Saturday, September 27, 2014

THE EYES HAVE IT (Revised Version)

Genre: Horror

By Daniel Skye

          Long Island, New York.
          It was low tide when the body of Fritz Zoller washed up along the jetties, his mangled corpse crashing against a wall of jagged rocks with each rippling wave. Just as twilight set in and the sky was a breathtaking canvas of orange and purple, John Calvin had trotted down to the jetties with his fishing rod for one final cast.
          John was the first to see what remained of Fritz Zoller when he cast his line into the water and gazed down at the sea.
          John Calvin promptly notified the authorities, who fished Zoller’s body out from the water and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Montauk police assessed the damage inflicted to the chest and face, and determined this was no accident. Fritz Zoller didn’t slip and fall into the water, or get snatched by a mammoth wave and dragged out to sea. This was a cold, calculated, deliberate act.
          Someone dumped the body in the ocean, hoping it wouldn’t row back to shore. They counted fifty-two lacerations to the torso. And most baffling was the fact that Zoller’s eyes had been scooped clean out of the sockets.
          It was unthinkable to even imagine that someone in their small, friendly community could be capable of such a grisly act. But they couldn’t deny the possibility or rule out any suspects. Fritz Zoller had many friends, but no known enemies. So finding his killer wasn’t going to be a stroll on the beach.
* * *
          Ted Jones was a reporter for the Long Island Post. He always fought for the big stories, but was always passed over by his editor in favor of other journalists. Instead, he was relegated to writing short, half-page articles about rescue animals or crystal meth lab explosions.
When Fritz Zoller’s body floated to Montauk shore, the article went to Ted’s colleague, Phil Johnson. The local police didn’t give Phil many details to work with. They just confirmed his death was not accidental and that they were considering all possible suspects at that time. Zoller never married, never had children. He didn’t leave much behind, but his minimal belongings were being donated to charity.
Other than that, they knew that Fritz Zoller was residing in Montauk for ten years before his death. He worked in construction and pitched in at the bakery part-time to make extra scratch.
That was three months before the disappearance of Dwayne Urig, the latest in a string of disappearances that had plagued the otherwise serene village of Montauk.
When it came time to write the article, Phil Johnson got first dibs. Again, there was little information to go on. Dwayne had not been declared dead, simply missing. But all the locals feared the worst.
It was June, Friday the 13th, 2014, when Ted Jones was summoned into Derek Stoker’s office. Stoker was a man that Ted despised with every fiber of his being. But Ted was an ace at masking his contempt. It’s the only reason he stayed on the payroll for so many years.
His editor was a fidgety man with a receding hairline. Stoker was always tugging at the legs of his pants or adjusting his silk ties. Every year that Jones worked there, he watched Stoker’s hair grow thinner, his bald spot grow wider, forming that classic horseshoe pattern.
“Yes, Mr. Stoker?” Ted asked as he entered.
“We’ve got a lead on the Dwayne Urig case,” his editor informed him. “An old man who claims to have new information the police won’t share with the press. I need you to go out there and see if this guy’s legit.”
“What about Johnson?” Ted asked, not even realizing he was basically trying to talk himself out of a job.
“Johnson is on his way out,” Stoker said. “He’ll be working for another paper by the end of the month. I need someone to step up and fill his shoes. You could be that someone. Don’t let me down, Terry.”
“Ted,” he corrected him.
“Whatever,” Stoker muttered, sliding something out from his desk. It was a blank check. Ben Loomis had failed to list a price. But if this business taught Ted anything, it was that everyone has a price.
The truth can be bought just as easily as it can be adjusted or exploited to sell a few extra copies. To people like Stoker, the truth was as flexible as a rubber band. You could stretch it as far as needed.
“Here’s a blank check,” Stoker said, passing it to Ted. He folded the check and placed it in his breast pocket. “The guy’s name is Ben Loomis. I’ve written the name and address on some stationary and reservations have already been made for you at the Montauk Manor. The next train leaves in three hours. I suggest you get packing. And whatever information he has to share, pay no more than a grand for it. But try and talk him down to five hundred or less if you can.”
Ted left Stoker’s office feeling a renewed sense of confidence. This was his big break. The information Ben Loomis had to share could blow this investigation wide open, maybe even solve the mystery of Urig’s disappearance. Or it could be complete horseshit. But Ted knew there was only one way to find out.
He returned to his desk, grabbed his notepad and windbreaker. “Why do you look so happy?” Phil Johnson asked, looking up from his desk.
“I’m on my way to Montauk,” Ted said. “Stoker’s got a lead on the Urig case and he’s sending me out to interview them.”
“You?” Johnson said in disbelief.
“I’m just as shocked as you,” Ted told him.
“Man, I never thought Stoker would give you a break,” Johnson said.
“Well, on the record, Stoker’s a prick,” Ted informed his colleague. “Off the record, he’s also a creep with a fetish for women’s shoes. He got caught red-handed one time in the janitor’s closet with his secretary’s pumps. Let’s just say he wasn’t polishing them.”
“I guess that’s why they call him Stroker,” Johnson laughed. “Well, best of luck to you, Ted. You deserve it.”
* * *
          Ted rushed home, packed, and caught the eastbound train from Dorchester station at one o’clock. He arrived in Montauk by three. He had Map-Quested directions with his phone and Ben Loomis lived a quarter mile from Montauk station.
          Seeing as his editor was a frugal bastard and sent him with little to no cash to cover his expense, he had the option of paying for a cab out of his own pocket or hoofing it. He figured the walk might do him good. A slight breeze had kicked in from the west and the weather was balmy and mellow, the perfect conditions for him to stretch his legs and enjoy the tranquil scenery.
          He passed Montauk Lake along the way. Then he crossed over at Industrial Road, the home of Riverhead Building Supply and other wholesale providers.
Ted thought about Phil Johnson leaving the Post. This being his big opportunity was the one thing keeping him focused. He was there to squeeze the truth out of Ben Loomis…and exploit it for his own personal gain.
This wasn’t about Phil Johnson or Derek Stoker or the LI Post. Ted was looking out for Numero Uno. And like many of his fellow counterparts, he viewed the news for what it really was: Mass exploitation. Keep people scared, confused, anxious, and enraged and they’ll keep reading the paper and watching the television.
On his walk, he stumbled upon the town post office. There was a bulletin board posted out front, but instead of fliers for guitar lessons or posters that advertised local tourist attractions, the board was riddled with dozens of missing person’s fliers; the fliers all overlapping one another.
Smack-dab in the middle of this bulletin board was a flier with a young girl’s picture on it. Fifteen years old, wavy brown hair, green eyes, braces. The flier said her name was Veronica White. It also claimed she was last seen walking home from school, in September of 1997. She was traveling west on South Federal Street, carrying a purple knapsack.
She could have been kidnapped, Jones thought silently. Sold into white slavery. Or maybe some creep snatched her up, someone looking for an easy target. Poor girl, he thought. They might find her body floating in a watery ditch someday…well, what’s left of her body. Won’t be much left after the birds, maggots, and earthworms have their fill.
Ted Jones didn’t want to think these terrible thoughts, but he was accustomed to them. His paper wrote of these events on a daily basis: Rape, murder, kidnapping, child molestation. Whatever sold copies.
Ben lived on East Lake Drive, in a one-story brick layered house with a small chimney stack and a semi-circular driveway, where Ben’s ancient Ford Deluxe was parked.
The porch was wooden and didn’t feel too sturdy as Ted ascended the stairs. Seeing as how there was no doorbell, Ted settled for an old-fashioned knock.
No answer. So he knocked again. Glancing down at his wristwatch, he realized that he had started to tap his foot.
It was an annoying habit he had recently developed. Something he would do whenever he started to grow anxious or impatient. When he was in meetings with his boss or his editor, his foot would tap like he was pounding a bass drum. He couldn’t control it unless he concentrated extremely hard.
The door open a smidge and two grey, tired eyes peeked out and examined Ted. “State your business,” a voice said, harsh and raspy.
“My name is Ted Jones,” he introduced himself. “I’m with the LI Post.”
“Just a minute,” Ben said and closed the door. A few seconds later, the door was opened again and Ben waved him inside.
Loomis closed the door behind him, locking it. He assured Ted it was only a minor precaution. Ted gathered that Zoller’s untimely demise stirred up a lot of concern in this quaint little fishing village.
He led Ted from the foyer to the living room, which reminded Jones of something his grandmother might throw together once Alzheimer’s sets in. The plaid couch was sealed in a plastic slipcover. The wool carpet was purple and made Jones ponder if Loomis was colorblind. So did the mustard yellow wallpaper, which proved to be an instant eyesore.
There was an antique armoire in one corner and an antique credenza in the other. Even the lamp that sat atop the credenza appeared ancient. Jones couldn’t help but wonder if Loomis arranged this place himself, or if he bought it as it was. But he didn’t dare ask. He didn’t want to offend a potential news source of this caliber.
The fragrance of stale cigarette smoke tainted the entire house. The whole place reeked like the bottom of an ashtray.
“Make yourself at home,” Ben said as Ted did just that and planted himself on the plastic covered couch. “Can I get you anything? Water, coffee?”
“Coffee would be great right about now,” Ted said.
“Excellent,” Loomis said. “I just put on a fresh pot. How do you take it?”
“Lots of cream and sugar,” Ted responded.
Loomis shuffled off to the kitchen and returned with two steaming mugs of coffee. He passed one to Ted and sat across from him in a red leather armchair. Ted waited for his coffee to cool down a bit before he took the first sip.
“I walked here from the train station,” Ted shared with Ben. “Passed the post office. A lot of missing person’s fliers tacked to the bulletin board. Dwayne Urig was one of them. Another one dated back to 1997. Veronica White.”
“Veronica White,” Loomis repeated the name with his raspy voice. His poor throat had been ravaged from years of smoking and health negligence. “I remember her. A sweet girl. Used to come into my candy shop every day after school. They never did find her. I felt sick for her family.”
“You said you own a candy shop?” Ted asked, scribbling along on his notepad.
“I did,” Loomis said as Ted continued writing. “Until I got sick, I owned three businesses in Montauk. The candy shop, the hardware store, and town’s souvenir shop. I sold the souvenir and candy shops a few years ago. The hardware store went last year.”
“And you saw Veronica White every day?”
“That’s what I said. Then she went and grew up on me and stopped coming in all the time. She’d still stop by once in a blue moon for chocolate fudge or black licorice.”
The coffee had cooled and Ted sipped it as he stared down at his notepad. So far, he wasn’t looking at Pulitzer Prize material.
“You said they never found her,” Ted read from his notepad. “Do you remember the day she disappeared?”
“That was so long ago,” Loomis said, thinking back. “It was September of 1997. She was walking home from school. I guess she never made it back. It always bothered the locals, never knowing what happened to her.”
“Do you believe Veronica White could still be alive?”
“Veronica White’s been missing for seventeen years. If that girl’s alive, it’s nothing short of a miracle. But I doubt it. She’s gone. And I doubt they’ll ever find her.”
“Do you think they’ll ever find her killer?” Ted asked.
“I don’t know,” Ben said, shrugging his gaunt shoulders. He finished his coffee and put the mug aside, then crossed his arms over his chest. “Only time will tell.”
“Let’s move on to Fritz Zoller,” Ted said. “Did you know him?”
“Sure did,” Ben said. “Used to see him in the bakery all the time. And he was a construction worker, so he did projects on the side for cash. I had him build a new shed out back for me for five hundred bucks. Can I get you some more coffee?”
“No thanks,” Ted shook his head, holding up the mug. “Still working on it.” He took another sip and wrote a few more notes down on his pad.
“Were you surprised when they found the body?”
“I’m sixty-eight years old,” Ben laughed. “Nothing surprises me anymore.”
“We don’t know much about his death,” Jones said. “Just that it was intentional. Perhaps you could shed some more light on the situation.”
“Fritz Zoller was murdered,” Ben said. “I can assure you of that. He must’ve suffered quite a bit from what I’ve heard. Fifty-two lacerations to the torso. And that’s not the horrific part.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Jones was writing like a madman. His pen was on fire as he jotted down every detail verbatim. His foot was tapping with impatience. He had to know more.
“What’s the horrific part?”
“His eyes were gone,” Ben told him.
“Scooped clean out of his skull.”
“I thought I heard everything until now,” Jones said.
“You know I was once premed?” Loomis shared this with Ted as if it was a key aspect to his story. “I got booted out. Hand tremors. I don’t have that problem anymore. My hands are steady as a board. But none of that makes a difference. I’ve got the Big C.”
“The Big C?”
“Cancer. It started in my lungs. Spread through the rest of my body. It’s rotting me from the inside as we speak. That’s why you’re here. I need to clear my conscience before I’m dead and buried. I need to tell you the truth about Dwayne Urig’s murder.”
“Dwayne Urig hasn’t been declared dead yet. Just missing.”
“He’s dead. I can assure you of that as well.”
“How could you know for sure? Did you kill Dwayne Urig?” Jones scoffed just at the thought of this old man harming a hair on someone’s head.
“I most certainly did not. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t dead.”
“Prove it.”
“You want me to show you the body? I can’t. But I can tell you things nobody but the local police are aware of.”
“So please tell me. That’s what I’m here for. To tell your side of the story.”
“Save your patronizing attitude for the next schmuck. You’re here to do your job and make your bosses rich in the process. That’s all you’re here for. Now, as you’re aware of, Dwayne Urig isn’t the first resident of Montauk to be declared missing. Several residents have either vanished or died under questionable circumstances in the past six months alone.”
“Yes, I’m aware of this,” Jones nodded his head
“What you’re not aware of, because the police have been trying to keep a lid on it, is the fact that this is all the work of one person. They don’t know if it’s a man or a woman, but they’re leaning towards the idea it’s a man due to the vicious nature of the crimes.”
“Are you saying there’s a serial killer on the loose here in Montauk?”
“That’s precisely what I’m trying to convey. And that’s how I know Dwayne Urig isn’t missing. He’s dead. Nobody goes missing for four weeks in Montauk and turns up alive. Not these days.”
“Why haven’t the police notified the press?”
“They’re trying to keep it under wraps. They don’t want people freaking out. It’s all about controlling and containing the situation. Plus I’ve heard there’s some internal dissention in the department about what to call the killer. You know how all these psychos have a nickname? Half the department wants to call him the Surgeon and the other half is pushing for the Optometrist.”
“The Optometrist?”
“Yes, it’s a doctor who examines people’s eyes.”
“I know what it is. I mean, where’d they get that name from?”
“This killer… apparently uses a scalpel to remove his victims eyeballs. Carves them right out of the sockets with the skill of a professional surgeon. It’s not just a technique that limited to Fritz Zoller. It’s the killer’s specialty. His calling card.”
The images that flashed through Ted’s mind made his skin crawl. His fingers were clenched, digging into the plastic covering of the couch. His foot was tapping like he was playing a bass drum. He told himself to stop, but his mind was too focused on Ben’s words to listen to anything else. “Again, how could you possibly know all this?”
“I have a police scanner,” Loomis revealed. “I listen in on all their calls. Hey, what can I say? I’m an old man. I’ve got nothing better to do with my time. I’ve heard some pretty graphic details over the past six months. Let’s just say Fritz Zoller wasn’t the first.”
“Did you hear anything on that scanner about Dwayne Urig?”
“Yes,” Loomis assured him. “That’s how I’m positive Urig’s dead. His body was hacked, slashed, and his eyes were plucked out.”
Ted felt dizzy, nauseous, on the verge of losing his breakfast. This was the story he’d been waiting for, and now he wasn’t sure if he could handle it. But nevertheless, he continued to squeeze Loomis for all the information he could get. He just had one more question on his notepad. “Do the police know why the killer takes his victims eyes?”
“Trophies,” Ben said. “That’s the assumption. But they’re not entirely sure.”
“I think I have enough information here,” Jones said. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Loomis.”
“Wait,” Loomis said. “I have one more story to share with you. This is the closest I’ve ever come to crossing paths with the killer.”
Ted stayed put. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for this final tale, but he had to see this through to the end.
“Get your notepad ready… A month ago, I was walking down Montauk Boulevard. It was late, after dark. If I hadn’t almost tripped over her, I might’ve never seen her. She was sprawled out on the sidewalk, eight months pregnant. I screamed for help, but it was too late. Her throat had been slashed, eyes ripped from her skull. Should I continue?”
“Yes,” Jones said, gulping. He was parched, his throat dried up. He could feel his muscles growing tense. His anxiety was off the charts and his foot refused to stop tapping against the carpeted floor. “Please continue,” he said. Though he wasn’t so sure he wanted to hear the conclusion of this grim story.
“The miraculous thing was that the baby survived. The paramedics rushed her to the hospital and they performed an emergency C-section. It was a boy. They named him Ben, after me.”
“You’re shitting me,” Jones said in disbelief.
“Damned if I am. They hooked the baby up to an incubator. Tubes and machines nourished the baby and pumped air in and out of its tiny frame. It was only four pounds and three ounces. It fit in the palm of your hand, like a mini football. I’ll tell you, it was adorable though. Precious. It had the lightest shade of blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Ted saw Ben’s expression grow cold. There was a murderous glint in his eyes that Ted identified immediately. He leapt from the couch, making a run for the front door. But Loomis was closer and managed to get there first. Blocking the front door, he held Jones at bay with the same scalpel he used on Fritz Zoller, Dwayne Urig, Veronica White, and countless other victims.
“Powder blue eyes… just like his mother.”

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