Authors: Tim Marquitz
To the loves of my life, Tiffanie and Lorelei; everything I do is for y’all. Thanks to the Writers of the Storm, and to Don D’Auria and Samhain for indulging me.
“There’s been a double homicide.”
Isaac Grant groaned as the words sank in. “Double?” He wiped the sleep from his eyes and sat up in bed, gripping the phone tight.
“Yeah. The shit’s already all over the news too. I need you on scene.” Captain Garcia spouted off the address of the first location and hung up.
Isaac snapped his cell phone shut and dropped back onto the mattress. He’d expected a call, but that wasn’t it.
A double murder.
Isaac growled and rolled from the bed, the cold tile of the floor chilling his feet. He’d gone to sleep happy, excited for morning to roll around, but the captain’s news had soured his contentment. Now he’d have to spend his day mucking through the blood and guts left behind by some random killer who had nothing better to do than to ruin Isaac’s mood.
He splashed some water on his face and made his way into the kitchen to start the coffeepot brewing. Once the aromatic scent of the French blend filled the air, and he had a steaming mug cradled in his hands, he went into the living room and plopped down on the couch.
The body wasn’t going anywhere.
Isaac snatched up the remote and turned the TV on. He’d been watching the local news before he crawled into bed last night, so he didn’t even have to change the channel. The somber face of the
reporter popped into focus midsentence.
…information to go on. From what we can gather, the killings are the work of the same person. Here at Channel 7, we’ve received an anonymous letter that claims responsibility for the murders and promises there will be many more to come. At the suggestion of the El Paso Police Department, we’ve chosen not to air the specifics of the letter, but we warn our viewers to be cautious in their daily travels and to travel in groups whenever possible.
EPPD spokesman, Adrian Sifuentes, says the department is already investigating both the murders and the letter. He assures us they have the situation in hand, and asks the public to give them the opportunity to do their jobs and not to panic. The El Paso Police Depar—
Isaac turned the television off and tossed the remote across the couch. It landed with a dull
against the leather cushion. His hand trembled as he lifted his cup to his mouth and swallowed deep to keep the coffee from spilling over. The heat of it burned his throat, chasing away the last of his weariness. Another killer had come to town and had boldly pissed on the city to claim it. That didn’t sit well with Isaac.
He hopped up from the couch and made his way to the bathroom. After a quick shower, the frigid water dong nothing to calm him, he got dressed and stormed to the door. He collected his gun and badge and left the house.
There was work to be done.
Isaac sped through the sparse I-10 traffic and made his way downtown, turning on San Francisco Street. At the Border Highway, he was met by a wall of flashing blue and red lights. Orange safety cones had been erected across the road and uniformed officers redirected traffic. A barrage of media vehicles was camped just outside.
Isaac pressed his badge against his windshield and crept forward, one of the officers waving him on. Once Isaac was past the barricade, he spied the body without any trouble. Captain Garcia paced in a tight circle, his phone welded to his ear. Isaac parked and headed over, his gaze scanning the crowd of reporters and bystanders.
Garcia met him halfway, stuffing his phone in his pocket. “It’s bad, Grant. You didn’t eat, did you?”
“I wish.” Isaac shook the captain’s hand. It was cold and felt moist. “I barely had time for coffee.”
“Well, you’ll be glad you didn’t.” Garcia motioned for him to follow.
Isaac shrugged. He’d seen enough bodies to become immune. Even the rank stench of a corpse did little to set his nose off or his stomach grumbling. Death was a part of life for Isaac. They’d grown close.
Garcia made his way around the crime scene techs photographing the scene and pointed at the body. He turned his head away a little to keep from looking straight at the corpse. “See what I mean.”
Isaac did indeed. There’d been no mercy shown to the man lying faceup in the dirt and yellowed scrub grass, the body less than five feet from the road. Just a hundred yards from the Mexican border, it had been dumped without ceremony or concern as to who might stumble across it. Isaac growled under his breath as he took a closer look.
The man had been mutilated, the cruelty of his death chronicled in the ravaged flesh that defined his corpse. His nose had been hacked off, but it hadn’t been a clean cut. Jagged points of skin told of the slow and brutal effort to remove the flesh and cartilage. One of the man’s eyes—the left—had been pierced by toothpicks, so numerous as to obscure the color under them. Only the light brown of the wood stood out, a porcupine of torturous proportion.
The rest of him had been treated similarly. The victim was naked, and the killer had set upon him with what looked like an axe. Deep gashes littered the body at random, the decaying gray-red tint of muscle and tendon peeking out from within the oozing black crevices. Two of the fingers on his left hand had been chopped away, as though he had tried to block the weapon, but that was the extent of the defensive wounds.
Isaac looked away from the body and surveyed the ground between the highway and the border fence.
“You think we inherited this one from over there?” Garcia asked, following the detective’s gaze.
Isaac shook his head. “Probably not.” He gestured to the dirt. “There aren’t any tracks from that direction, plus the ground underneath him is stirred up.” Isaac pointed and traced the contours of the ground around the body. “Given the lack of blood, he was killed somewhere else and tossed from a vehicle that had likely been parked right behind where we’re standing.”
The captain rolled his eyes and growled. “Great. So there’s no way to pawn this off on the Mexicans, huh?”
“Doesn’t look like it. Besides, aren’t there two bodies being claimed?”
“Wishful thinking, you know, but yeah, there are two. The bastard even sent a letter to
to announce the shit. They were on scene before we got the call. Hopefully we can suppress the footage. I don’t need this plastered across the networks any more than it already has been. We’ve got enough with the damn Desert Ripper. The last thing we need is for another serial killer to start calling EP home.”
Isaac gritted his teeth and nodded. “What about the other body? The same?”
“Hack and slash and an eye socket full of toothpicks.” Garcia rubbed at his temples. “Fucking toothpicks. Why not shove a burrito in his ass too?”
“You know how it works, Cap. It’s all about the connection to whatever fucked-up shit set them on the path.”
Isaac shrugged. He didn’t have any answers. “Is it just the two?”
“That not enough work for you?” The captain asked.
“I was just checking.” Isaac raised his hands in surrender. “Who’s on the other body?”
“Rodriguez is babysitting until you get over there, and Chapman has the letter and is on his way to Forensics. I doubt we’ll get much from it, but let’s hope. This
is seriously pent up, judging by what he did to these two, so maybe he screwed the pooch and left us something to work with. There’s no way to be careful when you’re going all
Friday the 13th
on a guy.” Garcia turned away from the body. “I’ve got to get back to my mother in Cruces. We’re moving her into a convalescent home this week.” He sighed and headed toward the street. “Find this bastard, Grant.” Garcia pulled his phone from his pocket and reattached it to his ear.
Isaac watched him a moment and then looked back to the body. Whoever killed the guy came off as a novice, but he’d managed to rile up the media and the captain in one fell swoop. His grandstanding had ruined Isaac’s morning. The rest of his day would be spent waiting on phone calls and evidence to roll in, while the news ran highlights every fifteen minutes to stir the public into a frenzy. Until he had something to go on, the method of operation would be hurry up and wait.
His stomach growled at its missed breakfast, so Isaac settled down to catalogue what evidence he could. The quicker he finished up, the quicker he could grab a bite to eat before he headed to the other scene. It was going to be a long day.
Isaac reclined on the couch as the grandfather clock chimed midnight, his feet stretched out beneath the coffee table. He stared in disgust at the television as the news reports droned on, just as he’d predicted. Every few minutes, a ticker would scroll across the screen, mentioning the murders and promising a quick resolution. The networks had, so far, abided by the department’s request to keep the details of the crimes out of the news, but every channel crept to the very line of consideration in doing so. They might as well have just spilled the beans, seeing how much they were building the murders up. The mystery and suspense were more frightening than the truth.
Isaac took a sip of his beer and thumped it down on the table, droplets splattering the folded leather case laid beside it. Evidence had been slow to creep in. There’d been no tire prints found at either of the scenes. The vehicle that had been used to dump the bodies stayed on the asphalt. What little dirt clustered on the edge of the street hadn’t been enough to analyze, most of it blown away as traffic drove past before the police had even been called.
The toothpicks were just an average, ordinary brand sold in every store in town. There’d be no tracing them. Isaac had yet to hear back regarding fingerprints, hair or possible fluids left behind by the killer, but he was beginning to doubt they’d find anything.
His first thoughts were that the killer was sloppy and had murdered the men out of anger. There was a fury evident in the damage inflicted, the brutality of the act. If it wasn’t for the meticulous act of filling the sockets with toothpicks, all sunk to the exact same level, Isaac would have presumed the killer to be a novice. That one aspect threw his assumption into doubt.
Isaac sat up and grabbed his beer to finish it off. The last of its bitter warmness settling in his stomach, he glanced up at the TV at a sudden change in the color of the ticker. Across the bottom of the screen scrolled a new message.
Yet another body has been found in the El Paso desert; this one around the Avenue of Americas exit, halfway to Horizon. Preliminary reports suggest it is not connected to the two gruesome murders committed this morning, the newest body reportedly bearing the trademark mutilation of the Desert Ripper.
The ticker crept with the new message for a few moments, and then was merged with the reports of the murders Isaac was investigating. The Ripper report nearly disappeared in the wave of hysteria over the new killer. Isaac snatched up his cell phone and dialed.
The call was answered on the fourth ring by a scratchy, quiet voice. “Garcia.” He sounded tired.
“Hey, Cap. I just saw the reports of a Ripper body showing up.”
Garcia sighed on the other end. “Sorry, Grant, I should have given you the heads-up, but I want you focused on the case at hand. The Ripper has been eluding us for damn-near ten years, and I get the feeling he’s going to be around a while longer. I’ve got our transfer from LA, Javier Mendes, on the Ripper body.”
Isaac grunted, but he knew better than to argue. “Mendes any good?”
“He’s not you, but he’ll keep the case warm for you until you clear this one. Used to be stationed out here before he moved out to LA and made detective. He’ll do okay, for now.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure thing,” Isaac answered without enthusiasm.“Don’t worry, I’m not pulling you. You’ll get ’em both.”
“All right, Cap, I’ll let you go.” They said their goodbyes and Isaac dropped his phone onto the couch.
The news shifted to an image of the first crime scene and drew his attention to its flickering report. They’d blurred the images to make them hard to pick out, but Isaac could tell they were focusing on the first corpse, the border fence visible in the background. The report had to have been filmed before the police arrived because there wasn’t a flash of lights in the shot or cop to be seen.