A man stalks the ninth person he is driven to kill.
| 8 1/2 MURDERS
Derek Berry Thorpe
Feb 2019 5161 words
'How to commit the perfect murder'; was an old game in heaven. I always chose the icicle. The weapon melts away.
The thing about lying in wait to kill someone, is that one should actually be lying down.
The 'crouching tiger' shit that Hollywood spits out only gets the legs and back all crampy and numb. Not ideal at all for when flight and might are needed in ending a loser's life.
There's a calmness too, about being on my back. The weapon resting on my chest... watching it rise and fall with my breaths. Although this position may work in dimly lit parking garages, it's not so perfect on the forest floor where all manner of insects, seek out warmth down below the collar.
He's late. Shit.
If he's late, then I will be, too. I do have a day job and I can't be late for my shift today. If I'm on time, and I impress the boss, I might still be able to get that promotion I got stiffed over for. So, I cannot... must not be late today. Luckily, I wore my uniform under this tracksuit just in case things get too close.
Mitchell Stockard should have minded his own business. I'm not sure if his whistle-blowing, goody-two-shoes, exposé was the cause of me being passed over for the promotion, but if it played one-hundredth of a percent factor, he has to die for his sin. So a couple of dollars went missing...Big deal. I never said anything to his wife when I caught him in the back room with his arm up Mrs. Suarez's embroidered dress. Never said a word.
Perhaps I should have. But then again, she is a fine piece of ass.
The mini axe on my chest starts to wobble because my breathing gets a little erratic. I can see my breath condensing into chuffs of mist against this crisp mountain air. I always lose some control when I think about any hint of betrayal. It never fails to send me back to my adolescence when I understood there were two of us. I really didn't mean to hurt D'arby, but she lied on me, didn't she? She lied on me.
I've got to calm down for this kill. He's late but I know he's coming. He never misses his Thursday bike ride through the state park. He really digs the alone time with nature, he always says.
I have a clear view of the bike path approach from the elevated perch I lie on. The path cuts right through this lush gorge and ends with a steep drop off into a rocky canyon. Perfect for an 'accident'. Weekdays are pretty quiet through this neck of the woods. I've done my homework even though this thing I do is only a side hustle. It's just to satisfy My Partner.
In the distance, over the bluff, a speed boat lurches from its dock on Lake Azura. The sound of the motor has not reached me yet but it churns the water into a bubbly arc. I gaze up toward the tree trunks around me. It's a cool perspective from that angle. The slender, white stippled birch trees, rise like drinking straws from the frothy, green undergrowth. Just at elbow length, a small bush sprouts some young hackelberries. Me and D'arby Taylor ate these in the woods a lot when we were kids. They are a plump deep crimson with fine hairy fuzz. I have an urge to taste them again and I reach out and pluck a few to remember the good times. I bite into a couple of the berries and my mouth explodes with a burst of acrid citrus flavor. Christ! My cheeks go into taste bud arrest and I let most of the flesh drain from my mouth as the acidity is overwhelming. Definitely not what I remember them tasting like. This is a stupid move on my part as I almost miss Mitchell coasting down the bike path on his red and lilac road bike.
Scrambling to my feet, I scoot down the gentle incline to the bike path ahead of him. There's no one around and I verge into the left lane of the path to force him to pass me on my right. I slip the handle of the axe up my tracksuit sleeve and begin an exaggerated power walk motion. He's near the end of his twelve-mile ride. The parking lot is not very far ahead and I can hear him laboring on his frame close behind.
Timing is everything and I'm trying to sync my stride so that as he passes, I'll strike him with the flat part of the axe onto his skull. My heart is playing every instrument in the orchestra, but I'm ready...
I swing backward with a powerful flat arc and the thud is delicious...
I did not anticipate that he'd be standing up in the pedals and the blow strikes him square in the chest. He yelps and crashes off the edge of the path into the brush.
I pounce on him by the time he has gathered enough breath to groan. I am swift but he has time to recognize me.
"Shit, Hilford! What the hell are you doing? Are you trying to kill somebody?"
"Yes, actually." It is an easy answer to his question.
His helmet has shifted from the fall and the left side of his head is in plain view from my kneeling position behind him. Before he can groan again from the chest pain, I bring the hammer side down again, hard, just above his ear. His skull cracks like a fresh duck egg and coral pink yolk spritzes out from the fissure. A scream gets caught in his windpipe and he dies with a convulsion and an odd facial expression.
'But I swear I don't know whose weed this is, Officer.' He could have been saying.
No time to waste. I have to get back on schedule. I wheel his bicycle through the brush down the slope and toss it over the edge into the gorge. But just as it crashes against the rocks below I hear voices behind me. Lots of voices. Kid voices.
Just coming into view around the birch trees in the middle of the slope is a troop of girl scouts collecting and bagging bugs and leaves. Their chaperone is out of view but I hear her high pitched voice warning the girls to stay away from the edge. Can I scramble up to the late Mitchel Stockard and drag him back down to the gorge and toss him over without them seeing me?
I decide this is not going to be possible. Who brings their scout troupe to a state park on a quiet Thursday nature walk in the middle of Autumn, anyway? I tuck the hatchet into my tracksuit waistband and trudge towards Mitch's body. Between here and there I have to come up with a plan B.
Standing over his body, there really is no other option but to pick him up and toss him in my trunk, as the parking lot is just around the corner and pray to God that no security camera picks up our images. The girl scouts are still out of view but their chatter is becoming louder.
I lift Mitchel's tubby frame and sling one arm around my neck. He really should have lost more weight before I killed him. I turn to set on my way and I see a girl. She's right there, not two feet away, gazing at us. She scares the bejesus out of me and I nearly let go of Mitchel.
"Is he dead, Mister?"
Where in the hell did she come from? She must have been behind a tree taking a tinkle or something. She looks to be south of her tenth birthday and her eyes are the color of crushed ice. They are huge and placid under the shade of her lush black eyelashes.
"No, he's just hurt. He fell and I'm taking him to a doctor."
She stares without blinking at the dent in his skull. "Shouldn't you call for an ambulance or something? Moving him might break his spine."
This pint-sized peanut in her blue scout tights and brown béret is giving me medical advice on the man I just murdered. I'm floored. Why the hell are they teaching such advanced first aid know-how to these kids, anyway?
"No, I can get him to a nearby clinic faster. He'll be fine," I say to her.
She holds a large ziplock bag of bugs and leaves at her side. "Where's his bike?"
I start to move past her but she steps in front of us like the Chinese guy with the plastic bag and the tanks in Tiananmen Square.
"I don't know. What bike?"
She looks down the bushy slope to the ravine then back up to me as if to say...' I saw you ditch it, bro.'
She screws her mouth up into a pretzel and her eyes dart between dead Mitchel and me. With her free hand, she brushes a lock of her black hair from her vision, bites off the tip of a liquorish stick she's holding and starts a slow chew. Near the top of her sash, her name tag is embroidered in a rectangle patch. It says 'Raven'.
Her troupe is getting closer. She squints her eyes and points to the corner of her mouth. "You've got something on your cheek."
"Oh," I say. "It's some berry pulp I was eating.
She steps back a pace and lets me by and says, "Uh-huh...or brain," and skips off to her friends.
Did she see the whole thing? Sneaky little smarty pants. I might have to track down her scout troupe if she blabs. Somehow I doubt she will though. There is a creepy curiosity about Raven that reminds me of myself when I was her age.
I'm not in the best of shape and lard-ass Mitch weighs a ton dragging him up the slope to my blue Ford Topaz. Luckily, no one is coming down from the lot so I throw him in the trunk. No one has seen me, apart from My Partner of course. Shit, where is his helmet? I don't know what happened to it after I bashed him in the head. That should have been tossed off the bluff too but I have no time to run back and get it. Hopefully, an absentminded grounds person will just flip it in the unclaimed trash.
I ease out of the parking lot so as not to attract any attention but once I hit the highway, I floor my Topaz, bopping and weaving through the traffic to make my appointment. That did not go even close to how I planned at all. A murdered man in my trunk and a precocious little girl scout who may have seen me do it.
No matter what happens, I'm not mad at the little urchin though. She was so fearless, wanting to see everything. I know what was driving her... the curiosity of the macabre. I lived it... am living it. I blame my reckless accomplice but I'd be lying if I deny requesting courtside seats in the arena.
Eleven days ago I went to the residence of the man who got promoted over me even though I deserved the elevation. We were colleagues, even friends, perhaps. I went to congratulate him personally but in my heart I was angry and I harbored malicious intent. He had a secret, and I wanted him to know if anyone found out about it, his new appointment might be rescinded. My dark passenger, however, wanted to murder him outright. To poison him right out of the teapot he'd surely share with 'us'.
Tyson Archer let me in with an arched brow. " Why, if it isn't the Colonel Hilford...what a surprise. Good to see you," he teased. I shared my attraction for war movies with him and he changes my 'rank' each time we meet. "Care for some tea?"
"Very clever, Dickhead."
Within three minutes, my insincerity showed and my congratulations came out snarky and we were trading veiled barbs and insults. Before long, and to my surprise, my palm gripped the thick handle of one of his kitchen knives and I had no reasonable explanation for doing this.
I had no choice but to cede control over to my demon twin within. I seized him from behind. The ceiling spotlight glinted off the edge of the butcher's knife against his throat. We struggled in a death dance with my back against the oven handles.
'Why, Hilford?" he grunted.
"Because, I know where you go and what you've been doing," I whispered in his ear.
Then, the most incredible thing happened. I was just about to carve into his neck and watch him die on his own polished kitchen floor. His kettle had just begun to whistle and out of nowhere, he was filled with a surge of superhuman strength. He broke free, threw me to the ground and bolted up the stairs, barking the word 'confession' over and again. He barricaded himself in a study room on the next level.
I chased close behind, banging on the white wood panel door for him to let me in. After two minutes I assumed he had called the police and I turned to get the fuck out when a single explosion cracked like a whip on the other side of the door followed by a thud. In desperation, I felt along the edge of the door frame and a key fell to the floor.
The scene on the other side was ripped right out of the pages of a CSI script; victim lying prone with a hole from his chin straight up through his skull, suicide handgun, and a note. It felt like two young brothers had drilled a hole into their sexy neighbor's fence and she was out in the yard taking a shower. The virtual shoving to get the advantage to peer through the window of the forbidden nearly became violent. My passenger wanted to look through my eyes and gaze up through the 'valley of death' the bullet took. We tussled for the extasy of the macabre, but I still felt cheated out of a complete murder. He was dead like I wanted him to be... but he had killed himself.
It only counted as point five of a murder... only one half of a homicide.
Shit. I hate when that happens.
The whistling kettle on boil downstairs wails like a siren while I read his note.
For the unspeakable things I've done to the innocent girls under my protection, I cannot live with this guilt. I cannot face the shame.
I pocketed the note and scampered from the scene, but not before pausing to turn off the stove, as the noise of the kettle was like a police siren. I may kill the odd person now and again, sometimes one at a time or sometimes five, all at once, in a brakeless car. But he should never get promoted before me doing what he did. Fair is fair. Just saying.
I am actually being pulled over by a whistling kettle, highway patrol car. I'm so deep in thought about Raven's curiosity that I don't notice I'm going ninety-five miles an hour.
Nice going, Sherlock.
I can see the cop walking up to my Topaz in the side mirror after I finally pull off the side of the highway. He's got Mediterranian type dark skin and he's shortish, much like the body I have in my trunk. His tie ends way too far up his belly, he's missed a button on his uniform and he's having difficulty getting the ticket book out of his thigh pocket; an obvious rookie.
"Didn't you hear my siren, sir?"
"I'm sorry, Officer, I was distracted and in a hurry. One of my own has fallen and I'm working the funeral."
"Li-License and registration, please," he says. Trying to muster authority in his voice.
I pull the visor down, slip the registration from the plastic sleeve, fish the license out of my wallet and hand them to him. I'm not even going to try and reason with him. I just want the ticket so I can blow out of here. I'm for sure going to be late now. Crap.
His eyebrows knit together and he cocks his neck to one side. "Sir, why are there bloody fingerprints on your paperwork here?"
"Officer that's not blood. You see I was eating these purple berries in the woods and that's just the pulp." Oh, Lord!
"Sir, please keep your hands on the steering wheel and pop the trunk for me if you will," he says with his trembling pudgy hand on top of his holster.
He goes to the back of the Topaz and waits for me to pop it open.
Shit. What do I do? I can drive off and try to lose him on the highway. No... He's already got my license.
This is not my day. But then, this is not his day either. Fucking rookie cop. I'm going to have to kill him. The hatchet is still tucked into my waistband. I'm sorry to have to cut this guy's life short but he's getting in my way.
I shout from my seat, "The lever does not work anymore, Officer. I'm going to have to get out and open it for you."
"Okay, but keep your hands where I can see them!" There is a vague hint of an accent that I have not been able to place.
I get out of the front seat and I immediately begin to unzip my tracksuit jacket to get at the axe.
"Keep your hands where I can see them!" he shouts and unclips the clasp to his nine millimeter Glock 19. Then, as I'm halfway down with the zip, he sees my uniform underneath and stops hyperventilating. He removes his shaky hand from his weapon and relaxes.
"Phew. You had me going there for a second. Why didn't you say something?" He exposes the teeth in his mouth with a latent smile that cracks open from left to right.
"I don't like playing that card you know, Officer. You've got a job to do, after all." The name on his badge is complicated and I don't even bother trying to pronounce it.
He says, "I understand now why you were driving so crazy. You say you've got to work the funeral? How about I give you a siren escort as an apology? That fruit stain sure looked like blood."
I tell him which church it is and Golly Gee we're off to make the funeral with a rookie fool as my outrider. I'll never question the good Lord's grace again. This is part of the reason why I chose this profession... to balance out the murderous impulses I've had since D'arby was the first.
We were just kids. But she lied on me. I never touched her down there.
In less than ten minutes, Corporal Dufus from the Mediterranian pulls up ahead into the church lot and gives me a salute. I'm on time with a few minutes to spare and I head to the back room to change out of my tracksuit.
Someone knocks and Mrs. Suarez steps in. "Where have you been? I was beginning to get worried. You chose today to go to the gym, couldn't you have done that tomorrow? Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, actually. Come here."
Mrs. Suarez approaches and I reach for her. She looks lovely with her cherry red lipstick and the navy blue dress with the plunging neckline. I reach into her brassiere, lift her right breast out and guide the nipple into my mouth. She cups the back of my head in her palm and moans for a brief second, her knees buckle ever so slightly.
Flushed, she pushes me off with token resistance. "Father Hilford... My word. Not in here. The Archbishop is just outside waiting for you and you have a eulogy to perform."
"Sorry, I could not resist you. You look stunning," I admit truthfully.
I let her go after I kiss her full on the lips. She breathes in shallow pants and does not quite know what to do with her eyes as she returns her boob back into its soft confines. A shard of a smile cuts at the corner of her lip and she decides to adjust the green chasuble over my white alb tunic.
"By the way have you seen Mitch? The church is packed and I can't find the keys for the collection safe."
"No. Maybe he fell off his bike somewhere. Don't worry, he's probably close by." My eyelids flutter, my nostrils flare and I fill my lungs with that sweet aroma of deviant conspiracy.
I head for the vestibule down a private corridor to meet the Archbishop. I see O'Reilly just ahead among a small gaggle of the diocese clergy and bow to His Eminence with the appropriate deference. He pulls me aside. I adjust his miter and rearrange the wisps of white hair on his forehead. He presents a visage of a tired, haggard man in great personal turmoil. His lids are sagging and the bags under his eyes bulge with a bluish tint.
"Father Hilford... it's calming to see you." He pauses, lowers his chin and regards me over the rim of his glasses. "Are you...are you wearing lipstick?"
"No, Your Grace, It's ah... some fruit I just sampled." He has no idea of how forbidden its flesh truly is.
"I'm still so shocked by Father Archer's suicide. Why would he kill himself just when I approve his ascendancy to Bishop of this diocese? Do you have any idea why yet, Hilford?"
I'm still not one hundred percent sure why I took his suicide note from the scene. I can feel the rough crinkle of the paper through my pocket lining.
"No, I don't, Your Grace. Perhaps he was a troubled man with secrets that pursued him relentlessly. I will attempt to make his spirit soar as I deliver his eulogy shortly."
Maybe I covet the fragrance of being the single holder of a secret. That pungent aroma can be so intoxicating when kept for myself. It's difficult to fully explain.
"Please, I would appreciate that, as you have such a flair with words. He looked up to you, you know, Hilford. He spoke highly of you. It's probably fitting to inform you now that I have nominated you to take his place as the next Bishop. Nothing official, but I can move votes."
"Goodness, Your Grace. I am not worthy of such an honor. One of our own has just fallen. Perhaps we can deal with the politics later."
Leading the procession up the aisle, over the swell of the organ music, I hear my demon twin inside ask if we could slay the Archbishop sometime.
No, never! Out of the question! Preposterous!
Unless, of course, if he happens to lie on us.
***************** **************** ******************** ***************** ***************** *******************
My Coronation comes off without a hitch. Archbishop O'Reilly, in the end, did not have to twist too many elbows to exceed the votes required. I am so pleased with my new diocese. St. Ursula's Cathedral and its grounds is architecturally perfect as my new home. Naturally, I insist Juanita Suarez join my new staff, for obvious reasons. Despite the additional forty-five miles added to her commute, she's eager to be closer to God through me. I see her serving sandwiches in the white knitted crocheted dress and matching wedge heeled espadrilles I told her to wear.
They have planned a community picnic in my honor to celebrate my ascendancy on this crisp November afternoon in Orange County. The grounds of the Cathedral are filled with politicians, clergy of different faiths and parishioners with their families. Kids are riding bikes and playing basketbalI near the recreation center.
Shaking hands and hugging new influential people is still bright and shiny for me and I don't expect this to tarnish anytime soon. O'Reilly, leaning on a cane with a gold ferrule at its tip, is standing near the edge of one of the white canopy tents. He waves me over.
"Bishop Hilford," he wheezes. A healthy color has returned to his facial bags. "Let me introduce you to an important woman in our diocese.
This is Eleni Constantinou. Did I say that right? She is from Cyprus and she's the President of the women's fellowship fundraising committee."
"So nice to meet you, Bishop Hilford." She curtsies and kisses the back of my hand like I am the Pope or something. I am kind of loving this shit.
"Whenever you need to organize anything to raise money this is your lady," says the Archbishop showing all of his yellow teeth.
"The pleasure is mine." Her handshake is sweaty but the swerve of her flowing black hair makes up for the moisture in her palm.
She snags a boy weaving through the crowd with his friends and introduces him. "This is my boy, Kostas. He's just starting sixth grade, and my daughter is riding her bike over there somewhere." She cranes her neck over my shoulder and salutes to block out the sunlight.
"Hello, Kostas." I tussle his hair and give him an awkward high five. His skin is a pretty, dark olive tone. He smiles and trots off to his friends.
"My husband, Yannis, wanted to come today but he's working. He saw you on TV. He's a policeman and he said he remembers pulling you over for speeding and ended up giving you an escort to your old church. He's been telling everybody.
"Oh, I remember him. Say hello for me. I really appreciated his kindness." I am surprised that dufus could bag such a pretty wife.
"Yeah, They are short staffed because of the flu that is going around. They wanted him to work a crime scene of a cyclist they found off Ventura. He told me to make sure I got a picture with you. Do you mind, Bishop? A quick selfie?"
I pose for the photo with Mrs. Constantinou. It's probably not a good pic as I'm sure my eyes are wandering like pinballs. Sounds like they finally found Mitchell. Eleni has no idea how close she came to being a widow. I'm suddenly very attracted to her. I'm certainly going to have her meet with Juanita to let her know how things will be working around here going forward.
I'm amazed and amused at the coincidence and it feels like my twin inside is doing his version of a river dance all throughout the chambers of my heart. Although my eyes drift a bit out of focus imagining officer Yannis Constantinou holding his nose from the stench of the surely decaying Mitchel Stockard, I can still detect Eleni gesturing to someone over my shoulder.
"Androula... Androula come here, sweetie!... here comes my daughter."
I'm not in the mood to meet anyone else right now. I'm relishing in the detective's confusion on explaining where Mitch's road bike has gone.
Eleni tugs on my sleeve. "This is Androula, Bishop, although she doesn't like her Greek name. She prefers to be called, 'Raven'."
'There's no way' I say to my passenger, and yet when I turn, there she is again. Not two feet away, propping on her Schwinn with pink tassels coming out of the handlebars like freshly ground beef out from the perforated machine.
"Say hello to the Bishop, Androula."
"Hello, Mister," she says, wearing a denim dress over long sleeves and blue tights.
She looks up towards me with that squashed pretzel mouth which masks any guessing of her mood. But I know she recognizes me. Her crushed ice eyes seem to have a little more blue tinge today...perhaps picking up the hue of her clothing. She called me 'mister' on purpose.
"Why hello, Androula. Having fun riding?"
"It's 'Raven', Mister." She shifts to her mother. "Mom, there's some twigs in my wheels, can you fix it?"
"No, honey. Let your dad sort that out for you later, okay?"
"I can take care of that for you, Raven. Do you mind, Eleni?
She tries to stop me from bending but I'm already on my haunches. "Oh no, Father I can't have you getting your hands dirty."
"You know what Jesus said right? Suffer the children to come unto me. Always, suffer the children."
Archbishop O'Reilly distracts Eleni with some mundane question and she excuses herself. The bramble entanglement between Raven's wheel and gears is nothing to speak of but I keep my head down to wait until she might say something...
"My dad and me watched you on TV together, Mister. He seemed happy to see you. He thought it was a blessing. "
"Lots of people think that way about me. Do you?" I'm slow-walking this twig removal and I steal a glance up to her. She's trying to unclasp the helmet buckle under her chin and it finally comes free. She takes it off and rests it on her thigh in my line of vision.
It's Mitchell's helmet. How in the hell...? She's wearing Mitchell's fucking helmet. She leans over and engages my attention and gestures with her eyes and chin to look closer on the inside.
Air can neither go into or out from my lungs when I realize she's showing me dried blood and tissue stains on the fabric that comes into contact with her head. I'm having a hard time digesting that she found Mitch's bloody helmet in the park and took it home with her. The edges of my ears burn as if someone is pouring acid against them. I realize now this is all her design...that she's skillfully engineered this in plain view; That I'd be kneeling--the new Bishop, genuflecting and looking up to her as she sits. Not even I could have achieved this diabolical interaction as an adult.
"Are you going to be doing many funerals here, Your Grace?"
"No, Raven. Very rarely, and only for important people in the---" She cuts me off.
"I want you to do more. A lot more. My mom and me can come to uhmm...help out."
I pause to consider my options. There are only a handful of them.
"I'll see what I can do."
She looks directly into my soul and smiles as a little girl would normally smile. Only this little girl has a secret all to herself.
She closes her eyes, breathes in ever so slightly and flutters her thick black eyelashes.
She can smell it too. Oh, My Lord... The fragrance of the macabre.
She can smell it too.