I have to keep my composure as the white cloth is lifted.
All six pairs of eyes—including mine—study the grisly sight on the table.
“Oh, God…” Detective Lander puts her hand to her mouth. I can feel fear radiating off of her as she shivers right next to me.
Looks of squeamishness and disgust linger in the room full of professionals. Detective Reyes snaps a few photos to capture the sight. The flash of the camera illuminates the disfigured face.
Dried, crimson blood is caked around the scalp. There are dark sunken holes where the eyes, nose, and mouth should be. The mouth is the most intricate part—cut open from ear to ear—jagged lines and cuts done to resemble an ugly cartoonish smile.
The face is far from recognizable. Long locks of blonde hair and chipped, bloodied nails with pink nail polish are the only indicators of them being female. Dental records will be the only saving grace here. Otherwise, they will be unidentifiable.
How unfortunate it is that their teeth are completely missing.
“It’s like looking at the face of a goddamn jack-o-lantern,” Detective Briggs remarks under her breath.
“Fifth one in the past three months,” Detective Nelson says as he paces around the table. “Unbelievable…”
All five murmur while continuing to study the mutilated face. They are horrified, yet, they can't tear their eyes away.
I don’t have to keep my composure to appear unfazed or professional. The sight doesn’t bother me one bit. I reacted the same way when I saw the other four faces. Now, keeping a straight face, I'm trying my best not to grin ear to ear like the face on the table. I can’t giggle and gleam in front of my colleagues. My mask of seriousness covers all of my impulses.
It’s difficult not to look proud as my brilliant work is displayed right here, being examined by the best detectives in town. The best detectives in town have no clue in the world that it’s me behind all of this.
The blonde lady on the table was gorgeous—that was before I slit her face open with a carving knife. It’s quite funny how fate and luck work. Fate and luck worked for both me and the lovely lady. It was fate that we were on the street at night while it was raining cats and dogs. She accepted my offer to give her a ride home so she wouldn’t catch a cold. That was luck on my end.
The other four souls were lucky as well—lucky that I chose them to use as a canvas for my artistic inspiration. Now, serving more purpose as my masterpieces than they served before as normal, unfulfilled humans. Calling them victims felt silly. Thanks to my help, they will be remembered for years to come.
If I can’t be famous then my work will have to suffice. It is my catharsis.
“Valentine, are you doing okay?”
Detective Clark’s warm, manly, hand rests on my shoulder.
I don’t look at the face connected to the hand on my shoulder. Instead, I glance over at my muse—the newest canvas for my work.
“Yes sir. I’m doing just fine.”
“I can’t stop thinking about last week. It’s haunting me, you know? It was somehow worse than the other cases!”
Mercedes Lander sits on my brown leather couch—a glass of red wine in one hand and a shortbread cookie in the other. Her pale legs are laying out on the couch underneath her short, black skirt.
“I’m so squeamish too. I feel faint when I see blood when I get needles and stuff.” She sips the wine and wipes her mouth with her fingers. “I don’t know how I got this job if I’m this way. I should’ve been an actress instead!”
I’m forced to listen to her chirp about herself, trying to tune it all out. She keeps wiggling her toes on the couch—her sparkly, painted toenails glimmering in the fluorescent light. I picture how hard it would be to cut off toes. God, it would be such an unnecessary mess to clean up. More extra parts to dispose of.
“I took a bunch of acting classes before—wait, did I ever tell you about that?”
Her lips—that won’t stop moving—would look so perfect with the help of my knife. I could shut her up—forever. Even with her irritating demeanor, she is beautiful. That's why I invited her over some nights for a little bit of fun. She’s nothing more than a pretty face to me. We have secret meetings here and there. That’s why I picked her. We’re a secret. Nobody will suspect a thing.
“Would you like some more wine?” I fill her glass, not waiting for a response. I need her to be drunker than she already is. She giggles and picks up the glass to drink from it.
The sound of my ringtone fills the living room. I see the name lighting up my phone, which is surprising to see. I show Mercedes the screen and hold a finger to my lips, signaling her to remain silent. I answer and put it on speaker.
“Hello? Detective Clark?”
“Hello, Valentine—Detective Hart. Sorry for calling you so late. May we talk, in private, if you can?”
“Yes, of course. I’m just by myself right now.”
“There’s been another one—another killing like the ones over the past two weeks. We found this one in the dumpster behind Sunnyside Diner. The face is all carved up again, but something’s changed. There’s not a body to go with it this time. I assume it’s the same killer that’s been cutting up those faces. I want you at work early tomorrow. You’re the person I see most equipped to take care of this and solve it quickly.”
“No worries, sir. I’ll be in as early as possible.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it. It’s unfortunate that this keeps happening—I’m sorry, have a good night now.”
“You as well, goodnight.”
I control my hand from shaking as I put my phone back down on the table. I can’t wrap my head around what I just heard.
I look at Mercedes, whose eyes are wide. She looks frantic—extremely anxious. She isn’t the one to be worried. I’m the one in trouble here.
I’m not responsible for what Detective Clark reported. I’ve only done five faces so far. It’s been a whole twelve days since I took care of the blonde one. He said the body is disconnected from the face. I would not do such a sloppy thing. Whoever did this is copying my work—no, even worse—ruining my legacy.
Mercedes holds her empty wine glass while her face is buried in her other hand. She looks more distressed than she did a minute ago. She pulls her hand down her face, smearing her mascara down her cheeks, and her lipstick down to her chain.
“I have to tell you something. I have a confession,” she slurs.
She’s drunk, just as I planned before. But now, I can’t carry out my plan. It’s too risky with the damn copycat on the loose.
“I did a really bad thing and I should tell you. But, I don’t want you to hate me. I shouldn’t tell you. You’re not gonna believe me”
She’s visibly on the verge of tears. I’m used to her always being emotional so I’m unfazed by this behaviour. But now she doesn’t look emotional in a sentimental way, rather in a scared way. She truly did do something bad but I have no clue how severe it could be.
“You can tell me. I won’t hate you. Tell me what you did.”
I try to sound concerned as opposed to sounding like I wanted to pull information out of her like an interrogation.
Her eyes go wide again.
“I killed someone, and it wasn’t by accident.”
I suppress a laugh, waiting for more of an explanation to her absurd statement. She stares at me blankly, not saying a word.
“No, you didn’t.”
I dismiss her statement as a way to test her seriousness. Surely, if this is all a drunken joke, she will drop it and move on.
“I knew it! I knew you wouldn’t believe me! What am I supposed to do when they find out it was me, huh? This was all a mistake—a big mistake! A mistake killing that guy—bigger mistake telling you—”
“Calm down, okay? Tell me exactly what you did.”
“I can’t tell you—forget about anything I said.”
“Mercedes, tell me what the hell you’re going on about.”
She pauses for a minute, not looking in my direction. She stands up and starts to pace slowly.
“The guy—every time I went to the Sunnyside Diner at night he was there. He’d eat and wait outside and approach me when I’d leave the diner. I never told him off or anything but I made it clear I wasn’t interested—cause I’m with you—but that asshole didn’t care.”
“So, you killed him?”
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I was scared for my life when he started following me home.”
She dug her hand around in her purse, taking her hand out and revealing an object in a plastic bag. A hunting knife shimmers in the sealed plastic bag.
“I had this in my bag—started carrying it around for safety—I had to use it on him. There was no one else around so I killed that asshole.”
Mercedes Lander—who was just on a tangent about how squeamish and scared she is—claims she killed a man by herself.
“I threw him in the dumpster—not all of him—just his head.”
Mercedes Lander cut someone’s head off.
“I was so angry, Valentine. You don’t understand how angry and scared I was! ”
I start to piece together what she’s telling me. She’s indirectly admitting to the killing Clark reported over the phone.
“We found this one—a male— in the dumpster behind Sunnyside Diner.”
What Clark said matches up with her story. But still, she heard every word spoken on the phone call.
“I cut up his face so it would look like one of the killings from before. I thought it could work out better that way.”
Through all of the chaos, I almost forgot how enraged I was. If she is the copycat killer, I’ll slit her right open from ear to ear. I was going to do it regardless, but now, I have all the more reason to. No one screws with my artistic vision.
“I don’t know what to do! I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m gonna get caught soon. It was a big mistake!”
“Can you show me where the body is?”
She pauses—stopping her wailing and pacing.
“Can I show you tomorrow? I can’t do it right now, I just can’t.”
“Yes, you can do that. But I have another question.” I have to find out if she’s screwing around or not. “Tell me something about the guy—something physical about him if you can.”
“Silver—he’s got a silver earring in one ear—I hope it’s still there.”
She blurts out an answer faster than I expect her to.
My mind refuses to accept that she did any of this. I’ll just have to watch out for a silver earring tomorrow morning.
Mercedes sits in the passenger seat as I drive along the dark and isolated road. She tells me exactly where she hid the man’s body—an abandoned cabin inside the woods. It was an amateur move—leaving a dismembered body somewhere like that—what I expected from
someone of her caliber. She’s too incompetent to take the time and care to put it out of sight.
“You’re going the wrong way. The turn is to the left.”
I ignore her remark and keep my eyes on the road.
“Valentine, you’re going the wrong way!”
It takes everything in me not to unbuckle her seatbelt and slam on the brakes with my full strength to send her flying out of the windshield.
I am going the wrong way—purposefully. There’s no goddamn cabin in the woods or a body in there. I should’ve known Mercedes was screwing with me all along.
Work was more than strange today. I had a rocky start—almost slipping up by asking Detective Clark about the man’s face. He didn’t disclose the gender of the person over the phone last night. My cover could’ve been blown at that moment. For some strange reason, Clark didn’t let me see the face of the man. Instead, he handed me blown-up pictures that Reyes took.
The picture was of poor quality—out of focus with dark lighting—it’s like Reyes never took a photo a day in his life. Surely enough, a silver earring showed up in the photo. I had to conceal my reaction yet again.
Clark didn’t disclose much more information about the man, handing me paperwork and files instead. He could’ve faxed me the papers instead of making me come in early just for nothing. The asshole was screwing with me too. He just wanted to see if he could get a reaction out of me.
“Val, what’re you-”
I swerve the car off of the road onto the rocky sand. The reflection of the yellow moon glimmers in the lake a few feet away.
I can’t stick to my original plan to make her part of my artwork. She was my muse. But now, she disgusts me, more than before. Her beauty is hard to see after the way she deceived me. She’s not on my side—working against me with our team of colleagues—a traitor leading me to my failure. The little wretch thought she could fool me. She should’ve taken more acting classes—her performance was weak.
My new plan is to tie her to the car seat and push the car into the lake. It’s quite convenient that this is her car. I’ll catch the night bus at the station nearby. Who knows where I will go, I just need to hide for a while. I could pull it all off as Mercedes’ suicide—maybe not—everyone will know it’s me. Still, I want her to suffer while she dies, for all that she has done to me.
“If you move, or make any sound at all, I'll kill you. Understand?”
Mercedes strains her head away from the blade of my carving knife. She nods in defeat—just like I want her to.
“You almost had me fooled, you know? But you could never put one over me. How long have all of you been onto me, huh? How did you even find out?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re acting crazy.”
“Don’t play the fool with me. It’s not gonna work now.”
“Just put the knife down, please. You’re making it worse for yourself.”
“Don’t move.” I bend down to open my purse with my other hand. I feel the rough texture of the rope. “You’re gonna sit still for me, alright?”
Mercedes watches helplessly as I put the handle of my carving knife in my mouth. I need both of my hands to be free to handle the rope. The blade grazes her neck as I lean forward, unraveling the rope in my hands. I start to tie it around her seat—securing her body.
I hardly notice how silent and serene it is by the lake until I hear the sound of tires scrunching on the rocks. The noise is accompanied by muffled yelling outside of the car. The moon was the only glow of light until red and blue lights simultaneously flash in a rhythm without a song. It’s too late, I’m out of time. If I could just tie the rope around her neck tight enough she can still suffer in front of my eyes. Or, I can stab her traitor heart until it stops beating.
“Valentine, get away from her. Drop any weapons you have, now.”
The cool night breeze hits my back. The traitor himself—Detective Clark—holds the car door open. “Move now, or I'll shoot you.”
I drop the rope and put my hands up. If only he only showed up a minute later—he was on my tail the whole time—this wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.
“Turn around, slowly. Step away from the car.”
Our eyes meet as I turn my body slowly. The blue and red lighting hit my eyes—outlining the people standing by the row of police cars. They’re all there too—my colleagues—Reyes, Nelson, and Briggs. All of them are disgusting traitors.
“Valentine Hart, you’re being charged with five counts of murder along with attempted murder.”
I hear the statement from a voice I've never heard somewhere amid the flashing lights.
“I said, drop your weapon.”
Clark steps towards me. I bite down on the handle still in my mouth. The knife releases from my mouth into my hand. My cheeks burn hot as I slice through them. My skin gapes open—ear to ear—the same way the other five did.
After all, my artistic work wasn’t for nothing. I’ll be remembered for my work and for this very moment. I am a part of my artwork now.
Heat starts to pool at my chest—a new distraction from the burning sensation in my face.
I don’t have the energy to flash Clark an expression as lowers the gun he fired at me. The everlasting smile I created does it for me.