Here it Begins
Copper. And not just any copper, but warm, damp copper. He could smell it, feel it thick and moist hanging in the air as soon as he opened the door of his ’57 Ford convertible. The lucky saps around him didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing the onslaught of that metallic taste and smell, but he did. Lucky bastards.
His loafers padding softly onto the bland tile floor. The blues insisted on donning their precinct-issued heavy boots, but the vibration of them clopping around like obese Clydesdales was enough to rattle his brain clear out of his skull. He preferred the soft soles of his Topsiders, reverberating no more than a q-tip tapping on carpet. The bustle of activity around him was a blur, crime scene investigators and blues scattered every which way in his peripheral, but his senses were honed to the smell; and that acrid taste. Death had been through here, and had been living large as it passed.
A vibration, slight but detectable, rattled the hairs on the inside of his ear. He ignored it, pushing forward, not wanting to engage anyone just yet.
Bigger this time, his ears picking up the pulsating of a pair of syllables. That was good, he supposed. He had less of a surprise when a large hand wrapped around his shoulder and a bright white moon face obstructed his view.
“Ripley!” the face yelled.
“Yelling’ll do you no good, you imbecile,” Mark Ripley said, flicking Moonface in the chest. “You can up the decibels, but you can’t seem to crank up the smarts, now can ya?”
Moonfaced huffed, scolding Mark with his eyes. Punk, Mark thought to himself. Didn’t matter that the dick was pushing forty, he was still a spoiled little shit.
“Anyways,” Mark said, “what’s this all about?”
“Come see for yourself,” Moonface said, turning and leading the way into the building.
Detective Sutherland, aka. Moonface, was the lead detective on this case. Sutherland had worked on the force for all the years of his professional life, and had shared most of those with Mark in his vicinity, if not at his side. After the accident, and Mark’s subsequent withdrawal from life, the two had fallen out of favor. There was certainly no shortage of anger on either side; Mark blaming everyone for the state of the world that had left him less of a man, and Sutherland blaming Mark for, well, turning into a raging, gaping asshole. Regardless, Sutherland always turned to Mark when the going got tough, but it had to get real tough before his fingers dialed that all too familiar number. So what kind of shit show is this? Mark wondered.
A veterinarian clinic, large and open, clean yet smelling of wet fur and the fear of canine and feline alike, with slight undertones of urine and vomit. It was the middle of the night, so the lobby was devoid of customers and their pets, but there was a bustle of activity nonetheless. Police officer, beat cops and detective alongside crime scene investigators, were crammed into the lobby, behind the counter, and, presumably, in the backrooms. Despite the volume of working bodies, the room looked quiet; no lips were moving, no eyes were contacting. This is something, Mark thought. This is something worse than usual.
Sutherland led him through the double doors into the back hallway, and they passed by examination rooms on either side—six in total—each occupied by various precinct staff collecting evidence. They pushed through a second set of double doors into what looked like a recovery room; the walls lined with kennels and monitors. There was a window running along the entire back wall, giving view to what looked like an operating room. There were monitors, surgical lights, medication carts, and a steel table in the center of the room. The far corner was cordoned off by black panel sheets erected to create a separate room for the crime scene itself. There was a red glow peeking out from around the curtains and reflecting onto the ceiling, quavering with a gentle movement. As Mark and Sutherland passed the window enroute to the operating room, Mark noticed that the officers standing guard looked a peaked shade of green.
“Do I need to brace myself for this one?” Mark asked.
Sutherland stopped and turned, making sure to face Mark straight on for the delivery of this answer.
“There’s no bracing yourself for this one, good buddy.”
And in they went. Mark was almost knocked off his feet by the smell in the air. This was the epicenter; the point of origin of pain and blood and tissue that spread the stench of death all the way out to the open door of that ’57 Ford convertible. Fortunately for his remaining senses, the fluorescent lights were off. Oh, how Mark hated fluorescent lights. They made his eyes buzz. But as he looked up, he realized they weren’t off. They were gone.
“Don’t think there was much going on here in the way of vet business,” Sutherland said. “The bulbs are gone from all the sockets, including the hanging surgical lamp. There’s not even a goddamn flashlight in here. We brought in the floodlight so we could see what the hell we’re doing. Not that we wanted to, mind you.”
“Why are we here in the first place?” Mark asked. “Noise complaint?”
“Nope,” Sutherland said. “Note.”
Sutherland plucked an evidence bag off the table, and handed it to mark. Mark rubbed his eyes, and struggled to make out the words in the dimly lit room.
The seeds of hate won’t sow
Here it begins
Here I will go
To never know
That was it. No name, nothing more. Mark flipped the letter over and found the address of the vet’s office scrawled on the back. The writing, on both the poem and the address, were sharp, tearing through the paper, and dark brown.
“It’s blood, Mark,” Sutherland said. “At first blush, it looks like it may have been penned with a quill. Difficult to be sure yet, but that’s the assessment so far. Sicko fuck, this one.”
“Because of his choice of writing utensil?”
“Well that,” Sutherland said, combing his fingers through the thinning scuff of hair on the top of his head, “but more so this.”
Sutherland walked over to the black cloth blind shielding them from the corner of the room, tentatively pulled it aside, and barked something at the folks inside that made them drop what they were doing and haul outta their like their assess were on fire. They looked relieved to escape. Once the final staff had vacated the blocked off corner, Sutherland hooked back the blind, and tilted his head towards the great unknown.
“You coming’ in?” Mark asked.
“Not again,” Sutherland said. “Not yet.”
Mark stepped around Sutherland, and entered the constructed crime scene lair. As the black curtain closed behind him, his senses narrowed, taking in one horrific detail at a time.
The smell. That coppery, wet stench. Fresh, metallic, mixed with an element of flora, likely mold or algae. The taste was the same; old, wet, sour. The air felt cool, and Mark’s skin tingled with a dermas-wide grimace as he allowed his eyes to roll over the scene.
A pod, a tube really, about three meters tall and a meter wide, was sitting in the corner of the room. The pod was filled with liquid, thick and dark, a startling crimson. The entire corner of the room glowed red, the beam from the precinct’s floodlight shining through the capsule and reflecting it to all corners of the confined space. The liquid moved, rippling and gently heaving, creating a dance of blood shadows on the walls and ceiling. Although the liquid was dark, Mark could make out what was suspended within.
A man, only a few steps removed from being a boy, floated in the liquid, his arms bound over his head and his ankles to the floor, spread out like a starfish. His body swayed in motion with the minuscule swells, and every so often an arm or leg would float up against the glass. Mark caught a glimpse of some tearing on the boy’s wrists and ankles. He fought being bound, Mark thought. Of course he did. He was being tied down and submerged to his demise. Mark questioned, however, if drowning was indeed the cause of death. The poor guy was suspended in liquid, sure, but the liquid was a deep crimson; blood, likely. And judging by the intense shade, it was more than just a drop of blood. Mark stepped closer to the glass, trying to get a clearer look at the body through the sea of red, and got what he wanted. And what he didn’t want.
He was mutilated. Badly. As Mark pressed his nose against the glass, he could make out a gory void where the guy’s manhood used to hang, now just a vacant slab of ripped and cut flesh. His face seemed peaceful, unassuming, and eerily calm; not the expression of someone fighting against the submersion of their lungs. Not that his face was peaceful in any outward sense, though. His eyes, or rather where his eyes used to be, were vacant sockets, deep and bloody. But Mark knew this wasn’t the final blow. No. The kill shot, on first blush, would likely be the bone shard poked in one ear and protruding out the other; like his head was on a spit from ear to ear. It was unlikely that the bone was his, judging by the length of the shard, and the apparent wholeness of all his own limbs. This bone came from someone or something else.
Mark felt unsettled. He had seen so much death in his career, much of it gory, but none as heinous as this. This was violent, and calculated, cruel. This poor man was tortured. Mark looked around the room at the equipment, noting that the tube was hooked up to the water system adjacent to the surgical sink. Water was being recirculated by an external pump, causing the movement that wavered the light and floated the man’s limbs. Beside the tank was a cart of tools ranging from medical to home improvement, none of them looking like they belonged in a veterinary office. There was a small flat screen television in the corner. It wasn’t hooked up to any cable or satellite, and it wasn’t a smart TV, but it was plugged into the wall. And it seemed to be facing the former line of sight of the victim.
Mark breathed deeply through his mouth, feeling a touch overcome by the smell and the red light consuming his vision. He looked at the man, into his vacant sockets, and imagined his last moments. Was he in the water first before he died? Did he think he was going to drown, or did the brain stab catch him by surprise? And did the removal of phallus and sight come before or after he expired? Damn. Mark closed his eyes and focused, hearing the sound of water in his ears like he was on his back in a bathtub full of water. He let his body sway, imaging the hair floating above his head. He opened his eyes, once again studying the guy’s face, hearing the bathtub water filling his ears, but now he was lost in that tube right alongside the doomed stranger.
“Whatdya make of this horse shit?” Sutherland said, approaching Mark from behind.
Of course Mark didn’t respond. He hadn’t seen him; hadn’t heard him. He just stayed face to face with the blind and deaf corpse floating in the water before him, hoping that the corpse’s lips would start moving in his mind’s eye and tell him the ending to this story.
Daylight hours clawed their spritely fingers over the horizon, seeping light on the world like a liquid blanket. The new cheery dispositional lighting didn’t help lift any moods at the crime scene, though. It just brought into focus the darkness of the night before. Evidence had been collected, photographs had been taken, and the coroner was wheeling the body off to load into her van. Mark stood back against the treeline, observing the scene from afar, trying to make a holistic assessment before some ass pirate came bugging him again and distracted him.
The veterinary clinic was nestled in amongst a string of sparse businesses—a dentist, a church, a feed-seller—but was placed far enough back on the property that no one would have noticed any tomfoolery unless they came off the main road and looked for it. It was tucked in the back of an average lot, shaded by the overhand of seasoned poplars and willows. There was ample room for pets of a wide range of sizes to play and roam outdoors, and a good distance between the building and the closest neighbors; good for keeping the peace when customers are the barking howling kind. Or screaming and dying.
“Sutherland!” Mark yelled out. Sutherland was speaking with a set of day detectives, briefing them and assigning them tasks to work on while he took his authority back to the precinct to conduct the orchestra from afar. Upon hearing Mark’s summon, Sutherland waved off the detectives and made a beeline across the parking lot. Mark had become stand offish in the past half year, and any initiation of communication was eagerly welcomed.
“What think you, old friend?” Sutherland asked.
“Dunno yet,” Mark answered. “Surveillance?”
“Nope. There were cameras, but they must have been removed whenever the suspect took up residence.”
“None. Like I said, no one had a clue anything was amiss. If it wasn’t for that note…”
“Hundreds, of course. This was a fairly busy veterinary clinic, judging by the reviews on Yelp. We’re gonna try and track down the most recent appointment, see how long the place has been out of commission.”
“Haven’t been in contact yet. No answer on their cell, and they aren’t at their home.”
“Not at home in the middle of the night? Vacation mid spring, after spring break?”
“We expect the worst, of course.”
“I assume you’ll canvas the friends and customers, see if you can dig up any dirt. And scour the neighbors again, see if they can recall when the traffic here slowed. The animals. There weren’t any animals in there. See when it went quiet.”
Sutherland shifted uncomfortably from for to foot, looking at the ants weaving around his boots.
“Oh please,” Mark said. “You can’t still be squeamish.”
“Damnit, Mark,” Sutherland said. “It’s like you try to make people uncomfortable.”
Mark was going to snap a retort, but he knew what Sutherland said was true. Since the accident, his weapon against the shame of his injuries was to make others ashamed and uncomfortable; deflect the attention from him to their own inability to address their social discomfort. Being a dick was counterproductive.
“Sorry, Dale,” Mark said, now looking down at his own trail of ants. “It still eats at me, you know?”
“I know, buddy,” Sutherland said, clapping the man on the back. “We are all here for you, if you ever want to come back to the force. There are ways to accommodate-“
“I think the time away is therapeutic,” Mark interrupted, staving off an awkward conversation. “Besides, the money as a private consultant is just what the doctor ordered.”
They stood in silence for a moment, both having so much to say but nothing to put into words.
“Anyhow,” Mark said, “I’d like to buzz down to the station after you get everything catalogued and organized, take a boo at the evidence and see if I can at least put together the edge pieces of this puzzle.”
“Good plan, then,” Sutherland said. “Give us a day or so, let us get some searching and interviews done so we have something to put in front of you. Go get some rest. It’s been a long night.”
It had. A long night, and an exhausting year thus far. Mark smiled and headed towards his car, knowing that behind those pained smiles and clumsy waves directed at him as he passed were comments of pity and sadness, and declarations of personal and professional doubts and slanders were being uttered behind notepads and hands blocking lips that he was forbidden to read. The explosion may have stolen his hearing, but it only heightened his ability to read people and the scenes around them.
As he dropped down into the sunken seat of his car, he sat for a moment, picturing the solace of his couch, the comfort of a big greasy pizza loaded with bacon and feta cheese, and the distraction of another colorful, subtitled flick that relied more on CGI and expressions than sound effects. But until then, he would have to endure the long drive home on the cluttered freeway, a drive that used to be a great opportunity to debrief after a particularly grueling shift. He never thought he’d see the day he would long for the benign, sterile chatter of those idiots on the radio station; anything to help his mind stray from the thought of that young man in the tube. As he pulled out of the gravel parking lot, he could still see that red glow from the liquid lingering in his eyes, and hear water rippling in his ears.