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American Crime Thriller

“Is the boy here yet?”

“CPS is transporting,” the desk sergeant replied. As usual, Child Protective Services was predictably late. 

The small police station in Show Low, Arizona was on edge. Before this incident, the station just processed the usual petty theft and property crimes—with the occasional drunk and disorderly or drug bust for good measure. But after last night, the entire station seemed to be on tenterhooks. 

“How old is the kid?” Detective McMurtagh asked the desk sergeant. He hated questioning minors, no matter how trivial the matter. Children tended to shut down and stop sharing information, unlike adults who were almost too ready to confess. 

“Twelve,” said the desk sergeant, looking at his notes. “The boy just turned twelve.”

He walked back to the interrogation room to wait for the child.

“Can I get you anything, McMurtagh?” asked his secretary, handing him a very thick file labeled Malachi. The papers were still warm from the copier. Recently taken grisly photos peeked out from the expansion folder. “You may need an entire pot of coffee to get through that. It isn’t pretty . . .” 

“Do you have any good news?” Detective McMurtagh asked, one eyebrow raised in the small hope that she did. 

“The FBI is coming this afternoon,” she crisply added. His eyebrow lowered. “They will officially take over the case. They want to question the boy, too.”

“This isn’t their jurisdiction,” he said, sitting down at the utilitarian desk, sifting through paperwork. It had been a slaughterhouse

“They are investigating this incident as an NRM,” she replied. 

NRM. New Religious Movement. It was the politically correct terminology for a religious cult, tacitly deemed as a threat. As much as he didn’t like the Feds in his backyard, McMurtagh didn’t want the likes of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Marshall Applewhite in his town either. And now this incident risked turning Show Low into another Jonestown, Waco, or Temple’s Gate. 

“The boy is here with Maretha,” the desk sergeant announced on the intercom.

“I’ll be right there.”


Detective McMurtagh felt the boy’s presence before he saw him. Dressed in an ill-fitting Arizona Diamondbacks t-shirt and oversized shorts from the CPS emergency clothes closet, the boy exuded a sense of preternatural calm. On the yellowed plastic chairs, he sat deathly still next to Maretha, his fretful CPS caseworker. 

McMurtagh had known the unflappable Maretha for over a decade. She quickly stood when he entered the police station's dingy lobby, attempting to communicate far too much with her eyes. He’d never seen her unnerved before.

“Good. There you are,” she said. “Malachi, this is Detective McMurtagh. He will ask you a few questions. I’ll wait right here for you, and then we’ll go get some lunch.”

Malachi stood and looked her full in the face. 

“For the lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb,” he said with a small smile that was both comforting and disquieting.

Maretha shot McMurtagh a look. 

McMurtagh walked the boy back to the interrogation room. 


Normally he would have referred the boy to the Phoenix division as they had an agency equipped for interviewing children. With the FBI’s imminent arrival, the case was surely to be taken out of his hands. The best thing he could do at that point was to ensure the child’s testimony could be recorded as faithfully as possible before any more chaos ensued. 

The key was asking open ended questions. Let the child tell his truth as unhindered as possible. Detective McMurtagh pushed a button on a small recording device. 

“Malachi, I’m Detective McMurtagh,” he began. “I am going to record our conversation. Do you understand?”

“I do. Your badge number is 2436. You are numbered with perfection,” the boy said happily.

“Thank you,” McMurtagh replied. “Will you tell me why that is?”

“24 is two times twelve. 36 is three times twelve. Five is God’s Grace, as the ten commandments are two sets of five. Twelve is perfection.”

“I understand,” McMurtagh said slowly. “Thank you for explaining that to me.”

“You are of Scottish lineage,” Malachi said with his small smile. His voice cracked a bit, the natural result of puberty as the larynx grows. A few whiskers were on the boy’s face, just under his nose. “The Scottish Stone of Scone was actually Jacob’s pillow when he dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven.”

“That’s the Celtic legend,” McMurtagh replied. “Now the British use it as their Coronation Stone.”

“The British have been excommunicated and will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone,” Malachi explained to McMurtagh, as if teaching a child a simple truth. “They will burn for eternity along with the many other descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. So many nations divided after the flood.”

McMurtagh sipped his cold coffee and leaned back in the cheap office chair. He looked up at the fluorescent lights, one of which blinked intermittently. 

“What happened last night, Malachi?”

“Malachi means messenger,” replied the boy, sitting ramrod straight, appearing to be delighted to answer his questions. 

“Are you a messenger?” McMurtagh asked the unblinking boy. 

“I am the messenger. Just as there were twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament, I am the last.”  

“Which of the twelve prophets are you?”

“I am not a prophet—not yet.” Malachi said. McMurtagh noted his eyes lost their certainty, but only for a moment. Malachi blinked back his stalwart gaze. “But I will be soon. Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem. And his mother's name was Hephzibah. My mother said I am the Messenger of The Twelve.”

“Who are The Twelve?”

“The Twelve are legion, Detective McMurtagh. They are all around us. I spent twelve years in our encampment learning about The Twelve, until I was ready.”

“What are you ready for, Malachi?”

“To prepare the way of the Lord,” the boy replied, almost joyously. 

“Who prepared you, Malachi?”

The boy went quiet. Thinking back. Back before last night. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Detective McMurtagh, there are many twelves. The Bible lists so many. Twelve tribes. Twelve pillars. Twelve stones. Twelve bullocks, ready for sacrifice.”

“Where is your mother, Malachi?”

“She was not a bullock . . .” said the boy. McMurtagh watched his eyes cloud over. He was unsure again. “But she was ready for sacrifice.”

McMurtagh waited an inordinately long time to ask another question. He sat and let the weight of Malachi’s words hang in the room.


“Malachi, why was your mother ready for sacrifice?”

“It’s quite clear in Leviticus, Detective McMurtagh,” he replied, eyes now clear as glass. “Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbor's wife, to defile thyself with her. The Lord was clear about abominations.” 

“Who defiled your mother, Malachi?”

“Brother Daniel,” he replied without emotion. “His family had been with ours since the beginning, preparing for the End of Days. I saw Brother Daniel and my mother. I saw them in the granary where we keep the wheat. They lay down together like beasts in the field. On her forehead was written The Mother of Harlots. Like Abraham, I knew. God asked Abraham to slay his own son. I was asked to slay my mother.”

“Why did you hurt your mother, Malachi?”

“To prepare the way of the Lord, Detective. It’s what The Twelve wanted me to do.” 

“Why did you hurt the others, Malachi? You hurt your mother and eleven other people, including your little sisters.”

“Because twelve means perfection. The tree of life will bear twelve fruits before the End of Days,” Malachi said as plainly as possible. He attempted his small smile, but his upper lip quivered. He shook his head and spoke more loudly. “I am the Messenger of perfection. The Messenger of The Twelve. If a man abides not in me, he is cast into the fire. . . I am the Messenger of perfection.”  

“Are you done perfecting, Malachi?”

“No, Detective McMurtagh,” Malachi replied. He offered a genuine smile. “I have so much work to do. Twelve times twelve. Perfection times perfection. I will be preparing the way of the Lord until the End of Days.” 

The intercom buzzed. 

“Yes,” McMurtagh said wearily.

“The FBI is here,” the desk sergeant said. “All six of them.” 

“The false priests are here,” Malachi zealously looked at McMurtagh, hands folded in gratitude. “The Twelve have sent me to perfect The Six. The Six are the mark of The Beast.” 

“Come with me, son,” Detective McMurtagh helped the young man up from his cold folding chair. He passed his secretary in the hallway.

“You need backup?” she asked.

“No,” McMurtagh said. “But tell the FBI that they might.”


March 06, 2021 23:26

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46 comments

Amanda Fox
22:12 Mar 10, 2021

Ah, Malachi is so delightfully creepy! I like how you've written him with the confidence of a brainwashed cultist but the insecurity of a boy on the cusp of raging puberty. Those FBI agents better watch out!

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Deidra Lovegren
22:44 Mar 10, 2021

Seriously. Malachi is tick tick ticking down. He's going to take out a van-ful of G-men. My favorite is McMurtaugh's secretary. She'll a tough ol' bird. :)

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Amanda Fox
23:42 Mar 10, 2021

Perhaps more stories of McMurtaugh going up against children with the support of his long-suffering and underappreciatedly brilliant secretary?

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Deidra Lovegren
01:05 Mar 11, 2021

McMurtaugh is going to retire and work on his golf game. Malachi will game the system and go into politics as a populist and do very well. He'll be the youngest Speaker of the House of Representatives. Then a Vice President, who will suddenly be thrust into the spotlight when the President dies. Then, the real END OF DAYS....(with nuclear codes!)

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Amanda Fox
03:10 Mar 11, 2021

Given our recent history... this sadly tracks.

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K. Antonio
02:52 Mar 08, 2021

MY STARS! I look at this piece and aside from finding it marvelous and well-written and eerie/dark, I also can imagine just how much work it was to get this dialogue so well organized and done correctly. So much info. the interaction, the scenery and this mood you built. The boy's character who is speaks with a sense of normalcy and tranquility, but was so impactful. Even the title was tasteful! Just wonderful. I hardly cheer stories on, but I hope this gets at least a shortlisting. It was stellar!

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Deidra Lovegren
12:03 Mar 08, 2021

Holy cow (so to speak) -- what a great comment. This wasn't as much work as you think, as I fell madly in love with McMurtagh and wanted to see him in action. The thing about Reedsy that is so beneficial is that I've found characters I want to write longer works for. Thanks for the good wishes. Not sure if the judges like crime dramas, but I had fun :)

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Valerie June
05:32 Mar 18, 2021

This was a freakishly, spine-tingling, awesome story Deidra! Malachi is quite the character as well. He speaks his mind and speaks so matter of factly to prove that his actions are just. Sadly, this just shows how gullible teenagers are and how easily they can be influenced to do bad things. Going over to read the sequel! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
11:26 Mar 18, 2021

Oooooo there is more to come. Malachi has so much work to do... Thanks for the moral support! Watch out for 12 year olds 😜

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Deidra Lovegren
11:26 Mar 18, 2021

Oooooo there is more to come. Malachi has so much work to do... Thanks for the moral support! Watch out for 12 year olds 😜

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Scout Tahoe
00:15 Mar 08, 2021

True and raw. Cults are real, feeding rubbish into the open mouths of children. I was honestly confused about all the talk of The Twelve but I assumed I was supposed to be. Good job, D, as always.

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Deidra Lovegren
02:02 Mar 08, 2021

The Twelve is just so much fictional biblical numerological nonsense that some cult would conjure up...and this abused boy caught between trying to do his duty and innate morality.

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Scout Tahoe
05:27 Mar 08, 2021

Interesting. I like the theme.

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Chloe Hanna
00:43 Mar 07, 2021

I absolutely loved this! For criticism, all I would say is maybe to use more hard-hitting words at times to really enhance emotion, but overall an amazing story!

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Deidra Lovegren
00:53 Mar 07, 2021

I hear you on the "hard-hitting" diction, but I think the terror comes from the normalcy. This is not a bad kid. He's an abused kid, warped into believing a lot of bad stuff.

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Chloe Hanna
01:40 Mar 07, 2021

Totally, that's very J.D Sallinger! I loved it either way though, it was very enjoyable and that's always most important to me!

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Katina Foster
17:12 Mar 17, 2021

Good golly, D! There's so much in this that I love, but I have to start with the take on the prompt. I read so many for this prompt while judging and you took in a totally different direction than most, which was refreshing. The whole thing is a single conversation, occurring after the "lock down" period, and you allow our imaginations to create a terrifying scene without either character providing much detail about Malachi's life before. So well done! This could be an opening for a whole thrilling novel, it leaves me wanting more! You are...

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Deidra Lovegren
17:29 Mar 17, 2021

Sequel posted for next week — more delusional apocalyptic teens! I must say you and your work with CASA inspired my Maretha character 💯 ❤️

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Katina Foster
16:09 Mar 18, 2021

That's so cool! I'm honored! ♡ I'm very glad none of my kids have been like your characters. Knock on wood

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Deidra Lovegren
11:20 Mar 19, 2021

I definitely stole your patience and compassion for McMutagh. You are amazingly generous 🍀

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Julie Ward
16:57 Mar 13, 2021

Really really really good. I felt like I was watching a TV show - dialogue, characters, setting, all on point. The story moves like nobody's business. Everything you write is always so well crafted, but this is next-level. So yeah, I loved it.

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Deidra Lovegren
19:17 Mar 13, 2021

Yay! Thanks for the great feedback — always fun to write the crazies! 🤪

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Holly Fister
18:22 Mar 11, 2021

Whew, this was intensely freaky. I couldn’t read it fast enough! I love how it’s just a glimpse of a longer story, but like McMurtagh, I felt like I’d seen enough of him.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:43 Mar 11, 2021

Seriously. Teenagers are gross enough. Let alone violent ones. Let alone fanatical ones.

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Ash Jarvis
03:45 Mar 10, 2021

I am awestruck at how deftly you wrote dialogue showing a mind that had been bent to be rational and irrational at the same time! On top of your fabulous dialogue McMurtagh is very compelling. He reminds me of some of Stephen King’s heroes—ordinary guys drawn into horrifying circumstances. I would definitely keep reading a novel with this as its beginning. The only criticism I can come up with is that I would have liked a little more of a physical description of Malachi when he’s first introduced (although maybe that’s just me). Great job...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:12 Mar 17, 2021

Wonderful commentary and generous remarks. I must say McMurtagh is my guy. Quiet. Smart. Even-tempered. I’m sure he has those sad Irish eyes...and a tortured past to be that compassionate to the crazy. Thanks for the ❤️ Sequel posted 😎

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16:48 Mar 14, 2022

Religion is always so messy.. I love reading the psychological effects of it. Wonderful read!

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Deidra Lovegren
17:49 Mar 14, 2022

I'm writing this into a longer work. Malachi is too creepy to let be.

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18:07 Mar 14, 2022

I love his character. It would be wonderful to see that story.

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18:52 May 13, 2021

i'm sort-of-maybe considering stealing this for my own true-crime series... because this is so. freakin'. good. the eeriness, the fanatical religious teenager, the beginning paragraphs... e e k. perfection. magnificent job!

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Phoenix Langston
21:45 Mar 28, 2021

Whoa. That's the first word that came to mind once I finished reading. The dialogue, the religion and numerology, the character's personalities (specifically Malachi's and McMurtagh's), and the overall storyline are insanely good -- "insanely" being the operative word. I'm going to read the sequel now. I know I'll be impressed!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:54 Mar 28, 2021

Thinking about writing that up as a screenplay or novel. I think it could work?

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Phoenix Langston
22:15 Mar 28, 2021

This would make an amazing screenplay. Honestly, I feel like you should be writing scripts for crime-related TV shows or movies somewhere. You've got serious talent!

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Paula Dennison
20:32 Mar 18, 2021

I was truly captivated by your story and wished it continued. Please tell me that your are writing more on this for publishing. Your writing is publishing quality in my eyes. It is a little cliché, but not much in Detective McMurtagh's role but you pulled away from that by the Detective McMurtagh's excellent questioning sequence. The psychopathic and psychotic dialogue of Malachi was fantastic. It was ingenious how you came up with that! Great story!

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Deidra Lovegren
11:18 Mar 19, 2021

Thanks, Paula! This would be an interesting piece to wrap into a longer thriller. Malachi is proving to be more interesting than I conjured up. ☠️

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Ionel Rusanu
12:54 Mar 17, 2021

No bunker here in the right sense of the word but isolation of a cult could be loosely asosociated as that. I am not sure about the religious refferences but for sure they stay with you.

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Deidra Lovegren
13:21 Mar 17, 2021

I absolutely think people use religion (or politics) as a bunker. I researched the KJV biblical references — The Whore of Babylon always a favorite 😎

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Black Raven
22:34 Mar 15, 2021

Wow! Are you sure this is not a thriller, cause I'm genuinely afraid. This story isn't far from reality at all things like this could happen and they do happen. You did such a great job portraying that. Also, I love how you made the child's and officer's characters. They feel whole like real people. They are really interesting too, especially the child. "Where did he become like that?", "How did the cult start?", "What will happen between him and the FBI?", are all questions running through my mind right now. You should probably do a sequel....

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Deidra Lovegren
23:17 Mar 15, 2021

Thanks, Black Raven! All great feedback. Thanks for the moral support. Always happen to read your story 😀

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Amelia Bowen
16:16 Mar 14, 2021

Great story!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
02:38 Mar 17, 2021

Just wrote a sequel....☠️

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Amelia Bowen
02:44 Mar 17, 2021

Ooh, i'll make sure to read it:)

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Deidra Lovegren
02:54 Mar 17, 2021

Yay 😀

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Kate Reynolds
00:07 Mar 13, 2021

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Deidra Lovegren
00:49 Mar 13, 2021

I feel seen 😎 Thanks for the love 💕

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Kate Reynolds
14:51 Mar 13, 2021

:D I’m glad!!! Anytimeee

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