Saturday, June 14, 2014

EXTRACTION (A Wes Archer Story)

Genre: Mystery/Crime Thriller

Daniel Skye


Thursday, December 19, 2013.
            It was an anonymous 911 call that had led to a grisly, mystifying discovery. The caller was described by the 911 dispatcher as a male, between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Whoever the caller was, they spoke in a high-pitched, falsetto voice. There was no way for the dispatcher to determine if the voice was their own or if the caller was attempting to disguise it.
            What was known is that the caller reported a car accident on Industrial Road. He didn’t give a make, model, or plate number. It all happened so fast, the caller had told the dispatcher.
            Anyone who lives in Carter City knows about Lake Jennings and the roads that border it. And anyone who lives in Carter City can tell you that down on Industrial Road, there are no safety rails to protect drivers in the west lane. One wrong turn and your car could end up submerged in water.
            The caller claimed the car had skidded from the road and crashed into the lake with a gargantuan splash. But first responders found no skid marks or tires tracks on the road that indicated such an accident had occurred. Nevertheless, the city spared no expense in searching the murky water for signs of wreckage.
            It was around dawn when they fished a blue Plymouth from the lake. It took them minutes to deduce that the car had not been submerged in the icy water for a few hours. It had been down there at least six months, as the rust and algae formation indicated.
            “Why are we being summoned again for a car accident?” Wes Archer had asked in his Jeep on the ride over to the scene on Industrial Road.
            “They found a body,” Dale Craven had answered.
            “In the front seat?”
            “No, in the trunk.”
            As they pulled up behind several police cruisers, Carson hit the brakes and slammed the Jeep in park and they got out.
            The car was a Plymouth, but it had no plates, no registration, no inspection, no VIN number. “Positive ID is going to be tricky,” Officer Barclay informed his superiors. “His prints turned up nil. And dental records are unlikely.”
            “Why do you say that?” Dale Craven, Archer’s partner, had asked Barclay.
            “He’s got no teeth. They were plied from his mouth.”
* * *
            Saturday, December 21, 2013.
            Wes Archer was seated at his desk, looking over old case files he had Officer Barclay dig up from archives. Steam was rising up from the mug of coffee Dale Craven had placed in front of him. At that precise moment, Archer wanted anything but coffee. He was craving a strong, stiff drink. Something with a little more kick than a beer produces.
            But what he was really craving, what he desired more than anything, was a hit. Archer had gained two things from stay in undercover narcotics: A promotion to Homicide and chemical dependency.
            His last excursion had come during the Glasgow Killer case, when he gave into temptation and smoked pot with his friend, Ray Frye. The circumstances were different then. He was on suspension and didn’t have to worry about passing a drug test. Now, after solving the Glasgow Killer case, he was back on the force.
            He had been off heroin for a long time and was passing all his drug tests. He had finally gained Lieutenant Morris’s trust back and he wasn’t going to lose it this time. He’d die before he let himself relapse again.
            “What you looking at?” Craven asked as he plopped himself in the burgundy chair in front of Archer’s desk.
            “A bunch of old case files. That body in the trunk got me thinking. I’ve seen that handiwork before. The victim’s teeth being excised, it reminded a lot of the unsolved Tooth Fairy case.”
            “The Tooth Fairy?”
            “It was before your time. Six years ago, four bodies turned up over a period of eight months. All the victims were female. Their bodies had been mutilated and their teeth extracted. All the women had one thing in common. They were all loners, drifters, prostitutes or call girls. People that nobody would miss.”
            “And you think this is the work of the same guy?”
            “If it is, then why is he breaking the pattern? Why kill a man? And why go to those lengths to hide the body?”
            “Well, we don’t have anything new on the anonymous 911 call. But we do have a name on the body. Kurt Warwick. A reporter for the Daily Buzz. His co-workers reported him missing months ago when he failed to show up to work after three days. Pete Drayton said the official cause of death was blunt force trauma. He also found multiple stab wounds and lacerations under Warwick’s clothes. The teeth were likely removed after the final blow to the head that did him in.”
            “Do we have officers questioning the staff at the Daily Buzz?”
            “Already taken care of,” Craven told his partner. “And it turns out we can’t find the report when his co-workers declared him missing. The cops in Ocean City never bothered to file it because Warwick was infamous for pulling stunts like that. He’d disappear for two, three days at a time and not tell a soul where he was going.”
            “What else?” Archer asked. “I know you’re holding something back.”
            “I typed Warwick’s name into a search engine to see what would pop up. Turns out the guy was an aide to Roger Devlin.”
            “Devlin? The guy who’s running for governor?”
            “Bingo. He was fired for not showing up to several important meetings. I guess that ties into what his co-workers and OCPD have said about him.”
            “Well, this isn’t Ocean City. This is Carter City. The boys at OCPD couldn’t hang two minutes in this city. I want to know everything there is about this guy. Do we have the authority to talk with Roger Devlin?”
            “You mean do we have permission from the Captain and Lieutenant Morris? No, but since when have rules and regulations ever stopped you from doing what you wanted?”
            “Excellent point,” Archer smiled. “You’re really starting to get to know me, Dale.”
            “You smiled,” Craven said, “And you called me Dale. I don’t think you’ve ever called me Dale except for when you introduce me as your partner.”
            “I guess we’re both making progress,” Archer said, taking a sip of his coffee that had finally cooled off a bit. “Let’s go see Mr. Devlin and hear what he has to say.”
* * *
            Roger Devlin’s office was on the top floor of a private red-brick estate on the Westside of Carter City.
            Wes Archer could tell right off the bat that Devlin was an oak man. The desk, the chairs, even the ribbed wall panels, all polished oak. Devlin was in the middle of a business call when they dropped in to pay him a visit. As soon as Devlin saw them standing in the doorway, he hung up the phone and waved them to come in.
            He was sitting behind his shiny oak desk and invited them to take a seat, but they declined. He was a stout man in his early fifties. Pink jowls ballooned over his white shirt collar. They shook every time he moved. Matching polished gold cufflinks that gleamed under the humming fluorescent office lights.
            “May I ask what this is in regards to Mr.–”
            “Detective. Homicide Detective Wes Archer. This is my partner, Dale Craven.”
            “Homicide?” Devlin said. “What’s this all about?”
            “It’s about one of your former aides. Kurt Warwick. He decided to take a swim in Lake Jennings, except he was locked in the trunk of his Plymouth at the time. They just reeled his car out of the water two days ago.”
            “It’s unfortunate,” Devlin shook his head, and his pink jowls jiggled along with him. “I read about it in the paper.”
            “And you didn’t feel compelled to contact the authorities?” Wes questioned, raising one eyebrow with subtle accusation.
            “I figured if the police felt it necessary, they’d contact me. Apparently you gentlemen felt it was necessary. And I’m here to answer any and all of your questions. I’ll start by saying that Kurt Warwick was only an employee of mine for several months. He was a smart man, he knew the political game, but he simply wasn’t reliable. He liked to drink, he liked to gamble, and those hobbies interfered with his work. So I had to replace him.”
            “Is that all you have to say about Kurt Warwick?”
            “There’s not much else to report, Detective.” He emphasized the word detective in such patronizing fashion that Wes wanted to reach over the desk and smack him.
            “We’ll be in touch if we need to ask anything else,” Archer said as they walked to the door to dismiss themselves.
            “Detectives,” he called out to them and they turned back. “I hope you find whoever was responsible for this. Kurt was a good man. He had his problems, but he was still a good man.”

The Bellmore Hotel was once a prominent symbol of downtown Carter City. Tourists marveled at the pristine conditions, hospitable service, and appreciated its close proximity to shops and local attractions.
            The hotel once deemed a five star establishment has regressed into a magnet for druggies, hookers, and frugal tourists looking for a cheap place to hang their hats for the evening.
            Cheap lodgings are often accompanied by musky, unpleasant odors; but what Nigel Stanwick smelled stemming from the hallway was downright offensive. And so Stanwick phoned the front desk immediately to register a complaint about the foul odor.
            So the front desk dispatched Jordan Kingston, the hotels maintenance man to investigate. He walked the corridors until he believed he located the source. It was coming from a vacant Room 11.
            He used his magnetic card to unlock the door and he had to hang the collar of his shirt over his nose just to stop himself from puking. He had located the room, but had yet to pinpoint the exact source of this rank smell.
            Jordan put on a pair of disposable gloves, peered under the bed, lifted the mattress, checked the closet and the bathroom. Then he walked over to the vent. He dragged a writing chair across the room so he could stand on it and be eye-level with the vent to get a better look inside.
            He lowered his shirt and the pungent aroma wafting out made him gag like a punch to the throat. He brought his shirt collar back over his nose and used one his tools, a flathead, to loosen the screws from the vent. He pulled the grating off and peered inside. Beyond the darkness, he could see something wedged inside. He reached in, felt around, and made a horrific discovery when he pulled out a severed hand, sealed in plastic.
            Jordan Kingston was easily able to identify to the rest of the contents stuffed inside the vent. They were body parts.
* * *
            After questioning the hotel staff and squeezing a few words out of a traumatized Jordan Kingston, Archer and Craven had learned two things.
One: The room was last rented by a man named Kurt Warwick. Or a man using Warwick’s ID. The room had been rented on a Friday, the night after the police had found Warwick’s body in Lake Jennings. The hotel staff couldn’t give a positive description. All they said was the guy looked average. Archer remarked that they usually do. They checked the security cameras, but the guy who had rented the room for the night had come in alone. He paid cash and was wearing a hat, scarf, and a heavy jacket zipped up to his neck. It was impossible to get a clear shot of his face on tape.
And Two: The body found in Room 11 was a female, her body hacked up into seven pieces and neatly vacuum sealed in plastic. Archer, having spent time at marine basins as a child, was familiar with vacuum sealers, as he had seen dock workers using them to seal packages of bait to freeze and sell. Archer knew the size of one of them. It wasn’t something you could transport inside your luggage. So if he had used a vacuum sealer in the hotel, people would’ve seen him walk in with it.
This led Archer to believe the girl’s murder and dismemberment took place elsewhere, and the room was used as a dumping ground. But whoever had killed this poor girl was also in possession of Kurt Warwick’s ID. If they did catch the guy, they’d already have him tied to two murders. It was all a matter of finding him now.
Dale sighed as they stood in the floral carpeted vestibule of the hotel. “Saturday night and this is what we’re doing. I chose the wrong profession.”
“Do we have an ID on the girl yet?”
“I’m afraid not,” Craven shook his head. “This one is going to be tricky. Her teeth are missing. No fingerprints either. Sick, twisted bastard cut her head off, pulled out her teeth, burnt her fingertips off, and shoved her in there like it was nothing. I can’t wait to see this fucker rot in jail.”
“First we have to catch him,” Archer reminded his partner.
A bellboy arriving for his late-night shift bumped shoulders with Wes in the vestibule and turned to apologize. His shiny faux gold nametag said Matthew.
“Sorry about that,” Matthew said.
“No trouble, son,” Archer said to the young bellboy.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” The bellboy looked disappointed.
“Should I?”
“We met a while back,” Matthew informed him.
“Sorry if I don’t remember you. I’m a Detective. I meet lots of people.”
“It’s quite all right,” Matthew assured him as he walked through the automatic doors from the vestibule to the lobby.
“That was odd,” Craven remarked.
“Everything about this job is fucking odd,” Archer retorted.
* * *
            Sunday, December 22, 2013.
            The forensics crew didn’t turn up a single hair, fiber, fingerprint, or DNA sample in Room 11 that came from their killer. If this was the Tooth Fairy, Archer wasn’t dealing with an amateur. He was dealing with a man who knew how to cover his tracks.
            Pete Drayton, the coroner, had his report ready by Sunday afternoon. He and Ray Frye were working extra fast on this case at Archer’s request. Archer wasn’t going to let this guy slip by again. If the Tooth Fairy was back in Carter City, Wes would weed him out.
            The victim was female, African American, twenty-one to twenty-six years old, no tattoos but a birthmark above her hip and a faded scar on one knee.
            Her body had been dismantled, cut into seven pieces. The arms were hacked off at the shoulder blades. The legs cut off at the thighs. The torso had been split into two separate parts. The killer more than likely saved the head for last.
            The massive tissue and muscle damage indicated that a chainsaw or some other sawing instrument was used to cut the girl up. Cause of death was undetermined, but Pete surmised she probably bled out from one of her various stab wounds before the killer hacked her to bits and extracted her teeth.
            “This reminds me of the Vulture case,” Pete told Archer over the phone. “Our killer turned out to be a failed surgeon.”
            “And you’re suggesting our killer might be a failed dentist?”
            “He could be an active dentist for all we know. All I can say is this guy knows how to pull teeth. They’re pulled out by the roots. There’s nothing left for me to even examine.”
            “That’s all right, Pete. Call us if you find anything else.” Archer hung up the phone on his desk and leaned back in his chair, exhausted. He had barely slept since the night they reeled the blue Plymouth out from the lake.
            “Pete has a point,” Dale said, working on his fourth cup of coffee. “Our guy could be a dentist, or an aspiring dentist, or a whack job who flunked out of dental school.”
            “We need an ID on our victim. I’ll tell you what, you look into dentists. I’ll look into girls reported missing in the last few weeks.”
            “Whatever gets me away from you,” Dale shrugged and took Archer’s place at his desk. If he was going to find a name, he wasn’t going to find it in any reports. He needed outside help for this one. Toad.
* * *
            Toad is Archer’s snitch. A smalltime drug dealer who operates with immunity and protection in exchange for the information he feeds Wes from time to time.
            In the four previous Tooth Fairy murder cases, the girls had been drifters who made money as call girls, strippers, or prostitutes. And Toad knew the names of every girl that worked downtown Carter City.
            He found Toad on the corner of Sparkwood and Sycamore, hanging out in front of the arcade.
            “You looking to buy or you looking for info?” Toad asked as he approached the driver side window of Archer’s Jeep.
            “Info,” Archer said. “You know I don’t use anymore.”
            “Right, right,” Toad said, laughing silently at the thought of a sober Wes Archer.
            “I’m looking for a girl who disappeared, maybe not too long ago. Brown hair, brown eyes, black skin, twenty-one to twenty-six years old, she might’ve been a street walker if you catch my drift.”
            “The only girl I can think of that matches that description is Shondra Wilson.”
            “Shondra Wilson,” Wes jotted the name down on his notepad he had pressed against the horn of the steering wheel.
            “Yeah, she disappeared a week ago. Her pimp is Lex Belmar.”
            “Lex Belmar,” Wes repeated, jotting down the name again.
“He works down on Elm Street, has a connection with the ESB.”
            “The ESB?”
            “The Elm Street Boys. You never heard of them? They’re a multiracial gang, run by Damien Delgado. They’re practically putting me out of business with the shit they sell. They share the street with Belmar, who gives them a taste of his profits.”
            “This is all good to know. You never disappoint me, Toad.”
            “Just keep my name out of it and we’re cool,” Toad grinned and flashed him the thumbs up.
            “By the way, does Vernon Keene still hang out over here?” Keene was a young thug who had a physical altercation with Archer months before. He had also helped solve the Glasgow Killer case with the information he gave to Archer.
            “No, he’s with the ESB now.”
* * *
            Elm Street was the worst section of downtown Carter City. Not even the cops bothered to pass through nowadays. But Wes Archer wasn’t your regular cop.
            He drove his Jeep straight into the belly of the beast. He passed several street walkers in mini dresses and tattered fishnet stockings. He slowed down, but as soon as he mentioned the name Shondra Wilson, they disbanded.
            Lex Belmar, a thin white man with a cleft chin and a backwards baseball cap approached the car angrily. “Hey!” he shouted into the window. “You best be leaving my bitches alone. They here to make money, not chitchat.”
            “What about you?” Wes inquired. “You like to chitchat? Because I’m looking for info about a girl named Shondra Wilson. And I can get that info here or in the interrogation room. Your call.”
            “Shondra was one of my girls, ok? But she ran off a week ago. Didn’t even take her stuff with her. She was irresponsible. Shondra took risks, went into business for herself, took on clients without me knowing about it. She was a liability. I’m glad she’s gone.”
            “She’s dead.”
            “Beg pardon?”
            “Does Shondra have a birthmark above her hip or a scar on her knee?”
            “Yeah, she’s had a scar on her knee since she was a kid she told me. The birthmark, I’m pretty sure it was right by her hip.”
            “Then she’s the girl lying on a cold examining slab in the city morgue right now.”
            “Damn…how did she die?” Lex honestly seemed broken up about it. Archer could never tell if a man like Belmar was being sincere or not. But if he wasn’t being sincere, he was trying his hardest to fool Archer and it was working.
            “Someone hacked her up into pieces. Ripped the teeth right out of her mouth.”
            Belmar looked like he was going to be sick.
            “Anything you want to tell me that might help find her killer?”
            “Like I said, the girl took risks. I couldn’t keep tabs on her twenty-four-seven, you know what I mean? She took risks, and I guess she paid the price this time. Do you know if there’s going to be a funeral?”
            “Not until her family is notified.”
            Wes figured they were done, so he drove off without saying a word. He came to a second stop when he cruised past Vernon Keene. But Keene wasn’t alone. A small army of men stood around him.
            Wes exited his Jeep and approached the group with zero apprehension.
            In the center of the group was Damien Delgado, the leader of the ESB. Delgado was Latino, but he spoke seven different languages, his primary languages being Spanish and English. He was smart, influential, and he was dangerous.
            To his left was Santino Martinez; half Italian, half Latino. Standing to his right was Vernon Keene, the young man who had once tried to slash Archer’s face with a broken bottle.
            “What do you want?” Damien asked, holding his men at bay with a single hand gesture. They were exceptionally well trained. If Damien so much as snapped his fingers, they would’ve torn Wes apart like a pack of feral wolves.
            “I want to talk to Keene.”
            “Whatever you have to say to Keene, you can say to me. Think of me as his interpreter.”
            “I want to know about Shondra Wilson.”
            “We don’t fuck around with those disease ridden skanks. We just let them turn their tricks on that end of the street and we get a piece of the action. That’s it.”
            “Shondra Wilson was mutilated and chopped to pieces.”
            “Well, that saddens me. I can’t say I condone violence against women. But I can’t say I can help you, either. My gang doesn’t fuck with those girls, period. I don’t need my boys spreading any bad shit around the neighborhood.”
            “So you’re not interested in helping us find Shondra’s killer?”
            “If I knew something, I’d tell you something. And if you find the bastard who did it, bring him to me and the ESB will personally take care of it for you.”

            Archer had an ID on the girl now. Shondra Wilson. A relative was called in to confirm it. Through tears, her aunt was able to positively identify what was left of her niece. Wes wanted to ask the aunt a few questions, but he restrained himself, realizing it wasn’t the appropriate time.
            Dale Craven had spent his entire Sunday searching for dentists and came up with a name.
            Alan Funk.
            “Funk flunked out of dental school eight years ago. He was, quote, the worst student they ever had, unquote. That’s what his teacher told me over the phone. His classmates said was a loner, antisocial, considered himself to be the artistic type. He owns and operates a small art studio on Canon Street. He was working as a waiter at La Brisa, but he was fired. I called the manager to see what he and the staff thought of Funk. The phrase the manager used was mentally unstable. Sounds like our guy to me.”
            “We can’t be sure unless we talk to him first.”
            “Aren’t you going to say ‘good work’ or ‘nice job, Dale’ or something to that effect?”
            “Don’t push your luck. You’re lucky I’m even calling you Dale on a regular basis now.”
* * *
            They barged into Alan Funk’s studio on Canon Street without a warrant. But that didn’t matter to Archer. The absence of a warrant never stopped him from obtaining facts. A reporter was dead, a young girl was dead, and until this case was solved, more innocent lives were in danger.
            “The fuck are you?” Funk asked, bemused by their surprise visit.
            “I’m Homicide Detective Wes Archer. This is my partner, Dale Craven. Does the name Kurt Warwick mean anything to you?”
            “Should it?” Funk asked and shrugged his small shoulders.
            “What about Shondra Wilson? Do you know her?”
            “I don’t know either of these people you mentioned. What is this about exactly?”
            Dale admired his paintings on the wall. They all fell under the category of abstract art, random scribbles and sporadic patterns and shapes that made no sense to average citizen that lacks the flavor for art. Dale marveled at them, but not at their designs or at Funk’s talents. He was marveling at the fact that people could make a living by selling this worthless crap.
            “Can you or anyone account for your whereabouts on Thursday night?” Thursday was the night Pete Drayton determined that Shondra Wilson was murdered.
            “I had an unveiling at an art gallery on Fulton Street. That was at seven o’clock. I stayed until ten. Then I left with a friend and we had coffee and a bite to eat. Then I went home, watched a movie, and went to bed.”
            “The friends name?”
            “Nigel Stanwick. He was in town for the gallery. He was staying at the Bellmore Hotel. But he checked out unexpectedly Saturday night.”
            “I have an idea why,” Archer said, raising his hand to his nose and pinching it. “Your friend, Nigel will corroborate your story.”
            “He will if you ask him. I’ll give you his number before you leave.”
* * *
            Funk’s alibi checked out. Nigel Stanwick, and fifty other people at the art gallery, vouched for his whereabouts that night. He couldn’t have been the one who killed Shondra Wilson or cut her up. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t rent the room at the Bellmore Hotel the following night to stash her body for someone else. If Archer learned anything from his fifteen years with CCPD, it was to always expect the unexpected.
            “Where does that leave us now?” Dale asked back at the station.
            “It sends us back to square one.”
            “So what, we just sit on our hands and wait for the Tooth Fairy to kill again?”
            “Or hope he turns himself in. In the meantime, I want constant surveillance on Alan Funk until we know for sure he’s clean. If he shits, I want to know how many times he wipes his ass.”
            “I’ll have Barclay handle that assignment,” Dale chuckled.
            “And keep going through lists of dentists. You’re good with computers. Keep trying the search engines. Let’s not give up here.”
            “The last thing you or I do during a case like this is give up.”
* * *
Wednesday, December 25, 2013.
As the case ran as cold as the brisk weather in Carter City, Archer had taken Christmas off to catch up on some much needed rest. He was still running on fumes and he needed a night to refuel his tank.
He ordered Chinese food, drank a few imported beers, and passed out on his sofa. That was his Christmas. He considered phoning his estranged father, but he knew it would do more harm than good.
The phone rang after midnight, jolting him out of a sound sleep.
He stretched out over the sofa and picked up the phone on the end table, lifting the receiver to his ear as he mashed his eyes with the knuckles of his free hand.
“Hello?” Archer groaned.
“Wes, it’s me, Dale. I’m sorry to disturb you, but I had no other choice. We’ve got another victim…Wes, the victim is Gina Morris. It’s Mitch Morris’s niece.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013.
Wes Archer sat out with Mitch Morris on the veranda. Morris puffed the end of a cigar, the mellow smoke drifting up to the sky. On the outside, Morris was trying to play it cool, making it seem like he was calm and collected.
            But Archer could see the murderous glint in his eyes. The man’s rage was palpable. Someone had taken away his family, his brother’s little girl, and he wanted revenge. He wanted to see this man suffer to his last breath.
            Archer had seen the Tooth Fairy’s handiwork at the morgue when Pete Drayton called him in. Gina’s throat had been slashed, the carotid artery severed. She bled out in minutes. That was after thirty-eight stabs to the torso had failed to do the job on Gina Morris. The teeth were extracted after Gina had passed on, but that didn’t make her suffering any less horrific.
            “Wes…I need you to find this piece of shit. I need you to bring him to me, pronto. I want to see him face-to-face. I want him to look deep into my eyes before I smash his fucking face in. I want to break every single bone in his worthless body. And then I want to throw his crippled ass in a cell and let him rot while I forget he even exists.”
            “Mitch, if I can call you Mitch, I’m your man. I’ll bring this son of a bitch down. Trust me.”
            “I know you will, Wes. You’ve never let us down in the past. Hey, while you’re here, I want to tell you something I never even told Captain Bishop.” Mitch turned head face towards the porch lights, so Wes could admire the scars that made up his face. He motioned with his thumb to the long horizontal scar that had been across his neck for as long as Wes had known him.
            “My own brother, Gina’s father, gave me this scar. It was thirty years ago. I was a different person in a different time, a different era. And I did something unforgivable. I slept with my brother’s wife. You see, I deserved this scar. That’s why he never did time. I never said jack shit to anybody. And we didn’t talk for thirty years. Not until last night.
            It’s funny how one awful tragedy can bring people together again. I always wanted to reconcile with my brother, but not at the expense of my niece. Gina is a blameless victim in all of this. She doesn’t even fit the pattern of the Tooth Fairy. She wasn’t a hooker or a call girl.”
            “Kurt Warwick didn’t fit the profile, either,” Wes pointed out.
            “All I know is I won’t sleep until this cocksucker is rotting away behind bars.”
            “I better get a move on then,” Wes said. “I’m not going to let this bastard get away with this.”
* * *
            Archer checked in with Dale. Alan Funk had an alibi for Gina’s murder; just as he had an alibi the night Shondra Wilson was killed. Wes finally relinquished his suspicions of Alan Funk and told Craven to tell the officers to stop tailing him.
            Funk wasn’t their guy. Unstable, yes. Eccentric, yes. But he wasn’t a killer. The Tooth Fairy wasn’t the artistic type. He was the type that made his victims suffer to their last breath.
            Dale’s searches turned up nil as far as dentists were concerned. He was starting to think the search was a dead end, but Archer told him to keep at it. In the meantime, Wes decided to visit someone he hadn’t spoken to in years. Someone he hoped he’d never have to see again.
            His brother.
* * *
            Aaron Archer was cozily confined to a private eight by ten cell in Carter City Maximum Security.
            He was serving ten consecutive life sentences in solitary confinement for the crimes that he committed. Years ago, Aaron was referred to by the papers as the Devil’s Apprentice, a psychotic killer who performed satanic rituals on his victims. The number 666 was found written in blood on the walls of every crime scene.
            It was Archer who finally caught him red-handed, quite literally, and turned him. Gaining a promotion to Homicide in the process. He didn’t want the promotion. He didn’t turn his brother in for the promotion. He turned his brother in because he knew it was the right thing to do.
            A lone guard walked Archer through solitary confinement and led him to Aaron’s cell. He unlocked the door and opened it, as there was a row of bars on the other side of the door that sat between Wes and Aaron.
            “I’ll leave you two alone,” the guard said, dismissing himself.
            “Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” Aaron said as he walked to the bars. Prison had not been kind to him. His wild hair and unkempt beard were the only things that distracted Wes from his gaunt figure.
            “I didn’t come for a family reunion.”
            “I didn’t assume you did for a second. So why are you here after all these years? Come to gloat about your big promotion? All you had to do was rat me out to get it. If you stab dad in the back will they give you a medal?”
            “I’m not here to talk about dad. And I’m sorry for what I did, believe me. I’ve been paying for it for years. But I’m not here to talk about that either. Do you remember the Tooth Fairy?”
            “Of course. I keep tabs on all my fellow mass-murdering psychopaths.”
            “He’s back. We found a car in Lake Jennings. There was a body in the trunk, multiple stab wounds, teeth ripped out. This time it was a man; Kurt Warwick. Two more bodies have followed this discovery. And I have a feeling this guy isn’t going to throw in the towel until we catch him or kill him.”
            “And you need your little brother’s help? Am I your version of Hannibal Lector?”
            “No, Hannibal Lector is intelligent and well spoken.”
            “So, you’ve come for my opinion. How adorable. No wedding ring, I see. You never tied the knot again, huh?”
            “I’m not here to talk about Emily, either. I need to find this guy before he strikes again.”
            “The other victims, were they female like his others?”
            “Then you’re looking at the wrong ones. Focus on the male victim, the one you found in the lake. He broke the pattern. And killers don’t break their pattern unless they’re trying to make a statement, or they need to eliminate a threat.”
            “You’re saying this is all about Warwick?”
            “I’m saying find out why he killed Warwick and you’ll have the answer to every other question your mind holds.”
            “Thanks, Aaron. I’ll make sure to send you a belated Christmas present.”
            “And I’ll make sure to toss it in the trash with all the other crap you’ve sent me over the years.”
* * *
Friday, December 27, 2013.
            Archer and Craven were working fast, but the Tooth Fairy was working faster. By Friday night, the cops had learned of another victim, her body found inside a dumpster near Elm Street.
            It was the usual scenario. Multiple stab wounds and lacerations to the torso. This time he severed the femoral artery instead of the carotid. Then he plucked her teeth one by one.
            Wes Archer had the cops round up Lex Belmar and bring him to the morgue where he positively identified the victim as one his girls, Jackie Brewster.
            “Who was she with tonight?”
            “Jackie wasn’t working tonight,” Lex told Archer. He was wearing his poker face again. Archer couldn’t tell if he was being honest, but he sounded sincere. “She had a chest cold and I didn’t need her chasing away my business so I told her to rest up. But she was a lot like Shondra. Always going into business for herself. It wouldn’t surprise me if she turned a trick or two on her own time.”
            Frustrated, Archer dismissed Lex before he did anything he would later regret. Then he pulled Dale aside and told him to drop the dentist search. Their killer wasn’t a dentist, a periodontist, an orthodontist. Their killer was a stone cold psycho without a shred of compassion.
            And if Aaron was right, Kurt Warwick was key to solving this. So he told Dale to meet him back at the station with his things. He said they were taking an overnight trip to Ocean City.
            But as Archer drove from the morgue alone in his Jeep, he noticed someone was tailing him. He pulled his Jeep to the curb and put it in park and the red car stopped ten feet behind him. Wes exited the Jeep and marched over to the red car, pulling the driver side door open and yanking the driver out.
            It was the bellboy that had knocked shoulders with Wes inside the vestibule of the Bellmore Hotel. “Matthew?”
            “Matthew Smith,” the bellboy said his full name. “Remember me now?”
            “Still doesn’t ring a bell.”
            “I was in the academy three years ago. You said I was weak, that I didn’t have what it took to be a police officer. Two weeks later, they booted me from the academy.”
            “That had nothing to do with me, kid. They probably booted you because you simply weren’t qualified. Don’t take it personal.”
            “But I did. I wanted to get you guys back in any way possible. I wanted to cause you some grief. So I decided to have a little fun at your expense. I was the one who made the call to 911. But it was just a prank. The guy never told me you’d find anything.”
            “Guy, what guy?”
            “I don’t remember his name. Come to think of it, I don’t even think I asked. All I remember is his teeth. They were all yellow and crooked. I don’t think the guy ever heard of a dentist.”
            “Did this guy tell you to call 911?”
            “He paid me. Five hundred dollars. But like I said, I didn’t know you’d find anything.”
            “So that’s why you were following me.”
            “Yes. I wanted to come straight to you. I figured you might understand.”
            “I understand you broke the law. And I can tell you’re holding something back from me. And I can beat it out of you or you can do the honest thing and tell me.”
            “Darren Sanders. The guy said his name was Darren Sanders.”
            “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
* * *
            Archer let Matthew Smith off the hook. In the end, his information had brought them a step closer to apprehending the Tooth Fairy. And that was all that mattered. He wasn’t doing this for himself anymore. He was doing it for Mitch. He wasn’t going to let Morris down again.
            He had Officer Barclay look into the name Darren Sanders and then he and Dale were off to Ocean City.
            The drive was two hours, but Wes made it there with half an hour to spare.
            “I’m never driving with you again,” Dale said as they exited Archer’s Jeep. They checked into a hotel for the rest of the evening. They were checked out by that morning, as soon as the office of the Daily Buzz opened.
            The staff wasn’t very receptive, but Archer found one woman willing to help. Her name was Valerie Reed.
            “Call me Val,” she said, flashing a benevolent smile that was reserved specially for Wes. She was a single woman in her early thirties and Archer couldn’t help but think she looked stunning with her long legs and shoulder-length blond hair. But he had to keep his mind focused on the task at hand.
            “Pleasure to meet you, Val,” he said and then it was right down to business. “What exactly did Warwick write for the paper?
            “Anything that was required, but his specialty was political scandals. He was the one who exposed Thom Whitford as a crack addict when he was running for mayor in 2012.”
            “What was he working on before he disappeared?”
            “I don’t know, but I could check his laptop. It’s still in his old office.”
            Val checked the files, but all of them were encrypted. “This could take some time,” Val said, rolling her eyes.
            “But can you bypass the encryption?” Dale asked, speaking for Wes who was still quite speechless over the sight of Valerie.
            “I certainly can."
            “Then we can wait."

            Saturday, December 28, 2013.
            Craven and Archer returned to Carter City, and a message from Valerie Reed was already waiting for them at the station.
            Kurt Warwick had been writing a piece about Roger Devlin, a former mayor who was now running for governor of Carter City. Warwick was about to blow the lid off of Devlin’s best kept secret.
            Devlin had an illegitimate son he fathered with a prostitute in ’82. The child’s name was Darren Devlin A.K.A. Darren Sanders.
            “We’ve got him, partner,” Archer cracked a smile.
            “We sure do,” Craven smiled back.
            It took them seven hours to bring Sanders in after they leaned hard on Devlin. He eventually caved to the pressure and gave his son up in exchange for a lighter sentence.
            Meanwhile, Darren Sanders sang like a canary.
            Archer studied him from a distance in the interrogation room. He was a young man with reddish brown hair, a chin strap beard, and crooked, yellow teeth. His blue eyes were like sheets of ice.
            He killed Kurt Warwick at the behest of his father, who didn’t want the truth leaking about his connection to Sanders. In return for that favor, Roger Devlin helped Sanders cover his tracks and fund his little operation.
            Archer was right. He wasn’t a dentist. He never dreamed of being a dentist. He was a truck driver and he was also an extremely disturbed individual. He collected the teeth not as a memento, but as a way of hindering their investigation. He told them if they wanted all the teeth he collected over the years to search the bottom of Lake Jennings where they found the car.
            Sanders even confessed to Lex Belmar’s involvement, saying he was paid off to lure the girls to their deaths. He even supplied the drug that Sanders used to spike Gina Morris’s drink in a bar the night he killed her.
            After they had a signed and dated confession, Wes listed all the horrible, unrepeatable things he wished would happen to Darren Sanders during his life vacation in prison.
            Then it was Mitch’s turn to interrogate Sanders. He rolled up his sleeves as the cameras and recorders were turned off. Then he drove his fist into Sanders jaw. And that was just the beginning. Archer exited the room quietly, but he could still hear Sanders screams on the other side of the door. And those screams brought another rare smile to his face.
* * *
            Lex Belmar got off with a slap on the wrist for giving up additional information about Sanders, including leading the cops to an unmarked gravesite of another unreported victim of the Tooth Fairy.
            Sanders had failed to mention the name Dina Murphy in his confession. But Dina had been one of Belmar’s girls, and Belmar had led them straight to her and this was what got him off the hook.
            But that doesn’t mean Archer let him off the hook, too. He paid a visit to the Elm Street Boys with a sweaty fistful of cash in hand. Then the Elm Street Boys paid a little visit to Lex Belmar.
            They shattered his nose. They cracked his ribs. They busted his legs. They rearranged his face with the carelessness of a plastic surgeon. They kicked, stomped, battered, and beat Lex within an inch of his pathetic life.
            And Wes watched it all happen from ten feet away. Him and Dale Craven. After it was all said and done, they shared a beer.
            “Good job, Dale,” Archer said.
            “Good job, Wes,” Dale said, chuckling.
            “It feels odd being on a first name basis.”
            “You didn’t have a problem when it came to Ms. Reed. ‘Call me Val’. She was so smitten with you.”
            “I’ve been thinking about calling her,” Wes confessed.
            “You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.” But that was a lie. Wes had already lost everything he loved, including his first wife. But it was never too late to try again. So he picked up the phone and made the call.
            “Hello, Val? It’s Wes Archer. Are you free for dinner this Monday?”

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