Authors: CHRISTOPHER M. COLAVITO
Puzzling Murder Scene Ripped From The Pages Of Pulp
By: William McNeal
Police last night responded to yet another murder, only to find that this time something was different. This city is infamous for the violence that occurs within its borders, most of which is related to the rampant criminal underground which has overrun much of normal life. Rather than being another in a long line of criminal killings, the murder of George Hobbes presents the police with a different challenge; solving the unsolvable.
Sources in the department have revealed key details of the scene, which paint a picture straight out of a mystery novel. Mr. Hobbes' body was discovered, stabbed to death, in the middle of a locked room. The initial investigation has revealed no evidence of tampering with the locks, nor any other means for a killer to have gotten in and out of the room. It is, by all accounts, a real-life mystery.
It is too early to rush to judgement, but this case could very well become a referendum on the entirety of the city's law enforcement. Their ability to solve this case would go a long way towards restoring faith in law and order in the face of overwhelming violence and bloodshed. Citizens have spent far too long living in fear, as criminal enterprises take control of all aspects of life in this city. The police have been powerless to stop their advance, but have maintained normal order outside their ranks.
This case will present an opportunity for the police to flex their muscles and prove they have not given up chasing the evils that plague our streets. The statistics may make catching every killer difficult, but they can show they are not picking only the low-hanging fruit. Solving a high-profile murder, with the spotlights shining on them, will give pause even to the criminal underbelly that has for so long relied on police negligence and incompetence.
Watching this case play out will be a watershed moment for this city. Our very futures may depend on it.
Reminders Of Death
Dawn is supposed to bring new hope, the promise of another day. Each sunrise carries in it the warm embrace of possibility, the chance to set ourselves on a new path and make all right again with the world. Morning light stirred no hope in Detective Knox's soul. Sunlight didn't shine on miracles; it made clear the scars and debris left on the battlefield after the fight for survival took yet more casualties the night before. He looked around the city and saw nothing but reminders of death, a concrete cemetery that entombed him.
Sleep had eluded him, not that he gave any effort to the cause. His mind was too filled with questions to shut down for even a moment. Some days he thought of himself as a machine in perpetual motion, and if he ever stopped the endless torrent of his thoughts, he would surely die. It may have been a justification for his obsession, but convincing an addict of the damage his drug of choice has done is nearly impossible, and Knox made sure no one tried staging such an intervention on his behalf.
He was an addict, and enjoyed the fix too much; he reveled in weaving the threads together to form the tapestry of truth. Without truth, there was nothing in life worth surviving for. This outlook was bleak, he knew, but it made his life possible. If indeed he was merely waiting for the reaper to call his name, there was no sense denying himself a little bit of fulfillment along the way.
The precinct was normally empty so early in the morning, but Knox did not walk into a box devoid of life. Phones already buzzed, keyboards clattered uninterrupted strings of letters, and the clamor of voices mingled together in one unholy howl. This, Knox thought, proved how important it was for him to keep chasing evil, to continue trying to convince the people that crime was a consequence of, and not the cause of, life. Against this backdrop, he had no choice but to smile, fill his lungs, and brace himself for when reality would come down from above and crush him as it always did.
Detective Lane waited at his desk, the look of an eager puppy on his face. Knox knew already it was going to be a long, tortuous day. Lane didn't move until Knox sat, and after handing a cup of what was politely called coffee to his partner, he began.
“George Hobbes doesn't have much family, but they're all in the city, so they're our prime suspects. We've rounded them up, and they should all be here shortly. I convinced the captain to let us handle all three of the interviews.”
Knox was not impressed by his partner's display of initiative. Talking to suspects was a chore, one Knox preferred to leave to others, so he could focus his attention on more important tasks, which to him meant anything but human conversation. Hearing the words as they were spoken wouldn't reveal anything more than a transcript would, and served only to slow down his access to the information he needed. Body language was one Detective Knox did not speak, his eyes giving him no more information than words would convey. If anything, Knox thought, he learned less by being in the room, because he was distracted by the uncomfortable choice of where his gaze should be focused.
“Why on earth would you have done that?”
Lane didn't understand the question. He assumed any detective worth his salt would want to conduct the interviews himself, to control the proceedings and make sure no detail escaped attention. Knox didn't operate according to the conventions, which made it hard for Lane to know how to proceed. It put him continually in the wrong, making the desired progress of getting into Knox’s good graces impossible.
“I figured you would want to be the one to question them, since only you know what you have in your mind.”
“You have a point, or I suppose you would, if I had a theory to work with. I'm drawing a blank right now.”
“Trust me, something one of them says is going to lead you off on a trail that you'll be interested in following.”
“There's that trust word again. You know I don't like it.”
“I do, but I also know that feeding your pessimism isn't healthy. If we both think we're going to fail, it kind of becomes self-fulfilling.”
* * *
Faith Hobbes carried herself with an unusual air of confidence, considering the circumstances. Though no longer the doting wife, she came into the precinct inexorably tied to her ex-husband, a fact that should have led her to show sympathy, either real or imagined. That she didn't try to hide the lack of emotion she felt was telling, at least to Detective Knox. It might not have been an indicator of guilt, but it revealed the sort of woman she was, and what she could be capable of.
Sitting across the table from him, she gave off the same air of burden he did, as though neither one of them wanted to be in the room together. His reticence stemmed from his displeasure at having to talk with people who would offer little in the way of insight, while hers was forged from an attitude of nonchalance. It appeared, looking at her, that she didn't care that her former spouse was dead, or that she was one of the likely suspects.
“Mrs. Hobbes, you understand we have to ask you some questions about your husband, don't you?”
“Ex-husband. Please get that right.”
Knox had left the qualifier off intentionally, digging for whatever feeling there was beneath her polished surface. She was skilled at not showing her hand, at keeping up appearances at all costs. Prying information from her would either be futile, or she would give it without a second thought. Sociopaths were hard to predict, even for a trained detective.
“My apologies. Let's begin with your relationship with your ex-husband. How would you characterize it?”
Knox almost laughed at her answer, which caught him off-guard. Few people were able to be so blunt with him, and to do it with no pretense of apology was startling. This woman, he thought, was something entirely different from the person he expected.
“That's not a very descriptive answer.”
“How are you supposed to put complex things into simple words?”
“With one word after another.”
She did not appreciate Knox's levity, nor the assumption it contained that she was holding back from him. Her reply was brusque, but honest. A lie, constructed to give him what she thought he wanted to hear, would have been far more complicated.
“We had a relationship typical of people who are no longer together. Some days we didn’t get along, and other days we talked.”
“And what happened on those days?”
“We would fight, as is customary in such cases. Love and hate are not opposites, nor are they mutually exclusive.”
“So it's fair to say you might have wanted him dead.”
Again, she caught Detective Knox by surprise. Only grand-standers and attention seekers tended to openly admit to such feelings, so her confession struck well outside the bounds of normalcy. Knox wasn't sure what to make of her; whether she was putting on a defiant act, or whether she was incapable of understanding how her words would be construed.
“There were many times I wished for him to be dead, but we know wishes don't come true.”
“But this time they did.”
“Perhaps yes, perhaps no. We don't always know what we wish for until it’s been granted.”
“Did you want your ex-husband dead yesterday?”
She hesitated as she gathered her thoughts. Knox sensed genuine contemplation, having spent enough time lost in his own mind to recognize the signs. It was an open question for her, one whose answer was a matter of fact, not one with an obvious choice if ever asked.
“I can't say for sure. It's possible my subconscious was thinking it.”
“And what exactly was the conscious part of your brain doing instead?”
“Oh, you mean you want to know what my alibi is, don't you?”
“If you would be so kind.”
“But of course. I'm afraid to inform you that, regardless of my intentions towards my dear ex-husband, I couldn't have killed him, if you're thinking such a thing. I was out all evening.”
“My new fiancé took me shopping for a wedding ring. We were at the jewelers trying to find the perfect one.”
“And they can corroborate your story?”
“You'll have to ask them.”
“Can you think of anyone else who might want to kill your ex-husband?”
Knox was beginning to ask himself if he hadn't indeed fallen asleep into a lucid dream. He had never questioned anyone who cared so little about the conventions of pretense. Faith Hobbes was a woman unlike any he had ever met, and he was utterly captivated by her. Amongst the pieces of the puzzle he was trying to solve, he had found a second riddle tucked inside, one he might have to decode before the bigger picture would fall into place.
“Who would that be?”
“Our children, Emerson and Tory. They had their own issues with their father.”
This couldn't be real, Knox thought, as he struggled to find his next words. An improbable case deserved a suitably difficult set of characters, and Knox had never come across one quite like her. Detective Lane's words came back to him, that he should maintain faith. He realized Lane had been right, as she had uncovered Knox's optimism. No matter where the investigation led him, Knox had met the most fascinating human enigma he could have imagined.
“We'll be speaking to them next.”
Beads of sweat clung to Detective Lane's brow, holding on in a vain effort not to plunge to the earth. Weighed down by fear and desperation, they were tiny drops of hope pulled from inside him, sentenced to take the fall that plagued mankind from the beginning. His gait was stilted, his body stiff as he tried to understand what he had just heard. Faith Hobbes made no sense to Detective Lane; she struck him as being something other than human. Though not the veteran his partner could claim to be, Detective Lane had been on the job long enough to have seen most of the faces people could wear. She was an entirely original creature.
Detective Knox emerged from the interrogation room in a similar, yet altogether different state of mind. Like his partner, Knox had never seen anyone like Faith Hobbes, but instead of seeing her as an alien creature, he saw her as a salvation. She possessed the very qualities he wished he had; the confidence to throw away the rules of convention and live life with no regrets. Knox envied such a strong belief in herself.
Lane reached for his collar, impeding his airway, momentarily depriving himself of the oxygen needed for thought. As it rushed back into his body when he released his grip, a sense of calm filled him. It was a quirk he picked up, though he couldn't remember how or when. All he knew was that it worked, and it was the only thing that could settle him when the job began to be too much for him. Feeling more at ease, he broke the ice.
“What did we just see in there?”
“I'm not sure. That woman is something else.”
“That's for sure. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be afraid of her or not.”
Detective Knox bit his tongue, fighting the impulse to make the crude joke that flashed through his mind. It wasn't the time or place for such a remark, and by the looks of it, Lane wasn't in shape to let it roll off his back. Part of being a good detective was being able to read people, and Knox's read of his partner told him to press gently.
“So what was your take on her?”
Detective Lane's face told the whole story, a look of bewilderment not unlike that of a child witnessing their first magic trick. His senses told him a story his mind could not believe. He knew it was real, even if he didn't know what it meant.
“Honestly, and I realize this is the last thing a detective should ever say, but I don't have a clue. There's something about that woman that is almost beyond belief.”
“I know what you mean. I've never come across anyone like her before, either.”
Lane's face wore a look of relief as he heard those words. Someone else had seen the same flesh and blood ghost he had. Color returned to his cheeks as he let out his breath, filling his lungs with new air.
“I'm glad to hear it's not just me.”
“Nope, she's one of a kind, all right. I can't quite tell what it means, but she's certainly not your average woman.”
“But is she a murderer?”
“That's the question. I could read her a dozen different ways, and they'd all make sense. It's almost like she's a blank canvas upon which we can project whatever we want to think about her.”
“That could be dangerous.”
“For her, and for us.”
“I just hope the daughter isn't the same way. I don't think I could survive another one of them.”
* * *
Tory Hobbes was not her mother's daughter, not at all the steely, stoic creature she was born from. Unlike her mother, Tory was a free spirit, who let the winds of life push her in whatever direction they chose, not questioning where fate was taking her. Living for the moment was all that mattered to her, and she had set out to squeeze as much experience as possible from the time she had. Nothing was too crazy to try, no thought too mad to consider.
Detective Knox sat across the table from her, watching her fidget and twitch with the impatience of someone with too much living to do. Sitting still made her nervous, and that was comforting to him. This was familiar, what he expected.
“How are you feeling? You look nervous.”
“How am I supposed to be feeling? My father's dead, and I'm sitting in this drab little box. Just this room is enough to bring me down.”
Knox had never thought about the décor before, he never thought it an important detail. But hearing her comment, he couldn't help but be drawn to the oppressive beige that surrounded him, the aggressive blandness that absorbed and hid any sense of life within the walls. They did not reflect the reality of the circumstances the people sitting in that room were dealing with, and perhaps, he thought, they forced people into the wrong frame of mind to be cooperative.
“I understand this is a difficult time for you, but we need to ask you some questions.”
“Whatever. Let's just get it over with.”
“How would you describe your relationship with your father?”
Tory tilted her head to one side, as if shaking the dust off the gears as her mind struggled to move the pieces. She hadn't given much thought to how to describe her life. Giving freely of herself was easy, but prying details about anyone else from her was a different story. It was something Detective Knox could appreciate.
“Don't all kids have difficult relationships with their parents at my age?”
“You tell me.”
Frustration was building in her, not because of what she might say, but because she was feeling the itch to escape. She needed to be doing things, not talking about them. There was a whole world out there calling to her to act, and while she understood why she had to endure the interview, that didn't mean she had to be happy about it.
“I don't know what you want me to say. I can sit here and tell you everything was just fine between us, that we sat on a rainbow every afternoon and ate unicorn hearts, but you'd get as sick of the lie as I would.”
“So why not just tell me the truth?”
“No one wants to hear the truth.”
Knox found the remark funny, because it was, in a strange way, the truth. People, he had found, wanted to hear their own beliefs reaffirmed far more than they wanted to know what really happened. The truth could be an inconvenient reminder of their own fallibility, and while it sounded great in theory, in practice it was an elixir that stirred with the violent concoction of emotions we carry inside.
“That may be true, but tell me anyway.”
“Fine. The truth is that my father and I didn't get along. We hadn't for a very long time. He could never accept that I wasn't his little girl anymore, and he made no secret of the fact that I was an embarrassment to him, not that I cared. I wasn't about to start living my life to please him, so I'm not going to apologize for making myself happy first and foremost.”
“Nor should you.”
“Thank you. Anyway, he kept trying to get me to change my ways. He would threaten to cut off my inheritance, he'd lock me out of the house when I did something that really offended him, and he even tried to arrange a marriage for me. Who does that these days?”
“It sounds like your relationship was volatile.”
“Believe me, there were times I would have beaten him with a tire iron . . . if I hadn't been locked out of the house. But we're family, so once emotions cool down, you get over it.”
“So you didn't want your father dead last night?”
“Wait, are you thinking I might have killed him?”
Knox watched her closely, looking for a tell. Her disgust at the thought of killing her father looked real, but it registered more slowly than he would have expected. This may have been significant, or it could have been a side-effect of the hangover she was fighting to hide. He filed the information away, thinking it might make sense once the details began filling in.
“It sounds like you have a motive.”
“Maybe, but I also have an alibi.”
“And what's that?”
“I was working all last night.”
“And what do you do?”
“I'm a dancer.”
“Where do you dance? We'll need to verify your story.”
Her face changed, her shoulders slumping as the words made their way down her tongue. She wasn't embarrassed by what she did, but she knew judgment was always coming from the other side of the conversation. She was tired of being told what was good for her.
“I dance at the Electric Club. Yes, I'm a stripper.”
“You don't need to defend yourself.”
“No I don't. I'm an artist, I bare my soul.”
“You do know your soul isn't found under your clothes, don't you?”
“Do you enjoy dicking around with people in the midst of their grief?”
“See, there's your problem. You're never supposed to apologize for being who you are. If my father could have realized that, we wouldn't be sitting here with you thinking I might be responsible for his death.”
“People can be responsible without committing the act.”
“I know. It's the story of my life.”
* * *
Detective Knox walked away from this second interview more bewildered than before. The picture being painted of the Hobbes family was confusing, and shed little light on the unfortunate ending to George Hobbes' life. He hadn't expected a confession to pour out of anyone's mouth, but speaking to the family gave him no insight into the man at the center of the mystery. George Hobbes remained a shadow unconnected to a man, a specter talked about as though he never really existed.
It would have been easier, Knox thought, if that was the case. The ordeal would be more tolerable for everyone involved if they had dreamed the entire sordid nightmare. What Knox knew was that despite the lack of anything resembling a clue as to the mechanics of the murder, George Hobbes was as real as any of them, and he could not be so easily written out of their stories.
Detective Lane was also confused. He struggled to understand how a family could be so unflinching in their apathy towards a man's death. Even if they hated him, most people would try to put on an act of contrition, so as to take the prying eyes off of themselves. It was surely telling that they didn't care about how they were perceived, but Lane didn’t know what this meant. At least, he thought, Knox was also no closer to uncovering the truth. As long as they were both in the dark, he felt reassured that there was little he could do.
“That's two down, Knox. One more to go.”
“I wonder what we're going to get this time.”
“With our luck, another psychopath.”
Detective Lane pressed down with more force, cutting off his oxygen just long enough for his mind to clear, resetting the apparatus. Maybe, he thought, it would all make sense if he could shut down and look at what he knew through fresh eyes. It was a futile hope, he knew, but one he patronized himself with regardless. He realized it was better to indulge himself in the unlikely event of a miracle occurring, as there really was no down side.
“All I know is I'm not sure how many more of these people I can talk to. There's something about all of them that is a little bit disturbing.”
“I think I know what you mean. You don't feel like you're talking to a human being.”
“Maybe that's the answer. The murder is so puzzling because it was committed by an alien, or a robot, or a demon.”
“As crazy as that sounds, I'd listen to anything that made sense.”
“Yeah. Well, let's get this over with.”
* * *
Emerson Hobbes was the prototypical child of privilege, overly confident, with an unwarranted sense of entitlement. Somewhere in his mind, he was convinced he was better than other people through no doing of his own, but simply by being who he was. To temper these thoughts, he didn't view it as his responsibility to cower to the resentment that came along with his bravado. If other people thought he was an arrogant prick, he took it as a compliment. No amount of criticism could dispel his self-belief.
Detective Knox sized him up, dreading the conversation he was about to have. Men like Emerson Hobbes were infuriating to deal with, as there was nothing redeeming about them. At least, Knox thought, talking to a psychopath would reveal bits of human psychology you rarely get a chance to experience up close. There was interesting material to be mined from people who are irrevocably broken or malformed in some manner. Men like Emerson Hobbes were merely crashing bores.
“Do we really have to have this conversation?”
Knox was already swallowing bile. He preferred to speak first, controlling the conversation, not out of a need for power, but as a way to limit his exposure to toxic personalities. By taking charge, he could ask yes or no questions, and not have to fight the urge to speak his mind.
“Yes, we really have to have this conversation. It's standard procedure when, you know, there's a murder to investigate.”
“You don't really need to solve it. We're all better off, so what's the harm in letting it slide?”
Normally, Detective Knox would have taken those words as proof of innocence, because no suspect would be so stupid as to ask to be let off the hook. Emerson Hobbes, however, was one of those people so caught up in his own importance that he may very well have believed murder was not a crime if he himself committed it.