CW: Violence, descriptions of murder scenes, adult situation (suggested not described), suicide.
I plop into my chair behind a plate of Belgian waffles flooded with whipped cream and strawberry. After taking in the sweet aromas, I glance up at the beautiful blond on the other side of the room. Fifteen years of marriage brought the same number of special birthday breakfasts. Like every year, her smile suggests she enjoys giving this gift as much as I enjoy receiving it. Despite my extra-marital activities, I still treasure her more than words can express.
She saunters towards me, coming up from behind and throwing her arms around my shoulders. I pivot my head as her soft lips press against mine. “Sorry you had to work late last night, my love.” As she stands, she runs her hands down my chest before dragging them back up. “If only I didn’t have to leave, I would give you your second present.”
But she always leaves. She knows I like to enjoy my meal in silence, by myself. I do my best thinking while working on a plate of tasty food. Her second gift will wait until after work. “I would love to unwrap it.”
She smacks her hand on her ass. “It’s walking out the door, but the third special surprise is on the bed.” She raises her eyebrows. “But no peaking until you finish your breakfast.” Her shiny red pouty lips pucker and she says, “you deserve this, my loving husband.”
“Interesting color,” I say. “You normally wear it darker.” I shrug. “The brighter look draws me in for some reason.”
I listen to her tiny footsteps, then the door closing behind her. A smile spreads across my face as I dip my fork into the whipped topping, coating it with the fluffy white treat before licking it clean. The sugar doesn’t ease the ball of guilt growing in my stomach. Yesterday wasn’t the first time I used the job to meet up with Diana, but I forgot my birthday, and didn’t expect such a thoughtful display waiting for me.
Today’s surprise is much needed after a night of disappointment. Diana is a deep sleeper and didn’t open the door when I knocked. We normally plan our activities, but a late-evening phone call from an officer allowed an opening, and I took it. Sarah asked if I had to leave, so I jumped on the chance. But my poor planning led to walking around the city and thinking.
I’ve gotten lucky several times over the past month. Often getting a call to a crime scene after spending the night with Diana. I’m never happy finding additional victims, but using a body as an excuse is nothing new. Along with giving me a solid alibi for Sarah, the deceased had many similarities. Four girls in the same number of weeks. All tied and gagged. Wrists and throat cut. The posing screamed sexual assault, but there’s no trace of semen, or any DNA.
I shake the thought from my head and lift my cup, taking a large gulp. The bitter taste of black coffee is best when accompanied by the slight burning of the hot beverage. Pain has never been an interest of mine, and I can’t imagine including it in the bedroom, but sometimes a minor discomfort is soothing. Again, my mind fades to the latest crime scene. Another brunet with a petite build. An obvious pattern. My wife’s blond hair excludes her as a potential victim, but I warned sweet Diana the day after seeing the thin girl. She looked identical at first glance.
The waffles are likely getting cold. Steam no longer rose from the stack. The strawberry syrup and whipped cream lowers the temperature faster than normal. I press my fork against the crispy pastry, but it smashes it down instead of cutting through. After a quick search, I realize I don’t have anything to cut my breakfast, but the knife Sarah used for the fresh strawberries is on the counter. The handle is stained red from the berries, but that’s a problem for later. The sharp blade cuts right through the waffle. I spear the piece, dipping it back into the fluffy white sugar, before taking a bite.
At 240 pounds, I can devour the entire plate in a few minutes. But the process is the fun part, not the finishing. Every thrill killer I caught had their own little routine. This monster is different. He leaves behind no sign of struggle or bruising. Somehow, they’re convinced to cooperate. Women generally don’t trust strange men enough to tie and gag themselves when alone. But no common connection between the four victims and their social lives exists. So, I’m sure they’re meeting with a stranger.
I swallow the first piece and wash it down with a swig of coffee. Then lop off a second and dip it again in the whipped cream before devouring it. My phone vibrates. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message or call back. I glance at my radio. There hasn’t been any chatter from the task force, so it’s likely not related.
Years ago, women and men had to meet in bars for random encounters, creating many witnesses. Now they use apps. The killer must take the phones with him, forcing us to perform record searches for the popular dating and sexual encounter clubs, including some bondage-based platforms. But none of the girls have any current accounts or previous downloads.
I gawk at my waffles. The killer leaves nothing behind. He chooses motels lacking working surveillance and without ATM’s or traffic cameras in the surrounding area. The locations are low-cost dives which aren’t cleaned between each use. Recovering too much hair is as bad as none. The murder weapon is still out there, and everything cataloged on crime scenes is too common to track down or purchased by the victim. Whispers about the murderer being a person associated with law enforcement are already circulating. In the four scenes, one bit of evidence exists, on a glass...
My phone vibrates, pulling me from my thoughts. I flip it over to see Rodriguez’s name, a member of the task force. After lifting it to my ear, I say, “how’s it going officer?”
“Good, detective. We’re looking through files and wondered if you’d be here this morning?”
“Yeah. In about two hours. I had a late night, so I’m grabbing some waffles.”
“Thank You. No Rush. You’re at home?”
“Yes. After I eat, I’ll jump in the shower before heading in. Do you need me there earlier?”
“No. Take your time. Nothing essential. We’d appreciate another set of eyes but can wait. Take your time, birthday boy.”
“10-4.” I hang up the phone. Birthday boy? We’re not close, I wonder who talked about my birthday.
After taking a bite, strawberry syrup drips down the knife onto my hand. I lick it off my fingers and glare at the damp area. The bodies show no signs of penetration or saliva. Only the victims’ fingerprints are on the leather straps and metal handcuffs. By the look of the sheets and area, the killer only touched the girls when slashing their wrist and throat. Even the most careful serial killers lack impulse control. Their inability to stop killing leads to a sloppy spiral and eventual detection. But this guy gets them in a sexual position and doesn’t act, except for the last move, as if he’s skipping the process to get to the end.
I swivel my head towards my radio. Still no chatter. The meeting to review evidence this morning isn’t planned. Did they call everyone instead of making a request over the radio? I always have it on, even during my late-night activities. Backup channels exist in case we suspect a compromise, but they send a text when switching. I check my phone. No missed messages.
Standing up, I lick more red syrup from my hand, then on the knife itself. What the hell? The taste is off, salty with a spinach aftertaste. I throw the knife back on the counter next to two glasses. She must have used it for something after my strawberries. Maybe she made her lunch for work.
First, I tune the radio to channel 23, our backup, but there’s nothing. Then I try the third option. I hear a few heavy breaths, followed by a voice. “Team one. 10-23.” Is another team is using this frequency? The voice sounds like Rodriguez, but he would’ve mentioned heading to a location. “Team two, remember we have a 10-38.” Urgent, no lights. Why didn’t they call me?
The hairs on my neck stand up. Something isn’t right. Were there two glasses on the counter? Sarah was here alone last night. After walking over, I study the champaign glasses. Each has a smear of lipstick, one is bright red, just like...
I bring it close to my eye. The same shade as Sarah’s lips and the smudged cup from the crime scene. My attraction to the color was a subconscious connecting of evidence.
“Team 2. 10-23. Get in position, we have the entrances.”
I grab the knife and investigate the stained handle. I’ve seen dried blood a hundred times. With the blade in my hand, I creep to the bedroom door and push it open. Diana is on the bed, tied and gagged. Wrists and throat cut. My third gift. I might deserve this, but she doesn’t.
“Team 1 in position. Remember, he knows our procedures.”
I ignore the deafening crash in the living room, along with the heavy footsteps and frantic yelling. “Frank. Come out with your hands up and empty.”
I leer at Diana’s lips. The color matches the rim. Sarah’s kiss put traces of the other lipstick on my mouth. My fingerprints are on the knife and the glass. I reach out and close her eyelids. My only alibi for the other four girls is lying dead in my bed.
I lumber into the dining room, not looking at the police officers holding guns and yelling at me. Then I lean over and grab the last piece of waffle, rubbing it on the plate, soaking up the syrup. As I shove it in my mouth, I realize we were searching for a man this entire time. We didn’t consider checking apps designed for women interested in women. She might have lured the first four girls with those apps. But not Diana. I often leave my personal phone at home when working. No doubt they will find texts telling her to drink the champaign and tie herself up in the bed. My choices are to implicate my wife or spend my life in prison as a cop. Either way, I suffer.
After swallowing the last bite, I face the array of barrels and lift my knife into the air.
“Come on, Frank.” Rodriguez says, “Don’t do it, man.”
“I still love her.” I shake my head. Under my breath I say, “after all of this, I love that woman.” Choice three. I sprint forward, blade first. The loud cracks barely register before everything goes black.