Authors: CHRISTOPHER M. COLAVITO
Christopher M. Colavito
First published 2015
Joffe Books, London
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The spelling used is American English except where fidelity to the author’s rendering of accent or dialect supersedes this.
©Christopher M. Colavito
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A compelling murder mystery which you won’t be able to put down
On a freezing winter night, the body of a teenager is found in the snow.
Mike and Callie Simpkins moved north to restart their lives and get their finances back on track. Their son Braxton immerses himself in an online game-world of crime and gangs. When he decides to meet some of the players in the real world, tragedy strikes.
Detective John Swift must untangle a web of virtual and real crimes in order to solve this complex mystery. And as the family copes with unimaginable grief, even Braxton’s stepfather Mike comes under suspicion.
My great thanks to everyone who encouraged me to continue writing, and thanks especially to my friend Drew, who convinced me that this book in particular was worth writing
Death tore through the night with a vicious sound, a voice shredded by a severed life. Evil lurks in the night, feeding on the fear that hides in the shadows. In the city, in this city, angular architecture devoured the streets, slicing into the ground with its sharp edges dulled by the blood of misery. This was no place to look for happiness; it was a city fueled by the dying light of souls. Death was a part of life, an inescapable white noise littering the background. Yet it was only when it inched close to home that its existence was noticed. Since death was all around, few were moved to act, as yet another tree in the forest of humanity fell silent to the earth.
Detective Dylan Knox was more jaded than most people. He had spent most of his adult life chasing down the elusive prey known as death. There was more to it than that, he knew, but he saw no reason to waste his energy delving into the minds of madmen. People were filled with evil, and not just those he hunted. Every person he came across, victim or killer, innocent or guilty, had secrets they prayed remained hidden. Innocent, he came to realize, was just a word, one that held little meaning. It was a joke, an irony waiting to be revealed, because anyone who was innocent of whatever sin had been uncovered was merely waiting for their own to come due.
As he walked towards yet another crime-scene, his mind felt free to wander away from the case at hand. His eyes passed across the crowd of gawkers and death-fetishists who had crawled out of the recesses to stare at this new depravity, but his mind registered no information. Instead, he was lost in another world, wondering what life could be like for people who were ignorant of the true reality of life.
There must be some truth to the saying that ‘ignorance is bliss,’ he figured. He would have given anything to be able to forget the things he had seen, and all the things he knew about humanity’s true nature. We're all just bottled sin, he thought, vessels waiting for the moment the seal breaks and we spill out from our little containers.
Detective Knox nodded at the officers keeping the perimeter, and, as he prepared to enter, shedding the cold cloak of the night, a voice broke into his thoughts.
“That old man was just waiting for someone to stick a knife in him. I'll never understand how he managed to avoid being killed for this long.”
Detective Knox smiled grimly at these honest words. Whoever had spoken obviously knew as much as he did about the true reality of life. He bit his lip, let the twinge of pain comfort him, and he spun on his heel and turned back into the icy air.
Pressed against the yellow tape were two anxious spectators, trembling with the nervous energy of people who had not yet become inured to the routine business of death. The man who had just spoken twitched with every breath, revealing his hand. He stood beside a young woman, as wide-eyed as he, but who was evidently more able to compose herself. She was not, Knox noted, excited by this death the way her companion was. She was more interested in the spectacle itself, in the people who had emerged in its wake.
Detective Knox introduced himself, and was greeted with an eager handshake.
“What was that about a knife and a killing?”
The young man faltered for a second, realizing how harsh his outburst sounded. Not wanting to be branded heartless, he changed his tack.
“I was just saying that it's no secret round here that the old man wasn't the most well-liked guy in the world. He was always fighting with someone, screaming about this or that. I figured it was only a matter of time until someone got fed up enough to do something about it.”
“You mean — kill him?”
Some of the color drained from the young man's face. Though he was not ashamed of his words, he understood how suspicious such theories might sound. Nevertheless, whether he saw a kindred spirit in Detective Knox, or he was trapped in a moment of foolish candor, he answered honestly.
“Yeah, I suppose I do. I'm not exactly surprised that he's dead.”
“You say that very casually.”
“Look, it's not as if I'm not sad that the guy's dead, but let's be honest here. There are bad things going on all around us all the time. We just try not to think about them.”
Knox nodded his head. He could appreciate the honesty of these words, even if the young man himself couldn't grasp the full significance of what he was saying.
“It's not like that at all,” the young woman standing next to him interjected. “He was a sweet old man, who didn't deserve to be murdered.”
“Oh come on, how can you say that? That house was a powder keg just waiting for a spark to fall in the right place and set it off.”
“That doesn't make him a bad person, or make it any more acceptable. Good people get mad too. Or didn’t you know?”
The young man had walked into a trap, one he would not be able to extricate himself from without the liberal giving of apologies. Still, he thought, if he was already wounded, there was no reason to cease fire.
“You know as well as I do that it was only a matter of time until one of those crazy people finally tried to off him. You've said so yourself; they're all lunatics.”
“Yes, they are lunatics, which makes it all the more sad. He was the sanest one of the bunch, who somehow got saddled with that sorry lot. It just goes to show how fickle fate can be.”
“I think it was more his fault than fate's. I can't imagine anyone forcing him to marry that psycho, let alone tie himself to her forever, along with those monsters they created.”
“Just you wait. One of these days someone is going to come along and unwind that little ball of lies you live in. You won't be able to stop it, and maybe then you'll be a little more sympathetic.”
“I already put up with you, so how much worse can it get?”
The young woman's eyes grew wide, her body stiff, fighting an urge to slap him in front of a police officer. Her lip curled just enough to bare her teeth, as she turned and stormed away. The young man looked at Detective Knox with a shrug and they both knew who wielded the power.
“Something like that. Can I ask you a few questions?”
“And I'll want to speak to your friend there as well. You'll have to go get her.”
“Are you sure? Why do you want to ruin a perfectly good murder?”
“Yeah, I'm sure. No bad deed goes unpunished.”
“Don't you mean no good deed?”
Detective Knox took his time, reluctant to look upon death’s remnants yet again. The evidence would wait, meanwhile he would take the time to gather as much context as he could before walking into the massive puzzle each case proved to be. A look at the big picture before sorting through the pieces was a first step that could give the entire investigation the right momentum.
The frozen chill of the black air kept him alert, and prevented his mind from drifting. He would have preferred to conduct his business inside, but caution warned him against letting anyone into the house unless it was absolutely necessary. His bones may have thought it was, but his mind disagreed. His words floated out on malnourished clouds, drifting away towards a better place.
“Tell me what you know.”
The young man looked nervous, as though the gravity of the situation was finally dawning on him. The detective’s questions made the situation real, and him a part of the whole sordid affair. This was no longer something he could dismiss with a flippant remark. His words could make a difference in catching a killer. And catching a killer was not something he wanted to be part of. That was a pressure he was not ready to accept.
“I'm not sure I know anything.”
“Of course you do. You and your friend are the best witnesses we have. Anything you can remember could be quite helpful.”
“I don't see how. I wasn’t close enough to see anything.”
“Humor me, will you?”
“I don't know what you want me to say.”
“How about we start with your name?”
“My name is Craig Lee.”
“Good. Now, Craig, tell me about anything you saw or heard.”
The young man looked down at the ground between them as he rewound the reel of the night in his head. The footage was grainy, pockmarked by lapses in concentration. What he had seen left few marks on the negative; the picture was incomplete before it was ever developed.
“Anna and I were walking home from the theater. We had just seen some arty film, and I could barely keep my head on straight. She loves that pretentious stuff, and I humor her by going along, because, well, you know . . .”
Detective Knox did know what the young man meant, although he did not know the feeling. In his own youth, he had been numb to all such feelings.
“And what did you see while you were walking?”
“I didn't see anything. I was still rubbing my eyes trying to get that movie out of my head, but as we turned the corner, Anna said something to me about the house looking weird.”
“Weird in what way?”
“By that time of the night, it's usually pitch black in there. The old man is an early bird, and he's too damn cheap to leave any sort of light on in a room he's not sitting in.”
“That's good, very helpful. Then what happened?”
“She thought this was too weird to just pass by, so we snuck through a hole in the fence and went up to the window. She saw the body and screamed her head off. I'm telling you, I've never heard anything like that in all my life.”
“And then you called it in?”
“Yeah. As soon as I calmed her down, we called it in and waited for you people to show up.”
“When you looked in the window, what exactly did you see?”
“I didn't see anything. I never looked inside.”
The young man was not sure why Detective Knox would find it odd that he hadn’t wanted to gawk at the sight of death. He considered his reaction to be normal, but now that he was being questioned, he began to doubt himself.
“Because if it made her scream like that, it wasn't anything I was interested in seeing. I can live my life just fine without having seen a dead body up close.”
Detective Knox looked at his notes, his handwriting even more angular and indecipherable than usual because of the cold creeping through his fingers. He would have to rewrite them again at the precinct; work that wouldn't help solve the case, but would try his patience even further.
“All right. Thank you for your time. If you think of anything else, please call. And if we need anything else from you, we'll get in touch.”
“No offense, but I hope you don't.”
“You and me both.”
* * *
Anna was quite different from her friend. Her face was calm, her demeanor assured. Whatever she may have seen when she peered through the window, it had sloughed away. She was too strong to let such a moment break her down. Detective Knox couldn't tell how much of this was a facade and how much of it was real. He didn't care; he was glad not to have to be a shoulder for her to cry on.
“I'm sorry to have to put you through all of this, but we need to know everything we can about what you saw or heard tonight.”
“Let's start off with easy things. What's your name?”
“Thank you, Miss Summers. Where were you tonight?”
“My friend Craig and I were at the theater, watching a French impressionist film. I wanted to see how long he would suffer through it before he begged me to leave.”
Detective Knox was amused at this. He appreciated her skill, pulling the young man's strings without him knowing he was being moved.
“It's the darnedest thing. He actually made it to the end without complaining once.”
“I can guess why.”
“We're here to talk about the case, right?”
“Indeed we are. Continue, please.”
“We left the theater and started to walk home. I live right across the street from here, so I pass by Mr. Hobbes' house all the time. Every time I look out the window I can get a pretty good idea of what's going on over there. Anyway, as we were coming around the corner, I noticed a light on in one of the windows. Mr. Hobbes had a lot of quirks, and one of them was that he would never leave a light on unless he was sitting under it. Late at night you never saw a light on in that house.”
“So you went to take a look.”
“Yes. There's a hole in the fence. The place is old and no one bothers to keep it up properly, so we went in. Craig was too afraid to get close, so I went up to the window and looked in.”
“And what exactly did you see?”
Detective Knox expected her to hesitate, to be overcome by the memory of the violent image she had seen. But she remained composed as she answered.
“I saw Mr. Hobbes lying on the floor, in the middle of the room, with blood pooled all around him.”
“What else? Do you remember any other details?”
“I'm not sure I do remember any details. I only looked quickly, and once I saw him, I'm not really sure what happened next.”
“Your friend said you screamed your head off.”
“That's what he says. You were probably in shock.”
“That could very well be.”
“I think I've got everything I need from you for now, so you should go home and try to get some rest. But if you do happen to remember anything else, or any details, please call and let us know.”
“Thank you Detective, I will.”
Knox flexed his fingers, feeling again the stiffness that sometimes made him wonder if he wasn’t already halfway to the grave. Often, he thought he would rather be dead than deal with the tower of paperwork every case brought along, but they were momentary doubts. He was too addicted to the mystery to let a few hours of tedium rob him of his fix.
He cursed his luck as he watched his only witnesses walk away, then turned to enter the house. They had seen nothing of any use to him. Detective Knox enjoyed the challenge of his work, but he often wished for easier success. Success was equally enjoyable. Failure loomed large, tightening around his neck. At least he was not walking in blind. That was something to be thankful for.
Detective Knox felt the wood giving underneath his foot as he mounted the final step into the house. There was a symbolism in how it would bend but not break, though he was in no mood to contemplate such matters.