“Write a story about how eight murders have taken place in your character’s town in the past 8 weeks. Once a week, on the same day, at the same time. When your character gets abducted after being out past the town’s new curfew, they have only 48 hours to discover why this is happening and how to get free…all while being tortured by the murderer.”
– a prompt for this week’s CW piece.
There she was. Head lolling off to one side. Eyes wide open. Blood covering her shirt. She was still tied to the chair, but it looked as if the chair had been moved. Bet was giving her attention to the chair and the restraints, Rico was checking the wound to her neck. I was taking notes like crazy while Elliot was taking pictures from every possible angle.
“Looks like she put up a struggle after being restrained. We’ll have to do a tox screen to see if she was drugged first because if he injected her in the neck, he cut right through the mark,” said Rico.
“So Bet? Would the drugs still be in her system after 48 hours of torture?”
“Point. We may have to look for other evidence of drugs. Get a hair sample.”
“Process the scene… Rico, Elliot, Walk the grid. Bet, you and I will canvas the area.”
I whispered, “Elliot, make sure you get pictures of the Looky-Lous, I bet our killer is here.”
“Will do chief…”
“We’ll meet back at the station at 2300 hours. We may have a long night.”
Later, my squad–Rico, Elliot, Bet, and I sat at the table in the conference room in the station. The pictures of the crime scene were up on the plasma screen. The whiteboard looked like a flow-chart. The pictures of the victims, 3 boys and 5 girls between the ages of 17 and 38 were taped up with the location and condition of the body.
Elliot looked at the pictures and commented, “This makes no sense. They’re all different ages, races, sexes. One librarian, one football star, one babysitter? They have nothing in common except they were taken on a Monday, no defensive marks, obviously restrained, tortured and then throats cut.”
“How do you determine the victimology if there doesn’t appear to BE and victimology?” said Rico and threw up his hands.
“The dump sites are just as crazy…one in the woods, one in a parking lot, one in a woodpile behind a lumberyard, a landfill, a school, a park, a car.”
Bet looked thoughtful and said, “What if it isn’t one killer?”
“What? All the victims were slashed across the throat by the same weapon. We even got DNA from the other murders mixed in with the victims.” I was confused. “How could it be more than one killer?”
Bet was quiet for a moment then looked up and said, “What if it’s a template they’re following?”
I considered this. “Well, the victims were taken from all over the community. They were all restrained with zip ties to a wooden chair. They were dumped, still attached to the chair. Were the means of torture the same?”
Elliot leaped up and went to the file with the autopsies. “OMG, they were!”
Rico went over to Elliot to stare at the diagrams. “So?”
Elliot said, “If you have the same killer doing the torture, it escalates if he’s murdering this often. The wounds get more severe, more varied, more numerous. If you look at these diagrams you can see that the injuries match exactly!”
I went to the diagrams and Bet joined us. “They do. In number, in placement, in kind…”
Bet said, “I got to wondering when I noticed that the means of torture were things that didn’t require any force. Acid drops, cigarette-like burns, repeated smothering…”
“He used a plastic bag didn’t he?”
“Ya, put that over the victim’s head until she passes out and then take it off.”
“Did the killer use CPR to bring them back? Remember the cracked ribs?”
“OH CRAP! Tell the ME to check for saliva on the lips of the victims for the DNA of the murderer, then we’ve got him!”
Rico dialed the ME’s office and left a message. “Everyone’s gone home, we can’t get a foothold until tomorrow.”
“Call it a night guys, we’ll see you in the morning.”
The next day, Elliot read the report from the ME’s office. Then he read it again. And again. “Chief? This is not good.”
“After they take the trace from the victim…brushing the hair, checking for sexual assault, cleaning under the fingernails, they wash the body. If there was any saliva around the mouth it’s gone. None of the drug-testing revealed injection points or any drugs left in the victims.”
“So we have nothing.”
“Pretty much. But it does appear that there were bruises on the sternum and in a couple of places broken or cracked ribs from CPR.”
“We might have something though,” said Rico. “We got the trace from the clothes and it appears that the murders took place in a ‘clean room’ like where you paint cars or do biological research.”
“Could it be in a hospital or examination room?” asked Bet.
I answered, “That wouldn’t seem to be a leap. But if that stuff was going on, wouldn’t people get suspicious?”
“Could be an abandoned facility? Maybe a veterinary office?”
“Naw, cause we’d have some animal DNA on the victim or their clothes.”
I got a call from the Director. He was telling me I had a press conference in an hour to let the public know we’re making progress. He said in that sneering voice that suggested he shouldn’t have let a woman lead an investigative team, “You HAVE made progress haven’t you?” I hated that guy.
“Guys, what happens if we tell the killer we know he’s not working alone and that someone in his group made a mistake that we’re using to track them down?”
“What kind of evidence? Trace? a footprint?”
Elliot grinned, “an errant drop of saliva on the shirt?”
Bet added, “and some sweat stains on the clothes?”
Rico said, “How about a tiny drop of blood from a sliver in the chair…”
“YES! All I have to say is this… ‘Wooden chairs have splinters.'”
“BRILLIANT!” they all said together
“Which brings this up: They’ve used up 8 chairs. Are they done? Do all the chairs match? Where are they getting them? Why do they have to be wooden?”
Bet volunteered to check on the chairs. Elliot and Rico looked for more trace on the clothes. I wrote my press release.
About 8:00 that night, Rico rushed into my office. “There WAS a drop of spit on the shirt! and a little bit of sweat on the sleeve. But it didn’t come from the same person!”
“What?! Did you get an ID?”
“Whoever they are, they’re not in the system.”
Bet came in and said she’d checked on all the abandoned doctor’s offices (there were none) and the insane asylum (there was none which is good because that’s just too creepy) and veterinary offices (2 but accounted for, one burned, one torn down). She checked the hospital records of people coming in with unexplained injuries, and no reports yet.
We decided to start fresh in the morning.
I went down to see the ME and talk to him about the victims. Maybe there was something he saw that he didn’t know he saw. Something out of place. 8 murders in 8 weeks? There was bound to be a mistake. Something that would indicate the who and the why. If anyone would know, he would. He was a strange duck, but brilliant and often the difference between a solved case and a mystery.
“Hey, Becca. What brings you down to my little lab?”
“Well, did you see my press conference?”
He patted me on the shoulder. I patted him on the back. “Yes, yes I did. So you have a line on this killer then?”
“Yup, and I think there’s more than just the one.”
“Have you anything you want to tell me? Something odd, something out of the ordinary?”
He gave me a curious look. It was the kind of look he used when he found something that might break the case. “Well, there was this thing I found. Come over to the microscope and tell me what you see.”
It’s dark. I feel a bit claustrophobic. My hands are bound…looks like my feet are too. I try to call out, but my throat is hoarse. I have a metallic taste in my mouth. I feel a tube in my nose. I can’t pull it out. How long have I been here? I hear an argument.
“Why now? It’s early!”
“The plan remains. She was getting too close.”
“How do you know?”
“I have my ways.”
“You said they could never track this. Our friends did not know what was happening to their experiments after they were done with their part.”
“How many are left on the list?”
“Just 7 more.”
“We need to be consistent or they will determine what we’ve been doing.”
“I know, but you just ran off-book. You’re endangering the whole operation.”
“You know what happens to us if we don’t finish…”
“Yes. You also know what happens to us when we DO finish…”
“Yes, they won’t need us anymore. I have passage booked, new IDs, etc.”
“We won’t display this one, just continue as if it never happened.”
“I’ll leave it to you to calm our friends’ fear when they hear the police reports.”
“They don’t watch American Television anyway…”
“You’d better be right!”
I heard him close the door. Where was I? Who was talking? Time stretched, and I dozed off and on. Suddenly I heard something at my head. The door was opening, but it was still pretty dark in the room my bed (?) slid out and I was lifted off the metal and into a chair and tied to the chair. It felt like zip ties. It wasn’t Monday, it was Thursday? None of this felt right. Did we have the profile wrong? I was dragged into the middle of the room with a bright light. Someone shined a bright flashlight into my eyes. I couldn’t see his face. I smelled bleach and formaldehyde. The floor was tile and cold to my feet. Ah, my feet were bare. This was new.
Someone started talking in what sounded like an Eastern European language. The voice sounded familiar. Someone came up behind me and pulled my hair back and fastened it with a rubber band. Another person came up and held a lighter to a piece of metal until it glowed. He measured from my left collar bone, pulled away my shirt, and branded me there! I screamed…well I screamed in my head. The tube was still in.
The voice continued and someone different heated up the metal and measured from my shoulder to my right collar bone, pulled away the shirt and branded me right on top of the bone. The tears started to flow. I strained against my zip ties.
This got praise from the voice. A smattering of applause. The next torturer was female. Long slender fingers, delicate bones. She got me on the breast bone. It was only bearable because I knew from the other cases that there would only be 6 brands. The last one was to the right of my belly button. It seemed strange that they didn’t remove my clothes before the torture began. I guessed that one wrong. Wait…another brand? Had I miscounted? My eyes went wide and the voice started to laugh. He made a comment and the rest started to laugh as well. Someone was cutting my shirt up the back and, yup, cut through my bra. That brand went on my shoulder blade. The next on the ribs on my side. The next was at the top of my spine. I passed out.
I woke up in what I had come to recognize as a drawer. The pain was unbelievable. I started to cry. Then, true to form, I started to get mad. Then I realized that I really had to pee. I had lost any track of time. I heard voices outside of my metal coffin and new that the next round of torture was about to begin. I heard the door unlatch and my slab was pulled out of the dark and into the less dark. I don’t know why anyone would think that the tortured would deserve any dignity of going to the bathroom. I had to try though.
I mouthed, “I have to PEE!” with a pleading look on my face. That brought laughter. Then there was a groan from the group. The man with the voice said something and someone brought me a 5-gallon bucket. I was horrified…and desperate. My feet were still bound and my hands were behind my back. Someone roughly pulled down my pants and shoved me onto the bucket. I had lost feeling in my arms, so when they straightened me up removing the pressure, I felt fire all the way down from my shoulders to my fingertips as the circulation resumed. I did my business, and then the thought occurred to me that there was no toilet paper. I staggered into a standing position, and there was some discussion among the group. I heard a machine turn on that I couldn’t identify. Two guys grabbed me by the elbows and bent me over a table. I was hit unexpectedly by a cold blast of water. This got a reaction from the group. The voice said something else and apparently, the person running the water supply changed the flow to “high.” It now felt like a power wash and I could tell I was getting bruised by its force. I’d seen the result of a high-pressure wash on this one perp at a mechanic’s shop. It had taken the skin off the back of his hand. He’d thought it funny to aim it at one of my crew, and I’d thought it funny when he dropped it and it sprayed himself instead. I knew that there was a good chance that I’d lose some skin off my butt and legs. Finally, it stopped. It hurt like nothing I’d ever felt before.
A rather large hand was placed on the side of my head so I couldn’t move. My clothes were then cut off of me. There it was. Complete humiliation. I was no longer a person, I was a body–a thing, an object to be manipulated. I was no longer Becca the detective, I was the experiment in the petri dish. This was a radical departure from the other victims I had investigated. As far as we could tell, none had been power-washed, none had been stripped. I could not assume that the wounds that would be inflicted would be the same in number and placement as the “template” we’d discovered. Would my team miss me? Where would they look? Do I only have one day to live?
I was stood up, dried off, and shoved into the chair and secured. The pain from my butt and legs against that wooden chair was excruciating, though bit by bit, it faded. It was cold in the room and I started to shiver. Someone from the group said something and got boos and some nervous laughter. It must have been a crude remark. The voice silenced them with a single word then bent over me and checked my eyes again. Then he patted my shoulder. Ed? Ed the ME? We’d been friends for years…no at least a decade! He had never had a hint of an accent in all the time I’d known him. What the hell was he up to? Was I in the ME lab? That would explain the drawer. My team wouldn’t even look inside the station house for me. It would be last on the list if it even made the list.
The group noted the change in my behavior. How could I distract them? I started to cry. The wooden chair was uncomfortable and I focused on that so I wouldn’t give away that I’d made the leap and discovered the identity of one of my torturers. Not that it made a damn bit of difference. I doubt I would make it through the night. Then the first of the group stepped up to me with an eye-dropper and a vial. This would be the acid, I guessed. He filled the eye-dropper and squirted it on my thigh. It burned where it landed and then rolled down the inside of my leg to the chair…burning a trail of red blisters. I tried to scream. Nothing. The woman was next and she put the acid on my breast. The stream split in two leaving red trails and more blisters. Then two more torturers came up and one got me on the cheek and one on the palm of my hand. Another tried to place his application in my navel but he was so shaky it splattered all over my belly. The spray was thinner so it didn’t run but I got what felt like the rash from hell. There was the comment from the group and then everyone was trying to spray me. I managed to keep my eyes closed but one got the acid on my eyelid and it felt as if it was going to burn right through to my eye. I don’t know how long I endured this. Because my eyes were closed, I could only sense when the next person or persons were getting close enough to me to spray me with this stuff. I felt like my whole body was burning. Not one of our previous victims had injuries like this.
They all stepped back and I squinted into the light. My eyes were swollen and wouldn’t open all the way. The voice approached and started pouring something into the tube that went into my throat. I thought he was putting acid in the line and I panicked. I shook the chair until someone held it steady and I squirmed and shook my head hoping to dislodge the tube from my nose. I could see the liquid approaching me and said a quick prayer just as it was entering my nose. I felt no burning. I did feel something cool in my belly. The woman from the group said in broken English, “It is only, um, vater und vitamins.” The voice shushed her. I got the impression he was explaining that mental torture was more important than physical and that constant fear will be far more effective than pain. OH OF COURSE! Ed had said those very words in English to me when he was describing the torture of the previous victims. “Well, whoever they are, they are not experienced. If they were trying to get information from this victim, they were going about it the wrong way. These marks, they’re only pain. People can put up with pain, but not isolation, not fear.” They cut me loose from the chair and I thought, “This is it. This is when I get my throat slashed.” I started to cry again.
Someone wrapped me in a sheet and they put me back on my slab and rolled me back into the drawer. There were only a couple of reasons for this. Either they had decided to extend the torture period, or the voice–Ed–would kill me after they left.
I dozed a bit, then noticed something. The burning of the acid had stopped, but I felt a loosening of the restraints on my hands. Maybe the acid had weakened the zip ties. They were flinging acid at me with careless abandon and some of it could have gotten on the ties. I know it had gotten on my wrists. I tried to pull my hands apart and felt a little give. The worst thing you can do as a torturer is to allow your victim some hope. I pulled again and though it hurt like hell, I was used to pain. One more. I strained, lifting my back off the slab and pulling with all my might and my hands popped free! I didn’t have much time. I had to have a plan.
I listened for the noise of people coming into the lab and heard none. I then realized I had to have two plans: One for if there was only Ed, and one for if it was the whole group. It occurred to me that the victims were carried out in the middle of the night in the hearse that Ed drove. The back windows were curtained so there was no view of the victim. There was all that blood on the victims’ clothes, but we never found the kill site. It was because they were slashed right there in the ME’s lab and all the blood was washed down the drain. I pulled the tubing from my nose almost all the way out so they wouldn’t be suspicious when they pulled me from the drawer. My voice would still not work. I rehearsed my moves in my head, just as I had done for all those self-defense classes.
I heard voices! It sounded like the first two I’d heard in English.
“You get the car started and back’er up to the door. I’ll redress her and get her to the exit.”
“Shift change in 10 min…”
“Yes, we should have time.”
“Yes, it’s Sunday, there won’t be too much going on now. All those SOB’s have to work on Monday so they won’t be going out and robbing liquor stores tonight.”
I heard the door close. Hmmmm. I’d lost a day. Taken on Thursday, tortured Friday and Saturday? Taken on Thursday, tortured Thursday and Friday, and slept for 24 hours? Or technically Sunday morning? It would be a short crew.
I heard the door latch on my drawer. I tensed. I would either be successful or dead. I feigned sleep, gripping the hose under the sheet. The lights were on! I was blinded. I grasped my right wrist with my left hand so I wouldn’t flinch as he lifted me. He was going to zip-tie me to the chair so he could dress me. He’d just gotten me clear of the drawer and was turning to put me in the chair when I struck out. I elbowed him in the chest and rolled out of his arms, pulled the tube the rest of the way out of my nose and tripped him with a leg sweep. I put the tube around his throat and pulled it tight. He struggled and squirmed and I just tightened my grip. He was grasping at the tube around his neck and hitting me and trying to head-butt me in the nose, but I could tell he was starting to weaken. His face was starting to turn blue. He was making choking sounds.
It took every ounce of control I had to restrain myself from killing him. I adjusted my grip and got his head into the crook of my elbow, then pressed on his carotid artery. He stopped moving. I zip-tied his hands behind his back and blocked the back door so that it appeared that he just hadn’t unlocked it yet. I grabbed a lab coat and took the stairs up to the second floor where my team would have been. Checking the window to the stairwell, I turned the latch. Well, I tried to turn the latch. I’d forgotten I needed my ID badge to unlock the door! I couldn’t go back to the lab for the same reason. I was trapped! I started to laugh although my throat was in agony. I began beating on the door hoping SOMEBODY was working. The secretary from downstairs arrived on the elevator and I pounded on the door and she saw me. I didn’t look like myself. I had acid burns on my face, some of my hair was missing and was definitely out of uniform! She almost dropped the files and the large cup of coffee. Instead of opening the door, her eyes got wide and she ran into the squad room yelling, “Zombie Apocalypse! Zombie Apocalypse!”
She finally got one of the detectives from Robbery (Denny? Danny? Delbert?) to come and let me in. I couldn’t talk. I pushed him over to a desk and wrote, “Elliot! Rico! Bet! Homicide!” He gave me the once-over and picked up his phone, “I need a medic and a bus on 2nd floor here. NOW!” His badge said “Robert.” Hmmm. I was way off. Robert from Robbery. I snorted. It hurt.
Bet rushed in.
“Becca? Is that you?! Oh my GOD!”
“Becca? As in Detective Doyle? That Becca?” asked Robert.
I wrote, “Perp is ED! zipped tied in Lab. Get some unis down there!”
Bet was confused. “Our Ed?”
I wrote, “LATER! HE’S GOT A FRIEND! MOVE!!!”
I looked up at Robert and mouthed “Thank you!” Then I wrote, “driver in hearse by ME door. Go!”
Suddenly every cop on the floor ran by me and headed down the elevators and the stairs. Elliot ran by barking orders, “You head for the ME door and stop that hearse! You guys are with me. The dispatcher is alerting all the units to block the exit. DAMN Becca! You look like hell!”
“Yup,” I nodded. I’m sure he couldn’t have heard me.
Then he turned and ran down the stairs. Rico wasn’t far behind and just ran past. He hadn’t recognized me.
Bet said, “I’ll stay with you until the medics get here. You got some clothes you can change into?”
“Evidence,” I wrote.
“Of course. OK, well come over here and sit. We thought we’d lost you for good!”
The adrenaline wore off and I started to shake and got very cold and clammy. Bet had me lie on the floor and she got a cushion from the couch in the break area to put under my feet. I drifted off and didn’t even notice when the medics moved me to the gurney and then into the ambulance. I woke up briefly on the ride and felt that oxygen mask on my face and the safety straps and felt I was back in the drawer again. I panicked and tried to escape, but they shot me with some sort of sedative and I drifted off again.
47 days, 10 hours and 13 minutes. I was in and out of consciousness for the burn treatments. I had vague visions of a woman with a cold cloth to my face. There was a man that came and examined my burnt hand where the acid was dropped on my palm. I got glimpses of Rico and Elliot. Bet told me later they had kept my room in flowers the entire stay. The nurse said it had been touch and go and Bet never left the room during that first two weeks. The physical therapist would come in and bend and twist things in my hand so it would open and close, but it felt like a claw. I passed out at the end of all those initial sessions. The skin grafts were the worst. I didn’t want any mirrors in the room.
Elliot came in and said, “Pop the champagne! We got them all!” Then he told me how they wrapped up the case. Rico and Bet came in later and filled in some of the details. The doctor says I will never have full use of my left hand again, and he recommended a couple of plastic surgeons to do some reconstructive surgery. Frankly, I don’t care anymore. I’ll get some disability from the PD, but if I can’t go into the field, I don’t want to stay in the department. 47days, 9 hours, 37 minutes until my retirement party. I think I’m going to just sleep for a month, go camping, walk the Pacific Rim Trail, jump off a mountain. I sleep with a light on. I have no wooden chairs in my apartment. I’ll be fine.
I’ll be fine.