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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2217346
A detective catches the serial killer. Winner of SCREAMS!!! 3/30/2020.
The Gingerbread Man

Run, run as fast as you can,
You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man.

An American fairy tale first published in 1875.

Raymond leaned against his desk as he studied the wall facing him. It was covered with photos of victims, suspects, informers and witnesses, all connected with arrows labelled with circumstances, dates and related facts. To anyone else, it would seem a web of complexity so great that it could never be deciphered. But it was beginning to make sense to Ray.

Take the first victim, he thought. Who would have guessed that such an inoffensive old woman, senselessly murdered in her kitchen, would turn out to be the beginning of a killing spree so cold blooded that even the criminal elements of town now went in fear of their lives? Yet the clue was there in the scrap of paper left on the body for the police to find. It’s message gave the murderer a name long before his reputation would grow to the point of instant recognition among the populace. “Run, run as fast you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man,” claimed the message.

Ray cursed silently at the impulse that had led him to release the content of the message to the press in those early days. A beginner’s mistake, he now realised, to let the perpetrator garner the fame he craved. How the monster must laugh at the way his name now struck terror into the hearts of the town’s inhabitants. Not for the first time, Ray swore that he would crush the bastard into crumbs of vengeance when he caught him.

His eye followed the thick, red arrow to the second victim, a harmless, old carpenter, slaughtered in his own workshop for no apparent reason. This time the message was written in the blood covering a table the old man had been working on. Ray’s heart had missed a beat when he saw the message. Already it became apparent that this was just the beginning.

And so it went as the death count mounted over the months that followed. Number three was the podgy, young man stabbed from behind as he crouched over a computer game in his basement. There had followed a tumult of slashes that sprayed blood everywhere, most poignantly to mingle with the sauce of the boy’s half eaten pizza.

Then the rancher, butchered in his motel room, still clutching in his hand his ticket to the rodeo of the next day. This was the one that had Ray struggling to hold down his lunch, the cattleman’s innards being extracted and placed about the room as if on display. The detective had not been able to eat liver ever since.

And so to the most recent victim, the young heiress to the Kingsman Stud, famed breeder of so many horse racing winners. She and her favourite steed had been found, both with throats gashed so deeply that they were almost decapitated, in the straw scattered in the main stables. The inevitable message was carved crudely into the chestnut side of the horse.

Ray shook his head and turned to the blue arrows connecting the persons of interest in the case. There were so many that they confused the scene, rather than illuminating it, but Ray knew them all so well now that only three stood out to him. He was certain that one of them had to be the killer but the lack of motive for each made it impossible to decide. How could such disparate people be connected in the twisted mind of a single killer? Old people and young, rich and poor, male and female, they had nothing in common. Was it then entirely random, the selection of victim? Did they all just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Ray refused to believe this. His instincts told him that there was a pattern there, if only he could find it. His concentration moved to the photos of the messages left at each murder. Precise in their wording, they were identical although inscribed in so many different ways on varying surfaces. It was clear, however, that the hand that spelled out the doom of the deceased was more frenzied and erratic with each victim. This guy was becoming more insane by the minute, that was clear. Ray’s determination to catch him before he could do more intensified.

His gaze shifted back to the photographs of the victims. And in that instant, Ray saw the pattern. The old woman, the old man, the pig, the cow and the horse - it was the old fairy tale of the gingerbread man. Each had crossed his path and been left in his wake. The Gingerbread Man was enacting the events of a child’s story.

But how could this help Ray? There were no more victims in the story. Except one that proved the victor over the gingerbread man. It was fate that would decide this, he saw that now. Quickly, he looked at his three suspects again and knew in his bones which the murderer was. He yelled for his team and threw on his coat as he raced for the door.

At the house, the team spread out to cover all the exits while Ray approached the front door. He hammered with his fist and shouted, “Open up! Police!”

There was the sound of movement from inside but no answer came. Ray yelled again, “Don’t make me break this door down. You’re surrounded and can’t get away. Open up now!”

A muted voice issued from the other side of the door. “I’ll come quietly but only if you tell me your name.”

“I’m a Chief Inspecter of the town’s police force, that’s all you need to know,” answered Ray.

“I don’t care what you are,” came the reply. “Tell me your name and I’ll open the door.”

This was ridiculous, thought Ray. But what harm could it do? He extracted one of his cards from a coat pocket, bent down and shoved it under the door. A moment of silence followed and then the lock rattled and the door opened. Ray’s man stood there with his hands above his head, clearly resigned to his fate. Quickly, Ray grabbed his arms and handcuffed him, not noticing the card that slipped from the man’s fingers as he did so.

It fell, fluttering down, to land face up on the welcome mat. On it were inscribed the words, Detective Chief Inspector Raymond T. Fox.

Word Count: 1,087
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