Authors: CHRISTOPHER M. COLAVITO
“The harm is that if we don't catch the killer, you might be the next dead body I'm standing over. You wouldn't want that, would you?”
“Do you think I'm in danger?”
“It's too early to say. If you want to take the gamble, you can walk out right now. I'm not going to stop you.”
For the first time, a small crack appeared in Emerson Hobbes' persona. Despite his ability to slough off the usual slings and arrows, the idea that he might be the next victim of violence cut through his armor. The smile he had slathered on narrowed, his eyes no longer shining with mischievous wonder.
“When you put it that way, I see the merit of helping.”
“Good. Let's start by you telling me about your relationship with your father.”
“There's not much to say. I didn't see very much of him after the last time we fought. He couldn't come around to seeing things my way, and he threw me out until I learned to live by his rules.”
“That sounds frustrating.”
“It cramped my style a bit, I'll admit, but I always land on my feet. A guy like me can always find a warm bed to sleep in, if you get my drift.”
“You couldn't have enjoyed being a kept man.”
“I was no such thing.”
Knox had struck a nerve. The insinuation was the first sign of hesitation he had seen, and was at least a small drop of enjoyment he was glad to have wrung from an insufferable interview. At the very least, he thought, he was able to land a jab, if not draw blood.
“Have it your way, but that’s what it sounded like.”
“I was just doing what I needed to until my father gave me the money I deserved.”
“Or until he was dead.”
“So not only do I have to put up with your smears, now you're accusing me of killing my own father for his money.”
“It is a motive, isn't it?”
“Probably, but the joke's on you. I've got the best alibi you could ever hear.”
“I was sitting downstairs in a cell. I got picked up for drunk driving, and I spent the whole night sobering up on a metal bench because no one would come bail me out.”
“And now you know why.”
The Sacrament Of Caffeine
Detective Knox let out a sigh of relief, having dispatched his responsibilities. His interviews tested what little patience he had, which was not buoyed by the glints of useful information hiding in a small vein along the wall separating him from the truth. These efforts were always difficult, but became infuriating when the cat and mouse game was missing a player. Batting around a deceased foe was not Knox's idea of fun, though it was what he felt he was doing, spinning his wheels in search of anything to give him traction on the case.
Knox ignored his partner as he left the interrogation room, walking straight into the waiting arms of his warm addiction. Coffee, he hoped, would be able to calm the whirling dervish he kept bottled up inside. Reason was a powerful tool, but one not always equipped for the job. When problems made no sense, not being able to sidestep conventional thinking and find a new approach was a dangerous position to be in. Neglect had atrophied the creative side of Detective Knox's mind, and he realized it had been a mistake not to feed that beast every so often, if only to keep the muscles ready in case they were ever needed.
Detective Lane was impatient. He wanted to blurt out every thought running through his mind, but he knew better than to interrupt the sacrament of caffeine, though he couldn't help but manifest his displeasure by twitching his fingers. Knox took note, and slowed down accordingly. It was petty, but he couldn’t resist seizing the opportunity.
“If you're not going to say anything, I will.”
Lane broke the ice, his voice almost cracking as it finally escaped. Silence would get them nowhere, and for all he knew, his partner was testing his mettle. As he heard how his words sounded, he began to hope that was the case.
“Fine. What are you thinking?”
Relieved, Detective Lane found his confidence, and regained his standing. The details of the case tangled in his mind, knotted information so entwined he struggled to see how anyone could unravel it. Perhaps, he thought, the only way of straightening the pieces was to sever them, and reassemble the lines as he saw fit.
“I'm thinking that we've just interviewed the three most likely suspects, and we're not an inch closer to understanding what happened than when we started.”
“No, we're not.”
“Doesn't that bother you?”
“Of course it does, but you can't expect the answer to fall into your lap. There is an explanation for all of this, and we're going to find it, but you can't rush it.”
Detective Knox didn't believe a word of this. He needed to calm the panic that was evident in Lane, and the rest of the department, in the face of an insurmountable challenge. Knox had seen enough to know that not every riddle had a solution, that there was a very real chance that the killer would get away with murder, and they would remain forever haunted by the one that got away.
It was too early for Knox to make that call, but in the back of his mind he knew it was possible. Bracing for failure wasn't the same thing as expecting it, though they each fractured and fragmented the dim light of hope.
“I'm not talking about rushing, I just want to know that we have a lead, any lead, to start with. I don't see one.”
“I agree with you. We're staring at a whole lot of nothing right now.”
“We have three suspects, all of whom I can see wanting the victim dead, but they all have air-tight alibis. No one who didn't know that house could have done it, but no one with the knowledge could have been there.”
“You're the one who got so excited when you saw the scene. This is exactly what you wanted.”
Detective Lane didn't need to be reminded of the grin he had worn, the Cheshire scar of a man who didn't know what abyss he was jumping into. Had he an inkling that they would have nothing to work with, his reaction would have been far less ebullient at the time. Remembering the child-like glee he felt, now that it had time to erode, it burned him from the inside out.
“Since you know better than I do, why don't you tell me what we're going to do about this mess?”
“First of all, we're not going to panic. You can't think when you panic, and if you can't think, you can't do your job. Secondly, we're going to talk to the coroner to see if there's anything about the body that can help us. If there is, we follow the evidence. If there isn't, we have to knock out one of the walls so we can think outside the box.”
“I like the box. It’s cozy in here.”
“I like it too. I'm hoping we can stay.”
* * *
Dr. Michael Morse was not what Detective Knox, nor anyone else, would have expected from someone who spent his life surrounded by the dead. He was a soft-spoken, good-natured man, who would have flourished in the job of mall Santa, if he were older and morbidly obese. The juxtaposition of him and the flayed bodies piled on his operating tables was a sight that made little sense, no matter how many times Knox ventured into the catacombs for information.
Detective Knox's first sight, as he opened the door, was an image he thought could only exist in the blackest of comedies. Dr. Morse knelt atop the table, over the body, his entire head stuck inside the hollowed cavity that was once its chest. A circle of yellow danced on the stretched skin, a flashlight searching out some hidden ore.
Knox stood rooted to the spot, watching the proceedings with bewilderment. It would be funny, he thought, if Dr. Morse had any idea how ridiculous he looked. The least Knox figured he could do was lock the door when engaging in such unseemly behavior. If people knew what was really happening down below, Dr. Morse's reputation would not be so sterling.
Seconds passed, nearly a minute, and Detective Knox grew tired of the waiting game. Dr. Morse was engrossed in his study, unaware of his visitor watching from the doorway. Knox hated to pry him away from his work, but watching was beginning to make Knox feel uneasy. At last Knox spoke.
“Doc, do you have any results on the Hobbes murder?”
Dr. Morse pulled his head from its hiding place, with a look on his face of mingled surprise and aggravation. Knox couldn't read which was the dominant reaction, as before his synapses could begin to fire, his friend had wiped away any trace, his face reverting to its usual jovial expression.
“Detective, do come in, you absolutely must see what I've found in here.”
“Thanks, but I think I'll take your word for it. I don't want to spoil the surprise for the detectives working that case.”
“Ah, a fine idea. They will enjoy this a lot.”
Dr. Morse hopped from his perch, his shoes landing silently on the cold, tiled floor. The thought had crossed Knox's mind before that he may indeed be Death himself, and the constant flow of bodies was the reason for his contentment.
“About the Hobbes case . . .”
“Right. I had a preliminary look at the body, and the results are quite fascinating. Quite a good murder, I must say.”
Knox knew his friend didn't hear how the words sounded to anyone else, but struggled to believe he hadn't slipped up and said something crudely offensive in front of someone with a less understanding disposition. Even if he never talks about work when he's off the clock, Knox told himself, no one with such a tenuous grip on his mouth can possibly keep the wrong thing from slipping out every now and again, which must prompt reactions Knox wished he could see.
“Well, you see, there's no evidence whatsoever to go on.”
“What do you mean there's no evidence?”
“There's no foreign substances on the body, no foreign DNA, nor any wounds that would suggest a struggle. The only thing distinguishing the body from that of a living man is the stab wound.”
“Which is quite a difference, I would say.”
“Indeed it is.”
“What can you tell me about it.”
Dr. Morse didn't need to resort to notes to recall the details; they remained filed away in his mind. He possessed an ability to recall any detail about the thousands of bodies he had examined over the years, a trait that made him invaluable as a resource, but not much fun at the precinct holiday parties.
“It was a clean cut, with precision unlike any I have ever seen in a murder. I was quite impressed, I must say, with how it was done.”
“What about the knife?”
“I can't really say. The entry was clearly done with a blade of supreme sharpness. I didn't find any distinctive markings, so I can't say with any confidence exactly what it was.”
“Yes, it is a bit frustrating not to know more, especially since it's such a beautiful cut. The way the knife sliced through one wall of the aorta, but didn't completely sever it, was truly artistic.”
“No offense, Doc, but that sounds a bit creepy.”
“Does it? I suppose you lose sight of those things when you spend so much time down here.”
“I can certainly believe it.”
* * *
Detective Knox returned from death's waiting room, a privilege afforded to few people. Lucky though he was to be only a visitor, frustration was building inside him, threatening to overflow the walls he constructed to hold back the tide. Nothing would be easy during this case, he knew, but that didn't mean he had to be blind as he reached into the blackness.
He asked himself what he was supposed to do with the case. He could feel his colleagues' eyes watching his every step, and he knew he was carrying the expectations of the city on his shoulders. Not much could be done about the circumstances, only going back to the scene to see if there was anything they had missed, digging deeper into George Hobbes' life. If he was lucky, he thought, maybe he would be struck by lightning.
Blessing In Disguise
The members of the Hobbes family arrived together at an awkward intersection in the lobby of the precinct. An air of unease hung over them, as suspicion took root in each one’s mind. Glances were nervous, smiles were fake. The three of them shared the same tempestuous disposition, but although they were bound by blood, little else united them. The saying that you can choose your friends but not your family rang true in their case. Each wanted as little as possible to do with the others. In that way, the death of George Hobbes was a blessing in disguise.
A sense of foreboding hung over them, an understanding that their ties had been severed, and that soon they would be relieved of the burden of appearing to care about one another. They would relish the chance to tear off their masks, but could not avoid the trepidation that would follow from walking away from everything they had ever known. Each thought they wanted to move on, but taking the first step proved difficult.
“We need to talk, but not here.”
The thought was on all their minds, though only Faith managed to say it. The others nodded in agreement, and dutifully followed their mother as she led them to a safer place. Anywhere within sight or sound of the police was too dangerous, given the confessions that might slip out. They all had their secrets, and worked diligently to make sure they didn't see the light of day. But around family, the chances of one seeping to the surface increased.
* * *
The family gathered in Faith Hobbes' apartment, hoping the gilt was soundproof. Nothing about Faith Hobbes was subtle, neither her demeanor nor her taste. Gold cascaded from the ceiling, covering as many surfaces as was allowed by the conventions of good sense. Teetering on the verge of overkill, there was yet a delicate touch to the brazen display that let the people she intended to offend still appreciate the beauty that surrounded them.
The three put as much distance as possible between each other, each one closely watching the others. Trust was a dirty word in the Hobbes family, and in the aftermath of tragedy, asking for the benefit of the doubt was a comedy of errors.
“What did you tell them?”
Faith Hobbes took on the tone of an interrogator, hoping to pry loose the locks her children held around their hearts. She didn't expect them to forgive her for her sins, nor could she ask them to believe in her as a changed woman, but for all her faults, she still felt the animalistic need to protect her family.
“I told them the truth.”
Tory Hobbes looked at her mother with blank eyes, unflinching as the dirt kicked up in her face. Putting on appearances was not something she had inherited, nor a skill she wished to possess. Honesty might not be the best policy, but it was the easiest way to avoid being caught in a web of lies.
“Why on earth would you do that? You never tell them anything more than you have to.”
“That's you, mother. I don't care if people know how I felt about him, or what I do with my life. You might be ashamed of it, but I'm not. I was perfectly happy until this happened.”
Faith was confused, she couldn't understand what happiness had to do with anything. Life, to her, was not a search for happiness. It was a zero-sum game, where everyone was locked in a fight for as much of the limited quantity of comfort as could be stolen. She had played it well, had taken more from life than she, or anyone else, deserved. Happiness was a byproduct of success, not a prize in and of itself.
“It's not that I'm ashamed of you. But who's going to trust anything a stripper says?”
“As if you're any better. You play the ice queen. And anyway, whatever they think of me doesn't matter, because I'd be more inclined to believe me over someone who looks and sounds like a pod person.”
“Foolish child, you think innocence matters. The truth of the matter is, no one is innocent.”
Emerson Hobbes had remained quiet, preferring to stand outside the whole circus and watch. Listening to them snipe back and forth became tiring after a lifetime, but provided immense joy in the short run. His spirits were lifted every time a voice was raised, or a curse word was thrown in someone's direction. They reminded him that he was not the only member of the family with problems, and that neither of them could rightfully ever make him feel subservient.
“Will you two please shut up? There's a bigger question here than whether or not some officers are going to stop by the club to get a lap dance.”
“And just what is that?”
“Obviously, they think one of us is a murderer. Did you ask yourself if they might be right?”
The thought had surely come to each of them, but how strongly they had considered it was in doubt. They each believed they were not responsible, but they could not say the same for the others. It was a reality they did not want to face, but could no longer completely ignore.
I don't know about the two of you,” he continued, “but I know I didn't do it. I have an air-tight alibi.”
“As do I.”
What should have been welcome news brought no relief. It felt entirely too convenient that all three of them had alibis that were unquestionable. It was hard enough to believe a murder had occurred in a locked room, but now that they knew the deck was stacked against any one of them standing out as a suspect, the coincidence became harder to accept.
“What do you think the chances are of all three of us having such tidy little alibis? It's almost as though someone planned the whole thing.”
“Then we know Emerson didn't do it, since he's not smart enough to do anything more complicated than tying his shoes.”
“I'm plenty smart enough to kill Dad if I wanted to . . . not that I did.”
“That sounded like a confession to me.”
“Children, stop fighting. If one of us did kill your father, we're not going to abandon whoever it was. We're still a family, and we're going to stick together. Besides, Tory, you're clearly the better candidate.”
“What? Why me?”
“You and your little stoner friends don't remember half the things you do. You could have done it in a haze of smoke and woken up with no memory of it.”
“Look who's talking. You hated him more than any of us. If anyone was going to kill him, it was going to be you.”
“That's absurd. I got everything I could out of the man. What else could I have wanted?”
“You couldn't stand that he was happier without you.”
“You ungrateful little twerp.”
The argument spiraled out of control, resentment and frustration building to a fever pitch. Faith and Tory circled each other, venom in their eyes, ready to tear the other's throat out. As Tory coiled, her body ready to pounce on her mother, Emerson caught her, pulling her back.
“Let go of me.”
“See, this is what I mean. You have violence in your heart.”
“I haven't killed anyone yet, but you're tempting me.”
“Stop it, the both of you. Fighting isn't going to help anything. We seem to have reached an impasse.”
“One of you kids is guilty. I'm sure of it now. But don't worry, I'm not going to turn my back on you, and you shouldn't turn your backs on each other. We're better off without your father, so let's agree to keep all of this between us.”
They retreated to separate rooms to reflect. There was a murderer among them, they were all now convinced, though they could not agree on whom. Enough misery had befallen the family that they felt no need to add more fuel to the fire. They would keep this discovery to themselves for now, but only for as long as it took to discover which of them was the guilty party. They each hoped they would find the answer before one of them became the second victim.