Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Genre: Crime Fiction/Murder Mystery

Part Four
By Daniel Skye

          Sunday, January 5th, 2014.
          Wes Archer was not a happy man when he saw the Sunday edition of the Daily Buzz.
          Valerie Reed had done a two-page spread on the unidentified pyromaniac that her douchebag editor decided to dub Firebug. The name would be all over the internet in hours. Firebug would gain infamy via Facebook and Twitter and Google news searches. His crimes would be documented and studied and dissected through lectures given by college professors for generations to come.
According to the article, the Carter City Police Department had confirmed the fires were not accidental, but intentional. This was a fact the police had not made public.
          In the article, Val mentioned both the fire on the West Side at the Darsky residence and the East Side apartment complex that was torched.
          Wes was gritting his teeth when he came to visit Valerie at her office that day, hoping he didn’t say the wrong thing. He was fuming. He didn’t have to scream “I’m pissed off” for Val to get the message. It was written all over his face.
          “What were you thinking?” Wes asked, teeth still gritted.
          “I’m thinking about my career,” Val said. “I’m thinking I have a job to do. And I’m thinking the people of Carter City have the right to know some deranged lunatic is torching random houses and buildings to the ground. It concerns everybody.”
          “Those facts haven’t been made public record yet,” Wes said. “I could lose my job over this.”
          “Relax,” Val said. “This is the Daily Buzz were talking about. Our office pays dozens of snitches for information. Your department doesn’t need to know where I heard it from. The information could have come from a number of reliable sources.”
          “You’re something else,” Wes said, rolling his eyes. “Is that why you’re fucking me? Is there anything you won’t do to further your career?”
          “You know what? I don’t have to take this shit from you! Fuck off!” Val stormed off, leaving Wes standing alone in the hallway, feeling like he was two inches tall.
          He’d screwed up bigtime. And a bouquet of flowers and dinner at a pretentious French restaurant wasn’t going to smooth things over this time. Wes was going to have to think really hard about how to make this up to her.
          But in the meantime, he had other fish to fry.
* * *
          What they don’t teach you in the police academy is how to deal with a crystal meth addict who’s wearing a vest full of grenades and clutching at an AK-47. What they don’t teach you is how to get used to the sight of gunshots or stab wounds. They don’t teach you about the smell of blood that hits you when you walk into a murder scene. They don’t teach you how to react when some spaced-out junkie decides to dry his eight month old son off in the microwave.
          They don’t teach you how to cope with these ordeals. They just throw you headfirst into the lion’s den and hope you don’t get mauled to shreds.
          But Wes Archer thrives inside that lion’s den. He feeds on it. And right now, with all those negative emotions clinging to him, needed to be purged, Archer was ready for a trip to the lion’s den.
          First, a visit to the coroner’s office was required. Pete Drayton was out to lunch, but Ray Frye was happy to give him the rundown.
          “Toxicology reports are back on the girls. They were drugged. The tests we ran found traces of weed and a powerful sedative in their system. My guess, they were doped. Someone gave them laced weed. Then I guess they dragged them down to the basement and finished them off.”
          “From the looks of it, the girls’ bodies were never moved. Someone must’ve lured them down to the basement. Someone they must’ve trusted.”
          “A boyfriend, perhaps?”
          “Molly Henderson didn’t have a boyfriend. And I already spoke with Calvin Woods, Shannon Reynold’s boyfriend. He didn’t do it. I mean, he’s dumb as fuck, but not a killer. And if he did kill her, he probably would’ve slipped up and confessed to it by mistake.”
          “What about a teacher or a janitor?” Ray speculated. “Someone who knew the school well or had access to the basement.”
          And that’s when a light went off in Archer’s brain.
          It was time to take a ride into the lion’s den.
* * *
          Augusto Hernandez was the high school janitor. He was also a petty crook with a rap sheet longer than the first Games of Thrones novel.
          It came as no surprise to Archer that a man of this caliber was employed by a government-funded school. But what he did make note of was the fact that most of Augusto’s charges seemed to stem from possession of controlled substances.
          To confront Augusto, Wes had to drive right into the belly of the beast. Every cop’s worst nightmare. Skid row.
          According to the police file, 221 Sax Street was still his current address. It was a cheap brownstone apartment. A small, bland brick building sandwiched between to other grey brick buildings.
          Wes parked his Jeep, knocked several times before a woman answered. She had dark hair and spoke broken English. “Ay, what has my boy done now?”
          “Nothing that I know of, ma’am,” Archer told her. “I just need to ask your son a few questions. Right out here is fine.”
          “Augusto!” his mother called, and Augusto came running down the stairs. He joined Archer out on the porch and closed the door behind him.
          “You a cop?” Augusto asked.
          “Detective,” Wes said. “Here to ask you a few questions about Molly Henderson and Shannon Reynolds.”
          “I heard what happened to those girls,” Augusto shook his head. “It’s terrible.”
          “Do you have any idea what they might have been doing in that basement? Any idea how they might’ve gotten down there?”
          “I have no clue,” Augusto said. “I wish I could be more help to you.”
          “Someone lured them down there. Got them high. The weed was laced with a sedative. Any idea who might’ve done that?”
          “I don’t care for your tone,” Augusto said. “I’m not an idiot. I know what you’re implying. And for the record, I never laid a finger on those girls. They were angels in my eyes.”
          “Is that why you killed them?” Wes asked, testing him out.
          Augusto chuckled. “Nice try. Like I said, it wasn’t me. But I think I’ve heard of you before. Your name’s Archer, right?”
          “Yeah, so?”
          Augusto rolled up his sleeve, flashed his tattoo.
          “You’re ESB?” Wes asked.
          “That’s right,” Augusto said, rolling his sleeve back down. “And if you know anything about the ESB, you know we don’t hurt women. Like I said, it wasn’t me. But if I were you, I’d talk to Vernon Keene. I think he’s looking for you.”
* * *
          Dale Craven had questioned the landlord, Herb Blackwell. He’d questioned the tenants and all the neighbors in the surrounding area. Still no clues to that fire on the East Side. Nobody had seen or heard anything besides the fire alarms.
          But things took a bizarre, unexpected turn when Ray Frye called him from the coroner’s office.
          “Dale,” Ray said over the phone, breathing heavily. “We just finished up with the superintendent’s body. You’re not going to believe this one. Or maybe you will. Jason Briggs, the superintendent, was strangled. That’s the official cause of death. It wasn’t the fire that killed him.”
          “Why kill the superintendent?” Dale wondered out loud. “What does he have to do with all this?”
          “Beats me,” Ray said. “I’ll call again if I have anything else for you.”
          “Thanks,” Dale said and hung up. He started tapping his pen against the six-inch-thick file on his desk, trying to think clearly.
          “Where’s Wes Archer?” a familiar voice shouted and Dale spun his chair around to see Vernon Keene walking through the department.
          “I’m his partner,” Dale said. “Maybe I can help you.”
          “I’m here about that fire on the East Side,” Keene told him.
          “You know something about it?” Dale asked, looking for answers anywhere he could find them. He could even ignore the fact it was coming from an unlikely source.
“My sister lived on the top floor of that apartment building,” Keene told him. “She didn’t have a chance to escape. She was…she was burned alive.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“I’m not here for your condolences. I’m going to help you find the person who’s responsible. Whatever it takes. You’ve got all the ESB on your side.”
* * *
          Wes Archer’s mission from Lieutenant Morris was to locate Ellen Frost at all costs and bring her back safely. Archer’s plan was simple in his mind: Find the killer, find Ellen. But this task was going to be anything but easy.
          Ellen had a diary that Wes had skimmed through. Though the entries offered no clues to her disappearance.
          Ellen was the daughter of a police captain. She was as straight laced as they come. Even her friends and classmates couldn’t share a word of gossip about her. She was pure, innocent. And some depraved maniac had her in his grasp, looking to rob her of that purity.
          Archer just hoped he could find her before it was too late.
          The Mechanic was still in the back of his mind. So were the Darsky’s and Shannon Reynolds and Molly Henderson.
          To find a killer this sinister, this depraved, he’d have to think just like him. So Wes was about to take a trip over to the dark side.
          He was about to infiltrate a cult of Satanists.
          But in order to do that, he’d have to look the part.
* * *
          Vernon Keene’s ESB connections led them to an ex-con living on the Upper West Side. Marvin Berry was a firebug who did four and a half years for arson. The CCPD system hadn’t turned anything up on him because it was never on record. The judge was considerate enough to downgrade the charges to destruction of property and reckless endangerment. He was supposed to serve five years but got out early on good behavior.
          Marvin Berry wasn’t pleased to see Dale Craven or his badge, but he let them into his apartment, which reeked of stale cigarettes and cheap gin.
          “I figured you’d come sooner or later,” Berry said. “I read the paper today, heard about the fires. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t me.”
          “You certainly fit the profile,” Dale insisted.
          “I did some stupid things in my life,” Berry said. “But I’ve never killed anyone. I swear to God. My conscience is clear. I’ve already paid for my sins.”
          “Yeah, yeah, and only God can judge you now. I’ve heard this spiel before. Not interested. I’m more interested in answers.”
          “Why don’t you ask Seth Cambridge?”
          “He was one of my cellmates in prison. Served eight years for bank robbery. Got out three years before I did.”
          “What would he have to do with this?”
          “He’s still living in Carter City,” Berry told Dale and Keene. “And he’s more of a pyromaniac than I’ll ever be. Just because he was never busted for arson, doesn’t mean he’s not an arsonist.”
          “He confessed this to you?”
          “In prison, you talk about your time on the outside. About what you did to end up in there. Sometimes you brag about the things you didn’t get caught for. Seth confessed to torching schoolhouses, orphanages, libraries, and post offices. Then he moved onto houses. Something about a real estate scam he was working before he got busted. Don’t ask me. I just used to nod and listen when these guys told me things.”
          “What else did Seth Cambridge tell you?”
          “He told me…that he’s killed people before.”
          “He confessed to murder?” Dale asked.
          “Yes,” Berry said.
          “And you never reported it?” Keene spoke up.
          “Why would I? It was probably bullshit anyway. Guys make up stories in there to seem tough, intimidating, ruthless.”
          “If what you’re saying is true, we might need you to testify.”
          “Whatever you need,” Berry nodded. “I’m here to help.”
          “Sure you are,” Dale said. “Just don’t go too far on us. We’ll be in touch.”
* * *
          Dale dropped Vernon Keene off on Elm Street, thanked him for the help and told him he’d call if they found anything on Seth Cambridge.
          On his way back to the office, he checked his phone. One message from Officer Foley.
          “We’ve got another body,” Foley had said on the recording. “Herb Blackwell. The landlord of the apartment complex on the East Side.”
          Just then, as Dale was exiting downtown Carter, he heard the explosion. A department store was up in flames, streams of fire shooting out through the broken windows, the neon sign melting over the rooftop. And it was raining fire ten blocks away.
* * *
          “The police already talk to my son,” Miss Hernandez told the man in the black trench coat. He was tall, his long hair tied back in a ponytail, smoking a cigarette out on the porch.
          “I’m not the police,” the man said. “I’m FBI. Just need a word with your son. I’ll be quick, ma’am. I promise he’s not in trouble.”
          Miss Hernandez summoned Augusto and he stepped out onto the porch, closed the door behind him.
          “I already talked to Detective Archer. I don’t know who you are, but if you guys keep harassing me, I’ll get a lawyer.”
          The Mechanic fired two shots, the silencer muffling both. That doesn’t mean Augusto didn’t feel it. The hot lead pierced his lungs. He slumped down, choking on his own blood, trying to slow the steady flow of blood. But it was already too late. Things were getting dark all around him.
          Right before Augusto closed his eyes, the Mechanic whispered, “My employer sends his warmest regards.”

To Be Continued Soon With Part Five!

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