By R.A. Jetter
The coroner zipped the black body bag closed. A detective shot Polaroid’s of body parts and evidence notes around the room, to be later scoured for clues. Each flash a shocking memory, capturing a portion of carnage along with the appropriate ID. Ejected photos broke the unnerving silence.
A bloody meat cleaver; the murder weapon, stuck upright in the cutting board and a mottled footprint the only clues. The overfilled sink dripped onto yellow linoleum, creating a crimson stream trickling into the hall. I flipped the disposal switch. Metal teeth chewed potato peel and beef fat as a whirlpool drained the sink. The stench of dishwater filled the kitchen. It was a welcome smell.
I’d been walking Betsy for only fifteen minutes, yet in that time things had changed forever. The Beagle had gotten fidgety as we strolled by Maggie’s house. Guess the dog knew something was amiss. I couldn’t get her to stop whining or looking back… not even coercing with her favorite hot dog from the souvenir shop helped. Funny how things fall into place, especially when you’re a detective with a critical eye… I noticed Maggie’s front door open… thought it out of place for a woman that hadn’t been outside her home for years. But we kept walking, I’d check later.
Betsy whimpered, tried to tell me something. Dogs have an uncanny sense of knowing things– unusual behavior, skittish jumps and random barking are often disregarded by humans. “Betsy’s seeing Bigfoot again” my wife would say every time the dog jumped on the overstuffed chair and barked at the old growth forest out the patio window. ‘Course, twelve foot hairy creatures I do not believe in, but Betsy had been going out of her little dog mind, almost if someone shadowed us that evening as we walked. I’d never seen the dog so agitated. Yet, thinking back on it, I blame myself, we should have stopped when I noticed the door ajar. I’d made it a habit over the years to check in on Maggie. I’d befriended her… and Betsy, of course, loved that old lady. Maggie was eighty, needed someone to look after her, make sure everything was OK. With no relatives, she’d been alone far too many years. No one I knew in this town would hurt Maggie. But we didn’t stop and now I wouldn’t have to any longer. I felt responsible.
The homicide call came just as we’d gotten home. Told them I’d be right there. I trotted the fifteen blocks back to Maggie’s house. After spending too much time in the kitchen surveying the bloody scene, I went to headquarters to sort out this senseless murder. It’s not an easy thing when a crime turns ugly. Uglier yet with no clues.
The scariest part was that Maggie wasn’t the only one, her death was the third in three weeks. The M.O. matched. Someone was killing helpless old women. The murderer was psycho, elusive and left few clues. In fact, each crime scene had been scoured; each drop of blood, each microfilament lifted and scrutinized by experts in forensic technology. Yet, there was nothing conclusive, except the footprint… one near-perfect, bloody footprint. Surprisingly, in all three homes, almost like the killer purposely placed it. The boot, according to forensics, was a basic steel-toed Wolverine. It appeared the killer took precious minutes to press his size tens into a pool of blood.
That bothered me… why would a boot-print be deliberately placed? Seventy-five percent of the men in this dirty northwest lumber-mill town wore Wolverines, including me, and there were a few women, manly women walking logs in the pond, that wore tens. That alone didn’t help. But, there’s the other thing that bothered me, no one else noticed, but I did. Maggie had just finished dinner. And so had Cheryl Ann. And the first victim, Beth, was apparently washing dishes when she was murdered… that told me each knew the murderer and trusted them to come into their homes. A place at each table had been set and each had cooked for two people. Three spinsters couldn’t eat that much combined. It had to be a male that cut them up. Women aren’t that physical.
PING! It hit me. I pushed back from my desk, grabbed car keys, and rushed down the stairs. I couldn’t believe I missed it. I almost ran over my partner Arnold as I flew through the station’s double doors.
“Whoa Jerry, where you going?” he yelled, trying to regain his balance.
“Hey Arn. Jump in. I’ll explain on the way.”
Arnie scooted into the passenger seat of the Omomqua County cruiser. He was the epitome of a small town cop. Ex all-star high school quarterback, pro football running back standout that blew out his knee three years into the game ruining any chance of retiring famous and wealthy. At 34, he was big and strong. Muscles built lugging logs at a summer job for his father remained. “What the hell is going on, Jerry?”
“We missed something.”
“What? Missed what?”
“No, not missed. Didn’t look.” I slid the gearshift into low, squealed away from the curb and almost nailed the meter maid. “At all three murders there were two place-settings but only one set of silverware on the table. None in the dishwater… or the trash, remember? One set missing, we never checked to see if any other silverware was missing.”
“So, who cares if a few pieces of cheap silverware were missing?”
“No one. Except it wasn’t cheap silver, these gals had the real thing.”
“Real thing? What you goin’ on about, Jer?”
“Silver… antique. Heirloom quality. Maggie was proud of hers. It was a gift from the King of Prussia.” If I were correct, silver pieces would be missing from the other victim’s homes. I’d venture the male they invited to share their last meal would pawn the antiques sooner or later. When that happened, I’d be ready. Banging a tire on the log stop at road’s edge, I slammed the gearshift into Park, jumped out of the cruiser and bounded over the ditch. If I were the murderer, I’d go out Maggie’s screenless back door with my priceless Prussian plunder, wrapped in the victim’s apron. Hopefully, there’d be a missed clue back there… somewhere. I yelled at Arnie; “Go inside, count the place-settings in the China Cabinet.”
I scoured the back yard. Walked the fence line like a drill sergeant eyeing his men. Scanned nook and cranny. Every square inch got the once over from my laser repaired eyes. But, there were no new clues back there. Nothing hiding in the fence holes, no tracks leading out the back gate in the shadow of yesterday’s snow. I surmised the silver could be buried for later retrieval. We needed a metal detector.
“They’re missing!” Arnie yelled as he rounded the house. “All of it?”
“One salad fork, one dinner fork, one dessert fork. A teaspoon, coffee spoon, a butter knife, and one dessert knife.”
“Hot damn, I was right.” The killer had taken one complete place-setting, but why? I guessed ’souvenirs’. “Arnie, you have a metal detector?”
“Yeah, but Bud’s got it. I can bring it tomorrow. Have to go to the ranch… an’ that’s thirty miles of switchbacks from here.”
That wasn’t going to work, we needed to find the silver today. Tonight. Tomorrow would be too late and there may be another victim by then. “Arnie, we’re going to see old Fritz. Is your gun loaded?” The Chief considered Arnie his own personal affliction, his own inept Barney Fife of Mayberry fame. He usually didn’t let Arnie have bullets… he’d shot at too many things plunging through the woods surrounding our town way too many times. The citizenship complained someone was going to get shot serious-like. Arnie swore those many times he was only protecting the town from Sasquatch. I just figured he saw ghosts — old loggers crushed by a falling tree or drowned in the pond. This town was full of those stories. Nevertheless, right now I’ve got a bigger riddle to solve and thankfully, Arnie’s gun wasn’t loaded. Fritz Hatchett disliked him intently and I wasn’t sure why the Chief hired him.