by Oliviu Crâznic
Translation from Romanian by Dorothy McCarthy and Alina-Olimpia Miron [MTTLC]
“Hundred percent sure. It’s the second call to that address in less than a month and a half.”
I gave the Chrysler some gas, letting Finn turn on the siren. There was no point in pressing him with new questions; if my partner said “I know what this is about”, then –most likely – he did know. Therefore, I turned off on 3 Avenor Drive, leaving Central Emmening on the left.
I had been working with Jack Finn for almost four years and I had learnt to trust him when it came to policeman’s instincts: no wonder he was known as “The Bloodhound” at the police station. The joke (apparently quite corny because of the large-scale usage of that cognomen) did contain a rather savvy pun – because, if someone could really pick up the scent of the crime scene, then that was Jack Finn.
Eyebrows frowning, eyes seldom blinking, I followed the fences passing by us like lightning, separating the smart properties – the dark-green, carefully mown lawns and the mail boxes packed with newspapers which were also annoyingly strewn along the old, dusty, narrow lane. The location communicated by the dispatcher was close by – and here we were.
The house, a yellow one, of course – I don’t know of any houses in southern Fallen Town that are a different colour – seemed to belong to a typical middle-class family. The sun was shining from one side onto the roof of the modest household, throwing fragments of broken light towards us, towards the Chrysler we were just leaving at the door. It was boiling hot outside, sweat was dripping like crazy on my burning forehead; not a soul in sight. As a matter of fact, in a town – in a little town – like Fallen (according to the latest statistics, 730 inhabitants), in mid-summer, one would seldom see a figure advancing along the sidewalk or wearily crossing the lanes. At most, if one got lucky, one might ferret out some elderly gentleman reading his magazine on the shady porch or hand-feeding the dog.
I slammed the car door and waited for my partner. Jack Finn hurriedly dodged round the car; he had taken his gun out of its casing.
If there ever was something that annoyed me about my partner, that something was his habit of constantly trying to be the bigger man. I’m not a hero and the idea of dying on active duty never tempted me, but, from a certain point on, seeing Jack take the lead in all our objectives had become utterly aggravating. Nevertheless, I sighed in resignation and, as usual, checked my gun: a brand-new Glock 22. I had never used it outside the shooting range, but, gripping the cold steel, I instantly and for no reason whatsoever thought that I was going to use it that day.
Perhaps I have forgotten to mention – cries came from the house. Continuous, hysterical, but also weak – simultaneously, other, menacing cries, cut short several times and each time resumed that very moment. I could easily distinguish a child’s, or a girl’s voice and another one, thicker, more guttural and deeper, which confirmed my partner’s theory of domestic abuse. Apparently, the family involved – Lee was their name, but I couldn’t remember the couple’s first names – also had a daughter: the father was well-known because of regular beatings and other offences; perhaps this time we would finally be able to get an official complaint so we could arrest the guy.
And, besides, the “cage” at the police station had become, for some time now, more of a decorative object – it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if, following the planned arrest, we found an appropriate use for it. After running the few steps that separated us from the targeted house, Jack Finn acted precisely as the circumstances required by violently kicking the half-open door and professionally sliding along the wall inside, his Glock barrel pointed forward. I should have done the same, but I suddenly stopped, staggered by the nightmarish scene morbidly opening on my retina.
Two massive bodies, dangling in the centre of the room, were somehow hanging from the ceiling; undoubtedly, these were Mr. and Mrs. Lee: both dead, their clothes drenched in the blood erratically gushing from their widely split gullets. Between the two fresh cadavers a tall, hefty, greasy, goitrous man was writhing grotesquely, red all over, his huge arm pushing firmly against the frail waist of a young woman, her clothes torn and blood-stained. The victim was desperately and uselessly trying to struggle – to escape somehow. In his right hand, the aggressor had a wide kitchen knife – he had planted it in the girl’s throat.
I pulled the trigger without so much as a thought because the blade had already started to cut; a little farther in front of me, Jack Finn also discharged his gun – both bullets hit their target, instantly. The murderer jerked towards us in bewilderment, his scarlet chest throbbing, and suddenly fell to the floor, dragging the girl with him. We dashed to snatch her from his arms – in the rush to do it, we clumsily bumped against the two dead, slimy, damp and flabby bodies.
We helped the girl stand up.
While Jack was asking for back-up and an ambulance in his walkie-talkie – making wide gestures, his face dead pale – since, obviously, domestic abuse had been a misdiagnosis and we were actually dealing with a serial killer (considering the state and the position of the bodies, the hypothesis certainly held ground) – I held the girl tightly in my arms so as to prevent her as far as possible from seeing the macabre scene and, throwing a coat over the splattered rags, I led her to the front of the house.
I felt better in the sunlight. So did she.
She looked shocked and was crying her eyes out. I studied her – half involuntarily – on the way to the Chrysler: her face was absolutely filthy, her dark hair blood-soaked, her body almost bare, despite my timid attempt to cover her with whatever was at hand. She seemed very young – I don’t think she was more than eighteen years old – and something in her, or perhaps in her deep, shadowed, wandering eyes sent a strange and obscure chill down my spine, which I tried – successfully – to dismiss. I carefully ushered her into the car.
“Ellen Lee”, Jack said, drawing close. “That’s her name. I got the bodies down, just in case – even though I’d conclusively determined the lack of a pulse in both of them. Now all we have to do is to wait for the ambulance – as if that were of any use.”
Shiny drops of perspiration had speckled my partner’s temples; in his uniform studded with the traces of his recent efforts, Jack Finn looked like a bizarre, scarlet harlequin. I was about to nod my head when my eye caught something inside the house – a face, maybe in a window corner – and I turned to look carefully.
“Have you secured the perimeter?” I interrogated my partner – rather irritatingly – though I knew very well he had done it.
“What kind of question is that?!” he snapped at me in anger.
“I saw someone at the window.”
For a split second, police officer Jack Finn scrutinized me in disbelief, as if trying to make sure I wasn’t pulling his leg; then, utterly devoid of enthusiasm, turned towards the building he had just left behind. The sun kept on shining glaringly, bafflingly, trickling out sharp, minuscule, painful diamonds all around us.
“Are you serious?” Finn asked, gloomily. “You know I never do half-assed jobs. I couldn’t have missed someone.”
“Maybe they came through the back yard, after you went out”, I said – though rather haphazardly. Softly, to the girl: “Ellen?…”
She raised her eyes, but her tender, red lips remained silent. And her eyes were filled with darkness; and I read something else in them, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly.
“How many were you when the bad man broke in?” I insisted in a soft voice – to my own surprise, I was almost whispering. “Three or four?…”
“She’s in shock, Sawyer.”
Finn and Sawyer – this had been yet another joke at the Department when they designated us partners. I had found it amusing at the time – now, with Ellen Lee there and in the stifling afternoon heat, it didn’t look so funny.
“I’m going in”, I told my partner. “Guard the girl.”
He frowned at me. I had to explain myself – I did.
“For sure there’s someone else in there – another girl. But a blonde. I don’t think I’m in any danger – she has to be some friend or some neighbour’s daughter who stayed overnight at the Lees’. Rotten luck. She probably hid somewhere during the events and, considering all that’s happened, she doesn’t dare come out.”
“Okay.” Finn hesitated, instinctively clenching his fingers on the cold black iron of the gun. “Stay within sight. But I still think you’re wrong – that damned house is empty.”
And I did stay in sight while I was going up the outside stairs. Yes, I had seen a blonde girl at the window – I was positive my senses hadn’t betrayed me. And I, in the glistening light of that prophetic day, I had chosen to go after her.
She was standing right in the middle of the room with her back to me when I entered. I yelled out some words I can’t remember, probably summoning her; she didn’t answer, but she did look at me over her shoulder. Just like Ellen, she had something in her distressing eyes, as well as in her entire being, but I couldn’t have put my finger on it – she didn’t seem so much scared as serene. Once she knew I was there, she gracefully set off towards the other room, without much concern for my presence there; as if I didn’t exist, as if for her I were only a ghost of things long passed. My new Glock stretched mechanically forward, I advanced sheepishly and saw she was leading me straight to a freshly-painted wall, right next to the basement; there she stopped and her hand softly and delicately touched the brick wall.
She turned to me. She was very beautiful – the room appeared full of light when she spoke to me. And what she said, while gently caressing the wall, cleared everything up, though it was only two words.
I dashed outside. The car was still there, the door barbarically wrenched out and Jack Finn dead and decapitated, irreverently stuffed in the back seat. My partner’s wide eyes were reproachfully staring at me as if I was to blame for everything. No trace of the brunette girl whatsoever.
The investigation was bizarre and brief. It turned out that the girl with hair as dark as the feathers of ancient ravens had arrived at the break of dawn, had broken into the house and walled the real Ellen Lee up, after which she had killed the parents, professionally stabbing them and hanging their tainted bodies somewhere in sight. The man armed with a kitchen knife had, unfortunately, hit upon Hades’ messenger and the two warm, inflated bodies – he was Mr. Lee’s brother, who had come on an unexpected visit to his beloved family. A very brief visit, brutally cut short by two well-targeted bullets – one from my gun’s black barrel, another from Finn’s.
Oh, Finn indeed. Several drug stashes were found in his house. In the end, he turned out to be a corrupt cop; the investigation brought to light several of his evil doings – and quite some things about Ellen Lee’s parents and even about Ellen herself.
In fact, about her uncle too. There were no innocents in that story.
But, despite the Department’s research, despite all their determined attempts to unfold this grotesque mystery, Time and Lethe slyly descended over Fallen Town, keeping the identity and fate of the dark-haired girl enshrouded in mist. And the existence of the blonde girl was never even suspected.
I thought it both useless and risky to mention her together with the other one in the report, as they were identical.