Even with the rain and the countless cups of coffee, the smell was still sickening when I arrived on the scene. The fire crews, paramedics and police on the scene were milling about, talking in hushed tones or shouting orders at each other but everyone was avoiding the huge evidence tent in the middle of the main route into the city. Getting here late was an inevitability, traffic was backed up all the way to the next town and probably beyond.
I showed my badge to the officer at the door and with an exchange of nods he pulled back the canvas sheet and I slipped inside. Michaels was inside and as soon as he saw me he raised a finger to the breathing mask he was wearing and pointed me over to a pile of them in a sealed box. I got the message and slipped one on before breathing.
“Talk to me Michaels. What’s happening and what’s with the masks?” I said, voice muffled behind the mask.
Michaels leaned against the wrecked car that inhabited the evidence tent and the grimace was evident even behind the mask.
“It’s not pretty James, not pretty at all. Our man staged it to look like a car accident.”
“Our man? So it’s him?”
“Yeah, it’s him. His signs are all over it. That’s why the mask. You thought the smell was bad? You don’t want this stuff in your mouth, believe me.”
I looked into the front passenger seat of the wrecked car and felt bile rising in my throat but I kept it down. The inside of the car was plastered with vomit and the driver’s abdomen was torn open, a shard of the dashboard having ripped it apart, the entrails hanging out like bloody ribbons, stomach juices and excrement pooling in the footwell.
“Christ. You sure, Michaels?”
“Sure as sure can be.” Michaels said, pushing me gently aside. I still maintained he was too young for the job, people his age didn’t need to see so much death. He was only 23, boyish good looks, though a little shy. A sweet kid really, the sort you’d expect to visit his grandmother every weekend and treat his girl right, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I was amazed that he could stare at things like this everyday and not lose his soul in the process.
“James, you see here, this shard of dashboard?” He indicated with a rubber-gloved hand.
“Well, cars don’t work like that, just look at the car, the shape of the impact zone. There is no way this could have happened as a result of the crash. It was done afterwards, deliberately, to provide an excuse for the disembowelling. Also, the vomit isn’t all the victims. It looks like the killer tampered with the air bags, taping on a packet of vomit to the outer surface. When the crash occurred, the victim was hit in the face, rupturing it.”
“Okay,” I said, turning away from the scene. “I think I’ve heard enough. This is different from his usual MO. What makes you think this isn’t some second-rate copycat or a random coincidence?”
“Because he left a message for you.”
I turned back and saw Michaels leaning into the car and pressing play on the tape player. A disturbing voice began to speak.
I recognised the voice instantly from countless late nights at the office. When the Sicko, as the papers had ‘creatively’ named him, had made his third kill, he began sending us tapes. Each one describing his thoughts and feelings, like some kind of messed up audio diary. The profilers had a field day on those tapes but it had all led to nothing. The tapes had nothing in them the location could be traced with, the voice wasn’t recognised by anyone, no finger prints on the cassettes, nothing. They’d provided no clues whatsoever and all the thoughts the profilers had gave us no leads. He was a slippery little bastard. After 11 killing he disappeared, a final tape leaving us instructions on how to find the next girl, a gift, he said, since we’d been so hopeless at stopping him so far. She’d been alive, but even she hadn’t been able to tell us anything. Then he’d disappeared for three years and the case had gone cold.
And now here he was speaking to me again.
“Allow me to welcome you back to the force Detective. I hear you took a little holiday after I went on my little break. Always one step behind me Detective, even in vacationing it seems. Now, I organised this little present for you to let you know I’m back in town. I will save your profilers the trouble and explain why exactly I staged this as a car accident. Car accidents attract attention, you were no doubt called in later, after the ambulances and possibly the fire crew as well. All those eyes and ears before you and your friends can hide things away should ensure nicely that my message will be heard. Sorry Detective, but no cover ups for you. I will kill 11 more people and finally a twelfth. No more gifts this time. I do hope you are really rested and relaxed after your leave of absence Detective, I can’t stop this without your help. Until next time, Detective.”
The tape stopped with a click and Michaels and I looked at each other.
“I want you to get everything down to the labs and have your boy tear it apart for clues. I mean everything, hell, take the frickin’ road if you have to. I’m not letting this happen again.”
Michaels nodded as I stormed out of the evidence tent. I felt dizzy and sick. Walking back to my car I fumbled with the lock and sat down, breathing deeply. After a few moments it was clear it wasn’t going away so I opened the glove box, took out the pills inside and swallowed a handful dry. I lay back, my eyes closed for a moment, letting the noise of the traffic and the rain soothe me and then turned the key in the ignition. I looked at my watch. Yeah, it was coming up to that time again. I shifted the car into gear and began the trip to the cancer clinic for my next chemo session.
I’m sick, have been for the last few years but finally the doctors think they nailed it so I came off of extended leave last month. The bastard knew.
The bastard knew.