Rusty licked his lips with a bone-dry tongue and opened his eyes onto the nicotine yellow ceiling above him. The events that inspired him to do his little timber drop onto the floor slipped back into his waking brain with light speed, but before he could remark on the jumbled slideshow there came an irritated rapping at his front door.
Rusty stumbled to his feet. He felt a brief twist of light-headed vertigo as he stumbled for the door.
He froze. Glancing around frantically as though a bullet had just ricocheted off the lintel. The girl. The naked girl—where’s the naked girl!
The front door swung open before he had time to reach the doorknob. Rusty’s mom, Amanda, pushed her way into the room. “Knock-knock! Didn’t you hear me knocking? I swear I rang that doorbell twice, it must be broken, you should talk to the management company about that when you get a sec’, honey.”
Amanda released the doorknob and jostled her two brown paper bags full of groceries back into her chest. Her hair was freshly ironed into curls and her bobble earrings hung low enough to nearly snag on the thick fuzzy collar of her coat. It was summer, but Amanda was wearing her autumn coat. “Thin-blooded,” she always said.
Amanda smooched her son on the cheek and made her way to the kitchen. Rusty’s mouth hung open, slack and silent with terror. He cast his bulging eyes about the room for a lovely but naked woman and having sighted no such target, turned counter-clockwise and searched every elevated surface for a very gray and angry great horned owl.
“God, I’m so glad we didn’t toss out all of Granny’s kitchen things, especially the bar stools and that old dining table. It’s ugly as last year’s sin but it’s perfect here. Perfect bachelor pad faire, right?” Amanda rattled on like this as she loaded the cupboards with jars of Jiffy peanut butter, jam, rice, flour, and macaroni in a box. “Your dad says he needs you in the garage early tomorrow, the city shops are backed up and they need the oil change and a rotation on the County Fleet 4X first thing.”
Amanda crossed to the refrigerator and tugged open the door. She paused. “Rusty, you’re looking kind of pale, are you feeling okay?”
Gradually, neurons began to spark and awaken in Rusty’s speech center. “Yeah, Mom, I’m fine…” he mumbled, “You caught me taking a nap…”
“Good God, Rusty,” she piped, “Don’t you dare get into the habit of napping your afternoons away. You’ll never get a decent night’s sleep and you’ll be worthless at the shop, I swear to God.”
“No, I won’t…” he mumbled once more.
Former Coroner Ron doubted Detective First Class Reasoner had ever been a beat cop as the man suffered from a definite lack of humor. After his twenty-five year affiliation with the police force Former Coroner Ron had learned a good beat cop was a person who kept some distance from their job by laughing a little inside at all the dips, drunks, crackheads and twinks they wrangled each shift. If they didn’t have that little bit of irony, they’d have no buffer, and without a buffer you’re just too damn close to just how absurd and arbitrary the workaday person’s sense of justice and order really is. Reasoner was also damn young to be playing the role of a crusty plainclothes.
“Dr. Goltry, I trust you understand why you were apprehended this evening?” asked Reasoner.
“Please, Detective, you can call me Ron–”
“Polk County Municipal says you’re a doctor of forensic medicine, is that correct?”
“Retired. Yes. I haven’t practiced in quite some time,” mumbled Former Coroner Ron.
“Ten years ago by my count. Care to explain what you were doing prowling around my crime scene at three in the morning?”
Former Coroner Ron glanced across the desk blotter at the young detective and wondered over the ragged road he’d been traveling, so obsessed with unraveling the truths written on the back walls of this World of Hurt he’d forgotten the comfort in simply clocking in and clocking out each day. Proving the existence of the paranormal had taken over his whole life and time, well, time had run away from him.
“I was at that crime scene because I’ve been a lazy fool.”
“How do you figure?”
“Ten years ago I was working on a case and something happened. I had a personal crisis….and I left police work. The case was never solved and I got distracted with other things. Last night I saw a headline. In reading the article I saw too many parallels between this case and the other. I had to find out… ”
“The lead on night duty at Polk says you were the best in your day, but you went off your nut,” Reasoner dropped his eyes to a series of the scrawled notes on his legal pad. “Says you decided on a career change and became a ghost buster?”
“Uh-huh. Doctor, I’m going to give you two minutes to convince me I shouldn’t be calling the nice young men in their clean white jackets.”
“I kept a copy of the Cromwell file,” said Former Coroner Ron. “You’ll find it with some other papers in my trunk. But I’m convinced if we throw that case and yours up on your action board and break out your red yarn and push-pins, we’re going to find a lot of common threads.”
Reasoner looked up but the pun was clearly lost on him.
“You think we have a serial killer.”
“I know we have a serial killer and I’m sick to my stomach it didn’t occur to me sooner.”
Reasoner released an agitated sigh and leaned back in his office chair until it creaked in protest. The air in the tiny white-walled office was stagnant and congested. Reasoner’s eyes rotated to the porous tiles overhead, lingering as though mediating over each of the tiny black pockmarks. Rocking himself upright Reasoner flipped up the screen of his shiny-new Macintosh Powerbook and clicked open the computer’s hard drive. He deftly opened a series of files and then swiveled the Powerbook’s screen around for Former Coroner Ron t0 see.
On the computer desktop the series of opened black and white photofiles overlapped one atop the other, winding back into infinity.
Reasoner began: “Mother-Daughter homicide, 1986, Brooklyn. Unsolved.”
He clicked the image closed.
“Mother-Daughter homicide, 1988, St. Paul, Minnesota. Unsolved.”
“Mother-Daughter homicide, 1990, Chicago, Illinois. Unsolved.”
“Mother-Daughter homicide, 1991, Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Unsolved.”
The litany of mother-daughter slaughter went on for several minutes and Former Coroner Ron’s thoughts turned to soup.
Closing the screen of his laptop, Detective Reasoner’s eyes never left Former Coroner Ron. The other man had dropped his chin to his chest and quietly laced his fingers together in his lap.
“The Feds stepped in on this case about four years ago,” said Reasoner. “I think it was following the Illinois murders. A specialist did a nationwide search and started finding parallel tags, but their profilers are stumped. The unsub is short, they know that much. Gotta fondness for some kind of custom-made razor. He’s got some mommy issues—but he’s so fucking mobile he’s like the wind.”
“How has this been kept from the press?”
“Are you kidding?” barked Reasoner, “It was the press and the Internet that drew up the parallels in the first place. ‘Course, our department was oblivious until we had one happen in our own backyard. But as soon as we uploaded to our server, we set off red flags across the board. Honest to God, it’s a wonder you didn’t trip over our guest bureau guys while you were doing your little tour of the Boyette house.”
“The family in Wauwatosa.”
“Connie, age 6, 4 feet, ½ inches. Doctor, if you have any insight into the case. I welcome it. You may be a nut. But I get the sense you’re a well-meaning nut and sometimes that’s what it takes to shake things up.”
“I’m not a psychic,” said Former Coroner Ron.
“And I thank God for that,” said Reasoner.
Former Coroner Ron unlaced his fingers and spread the back of his hands against his thighs. His normally dry palms were slick with perspiration.
“I’d like your permission to examine the bodies.”
The Deepest Cut
The Razor Baby loved basking in the sun. It rolled on its side and stretched its stout frame until the sinews in its arms and legs cracked and snapped. It hoisted itself onto toadstool legs and lifted its long snout to take in a delicious whiff of the warm air. There was so much fear in the suburbs. The peak of the tar paper roof was a limited vantage point so he employed his long claws to scramble up the chimney’s red brick shaft and lazily scan the single story dwellings sprawled across the solemn suburb.
The view was a far cry from past napping places like the soapstone plinths that rose over steamy jungles where birds with topknots of bright reds and blues and yellows fed on fruits of comparable color and where he could have bathed forever in the hand carved jaguar basins that every 18 months overflowed with the sweet blood of men and women and children…
Or sitting in salty sand at the heel of that jackal headed boor, waiting for a single drop of diluted blood or a desiccated heart to be tossed at his feet once the elder god had weighed the sum of the worshipper’s worth. That he did not miss so much and it got so uncomfortably hot in the high summers of the Nile Valley.
But he missed perching on top of the labyrinth wall even less. The stone span was just too cold and precarious a place to snooze while waiting for the bull-headed man to finish rutting some frail young woman into pulp–and the sounds of someone else enjoying themselves, all that snorting and screaming? That was just too distracting.
Truth be told, the Elders all but tolerated the Razor Baby and resented him after their fashion; the snake-headed woman, the lizard bodied man, the rat-tailed Adonis, the hunchbacked woman and spider-legged mistress each and every self-important one of them going back and back to a time when people had no names for their gods–to a time before words were ever uttered and a gesture or a scent spoke volumes, a time when gods were more competitive beings and far more covetous of their adherents’ blood.
Such is your path when you are a parasite of the gods.
For eons the Razor Baby had fulfilled a vital role, feeding upon their leavings and keeping their precious paths clear of offal and slippery red smears…but now he was a pariah.
Life had always been so certain for the Razor Baby. Each time the two-legs’ brains expanded, be it thanks to better hunting grounds or safer dwelling places, they’d go and find new elders to placate and fawn over and with each turning of the cosmic tide the Razor Baby found suitably similar situation after situation.
That is until the flying women came. They dropped out of the sky, their eyes like great gold coins, their talons flexed and sharp as his. He’d drifted to sleep while basking on the shores of an island surrounded by water blue like clean glacial-melt and sands white as powdered bone. He awoke to find himself strafed out of a cloudless night, their screeches splitting his ears, their talons ripping up his backside. The Razor Baby quit that place in a blinking but the tenacious bitches had dogged his trail from then on.
Who knows who called them to slice his hide and drag him into darkness? Perhaps it was some elder host fallen from fashion who finally found his presence too irritating to endure. Could he help it if he murmured and chuckled to himself while he ate? He enjoyed his work and he enjoyed eating even more.
Whatever the cause, the gods were no longer in need of his services and they were adamant when it came to purging him from their midst.
What does a pilot fish do when it can no longer ride on the belly of the whale? It starves and dies…or it adapts.
The Razor Baby liked this time, this era. The people here worshipped everything and nothing. They paid lip-service to a great hereafter proclaiming eligibility for a bounty earned through sacrifice and perseverance in this life, but in truth this coil was all they truly believed in. They spoke to their Gods in great cathedrals and through tiny boxes with glass faces and conveyed their faith through tokens of bread and wine and coins and paper but there was no real faith involved. If even one elder was listening they were mute as stone.
It was marvelous here. The two legs had so much they feared and so little guarantee of reprieve, and that made their blood a rich, sweet vintage he’d never tasted before. Best of all, for all the two-legs’ ongoing flurries of faith there was very little competition for their blood.