A Dream Of Death
Two pairs of dead eyes stared up at me, their gaze placid rather than terrified as I would have expected. Had the victims died like that, with an eternal stare of serenity for their murderer? Or had the killer posed their eyes as he did their bodies?
I tossed the crime scene pictures onto the stacks of documents that carpeted the top of my faux mahogany desk, an immovable behemoth of a bygone age. The thought of moving the desk had never struck me before. Even if I could move it there would be nowhere to move it to. The windowless office I shared with my partner left little room for life itself let alone redecorating. Among the files and reference books that tiled my desk I’d found space for only a few scattered family photos, an iPod and small speaker dock, a page-a-day word calendar (today, June 7th, was cornucopia) and Newton’s Cradle, my favourite stress reliever.
I had been pouring over crime scene photos that showed nothing new, witness statements from people who had witnessed nothing, the statements of the attending officers, maps of the areas where the women lived, and details of their vehicles, employment, finances and love lives, all of it showed nothing. I knew everything there was to know about these two women now, felt like I knew them better than my own family and friends. The one thing I didn’t know was who had killed them and why.
I couldn’t get the pictures out of my mind. It wasn’t horror. Twelve years in policing, the last five in homicide, had desensitized me to the scent, sight and cold feel of death. I had seen it all: a woman killed in a fiery car crash; a man mutilated in an industrial accident; a drunken teenager run over by a train; a woman stabbed multiple times by her jealous ex-boyfriend. As horrible as the resulting images were they never remained in my mind past a cold drink and a night with my family. Until these women died and began to stay with me, all hours of the day and night.
Especially the night.
Maybe it was because this was my first serial killer, the first in the London area in over three decades. All the other mayhem I had seen was rooted in connections between the victim and the perpetrator – jealous spouses, enraged workers, altercations at bars, even gang members killing each other for turf. Even the few robberies gone bad, the victim was picked for a recognizable human reason – because they looked like they had money. This killer was choosing victims at random. And might be choosing the next victim right now.
I took a sip of green tea from the “World’s Greatest Dad” mug my son had given me for my birthday in February and took care to set it down on the only visible ring on the desk. Years of abuse had left a fractal pattern of ring-shaped stains around the desktop, evidence of those who held this position before me. The rings were like coasters thrown to the wind to land where they may and no matter what I was doing or how cluttered my desk there was always one to be found. With it came a chance to maintain my corner of the world. At least if my mug caused new damage it wouldn’t look like new damage.
The ring sat between wide angle shots of the decedents, nude and seated on their beds, blankets pulled up to their shoulders. The strip of flesh cut from their necks was hardly visible. The juxtaposition of violence and peace unsettled me and I picked up my mug again, emptied it of the dregs and shuffled the statements to reveal a coaster far from the images of death. The mug was a part of my son’s legacy now and as ridiculous as it may have seemed keeping it away from the macabre photos made me feel like a better father.
My gaze returned to the pictures. I searched them again and again trying to find something that had escaped me, something that could bring me closer to the killer. All I found was pain; the body of a woman in an otherwise perfect setting. There was no doubt in my mind that these women had been killed by the same man – or woman as a female killer was a possibility, and I wasn’t dismissing any possibilities. The positioning of the bodies, the mutilation to the victims, the undoing of the crime – all were identical.
Lost in their eyes, I could hear their voices goading me and berating me for the lack of information we had and the fact we were no closer to catching the killer than we were before he struck.
I needed to get out of the office, regret at sending my partner out to the field made its way past thoughts of misery. The benefit of rank, I thought at the time. Send the ‘rookie’ out to canvass the neighbourhoods and re-interview witnesses whose limited information was now more limited with the passage of time. She didn’t go alone. Nothing freed up police resources like the words ‘serial killer’ and now we had a task force made up of detectives from surrounding areas, a handful of uniformed officers and even a detective inspector from Headquarters leading the charge. I had been left as lead investigator, having been the one who caught each case as it occurred.
I rose from my seat with the utmost care, not wanting to disturb the numerous pages and pictures that hung over the edge of my desk, ready to cascade off at any moment. I picked up my mug in my left hand and with my right turned over any images that showed the decedents. Although I wasn’t expecting any visitors, I felt the need to protect what little dignity these women had left.
The wooden door creaked as I opened it then closed it behind me. I hadn’t been able to protect their dignity, not at first. I walked down the corridor to the cafeteria, doors passing by, my hand in my pocket jingling change and counting with my ears to ensure there was enough. Crime scene photos and all investigate documents were, in this day and age, available to anyone with access to the service’s computer system. We police are no different from the general public – murder brings out the morbid curiosity in us all, and I was certain that officers outside of the case had seen the images as well. The media feeds us murders far and wide and we gather round like hyenas on a scavenged kill rooting for any morsels. I had taken steps to privatize the cases after the second murder, limiting access only to those with direct involvement in the investigations. A case such as this, a serial killer in southwestern Ontario, was too sensitive to risk the dissemination of any information – even to other officers.
A familiar voice stopped me in my tracks. I looked up to see the face of my old partner, now a Staff Sergeant, Jorge ‘George’ Ramirez.
“What’s that, George?” I said.
“I asked you how the case was going. A little lost in thought?”
“A little doesn’t touch it,” I said.
“Bounce it off me.”
This was something we used to do a lot. It helped to have someone to talk to about the case, and even better if your target knew little to begin with. I was always reminded of psychotherapy, me lying on the couch discussing the case with George while he tried to get me to reach new conclusions on my own.
“All right. Two women strangled with a ligature we’ve never found a trace of. Both nude but not sexually assaulted, propped up against the headboard like they’d fallen asleep reading or watching TV.”
“Were the bodies covered?”
“Blankets pulled up to the neck”.
“Undoing the crime. Remorse?”
Undoing was the act after the murder where the person tried to cover the body or otherwise make the crime invisible to their eyes. It was most common when the killer and victim were known to each other.
“I don’t think so. They were propped up after death for the blood to pool in the lower areas.”
“I heard the rumours. He cut the ligature marks out, right?”
“As disturbing as that is, it’s also damned practical. He’s not leaving us any evidence.”
“So he doesn’t want to be caught.” He paused. “Yet.”
I nodded. Serial killers often got to the point where they wanted to be caught, if only to finally get the recognition of having their name attached to their crimes.
“But he wants the bodies found,” I said. “He’s not trying to hide them. Propped up and covered for the husband to come home and find them. They almost look normal except for the thick red line around their necks.”
“Nice, like wrapping up a present. So no blood from the victims?”
“Little,” I said. “He wouldn’t have gotten any on him.”
when a person dies the blood doesn’t clot. Instead it pools to the lowest areas of the body, gravity winning a battle the circulatory system had fought for many years. A cut to one of the lowest areas will bleed, but not like a wound on a living person. The blood seeps out in a consistent flow, even a severed artery will only drain not spurt as it would if the person was still alive. A cut from an upper area, like the neck, would leave almost no blood.
The nakedness was practical, too. Taking the victim’s clothes meant no traces of fibres or DNA could be lifted from them. He was smart.
“Have you found the knife he used?”
“To cut their throats?”
“He uses one from the victim’s house and leaves it on the nightstand. The rope, or chain or whatever it is, he brings with him and takes when he leaves.”
“So the ligature is important to him, the knife isn’t.”
He’d noticed it, too. The ligature was the murder weapon. The knife didn’t matter, they were already dead. “Any evidence found at all?”
“None. No prints, must have been wearing gloves. Waiting until after the blood had pooled to cut the flesh out means no castoff, no clothes on the victims, no trace.”
“So far. Both their men worked night shifts, they were alone at the time.”
“He’s stalking them, figuring out their schedules.”
“And he’s making sure they’re found right after the murders. The men came home only a few hours later.
“Intelligent and fearless.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“Did I help?” He asked with his annoying and trademarked ‘cute’ face.
“Yeah, actually you did.” I wasn’t any closer to solving it, but I felt a little easier getting all the horror out in the open.
“Good. Glad I could help.”
He slapped me on the back and continued his journey while I continued mine, lost in thought once more.
“Green tea again?”
The question came as a surprise. I turned my eyes back to the outside world and found I was standing in front of the altar of food and refreshment that was our cafeteria. No one was standing in front of me.
“Always,” I said to Patricia, our server, followed by a half smile. The stillness of my eyes belied my feigned attempt at pleasantry. Patricia put a tea bag in my mug with a smile, a real one on her part, and I parted with a portion of my hard earned change. My feet knew the path and brought me to the hot water dispenser. A rush of water and steam covered the bag, dying the water a pale green. I watched as if it were absolutely fascinating. If I avoided eye contact with those around me perhaps they wouldn’t speak to me, ask the question I had come to dread.
“How’s it going?”
Yet another failure on my part.
“Nothing new,” was all I said before departing for my office deep in thought once more.
I closed the door behind me and expelled a sigh of relief: alone again. The desk across from mine still sat empty. Kara’s cleanliness was a marvel to me and brought forth a laugh, an unfamiliar experience as of late. Nothing was out of place on her desk, her name plaque set at the front edge in the prescise centre: Kara Jameson, Detective Constable.
Mine was almost buried beneath the clutter – Lincoln Munroe, Detective Sergeant. For a moment I felt a sense of stupid pride for being the ranking officer in the room. The feeling faded as I thought about the size of the room. Besides, Kara, an eight-year veteran of the service with two years already in homicide, had been my partner since her first day in the division. We worked well together even if the apprentice was outshining the master.
I had only been in love with one woman in my life – my wife – but there was something about Kara. She had an unconventional beauty, a razor sharp wit, unmatched intelligence and unyielding determination.
Kara had graduated high school a year early and entered the criminology program at McGill University completing a four year honours degree in just over three years. She was hired as a constable at the very young age of twenty and her rise in the organization was no less impressive. She showed promise from the outset and her abilities were quickly noted by her superiors. Kara was an expert interrogator and, even with little formal training at the time, there were very few from whom she could not get a confession.
Three years into her career she was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Bureau assigned to sexual assault. Three years later I found myself sitting across from her and learning more from her than she did from me. Her Sergeant’s stripes couldn’t be far away.
The chair molded to my body as I sank into it, leaned back and closed my eyes. An ergonomics review by some workplace health and safety board had forced the service to replace all of our old backbreaking chairs with what was the best use of taxpayers’ money I had ever seen or felt. My body and mind relaxed to prepare for the mental onslaught they were about to face. The details of the cases streamed past me, clicking by one by one like a child’s Viewfinder.
The victims had almost nothing in common. Twenty-two days had passed between the first two killings – fast by serial killer standards. Going by the textbooks the third had a shorter interval. It had already been a week and we had nothing.
I never heard her come in which was far from unusual, she moved like a cat. I leaned forward, raised my seat to its full, upright position and opened my eyes.
“Just trying to find something else to tie the victims together other than being females with partners who worked the night shift. Coming up empty. Any luck on your end, Kara?”
“Nothing. It’s hard to get more information out of someone when they never had any to give in the first place.”
I rubbed my eyes. She probably thought she woke me up.
“It’s late, Lincoln, almost seven thirty. Call it a day, I’m sure your family misses you.”
I rubbed my eyes again, this time trying to push back the tears of regret which worked their way to the surface. In all my life this was the first time work had come before family, and I knew it was taking its toll on my wife and children.
“You’re right. Go home, get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll bring the first round.”
“Thanks Lincoln,” she said, then walked out the door.
“Bye, Kara,” I said to the door as it swung shut.
Only then did the realization of what she had done strike me. We were on a first name basis – hell, we were close friends by this point – but she still respected the rank structure. There was no way she would leave without permission from me. She got it – by convincing me I needed to go home.
No wonder she was such a good interrogator.
I am dreaming.
I have to be.
I find myself flying between trees in a dense forest. The territory is unmistakable – massive conifers, rocky ground and crystal clear rivers. It is familiar, somewhere in the Canadian Shield – somewhere from my youth I can’t remember. The sun shines above me, its light breaking through the trees in ethereal rays. I weave through the trees until a sudden, strong wind blows and a branch strikes me in the head.
My body arches through the air, careening off of the trees in its path until it hits the ground. Yet, I am no longer a part of my body. I watch from above as the calamity unfolds.
My body bounces and rolls to a stop. I hover around my lifeless body inspecting the damage: a gash on the head, too many scrapes and cuts to count, the right forearm bent at an unnatural angle.
Hours pass, my ethereal self beside the corporeal one. I watch as bruises form and scabs cover the wounds and for a moment, a brief second, I see the body as it was many years ago. A young boy lying battered and broken on the forest floor. I look at my hands and see the tired and thickened skin, the light covering of hair, and the dry and cracking knuckles and know that I, this I, remain the same.
The body flashes young again, injuries healing and a cast on the arm. Electricity runs through my form, sparks dance on my skin and my hair stands on end. I touch my right arm lightly with the index finger of my left and watch a trail of sparks fill the path as I pull my finger away.
And then I begin to fade. But I see my body stirring, coming back to life. Its eyelids twitch and just as the eyes are about to open I snap back into the body looking at the canopy of trees above me.
And for the first time I feel pain. It tears through me and tempts me with death, an end to the pain and peace at last. The pain is everywhere, constant and unyielding. Even the uninjured areas burn hotter than stoked coals.
I try to get up, my arms under my chest in an attempt to raise myself to my knees. My broken right arm gives out under me and I crumble back to the ground. An unnatural sound is the prelude to a scream that brings the birds out of the trees and into the sun-drenched sky. I roll to my back and use my good arm to raise myself to a seated position. A small tree acts as a crutch and helps me to my feet.
At first all my eyes do is wander, my purpose forgotten. My mind has been washed clean and I no longer recall where I am or how I got here. My eyes scan the world and try to find something that will jog my memory. There is nothing. A glade of trees with no end in sight and nothing out of the ordinary save for a glimmering light in the distance. I begin to walk, the light through the trees drawing me in.
The light flashes in a pattern, a repeating series of flashes varying in intensity – dim then bright, bright followed by four more dim flashes, then bright and dim, bright, dim and dim again. Within moments I am upon the light, it shines so bright in the midday sun that I must squint to see the outline of an object hanging from the tree. I reach out for the source of the light and grab it with all I have before I reel back in fresh pain and a resurgence of memories.
A river of blood pours from my hand and bathes the ground below me in crimson. The blood spreads across the forest floor then drifts over exposed roots and around rocks and leaves until not a speck of dirt remains. The flashing light has disappeared now and my focus turns to the object that hangs from a low branch of a large tree as if suspended by an invisible thread.
It is a hunting knife with a wooden handle. Fresh blood drips from the tip of the already blood-stained silver blade. The blood drips off one slow drop after another causing a hollow sound from the ground beneath the knife. I follow the path of the drops to the forest floor below and know that what lies at my feet was what I had come to find: a human skull half buried in the crimson dirt, drops of blood landing on the center of its forehead.
Thunder crashes above me and heavy rain breaks through the trees. The blood is washed from the skull and the dirt returns to its original hue. The sky is all but black now, thick clouds blot out the sun.
A phone rings and my hand reaches for my belt by instinct but comes up empty. I check my pockets with no better luck before noticing my bedside table sitting at the base of the tree. The skull looks up at me then looks at the table where my phone now sits.
“Aren’t you going to answer that?”