Authors: Tim Marquitz
Garcia glanced around the scene and shook his head. “I left my damn Pepto in the office. Hell of a day when I need the shit so early.” He waved over his shoulder as he walked away. “Let me know if you find anything.” There wasn’t any confidence in his voice.
Isaac didn’t feel any either. Bane was moving in fast and seemed to know the lay of the land. He must be from El Paso or have spent some time in the city before he started his streak. Either that or he was simply obsessive in planning out his drop points. Regardless of which, he was cautious. None of the school cameras would be aimed toward the far lot set nearly a football field away from the closest building. All the neighboring houses were on side streets, making it pretty clear there would be no witnesses to what had happened the night before. Beyond the pieces of the girl and the generic toothpicks and rebar spikes, there would be no intelligence gained from the scene. Isaac knew a clean scene when he saw one.
When at last he was able to get close to the body parts and begin his investigation in earnest, he confirmed his assumptions just moments later. Bane had set the bar high.
The drive to Ruidoso and back had taken most of Isaac’s night. His newest acquisition sat hunched and snoring in the seat beside him as Isaac circled around the obscured back driveway that led to his garage. While there were easier victims to be had, he didn’t dare pluck someone from El Paso given the media furor he and Bane were stirring up. People were on their guard and would fight back.
He looked over at the drugged and nearly unconscious man he’d corralled with promises of free liquor. Isaac hadn’t set his aim high. The homeless man stank of grimy flesh, alcohol seeping from his pores. His beard looked as though it might contain lice, hidden somewhere amidst the bits of leaves and twigs intertwined within the gray-white mix of unkempt wildness. It meant Isaac would have to spend time cleaning and airing out the Toyota, but the man was a safe snatch. Well worth the hassle. No one would be reporting his disappearance. But the time expended would slow Isaac down. There would be no murderous reply to Bane this morning, the risk too great, but there would be tomorrow.
Isaac exited the Toyota, his rubber gloves squeaking against the doorframe, and made his way around to the other side. The overhead light cut through the gloom of the sealed-off garage, no windows for prying neighbors or for the light of day to shimmer through. He pulled the man from the car and dragged him across the cold concrete floor to the array of shelves set against the back wall. The man muttered at the motion, trickles of drool moistening his beard, but he did nothing else. Isaac let him go a moment and fiddled with the top of the central shelf, springing a hidden catch. The shelves swung open in silence, revealing a large, open-faced dumbwaiter behind them. Once the man was dragged onto the platform, Isaac pulled the shelves closed and the makeshift elevator dropped into a room built below the garage.
When the dumbwaiter settled, Isaac reached into the darkness and flipped a switch with the precise grace of practice. Dim bulbs flickered to life, illuminating the room. The front of it was little more than closet sized, nothing more than a concrete box. Five feet from the entryway was a thick, soundproofed wooden door. Isaac pulled the man to it and opened it. The door swung inward without resistance, the inside illuminated by a large surgical light that shined down over an adjustable table set low in the center of the room. Isaac went in, dragging the homeless man behind him. The crunch of the plastic sheeting that covered every inch of the room sent chills scampering about the back of his neck. After pushing the door closed, he helped the man to his feet and guided him to the table. The old man coughed and sputtered, and fell into position without resistance.
Isaac stared at him a moment, the sour stench of the man’s unwashed body tickling Isaac’s nose. He shook his head and pulled up a dirty corner of the man’s jacket and stuffed it deep into the man’s mouth. Isaac yanked his hand away before the old man could bite down. Barely able to register the cloth impeding his breath, the man sucked the jacket in farther and began to choke. He was dead a moment later, the drugs in his system speeding asphyxia.
Once he was gone, Isaac went to the prep closet that stood in the corner, brushed the sheeting aside and slipped on his modified HAZMAT suit and helmet. Covered from head to toe in a plastic shield, a thick-handled scalpel in his hand, he went back to the table, raised it to a comfortable level and set to work. He cut away the man’s clothes, tossing them aside, smiling all the while as the mask’s filters kept the stink away. It had defended him against much greater scents.
Isaac rolled the body over and examined its back. He’d chosen the man for his size, larger than most of the homeless who wandered the street. He was likely retired military of some sort, a vet down on his luck and drinking away his retirement or disability. His service to the nation didn’t matter to Isaac. It was the meaty slab of the man’s back that he cared about. Isaac glanced at the clock and sighed. There was only enough time to start his project. That would have to satisfy him.
He sunk the scalpel into the armpit and drew a red line all the way down to the man’s dirt-speckled hip. Blood spilled from the wound like an overflowing dam. It set Isaac’s pulse to thundering. He smiled behind the face mask as he turned the corner with the blade and cut across the lower back to the other hip. With a twist of his wrist, he ran the scalpel upward, into the other armpit.
Bane had met Isaac’s challenge with one of his own, setting the tone of the conflict to come, and Isaac would retaliate for the world to see. Come dawn the following morning, there would only be the Ripper’s name passing the lips of the terrified.
Blurry-eyed and tired, Isaac met the morning with a yawn as he headed in to work. Despite it being rush hour, traffic was subdued. It flowed along easily, as though everyone was worried they might be the next person killed were they to piss anyone off. That brought a smile to his lips. El Paso was afraid. Afraid of what was next, fearful they’d be the next victim. That fear would escalate soon.
While Karen had been identified early on, Isaac having done nothing to deter it, her name and city of origin had only just leaked to the news. That wasn’t much of a surprise. If the department didn’t do it themselves, there was always a loose-lipped clerk in line to give police secrets away.
Karen’s disappearance linked to Las Cruces, Isaac imagined El Paso’s sister city was scrambling to hide too. The Desert Ripper wasn’t just El Paso’s problem now, and that was fine with Isaac. It meant he’d have to drive a little farther, and be a little smarter when he picked his prey, but he was used to that. He wondered if Bane was.
At the station, Isaac went inside to find the offices nearly empty. The captain was taking the threats seriously, their fellow officers out on the streets in a show of force to calm the public. According to the news, there’d been no murder last night, which made their job slightly easier. It seemed even the thugs and petty criminals had taken to staying home. All eyes were focused on the battle between the Ripper and Bane, as they should be. Isaac thought of the body waiting for him at home and goose bumps prickled his arms. He was excited about unveiling this one.
Isaac shook away the thrilling thoughts, and went into his office. A Hispanic man stood inside, casually going over the papers on Isaac’s desk. Dark-skinned, with his head shaved, a blurred and unrecognizable tattoo on his neck, and dressed casually in jeans and a plain T-shirt, Isaac wouldn’t have known him for a cop if it wasn’t for the gun at his hip.
“Can I help you with something?” Isaac asked from the doorway.
The man spun and stuck his hand out, as if on reflex. Isaac saw the shield hanging from his throat, confirming his detective status. “Javier Mendes. You must be Isaac Grant.”
Isaac nodded and shook the proffered hand. His grip was solid. “From LA, right?”
“Yes, sir. Captain Garcia has assigned me the Ripper case, as I’m sure you know. He said to drop by and take a look at your notes. I was hoping maybe you had more than what’s in the case file. Something you might be sitting on.”
Isaac glanced at his paperwork and realized there was only information regarding Bane spread out there. He went around to his desk and dropped into his chair. He felt a sudden proprietary flash of irritation. “Unfortunately, everything regarding the Desert Ripper is in the file. He hasn’t left us anything to go on.”
Mendes let out a quiet breath. “Yeah, figures. First case here and I’m stuck with a dead end.” He pointed to the desk. “It looks like the new one is exciting though.”
Isaac shrugged. “If you find butchered little girls exciting, then yeah, I guess you could call it that.”
The detective raised his hands, his eyes narrowed. “Whoa, I didn’t mean it like that.” He took a step toward the door. “I was just hoping for some insight, man, but I see there’s none to be had. Nice meeting you.” Mendes walked out, pulling the door shut behind him.
Isaac stared after him a moment, before looking back to the files scattered across his desk. A number of the photographs from the latest Bane scene lay visible on top. It wasn’t where he’d left them. They’d been buried near the bottom. Isaac glanced at the ones that had been moved. He noted they all seemed to focus on the torso of the young girl, Bane’s incoherent signature of slashes visible in each.
Though he could understand Mendes’s frustration with the Ripper case, Isaac having left him nothing to work with, it didn’t make any sense as to why the detective would focus only on the small handful of photos relating to the Bane crime scene when the rest were right there. Did he know something about the marks that Isaac didn’t, or did he just get off on dead girls? Isaac shook those thoughts away. The guy probably just wanted to be part of a high profile case with a chance of it being solved. He was looking for glory, and it was hidden in the photos. The difference in the cuts on the girl’s torso held his eyes for a second. Was there something there that was eluding him?
He logged into the police database and perused the evidence in Bane’s file. It was still incomplete. The murder weapon had been established as a machete, and he was most likely right-handed given the direction of the cuts. There’d been no fingerprints found on the letters sent to the networks, and the paper and ink were standard, with no discerning features that would help them stand out. It might help to identify the killer once they caught him and raided his house, but until that time, there was nothing helpful in any of what the lab had found.
None of the victims were connected. Even the two men from the first night were unrelated, seemingly random picks. The only thing Isaac found was that they were all from El Paso. Bane hadn’t stepped outside his own yard to collect his victims. Isaac let out a quiet chuckle. If Bane continued doing that, he was bound to slip up. People were too on edge to go quietly. The bars and nightclubs had already seen a downturn in clientele, and even the strip joints and porn stores had dropped off. The longer the war lasted, the more likely it would be that Bane would do something to lead Isaac to him. He only needed to keep the pressure on.
A smile stretching his cheeks, he finished updating the case file and shut it down once he was done. Afterward, Mendes still on his mind, he browsed the Ripper file. The new entries were mundane, a listing of facts with no leads. No wonder Mendes was bored. He ran through it quickly, exiting out of the file without reading any of the detective’s comments. Mendes had inherited the department’s albatross and was no closer to solving the riddle than any of the other detectives, including Isaac, who t had laid claim to the case.
They’d close the file one day, once Isaac grew too feeble to kill and the Ripper disappeared from the headlines. That’d be a sad day, but he knew the Desert Ripper would have one final showing. When Isaac was old and gray and on his deathbed, he’d remind El Paso of their fear and claim his legacy. He’d lay it all out there for the world to see. Cold chills tickled his spine as he envisioned that moment. The fear would return and would last long after Isaac was gone to earth.
He laughed and headed for the door. His day would be spent canvassing the neighborhood around the high school. It was dull and tedious work, but he had his project to look forward to. That would keep his mind occupied.
Before the night was over, he’d give Mendes the excitement he was looking for.
Isaac held his breath as he stood at the corner of Kansas and East San Antonio. He leaned against the sand-colored wall that framed the courthouse building, watching for the rare sign of life. Two police cruisers had rolled by in the half hour he’d been there, but none of the officers even bothered to glance in his direction. Dressed in layers of ragged clothing and carrying a number of tattered bags, he looked just like the rest of the homeless that littered the downtown streets, begging for change from the club-goers and raiding the local dumpsters. He wore a baseball cap pulled down tight with a towel tucked underneath, which hung over his shoulders to distort his appearance further. Lastly, he had a scarf wrapped across his face to obscure his features.
His heart thrummed in his chest, but Isaac could only smile behind the concealing scarf. While risk was a part of the process, he wouldn’t have imagined himself here just a few days ago, but his ire was up and he was enjoying the thrill. Not fifty feet away was the entrance to the courthouse, a building he’d been in and out of thousands of times over his career. Just two blocks down and around the corner was a police precinct, not to mention the courthouse was covered by an array of working cameras. His homeless costume had passed muster under close proximity to people before, but it had never had to undergo the kind of scrutiny it would if he was stopped by an officer of the law. He was taking a chance he never would have were it not for Bane. And though he didn’t want to admit it, not even to himself, he loved it. The easy kills had grown stale.