James swiped his fingers over his worn forehead. For the past week he had to deal with the story Zack Rogers had published, and no matter what facts he could release, the damage was done and he was being hounded from top and bottom now. Worse was what was hounding his conscience now.
James was standing in a sterile room. Large lights hung low from wires over steel tables. Medical tools lined a tray nearby, well cared for, with love for the line of work they assisted in. Despite this, the air was rank with the smell of rot and exposed blood. Most who entered this room either left immediately, or dawned masks, or like himself, had been in the room so often they were accustomed to the smell. Having grown accustomed to the smell usually was a good indicator of two possible criteria, you worked in the room, or you should retire with the traumatic stress already induced. James was not the former.
In this autopsy room on the table before James lay the source of both frustration, and the source of what plagued his conscience. The lifeless face that stared up at him was both familiar and new, both a challenge and a representation of failure.
The khaki pants of a well kept older gentleman came into the corner of James’ eye. Short dark hair, a well pressed shirt and tie, and the lab coat. The slightly darker skin, and the slanted eyes; Dr. Shen, the one man to know the story without being there.
“How’s that racist friend of yours?”
“Busy. He wouldn’t be so hard to deal with if you tried to deal with him.”
“I would deal with him if he’d drop the racism.”
“You haven’t reported him.”
“Neither have you.”
“I know he means well.”
“And I’m too busy.”
“So what happened?”
Doctor Shen let out a sigh. “Well, he is definitely Mr. Rogers. I suppose at least you don’t need to be stressing over any negative publicity now. The autopsy couldn’t show everything, the body is badly burnt in several areas. He was tortured for several hours, if not a day or so. The tortures include having his tongue ripped out as well as the addition of relocating his genitals to his mouth. It seems that his ears were widened with some form of utensil as well.”
“It’s a Cheyenne message.”
“The mutilation of the body. The tongue to prevent lies, the genitals to remove his status as a man, and his ears so he will listen better in the afterlife.”
“You think the killer is Native American?”
“Can’t say that, but it's insight on how he thinks.”
“Mr. Roger seemed to have been bound, his wrists had some form of rope. It would be safe to say his ankles were bound as well but burns are so severe it went to the bone. Mr. Rogers’ death was caused by severe burns. Portions of his flesh are missing, to include the flesh from the middle of the tibia down. I would say he was from how it looks some of the patches of flesh are missing that he was cooked on some sort of flat surface.”
“Yes, the burns indicate he was cooked on some sort of surface as opposed to being cooked in an open fire.” There was silence between the two men. “So, what are you thinking?”
“The killer is a locomotive of rage. A buzz saw of violence if upset. Revenge though, made him messy.”
“You do think it’s him?”
“It’s too far of a coincidence to be someone else. It was our killer, and we finally got to see how brutal he can be, and that he does in fact want to send a message if he is insulted.”
The following day took an eternity to come. James plotted where the bodies had been located, and the body of Zack Rogers landed close to a neighborhood he had not checked into. He blew the last hours of the day finding all the information on the neighborhood he could and finally the curtain of night was draped over the sky. He was compelled to go at night, but no work could be done and he’d be left exhausted, and his senses dull.
The morning came; the sun was barely peeking over the crest of the buildings as James entered his car. The hour was too early, he reached the neighborhood at an hour when it would still be inconsiderate to come knocking. He drove, circles, the same streets again and again. Every fence, every window, and every door. Looking for the slightest abnormalities. The neighborhood was a smooth combination of middle and upper middle class houses. Small front yards, some with, most without small fences out front.
James saw the hour on the dim digital read out on his console. 10:01, it was just enough to have somewhat of a welcome invite, at least a few words with the flash of his badge. He parked at a curb and would walk down the row, house to house.
He approached the first house.
Within seconds he found himself sitting on a soft antique sofa. The material was rough from a lack of occupants, and studded with little individually sewn flowers from a time of handcraftsmanship. To his right was a sliding glass door which gave him a view into a well kept yard, a little Nome statue waved from the shade of a tree. The room itself was clean. The carpet a dark cream, a unique roughly cut wooden coffee table stood before James’ seat that had a base to appear it grew out of the carpet. The television was dated, an old tube television tucked into a heavy dark wood entertainment stand. The top of the stand was lined with pictures and holiday cards from both children and grandchildren.
The owner shuffled across the room, a Mrs. Summers, her slipper clad feet creaked as she took a seat in the large lazy boy chair across the massive coffee table. Her delicate naturally red and curly hair was clearly cared for by a well paid stylist who kept the hair a vibrant color with a touch of dye. A soft white sweater moved with her as naturally as a second skin along with a soft baby blue shirt which clung loosely around her fragile aging neck.
“Mrs. Summers, thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions.”
“Oh it’s alright, I don’t do much these days anyways, other than an occasional movie date with my daughters.”
“I’m sure. Mrs. Summers, has there been any unusual activity you’ve noticed?”
“Oh I’m sure this has to do with that poor journalist who was found. Well let’s see, I don’t notice cars too much these days being inside. I don’t see strangers, just the usual neighbors.”
“Who are your neighbors?” James knew the names, but sometimes records were just names, no characteristics.
“Oh, this neighborhood is filled with retirees like myself. There’s the Jefferson’s, I think being the youngest couple, with two infant daughters. The most darling things you’d ever seen.” James smiled and nodded on. “They walk their daughters in a stroller every weekend. You know, you don’t see that any more these days. Families have moved on to be so dependent on other activities like computers.”
“Um. Mrs. Summers, who else is in the neighborhood?”
“Oh well, let’s see. There’s the Barton couple. Their daughter moved out last year sometime, married to a dentist I think, or was it a hygienist? They are a sweet couple. I’ve been their neighbor now for, oh 9 years now. They helped my son-in-law when he closed his business. God forbid he was too prideful to be thankful, but I think he was really appreciative of it he just wouldn’t let it show.”
“Mhmm.” James said nodding her on.
“Hmm, well there’s Mrs. Robinson across the street. Her husband died years ago, in fact she maybe dead as well. She was so reclusive I wouldn’t know. She had a granddaughter who took care of her in the recent years. Really I think it was her taking care of the granddaughter. Poor thing’s mother was never really there for her when she needed her. But, she’ll get the property and the land.” There was a pause. “Oh, and there’s Mr. Gibson. He’s just a doll. He was a shooter with my husband at the skeet range years ago, and then an instructor. But now he just goes to watch, he can’t seem to do much since his surgery 3 years ago. Or was it 4? I don’t recall.”
“Do you know anyone down the rest of the block?”
“Oh, no I used to, but the people change and I don’t get out much anymore. I go to the movies every-and-then with my daughters. But usually we just rent a movie now because nothing good comes out. Occasionally a gem will come out, but even those aren’t like they use to be.”
“Oh I know, I haven’t been in some years myself.”
“It’s a shame.” She nodded her head in agreement. “Such a shame.”
“Well Mrs. Summers, thank you again for inviting me in.”
“Oh it’s fine. It’s not like I do much. If you want to know anymore come on by.”
“Oh thank you Mrs. Summers, I will.”
James headed off down the walkway to the next house, Mr. Gibson’s. James noticed the car he had spied earlier was missing; regardless he tried the door bell. No one answered.
Turning around across the street was the smallest house, but largest property belonging to Mrs. Robinson. Two cars were parked outside in the driveway, a SUV and a small economy sedan.
James headed across the street.
He used the driveway to walk up and slowed his step. The back yard was gated off and was massive. The yard extending over a small creek with a foot bridge, the trees obscured a distant garden but James could not see beyond that.
James rang the doorbell. He could hear someone moving. The deadbolt came unlocked, and the knob began to move.