About 35 years ago in Lawrence Kansas
Detective Stephen Crane was frustrated. He had two open homicides neither of which contained much in the way of forensic evidence and the report from the Regional Forensic Center in Sedgwick County had just failed to identify the unknown hair. The hair, the black bead and a single thread of twine that was next to the body of the first victim were all he had to go on.
He lived the case, breathed it and never got close to solving it. Through the years every time the case came up, he got goose bumps when he remembered standing in the dark alley about three days after the discovery of the first body. He thought he would suffocate from the overwhelming presence he could sense but not see. The lingering stench in the alley was more than just garbage. It was cloying and clung to him. Each time he could feel the panic welling up inside him and his natural instinct was to run. Run from what? He never could quite figure it out.
Eventually the case went cold and the files lived in a cardboard box under his desk. Twice a year, on the anniversaries of each death, he pulled the files out, dusted them off and went through every single page contained in the reports. One year he even entered the information about the hair in to the new- fangled DNA national data base.
About 22 years ago in St Louis Missouri
All they had was the head. Detective Karen Woodruff, tried to keep her supper down as she gazed at the head. It was nestled in some flowers next to a restaurant on the Loop. It looked so peaceful there among the flowers, like some exotic garden ornament. Down the street the sign for Blueberry Hill flickered in the night, a surreal beckon of gaiety in contrast to the horror of the flowerbed.
The CSI team was combing the flowers, paths, and nearby trash cans. Karen just stared, transfixed by the head. The hair was a black and silky, clean and shiny, the eyes stared vacantly up at her but the mouth seemed peculiar. Bending down she parted the lips with her gloved fingers and watched as a single black bead rolled out of the mouth, coming to rest beside her shoe.
About 17 years ago in Benton Illinois
Two people were missing from Benton. That just doesn't happen in a town like Benton. Oh there might be domestic disputes, kids with alcohol and some shoplifting but missing people? No. That didn't happen here. The Chief of Police, Raymond Jackson and one of his officers, Kevin St. John were talking about it over lunch at La Fiesta. Scooping a big forkful of Cancun Chicken into his mouth, Ray chewed noisily before speaking.
"Any ideas?" he asked between bites.
"Well there was an awful lot of blood along the road where Susan was last seen but wouldn't you think there would be something more? I don't know...hit by a car?" Kevin's response was more question than answer. He shook his head back and forth while speaking.
"None of it makes sense to me. Susan and old Elroy didn't even know each other. Did you ever find out where he was that last day?" the Chief admitted.
"Well someone saw him picking up cans along the road with that long handled stick he carries around. You know the one with the nail in the end of it. He was, oh about to the bridge over near the Williams place." Kevin had pulled a small notebook out of his shirt pocket and was looking at it as he spoke.
"What? POOF, he just up and disappears. Nothing?" Ray just looked at him without really expecting an answer.
It would be weeks before both bodies were discovered tucked up under the bridge next to the Williams' place. By then the insects and rats had done so much damage that there wasn't much to "discover". No one noticed the two black beads that had rolled down the concrete embankment and rested at the edge of the muddy water.
About 7 years ago in Des Moines Iowa
Iowa's state capitol and the most populace city in the state, Des Moines was named for the Des Moines River. The French, "des Moines" translates literally to either "from the monks" or "of the monks" It didn't matter the city's name or meaning as it was the same pretty much everywhere for homeless people. Living from day to day, Charlie sometimes had a bed to lie his head on and sometimes not. On the "not" nights he'd hunker down next to an empty warehouse over on East Washington Street. It was on a "not" night that he vanished as easily as pencil markings under an eraser
Sometimes missing persons are people that no one misses at all. It's a sad but true fact in the world today. Families and friends are few and far between when hard luck comes knocking, especially when that hard luck is a person's own fault. So when Charlie Gussman ceased to exist, no one noticed. The sewer drain became his grave and his decaying body still lies there.
About 3 years ago in St. Cloud, Minnesota
Detective Craig Bell was looking at the map considering Interstate 94 and its possible connection to his current case. Three murders, all along the interstate had the city on edge and the mayor on his back. Sighing he rubbed his face with his hands. Something kept tantalizing him, just outside his consciousness. Something he had seen or heard, lingered there in his mind, tucked away but inaccessible.
He opened the files and there in the notes he saw the pictures of the black, glass like beads. At least they looked like glass but it turned out they were made of black onyx. He remembered his wife's talking about crystals and the "powers" they contained. So he typed a text and asked about black onyx just on a lark. He didn't have to wait long for a response.
"Onyx is used to banish grief, enhance self-control, and stimulate wise decision making. It promotes the recognition of personal strength, as well as, being a powerful stone for protection and defensive magic. Hence, black onyx makes a powerful charm both for self-mastery and self-protection."
It seemed plausible that some superstition with black onyx had played a role in the placement of the beads in the mouths of the victims yet it didn't seem to make a difference in the investigation. Try as he might he could never connect the onyx beads to anyone. Eventually the case went cold.
Kane stood on the corner of Voshell and Kimberlin, staring down the alley. This was where Ezra's body had been discovered, in the predawn hours of a Sunday about four months ago. The trash truck had already loaded the contents of the dumpster into the back of the truck before they noticed his feet protruding from under some cardboard. Any evidence in the dumpster was impossible to recover. It really wouldn't have mattered because no suspicion fell on his death until Emma was killed about 6 weeks later.
The door to the coffee shop opened and Trish stuck her head out.
"Care for a cup of coffee, Detective?" She accentuated the e so much that it came out deeeetective. He glanced her way, shrugged and said "Sure."
Trish had been after Detective Kane for well over a year but nothing she seemed to offer provided him with enough incentive to make a move. He really wasn't interested in relationships. Work consumed most of his life and always had. Prior to making detective he was in a patrol car and routinely took after hours and holidays so the patrolmen with families didn't have to. He found relationships tedious preferring to keep his own hours and think his own thoughts.
Trish smiled at him as she poured the coffee. He smiled back. He might not be interested but he wasn't one to be downright rude. When he took the steaming mug from her hand she asked, "Any luck on Emma's case yet?"
Shaking his head he sighed. Town folk were starting to get a tad impatient. People felt bad about Ezra but they accepted it as a coronary and moved on. Emma was a hard hit to the community but it was Ester that everyone really grieved for. The vibrant 10 year old, sang in the church children's choir and twisted anyone she met around her little finger. Her voice was like an angel, clear, sweet, and innocent. It was the innocence that provoked the anger in people. To kill innocence was a sin in this day and time. The world at large might be pretty jaded but here in Sutter people still believed in the happily ever after. Although they had tried to downplay her death as an accident, people here weren't stupid here either. It just didn't seem likely and they knew it.
Sitting the coffee on the worn countertop Kane opened the file folder with Ezra's information. He had been wanting to ask Trish if Ezra frequented the coffee shop and if he was a regular. It might not make a lot of sense to ask since Ezra most likely died in the wee hours of the morning. But it was still an unknown. Unknowns bothered Kane. They dangled out there, deserving answers.
"Trish, did Ezra have a routine? Did he come here in the early mornings for coffee?"
"Well, now I can't say as it was routine, like not every day or nothing but when he did come in, it was as soon as I opened up."
The coffee shop opened at 5:00 so that meant Ezra was more than likely headed in for some coffee when he was murdered. There it was that word: "murdered". He hadn't said it out loud and he was glad. Not many people knew that Ezra's death was connected to the other two and he wanted to keep it that way. Trish gave him a funny look and picked up the towel to wipe some spilled coffee off the counter.
"Now Kane Jasper, is there something I be needing to know?" she spluttered at him.
He paused before answering. Confidentiality was important but people were even more so and he couldn't be sure if Trish was safe or if the killer still lurked in the alley way next to the shop.
"Trish I want you to be safe. Be careful when you open this here shop in the dark every morning. Better yet, get your papa to come on in with you. Two is always better than one. You two hear even the slightest sound or see anything, you call dispatch, you hear now?"
Trish nodded and ducked her head, secretly pleased at his concern. She wondered just for a moment about telling him about the poor homeless man that had slept in the alley for a few nights. But he seemed weak and harmless enough and old Ezra's heart and just given out.
This was one of the times that Kane was glad that the news in Sutter didn't cater to TV crews or mobs of reporters. He knew though that it could at any point explode into a media circus. Sooner or later, three deaths are going to attract attention from larger media outlets. The only glue holding them back at this point was the fact that few people knew that all three were being considered homicides. No one other than Doc Butler, the Chief, himself and a couple deputies knew about the black beads.
He wondered, not for the first time, if it was a mistake to keep this low key. Perhaps the best course of action was to inform the public. That way people could be on high alert instead of wandering around Sutter without a care in the world. He knew if something else happened they would be second guessing the decision to keep this as quiet as possible.
He pulled alongside the road and gazed into the field where Emma's body had been found. The breeze blew the grass slightly causing a rippling effect. It looked calm, peaceful, not dangerous or sinister. He pictured her running across the field in fright, her pursuer at her heels. Her car had been at the edge of the road, in much the same way his was. Something had cause her to stop and bolt across the field. She didn't get far.
Last stop was the water tower. The tower itself was a eye sore, rusted and creaky, but still it drew the kids, mostly teenagers though, no one as young as Ester. They liked to climb the rungs as they dared each other to climb higher and higher. Laughing in the face of their mortality, often times fueled by alcohol. Honestly, Kane was surprised there hadn't been a tragedy before now. However Ester's death was far from an accident. For an accident itself didn't explain the small black bead, nestled under her tongue.
Now he was just sitting in his truck staring at the street. He felt paralyzed. There was no place else to go. No stones to turn over, no witnesses to question, no lab reports to read. It felt as if there were things he should remember but he didn't.
He pulled out his leather journal and started writing. Some detectives use small notebooks or steno pads, but Kane like to use a leather journal. It became bulky over time as he taped in notes, articles that might relate to the case, or other items of interest. That meant that each new case had a new leather journal. He could picture them lined up on the book shelf of his home office. Each deep brown leather journal represented hours of work, notes and questions. They predated his detective days because even as a patrolman any time a case captured his interest he started a notebook.
Since he hadn't started this one until after Emma's death he had opted for a larger version of his typical journal. Even at that point he seemed to realize that this was going to be a bigger case than any he had puzzled over before. With Ester's death his premonition was validated. Sometimes they reminded him of a writer's journal, filled with random thoughts and ideas, some of them floating about without any real shape or form. He knew that sometimes life offered up stories that would rival any author's wildest imagination. He knew this case was one of those. And he wondered, not for the first time, if some serial killer was playing out the plot of a novel.
Doc Butler looked at the lab report again. He knew nothing was going to change by looking at it umpteen times but he was puzzled. He figured the lab had made a mistake the first time. They had identified unknown hair on two of the victims. Unknown hair? Not unknown as in "we don't know who it belongs to" but unknown as in "we don't know WHAT it belongs to." Big difference. He had made them redo the labs, same result. Now not too many years back he wouldn't have been surprised but forensics had come a long way. They could determine what roll of tape a piece came from, what rug the fiber originated in, and all manner of things. This time however, they had no idea of the origin of the hair. All they could say for certain was that it was not human. It made no sense and he grimaced in frustration.
South Dakota Forensic Lab (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
"We got a match."
Sarah's heart raced. They had been trying to determine the origin of the hair for weeks. Now they had a match.
"What is it?" she asked barely containing her excitement.
"Oh it's not THAT kind of match." Jess explained. "What I mean is I ran it through the national data base and there are over 65 hits"
Sixty five open homicide cases where the trace evidence contained one or more of the unidentified hairs. Some of them dated back 50 years. The furthest east was St. Louis and the furthest west was Sutter but there were literally dozens and dozens in between. All across the country, even as they were speaking, techs were looking at the data their search had produced. Dusty files were being opened and the primaries on the ancient cases were being hunted down.
In reality, none of that mattered because they'd never get far enough into any investigation to solve this mystery. Who could blame them? It was outside their realm of possibilities. You can think outside the box all you want but in life some boxes are just too tightly closed to reveal the truth. Open them at your own risk for the darkness they contain is ancient. The real truth was not even a speck on their radar. And unlike that dark world that is hidden from humanity... the truth mattered here but only if you could "see" it.
In the darkness of the pipe.....
He was curled in a ball at the center of the drain pipe. It was dark here and damp. He liked it. It reminded him of the old days, of the old ways. He could venture out into the light now, after many years of adjustment, it didn't burn his skin and pain his eyes as much as it had in the beginning. But he still preferred the dark. Often he thought of them, the souls, as he was doing now. Sometimes when he lay dormant for the day, he counted them. He remembered all of them, and there were many.
He remembered them all and yet over the years, he had come to realize that there were some that were not his. He couldn't be sure. No not certain, but he thought there were some that belonged to others. It made him yearn for those he had shared the darkness with, for his own kind. Not out of fondness but out of a sense of the familiar. He never encountered any of them but he knew they existed here in this land of light and heat and sun. This world filled with unfamiliar smells, the air full of thoughts and fears, a world of strange beings.
He has been in this world to which he does not belong since ancient times but to him, it is but a moment. The others came here seeking him, time mattered not in the dark places, even after all these years there was a score to settle, a punishment to bear, and it made him cringe with the pain of forgotten thoughts. While he had not known fear before he could feel pain, like a sleek knife slicing into him. Exile was painful.
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