The detective couldn’t help but swagger as he slammed his fist against the apartment door.
His heart echoed the sounds with thumps against his inner ribcage. Visions of bone, ligament and muscle as it throbbed and pulsed — suspended in a meat cage. Thump the-thump. Thump the-thump. His blood organ shuddered harder and harder, like a prisoner who yanked at the chains. Thump the-thump. Thump the-thump. It reverberated through his skeleton, clattered inside his teeth, shook inside his skull.
They finally had the bastard.
“Police!” His voice shredded his throat, a mastiff’s roar. You never knew you had it in you until you had to do it — who the hell would use that tone in everyday conversation? Gagnier had opted to do this bit himself. He had, after all, done all the hard work that led up to the arrest. He’d earned this. Gagnier slammed his hand on the closed door again. “Open up!”
Silence whispered out of the apartment, like the breaths of a dead man. Behind him, the squad shuffled their feet. Chinks of metal and mechanical clinks, hushed with held breaths and cleared throats. The microseconds flew past; infinities sucked into fractured heartbeats. Gagnier had 14 officers, each in full body armour and gear. Rifles with lasers pointed at the floor — a crisscross of red dots.
Gagnier counted down from five. His breaths shuddered with each earthquake from his circulatory muscle. “Four, three, two.” He glanced back at the squad. Eyes gazed out from behind helmet visors, ready and patient. Gagnier gave them the nod and ushered them forward with a flick of his fingers.
The squad parted as those at the rear brought forth an enforcer battering ram. Gagnier moved to the side, with his 9mm pointed to the ceiling and his tactical vest tight around his chest. “One.” The ram nudged the door, scraped the paint. “Two.” It swung back and left a dent. “Three!”
Apartment number seven’s door exploded open in a cacophony of cracked wood. Splinters rained down like snow, and the remains of the door swung open and thumped against the wall. The officers at the front smashed the door down then stepped to the side, the entry wide open for Gagnier. He slipped inside, gun at the ready. “Police! Come out with your hands up! We’ve got you, Surgeon.”
Darkness loomed, with candlelights as the only illumination. The flames flickered, and the glow pulsed like Gagnier’s heart had moments earlier. The Surgeon must still be here. Gagnier’s eyes adjusted to the gloom, a yellow square from the doorway sliced through the shadows. The madman had decorated the entire place with something. Posters plastered the walls, and clippings hung from the ceiling. And music whispered into his brain somewhere below the steady bass thump in his eardrums.
A song he knew.
A shard of ice forced its way down his throat and penetrated his stomach. Bile burned at the back of his oesophagus. Gagnier’s nerve endings crackled with a half-formed question. A looming sense of dread rose behind him in a halo of darkness. His eyes focused on one of the pictures, but his gaze jittered about the mess. Snapshots from the scrapbooked walls flashed into his mind, too rapid for coherence.
Gagnier rotated in a complete 360 and tried to take it all in. Around him buzzed the black flies of the squad. They kicked other doors down, broke through flimsy pieces of wood. Hailed calls of “Clear!” ricocheted through the apartment. He didn’t even hear them — he knew what they’d find.
The Surgeon would not be in any of the rooms.
The candles, which he thought signified the killer’s presence, became a mockery. How long ago had The Surgeon ignited those wicks? Ten minutes? An hour? No more than four or five, he’d guess. But his gut told him it had been close. That had been The Surgeon’s point. The madman wanted to rub salt into the wound. If only you’d solved it ten minutes quicker, Detective Gagnier? You’d have caught me then.
“Turn on the lights.” The words squeaked out of him, a far cry from the mastiff’s bark he’d used several ticks of watch earlier. Nobody heard him. The chaos of the other officers drowned him out. Gagnier sucked in a breath. “Turn on the lights!”
The bulbs flared on and blinded him. Gagnier winced and blinked his way through the change. A haunting echo of the darkness he’d descended into a fraction of a second earlier. But now, the lights illuminated the horrors of the world. His lungs contracted as the song revealed its name to him. Right as his eyes settled — at last — upon a picture. A photograph, to be precise.
In the background, The Last Goodnight sang about pictures hung upon walls.
Pictures of him. Pictures of him and his wife, with his two little girls. Pictures of him leaving his house, of him driving his car. Pictures of him sitting at his breakfast table and pictures of him entering the precinct. Pictures of him holding his infant son — born over one year ago — taken from the bushes.
But he’d only begun to investigate The Surgeon in the last ten months.
How could he have ever thought he’d come close to the genius of The Surgeon? We’ve got you, Surgeon. Such bravado before he’d even bagged the arrest. Gagnier knew nothing — Dunning-Kruger realised. He’d only learned how much he didn’t know. Somewhere behind him, shouts and barked orders smothered the music. The madman had always been ten steps ahead. Suppose such an intellectual could ever deserve the title.
Gagnier’s stare floated up to the ceiling. Bank statements of every account — not even he knew how to get past the screenshot blockers. Personal emails and exchanges between coworkers. Private texts swapped from husband to wife. His daughters’ letters to Santa from last year. His son’s birth certificate.
He always would be ten steps ahead.
They would never have the bastard.
The detective couldn’t help but turn to jelly as he tried to work his radio.
“I need to get a hold of my family.”