“In the case of Victor Daniels, we the jury find the defendant… not guilty.”
There was a moment of damning silence after these words, in which not even a gasp was dared, though everyone in the courtroom was in utter shock. Hell, as detective George Alvarez watched the defense attorney, he could’ve sworn even that man had an expression of horror on his face for half a second. Of course, the lawyers recovered first, with the defense smiling and shaking hands, and the prosecutors grimacing with viper-like eyes. George recovered just after them, his heart dropping into the pit of his bowels with a mighty pang, and then the courtroom erupted in meaningless clamor, meaningless because no matter the bawling widows or the shell-shocked orphans being held by enraged legal guardians, or the whip-snap reporters… Victor Daniels was a free man.
George stood up with the rest of the crowd - the righteous zealots and innocent included, and he observed Daniels as he shook hands with his attorney, whose eyes held genuine fear the moment they met Victor’s piercing blues. For George’s money, Victor was a haphazardly handsome man, with high cheekbones on alabaster skin, thin lips, and combed-back black hair. In fact, if it weren’t for the scars he’d given himself all over his face - little slashes, some burns, and a brutal one which looked as though his skin had been grafted above his right eye, he may have been on the cover of a magazine. That could still happen, thought the detective, Magazines love people who get away with murder.
As Daniels walked back down the courtroom a free man, ignoring the maelstrom of noise, he and George made eye contact, and he stopped in his tracks. He held his hand out. “Detective Alvarez. I want you to know there’s no hard feelings. What’s past is past.”
“Maybe for you… not for me,” said George, his voice hard as he shook Victor’s hand with as much force as he could muster. But what pain could a mere handshake cause to someone as disturbed as Victor Daniels? “The truth will out.”
“Whatever you say.”
It took Victor four minutes to make his way out of the courtroom. His lawyer gave a statement, and then, slowly, the people started filing out. George hailed the lead prosecutor. “Hey, Tom! What the hell happened?”
“I-I don’t know,” replied Tom Banson, his small frame almost visibly shaking under the suit. “We never exactly had a mountain of evidence, but-”
“Oh come on, we had enough!” cried George. “A weapon, a motive for five of the seven murders, shaky alibi, and a confession, on tape, to the murder and mutilation of Genine Alston!”
“No prints on the weapon, and ballistics wasn’t clear. Alibi… I mean, we can’t prove he was anywhere but home when the murders happened; there’s no cameras in his house, right? As for the confession… They claimed it was coerced, and… I’m sorry, detective, they had a point.”
“Look, I know you know this, but real life ain’t a movie. You can’t bully and harass a subject until they tell you what you want.” Tom took off his glasses and cleaned them. “I don’t want this guy on the streets, y’know. I’m just saying-”
“There was a life at stake!” shouted George. “What was I supposed to do?”
“Look, someone as malevolent as that bastard knows how to play a detective. He played you, Alvarez. He saw how deeply you cared about getting that confession. I watched the video. He’s very good. As soon as he knew who you were and what you wanted, he began to act scared, defenseless, and weak-willed.”
“So you’re saying he got the better of me?”
Before Tom could answer George’s wild brown eyes, a voice shouted from the back of the courtroom: “Alvarez! Let’s go, man!”
George’s partner, Louis Groton was waiting back there for him, a solemn expression on his face. Louis was one of those cops who played a strictly supporting role and loved it. He never wanted to take point; he never wanted to run down some serial killer in an alley and have a shootout, just managing to run up and tackle him, only getting him in cuffs after taking a few hard knuckles in the face. No, Louis was content to call for backup and “try to cut the guy off”. However, he was a good shot when it counted, and he was fine with doing the paperwork.
“Let’s get a drink, man,” said Louis as he met the lion-like face of his partner.
“A drink?” repeated George. He sighed and added, “Fine.”
They went through the back way, avoiding the mess of reporters out front, where the police chief was now giving a statement which went along the lines of, “while we’re disappointed with the outcome, we recognize that the justice system has done its job, and we’ll respect that.”
When they got to O’Leary’s Pub, the local news was on almost every television, different reporters all saying the same thing: “We were led to believe by prosecutors and the police that Mr. Daniels was guilty beyond doubt, but today’s court ruling proved that nothing is certain.”
“What can I get you gentlemen?” asked the bartender, a young woman with tattoos covering her arms.
“Guiness, please,” said Louis.
“I’ll have a Blue Hawaiian.”
She started to make the drinks, and Louis said, “I’ll never understand why you get the fruitiest drinks imaginable.”
“Why?” asked George tiredly. He’d heard this at least a dozen times, and today of all days he didn’t appreciate it.
“I mean,” began Louis, accepting his beer with a nod, “a hard hitting, old-school detective like you? You need a man’s beer, or a bourbon. Hell, before I met ya, I always pictured a tall glass of Jameson on your desk after hours.”
“Do me a favor and don’t picture me.”
Louis laughed as George received a tall blue slush with a pineapple slice, maraschino cherry, and paper umbrella as garnishes. “That’s quite a sight.”
“I don’t like drinking and this takes the edge off the liquor,” explained George for what felt like the millionth time. “Now why don’t we cut to the chase and talk about what just happened back in that courtroom?”
Instantly, Louis shifted in his seat and looked down. “George, I… I know what you’re feeling right now-”
“Oh?” George’s heart rate skyrocketed. “Please, tell me.”
“I think you feel angry, for one, but you don’t need to be a detective to see that. It sucks, what happened back there, but that’s how the system works.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“C’mon, Alvarez,” Louis met his gaze now, though his faded blue eyes were no match for his partner’s intensity. “We’ve both seen perps walk.”
“Not guys like this,” muttered George. “Robbers, maybe. Muggers, sure. But serial killers? Don’t they see how letting a guy like that go is-”
“It’s dangerous. It’s risky, but the evidence wasn’t-”
“I saw him, Louis!” shouted Alvarez, bringing the quiet bar to silence. “I saw that guy put a gun to a woman’s head and not even think twice! I had to play that stupid game with him when he wanted some more attention from five-oh!”
“You saw him, but there were no cameras, no other witnesses, and his alibi checked. I believe you, but you gotta admit that’s not great for the case. Plus, the DNA evidence was sloppy and non-conclusive. Some of the evidence was inadmissible, too.”
“I can’t believe you’re trying to rationalize this,” said George, shaking his head. “That guy got the jury in his pocket; that’s the only explanation.”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t matter now,” said Louis. “What matters is: he’s out, and the only thing we can do is make sure that the next time we get him, we bring him in so by-the-book that they have no choice but to put him behind bars.”
“So how many more people have to die before that happens?” asked George, his voice tight. “I had to talk to the first vic’s mother, Louis. You weren’t there. You didn’t see how distraught she was, how she basically broke down into… into something that wasn’t even human anymore. Just crying and screaming and when she saw the pics of her boy’s body, Louis… I swear I’ve never seen anything like it in the twenty years I’ve been on the force.
“In your grand plan, we basically sit on our asses while this guy slips under the radar, gathers whatever he needs, and ups his last crime to levels that’ll make even me lose my lunch. Then he’ll do it again, and again, and again, because he’s good at leaving just enough of a trace to let us investigate. And who knows, maybe he never kills here again. Maybe he leaves and goes to a town with an even more dim-witted police department and judicial system.”
“What else can we do?” asked Louis, but upon seeing the wildness in George’s eyes, he quickly continued, “No, wait… Don’t be a moron, Alvarez.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” George raised his hand for the bill. “Drinks are on me, Groton.”
“Do not do what I think you’re going to do! It’s not worth it!”
“Your badge, your… your life!”
George thought, Neither of those things are worth a damn unless I can bring people to justice who really deserve it. He said, “I’m not gonna do anything stupid,” as he threw down a twenty on the counter and left the bar. Louis knew better than to follow him, perhaps because he had an inkling of what Alvarez was going to do, and he wanted to be able to deny he had any part in it.
It didn’t take long for Alvarez to find the little scab once he left the bar. In a case as high profile as this one, especially in a town such as theirs, whatever press there was would be moths to a flame. Indeed, around the Daniels residence there were three news vans, a dozen reporters, and even a live national broadcast. However, they’d have to leave eventually, so George figured an afternoon of lying low would be prudent. Fortunately, he knew the man across the street - old Wilfred Davidson. He wouldn’t mind if George sat up on his porch in the rocking chair for a while.
And in fact he didn’t; about thirty minutes into the detective’s stakeout, Mr. Davidson brought him some lemonade and some cookies. “It’s a scorcher out there, Alvy, gotta stay hydrated.”
“Thanks,” muttered George, his sunglasses on under a low brimmed baseball cap.
“Say, what about that boy going free ’cross the street, eh?” asked Wilfred as he looked at the media crews.
“I know you really thought he’d done it, and I swear I saw that guy draggin’ somethin’ home one night, all dark it was, and I’ve never seen nothin’ like it. Musta been pretty heavy, and it sure weren’t garbage.”
“I know, Wil,” said George, failing to smile.
“Anyway,” continued the old man, oblivious to his companion’s angst, “I guess maybe it was garbage, after all.”
“It wasn’t,” said George suddenly, his tone fiery.
“But the jury said-”
“I don’t care what the jury said!” hissed George. “That man’s a killer!”
Wilfred shrugged. “Maybe he is, and maybe he ain’t, Alvy. What do I care? I got one foot ‘cross the border between life and death anyway, and ain’t no use in pretendin’ it ain’t true.” He sighed and added, “If you’re right, I do feel sorry for all the young folk, though. They got long lives to look forward to.”
“Why can’t these disturbed people ever take a liking to killin’ old folks like me, Alvy?”
George smirked and shook his head. “You got a lot to live for too, Wil. Kids, grandkids, and all that. Don’t sell yourself short.”
“I guess. Maybe I should call Jamie. Haven’t talked to that boy in a while.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do. You stay as long as you like, Alvy.”
Mr. Davidson went back into his house, and Alvarez sipped on the lemonade he’d been served, biting into what turned out to be a lemon cookie. After about an hour, he noticed his car pull up down the street, and he turned and hid in Wil’s hydrangeas as Louis drove by, probing the area. He felt his cell phone buzz but he ignored it. From then on, he chose to make himself a little seat with his back rested against Wil’s porch and his feet tucked under flower bushes. If his partner or another cop found him…
At around 8:00 that night, the news crews started leaving. By 10:00, there were lights on in the house, pouring out onto an empty street. George knew that the time had come. He got up slowly, stretching out his legs and doing a couple deep squats to get the blood moving again. A car came over the hill, and George ducked again until it passed. Finally, he crept out across the street, coming to the window and taking his sunglasses off to peek through.
He saw Victor Daniels lounging on his couch watching television, eating what looked like leftover tacos. The front door opened into the living room, but if he were to simply kick it down, that’d attract neighborly attention for sure. George frowned and ran back to his car, parked around the block, and got a pair of driver’s gloves and a switchblade. Back at Victor’s house, he found the bedroom window, which was open to allow a breeze to come in on this hot night, and he carefully cut through the screen, gloves donned so as to not leave a fingerprint. Once he’d cut a decent sized hole, he put on a surgical mask and hopped through, soft and quick like a cat.
He padded along the hall, which led him to a rear view of the room in which Victor Daniels was still laying on the couch, munching on tacos. He took a deep, silent breath and pulled out his gun. Once he had it trained on Victor’s head, he stated, “Don’t you move a muscle.”
Surprisingly, Victor obeyed him, though that meant the TV, blaring a buddy comedy, stayed on. “Detective Alvarez?”
“You got it, punk. Now, if you want to live to see the dawn, you’ll do exactly as I say. I’ve got a gun pointed at your head right now.” George’s hands were perfectly steady.
“And what do I have to do?”
“First, turn off the damn TV,” once that was done, George continued, “Now, close the blinds.” Victor got up and completed the task, looking at the gun and the man holding it with his eyebrows just barely raised.
“Let’s be real, Detective Alvarez,” said Victor. “I’m not going to live to see the dawn.”
“Yeah,” he admitted, “You’re right, you bastard.”
“I can’t believe you’re willing to throw it all away, and for what?”
“You need to be brought to justice,” said George.
Victor laughed, a high pitched, hoarse noise. “I would’ve killed again, you know. I even had my next victim lined up. She was - or rather, is, an audio engineer for Channel Eight News. You could have gotten me behind bars then. Hell, you could’ve gotten me the death penalty.”
George smiled, though his mask hid it. “Swings and roundabouts, I guess.”
“I suppose.” Victor took one step forward, but George cocked his gun, making him freeze in his tracks.
“Don’t you dare.”
“The verdict was made like ten hours ago. You can’t have had more time than that to hatch this ingenious plan. Does it include a getaway?” Victor’s voice was eager, his eyes shimmering. “Maybe a terminal getaway, where you leave a note describing the romantic valor of bringing me to ‘justice’? Or perhaps you’ve had time to book a one way flight to Mexico?”
“Shut up.” George admittedly had thought of something while he was hidden in the hydrangeas, but it wasn’t anything Victor could imagine.
“You know, ballistics will match the bullet from your gun to the one from my body.”
He had also thought of that. Taking one hand off the gun, he pulled out the knife, its four inch blade sharp and glinting in the hazy white light of Victor’s living room. “Come here,” said George slowly.
“You could lose this fight,” whispered Victor, though he took a step forward anyway.
In a flash, the killer was on him, and George’s gun hand was caught by Victor’s right, but he dropped the weapon and his head and lunged forward, slashing his right hand in random motions, and while a few were blocked by Victor’s defenses, the rest cut through his shirt and into his skin. He stepped back and Victor looked at his bloodied form for a few moments before collapsing. George thanked his long sleeve shirt for holding in his DNA, and turned Victor over. With one swift cut, the murderers life was over, the torch passed to the man holding the blade. After making sure he had as little blood on him as possible, George cleaned his weapon and crept back outside through the bedroom window, not taking a breath until he reached his car. Of course, the mix of emotions hadn’t quite hit him yet, but he felt overwhelming triumph. He knew what he had to do, and so he put his badge in his glove box and pulled out a file containing a list of criminals who’d recently been released on their own recognizance in the state. That list was about to get a lot shorter, starting with assaulter Robert Amesworth. George turned on his car and slowly pulled out into the road, a wicked, unadulterated grin on his face.