CW: Strong language throughout, and descriptions of murder.
‘Looks like he was beaten to death,’ Detective Ryan Edwards lied, observing the body. He’d seen a few in his time, and almost always he could tell fairly easily how the person had died. Gunshot and knife victims were easy; any schmuck from the street could figure those ones out. Strangulations were also relatively simple, the bruising around the neck and the expression on the face of the body wrote the story of the murder right in front of your eyes. It was just figuring out what kind of device (rope, chain, hands) was used that could sometimes prove a little tricky.
And that was the problem when someone was beaten to death. What implement, if any, was used? The cuts and the bruising could tell a complicated story, one that’s difficult for detectives to follow.
Most detectives, anyway.
But Ryan Edwards wasn’t just any detective. He was damn good at the job. Best in the city. Hell, probably the country. Had been for over twenty-five years. Never lost the scent of a criminal’s tracks and always managed to put them away.
Let's see if the kid can tell I'm giving him some phoney information.
‘God,’ Junior moaned. Sounded like the kid was going to throw up again. ‘His face is a mess. What did they use, a hammer?’
Wait till you get to my age, kid. That face ain't as fucked up as some of them get.
‘Nah,’ Ryan said. ‘A hammer would have done much more damage. Look at the sizes of those marks, and how deep the bruising is. Looks like the killer used something solid but small. Much lighter than a hammer. Something unusual.’
‘A shoe?’ Junior suggested. In other circumstances, it might have been a dumb thing to say. But not today.
‘Was that a wild guess?’ Ryan asked. ‘If it was, that’s a spookily accurate wild guess. Looks to me like it was the heel of a stiletto.’
‘This guy was beaten to death with a stiletto?’
‘Nah,’ Ryan said. ‘I don’t think so. That would take some time and patience. Something most of these nutjobs don’t have. My guess is either he died after being assaulted with a high heel, or the killer did a number on his face after he was already dead.’
Junior looked wildly puzzled. ‘Why the fuck would someone do that?’
Ryan had now taken his notepad out, writing on it as he talked. ‘There’s only one reason a sick psycho like this would do that. You don’t have any idea?’
Ryan looked up from his notepad to see Junior shrug his shoulders.
Nah, course not. You wouldn’t know a clue if it flew up to you naked and sang the national anthem, would you, kid?
‘The killer is sending a message,’ Ryan said, returning his gaze to his notes. ‘He wants us to know that whoever he is or whatever this is about, it has something to do with a stiletto.’
‘Maybe the killer’s a woman?’ Junior tried. ‘And she wears stilettos when she’s murdering?’
God bless your tiny little brain kid. Haven’t you spotted the footprints leading away from the body yet? The killer wears size eleven shoes at least. I don’t know many women with feet as big as Sasquatch, do you?
The phrase I’m getting too old for this shit appeared in Ryan’s mind more and more these days. And with the arrival of Junior (they’d called him that so much they often forgot the kid’s real name), the point was even more apparent than usual; maybe now was the time to consider that cushty desk job the chief had offered him. He’d seen it all anyways. Done it all. Detective Ryan Edwards was known around the country. He had nothing left to prove.
‘So then, this is a clue too, right? This was left on the body on purpose?’ Junior indicated the item that had been left on the chest of the dead man. The one that gave Detective Ryan Edwards the chills.
‘Yeah,’ Ryan responded, not looking. ‘Yeah, I believe it is a clue. I’m heading back to the station, come see me in the office when you’ve finished up here.’
‘Sure thing,’ Junior said. Carefully, he lifted the bowler hat from the cold hands of the victim.
He dreamed about her again. It was happening more often ever since that damn kid started working alongside him. He couldn’t help but remember when he was that young. When the world was a little lighter, more colorful. The years of grisly murders and brutal crimes had darkened the city, painted every brick of every building grey until the whole placed looked like Sin City. And boy, the sins were happening out there.
In a way it was kind of nice to be dreaming of Fiona. He saw her the way he always remembered her, captured in a mental photograph that sat and refused to be moved along. Her head was always inclined to the side just slightly and her eyes were focused on the invisible camera in front of her. And even though she looked into this camera, Ryan always thought she stared straight through it and into his own soul.
When was that mental picture taken? It was so clear, so real that it had to have come from a real-life event.
Ah… of course. It was the night they got together. When she was wearing that long silver dress and the stiletto shoes to match…
‘Junior! For Christ’s sake kid, you got the coffee order wrong again!’
Ryan had been daydreaming a little (Fiona… Silver dress…) when he was snapped back to reality with Barry’s scolding of the kid.
‘I’m sorry, Mister Irons, I forgot, that’s all.’
Ugh. He sounds so whimpery. So young and naive. Greener than a damn cactus in a desert with too many spikes up its ass.
‘You forgot? You forgot that Tracy has a nut allergy? She takes oat milk not hazelnut. God damn kid, you could have killed her with this shit! You make a mistake like that out in the field you’re a dead man, you hear me? A dead man!’
‘It won’t happen again, Sir, I promise.’
‘You’re God damn right it won’t, kid. Cause the next time you fuck up like this you’re out on your damn ass!’
Ryan took a swig of coffee from his flask. Bitter. The taste had changed somehow since two weeks ago. It was darker. Earthier. Nothing seemed quite right anymore. Everything around him seemed more ominous. Ever since he saw that damn bowler hat.
It couldn’t be though. It couldn’t be what he thought. A job like this made you paranoid. A little on edge at times. That’s all. When you start seeing and building connections in your head, your brain never stops doing it. Leads your thoughts to all sorts of crazy places.
He read over the notes he'd taken at the scene once more:
- Tried to let the kid figure out that the victim was suffocated, but he was too fixed on the idea I fed him that he was beaten to death. Deduction skills need a vast improvement. Victim's face was clearly drained of color but the kid didn't seem to notice.
- Victim's face has been mangled by the heel of a stiletto shoe. I can't be sure until we get a confirmed ID, but I think I know this guy.
Know the guy, sure. He used to date Fiona...
His office door swung open. Junior.
‘Kid,’ Ryan began. ‘How many times have I gotta tell you to knock before you come into my office?’
Ryan didn’t look at Junior but he knew what he was doing. That pathetic little scrunch of his eyes and the shake of his head. Like a toddler who’d forgotten again that he was supposed to tell his Momma he needed to piss before he let loose in his shorts.
‘Sorry, Mister Edwards, Sir,’ Junior trembled. ‘It’s just the chief told me to come and get you straight away. There’s another body. They think it was the same killer.’
Sure enough, this one had died in much the same way as the last. Face messed up with the rear end of a stiletto shoe, holding that damn bowler hat in his hands for dear life as if the thing was going to save him from being murdered. The autopsy on the last guy had come back the day before and Junior had learned that the poor bastard had died of suffocation. It seemed like the killer had some way of stopping oxygen getting to the victim's lungs without having to strangle them. It could be done; more than once, Ryan had seen a case of someone being restrained and having a plastic bag secured around their head. Horrible way to die but clean – doesn’t leave many clues. No mess. This new victim had probably gone the same way.
‘This has got to be the same guy, right?’ Junior asked.
Fuck me, kid if there was a prize for most obvious observation from a rookie detective you’d be taking home the check for a thousand bucks and the bottle of champagne.
Ryan didn’t reply. He was busy observing the markings on the body’s face. No doubt about it, it was the same high heel shoe that was used to hammer into both victims’ faces. Like some fucked up caveman chiselling a message through time. A message that was meant for one person only.
‘I hear you, you fucker,’ Ryan whispered.
‘Sir?’ Junior's voice sounded. ‘You say something?’
‘Never mind, kid. Let’s get wrapped up here. I think I might just know the psycho responsible for all of this.’
Not only that; Ryan knew this victim too. Another one of Fiona's exes.
Fiona looked beautiful that evening. Up until then, Ryan had never really thought of a woman as “beautiful” before. Hot, sure. He’d had plenty enough experiences with attractive women over the years but none of them could come close to Fiona. He didn’t just want to sleep with her. He wanted to hold her. Kiss her. Hell, maybe even love her.
Problem was, she wasn’t alone. There was a guy. Of course there was. A lady like Fiona had to have had a guy. Just his luck. Ah well. You gotta just move on.
He remembered taking one last look at the lady, trying to remember every detail of her face before he’d turn away and never see her again. But wait. What was going on? The guy was angry. He was raising his voice. Fiona looked scared. Ryan had seen enough bad shit even by this point in his career to know that the look in the woman’s eyes said that she’d seen her guy act like this before, and the crazy fuck was about to get violent.
Ryan walked over to the pair.
Ah, Christ, Ryan thought. It’s gotta be him. Damn lunatic's been killing people to send a message to me. A message that he’s coming for me.
On his desk, the documents relating to the murders were strewn in untidy piles. A photograph of the first victim sat upside-down next to a map showing the locations of the two crime scenes. Ryan sat with his head in his hands, smoking a cigarette and trying to ignore the noise coming from just outside of his office. The damn kid was in trouble with Barry Irons again.
‘For fuck sake, Junior! You filed these in the wrong place again! How many damn times have I gotta tell you I don’t deal with this shit! You need to put these in Tracy’s tray. She looks them over, orders them and then hands them to me. God damn, kid!’
There was only one explanation for it all. The stilettos. That damn bowler hat. Both victims having had previous relationships with Fiona. If only there was a way to get to this guy before he suffocates someone else, if there was anyone else. It was always this way with these kinds of guys; they never cared how many people they hurt, how many others had to die on the way to getting their revenge against someone they think is more in the wrong than them.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the wood of his desk. Threw the butt in the garbage can. He let his head drop to the desk with a thud. Closed his eyes.
What I’d do for a nap right now…
His phone buzzed. He looked at the screen. Message from an unknown number. It showed an address, nothing else.
Well I’ll be damned…
He wondered, briefly, if he should take Junior with him. But outside the kid was still being grilled.
‘I swear to God, the day the chief hired you is the day he started losing his fucking mind!’
Better not. Junior would only screw this up. I’ll just tell the others I’m going out for coffee.
Detective Ryan Edwards arrived at the street named in the message. It was dark out, and the street lights here were the dim, orange kind. They made the bricks of the buildings look a different color than they really were. Through the lights, Ryan could see a light spitter of rain falling but it wasn’t heavy enough to notice otherwise.
He almost felt like calling out to the darkness. Challenge it to reveal what he was sure it was hiding.
Hey! Alright, you bastard, come on out. Time’s up, pal. I’m taking you in.
He walked down the road a little. Every footstep cracked and echoed down the silent alleys and up the still walls of the buildings.
And then he felt what was unmistakeably the barrel of a Glock G29 handgun on his spine.
‘Hi, Ryan. Long time no see.’
As he’d gotten closer to Fiona and her guy, he could see the fire in the fucker’s eyes. He looked like he was filled with hatred from head to toe. Fiona was backing away from him, glancing around the room, looking for a way out.
‘Hey, is this guy bothering you?’
The nutjob turned to face Ryan. ‘Why don’t you just mind your own fuckin-’
Ryan stuck a rounded fist into the guy’s nose. He staggered backward and then made a fist of his own, ready to retaliate.
The first of Ryan’s next punches landed on the mouth, the second revisited the nose, and this time he heard it break. The guy fell to the ground, hand partly covering his bleeding nose.
‘Are you alright, Miss?’ Ryan turned to Fiona. The gratitude in her eyes was awe-inspiring.
They spent the night together. They talked, they drank, they danced. They laughed. Ryan found himself glancing at his watch a lot, and noticing that when you were having a good time those damn hands moved faster, as if they were trying to get a gold medal in the Mechanics Olympics.
As much as he’d admired Fiona, it took him all the way to the end of the night to tell her that she looked fantastic.
‘You look very suave,’ Fiona said then, with a playful smile. ‘Very elegant.’
‘It’s a fancy party, ain’t it?’ Ryan said. ‘I had to wear a suit and tie.’
They kissed for the first time then. It was warm, affectionate, full of potential. When they finished, Fiona reached to the top of Ryan’s head with another smile. ‘You don’t think the hat is a little much?’
The gun pressed harder into Ryan’s back.
‘You think you could steal my woman and get away with it?’
Ryan snorted. ‘Your woman? Last I checked a woman doesn’t belong to anyone.’
‘What, you got all feminist now?’
‘Better than being a sad old fuck who can't get over the fact that the woman he used to beat left him years ago. Took you all this time to pluck up the courage to come after me, huh?’
‘You’re a stupid fuck, Ryan. Coming here without any backup. Nobody’s gonna have a clue who killed you.’
‘Neither will I,’ Ryan said. ‘Never did get your name. Fiona never talked about you.’
‘My name’s Jake. Jake Burton. Soon to be the man who killed that son of a bitch Ryan Edwards. Now say your prayers, you prick. You’re about to die.’
The body fell to the ground with a thump almost as loud as the gunshot. But it wasn’t Ryan’s.
He spun around and looked at the ground in front of him. Jake lay there in a pool of his own scarlet blood. His wide eyes stared up and into Ryan’s for a mere few seconds before darkening and closing.
‘You alright, Sir?’
Nah. Couldn’t be. Sure sounded like him but there was no way that stupid young kid would have made a play like that.
The kid still had the gun out to his side. He was standing rigid, staring at Ryan as if he might all of a sudden explode or grow a pair of wings and fly away. And Ryan thought he might have been going crazy. Thought he’d be able to pinch himself and wake up from the weirdest dream he’d ever had. Wake up next to Fiona.
But no. As good as things were at the start, Fiona had eventually left him. You spend too long solving murders and you start to get a little unattached. A little resistant to anything that could be labelled as an emotion. It changes a guy. That’s what Fiona thought anyway. Ah well. Life moves on, whether the ones you love want to come with you or not.
‘Junior…’ Ryan said, walking towards the kid. When he reached him, he placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. ‘What the fuck were you thinking taking a shot like that? I’m surprised you didn’t shoot me by accident you fucking amateur!’
After they’d called the incident in, Ryan took the kid for a beer.