyielding stone. At random the Lock lets go and Shirley stumbles backward, crashing into the coat rack which then falls onto an unassuming nearby lamp, shattering it into countless painful pieces. The lamp could never have foreseen such a complex demise. It is pitch black in her apartment and try as she might her vision only renders vague shapes and fuzzy silhouettes. Shirley hobbles over to her kitchenette and begins feeling around for the light switch like one of the blind men at the elephants side. When finally her fingers find the switch she engages it only to find that it is not working. The darkness hangs around like an unwanted guest. She grumbles indecipherably and shuffles out into the hall. Just then a loud thud echoes from beyond her bedroom door, causing her to whip her head around. The hall grows darker and darker the deeper it gets, and the door at it’s end is completely hidden from sight. “Hello?” Just saying this causes white hot tension to tighten it’s grip within her chest cavity. Throwing inquiries into the unknown only implies to the mind that there in fact is someone there to listen. And indeed there is someone hidden within the cloaking darkness of her apartment, someone who seeks to hurt poor Shirley Allseif. Clack, clack clack. Rap-tapping footsteps draw themselves right up to the other side of her bedroom door. Shirley begins to retreat with slow, measured backwards steps, but after only three paces she bumps into her sofa and startles herself. Beyond the wall of black which divides the hallway a doorknob turns and hinges creak mournfully. Shirley is overcome by as sort of fear induced rigor-mortis, she may as well have two peg-legs. “I have a gun!” She can hear the disingenuousness of her own voice, she knows the other can hear it too. Clack, clack, clack. The sound resonates off of the walls and shakes the floorboards, it’s sheer volume paying testament to the size of it’s creator. She staggers around the couch and retreats into her living room. All of a sudden a sharp pain shoots up her leg and causes it to buckle, sending Shirley tumbling to the ground. She lands on the shards of her lamp, each one either slicing or piercing some portion of her exposed back. Whimpering to herself she sits up and pulls a sizeable piece of porcelain from the ball of her foot. Polka-dots of fiery pain radiate their hot anguish across her back and legs. “Fuck, fuck.” The clack, clack has become an enormous thumping that shakes her brain in her skull. It is unstinting in it’s slow progression across her apartment, and it is approaching the living room. Just around the corner now and the footsteps become more clear, they are not the sound of feet, they are the sounds of hoofs. “What do you want from me!?” Shirley is sobbing now and her mascara traces long black spider legs that crawl form her shimmering eyes. Through layers of tears awaiting their freefall she can make out a blurry shadow across the room. It stands nearly six feet high and is coarse, hairy and bulbous. Folds of grey skin with thick white hair creates an ovular body that comes to a misshapen head and is topped with two upturned ears. Its snout sniffs the air searchingly, honing in on the shaking figure upon the floor. Shirley meant to say “Oh my God, please. Please no.” But instead she voided her bladder and let the cocktails from earlier, now virgin and sugarless, to run puddles on the hardwood floor. Thump, thump, thump. The creature ran head on towards her and threw it’s massive weigh on top of her, grinding all the bits of lamp deep into her flesh. The skin is leathery and cold against her own but the hands that clench her throat are warm and rubbery. Two thumbs push mercilessly into her trachea and crush it instantaneously. Shirley feels like she is drowning, her vision strobes out and her eyes roll back into her head. Images flash before her eyes; “My. My Ms. Allseif. Don’t you look ravishing.” A mischievous smirk develops beneath a moustache so thin it seems to have been drawn on with a fine point pencil. Laughter over a quivering Mojito, the light tinkling of ice against chilled glass. A starry nightscape that twinkles and winks and soft moonlight catching sequins on twirling dresses. Her eyes reclaim vision and reflect a monstrous face, grunting and wheezing as it drains her of life. She tries to claw at the beast but her arms remain motionless. She feels weak, as if squirming in quicksand. Things go dark, she stops trying to suck in air through her crushed windpipe. Shirley Allseif exhales for the last time, and as she pushes out air she is relieved of her pain. She blows out her fear, her uncertainty and her anxiety, and she feels safe.
At nine-thirty the next morning Shirley’s apartment is so brightly flooded with sunlight that Finn and Casey both leave their sunglasses on after entering. They were the first to respond when a call came into the station just a half your ago from a nosy landlady who barged in on a scene most grizzly. They are both in the bedroom. Finn is crouched by the window inspecting the sill with a magnifying glass. Casey stands just before the bed in the middle of the room jotting notes in his black pad. After a few moments of silence Finn calls Casey over to the window. “Look here, these scuff marks on the sill-”
“I’ve already taken note of them. Obviously this is our point of entry.”
“No, I mean, look at the shape of it.” At this Casey bends over and snatches the magnifier from Finn’s hand. Finn points a gloved finger at the black mark, “see, this part here, the wider streak. That looks like a shoe, or a boot.”
“Yes, the color is lighter as well.”
“Exactly, it looks like your average shoe scuff. But this darker streak in front of it, its much too thin.”
“Could be a pair of high heels.”
“Yes, but look at the direction of the drag.”
“Could be the assailant entered the window backwards.”
“I doubt it. If our guy has already killed at least once before-”
“We don’t want to start assuming connections where there is no definitive evidence of them Finn.”
“Sure, sure. But just in case we do find one, it would be helpful to construct theories for all possible outcomes beforehand, right?”
“Okay Finn, what is it?”
“Well, no practiced criminal is going to enter a possibly inhabited apartment backwards. Why, if you were noticed upon entry you would have no way of defend-”
“One” Both aggravated at being cut off and perplexed as to the nature of Casey’s interjection, Finn lifts the shaded lenses from his spectacles and glares up at his partner.
“If one were noticed upon entry one would have no means of defense. You sounds accusatory. It is in best practices to avoid speaking with such insinuation, especially when we are talking about someone who has committed a murder. If that is what this turns out to be.” Upon finishing this speech Casey turned his head to face Finn, keeping his face completely still so as not to betray any emotions that could be flashing behind his dark sunglasses. Finn just peered into the dark nothingness on Casey’s face with a look of dumbfounded perplexity, but after a few seconds of this quiet deadlock he huffed maliciously and turned back to the sill and the scuff.
“Well, my point is, one simply would not enter a window backwards if they had an ounce of wit about them. And, moreover, one would certainly not wear high heels to a pre-meditated murder. If that is what we have here.”
“So, what are you proposing Finn?”
“I’m not proposing anything. I’m just pointing out a peculiar irregularity in this scuff here. I would propose that they are two separate markings created at different times, but they share the same sweep in the tail here” Finn points to a certain detail in the marking, “and both seem to be quite fresh.”
“Yes, yes.” Casey raises himself and hands the magnifier back to his partner. “They are without question two scuffs from a single footstep. The question is, Finn. Just what was it that created such an irregular mark? I’ve seen quite a few clues of this sort in my time.”
“As have I”
“And none yet have looked anything like this. That is, with the exception of the rear portion of this one here.” Casey begins pacing, massaging his jaw with his gloved right hand. “Get me two scrapings Finn. One of the front portion and another of the rear. We’ll see if the lab can’t answer a few questions for us. I’ll be in the living room with the body.” With this Casey exits the room, leaving Finn alone, still crouched by the window.
In the living room Cannon is perched next to the stiffening corpse, head bent to one side so as to be face to face with the deceased. Casey approaches silently and Cannon is noticeably startled when he looks up to find him standing so close. He immediately picks himself up and stands erect, doing all he can to puff out his flabby chest. “What were you looking at?”
“Nothin’ at all Casey. Just….inspectin’ the body.” Above his Ray-Bans Casey’s jet black brow furrows with fatherly reprimand. Cannon seems bewildered, his eyes darting left to right, always avoiding the face of his interlocutor. Finally, he starts up hurriedly; “Hey, y’all find anything in the bedroom?” He stands on his tippy toes to glance over Casey’s shoulder, “where’s Finn anyway?”
“Collecting samples for examination.” Casey walks past Cannon, nearly checking him in the shoulder as he passes. “I don’t suppose you’ve found anything on the body?”
“Well, not yet I s’pose.” He raises a puffy red finger, “I was just getting’ a closer look at her face. Seems something’ scared the bejeesus outta her.” Casey kneels down and looks at it himself. It is true that the face reflecting in his sunglasses is twisted into an expression of absolute terror, frozen in a most horrible moment in time. “An astute observation Cannon.” With this the officer’s eyes light up with self satisfaction. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to have some room to work here.” Casey flicks his hand at Cannon, signaling him to exit the room. Cannon hangs his head and turns from the corpse. Crestfallen, he exits the apartment all together to go to his squad car and eat the moon pie stashed in his glove box.
Casey is still hunched over the corpse when Finn enters the room but he notices his presence nonetheless. “Did you bag those samples from the sill?”
“Good,” Casey turns around to face Finn, still down on one knee. “It looks like the victim was strangled. You may have been right to assume a connection.”
Al Solomon is sitting in his cubicle, staring blankly at lines of data as they whiz by on his computer screen. The thoughts in his head concern his eminent meeting with Women for Women and the fiery gaze of DR. Burr, but beneath the surface great shadows drift like cruising sharks; self doubt, fear, self pity, discouragement. The work he is supposedly tending to reflects off of his eye balls and stops right there. It is due to this current state of self absorption that Al does not notice the looming figure of Arther Crowley approach him from behind… “Solomon” he says, clapping a fat left hand against Al’s shoulder. Al gives a jump before turning to face his boss, emptying his head of the cloudy jumble as quickly as possible. “Mr. Crowley, sir.” he looks around nervously, almost imploringly. “What can I do for you?” At this Mr. Crowley heaves up a storm of clearly disingenuous laughter, holding his rocking stomach and squeezing Al’s shoulder simultaneously. “Nothing Solomon! Nothing at all! What, you think the big boss man only comes out onto the work floor when he needs something from someone?” Although fading traces of laughter linger throughout, there is a definite seriousness in his inquiry. “No sir, not at all.” A long silence hangs between them, its prickly presence wearing away at Al like a belt sander on wood. “Well then, what is it that… uh, so why have you-”
“Why am I here, at your desk?”
“Yes.” Al forces a smile.
“Just checking in on you Al, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“Oh, well, I’ve done about six sections so far but I think I could complete another five by lunch. I tend to pick up pace as I move along, you know? It starts off a little creaky, but once the dust is off I can really start burning through this stuff.” Crowley puts out an arresting hand and smiles.
“No, no, no Al. I don’t care about your progress. As I’ve said, I’m not here to check on your work. I’m hear to check on you.” Another stiff silence. “How are you Al? Happy? Sad? Peaceful? Mad? What’s turning your gears Al, and what grinds against them?” Al looks at his lap and takes in a breath, but Crowley stops him before he can start. “So Al” he turns his head to look down at him, “you don’t mind if I call you Al do you?”
“Good. I always feel better employing someone when we can be on a first name basis” He smiles and exhales sour breath through his flared nostrils. “So, Al, what grinds your gears?” Al waits for a while to make sure that the question is not rhetorical.
“Uh, I’m not sure sir. I suppose I’m a pretty easy going kind of-”
“HA! Easy going he says! An easy going kind of guy! I love it!” Again he claps him on the back and laughs. “I like you Al, I like easy going folks all around. No reason for qualm and skirmish. Keep calm, carry on that’s how the saying goes, isn’t it?” Al nods. “Yes, yes that’s right. All right.” He chuckles a few more times and gives Al’s shoulder an almost malicious squeeze. “ Alright then Al. Easy going Al.” Again he turns to look down at his face. “If you’re a man without anger, you must be a man with fear.” Tension floods the back of Al’s eyes and Arthur Crowley can see it, though his expression remains calm, almost docile. “So then, Al, what are you afraid of?” If the other silences were a belt sander, this one is a bonfire. “Spiders? Snakes? Maybe being way up high with no support net or harness to protect you?” Al remains silent. “ Me, Al?”
“Wh- why would I be-” Al’s speech is cut short by another menacing explosion of laughter form Arthur Crowley.
“Al, Al. I’m your boss. It is in my hands whether or not you have food on your table, a roof over your head. I have a finger in every creature comfort that you enjoy. In this respect, it is as sensible to be boss fearing at is for some to be God fearing. Would you not agree?”
“Good, because a realization of that deep interconnectedness between ourselves is step one in being a good employee, a good citizen even. You see, without a certain level of respect, based either in reverence or fear, the entire hierarchy of the corporate world would come crashing to it’s knees. Incidentally, all that we hold dear in this country; freedom, dignity, a sense of safety and security would follow in suit. It is this hierarchy, and the self perceptiveness of each member within it, that maintains structure. This structure, then, is the foundation upon which we build culture, civilized society. It is the very backbone of America, if you’ll allow me such a cliché.” Al gives a nearly imperceptible nod, his eyes locked firmly onto the hot bulbs of Arthur Crowley’s stare. “Fear, Al, is what keeps the wheels turning. So don’t be reluctant in telling me yours. It is much like a trucker checking the oil in his engine, making sure that all moving parts are well lubed. I simply want to understand the lubricant that you, Al Solomon, are providing for this company. Do you understand me?”
“Yes sir. Entirely.”
“Good.” And he whacks his palm against Al’s shoulder. “I believe you Al. I believe that you know exactly what I’m talking about. So maybe I’ll just let you think about it for a while.” He lifts the weight of his arm off of Al’s shoulder and begins to turn away from him. “ You let me know though Al. I mean, once you nail it down. I’m very interested in you particularly because I think you’ve got a lot on your mind. A lot to fear.” Again he laughs, his big stomach bouncing beneath his sweat stained suit. “ I’ll be seeing you Al.” And with this he walks away, and Al is left panting in his cubicle.
When Arthur Crowley enters his office he is not the least bit surprised to see a visitor reclining coolly in one of his armchairs. The guest turns to him and then stares back at the desk, not rising to greet him. Arthur walks around his chair and his desk before seating himself, face to face with the astoundingly unremarkable figure. The man in the armchair is known ( to those few who know him at all) as The Chameleon, if he ever had a name besides this it is sure that nobody but The Chameleon will ever know it. The man wears a skin tight black suit with a pencil thin charcoal tie running perfectly centered from his thin but sinewy neck. Upon his head he wears a short-brimmed grey fedora with a black ribbon and a small red feather sprouting timidly from it’s right side. For a long stretch of time Arthur and The Chameleon are silent, Crowley’s gaze wandering awkwardly about the room, his guest’s set firmly upon his host. Finally Arthur opens his frog mouth. “I’m so happy you were able to make the time for this little favor of mine.” The vapidity of his speech and the unnatural smile upon his face make it very clear that Arthur is not a man prone to hospitality. He fumbles for a rectangular cherry wood box and turns it over to his guest, opening it like a newbie showgirl on the price is right. “Cigar?” The Chameleon makes a minimalist gesture with his right hand, declining. For a moment Arthur looks like a hurt child. He closes the box delicately and puts it back in it’s place. “Well then” Crowley fumbles for the words, “you, uh, have all the information that you need?” His guest nods once, slowly. Crowley frumps his lips and exhales through his nose. “Okay then. I suppose the usual compensation will be sufficient?” Again the Chameleon gives a cool nod, glances at his impeccable fingernails for a moment, returns his gaze. “Great.” Another long pause draws itself out between them. “Ill, uh, hear from you soon then. Anything else I might do for you? A glass of scotch? A cigarette?” His guest responds by rising from his seat, a motion so fluid it reminds Arthur of smoke rising form ashes. Crowley stands as well, not sure whether he should accompany his guest to the door. Something tells him to hold his ground. The Chameleon tips his hat with a cold indifference, turns, and exits the room.