Thursday, December 12, 2013

CORKSCREW (A Wes Archer Story)

Genre: Crime/Mystery/Suspense (A Weston Archer story)


Daniel Skye (Randy Benivegna)


            History is comprised of victims and villains. But for every villain, there are myriad victims that lie in their wake.
            The metropolis of Carter City is infamous for its villains. But the city has an even higher ratio of victims. This city claims 55,000 souls a year; taking its average citizens and reducing them to casualties, listings in the obituary column.
            Wes Archer has crossed paths with a legion of villains in his fourteen plus years on the force; each more sadistic, perverse, or diabolical than the last. However, Archer has a secret weapon in his arsenal.
            He has the darkness growing deep inside of him; malignant and irrepressible. It bubbles to the surface where he can feel the darkness coalesce with flesh.
            Call it a gift; call it a curse. One things for sure, it’s a hell of a tool for catching crooks and killers. Archer possesses the ability to assume the emotional point-of-view of other people, particularly the ones that chill and disturb him.
            And this secret weapon is the only reason he’s still on the force. That and his ninety percent conviction rate. But every now and then, a case falls into Archer’s lap and it throws even him for a loop. A case so bizarre, so senseless it can’t immediately be processed or digested.

            Wednesday, July 4, 2012.
Dead silence.
No owls were hooting, no crickets chirping. The night was eerily quiet, motionless. With the fireworks ban in full effect, the pyro maniacs were forced to take their hijinks outside the city limits. The ban ensured that the working class could get a good night’s sleep.
The moon had reached the beginning of its cycle and was barely visible to the naked eye. The outskirts of the city were shrouded in darkness; the perfect cover needed to commit a heinous crime.
Beverly Russo had a gentleman caller that evening. She wasn’t even aroused. She just wanted some company, someone to keep her warm and safe. But what was sweet little Beverly afraid of?
Even the prettiest of girls have minor imperfections. It’s the minor imperfections that help remind us we’re no different than the person next-door. But the same couldn’t be said for Beverly. Call it an exaggeration, but Beverly was flawless for her age. Wide blue eyes and shoulder-length sandy brown hair that was her natural color. Look her over and you wouldn’t find one wrinkle or blemish. Her arms and legs were smooth and radiant and lacking any unsightly spider veins. She was slim, trim, and athletic. Beverly’s favorite way to stay in shape was jogging. She could cover a three mile stretch without breaking a sweat. For fifty-two, she was still a knockout.
Her one night stand had finished his scotch and waved his glass around for a refill. Beverly stood in the doorway, her robe untied. She wore a tight red corset that captured the curves of her upper body perfectly and seamed black stockings connected to a garter. “Do I look like the barmaid?” she asked.
Before he could respond, a thunderous crash grabbed their collective attention. Beverly ran from the doorway and crouched behind the bed, hiding near her date. He rolled from the bed and urged Beverly to dial 911, but the lovely damsel was crippled by fear.
The intruder appeared from the hallway, sharp object in hand, a ski mask drawn over his face.
The box cutter glistened under the dim bedroom lights as it ripped across her date’s throat. Blood spurted in quick jets, staining the white curtains of her bedroom. Beverly stumbled to the corner and sunk to the floor; sobbing, screaming, begging profusely.
With one maddening slash of the razor, her screams were silenced. But her assailant had only just begun…
* * *
            Wes Archer broke the antique lamp on his nightstand trying to reach the phone in time. It was three in the morning and Archer hadn’t slept a full night in two weeks. The criminals of Carter City wouldn’t let the poor bastard rest for more than a few of hours.
            “Thirty rings,” his lieutenant proclaimed. “That must be some kind of record for you, Wes. You never heard of an answering machine?”
            “What is it now, Morris? Who got shot this time?”
            “Not shot; carved up with some kind of blade. Maybe a razor or a box cutter. No way to be sure. The killer was smart on this one. He took the murder weapon with him.”
            “What makes you think the killer is a he?”
            “It usually is,” Morris chided. “Dale Craven is waiting for you at the scene. You got a pen handy so I can give you the address?”
            “You made me break my mom’s lamp. You know any good antique shops because you’re getting me a new one for Christmas.”
            “Christmas is over five months away.”
            “Good, that’ll give you plenty of time to find the right lamp.”
* * *
            Dale Craven, Archer’s partner, was waiting with doughnuts and two steaming hot cups of coffee when Wes pulled up to the scene.
            Craven is thirty year’s old but with his youthful looks he appears twenty-one. Craven, a thrill seeker gets his kicks by engaging in skydiving, bungee jumping, and hanging gliding on his off days.
            “Give me all the gory details,” Archer said as he accepted his coffee and scarfed down a few fresh doughnuts.
            “Two victims,” Craven explained. “One male, one female. The killer hacked them both up pretty good. The bodies are on the second floor of the house in the master bedroom. There’s a ton of blood so watch your step and don’t touch anything until forensics gets here. That’s what Morris said.”
            “Lieutenant Morris can eat a bag of dicks,” Archer said frankly. There’s not enough time to document the history between Mitch Morris and Wes Archer. Their story could fill an encyclopedia. It’s a love-hate relationship. They both love to hate each other, and yet they always maintained a bizarre mutual respect for one another.
            “You know you can be really grumpy at four o’clock in the morning?”
            “Just lead the way,” Archer said, sipping his coffee.
            The master bedroom, that one of the several officers’ was photographing with a camera, was drenched in blood. The other two officers were standing in the doorway, hands pressed over their mouths to stifle the vomit. Even the coroner looked queasy.
            “Is anything missing?” Archer asked, unfazed by the amount of blood.
            “If there is, it’s not noticeable. This wasn’t your standard robbery. I’m guessing the guy here probably had his share of enemies.”
            “Don’t be too sure,” Archer said as he examined the scene. “The girl was the real intended target here.”
            “What makes you say that?” Craven asked.
“Look at the blood splatter patterns, the damage to the soft tissue. The male victim’s jugular was severed; he bled out fast. The female victim has more lacerations. Seventeen to be exact. Whoever did this, they probably knew the girl. They wanted her to suffer. There’s a chance the killer assumed she was going to be alone this evening, and had to improvise a bit.”
“Good eye,” Craven nodded with approval.
“Some say I have two. Got an ID on the victims?”
“Beverly Russo and Calvin Uris. No relation. They’re not married. We’re not sure if they’re dating, but we’ll know soon when we contact her family. Beverly worked down at Vanacore Industries, the pharmaceutical company. We’re not sure about Calvin. We’ve got officers looking into his background as we speak.”
“Any signs of forced entry?”
“A window was broken in the cellar. The killer must’ve gained access from there and cornered them here in the bedroom.”
“Maybe Miss Russo saw this coming a mile away. Maybe that’s why she had company this evening. She wanted a little protection. Looks like her plan backfired.” He turned to the officers amongst them. “Boys, I want you to find out everything you can about these two. I need a full report by this afternoon.”
“Will do,” one of the officers assured him.
“Anything else I need to know?” Archer asked Craven.
“Not at the moment.”
“Any other murder scenes I need to investigate?”
“It’s a slow morning,” Craven shrugged.
“Good,” Archer nodded. “I’m going back to bed then. Don’t call me until they have the report.”
“Always a pleasure,” Craven muttered as Archer walked off alone.

            Thursday, July 5, 2012.
            Archer slept for eight solid hours, a new personal record. The crime scene, though it was gruesome, had not prohibited Wes from snoozing. The sight was something he had grown accustomed to over the years. Seeing slit throats and pools of blood was equal to reading about it in the morning paper or watching it on TV.
            The job was a job like any other. One day it’s a murder. The next day it’s a bank robbery or a carjacking gone awry. The day after that it’s a murder-suicide. The days add up to months, the months add up to years. And the years harden you. If you can withstand those first few years, you can withstand anything.
            Now thirty-six years old, Archer joined the academy at twenty-one. By twenty-two, he made it onto the same force as his father, Aaron.
Aaron is happily retired now, but he was the reason Wes became a cop. No, he didn’t want to follow in his dads footsteps. He did it just to spite him. Sort of an “anything you can do, I can do better” statement. Wes never saw eye to eye with his dad and wasn’t satisfied with the prospect of living in his shadow. He wanted an identity of his own.
They haven’t spoken to each since Wes made homicide.
He worked the beat for the first few years, moved his way up to vice. By twenty-eight, he was promoted to narcotics. By thirty-one, he made detective in homicide. It was a piece of cake. All he had to do was sell his own brother down the river.
But that’s another story for another time.
Archer showered, got dressed, and made it down to the station by two o’clock. He found Craven at his desk, filling out tedious reports and stopping sporadically to rub his sore wrists and crack his knuckles.
“I swear this paperwork shit is going to give me arthritis,” Craven moaned. “You think I can get workmen’s comp for that?”
Archer responded to Craven’s attempt at humor with some muffled grumbling and asked for a rundown on the Beverly Russo case.
“You got half an hour?” Dale asked as Archer seated himself in front of Dale’s desk. “We got info on the male victim. It’s Calvin Uris, a bouncer for a local nightclub. He and Beverly were not married and they were not an item, as far as both the victims’ families are concerned. Calvin was thirty-four years old and had a few enemies that were looking into now, though his family believes nobody hated him enough that they would want him dead.”
“And what’s the story with Russo?”
“She lived alone and had few acquaintances. But no enemies either. At least none that her family or neighbors are aware of.”
“And our officers questioned all of Beverly’s neighbors?”
“And nobody heard anything last night? No one heard the glass of her basement window shatter or see anything strange? No one heard a car screech away after the deed was done?”
“Nothing, no witnesses. They were all sound asleep, didn’t hear a thing.”
“What did Beverly do for a living?”
“Beverly was employed by Vanacore Industries, that big pharmaceutical conglomerate off of Route 316. Several officers are in the process of speaking with her manager and coworkers. We’ll see what their investigation turns up. In the meantime, Morris wants to see you.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Archer sighed as he got up and started marching down the hallway. Halfway to Morris’s office, he turned back. “Hey, Vanacore Industries–that’s the company that Dalton Meeks worked for, right?”
“Dalton who?”
“Dalton Meeks. He went missing two months ago. I think his boss reported him missing after he didn’t show up for work.”
“So maybe this place is worth checking out ourselves. I’ll get back to you when I’m through with Morris.”
* * *
            At age fifty-eight, Morris was two years away from retirement, though he still didn’t want to let go. This job was all he knew, and yet in all his years of service he had never risen past the rank of lieutenant.
            But he never let this fact trouble him. As long as Mitch Morris could do his part, he was satisfied. And at that moment, the thought of retirement was the furthest thing from his mind.
            Archer entered without knocking, approached Mitch’s desk with caution. He didn’t flinch at his appearance as others had in the past. He had grown quite used to it.
            His face is a virtual roadmap of scars. Like the scar above his left temple from when a bullet grazed it during a botched drug raid. Or the layers of scar tissue that have formed over his cheeks from when a crazed suspect attacked him a jagged bottle. Or the faded horizontal scar across his throat from when his own brother cut it with a straight razor.
But that’s another story for another time.
“Do you know why I called you in here?” Morris asked.
“Well, technically you didn’t actually call me in here. You told Craven that you wanted to see me.”
“Oh, so you want to be technical? Well, technically I could suspend you for the last three drug tests you failed. Technically, there’s enough heat under your ass right now to make you spontaneously combust. The Captain, Internal Affairs, and the DA are all looking at you. The only reason I’m keeping you on the rotation is because you’re great at what you do. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t.”
“So what is this? Is this a ‘straighten up and fly right’ speech or is this a ‘you’re fired’ speech or something else?”
“This is a chance to turn things around for yourself. Beverly Russo was just an assistant for Martin Vanacore, but she had one powerful acquaintance. This acquaintance of hers happens to be chummy with the DA. You solve this case, your problems with the DA go away, and with that, your problems with Internal Affairs and the Captain most likely go away too.”
“And my problems with you?”
“Oh, those will never go away.”
Archer got up to dismiss himself, but couldn’t overlook one fact. “You said Russo was Vanacore’s assistant?”
“Yes, and I know what you’re thinking. And if I were you, I wouldn’t go barking up the wrong tree. Martin Vanacore is a very well respected businessman in Carter City. He’s not some deranged killer.”
“You know how they say everyone is innocent until proven guilty? With me, everyone is assumed guilty until proven innocent. I’ll find Russo’s killer, no matter who it is.”

Wes Archer received a small parting gift from his stay in undercover narcotics; a dependency to heroin.
            His dealer is a slimy snitch named Toad who also feeds Archer information in exchange for virtual immunity. Toad gets to peddle his dope, rat on the competition, and all he has to do is help out the local police on occasion.
            Archer paid a little visit to Toad that evening to pick up his “birthday present” as he likes to call it. Archer sure had a lot of freaking birthdays.
            They shook hands outside of 7-11 and exchanged the cash and the balloon in one quick motion. Archer pocketed the dope and Toad pocketed the small amount of cash. As a detective and the man who kept Toad in business, Archer received a generous discount on each purchase.
            “What’s the word on the street?” Archer inquired, making small talk before they both departed so as not to raise suspicion. As if a man of Archer’s caliber engaging in conversation with the likes of Toad wasn’t suspicious enough.
            “You mean besides the murder of Beverly Russo and Calvin Uris?”
            “Where’d you hear about that?”
            “I watch the news.”
            “I never took you for the CNN type,” Archer chuckled.
            “Got to learn about what’s going on in the world somehow.”
            “So you knew the victims?”
            “Everyone knew Calvin. He was one of the bouncers at The Wild Horse. A steady customer, too. Beverly is another story. That woman had a huge heart. She donated a lot of her time to the soup kitchens.”
            “Once again, how do you know this?”
            “Look at me,” Toad said, pointing out his ratty appearance. “I hang out at a lot of those soup kitchens. A free meal is a free meal. But I can tell you she was scared of something.”
            “What makes you say that?”
            “A week before her death, she approached me and asked me if I could get her a gun.”
            “But Beverly Russo has no criminal record, no history of violence. She could easily walk into any gun shop and legally acquire a firearm.”
            “I know,” Toad nodded. “That’s how I know she was scared. That’s how I know she was in trouble.”
            “She never said what it was?”
            “No,” Toad shook his head. “And I never had the courage to ask. I just told her I’d see what I could do, and before I could get back to her, somebody killed her.”
            “You know anybody who hated Calvin Uris?”
            “He was a bouncer, so yeah, some people hated him. He was known for taking liberties with a few of the drunks, roughing them up a bit before tossing them out the backdoor. But I can’t think of a soul who hated Beverly Russo.”
* * *
            Friday, July 6, 2012.
            Archer woke up on top of his bed sheets and still had his work clothes on. On the nightstand, a dirty spoon and a used syringe. The leather belt was still tied around his arm.
            He hid the spoon and the syringe in the top drawer of his nightstand, untied the belt from his arm. There were ten messages on his newly bought answering machine, all from Dale. He erased the messages and went to the kitchen, where he made a pot of coffee and called Dale back.
            “Were you in a coma?” Craven asked when he picked up.
            “I’ve got some new information for you,” Archer said, ignoring Dale’s question.
            “And I’ve got information for you,” Dale said.
            “You go first.”
            “A wood-paneled station wagon was spotted illegally parked two blocks from Beverly Russo’s house on the night of the murder. The vehicle was ticketed and I had our boys pull up the information. The car is registered to Mark Chapel. Whoever he is, he’s not in the system. There’s no address on file with his insurance company. The billing address is a PO Box number. We’re trying to get a stable address through the DMV. Okay, now your turn.”
            “You know my snitch, Toad?”
            “Short guy, black stringy hair, dresses like a hobo and smells like one too?”
            “That’s the guy. Turns out Toad knew Beverly through the soup kitchens he frequented. He says she was scared. Says she tried to buy a gun from him.”
            “Is his word reliable?”
            “Toad knows what would happen if he lied to me.”
            “So what do you think she was afraid of?”
            “I don’t know, but I have a feeling we’ll find out if we start at her job.”
            “Our officers have already questioned all the employees.”
            “Not the employees; her boss.”
            “Lieutenant Morris said–”
            “Fuck what Morris said,” Archer cut him off. “We’re the detectives here. It’s our job to weed out every possible suspect. Drop what you’re doing and meet me at the station.”
* * *
            Getting past security was the easy past. All they had to do was flash their badges. The front desk was a different affair. The receptionist stonewalled them, made up some excuse about Martin Vanacore being stuck in a business meeting and told them they were free to wait in the lobby.
            But anyone who knows Wes Archer knows waiting just isn’t his style. He noticed the receptionist was of Latino descent and there were several family photos framed on her desk. One was of a picture of the receptionist and an older woman that Wes could only assume was the receptionist’s mother.
            “Is that your mother?” Wes asked. The receptionist nodded. “Pretty lady. Does she live with you?” The receptionist nodded again. “So why don’t you pretend for a second that you’re talking to a couple of police detectives and I’ll pretend that your mother has papers. I know Mr. Vanacore told you to lie and say he was in a meeting to stall us. If you kindly direct us to his office, I’ll forget this whole conversation.”
            The displeased receptionist picked up the phone and mumbled something Archer couldn’t quite make out before she hung up. “Mr. Vanacore’s office is on the top floor. You can’t miss it.”
            “Now that wasn’t so hard.”
            “That lady could call the lieutenant,” Craven said as they walked to the elevator.
            “She won’t,” Archer shook his head. “She loves her mom too much.”
            “You seem to be bothered by that fact,” Craven pointed out as the elevator doors parted and they stepped in. Wes pushed the button for the sixth floor.
            “I don’t understand family,” he admitted shamefully.
            “You don’t understand it? What’s there to understand?”
            “The respect, the loyalty, the commitment. The only thing I’m committed to is my job.”
            “I can’t imagine how lonely your life must be.” Craven’s statement was a bit of an aphorism. Technically, it was true. Archer led a lonely life, though he would never give Craven the satisfaction by admitting it aloud.
            As they reached the sixth floor, a silence fell over them as they stepped out from the elevator. Archer shifted into detective mode as they walked the hall and approached the door to Vanacore’s office, which was apparent by the gold plate that had the name MARTIN VANACORE engraved in it.
            Vanacore was sitting behind his wide oak desk, palms together, a cigar burning in his glass ashtray. He wore a flashy pinstripe Brioni suit that had an immaculate cut, and a silk Armani tie. His polished leather shoes were handcrafted in Italy and cost as much as the down payment on a new car. His thick handlebar mustache distracted from the reciting hairline and made Archer wonder if he used Rogaine only on the bottom half of his face. The ends of his mustache were curled and looked coated in wax.
            Vanacore had the mannerisms of a politician. Every word, every smile, every gesture seemed deftly rehearsed. He kept his answers short and vague and never spoke any more than he was required.
            Archer was familiar with the type. Rich, industrial men usually have their secrets. If Archer stuck around long enough, he was sure he’d find a few skeletons buried in Vanacore’s closet. But he was here to assess if this man was capable of murder, and so far, the threat was not apparent.
            He was brash, cocky, smug. He had one of those arrogant smirks that made you want to reach over and punch him in the throat. But he was no ruthless killer. Not as far as Archer could tell. Still, he had his secrets to keep buried.
            “Gentlemen,” Vanacore said, standing to greet them properly. He stuck out his hand but neither man would accept it. “I assume you’re with the CCPD, here to inquire about Beverly Russo. She was a fine worker. She’ll be sorely missed around the office.”
            “I was thinking we could start with Dalton Meeks,” Archer said, waiting for a reaction that never occurred.
            “Please sit,” Vanacore said, resuming his position behind the desk.
            “Not necessary,” Craven replied. “We won’t be here that long.”
            “So you’re here about Beverly Russo or Dalton Meeks? Or both?”
            “So you do know Dalton Meeks.”
            “Of course. I employed him for three years. Dalton disappeared two months ago. Never showed up for work. After his third no-show, I called the police after he failed to return my phone calls. They searched his apartment and found nothing. I’ve been waiting for an update ever since.” He puffed his cigar and waited patiently for their reply.
            “That’s all you know?” Wes asked.
            “That’s all I know.”
            “Let’s move onto Beverly Russo.”
            “I hired Beverly as an assistant eight months ago. She was a smart woman, kept to herself, and had a good eye for detail. Like I said, she’ll be sorely missed. I can’t express enough grief over her death. The loss touched all of us at Vanacore Industries in a very personal way. It was like losing a close family member.”
            “Uh huh,” Wes nodded, not buying the sad clown act. “And where were you on the night of July fourth, the night Beverly and Calvin Uris were murdered?”
He furrowed his brow and twirled one end of his mustache. Breathing a cloud of smoke in their direction, he extinguished the cigar in his ashtray and clasped his hands together in front of him.
“From eight o’clock to ten-thirty I was at a fundraiser for the Locascio Cancer Foundation. Then I had dinner and dessert with my wife and her two friends. She didn’t feel like going home after dinner so we stopped at a local bar for drinks. The place was crowded. I’d say they were well over the maximum capacity. We stayed until closing time and caught a taxi home since neither of us was in any condition to drive. I’d say we arrived home around four in the morning and the last thing I remember is my heading hitting the pillow.”
“And your wife, her friends, the people at the bar and the fundraiser, they can all corroborate your whereabouts?”
“Absolutely,” Vanacore nodded with confidence. He was so cool, so casual that it irked Wes all the more. He wasn’t going to quit until Vanacore slipped up and shared some information he wasn’t supposed to.
“What do you know about a man named Mark Chapel?” Wes asked.
“I’m sorry, I’m afraid that name doesn’t ring any bells.” Martin cleared his throat as he said it and scratched above his right cheek. That was the tell, the sign Archer was waiting on. Vanacore was guilty of something; he just didn’t know what yet.
“Are you sure?” Wes pushed on.
“Positive,” Vanacore nodded again and stood as if to say ‘time’s up’. “Now I’m afraid that’s all the time I have for you today, gentlemen. If you persist, if you continue to pursue me as a suspect, then next time I’ll be meeting you with my attorney. Good day, gentlemen. And please, find Beverly’s killer. It would mean the world to all of us.”


            “That guy’s so full of shit I’m surprised he hasn’t choked to death on it,” Craven said as they drove away from Vanacore Industries.
            “He’s definitely hiding something,” Archer said. “I need to clear my head. You feel like stopping for a drink.”
            “It’s barely noon,” Craven pointed out empathically.
            “So, you a Mormon or something?”
            “I just don’t feel it’s necessary to indulge during sunlight hours…or when we’re supposed to be on duty.”
            Archer sighed and mumbled, “Square.”
            “So what’s our next move?”
            “First we need to come up with a line of bullshit to feed Lieutenant Morris for when he questions us about Vanacore. Then we have to connect the dots between Vanacore, Meeks, Russo, Uris, and Chapel. I feel they’re all connected; I just can’t put this puzzle together yet. What do we know about Chapel?”
            “There’s nothing on the wire yet about a Mark Chapel in Carter City. As far as our boys can tell, the man’s a ghost. So what was his car doing parked a few blocks from Beverly’s house?”
            “A lot of good questions, but no good answers.”
            “Where to next?”
            “The soup kitchens,” Archer said. “If Beverly pitched in down there, people would know her, remember her. Maybe somebody can give us a lead, something to go on.”
* * *
            The first three soup kitchens were no help. Carter City had a thirty percent homeless rate so there were a few different spots to visit. The fourth kitchen yielded some results.
            One of the cooks remembered Beverly, said she was always friendly, helpful, kept to herself most of the time. Said he also knew her boyfriend.
            “You knew the man she was seeing?” Archer asked. The cook nodded. “You knew Calvin Uris then?”
            “Calvin Uris?” the cook repeated, confused. “No, Dalton was his name I think. Short guy, drove a Mustang, seemed to make a lot of money. He dropped in a few times to visit her and then the visits just stopped.”
            “Thank you for your help,” Archer said, dismissing the cook immediately to congregate with his partner.
            “This is big,” Craven said, barely containing his excitement. At that moment, he was a bright-eyed kid in a candy store.
            “Indeed it is,” Archer agreed. “Dale, I need you to head back to the station. Dig up everything you can on Dalton Meeks. And have the boys keep looking for Mark Chapel. They’re bound to turn up something on the guy.”
            “What are you going to do?”
            “I’m going to bait the hook.”

            Archer had riled Vanacore up. Now all he needed to do was chum the waters and paint himself as an easy target.
            First, he paid another visit to Toad and had him put in a deceiving call to Martin Vanacore’s secretary. Toad pretended to be Archer’s lieutenant, who apologized for his unscheduled intrusion and assured her that Archer had been suspended without pay until further notice. He even left Archer’s contact information and address if Vanacore felt the need to press charges.
            And with that move, all Archer could do was track Vanacore’s movements with the GPS device had planted under the fender of his Lamborghini when he and Dale had left the parking lot. It wasn’t hard figuring out which car belonged to him. His spot was clearly reserved and the vanity plates read VNACORE.
            Archer returned to his empty house and waited for Martin to leave the office, which he did at five o’clock sharp. He made a brief stop home, packed a few belongings, gathered his wife, and started heading east on the 134. He was driving out of the city, establishing an alibi for the evening.
            Hours past as he waited in the shadows of his living room, .357 Magnum in hand. He refused to use the service revolvers his department provided. And he refused to carry a backup piece. He carried a knife in his boot instead. Some cops call it crazy. He calls it old fashioned.
            The phone rang at nine and it was Dale, who was busy generating headline news for their case.
            “What’s the word?” Archer asked as he lifted the receiver to his ear.
            “I started connecting the dots. Dalton Meeks was not just an employee at Vanacore Industries. He was an investor, worked with the company for over ten years.”
            “Vanacore said he only worked there for three years. I knew that pompous bastard would slip up.”
            “That’s just the beginning. I phoned Beverly’s parents again and brought Meeks to their attention. They remembered him. Turns out he and Beverly were quite the item for eight or nine months. She was even under the impression that Dalton was going to pop the question eventually. They were sharing an apartment when he disappeared. She came home from work one day and all his stuff was cleared out. She notified the police who questioned her on several occasions, but she wasn’t much help.”
            “So things go sour between Meeks and Vanacore. Vanacore kills him and maybe Beverly overhears something or witnesses the crime, so now Vanacore has another threat to eliminate.”
            “It’s a sound theory. We’re still working on that Chapel guy. I’ll get back to you with an update in the morning. How’d it go with the whole baiting of the hook?”
            “I’ll get back to you with an update in the morning,” Archer said and hung up the phone.
            The garrote wire slid across his throat and started carving in. He dropped the Magnum involuntarily and his assailant used one foot to kick the gun across the floor, just out of reach.
            Archer was careful not to use his bare hands on the wire as it would slice his palms and fingertips. Instead, he called for backup. Digging into his boot, he retrieved the serrated blade from its sheath and rammed it deep through his assailant’s shoulder.
            The assailant released his grip and the wire loosened around his neck. He removed it carefully and went for his gun. But he and his assailant thought too much alike.
            A battle for the gun ensued and a single shot rang out through the neighborhood as one bullet pierced his assailant’s lung. Blood gurgling in his throat, the assailant tried to speak, but his words were unintelligible.
            Archer searched the would-be killer for some ID. And that’s when he found the pill bottle. Haloperidol. The label on the bottle belonged to Vanacore Industries.
            Archer was familiar with the drug, having encountered a similar psycho in the past who was partial to it. Haloperidol is used to the combat the effects of schizophrenia.
            The man had no ID or distinguishing marks that gave him away, but Archer had a hunch as to whose dead body he was standing over.
            Once he caught his breath and fixed a glass of bourbon, he put in a call to Dale.
* * *
            In ten minutes, Archer’s house was swarming with cops. A full forensics team was doing a sweep of his evidence room, dusting for fingerprints and gathering samples of blood and hair.
            “They’re wasting their time,” Archer criticized. “This guy is definitely not on file. Blood and fingerprints aren’t going to pull up anything in the system."
            “How do you know?” Dale asked, sipping his seventh coffee of the day.
            “Because that’s our ghost. That’s Mark Chapel right there in my living room, dead as Dillinger."
            “You know that for sure? You found his ID?”
            “Nope, don’t need it. Call it a sixth sense. I just have a feeling that’s our guy. So how much do you know about Haloperidol?”
            “Haloperidol? It’s a dopamine inhibiter used to treat things like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. I’m kind of scared to know why you’re asking.”
            “The guy had a bottle of it on him. Not from the pharmacy either. This one came straight from Vanacore Industries. It’s got their brand all over it.”
            “Detective Archer,” one of the officers called. “This piece of shit is still breathing. I think he’s trying to say something.”
            “What is he saying?” Dale asked when Wes didn’t respond.
            “It sounds like…corkscrew. That mean anything to you?”
            Wes shook his head. “Nothing.”
            “Get this thug to a hospital,” Dale advised them. “See if the doctors can save him. If they can, we’ll see who he is and what he knows."
            Mark Chapel spent five hour in surgery to repair the damage Wes had caused. He spent another six hours unconscious while Archer paced in and out of the waiting room, drank burnt coffee and smoked half a pack of Marlboro reds.
            On Saturday, July 7, 2012, at four PM, the doctors deemed him fit to be interrogated. Archer knew the phonebook method didn’t need to be applied in this sort of situation. A man who came so close to death, a man whose fate rested in the hands of the police–that kind of man wouldn’t play hardball. Any information he had, he was going to cough it up. That was a given. That’s why Archer made the call to do this alone. That and he wanted to see the face of the man who tried to kill him, he wanted to stare deep into his eyes and let him know he was still breathing strong.
            “Mark Chapel, I presume,” Wes said as he entered and dismissed the doctors for the sake of privacy.
            “You presume right,” Chapel nodded. “You got me, happy? I’m not going to lie or make any excuses. I’ll say this; you’re tougher than Vanacore led me to believe.”
            “Yeah, Martin Vanacore. The guy who paid me to go after you. I met him years ago when I volunteered for a clinical trial. I was suffering from bouts of schizophrenia and it seemed like the cheapest form of treatment. Vanacore knew I was poor and he used that to his advantage. He supplied me with all the Haloperidol I needed through the years, I just had to do a few favors here and there in return. It was the only way I could live a normal life, work a job and be a functioning part of society. I never wanted to do those awful things. He made me.”
            “You’re the one that hacked up Beverly Russo.”
            “Regrettably, yes. He paid me extra for that one; he really wanted her to suffer. But her death was just to cover up the robbery. That other guy–Uris–I didn’t even know about him until I got there. It was just the wrong place at the wrong time for him I’m afraid."
            “Robbery, what robbery? Nothing was missing from the house.”
            “That’s what you think. Beverly kept a bloodstained corkscrew wrapped in a handkerchief inside a hidden panel in her closet. It was her insurance policy against Vanacore. I think she was blackmailing him for a few months until he finally had enough.”
            “The corkscrew, was it used in a murder?”
            “Don’t look at me. I confessed to everything I did. The corkscrew is another story. I didn’t ask and Vanacore never told. Who knows what he did with it.”
            “Another officer will take over from here. If you’re willing to testify, I’m sure the DA will cut you a fair deal. If not, you’re on your own. And if you can’t afford Haloperidol, best of luck finding a good attorney to take your case.”
* * *
            “You got a full confession?” Dale asked.
            “He sang like a canary. Beverly was blackmailing Vanacore, so Vanacore, who was blackmailing Chapel with his own system, got Chapel to do his dirty work. It turns out the catalyst was a dirty corkscrew. Chapel said the thing was stained with dry blood. Beverly was stashing it away in her closet as an insurance policy against Vanacore. My guess is the corkscrew goes a long way to explaining the disappearance of Dalton Meeks. Vanacore kills Meeks in cold blood; Beverly witnesses the crime and absconds with the evidence. Chapel kills Beverly to retrieve the evidence.”
            “Sounds like we’ve got an airtight case. We just have to find Vanacore and bring him in."
            “Well, based on the GPS tracker I planted on his car, he’s currently sunbathing in the Hamptons with the misses.”
            “Should we have the local police do the work then?”
            “And miss all the fun? Nah, let’s wait until he gets back.”
            “I concur. In the meantime, I suggest we obtain a search warrant for his property to see if we can dig up that bloody corkscrew before he gets back from his short-lived retreat. Besides Chapel’s testimony, it’s the only solid piece of evidence we’ll have to go against him. Vanacore’s been sloppy when it’s come to covering his tracks. I doubt he properly disposed of the evidence.”
            “Partner, I love the way you think.”
* * *
            On Monday, July 9, 2012, Martin Vanacore and his wife pulled up in their Lamborghini and were greeted by Wes Archer, Dale Craven, and a parade of cops. Wes was holding out a plastic evidence bag with the corkscrew sealed inside.
            “Martin Vanacore, you’re under arrest for the murder of Dalton Meeks, and for the murders of Beverly Russo and Calvin Uris, and the attempted murder of yours truly.”
            Vanacore’s wife stood aghast as one officer slapped the cuffs on him while another officer read him his rights. Behind that lavish suit and handlebar mustache was the look of failure, the look of defeat. Archer waved bye-bye as the officers loaded him into the back of their squad car and drove away, lights flashing.
“Now how about that drink we talked of before?” Archer said, turning to his partner.
“I’m actually late for a skydiving lesson. You know, you should try it sometime. We could go together.”
“You’ll never catch me jumping out of a plane. You know, I can tell our personal lives are nothing alike. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”
“No,” Dale agreed. “Maybe it’s not. I’ll take a rein check on that drink.”
“I won’t hold my breath,” Archer laughed and returned to his vacant house, free from burden and apprehension…but only for the time being.

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