IT SAYS HERE that he’s an insomniac - I’m not sure. These files say he kept whining he couldn’t sleep in the asylum, before escaping and killing all those guards-“
“How do you think he did that, Laura?”
“I’m not sure.”
They were standing outside of a Starbucks, the bitter wind whipping around their coats as the faint odor of coffee tempted them with its sweet wafts of bliss. But Laura Harding had other things in mind.
“This is so much work, Douglas. He’s literally left no clues of where he is, and there are no witnesses to survive the tale. I do wonder how he killed all those guards. Not all were drunk, you know. And he didn’t have weapons, but they did-“
“He used to be a police officer before becoming part of the Army. Then it says he became a martial arts trainer until one day he beat one of his trainees to death. He does have combat experience, Laura.”
Laura was uncomfortably aware of Douglas Miller’s presence right behind her, reading over her shoulder at the files. Douglas was her partner in everything, ever since childhood. They had been best friends, and still remained so.
“Let’s see. His last murder was at this place and maybe we can ask Boss for some help.” She tucked the map into her pocket and started walking to a parked BMW nearby. “Do you need a ride home, Douglas?”
“Nah, Laura, I can get around just fine.” He smiled and went his way, waving at her with a gloved hand. Ignoring the twinge in her stomach, Laura stumbled to her car and started it with a loud rumble. Pressing her foot down on the gas, the car smoothly drove over the newly paved road, and she hummed to herself. Being a detective wasn’t as fun as it seemed. For newbies, there were no magnifying glasses, old-fashioned trench coats, or any of that sort. However, there was often the thrill of finding a clue; it’d be a blood smear, several blades of bent grass, a discarded knife. She and Douglas would laugh it out afterwards, joking about how the criminal “was too fancy for himself.”
However, Laura had encountered a problem here. The killer had escaped from an asylum, murdering all the active guards on night watch with bloody brutalness. The cameras somehow had been turned off, which meant he had, at some point, sneaked into the computer room, most likely murdering the guard stationed there, and turned the electric system operating the outside doors, and few would know, as he had also shut all the cameras. Other inmates were asleep, most likely not conscious enough to realize they had a free exit open.
Laura, lost in thought, rolled up to her house, positioned neatly near a lake. She was a single woman, having just graduated out of college, and was still trying to find a spouse. While she wasn’t desperate enough to start signing up for dating websites, she still tried to impress a man…her train drifted towards Douglas. She shook her head. “He’s my friend. That’s it. That’s all he is.”
Shrugging off her coat, she sat in front of her computer, noticing some emails in her inbox. She first read those sent from her boss.
-Hey Laura, Douglas just called me for some help on this Robert Caldwell murder case. You know I can’t do that, I have other matters to do.
-I’m not sure what you guys need anyway, you’re a good pair, and what really do you need? Weapons? Vehicles? More buddies?
-Well damn, you’re good at your job. If you desperately need help, give me a call. I’m sending some other detectives to check out the latest scene.
She checked her others:
-Use GEICO for your car insurance! Save 15%!
She quit reading after that.
Laura settled herself in her favorite armchair and read over the rest of the files. Robert Caldwell had made it to the outskirts of Artemis, the large metropolitan city Laura was now living in. He had left a trail of violently-killed victims. There were either innkeepers of small inns or store workers. Laura deduced that he tried going in there to book in or buy something, and the workers must have recognized him from the asylum news. Crime followed.
His blood-fest was currently finished at a small McDonalds. The cashier had had his throat slit, but his mouth was in an open stance, suggesting that he had screamed for help. The camera was disabled, but Caldwell’s fingerprints were found on the side. The one customer at the time most likely tried to flee, but his remains strewn in the men’s bathroom said it did not end well for him. He had tried to bar himself in a stall, for his decapitated head was stuffed in a toilet.
Laura, now feeling queasy from the reports, shuffled through other papers. He had dismembered a young couple residing in a log cabin for a honeymoon. It looked as though he had first tied up and gagged the boy, kicking and locking him into a closet, while trussed up and tortured the girl. From the scene, he had burned off the girl’s skin and carved out the burnt flesh before deliberately sawing off the limbs. He then had pulled out the boy and castrated him, broke his arm and leg bones, cut off his tongue, nose, ears, and eyes before finally decapitating him. Apparently Caldwell liked to gruesomely murder people. Laura felt sick.
She placed the files carefully on her coffee table before going over to the phone. Dialing a number, she waited.
A hoarse, raspy voice replied: “What do you want?”
She put down the phone, relieved to hear the voice.
Laura picked up an apple and bit into the sweet flesh, the juice dribbling down her chin. She wiped the juice away and took another bite. It had been a long day, and would be longer still.
“Are you free this evening?” Douglas asked, tucking his own copy of the file into his briefcase.
Avoiding his gaze, Laura straightened herself and replied, “Kind of.”
Douglas beamed at her. “You think we can meet at Macaroni Grill? I have some things to discuss to you personally.”
After Laura had walked off, Douglas pondered the wisdom of his actions. He had liked Laura for a very long time, but it was only recently when he discovered that the friendship was leaning on something…intimate. He loved her. She was too good for him.
Going home was much easier now she had accepted his request, he thought, his hands steady on the steering wheel. He texted to her phone a suitable time to meet, at 8:30.
There were still two hours to kill before their “meeting.” Douglas read the investigations they found at McDonalds today. Caldwell evidently knew a bit with electronics, as the camera was taken off its perch and smashed to bits. The killer hadn’t even bothered to cover up his tracks. The grimy photo was taped everywhere across Artemis, and no one had found him. This made Douglas very uneasy. He hoped he didn’t show his signs too much. Laura was remarkably handling all this chaos with utter calmness. He wished he could do the same.
At around 7:50, he put on a clean shirt and black pressed slacks. He slid one phone into a pocket and a handgun with the badge in another, in case of emergencies. A detective should always be prepared for the worst.
He cruised up to the restaurant, located in a grove of trees off the highway, and parked cleanly. He was early, with about fifteen minutes to go. He waited next to his vehicle, hoping that Laura remembered the deal.
And she did. At 8:26, her BMW slid up next to his automobile. She was only wearing simple formal clothes, but she looked breathtaking, with her auburn hair swept onto her shoulder. Douglas was speechless for a moment.
“Douglas!” She rushed over to him, smiling. “We do have some issues to discuss…c’mon, let’s go in.” With a flutter in his stomach Douglas followed her into the restaurant.
Inside, it was cozily lit, with the lovely aroma of sauce and meat drifting through the air. A singing waitress was walking around with plates, her high voice straining beautiful notes. This was one of Douglas’s favorite places, and he knew Laura also enjoyed it.
After ordering their pastas, they fell into rapid discussion in low voices about the nature of Robert Caldwell. Douglas’s mouth automatically said the right words, but deep inside he didn’t give a damn about Caldwell. He was thinking about Laura: her intelligence, her prettiness, her words so full of clarity and confidence…”
“Um, Douglas? So you agree that catching Caldwell is our top priority now?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Douglas paid the check and tipped two dollars. It was cold outside, but the night was frosty and full of stars. He slowly walked to his car with Laura, savoring every moment.
Do it now, a voice in his head said.
“Will you-“ His voice caught in his throat. “Will you marry me?”
He pulled out a ring from a pocket. It was made of simple but heavy gold. Laura stared at it, then at Douglas. An odd expression crossed her face, almost like…fear. Then her body visibly relaxed, and a more cunning emotion replaced the previous.
“Douglas, why didn’t you ask this earlier? I was waiting for it! Of course. You can keep the ring.”
Douglas felt this was the happiest night in his life. He drove home, whistling cheery songs from his childhood, where he and Laura used to sing them together.
Laura saw her fiancée now driving away to the interstate. She smiled slightly, but apprehension gnawed at her inside.
What if…no, she couldn’t…blood…no…stop.
Laura nearly cried of grief. No matter how much she liked Douglas, or even loved him, he had made the wrong choice.
She felt miserable. She knew, very soon, she was going to endanger an innocent man who loved her. The thought made her feel cold inside, and as she drove home, tears were wept.
“We found him,” Fawcett announced proudly.
Douglas grinned at Laura, who only half-heartedly returned it. Ever since the proposal, he had been awfully close to her. Laura felt uncomfortable.
Their boss, Amos Fawcett, was pacing in front of them, spontaneously sporting a huge smile. “We found him. We haven’t told anyone yet. He’s kipping in a shack near those mine shafts in the forest. Even he doesn’t know we know. You two are the only ones that know for now. I expect I’d be sending a squad of dicks there soon. Probably tonight, the sooner the better. We got little time to strike, and I want the execution as swift as possible.”
“But Amos,” Laura protested, her face alight with anxiety, “what if he slaughters a lot of policemen? Perhaps you should call on some official-“
“Nonsense, Laura! He may have killed a half a dozen guards at the asylum, but we’re having more. Each and every one of them is trained combatants. No worries, Miss Harding. We’ll catch him faster than you could fire a gun.”
Laura’s face split into a wide grin. “We should have a party to celebrate. In fact, we’ll do it at my house. One night to get high up, and then we’ll face that bastard.”
Fawcett’s grin was threatening to burst. “Brilliant, Harding. We’ll send over a good team to relax a bit. Why don’t you go home now, and set it up?” He smiled kindly at his best detective.
Laura went home, relieved.
Laura was making tea for the upcoming party when her phone rang.
“He found me...”
“Oh my god…can you defend yourself?”
“I think I-“
A piercing scream filled the receiver, and the line went dead.
It walks to the thirteen cups, one for itself. In each cup except the last, it drops a small blue pill in the simmering liquid. At the twelfth cup, it hesitates to drop the pill, and instead, throws it into the trash can.
The doorbell rang. Opening the door, Laura smiled as she saw eleven people crowded at the doorway, including Fawcett and Douglas.
“I thought there were twelve of you.”
“Eh, one of them got sick, I guess.” Douglas beamed at her, and Laura felt a melting sensation inside her stomach.
“C’mon, everyone, let’s all have tea. We have to discuss our plans too.”
She set eleven cups around the table, making sure to hand the right one to each. She took her own and sipped, relishing the burning tea, preserving her sanity and soul.
After an hour of discussion, everyone was ready. The plan was simple: make a surround formation around the shack. The locations were accurately marked. If Caldwell tried to flee, one of the policemen were bound to notice him. They were all alert, sharp, and ready to go.
“Where is he cooped up at?”
“Near the bayou that runs across the forest. Source of water, I guess.”
A black truck was waiting outside. Smoothly powered, silent, it would make little sound as it glided over the dirt road. Laura sat in the back with Douglas. She clenched his hand and squeezed it, hard. Douglas looked surprised. Laura had barely displayed any visible signs of affection during their engagement. He smiled happily back at her.
Fawcett, who had plenty of experience as a law enforcer, was up at the wheel. Gently pressing down his foot on the brake, the vehicle hummed forward under the darkening sky.
It was rather difficult to see the outlines of the many trees scattered before them. Many had been toppled for lumber. The men of the city came over during hunting season to snatch up game. It was an ideal place: plenty of creatures dwelled around here, and the air was fresh and clean.
“Lighters on, everyone,” Fawcett ordered. Lighters were much like flashlights, but they weren’t as obvious to see as its predecessor. Laura’s emitted a faint red glow as she cautiously stepped forward into the overgrown grass, the blades clutching at her pants like children at a mall. She kept one hand on her pistol, clipped to her belt.
“Everyone knows where this motherfucker’s hiding out?”
A chorus of frequent nods.
“Scatter around in a circular position. Hide behind trees. The little grove he’s living in is tiny, so it shouldn’t be hard since he doesn’t know we’re here. So, let’s get moving – WHAT THE FUCK!”
Fawcett had stepped on something. The something made a hissing sound, like a balloon being popped. On closer calmer observation, he realized from his garbled lesson of human anatomy that that was a lung.
A shriveled bleeding, lung.
Fawcett wasn’t stupid. He knew who the lung belonged to.
“Jump to action NOW!”
The squad hurriedly positioned themselves in or behind trees. With so many men, and all the lighters illuminating together, it was easy to see a faint outline of a shack, buried deep in the clearing. Everyone drew their guns out, the tension in the air reaching a sizzling state.
Laura slowly edged behind the trunk. Something wet was smeared against her tree. Using the lighter, she found that it was…blood. Blood with a bit of intestine squished against it.
The shack’s door opened.
The bangs of the gun flared up the area, dazzling Laura temporarily. Dimly she saw a figure stumble back into the shack, holding his stomach – Caldwell must have been shot.
Let it work now, Laura pleaded. Please.
One of the boys closest to her made a choking, gagging sound. Retching, he clutched at his throat before keeling over onto his back. A trace of moonlight slipped through the canopy of trees, and Laura could see that the boy’s eyes were sightless, dead. With most regret she picked up his firearm and turned to see the others.
All around her, other enforcers were coughing, releasing a death rattle before collapsing, staying down forever. Fawcett was last. He gasped, clawing at the ground, and his body slumped to the ground.
The pang of guilt throbbing hard in her chest, Laura started running to the shack. She was almost there when she heard a voice yell out, “LAURA! What’s going on?”
Laura turned toward Douglas, and at that moment, she wished he was down like the others.
“Laura, what’s happening?” he wheezed, panting. His face was twisted with panic. “One moment everything was going neat, next moment Evan drops dead next to me. I bet there’s some kind of poisonous gas here, we should leave-“
Laura slipped her hand into her pocket, closing around a small penknife.
“-immediately. Whatever, I’m just glad you’re safe, Laura. But why are we surviving when everyone else snuffed it?”
“Douglas,” Laura whispered, taking a step closer to him.
“Douglas, you know I love you.”
Douglas’s eyes widened in confusion.
Laura swept the hidden penknife into Douglas’s heart. It was a swift, quick movement – the blade darted in and out of the ribcage, but by the bubbling of blood from the chest she knew it had pierced the heart, and Douglas was a goner.
He didn’t even know what happened. Dropping his handgun, he crumpled to his knees, his body convulsing, and his last image of the world was Laura’s sorrowful face, leaning close to his. He died not knowing what she had done. He didn’t know he was dead.
Laura carefully pressed her mouth to Douglas’s cold lips, and enjoyed the trickle of warmth seeping into her mouth. She held the corpse in her arms and wept, large tears gushing out of her eyes. Her howls of misery were quietly repressed by her own hand.
The moon was overhead now. The clearing was lit up by a shaft of moonlight, making a surrealistic quality about the surrounding trees, bending and warping. Laura saw Robert Caldwell limp out of the shack, his hands clasped around the gunshot wound on his abdomen.
Laura wiped the tears away and touched Douglas’s cheek one last time. She gently set the cadaver down near a cluster of trees. She stroked his hair and left.
Robert was waiting for her in the clearing. The flow of blood had stopped, and Laura deduced that it wasn’t really a fatal wound. Using clean tweezers from her pocket, she slowly edged out the bullet in the stomach.
“Thanks, sis,” his raspy voice issued.
Laura looked at him in disgust and contempt. She had given up everything for him, and yet she knew he would never change. He would always be the sadistic, ruthless little brother he had been since a young age. She watched as he heaved himself up, walked back into the shack, and came out with two bulging bags.
“Here,” he grunted, handing one of the bags to her. She tossed it over her shoulder.
In the morning, stray joggers would find the corpses. They would find ten bodies poisoned by some chemical powders mainly consisting of arsenic and lead, a toxic mixture, an eleventh body splattered due to the work of Caldwell, and a twelfth body laying almost serenely in the grass, death by knife wound. They would find her DNA and fingerprints on the body. She was on the run with her brother. Every major newspaper would be marked with the siblings’ faces, side by side. Her future was gone.
But these weren’t what was troubling Laura at the moment, as she set off toward the mountains in a distance, Robert hobbling after her, coughing hard. What troubled her was the expression of shock on Douglas’s face as his life quickly bled out of him, and the guilt bubbling and frothing inside her. With a hateful glance at her brother, she kept walking forward.
There was a long, winding path in front of her. And in a sense, there was one behind her, too. Littered with corpses. Laura sighed, and continued to walk, her head bowed, and her eyes closed with tears.
Written by RisingFusion