|Posted by LEKokko on January 19, 2010 at 9:23 AM|
Frank sat behind the wheel of his cruiser rubbing his tired eyes. It had been a long night, made longer by the end of shift paperwork that needed to be completed and filed. He twisted the key and listened as his engine roared to life. Stifling another jawbreaking yawn, he stepped on the gas and headed for the garage exit. A tired smile played at his mouth as he heard his tires squeal as the sound echoed off the surrounding concrete structure. It always reminded him of speeding cars careening around corners in the night. He squinted as he was vomited from the dark belly of the underground parking garage into the bright midmorning daylight.
Frank hardly noticed the chatter from his police radio which filled the car. After 15 years on the force, it was easy to tune out the near constant calls, most of which were routine checks. He drove down Race Street toward the Ben Franklin Bridge and home.
He sat a little straighter when a radio message broke through his tired mind. “Dispatch, this is unit four-five-one requesting assistance. I have a10-100.” Frank stared at his radio. 10-100? A dead body! He pulled off the road and listened. The shaky voice, who Frank recognized as Joe Hardaway, continued. “Correction, I have multiple delta bravos at Race Street and 7th.”
Frank glanced at the road sign before him. 8th. He’s just a couple of blocks away. He keyed his mike. “This is unit one oh three. My twenty is 8th, my ETA is one minute.” He reached for the switch panel on his dash. He could see his flashing lights reflecting red and blue in the darkened windows of the surrounding buildings. He pulled back into traffic as his siren split the morning air.
The sound of screeching tires screamed from behind him. An early morning driver, who was probably more concerned about her makeup than the road, had slammed the brakes on, missing Frank’s car by inches. Frank shot a glaring look in his mirror and saw the pale faced woman sitting rigid behind her wheel, the smell of burnt rubber was strong. White smoke still swirled about the car in the morning breeze.
He saw Joe’s patrol car pulled on the sidewalk, its lights flashing. Frank pulled up behind and flicked his siren off. Joe was walking the perimeter, a large spool of yellow crime scene tape in hand, marking off the area. He had already covered the bodies as rubber-neckers gathered to see what all the commotion was about.
Frank noticed a figure walking away. As he watched, it cast nervous glances over its shoulder. He jogged after him. It was not normal to have one person walking from a scene when everyone else was heading toward it. “Sir!” He shouted. The figure stood a little straighter, but did not stop. “Sir! I need to talk to you!” Thefigure darted behind a large Maple Tree. Frank began jogging faster. He stopped short at the tree. The area was empty. He looked around. Two women stood staring at him, one looked to be in her mid-fifties, the other younger, Frank judged her to be no more than thirty. Mother and daughter? To his right a dog led its master, barking and straining at its leash at the commotion nearby. But there was no sign of the mysterious man.
He strode toward the two women, still scanning the area. “Excuse me.”
The women, who looked nervous enough already, now drew closer, the older gripping the younger woman’s arm as if ready to faint. “Yes officer?” The older lady asked in a shaky voice.
“I am looking for a man. He stood about this tall.” Frank held his hand a little above his head. “Did you happen to see which way he went?”
The young woman stared at him. “I’m sorry officer.. . ?”
“Gorman, Frank Gorman,” Frankfilled in the blank.
“I’m sorry Frank,” she said breathlessly, fluttering her eyelashes. “We didn’t see anyone.” She reached up and started playing with her hair like a shy school girl. The older lady shot her a shocked glance.
“Thank you.” Frank turned to walk away.
“Frank?” The young woman called. He stopped and rolled his eyes. He turned back to her, knowing what was coming.
“Do you have a card? In case we remember anything.”
He reached for his wallet and extracted the last business card he had.
She accepted it with a smile, making sure her thumb touched his. A mischievous twinkle in her eye made Frank uncomfortable. She glanced at the card. “Um, maybe you better put your home phone on here too, just in case I need to get a hold of you when you’re off. “
“Ashley!” The older woman said in disbelieving shock.
“If you remember anything, just call that number, they know how to get in touch with me.” He turned and made a hasty retreat. The sound of the two arguing drifted over his shoulder.
Frank walked to Joe. “Is this our guy?”
Joe eyed Frank. They had never gotten along, Frank didn’t really know why except Joe never got along with anyone. He was known around the station as TNT Joe due to his explosive temper. Frank had heard he was on thin ice right now after going off at a woman during a traffic stop. Rumor was, the woman dared to argue with him that she had not been speeding. Too bad for Joe the woman turned out to be the mayor’s niece. One more complaint and he would be history. Frank wouldn’t miss him. Not him at least. “Yeah. Looks like. The bodies are pretty well hacked up.”
Joe frowned. “What are you doing here? Isn’t your shift over?”
“Yeah, but I’d thought I’d lend a hand securing the scene. By the way, you may want to have the detective check out the cameras.” Frank pointed in the direction of the poles across the street, a camera mounted on every other one.
Joe’s facegrew dark. “I know how to do myjob! Why don’t you get the fuck out ofhere!”
Frankraised his hands as if to ward off an attack. “Fine!” He turned and walkedoff.
Frank ran at the sound of his phone ringing inside his apartment. “Hello.” He swallowed as he tried to slow his breathing.
A soft sweet voice caressed his ear. “Hi Frank. You sound out of breath. Were you thinking of me?”
In truth, he had been thinking of her, ever since his run-in with Joe. “You bet.” A slight smile played at the corners of his mouth. “You had me at hello.” He tried his best Tom Cruise voice, failing miserably. He was rewarded by abreathless laugh.
“Can youcome over today? I really miss you.”
Frank wanted so much to do just that. The sensual way she asked had his heart beating faster. But it had been one hell of a night and he was bushed. “Sorry, not today. Maybe we can get together this weekend.”
Frank smiled at the barely disguised sound of disappointment. “I love you.” He was shocked at his words, they had come unbidden.
There was silence on the line for a few seconds. “I love you too. Until this weekend.” Then she hung up.
He stood still gripping the handset. Now why did I say that? He knew he loved her, but he had never voiced it before. His moral compass told him that getting involved with a married woman was not a good idea. This could get ugly.
The next evening Frank paused by the row of newspaper vending machines positioned at the foot of the steps leading to the 6th district police station. He dropped his quarter in the slot and removed the newspaper. Philly Phantom Claims Four More Victims, the Philadelphia DailyNews proclaimed in bold lettering across the top. The colored picture located on the left side showed crime scene tape surrounding four white shrouded figures. Red spots had seeped through at the neck area as well as the torso. Several police officers were standing around looking at the bodies, whom the papers reported as Mary Salvadore, a 25 year old single mother of three, Katlyn (5), Henry (4), and Amanda (3).
This nut job had been terrorizing Philadelphia for most of the year. He always seemed to be just one step ahead of the police. With this latest attack, he had murdered a total of thirty-five people,with no sign of stopping. Every cop wanted to nail this bastard. Frank wished he would be the one to catch this maniac. It wasn’t for glory. Frank had no sympathy for anyone who hurt women and children
A faint chiming brought him back to the present. He pushed the small silver button to turn off his watch alarm. It was six p.m. Frank glanced at the heading once more and then jogged up the steps and into the building to begin his shift.
Frank raised his hand in greeting to Brad Johnston. Brad, who had been on the force for what he thought of as forever, had just been promoted to sergeant last month. “Hey sarge, what’s the news?” The precinct was abuzz about the latest phantom attack. Everyone had their own theories as to the true identity of the murderer. Frank felt it had to be a cop. It was the only way to explain how the creep kept one step ahead.
Brad walked next to Frank. “You know about the latest scene.” It was more a statement than a question. Brad was aware of everything and everyone under him. He would have known Frank had been at the scene this morning.
“Yeah. Hey, did anyone checkout the video? I chased a guy that was acting suspiciously, but he gave me the slip.”
“I’m getting ready to review it right after roll call. Why don’t you watch it with me, I could use another pair of eyes.”
“Sure, noproblem.” There was a rumor going around that the old sarge’s eye sight was starting to go. He had heard from another officer that Brad barely qualified at the range last week.
The hot topic was the latest attack, which made roll call run a little longer than usual. Brad stood, shifting his weight from foot to foot, as he looked over the assembled officers. “As you all know, we had another attack last night. Officer Hardaway from day shift responded. You’ll find a copy of his report in your packets.” He paused and sipped from his bottle of water.
A fresh faced rookie, who was dumb enough to sit in the front row, raised his hand. “Sir. How do we know it was the Philly Phantom?”
Brad leveled a look at the young man. A few whispered “Oh man’s” erupted from some of the more seasoned officers. Frank knew what was coming and smiled.
“We are pretty sure he's probably our perp because his MO fits perfectly with the Phantom.” At each of the “p’s” a spray of spit ejected from Brad’s mouth, showering the unfortunate man. The young man tried to wipe the spray from his face as covertly as he could. A round of chuckles sounded from the back of the room. The older officers had learned early that Brad spit when he talked. And if he was in a teaching mood, he would use as many “p’s” as he could.
“The victims bellies had been sliced open and their intestines pulled out. Preliminary evidence suggests that, as with his other victims, he did this carefully, almost surgically, so as to not kill them. Evidence at the scene suggests he gets sexually aroused while doing this. When he has finished, he slits their throats.”
The young officer sat back and looked around the room. Frank thought the rookie’s face was a bit paler than before. Brad leaned to the officer next to him. “That kid ain’t gonna last long.” The other officer nodded his agreement.
“If there’s no more questions.” Brad looked straightat the young officer, who by now has sunk further into his seat. “Okay, be safe out there. And remember don’t be a hero. If you spot trouble, call for backup.” The officers shuffled single file out of the room, each carrying their assignments.
Frank stood and ambled to the front. After the last man left, the pair made their way to the evidence room. They walked to a desk set up just inside thedoor. Behind the officer at the desk was a large warehouse containing rows of wrought iron racks with what seemed like thousands of boxes. Each box was labeled with the case number, the arresting officer’s name and a date. After signing in, they turned as one.
A smallroom off to one side had been setup with a player and monitor to review video evidence. A tech was sitting with headphones on and writing notes on a pad. Brad touched the man’s shoulder. “Let’s see it.”
The technician nodded and after noting the track reading, ejected the disc he had been reviewing. After mounting a new disc, he pressed play. “I have qued it to start fifteen minutes prior to the coroner’s estimated time of death.” The monitor came to life.
Frank watched as the young woman walked along the dark deserted street with her kids. His heart moved into his throat, knowing that this young woman would soon be dead. As the white chronograph ticked away the minutes, he watched a dark figure halfway hidden behind a tree. “That’s the same tree,” Frank muttered.
The tech hit pause. “Excuse me?”
“I was justsaying that is the same tree I lost my mystery man.”
The videostarted once more. As the young familydrew closer, Frank screamed inside his head for her to watch out, but of courseshe couldn’t hear, this was a video and she was now dead. Just as Mary passed, the figure emerged,light shining off the long knife he held.
He watchedas the dark figure faced his victims. The mother and her children just stood there. Whyaren’t they trying to get away, scream for help – something? He felt a lump in his throat as he watchedhelplessly as, one by one, the family was slaughtered. Each member stood still, as they waited theirturn.
When the deed was done, the figure rose and began walking toward the camera. As he was about to pass under a street light, Brad touched the tech’s shoulder. “Slow it down here. I want to see the bastard.”
The picture slowed to a frame by frame peep show. The man stepped into the light, his face about to be illuminated. “What the fuck!” Brad shouted. “Is he wearing a mask?”
The tech zoomed into the man’s face. “No sir, no mask.”
“Then why in God’s good earth is his face not showing. Every other part of his body is well lit, except his face.”
“Maybe he’s the man I saw at the scene,” Frank suggested.
“What time was that? The tech asked.
“Frank thought for a moment. “Around 0816 give or take a few.”
They watchedas the chronograph sped toward the given time. At 0800, he pressed play. They watched as Joe covered the bodies. “Wait, backup,” Brad instructed. The images began to run backward. It would have been funny in any other circumstance.
“Zoom in on his foot.” Joe’s foot grew to twice lifesize. “That son of a bitch!” They watched in disbelief as Joe used his foot to viciously kick stray intestines under the sheet. Brad just shook his head. “Amazing how cold a body can be.”
The picture reduced to normal size as the show continued. Frank saw himself come into frame. “Here it is, maybe we can ID this guy.” He saw the two women eyeing the scene from a distance. He watched as he jogged toward the tree, and then jogged faster after, nothing. There was no figure, no shadow. “What the hell! I’m telling you, I chased a guy.”
They both exited the room. Frank stared unbelievingly at the floor. His mind was numb. None of this made any sense. They had a murderer who had no face and doesn’t show on video.
Frank walked down the hallway to the garage. “I gotta hit the streets,” he said without looking back.
He was about to pull out into the street, he found it hard to concentrate, when a horn blared close by. Frank slammed his brakes. He had been about to cut adriver off. The piercing horn of theother driver had warned him just in time. He didn’t notice the verbal recounting of his mother’s obvious caninelineage he received.
Frank made his way back to the crime scene. He wanted to check things out one more time. He guided his patrol car into the exact place he had stopped that morning. He sat with his hands lying atop the steering wheel, his fingers lightly interwoven. His eyes darted back and forth, surveying the area, his mind replaying the previous morning’s events. He got out and walked slowly into the grass. Shards of crime scene tape still hung from tree trunks, the only evidence anything had happened.
He stopped. No, that wasn’t true. He stood looking down at a large dark brown spot in the grass, flies buzzed and landed in the middle of the sticky liquid. To anyone who didn’t know, it would look like someone dumped their coffee out. Frank knew better, it was the blood of the mother. Three smaller spots could be seen where her kids had been butchered.
He retraced his path as he searched the area, stopping at the tree. The light had begun to fade. He flicked on his flashlight, scanning the area around the trunk, searching the ground for foot prints. He knew the chances of finding any this late were slim, but he was desperate. He saw nothing but the wet spot from a dog that had done his part in watering the vegetation.
His car radio called out, bringing him out of his musing. He walked back to his cruiser. It was a domestic dispute call. Back to work. The rest of his shift comprised of routine calls, no 10-100’s. He responded to each assignment, walking through the movements, saying the right things, all on autopilot. The puzzle of the mystery man dominated his mind.
Back in his apartment, Frank sat in his recliner, the TV was on, but he took no notice, it was just background noise. He held a still unopened can of now warm beer in one hand as he stared at the floor. A light knocking at his door roused him from his stupor.
He placed his beer on the table and walked to the front door. Peeking through the peep hole, a smile spread on his lips. He opened the door and found himself attacked by a gorgeous blonde. He half-heartedly attempted to break free of her embrace. “I can’t breath.”
“That’s the way I like you to be.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I missed you, and couldn’t wait for the weekend.” She reached up and pulled his mouth down to hers into a passionate kiss.
Frank found himself responding in the usual male fashion. “Mrs. Hardaway, control yourself.” He tried to maintain the stern look, his lips quivered with the effort to hide the grin which threatened to blow it. He lost the battle as the smile split his face. He pushed her away, a frown rapidly replacing the smile. “What happened?”
Barbara looked away. The bruises were already showing from this mornings beating. “He had to teach me a lesson. I cooked his eggs over easy instead of over medium.” Her voice had dropped to a horse whisper, as a far away look settled in her eyes.
Frank saw the tears brimming in her eyes, ready to fall. He closed his eyes, trying to fight the fury welling inside him. I’llkill that son of a bitch!
Categories: Novel Excerpts