Jayce Wellspring and the…untitled and unedited…a beginning of something new…

Who were you before you conformed to the idea other people thought you were?

This question has plagued me over the last decade. Who was I before I transformed myself into this caricature of who people thought I was?

I am Jayce Wellspring. Few things have made sense these last few years. My memory has not served me well. 

There was a chalice and a name. Rianna. The end of the world in a chalice of sorrow. I remember slowing it down. I remember a pixie. A warning. 

“You can’t stop the wave; you can only redirect it.” I came to on a beach. The waves lapped at my face. The monsters I hunted were no more. 

I was no longer Jayce Wellspring the monster hunter. I was dubbed by those who thought the prophecy averted, Jayce Wellspring the Prophecy Destroyer.

They’re wrong, oh so horribly wrong. 

You can’t stymie the tide of destruction. All I revealed with my action was that monsters are covered with the flesh of men. Eleven, Dwarven, and Human all are monsters. We seek our own destruction. 

Day in, day out, we have searched for new ways to bring about the apocalypse. Now, there are so many ways to take life, but no one could tell you how to live one.

On the precipice overlooking eternity, I was given the ability to change the flow of destruction. All I had to do was choose.

“Pick an ending,” the Chalice called. “You have the power to change what is

I chose. In the blink of an eye, I wiped out two civilizations to avert the prophecy. Life was granted to the people I deemed worthy. When it was over, I realized my mistake.

I never should have chosen.

Now, the prophecy continues albeit in a different vein. I sacrificed two cultures to move the prophecy one generation from me. The Chalice approved my choice and gleefully took what was offered. 

My head has ached since my choice. “What I should have done is allow the Chalice to overflow and wipe out all life. Then, like Spring follows Winter, life would have been reborn into the galaxy. But no, I had to choose. Now, someone new must shoulder the burden I placed upon them.”

That freaking pixie. She conned me into choosing. Pixies are notoriously devious; they often play upon your insecurities to bring about the ending they like. “Well, she’s freaking happy now.”

I chose to end the Righteous Dwarves and the Shunned Dwarves. Both vanished in the blink of an eye. Before you could shout zing, they were gone. As if they had never existed on this plane before. Humanity and the Elves were the only people left. 

We went from 9 billion people to less than 4.5 billion. Half of the population died in the most gruesome of ways.

The Shunned Dwarves were consumed in unquenchable fire. The Righteous Dwarves lived underground. A seismic event closed their entrances to their cities. Three billion Dwarves starved to death. For a while the strong feasted upon the weak, but in the end, nothing stopped the will of the Chalice.

My work though is not done. For the Chalice still calls my name.

New writing…untitled, unedited and incomplete…

Port Castleberry is a rotting cesspool of interspecies and their depravity. The entirety of the country-yes, Castleberry is a country-is filled with criminality, sexual depravity, and other acts of vileness. Every manner of immorality, crime, and horror is allowed in Port Castleberry. Of course, there was law in Castleberry, but it was as cruel as the crime. 

Plus, the electricity grid would kick off and on at times. It was said that the power flicked off and on because prisoners were put to death at an alarming rate. Of course, no one believed it. It was just an old wife’s tale. 

But still…

Jace Strongheart stood on the bow of the Courtesan Star and wondered if his ‘new start’ would find success. With each failure he lowered his bar of expectations. His few possessions were packed in a trash bag next to him. 

Those who came on the Courtesan Star watched Jace with disgust. He was the only Earthling on this rickety tub. 

Jace looked up toward the firmament. Castleberry had two moons, but you only saw one at a time. The night sky, all four hours of it, was filled with twinkling stars. Night felt as if it would smother you. Jace liked the night. 

“One day my ship will come in,” Jace thought, “my luck I’ll be stuck at the airport.” The old Earth saying brought a smile to his face. His ship docked at Berth #3. Before the ship even lowered the ramp for its passengers to disembark, people and things were jostling for position. Fistfights broke out on the deck. Jace stayed put and watched the chaos. 

“And they think us humans are low class…” A broad-shouldered Dwarf stood silently in the shadows next to Jace. He watched Jace with a mixture of dispassion and disgust. 

“What brought you to Port Castleberry, Earthling?” Jace turned to the dwarf. Jace balked at the dwarf’s appearance. The dwarf’s beard was as long as he was tall, an eyepatch covered his left eye, and scars covered his face. 

“Um, I needed a fresh start, Sir Dwarf.”

“So, you decided to be a criminal?”

“Uh, no. I decided to be a mercenary.”

“Same thing,” the dwarf growled. Jace shook his head no. Surely, the dwarf misunderstood him. Jace decided to explain his position.

“Sir Dwarf, I have no desire to be a criminal. Warring against tyranny and unrighteousness is not wrong.” 

“Listen Earthling, this is not a land of heroes. Nor is it a land given to forgiveness.” He poked Jace in the chest. “You best be forged of something solid. This land and its inhabitants will eat you Crunchy.”

“Sir Dwarf, I feel as if-“

“My name is not Sir Dwarf, human. I am Ragnar the Two-fisted.”

Jace pulled out the flyer from his coat pocket. Well, what was left of his coat pocket. The flyer was in as bad shape as his coat. Still, the yellow flyer’s message was barely readable. “Do you have what it takes to fight? Do you have skill and martial prowess? Come to Port Castleberry and join the finest company of paid mercs, Ragnar’s Thundering Herd.”Printed under the message was a photo of Ragnar, complete with the eyepatch. He held a long gun in his right hand and seemed to beckon for others to join his cause with his left. 

“You’re him,” Jace sputtered. He motioned to the flyer. “You’re Ragnar the Two-fisted. I’m here to join the Thundering Herd.”

Ragnar shouldered past Jace and made his way toward the ramp. He turned and beckoned for Jace to follow. Jace grabbed his trash bag and fell into step behind Ragnar.

“We’ll see if you have what it takes to be a merc, Earthling.”

A Hot Day Down South…new writing/continuation…unedited and incomplete…

Konan took his badge and shoved it in his coat pocket.  Janko and Smith watched as he left. Somehow, Konan felt complete. As if the stars had aligned perfectly and all was right with the world. Of course, both Smith and Janko had assumed incorrectly that he had not attempted to catch this murderer. “What do you expect from people who’ve spent their entire lives playing political games?”

Given that the way that his day had spun out of control, Konan decided to go by Judith’s office. He needed advice. “This investigation has got me turned around. Everything is chaos. Even the killer’s modus operandi is chaotic. Nothing makes sense.”

Judith’s office was housed at the top of the tallest building in Fredericksburg. The Laban Building, named after the town founder Laban Fredericks, was a testimony of having too much of a good thing. Numerous companies, all with various interests, had offices in the building.

The front desk was occupied by three security officers. Konan nodded to them.

“Afternoon, fellas. I am here to see Dr. Judith.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” Konan responded. One of the security officers reached for a phone. He conversed in hushed tones with the other person and placed his hand over the speaker. 

“What’s your name?”

“Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan.”

After a few mmhmms and un-huhs , he hung up the phone. He motioned for Konan to follow him to the elevators. 

“Take the lift to Floor 16. When the doors open go left to the end of the hall. She is the second door on the right.”

“Okay. Thanks.” The officer nodded and Konan pushed the button. While the elevator made its way to the sixteenth floor, soft music played through the speakers. His heart raced as he thought of what he might say to the woman who helped him through some of his darkest days. “God, I hope this is not awkward.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Konan walked to the end of the hall and turned right. He knocked on the second door. 

“Come in,” Judith called. Konan turned the knob and stepped in.  Judith sat behind her desk. It was fancy like all the other furnishings in her office. It complimented her perfectly.

“Hey, Judith.”  She looked at Konan and smiled. He smiled back. Judith stood and walked to him. She peered into his eyes. 

“Hello, Konan. Is that a spark of madness I see in your eyes, or are you just happy to see me?”

“Both, maybe.”

Judith giggled and gestured for Konan to have a seat. She kept her eyes on him as she made her way back to her desk. 

“Look at you,” she sighed. “I am thrilled you came by. It’s been so long.”

“Yeah, it’s been a minute. How have things been?”

“It’s been busy. Of course, it’s always busy during election cycles and the aftermath of such. One guy said what he thought, and people couldn’t stand it. So, they sought counseling to sort out their feelings. Another guy threatens to nuke his opposition, so those in disagreement seek counseling. It’s the same ole story. The wheel constantly turns.”

“Yeah. It’s a nuthouse.”

“So, you’re consulting the police department on a case. How’s that going?”

“Oh, you know. Bad guys do bad things…sorry. I forgot who I was talking to. It’s a mess.”

“Is it related to your last case before you were fired for throat punching your boss?”

Konan reached in his coat pocket and pulled out the badge. He tossed it to Judith. “It’s no longer former Detective Sergeant Konan.”

Judith raised her eyebrows, Konan grinned. “She has always known how to make my heart race. God, she is so beautiful.”

“Well, how about that for good news. Can you share anything about the case?”

“No, but it is related to the last one.”

“I see. Is the killer using the same M.O.?”

“Yeah.”

“Konan, you know that the nailing of the victims to the floor is, so the killer feels empowered. They have forced their will upon an unwilling victim.”

“And the cuts on their face?”

“Power. Your killer is a person who has felt diminished, unaccepted, unaccomplished.”

“I appreciate the perspective Judith, but that doesn’t narrow down the suspect list. It has made it larger.”

“I am sure it did, but it’s the truth. Some people have misplaced anger, or they blame others for the crap in their life. Your killer is one such person. Most folks fall to their knees and scream at the sky or punch a wall. The killer manifests their anger by perpetuating violence on the people they victimize.”

“They couldn’t just go get counseling,” Konan sighed.  “I am so tired of dealing with people who have decided to showcase human depravity.”

Judith watched Konan for a long moment in silence. “I’ve never seen him so tired. It’s like this case has broken him.”

You’re just tired, Konan. You need a good meal and plenty of sleep.” Konan nodded. 

“Yeah. So, are you seeing anyone, Judith?” She smiled at the question and wrinkled her nose.

“You could say that. I got married four years ago.”

Konan looked at her and smiled. She smiled back. 

“Well, how about that? Congratulations, Judith. I knew you would find someone who made you happy.”

“I never said I was happy, Konan. It is a marriage of convenience. He needed a wife to show stability and growth, I needed someone to give me a child.”

“Oh.”

“Love was not in the equation, and he didn’t want love. Besides, my heart belonged to someone else.”

“So, it was a math problem? A business arrangement?”

“Yeah, something like that.” Konan and Judith sat in silence for a long moment. Konan looked out the window, long shadows had appeared with the setting sun. 

“I hate to, but I must run. This case will not get solved if I spend all my time in this chair. It was great seeing you again, Judith.” She smiled and walked to him. Konan stuck out his hand, but Judith pulled him into a hug. 

“You didn’t ask what my child’s name is or what gender they are.”

“Sorry. What is your child’s name and what did you have?”

“I had a son, I named him Konan.’

He pulled out of Judith’s warm embrace. He took her hands in his and smiled. “He sounds wonderful.”

“I am very proud of him; he is a carbon copy of the man he is named after. Studious, aggressive, and firm in his beliefs.”

“Thanks for the perspective. I will stop by when I am in the neighborhood.”

“Okay, be careful out there.”

A Hot Day Down South…new writing…unedited and incomplete…

Konan stood and turned from Watterson. “It could be nothing, but if Ashley’s grandfather has taught more than just Watterson the skills, he may have trained the killer.” Of course, it was possible he was the killer as well. Konan didn’t want to consider this possibility.

He walked out of the room and headed for the morgue. Ashley deserved to hear this new piece of information from him. “Plus, I need her to get him in here so we can talk.”

As he walked across the square, he considered how he could tell her without offending Ashley. It seemed to Konan that everyone he met had thin skin. It didn’t matter how much care you took; someone somewhere would end up butthurt.

Between the Mississippi heat and humidity Konan was soaked by the time he arrived at the morgue. When he stepped through the door, the cold air sent a chill through him.

A lone guard sat at the curved desk. He watched the monitors.  Konan stepped to the desk and the guard looked up. 

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you,” the guard asked?

“Good afternoon. I need to speak to Ashley, please. My name is Konan.”

“Ah, you’re him. Ashely has told us all about you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You’re a former detective with the 117th, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jacob Mathers.”

“You’re Tia’s brother?”

“That’s right. You punched out my sister.”

“Of course, you are. Well….”

“No worries, hoss. There have been days when I wanted to punch her out. You can go on back.”

“Thanks.” Konan was at a loss for words, so he nodded and walked down the hall to Ashley’s office. She was neck deep in a new cadaver. She smiled at Konan when he walked in.

“Well, there he is. What brought you down here,” she asked. He forced a smile. 

“Hey, Ashley. Could you touch base with your grandfather. I need to talk to him.”

“Sure. Is tomorrow, okay?”

“Tomorrow would be great.”

“Do you want to tell me what is going on?”

“I’m not at liberty to say right now. Do you have time for that coffee?”

She held up her hands that were covered with blood. She giggled.

“Now’s not a good time. Mrs. Johnson would go bad if I left her in this state.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. Maybe some other time.”

“I would like that.” Konan nodded and said goodbye. He walked out to the square and sat on an empty bench. The solitude did him good. He watched as people rushed by. Tomorrow he would be forced to question Ashley’s grandfather. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have some answers.”

His thinking was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He looked at the screen. It was the mayor’s office.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Konan?”

“Yes?”

“This is Mayor Smith’s clerk,” came the clipped voice. “Mayor Smith would like to see you.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Okay. I am on my way.”

She hung up abruptly. “Freaking people, God forbid they use the manners they were taught.”  A few moments later, Konan entered the foyer of the mayor’s office.

The secretary looked up when he walked in. She motioned for him to move to the door. He walked over and she opened the door. Silently, she escorted him to Mayor Smith’s office and introduced him.

“Mayor Smith, Mr. Konan is here per your request.”

“Send him in.”

Konan forced a smile at the iceberg that got him this far. She stuck her nose in the air and walked away. Konan walked in. Chief Janko sat in one of the two chairs facing the desk.

“Have a seat, Konan.”

Konan dropped into the empty chair. Mayor Smith glared at him and Janko. 

“Explain to me, how the police and you have nothing on this killer. EXPLAIN IT. TO ME!” Janko stared out the window. Konan leaned back in his chair and remained silent.

“Sir, if I may-“

“You may not, Janko. Have you clowns even attempted to solve this case?”

“We are in the pro-“

“Shut your mouth, Janko! If I want to hear your lip, I’ll scrape it off my zipper!”

Smith glared at Konan. His silence further angered Mayor Smith. 

“You,” he started. “You’re supposed to be some magnificent bloodhound. Some great thinker. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Konan looked Mayor Smith in the eyes. “Nothing. I have investigated leads; they have led nowhere. We have brought people in and questioned them. That has produced more leads. The police and I are investigating them now.”

“I don’t care what it takes, you find someone that could be good for it, and you nail them to the wall. Do you understand me?”

“No, I don’t understand. Did you just tell me to manufacture evidence and find a scapegoat?”

Smith jumped to his feet and got in Konan’s face.  Spittle splashed on Konan’s face as Smith did his best to intimidate him. Konan wiped it off and smeared it on the arm of his chair. Veins protruded from Smith’s forehead.

“You find someone to take the fall. Do not make me do your job for you,” Smith snarled. Konan pushed his chair back and stood to his feet. 

“I don’t work that way. Also, I don’t do threats. Find someone else to do your dirty work. Maybe you could use Tomas again. I have your email safely tucked away for future use.”

“You dare threaten me, boy?”

Konan drew close to Mayor Smith and smiled. “Boy? You see a boy, hoss, come put your hands on him.” Janko stood to his feet and put his hand on Konan’s chest.

“I think it’s time for you to leave, Konan. However, before you go, I want to say something.”

Smith turned to Janko. Konan sat back down. Janko stood next to Konan. “This man right here,” he gestured at Konan,” has worked non-stop on this case. The leads we have are generated by the work he has done. My officers have helped, but Konan has been instrumental in the process. He is not going anywhere. As a matter of fact, I move to reinstate him as a Detective of the 117th.”

“You, what?”

“Reinstate him, time now.”

Janko pulled a badge out and took the Bible from the Mayor’s shelf. Smith ordered Konan to place his hand on the Bible and repeat the words he uttered. A moment later, Janko shook his hand.

“Welcome back, Konan. It’s time to find this killer.”

A Hot Day Down South…the story so far…incomplete and unedited…

What does one thing have to do with another? At what point do the two intersect? If a person murders another, are they automatically related? Are passionate impulses triggers for homicidal rage?
At some point observation will lead one to clues, and the clues will lead eventually to a hypothesis. Once a hypothesis becomes supported with facts, it can be tested. Testing the hypothesis can lead you to the truth.
There is no method or pattern to madness. No hypothesis, observation or clue will lead you anywhere but deeper into the depths of despair. No formula will show that madness, love or passion follows a set pattern. 
Thermopolis Konan sat in his mobile home and sipped his coffee from a yellowish mug that was crafted by an amateur potter. The glaze refused to stick to the clay. It was a flawed mug, and Konan thought it deserved a home. He spent his free hours looking for broken and flawed items at his local Goodwill.

 He finished his coffee and wiggled his toes. The sun had not risen from its bed yet. He changed from his pajamas into Wrangler jeans, Red Wing boots, and a Carhartt pull over. He had not slept for two days. Konan shoved his knife, a 13-round magazine for his 9mm Springfield Hellcat, and his bundle of keys into his pocket. 

His insomnia was often triggered by a sense of trouble. He had spent the past two days wired for trouble. It had not come. Still, sleep eluded him. As he put on a tan cap that advertised a local oil rig, a knock came from the door. Given the early morning hour, he peeked out the peephole and saw two police officers standing on his porch.
“Can I help you?”
“Thermopolis Konan?”
“Yeah?”
“Former Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan? Of the 117th?”
“Yeah?”
“We need to speak to you.”

“About?”
“Please open the door.”
“No. What do you want?”
“There has been a murder….”
“So? Call the cops.”
“Captain Lilly Thompson sent us.”
Konan opened the door.  “What does Lilly want?”
“She wants you to come access the body.”
“I am no longer a cop. Her predecessor took my job.”
“She told us. She insists that this is right up your alley. We need to get back to the scene.”
“Yeah.”

Konan locked the door and walked to the car. The two officers took the front seat, Thermopolis sat in the back. They rode in silence until they reached the abandoned warehouse section of Fredericksburg. Years ago, this section of town had been a major hub for shipping.  Companies from all over America had a warehouse in town. 
 Of course, this was before what was now known as “The Town-Killer Incident.” The officer who had spoken to Konan through the door looked in the mirror and gave a nod to him. 
“Captain Thompson didn’t inform us as to why you lost your job at the 117th. Is it a secret or do you guys not talk about it?”
“Naw, it ain’t no secret.”
“Well…”
“I punched Lilly’s predecessor out at the Christmas party.”
Both cops laughed. Konan shrugged and went back to staring out the window. He knew what was coming next.

“Why,” the driver asked. Thermopolis gestured with his hands and continued to stare at the numerous warehouses they passed.
“Seemed like a good idea at the time.” The cop stared at him through the rearview mirror, Thermopolis ignored him.
“Come on, man. There has to be more to it than that, why would you punch out your boss?”
“There is more to it than that, and why wouldn’t I? Haven’t you ever wanted to smack the stupid out of your boss?”
“Captain Thompson is my boss.”
“Okay, and…?”
The cops clammed up, and Konan was thankful for the silence. Both cops seemed frustrated with the shortness of his answers and the explanation of what got him kicked from the police force.
“What do you guys know about the murder? Were you first on the scene?”

“Yeah, we were there first. It was horrific. We are almost there.”
“Any ideas of who might have done it?”
“None.” Both cops paled when he asked about the body, apparently, they were new to discovering the depths of human depravity. Konan changed the subject. 
“Is your boss on scene?”
“Yeah. She was on scene and sent us to find you. Most of the detectives thought they could handle it without involving you. Captain Thompson wouldn’t hear it though.”

The driver brought the car to a halt next to a warehouse that stood next to a railcar depot. “What a horrible place to die.” Buildings were in ruin; the old rail cars had rusted beyond use. Hobos stood next to burn barrels; their clothes were in as bad condition as the railcars.
In the distance, Lilly Thompson stood outside of the ticker tape and watched her people secure the scene. Konan walked up and stood next to her. 
In the nine years that Konan had been off the force, Lilly had not changed. Her hair was the same length, had the same curls, and she had not gained a single pound from the look of things. Lilly gazed at Thermopolis from the corner of her green eyes and lifted her chin in greeting.
“Thermopolis Konan, you haven’t changed a bit. Were you gentle with my officers? They’re green, you know.”
“Yeah, I noticed. Hello to you too, Lilly. Why am I here?”
“Because of your last case.”
“I didn’t solve my last case; I was fired before I could solve it.”
“You were fired because you cold-cocked your superior.”
“Yeah. She had it coming though.”

Lilly’s mouth twisted into a grin, and she gave a small chuckle. Konan’s face remained bland of emotion. “Well, I suppose we all have it coming.”
Thermopolis nodded, and Lilly lifted the ticker tape. “Come on, Konan. I need you to look at the victim. It’s been a while; you want a facemask?”
“No.”

In the back of the warehouse, where no windows were found and the shadows were the longest, the victim was found nailed to the floor. Long cuts were on the victim’s face, the body was naked. Konan pushed his nose into the sleeve of his shirt. 
“Dear holy God…” Lilly looked at Konan and nodded. “Yeah, she is young.”
“How young?”
“According to her school ID she turned fifteen last month.”
“Jesus…”

The Medical Examiner came up to Lilly and pulled down her mask. Ashley Wilkinson nodded to Konan who nodded back. “This is a horrific crime, Lilly.”
“Tell me.” 
“Okay,” Ashley said as she pulled off her gloves. “First off, the child was raped, brutally. There is swelling in the vaginal tissue and lacerations. There was semen deposited and we took a sample of it. The cuts didn’t kill her. She was alive when she was nailed down. From what I could tell, she was conscious at the time.”
“Poor girl. How soon before we know who raped her?”
“It was multiple assailants. There were two samples. I should have said that to begin with. Sorry. I have a fifteen-year-old daughter myself.  Um, I will put a rush order into the lab. Two days maximum.”
“Okay, thanks Ashley. Let me know when you have the results in.”
“Will do.”
Konan and Lilly watched the medical team place the body in the back of the ambulance, and Ashley loaded into the back with it. They watched the ambulance disappear from view. 

“What do you think, Thermopolis?”
“I don’t miss it.”
“I meant about the case.”
“The only similarity that they share is that the victim was nailed to the floor. Other than that, it’s two different cases.”
“The M.O. has evolved. It has been years since the last victim was nailed down. Did the killer get bored?”
“Who knows with these sickos?”
“I want you to consult with my lead detectives. Any help you can give us is greatly appreciated.”
‘I’m sorry, Lilly. I can’t do that. Your lead detectives would not appreciate my involvement.”
“I’m not asking, I need you.”
“I can’t. Sorry.”

Lilly watched as Konan walked to the car that brought him. She nodded to the officer when he looked her way as if to ask permission to take Konan home. She nodded and went back to the body.
At home, Konan tried to get the young girl’s face out of his mind, but he failed to do so. He sat in his maroon recliner and leaned back. He turned his television on and tuned in to Tom and Jerry. It wasn’t long before he was sound asleep.
At 0330 in the morning, a knock came from his front door. Konan cracked his eyes open and reached for his sidearm. Quietly, he sneaked to the front door and peeped out. Two patrol officers stood on the porch.
“Yeah? What do you want?”
“Thermopolis Konan?”
“What, man?”
“Your presence is requested by Lt. Daniels.”
“Who is LT. Daniels?”
“She is an officer with the 117th. There has been another murder.”
“Look, I told Lilly….”

“Sir, we need to go right now.”
Konan shoved the door open and stormed out onto the porch. “Listen…”
“Sir, it’s Captain Thompson.” Konan stopped talking. He tried to speak but no words came out. He struggled to gain his composure and finally he said, “let me get dressed.” He threw on jeans, his boots and a T-shirt. He shoved his keys into his pocket and walked out.
They rode in silence until they reached the warehouse portion of town where the last body was found. Like the last body, Lilly was naked. Ashley Wilkinson knelt beside the body. Long cuts were upon Lilly’s face. Konan blinked back his tears. 
“Ashley, was she raped?”
“No.”
“Thank God,” Konan whispered. 
Carved into Ashley’s chest was the word “PIG.” In the same vein of the other body, she had been nailed to the floor.  Konan stood and walked out the door. He wanted to rage, to hit something or someone, instead he looked into the window of the patrol car and stared at his image until he calmed down. 

Lt. Daniels walked to where Konan stood. She was not an attractive woman, her brownish-grey hair was haphazardly thrown into a ponytail. Daniels was a bit on the heavy side, and round face gave her a dingy appearance. 
“I’m sorry for your loss, Konan.”
“Thanks, why am I here?”
“There was a note stapled to her chest. It’s addressed to you.”
She handed him the evidence bag, and inside it was the note. In black ink on an old piece of parchment was written: Hello, Thermopolis. Let’s see you ignore this.”
Konan’s breath caught in his throat. He struggled to breathe. Lt. Daniels waited for him to gain his composure. 
“Chief Janko would like a word with you before you return home.”
“Why?”
“I don’t know. I was told to pass on the message.”
“Fine. Can you spare an officer to take me there?”

“Sure,” Daniels responded. She flagged over an officer and told him to take Konan to the Mayor’s office. Twenty minutes later, Konan walked into the building. Mayor Tim Smith had his office on the fourth floor of the Municipal Building. Konan took the stairs. 
A wooden door with gold letters announced he had made it to the Mayor’s office. Konan pushed the door open and walked into the foyer. A secretary sat behind a glassed-in portion of the room and looked up.
“Can I help you,” she asked.
“Yeah, I am Thermopolis Konan. I was told to come here.”
She nodded and walked around to the door. She motioned for him to follow. At the inner door, she pushed the intercom. A deep voice came across the speaker.
“Yeah?”
“Mayor Smith, Thermopolis Konan is here per your request.”
“Send him in.” She pushed the door open, and Konan walked in. Mayor Smith sat behind an antique desk, Chief Janko sat in a chair beside it. 
“Have a seat, Konan.”

Konan nodded and sat in the plush chair. Chief Janko said nothing, just sat in silence until Konan sat down.
“Do you know why you were summoned here,” the mayor asked. Konan shook his head no. The mayor continued. “You’re here because we need your help.”
“I am no longer a cop, sir.”
“Exactly.”
“Chief Janko and the rest of the department is more than capable of solving this sir. There’s no reason for me to be involved.”
“I’ve already told him that, Konan.” Janko crossed his arms and continued. “He wants you to consult with us on this case.”
“Lilly wanted me to consult, and I turned her down.”
“Look how that worked out for her,” Janko responded. Konan bit down on his lip to keep from responding in anger. It didn’t work.
“You’re not going to lay that on my doorstep, hoss.”
Mayor Smith held up his hands. “Both of you shut up. You have no choice, Konan. You either help or you can sit in jail until it is solved. Janko, I expect Konan to be treated with the utmost respect by you and the department. Understood?”

Janko nodded but Konan was not through. “Put me in jail. I don’t care. I am out of this political bullcrap.”
“So, you don’t care if Lilly’s killer is caught? Some friend you are, Thermopolis,” Janko sneered.  Konan leapt to his feet and grabbed Janko by the throat. “I was her friend. I busted your buddy Tia in the mouth at the Christmas party, didn’t I?”
Janko snarled, spittle formed in the corner of his mouth. “He looks like a rabid dog.” Konan let him go. “You’re not worth the jail time, Janko. Your pal fired me. Who do you think I am, Sherlock Holmes? I don’t consult on cases.”
“You will be given a car for transportation, and you will receive a daily stipend of 150 dollars per day. You can fill up at the fuel depot. Now that you have been properly motivated, I suggest you get the case notes and do whatever it is that you do.”
Janko rubbed his throat. “I will see you soon, Thermopolis.” The police station was only a few blocks away, so Konan walked to it.  The fresh air did him some good, his anger had cooled to a small inferno by the time he arrived. 
Detectives Tomas and Wiggins waited for him in the records cage. Tomas was a large built man who was shaped like a burrito. Wiggins was a tall, thin man with a constant broken nose. He wheezed when he took a breath which was often. Tomas gestured at Wiggins and himself and muttered, “Wiggins and Tomas, we were told to bring you up to speed.”

“Okay.”
“Here are the notes that has been composed concerning the two murders. Chief Janko doesn’t want you to pollute the environment, so he put you down here in Records.”
“How nice of him.”
“What did you expect, you grabbed him by the throat.”
“Alright. I better get on with it.”
“If you need anything you can reach us at Extension 32.”
“Ok.”
Tomas and Wiggins turned and walked out of the cage. A singular light bulb hung from the ceiling, it burned dimly. Konan moved a chair under the bulb and looked over the notes. “Nailed to the floor, fifteen years old, long lacerations on face.” The results from the lab concerning the samples pulled from the young girl would not be in for another day at least, still Konan decided to check anyway.Ashley Wilkinson met him in the hallway. “Hey, Konan. I have some news.” Konan nodded and waved her over to an empty bench. 

“What do you have, Ashley?”
“DNA came back off the samples that I took from the first victim.”
“Who?”
Ashley handed him the two sheets of paper. “Joe Waterson and Billy Crump,” Ashley said. Her eyes bored holes in the floor. 
“Thanks, Ashley. Anything from Lilly, yet?”
“No,” Ashley replied softly. “She is up next. I can’t believe she is gone.”
“Me either.”
“She talked about you; you know.” Konan looked at Ashley and studied her face. 
“Oh?”
“Yeah. She didn’t think it was fair what happened to you.”
Konan chuckled. “Did she tell you what happened?”

“Some. She said you had a strong sense of justice, that you thought the ends justified the means. Lilly said you punched Tia Mathers in the throat and then proceeded to kick the stuffing out of her.”
“Yeah, but Tia…”
“Had it coming? Lilly thought she deserved it to.”
“It’s ancient history, Ashley.”
“Tia Mathers revealed case details to a journalist, right? That’s what stirred you up?”
“Yeah. She told them our case was thin, and then the killer skated. He killed three people within 24 hours. “
“You killed him.”
“I defended myself.”
“Yeah, by killing him.”
“Yeah.”
“I will let you know what else I find.”
“Thanks.”

Thermopolis made his way to Wiggins and Tomas. Janko glared at him when he entered the room. Konan ignored him. 
“Can you guys run these two names?”
Wiggins took the paper and typed in the names. “Well,’ he wheezed, Waterson is a two-bit wannabe. He knocked over a laundry and a couple of 7/11’s. Billie on the other hand is a cat of a different stripe. Billy Crump has ties to an underground network of criminals, he is a white supremacist, and he has done time for rape. “
“Okay. Can you guys go pick him up, along with Waterson?”
“Sure thing. You want to ride along?”
“Nah, I better not. Let me know when you are headed back this way.”
“Will do.”
Konan watched Tomas and Wiggins head out, then turned and gave Janko a small wave. Janko flipped him off. Thermopolis grinned and walked back down to records. He stopped by a white board and pored over the menus of different restaurants in the area. Konan chose a Korean restaurant and ordered Kimchi. 

Ten minutes later he walked into Records munching on a Spring Roll.  The telephone was ringing. 
“Yeah?”
“Both perps are in Interrogation Rooms #2 and 3, if you would like to observe.”
“Yep.” Konan tossed his lunch on the dusty desk and ran to the elevator at the end of the hall. He pressed the button and ascended to the main floor. 
Joe Waterson was in Room #2. He had thin greasy hair, and a scraggly mustache that turned down into the corners of his mouth. His clothes were filthy, so was his fingernails. Tomas sat across from him.
“You know what happens to kiddy rapists in the joint, Waterson?”
“I didn’t rape nobody.”
Tomas put a picture in front of Waterson. “You see this kid, Waterson? We found your fluid in her. “
“I ain’t touched her.”

“No, you did a lot more than touch. You raped her. You and your bud, Billy.”
Waterson clammed up. Tomas leaned back in his chair. “Tell me what happened, Joe.”
“No.”
“Okay, kiddy rapist. Sit here until you die. I am sure your pal is smarter than you. I bet he is singing like a canary.”
“Naw, he ain’t. He hates cops.” Waterson leaned back against his chair and smiled. Tomas resisted the urge to choke him right in front of the video cameras.  In Room 3, Billy sat calmly. He uttered not a word. 
Wiggins stared at him and Billy stared back.  Janko stood behind the glass and watched as the two matched wills. Janko walked to Room 2 and stood next to Konan. “You have a minute, Thermopolis?”
“Ain’t got nothin’ but time, Chief.”
“Got a hard nut in Room 3. I want you to take a run at him.”
“I’m just here to consult.”
“Just do it. You know how to get through to these punks.”

“Fine, but you clear the air with your detectives.”
“Deal.”
Thermopolis walked into Room 3 and gave Wiggins a nod. Janko tapped on the glass and Wiggins got up and left. Thermopolis stood over Billy and smiled.
“How do you know the victim?”
Billy smiled. “No, habla.”
Thermopolis smiled back and punched him square in the nose. Billy grunted and Konan grabbed him by the nose and twisted. Billy squealed like a wounded hog. Wiggins started for the door, but Janko stopped him.
“Listen, Billy. I asked you how you knew the victim. Don’t make me ask you again.”
“Her mom, Daisy. I knew her through her mother.”
Konan twisted the wounded snout again and Billy cried. “See, that wasn’t hard. Let’s try this again. Did you rape the girl?”

“It ain’t rape. Daisy, Joe and I had an arrangement.”
“Oh. What kind of arrangement?”
“That little slut got pregnant at 12. Daisy made her get an abortion. She caught Joe and me tussling with her daughter at Circled T on Highway 12. She said since she had raised a whore, we could have our way with her anytime we wanted.”
“Daisy pimped out her fifteen-year-old daughter? To you two clowns?”
“Daisy ain’t no pimp.”
“So, you and Joe saw the girl nailed to the floor and decided on one last ride?”
“No, man. We ain’t seen her since Tuesday. We had our fun and then she left. That’s it.”
Konan let go of Billy’s nose “What you and Joe did was rape. It is worse because her own mother allowed you two idiots to paw her own flesh and blood. “ 

Behind the glass, Janko sent Wiggins to fetch Tomas and sent them to bring in Daisy. Inside Room 3 Billy pressed his hand against his broken nose, and Konan thought about what he had been told. 
“Alright, Billy. I am going to pay a visit to your friend Joe. Let’s see if he tells me the same story. Be back soon.”
“You ain’t supposed to hit a suspect, pig.” Konan stood and slapped Billy in the face with his open palm. “I ain’t a cop, Billy. Just a guy asking you questions about the murder of a fifteen-year-old girl.”
Then he walked out of Room 3. Waterson was waiting for him. When Konan walked into the room, Waterson sat up straight.
“What happened to Billy?”
“He played tough. I broke his nose and tried to twist it off.”
“Oh.”
“You have something you want to tell me?”
“Yeah. It wasn’t rape. We has a arrangement with Daisy.”
Konan sat in a chair across from Waterson and listened as he outlined what Billy had told him. It took all of five minutes for Waterson to tell it all.

“Thanks,” Konan as he stood to leave. 
“Her name was Amber,” Waterson said. “I loved her.”
“You’re 36 years old, Waterson. You and Billy took advantage of her. Love had nothing to do with it.” Daisy Louise Wainwright, 38, mother of 15-year-old Amber Wainwright sauntered into the police station between Tomas and Wiggins.  She wore Hello Kitty pajamas and a cigarette hung out of the corner of her mouth. Her blondish hair was mussed, and she appeared to not have rested at any point in the last century. Tomas led her to a chair next to his desk.  Wiggins waved Konan over.
“Konan, this is Daisy. She is in the finals for Mother of the Year,” he wheezed. Tomas nodded and sat down.
“As Wiggins said, she is in the running for Mother of the Year, but she is also a fulltime street walker and goes by: Josey, Tina, and Bae-Bae.” 
“Haha, you pigs must be in the running for Comedian of the Year.”
Tomas glared at Daisy. Konan stepped in front of her and made eye contact. 

“Hey, Daisy. I am Konan. Did you have a daughter named Amber?”
“What do you mean, did?”
“I mean Amber Wainwright, 15, is laid out on a slab in the morgue. Now, is she your daughter or not?” Tears rushed out of Daisy’s eyes. “I have a daughter that is 15. Her name is Amber. I want to see her.”
“Do you know two clowns named Joe Waterson and Billy Crump?”
“I WANT TO SEE MY DAUGHTER!”
“Answer my question first. Do you know them?”
“Yes! Take me to my daughter.”
Wiggins took Daisy by the arm and led her to the morgue. Tomas and Konan followed behind. “When she identifies the daughter, take her out and put her in a cell.” Tomas nodded. 
Ashley Wilkinson pulled out the body and revealed the face. Daisy fell to her knees sobbing. Wiggins turned to the window and shrugged.
“My baby! Oh my baby,” Daisy screamed.  Wiggins helped her from the floor, Daisy pushed her face into his thin shoulders.

“Go help him, Tomas. Let me know when you get her situated.”
“Will do.”
An hour later, Tomas entered the records cage. He seemed worn out, if not a bit frazzled. He ran a hand through his salt and pepper hair and sat on a box of records that was piled on the floor.
“We had to get a doctor called in to sedate her. She’s passed out in her cell. Doc said she would sleep most of the night.”
“Mmhmm,” Konan muttered. Tomas looked at him and shook his head. “Do you think Waterson or Crump killed the girl?”
“No. Their records show that they have a tendency for violence and rape, but the killer of Amber Wainwright and Lilly is smart. They quit killing for almost a decade and started back with an evolved M.O. The killer is intelligent. Waterson and Crump doesn’t fit in that category.”
Tomas nodded. “Do you have any suspects?”
“No. I planned to take my last case notes home, but I can’t find them anywhere in here. We should know something soon about Lilly.”

“Hopefully, Lilly was well liked. She always talked about you. “Got a nose like a bloodhound,” she always said. I am glad you decided to consult with us.”
“I wasn’t given much choice, Tomas. I appreciate the sentiment though.”
“Did you really punch Tia Mathers in the throat at the Christmas party?”
“Yeah.”
“Wow.”
“Do you suspect the killer is a male or is it one those rare female killer types?”
“I don’t know. I suppose we will see.”
“Yeah. Well, I will let you get back to it.”
“Oh, Tomas.”
“Yeah.”
“Tell the guards to put Daisy on suicide watch. She is going to be livid when she comes to.”
“Yeah, I will tell them.”

“Alright, thanks.”
“You bet.”
Konan made one more pass through the cage in search of his old notes. “Where did they wander off to?” The file from his last case was nowhere to be found. Konan decided to visit the IT guy, Ashton Fulton, before he left for the day. The tech support shop was just down the hall from records. He knocked on the door and walked in. Ashton stood behind the counter shutting down lights.
“We’re closed.”
“Well, open back up because I have questions.”
“They can wait until tomorrow.” Konan gripped his shoulder and spun him around. 
“Whoa, guy!”
“A 15-year-old girl is dead, and I have another murder that may be connected to it. Your PlayStation can wait.”
“Okay, okay. What do you want?”
“I want you to do a search for Case File #3695.”

“You can run a-“
Konan flipped out his knife and stared into Ashton’s eyes. Ashton typed in the case file number and Konan cleaned his fingernails with the knife while he waited.
“There is no file #3695.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.”
“You knew there wasn’t a case file.”
“Yeah, I searched for it before I came down here. There used to be a file but now it is gone.”
“You mean someone deleted it.”
“That’s what I mean, yes.”
“Okay, can I go home now?”
“Sure, if you will do me one last favor.”
“Sure, whatever man.”
“I want you to run a recovery of the hard drive. I want every part that has been deleted off the hard drive in my hands.”

“That could take a while.”
“Then, you better get started.”

At home, Konan hung up pictures of Amber and Lilly. It sickened him to look at the victims. Still, he studied the photos for something that he had missed. 
“I was out of the game for nine years, but here I am again. My investigative senses have dulled over time.” He brought out his magnifying glass and studied the long cuts in both women’s faces. The cuts were long and deep into the flesh. It was not ripped as if it had been done by a saw or serrated blade. The cuts were smooth, and Konan could make tiny pieces of bone in the cheeks. 
Both victims’ eyes were wide from shock. Amber and Lilly both had bruising, the only exception was Amber had been raped. “I need to know the type of knife used. Maybe it will help me hone in on the killer.”  Konan dialed Ashley Wilkinson.
“Hello,” Ashley answered groggily. 
“Hey, it’s Konan. Sorry for calling so late. I need to ask you something.”
“Shoot.”

“Do you know a blade expert? I need to know what kind of knife the killer used.”
“No, but you can ask my grandfather. He is a connoisseur of bladed weaponry.”
“Okay, where can I find him?”
“You can’t. Pawpaw is usually out of the house. I will shoot him a text and ask him to meet you tomorrow.”
“Okay. Thanks for your help.”
The night passed quickly, and Konan got little sleep. He was out of bed and dressed at 0530. He walked into the cage and switched on the light at 0624. Something bothered him about the cuts. There was little blood photographed in the images. “As deep as the cuts are there should be some blood. Granted, there is little blood in the face. Who would do such a thing?” 
The elevator doors opened a few minutes after seven. A soft ding resounded down the hallway. Heavy footsteps drew closer to the records cage and Konan looked up. An old man with a long grey beard stood in the doorway.

“Howdy, son. I’m looking for a Thermos.”
Konan grinned and waved him in. “Are you Ashley’s grandfather?”
“I am. She said a Thermo-something another needed my help about a knife or something.”
“Well, I am your Thermos. I am Thermopolis Konan. I asked for your help.”
“That’s it. Ther-moplis.”
“You can call me Konan.”
“Thank you, son. Now what’s this about a knife?”

Konan laid out the photos on his desk and handed Jim Wilkinson a magnifying glass. Jim stepped back.
“Those poor girls. Who would do such a thing?”
“That’s what I am trying to figure out. Do you recognize the wound?”
Jim leaned over the photo and looked again. “I can’t say for certain, but I think it was done by a fleshing knife.”
“A what knife?”
“A fleshing knife. It is used for skinning animals and taxidermy work.”
“Where would you find a knife like that?”
“Any sporting goods store, Walmart, or Amazon. They are fairly common.”
Konan let out a heavy sigh. “Of course, it is.”
“Sorry, son. I was hoping I could help you.”
“No, sir. I appreciate you coming in. You have been a great help. I just don’t know how the puzzle piece fits in yet.”

“I hope you catch ‘em, son. Make ‘em pay for what they did to those girls.”
“I will try.”
“Don’t try-do.”
Konan walked him to the elevator and went back to the cage. He began an internet search on fleshing knives and their uses. Konan emptied his mind of anything not related to his case and the numerous threads that required searching. His search was going nowhere so he called a local sporting goods store.
“Big Tony’s Sporting Goods, how can I help you?”
“Hi. Do you guys carry fleshing knives?”
“We do.”
“Great what time do you close?”
“9 p.m.”
“Thanks.”

Following the phone call to Big Tony’s, Konan checked with Walmart, and local pawn shops. They all carried fleshing knives. Disgruntled with his search, he decided to get some fresh air. 
He walked through the main square and took a seat on an empty bench. Konan watched as people went about their daily lives unaware of his presence. “They’re gullible like sheep. So unaware, so killable.” A sharp buzz brought him out of his trance. It was his phone. While he was lost in his thoughts, he had received a message. 
“Hello, Konan. Let’s play a game.”  The message was from an unknown number. He would try to have Ashton crack it when he returned. There was no way for him send a message to the unknown individual. 
Konan glanced around the town square, no one seemed out of place. People were busy looking at their phones or hustling to a second or third job. Nothing was out of place. His phone buzzed again.
God, you are so dull. What happened to the sharp investigative mind you once possessed?”
Konan got up from the bench and started for the police department. He hurried back taking the shortest way possible. His phone buzzed again.

“Do you need help with the case? Should I give you a hint?” Konan’s mind was abuzz with questions but no answers. The killer was making it personal. It was a mistake to make things personal, surely the killer knew this. Still, he could not get his head around what was going on. His phone buzzed again.
“Come on, Konan. Think! Is there a connection that you don’t know about?” Konan stepped into the lobby and stopped. Connections. What are the connections? He walked to Wiggins and Tomas.
“Dig up every case that is like our current case. I don’t care how trivial. Let me know when you have them.”
“Why,” Wiggins wheezed.
“The killer has made it personal. I have messages and a hint from them. Let’s get to work.” Konan took the elevator to the basement. He hurried to the IT department; Ashton sat behind the counter.
“What now?”
“How’s it going with the recovery of the hard drive?”
“It’s 18% complete.”
“I received some messages today from an unknown number. Can you crack it and tell me who sent it?”

“Let me see it.”
Ashton put the phone down on the counter without looking at it. “Nope.”
“You didn’t even look at it!”
“It’s an unknown number and if it is your bad guy, they used a burner phone.”
“You could have said that without the freaking show.”
“See ya later, Konan.”
Thermopolis scooped up the phone and stormed out. He went to the cage and began pulling out files. Boxes upon boxes were filled with murders. Wiggins and Tomas entered the cage. They began helping him cross reference the murders that had similarities with the new cases.  The hours passed in silence. 
“Tomas, did Daisy wake up?”
“Oh yeah. She wasn’t happy.”
“Did you forget how to use a phone?”
“Uh, no. Sorry, I forgot to call you.”

“Okay.”
When the last box was empty, they had found 19 cases that had similarities. Wiggins, Tomas, and Konan leaned back and sighed.
“You two take six files a piece, I will take seven. If anything stands out to you, I want to know.”
Tomas and Wiggins nodded. They grabbed their files and left. Konan had just cracked his first file when the phone rang.
“Yeah?”
“Thermopolis Konan?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“This is Mayor Smith. I thought I would check in and see how the investigation is going.”
“We are pursuing a few leads. At the moment we have nothing solid, sir.”
“You’re going to have to do better. If more murders occur the entire town will panic.”
“Yes, sir. We know. We are working on it.”

“Work harder.”
Mayor Smith slammed down the landline and Konan grimaced. “It’s hard enough to solve a murder without a politician breathing down your neck.”Freaking politicians. It would be different if they brought something to the table other than their complaints and demands, but that was seldom the case. Konan put the phone down and decided to step back from everything. His mind was overwhelmed with doubts. Facts were few and the killer was relentless. “He has tormented me every step of this case!”
Konan looked through the first case file. The victim, another woman, had long cuts in her face but it appeared less practiced than the cuts on Amber and Lilly.
“This could be one of his first victims. Or maybe he changed tools.” He sat the case aside and pulled out another. A knock sounded from the door. He looked up; Ashton stood in the doorway.
“Whatcha got, IT?”
“I have,” Ashton flashed a two-inch thick file in front of him, “every deleted email and file from the mainframe.”
“Thanks man. I appreciate your help.”
“You didn’t ask for help. You demanded it.”

“I see. Let me ask you something Ashton, if you don’t mind.”
“Knock yourself out, slugger.”
“If it was your wife, daughter or sister lying there on a slab would you mind if we sat it to the side and investigated when we had time?”
Ashton shook his head. “You misunderstood…”
“No, I didn’t. You have a job to do, and it is an important part of our investigations. If you don’t like being held up or working late, quit.”
Ashton sat the file down on a stack of files by the door and walked out. “This dude’s a punk. He doesn’t even work here anymore.”
Konan picked up the file and locked up the Records cage. He took the elevator to the main floor. Chief Janko waved him to his office. Konan nodded to Wiggins and Tomas and closed the door behind him. Janko motioned to the chair, Konan sat down.
“The Mayor called,” Janko said.
“Yeah, I spoke to him.”
“He’s not happy.”
“Are they ever?”

“He claimed that the people of Fredericksburg have lost faith in the police. What do you think?”
“About?”
“About the murder, Konan.”
“I think I found the first victim. I have to do more studying, but I think I found where it all began.”
“Well, that’s something at least.”
“Yeah. This whole thing is personal. Or at least that’s what I think.”
“He’s fixated on you.”
“Yeah. He has kept referring to the crimes as a game. It’s my belief that he is an intellectual, and he wants to be challenged.”
“Why does he go after women?”
“That’s the question isn’t it? He may like women but had a bad experience that warped his perspective. Or maybe, he hates them. I don’t know yet.”
Janko’s lips tightened into a fierce smile. “That is paper thin, Konan. We need something solid. What’s in that file?”

“Every deleted file and email from the mainframe.”
“Do you think the killer is a cop?”
“Maybe. It would explain certain things, such as why he has never been caught.”
“Jesus. So, you’re taking it home to do some light reading.”
“Something like that.”
“Okay.” Janko had a few follow-up questions. Konan answered them as succinctly as he could. The goal was to provide information but not reveal everything at once. Konan departed when the phone rang. He exited the building and walked to the nearest bus stop.
Konan caught a bus and sat on the back row. He didn’t want to go home straight away; he wanted to ride and think. He opened the file and began to read. Most of the deleted files and emails were unimportant memos, memes and other garbage. However, one thing stood out to Konan. It was an email from Mayor Smith to Tomas.

“Tomas,
I don’t care what must be done to secure this verdict. You do what is necessary. Don’t worry about repercussions, I have always taken care of you. Remember, you owe me.”
   Timothy Smith
Konan got off the bus near the main square and walked to the nearest pay phone. Yes, a few pay phones were still in existence, and Konan preferred the old ways to the new-fangled way of doing things. He dialed Tomas’s cell.
“Yeah?”
“Tomas, it’s Konan.”
“Hey, what’s up.”
“Can you meet me at Mary’s Pub? I am half-starved, and I want to run something by you.”
“Sure. Give me fifteen and I will be there.”
“Alright, thanks.”

Konan walked to Mary’s Pub and took a seat in the back corner of the room. He told the hostess that someone would be joining him. She nodded and said she would bring them to the table when they arrived.
Twenty minutes later, Tomas walked into the pub. He smiled at the hostess, she smiled back. She and Tomas walked to the table. After placing their orders, Tomas waited for Konan to open up.
“I have something I want to ask you, Tomas.”
“Alright.”
“Does Mayor Smith get involved with many cases?”
“What do you mean?”
Konan sipped his water and paused for a moment. He pulled out the email and showed it to Tomas.
“I mean, does he often tell you to violate your oath. How often does this type of behavior occur?”
“Now hold on, Konan. You don’t understand what that was about.”
“I’m listening. Explain it to me.”

“That case was bad. We knew it was this guy, and we couldn’t find the first piece of evidence to convict him. He was hurting kids, Konan.”
“So, you manufactured evidence and framed him.”
“You don’t understand, man. He was hurting girls no older than six. He was….” Tomas trailed off and Konan watched him. “I have a six-year-old daughter, Konan. I just wanted her to be safe.”
“I get it. Nobody is going to raise a stink about a baby-raping pedo. Did the glue stick?”
“Yeah. There was enough evidence to convict him.”
“Did the crimes stop?”
“Yeah.”
“Mayor Smith never interjected himself into another investigation?”
“That cat is weird, man. It was like he got off on setting this fool up, but no, he never got involved again.”
“If Mayor Smith applies any pressure to you on this case, I want to know about it. You best not forget, understood?”

“Yeah.”
“Good.”

Thermopolis finished his glass of water and asked for a carry out box. The waitress disappeared into the back. Tomas shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He licked his lips and wiped his hands on his grey slacks. 
“Konan, I’ m-”

Konan stopped him from speaking by holding up his hand. He stared at Tomas for a long moment. The silence that grew between the two was awkward. 
“You do not get to apologize, Tomas. I’m not a father. Any chance I may have had to step into that role has vanished from my life. There is only the case. If Smith has asked you manufacture evidence or frame a suspect, I better be the first person to know.”
“Yes, sir. You will be.”
The waitress appeared with the container, Konan boxed up his meal and stood. “Enjoy your meal, Tomas. It’s on me this time.” Konan tossed a 20 on the table as a tip and walked out of the restaurant.  He boarded a bus and leaned back against the seat. “Who is killing these folks? There is minimal evidence left at the scenes. That screams intelligence, or knowledge of investigative techniques. Is it a cop?”

Konan got off the bus one stop from his usual drop off. He started for his house. Few lights stood along the path to his stoop. The quiet night air was humid, it hung about Konan like a wet blanket. This case caused him to fret. He had never been afraid to face human depravity, but this was something different. 
He arrived at his door deep in thought. An envelope jutted out from the door frame. Konan unlocked his door and went in. He flicked on his light and realized who the letter was from. It was from Doctor Judith Waters, his psychologist of many years.
He opened the letter. It was handwritten on old parchment. Konan began to read.
“Dear Konan,
It has been some time since we last spoke. Time, like all things, passes ever quickly. I read in the paper that you had taken on a job as a consultant for the police department. Are you okay? Does this have anything to do with your last case?  I worry for you. You have exhibited an unrelenting tenacity to uncover killers. It is unhealthy for you to fall back into the trap of obsession. I am here if you need a sounding board, or if you would like to renew our friendship. 
Take care,
Judith

Konan sat the letter down on his desk. It had been years since he last saw Judith. Their friendship, if one could call the numerous ‘Netflix and chill’ hookups a friendship, had ended on a sour note. Judith wanted more out of their mini-adventures, Konan found her intellect to be frigid and unappealing. He had severed all ties with Judith over a voicemail.
This was the first time he had heard from her in eight years. Konan showered and dressed. He pulled bacon from his fridge, along with eggs, cheese, onion, bell pepper and jalapenos. He took down one of his many Yeti mugs and made coffee. Then, he began to construct his omelet.  Konan’s brain worked better when his stomach was full.
As he sat in his recliner and ate, he considered who would do the killings. It had to be someone who knew him or knew of him. During his time on the force, Konan had been featured in the local paper on numerous occasions. Over time, Konan developed a reputation for doing what was necessary to uphold the law, even if it meant breaking the law. 
Because Konan refused to grant interviews to journalists, the ‘journalists’ crafted an image of a hard man out to right the wrongs of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Still, it had made him out to be a folk hero of sorts. “It could be someone who followed my career. It could be a doctor.”

His thoughts turned to Judith. After all the time that had passed, she still thought of him. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I should renew our friendship. Just the friendship. She is cold, calculating, and sordid, but she is a great sounding board, and provides adequate feedback. I’ll touch base with her tomorrow.”
Konan stretched out on his couch and turned his television on. Tom and Jerry were on. The last thing he saw was Tom plotting the destruction of Jerry as he drifted off in dreamless slumber.Konan’s sleep was haunted by Amber Wainwright. In his dream she smiled at him. He reached forth his hand to save her, but she refused to accept his help. A figured clothed in darkness cut her face and drove long, rusty nails into her tiny body. Konan watched helplessly as she was killed. The killer then sent a text message. 
Konan came out of his sleep to the tune of his phone buzzing. Sleepily, he patted the bed to find it. He cracked one eye open and picked it up. It was Ashley Wilkinson.  “Come to the lab, I have something to show you.” Konan showered, dressed and made him a cup of coffee in his favorite Yeti mug. At 0606, he boarded the bus and rode into town. 
Ashley stood in the lab dressed in a black tee and a pair of khaki slacks. Her shoes were sensible, no stripper heels for her. She nodded to Konan.
“Morning, you look rough this morning,” she said. Konan sipped his coffee. He nodded.

“Yeah, I’ve been rode hard and put up wet. What do you have for me?”
Ashley smiled proudly; she placed a knife on the countertop. “Me and Pop-pop figured out what kind of knife the killer has used.”
“What is that?”
“This is a taxidermist double-edged fleshing knife. One side is razor sharp; the other is only moderately sharp. The razor edge is to cut through gristle and tough fur. That is the side the killer used. “
“It would explain the depth of the cuts but look at it. It’s unwieldy. An amateur would not be able to use this.”
“No. The assumption would be that the killer is experienced in the use of this tool.”
“Finally, we have caught a break. Thanks, Ashley. Tell Pop-pop I said thanks for the data.”
“You bet.” Konan turned toward the door but turned back around. “Hey, Ashley, do you have a moment?”
“Sure,” she replied as she shrugged on her white lab coat. “What’s up?”

“Do you drink coffee?” She smiled, and Konan waited for the rejection he knew was coming.
“I do. It gives me an edge.” She wrinkled her nose and grinned. Konan felt a smile tug at his lips.
“Maybe you would like to grab one someday.” 
“Sure, we could do that.” Konan nodded and smiled a small smile.
“Okay. I will let you get to it.”
Konan turned and walked out the door. Ashley watched as he walked away. “He is so cute when he is awkward.”
Konan thought about the fleshing knife. He walked into the squad room and found Tomas and Wiggins neck deep in their files. They looked up when he approached. 
“You guys found anything?”
“Nothing so far,” Wiggins wheezed. Tomas shook his head no. Konan dragged a chair close to their desk and sat down. 
“I received a text from Ashley this morning. She has figured out the weapon. It’s a double-edged fleshing knife. The razor-sharp edge was used to make the deep cuts on the victims’ faces.”

“Jesus,” Tomas muttered.

Konan didn’t think was possible, but Wiggins grew even more pale. 
“Start a search for taxidermists that have a violent past. We need to get someone in here before Mayor Smith has a meltdown or the killer takes another victim.”
“Roger that,” Wiggins wheezed. There were three taxidermist businesses located inside of Fredericksburg, five outside of the city limits. “Surely, one of them has a dark past. Someone has to know something about this.”
Wiggins showed up in the Records Cage after lunch. He snacked on a Snickers bar as he gave Konan the lowdown. 
“Of the eight taxidermists, two have a checkered past. Adam Philter had numerous run-ins with the law when he was younger. He spent most of his teenaged years in juvie. He is a scrapper. Adam was always in a fight somewhere.”
Konan listened and sipped some coffee. “Okay. Who is the other?”
“Brandon Watterson. He spent nine years in Parchman for assault with a deadly weapon, specifically a bladed weapon. To boot, his victim was a woman he met in a juke joint.”
“Where is he?”

“He lives way out in the woods.”
“Okay, you and Tomas pick him up. I want to talk to him.”
“Alright. Maybe this is the guy.”
“Maybe.”
Tomas and Wiggins left the station a little after 1300. It was an hour and a half before they got close to where Brandon Watterson lived. Tomas nodded out the window at the black water that pooled up on both sides of the road.
“What are those called?”
“What? The swamp?”
“Swamp. Yeah, that’s what they’re called. I heard someone call it a slough one time though.”
“Yeah,” Wiggins wheezed. “It’s the same thing.”
“You think there’s gators out there?”
“Probably. Among other things.”
“It’d be a bad place to die.”

“That’s why the water is so black, Tomas.” Wiggins wheezed for several moments. The humidity made it almost unbearable for him to breathe. “All my life I’ve heard that black water covers the dirty deeds done out here.”
Tomas pulled the car in front of a rickety shack. Heavy swamp moss hung from the branches of the old cedar trees. The front porch stretched in front of the shack; it was in a state of brokenness.  Wiggins took point. A shop was parallel from the house. Grinding could be heard coming from the shop. They walked to it and pushed an old wooden door open. A figure leaned over a metal table; their face was covered with a blacked-out helmet. Sparks flew in every direction as the blade cut through.
Tomas looked around. Knives of various sizes hung from rusty nails. Animal heads hung from the walls. The grinder switched off. Tomas turned his attention back to the figure. Wiggins wheezed. 
“What are you doing in my shop,” the figure asked. A large hand lifted the mask. A pair of angry eyes stared at the two Detectives.
“I’m Detective Wiggins, this is Detective Tomas. We’re looking for Brandon Watterson.”
“Why? I ain’t done nothin’.”
“You’re a taxidermist?”

Brandon gestured at the mounted heads on the wall. “Did ‘em all myself. Killed ‘em too.”
“That’s great,” Tomas muttered. 
“Look, Brandon. We need your help with something. A killer has used one of these things,” he gestured to the knives on the wall, “to kill. We need your expertise to bring them to justice.”
“No.”
“What do you mean no,” Wiggins wheezed.
“I ain’t helping no cop.”
“Okay. Then you’re under arrest for suspicion of murder,” Tomas said. “Place your hands behind your back.”
“No,” Brandon growled.Brandon Watterson stood 6’8 and weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. His weight was not fat but muscle. A long, jagged scar ran down the left side of his face as a testimony of his violent nature. He ripped off the helmet and threw it in the dirt.
Upon hearing no, Tomas and Wiggins backed up. Tomas was a solid 225, Wiggins weighed in at a buck fifty, if he wore concrete shoes. Watterson charged Tomas and swung a wild haymaker that collided with Tomas’s temple. Tomas crumpled to the ground. 

“You’re next, little man.” 
Wiggins dropped into a defensive position. Watterson charged him like a wild bull. He threw his arms wide to bear hug Wiggins. At the last moment, Wiggins deftly sidestepped the attack. He rabbit punched Watterson in the throat. The big man hit the ground. Wiggins took two steps and soccer-kicked him in the jaw. Watterson crumpled to the ground.
“You okay, Tomas?”
“Yeah, I guess. It felt like I had been hit by Thor’s hammer.”
“Well, we got him.”
“Where did you learn those moves? I always thought you were a bookworm.”
“Just because I’m a bookworm doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to defend myself.”
“Huh,” Tomas grunted. Wiggins handcuffed Watterson, and with Tomas’s help, they got Watterson in the back of the car. After another hour and a half drive back to Fredericksburg, Watterson was placed in interrogation room #3. Tomas informed Konan via phone and explained what happened.

Konan and the two detectives stood behind the glass and watched Watterson. Chief Janko joined them.
“Who is this monster,” the chief asked. 
“Chief, that’s Brandon Watterson. He resisted arrest until Wiggins got ahold of him,” Tomas explained.
“Asthmatic Wiggins took down that behemoth?” Chief Janko looked at Wiggins skeptically.
“Yes, sir. He did it with a rabbit-punch and a soccer kick.”
“Konan, get in there and get some answers.” Konan nodded. When he opened the door, Watterson looked up.
“Who are you?”
“I’m nobody, my mom is somebody, and my dad could be anybody,” Konan responded. Watterson glared at him. Konan sat across from him.
“You a pig,” Watterson snarled.
“Nope. Just a guy asking questions.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say to you pig. I ain’t answering your questions.”
“Yeah, you’re going to answer my questions. Because if you don’t, I’m going to get that 150-pound ankle biter that put you to sleep and turn him loose on you.”
Behind the glass, Wiggins grinned. Tomas slapped him on the back, Janko just shook his head in disbelief. Watterson clammed up.
“How long have you been out of prison, Watterson.” 
“I ain’t talking to you.”
“You know Watterson, when I was a boy, my dad always told me to never corner anything meaner than you are. You don’t want to get on my bad side.”
“Oh yeah, what are you going to do? Beat a suspect? Frame me? I ain’t scared.”
“You didn’t hear me, Watterson. I’m not a cop. How long have you done taxidermy work?”
“All my life.”
“How often do you go into town?”

“Rarely. Only when I need something.”
“Such as…”
“Supplies for my work.”
“Such as new knives? Glue?”
“No. I order knives and glue online. Things such as toilet paper and sugar for my coffee.”
“Do you know Amber Wainwright?”
“Do you know Lilly Thompson?”
“No, should I know them?”
Konan placed the pictures of the victims in front of Watterson. He pointed at the scars.
“Those wounds were made by a double-edged fleshing knife. Then, the victims were nailed to the floor with rusty nails.”
“And…”

“You have the skill and the temperament to commit these crimes.”
“So…? Are you accusing me?”
“No. We’re just talking.”
“I ain’t killed nobody, boss. Ever. I didn’t even kill the woman who landed me in jail.”
“Why did you assault an officer?”
“His face irritated me.”
Watterson stared at the photos. He pointed at Lilly’s photo. “I do know her. She was a cop.”
A slow burn worked its way through Konan’s body. The veins in his neck tightened and his breathing became shallow.
“How did you know her?”
“She was one of the good ones. There wasn’t an ounce of backdown in her. I tried to intimidate her once. It backfired.”
Konan guffawed. Watterson grinned.  “It doesn’t sound like you’ve had much luck running into officers.”

“Nah, man. She was looking into some murder or something. Asked me questions about taxidermy work. That was months ago though.”
“Where did you learn the trade, Watterson?”
“I learned it from this old man. He didn’t stay in one place very long, but he stayed long enough to teach me.”
“Did he have a name?”
Watterson scoffed. “Yeah, I’m sure he did. I never used it, I just called him Pop-Pop.”
“Pop-Pop?” Konan instantly thought of Ashley’s grandfather. “Describe him for me, Watterson.”
“He was an old man. You know how old men are. They always got their eye on some pretty young thang. He had white hair and a beard down to his waist. The old dude was stout looking.”
“When did you see him last?”
“Months ago. I wanted him to teach me a new technique with the fleshing knife.”
“Is Pop-Pop good with the blade?”

“Good,” Watterson snickered. “To say that he is good is an insult. The old man knows the ins-and-outs of the blade. It is like the blade is part of him.”

Konan stood and turned from Watterson. “It could be nothing, but if Ashley’s grandfather has taught more than just Watterson the skills, he may have trained the killer.” Of course, it was possible he was the killer as well. Konan didn’t want to consider this possibility.

He walked out of the room and headed for the morgue. Ashley deserved to hear this new piece of information from him. “Plus, I need her to get him in here so we can talk.”

As he walked across the square, he considered how he could tell her without offending Ashley. It seemed to Konan that everyone he met had thin skin. It didn’t matter how much care you took; someone somewhere would end up butthurt.

Between the Mississippi heat and humidity Konan was soaked by the time he arrived at the morgue. When he stepped through the door, the cold air sent a chill through him.

A lone guard sat at the curved desk. He watched the monitors.  Konan stepped to the desk and the guard looked up. 

“Good afternoon, sir. Can I help you,” the guard asked?

“Good afternoon. I need to speak to Ashley, please. My name is Konan.”

“Ah, you’re him. Ashely has told us all about you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. You’re a former detective with the 117th, right?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jacob Mathers.”

“You’re Tia’s brother?”

“That’s right. You punched out my sister.”

“Of course, you are. Well….”

“No worries, hoss. There have been days when I wanted to punch her out. You can go on back.”

“Thanks.” Konan was at a loss for words, so he nodded and walked down the hall to Ashley’s office. She was neck deep in a new cadaver. She smiled at Konan when he walked in.

“Well, there he is. What brought you down here,” she asked. He forced a smile. 

“Hey, Ashley. Could you touch base with your grandfather. I need to talk to him.”

“Sure. Is tomorrow, okay?”

“Tomorrow would be great.”

“Do you want to tell me what is going on?”

“I’m not at liberty to say right now. Do you have time for that coffee?”

She held up her hands that were covered with blood. She giggled.

“Now’s not a good time. Mrs. Johnson would go bad if I left her in this state.”

“Yeah, I gotcha. Maybe some other time.”

“I would like that.” Konan nodded and said goodbye. He walked out to the square and sat on an empty bench. The solitude did him good. He watched as people rushed by. Tomorrow he would be forced to question Ashley’s grandfather. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have some answers.”

His thinking was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He looked at the screen. It was the mayor’s office.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Konan?”

“Yes?”

“This is Mayor Smith’s clerk,” came the clipped voice. “Mayor Smith would like to see you.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Okay. I am on my way.”

She hung up abruptly. “Freaking people, God forbid they use the manners they were taught.”  A few moments later, Konan entered the foyer of the mayor’s office.

The secretary looked up when he walked in. She motioned for him to move to the door. He walked over and she opened the door. Silently, she escorted him to Mayor Smith’s office and introduced him.

“Mayor Smith, Mr. Konan is here per your request.”

“Send him in.”

Konan forced a smile at the iceberg that got him this far. She stuck her nose in the air and walked away. Konan walked in. Chief Janko sat in one of the two chairs facing the desk.

“Have a seat, Konan.”

Konan dropped into the empty chair. Mayor Smith glared at him and Janko. 

“Explain to me, how the police and you have nothing on this killer. EXPLAIN IT. TO ME!” Janko stared out the window. Konan leaned back in his chair and remained silent.

“Sir, if I may-“

“You may not, Janko. Have you clowns even attempted to solve this case?”

“We are in the pro-“

“Shut your mouth, Janko! If I want to hear your lip, I’ll scrape it off my zipper!”

Smith glared at Konan. His silence further angered Mayor Smith. 

“You,” he started. “You’re supposed to be some magnificent bloodhound. Some great thinker. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Konan looked Mayor Smith in the eyes. “Nothing. I have investigated leads; they have led nowhere. We have brought people in and questioned them. That has produced more leads. The police and I are investigating them now.”

“I don’t care what it takes, you find someone that could be good for it, and you nail them to the wall. Do you understand me?”

“No, I don’t understand. Did you just tell me to manufacture evidence and find a scapegoat?”

Smith jumped to his feet and got in Konan’s face.  Spittle splashed on Konan’s face as Smith did his best to intimidate him. Konan wiped it off and smeared it on the arm of his chair. Veins protruded from Smith’s forehead.

“You find someone to take the fall. Do not make me do your job for you,” Smith snarled. Konan pushed his chair back and stood to his feet. 

“I don’t work that way. Also, I don’t do threats. Find someone else to do your dirty work. Maybe you could use Tomas again. I have your email safely tucked away for future use.”

“You dare threaten me, boy?”

Konan drew close to Mayor Smith and smiled. “Boy? You see a boy, hoss, come put your hands on him.” Janko stood to his feet and put his hand on Konan’s chest.

“I think it’s time for you to leave, Konan. However, before you go, I want to say something.”

Smith turned to Janko. Konan sat back down. Janko stood next to Konan. “This man right here,” he gestured at Konan,” has worked non-stop on this case. The leads we have are generated by the work he has done. My officers have helped, but Konan has been instrumental in the process. He is not going anywhere. As a matter of fact, I move to reinstate him as a Detective of the 117th.”

“You, what?”

“Reinstate him, time now.”

Janko pulled a badge out and took the Bible from the Mayor’s shelf. Smith ordered Konan to place his hand on the Bible and repeat the words he uttered. A moment later, Janko shook his hand.

“Welcome back, Konan. It’s time to find this killer.”

Konan took his badge and shoved it in his coat pocket.  Janko and Smith watched as he left. Somehow, Konan felt complete. As if the stars had aligned perfectly and all was right with the world. Of course, both Smith and Janko had assumed incorrectly that he had not attempted to catch this murderer. “What do you expect from people who’ve spent their entire lives playing political games?”

Given that the way that his day had spun out of control, Konan decided to go by Judith’s office. He needed advice. “This investigation has got me turned around. Everything is chaos. Even the killer’s modus operandi is chaotic. Nothing makes sense.”

Judith’s office was housed at the top of the tallest building in Fredericksburg. The Laban Building, named after the town founder Laban Fredericks, was a testimony of having too much of a good thing. Numerous companies, all with various interests, had offices in the building.

The front desk was occupied by three security officers. Konan nodded to them.

“Afternoon, fellas. I am here to see Dr. Judith.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” Konan responded. One of the security officers reached for a phone. He conversed in hushed tones with the other person and placed his hand over the speaker. 

“What’s your name?”

“Detective Sergeant Thermopolis Konan.”

After a few mmhmms and un-huhs , he hung up the phone. He motioned for Konan to follow him to the elevators. 

“Take the lift to Floor 16. When the doors open go left to the end of the hall. She is the second door on the right.”

“Okay. Thanks.” The officer nodded and Konan pushed the button. While the elevator made its way to the sixteenth floor, soft music played through the speakers. His heart raced as he thought of what he might say to the woman who helped him through some of his darkest days. “God, I hope this is not awkward.”

The elevator dinged and the doors opened. Konan walked to the end of the hall and turned right. He knocked on the second door. 

“Come in,” Judith called. Konan turned the knob and stepped in.  Judith sat behind her desk. It was fancy like all the other furnishings in her office. It complimented her perfectly.

“Hey, Judith.”  She looked at Konan and smiled. He smiled back. Judith stood and walked to him. She peered into his eyes. 

“Hello, Konan. Is that a spark of madness I see in your eyes, or are you just happy to see me?”

“Both, maybe.”

Judith giggled and gestured for Konan to have a seat. She kept her eyes on him as she made her way back to her desk. 

“Look at you,” she sighed. “I am thrilled you came by. It’s been so long.”

“Yeah, it’s been a minute. How have things been?”

“It’s been busy. Of course, it’s always busy during election cycles and the aftermath of such. One guy said what he thought, and people couldn’t stand it. So, they sought counseling to sort out their feelings. Another guy threatens to nuke his opposition, so those in disagreement seek counseling. It’s the same ole story. The wheel constantly turns.”

“Yeah. It’s a nuthouse.”

“So, you’re counseling the police department on a case. How’s that going?”

“Oh, you know. Bad guys do bad things…sorry. I forgot who I was talking to. It’s a mess.”

“Is it related to your last case before you were fired for throat punching your boss?”

Konan reached in his coat pocket and pulled out the badge. He tossed it to Judith. “It’s no longer former Detective Sergeant Konan.”

Judith raised her eyebrows, Konan grinned. “She has always known how to make my heart race. God, she is so beautiful.”

“Well, how about that for good news. Can you share anything about the case?”

“No, but it is related to the last one.”

“I see. Is the killer using the same M.O.?”

“Yeah.”

“Konan, you know that the nailing of the victims to the floor is, so the killer feels empowered. They have forced their will upon an unwilling victim.”

“And the cuts on their face?”

“Power. Your killer is a person who has felt diminished, unaccepted, unaccomplished.”

“I appreciate the perspective Judith, but that doesn’t narrow down the suspect list. It has made it larger.”

“I am sure it did, but it’s the truth. Some people have misplaced anger, or they blame others for the crap in their life. Your killer is one such person. Most folks fall to their knees and scream at the sky or punch a wall. The killer manifests their anger by perpetuating violence on the people they victimize.”

“They couldn’t just go get counseling,” Konan sighed.  “I am so tired of dealing with people who have decided to showcase human depravity.”

Judith watched Konan for a long moment in silence. “I’ve never seen him so tired. It’s like this case has broken him.”

You’re just tired, Konan. You need a good meal and plenty of sleep.” Konan nodded. 

“Yeah. So, are you seeing anyone, Judith?” She smiled at the question and wrinkled her nose.

“You could say that. I got married four years ago.”

Konan looked at her and smiled. She smiled back. 

“Well, how about that? Congratulations, Judith. I knew you would find someone who made you happy.”

“I never said I was happy, Konan. It is a marriage of convenience. He needed a wife to show stability and growth, I needed someone to give me a child.”

“Oh.”

“Love was not in the equation, and he didn’t want love. Besides, my heart belonged to someone else.”

“So, it was a math problem? A business arrangement?”

“Yeah, something like that.” Konan and Judith sat in silence for a long moment. Konan looked out the window, long shadows had appeared with the setting sun. 

“I hate to, but I must run. This case will not get solved if I spend all my time in this chair. It was great seeing you again, Judith.” She smiled and walked to him. Konan stuck out his hand, but Judith pulled him into a hug. 

“You didn’t ask what my child’s name is or what gender they are.”

“Sorry. What is your child’s name and what did you have?”

“I had a son, I named him Konan.’

He pulled out of Judith’s warm embrace. He took her hands in his and smiled. “He sounds wonderful.”

“I am very proud of him; he is a carbon copy of the man he is named after. Studious, aggressive, and firm in his beliefs.”

“Thanks for the perspective. I will stop by when I am in the neighborhood.”

“Okay, be careful out there.”

A Hot Day Down South…new writing/continuation…unedited and incomplete…

Brandon Watterson stood 6’8 and weighed every bit of three hundred pounds. His weight was not fat but muscle. A long, jagged scar ran down the left side of his face as a testimony of his violent nature. He ripped off the helmet and threw it in the dirt.

Upon hearing no, Tomas and Wiggins backed up. Tomas was a solid 225, Wiggins weighed in at a buck fifty, if he wore concrete shoes. Watterson charged Tomas and swung a wild haymaker that collided with Tomas’s temple. Tomas crumpled to the ground. 

“You’re next, little man.” 

Wiggins dropped into a defensive position. Watterson charged him like a wild bull. He threw his arms wide to bear hug Wiggins. At the last moment, Wiggins deftly sidestepped the attack. He rabbit punched Watterson in the throat. The big man hit the ground. Wiggins took two steps and soccer-kicked him in the jaw. Watterson crumpled to the ground.

“You okay, Tomas?”

“Yeah, I guess. It felt like I had been hit by Thor’s hammer.”

“Well, we got him.”

“Where did you learn those moves? I always thought you were a bookworm.”

“Just because I’m a bookworm doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to defend myself.”

“Huh,” Tomas grunted. Wiggins handcuffed Watterson, and with Tomas’s help, they got Watterson in the back of the car. After another hour and a half drive back to Fredericksburg, Watterson was placed in interrogation room #3. Tomas informed Konan via phone and explained what happened.

Konan and the two detectives stood behind the glass and watched Watterson. Chief Janko joined them.

“Who is this monster,” the chief asked. 

“Chief, that’s Brandon Watterson. He resisted arrest until Wiggins got ahold of him,” Tomas explained.

“Asthmatic Wiggins took down that behemoth?” Chief Janko looked at Wiggins skeptically.

“Yes, sir. He did it with a rabbit-punch and a soccer kick.”

“Konan, get in there and get some answers.” Konan nodded. When he opened the door, Watterson looked up.

“Who are you?”

“I’m nobody, my mom is somebody, and my dad could be anybody,” Konan responded. Watterson glared at him. Konan sat across from him.

“You a pig,” Watterson snarled.

“Nope. Just a guy asking questions.”

“I ain’t got nothing to say to you pig. I ain’t answering your questions.”

“Yeah, you’re going to answer my questions. Because if you don’t, I’m going to get that 150-pound ankle biter that put you to sleep and turn him loose on you.”

Behind the glass, Wiggins grinned. Tomas slapped him on the back, Janko just shook his head in disbelief. Watterson clammed up.

“How long have you been out of prison, Watterson.” 

“I ain’t talking to you.”

“You know Watterson, when I was a boy, my dad always told me to never corner anything meaner than you are. You don’t want to get on my bad side.”

“Oh yeah, what are you going to do? Beat a suspect? Frame me? I ain’t scared.”

“You didn’t hear me, Watterson. I’m not a cop. How long have you done taxidermy work?”

“All my life.”

“How often do you go into town?”

“Rarely. Only when I need something.”

“Such as…”

“Supplies for my work.”

“Such as new knives? Glue?”

“No. I order knives and glue online. Things such as toilet paper and sugar for my coffee.”

“Do you know Amber Wainwright?”

“Do you know Lilly Thompson?”

“No, should I know them?”

Konan placed the pictures of the victims in front of Watterson. He pointed at the scars.

“Those wounds were made by a double-edged fleshing knife. Then, the victims were nailed to the floor with rusty nails.”

“And…”

“You have the skill and the temperament to commit these crimes.”

“So…? Are you accusing me?”

“No. We’re just talking.”

“I ain’t killed nobody, boss. Ever. I didn’t even kill the woman who landed me in jail.”

“Why did you assault an officer?”

“His face irritated me.”

Watterson stared at the photos. He pointed at Lilly’s photo. “I do know her. She was a cop.”

A slow burn worked its way through Konan’s body. The veins in his neck tightened and his breathing became shallow.

“How did you know her?”

“She was one of the good ones. There wasn’t an ounce of backdown in her. I tried to intimidate her once. It backfired.”

Konan guffawed. Watterson grinned.  “It doesn’t sound like you’ve had much luck running into officers.”

“Nah, man. She was looking into some murder or something. Asked me questions about taxidermy work. That was months ago though.”

“Where did you learn the trade, Watterson?”

“I learned it from this old man. He didn’t stay in one place very long, but he stayed long enough to teach me.”

“Did he have a name?”

Watterson scoffed. “Yeah, I’m sure he did. I never used it, I just called him Pop-Pop.”

A Hot Day Down South…new writing/continuation…unedited and incomplete…

Konan’s sleep was haunted by Amber Wainwright. In his dream she smiled at him. He reached forth his hand to save her, but she refused to accept his help. A figured clothed in darkness cut her face and drove long, rusty nails into her tiny body. Konan watched helplessly as she was killed. The killer then sent a text message. 

Konan came out of his sleep to the tune of his phone buzzing. Sleepily, he patted the bed to find it. He cracked one eye open and picked it up. It was Ashley Wilkinson.  “Come to the lab, I have something to show you.” Konan showered, dressed and made him a cup of coffee in his favorite Yeti mug. At 0606, he boarded the bus and rode into town. 

Ashley stood in the lab dressed in a black tee and a pair of khaki slacks. Her shoes were sensible, no stripper heels for her. She nodded to Konan.

“Morning, you look rough this morning,” she said. Konan sipped his coffee. He nodded.

“Yeah, I’ve been rode hard and put up wet. What do you have for me?”

Ashley smiled proudly; she placed a knife on the countertop. “Me and Pop-pop figured out what kind of knife the killer has used.”

“What is that?”

“This is a taxidermist double-edged fleshing knife. One side is razor sharp; the other is only moderate sharp. The razor edge is to cut through gristle and tough fur. That is the side the killer used. “

“It would explain the depth of the cuts but look at it. It’s unwieldy. An amateur would not be able to use this.”

“No. The assumption would be that the killer is experienced in the use of this tool.”

“Finally, we have caught a break. Thanks, Ashley. Tell Pop-pop I said thanks for the data.”

“You bet.” Konan turned toward the door but turned back around. “Hey, Ashley, do you have a moment?”

“Sure,” she replied as she shrugged on her white lab coat. “What’s up?”

“Do you drink coffee?” She smiled, and Konan waited for the rejection he knew was coming.

“I do. It gives me an edge.” She wrinkled her nose and grinned. Konan felt a smile tug at his lips.

“Maybe you would like to grab one someday.” 

“Sure, we could do that.” Konan nodded and smiled a small smile.

“Okay. I will let you get to it.”

Konan turned and walked out the door. Ashley watched as he walked away. “He is so cute when he is awkward.”

Konan thought about the fleshing knife. He walked into the squad room and found Tomas and Wiggins neck deep in their files. They looked up when he approached. 

“You guys found anything?”

“Nothing so far,” Wiggins wheezed. Tomas shook his head no. Konan dragged a chair close to their desk and sat down. 

“I received a text from Ashley this morning. She has figured out the weapon. It’s a double-edged fleshing knife. The razor-sharp edge was used to make the deep cuts on the victims’ faces. “

“Jesus,” Tomas muttered. Konan didn’t think was possible, but Wiggins grew even more pale. 

“Start a search for taxidermists that have a violent past. We need to get someone in here before Mayor Smith has a meltdown or the killer takes another victim.”

“Roger that,” Wiggins wheezed. There were three taxidermist businesses located inside of Fredericksburg, five outside of the city limits. “Surely, one of them has a dark past. Someone has to know something about this.”

Wiggins showed up in the Records Cage after lunch. He snacked on a Snickers bar as he gave Konan the lowdown. 

“Of the eight taxidermists, two have a checkered past. Adam Philter had numerous run-ins with the law when he was younger. He spent most of his teenaged years in juvie. He is a scrapper. Adam was always in a fight somewhere.”

Konan listened and sipped some coffee. “Okay. Who is the other?”

“Brandon Watterson. He spent nine years in Parchman for assault with a deadly weapon, specifically a bladed weapon. To boot, his victim was a woman he met in a juke joint.”

“Where is he?”

“He lives way out in the woods.”

“Okay, you and Tomas pick him up. I want to talk to him.”

“Alright. Maybe this is the guy.”

“Maybe.”

Tomas and Wiggins left the station a little after 1300. It was an hour and a half before they got close to where Brandon Watterson lived. Tomas nodded out the window at the black water that pooled up on both sides of the road.

“What are those called?”

“What? The swamp?”

“Swamp. Yeah, that’s what they’re called. I heard someone call it a slough one time though.”

“Yeah,” Wiggins wheezed. “It’s the same thing.”

“You think there’s gators out there?”

“Probably. Among other things.”

“It’d be a bad place to die.”

“That’s why the water is so black, Tomas.” Wiggins wheezed for several moments. The humidity made it almost unbearable for him to breathe. “All my life I’ve heard that black water covers the dirty deeds done out here.”

Tomas pulled the car in front of a rickety shack. Heavy swamp moss hung from the branches of the old cedar trees. The front porch stretched in front of the shack; it was in a state of brokenness.  Wiggins took point. A shop was parallel from the house. Grinding could be heard coming from the shop. They walked to it and pushed an old wooden door open. A figure leaned over a metal table; their face was covered with a blacked-out helmet. Sparks flew in every direction as the blade cut through.

Tomas looked around. Knives of various sizes hung from rusty nails. Animal heads hung from the walls. The grinder switched off. Tomas turned his attention back to the figure. Wiggins wheezed. 

“What are you doing in my shop,” the figure asked. A large hand lifted the mask. A pair of angry eyes stared at the two Detectives.

“I’m Detective Wiggins, this is Detective Tomas. We’re looking for Brandon Watterson.”

“Why? I ain’t done nothin’.”

“You’re a taxidermist?”

Brandon gestured at the mounted heads on the wall. “Did ‘em all myself. Killed ‘em too.”

“That’s great,” Tomas muttered. 

“Look, Brandon. We need your help with something. A killer has used one of these things,” he gestured to the knives on the wall, “to kill. We need your expertise to bring them to justice.”

“No.”

“What do you mean no,” Wiggins wheezed.

“I ain’t helping no cop.”

“Okay. Then you’re under arrest for suspicion of murder,” Tomas said. “Place your hands behind your back.”

“No,” Brandon growled.

A Hot Day Down South…the continuation…unedited and incomplete…

Thermopolis finished his glass of water and asked for a carry out box. The waitress disappeared into the back. Tomas shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He licked his lips and wiped his hands on his grey slacks. 

“Konan, I’ m-” Konan stopped him from speaking by holding up his hand. He stared at Tomas for a long moment. The silence that grew between the two was awkward. 

“You do not get to apologize, Tomas. I’m not a father. Any chance I may have had to step into that role has vanished from my life. There is only the case. If Smith has asked you manufacture evidence or frame a suspect, I better be the first person to know.”

“Yes, sir. You will be.”

The waitress appeared with the container, Konan boxed up his meal and stood. “Enjoy your meal, Tomas. It’s on me this time.” Konan tossed a 20 on the table as a tip and walked out of the restaurant.  He boarded a bus and leaned back against the seat. “Who is killing these folks? There is minimal evidence left at the scenes. That screams intelligence, or knowledge of investigative techniques. Is it a cop?”

Konan got off the bus one stop from his usual drop off. He started for his house. Few lights stood along the path to his stoop. The quiet night air was humid, it hung about Konan like a wet blanket. This case caused him to fret. He had never been afraid to face human depravity, but this was something different. 

He arrived at his door deep in thought. An envelope jutted out from the door frame. Konan unlocked his door and went in. He flicked on his light and realized who the letter was from. It was from Doctor Judith Waters, his psychologist of many years.

He opened the letter. It was handwritten on old parchment. Konan began to read.

“Dear Konan,

It has been some time since we last spoke. Time, like all things, passes ever quickly. I read in the paper that you had taken on a job as a consultant for the police department. Are you okay? Does this have anything to do with your last case?  I worry for you. You have exhibited an unrelenting tenacity to uncover killers. It is unhealthy for you to fall back into the trap of obsession. I am here if you need a sounding board, or if you would like to renew our friendship. 

Take care,

Judith

Konan sat the letter down on his desk. It had been years since he last saw Judith. Their friendship, if one could call the numerous ‘Netflix and chill’ hookups a friendship, had ended on a sour note. Judith wanted more out of their mini-adventures, Konan found her intellect to be frigid and unappealing. He had severed all ties with Judith over a voicemail.

This was the first time he had heard from her in eight years. Konan showered and dressed. He pulled bacon from his fridge, along with eggs, cheese, onion, bell pepper and jalapenos. He took down one of his many Yeti mugs and made coffee. Then, he began to construct his omelet.  Konan’s brain worked better when his stomach was full.

As he sat in his recliner and ate, he considered who would do the killings. It had to be someone who knew him or knew of him. During his time on the force, Konan had been featured in the local paper on numerous occasions. Over time, Konan developed a reputation for doing what was necessary to uphold the law, even if it meant breaking the law. 

Because Konan refused to grant interviews to journalists, the ‘journalists’ crafted an image of a hard man out to right the wrongs of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Still, it had made him out to be a folk hero of sorts. “It could be someone who followed my career. It could be a doctor.”

His thoughts turned to Judith. After all the time that had passed, she still thought of him. A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I should renew our friendship. Just the friendship. She is cold, calculating, and sordid, but she is a great sounding board, and provides adequate feedback. I’ll touch base with her tomorrow.”

Konan stretched out on his couch and turned his television on. Tom and Jerry were on. The last thing he saw was Tom plotting the destruction of Jerry as he drifted off in dreamless slumber.

Shotguns, Misfires, and Chaos…unedited…

“What happened to the gun,” my dad asked. I had to come up with something quick, but it was too late.

To tell this story, I have to go back to the beginning, to the home of my Uncle Talmadge and Aunt Jessie-Lee. Back to when the gun was in its original shape and not the hack-sawed monstrosity that hung on the wall of our mobile home. 

Back to when dad was not fit to be tied because of his son’s stupidity.

We were poor down here in the South. Stories of ‘white privilege’ hadn’t been dreamed up yet, and one look at us sweating in the hot Mississippi heat would have killed any notion of ‘privilege.’ In the summer we fished for our dinner. Usually, we ran trot lines, and fished in the river. Ole Tallahalle gave us a bounty of meals in the form of catfish, bream, and more than one turtle. The fall and winter were dedicated to hunting. Dad, me and little brother hunted rabbits, squirrel, and deer. We never took more than we could eat. 

Well, that’s enough background. This story is about the gun that we ruined.

Dad wanted a new shotgun because his old one was worn out. We had shot so much game with it that the barrel was no longer any good. So, we went to see Uncle Talmadge. Uncle T brewed moonshine and was a wheeler-dealer in his spare time. He had an engraved .20-gauge shotgun. It was the prettiest gun I’d ever seen. 

My brother nudged me when he saw the gun. “Bet I get blood on it first, Possum.” My brother, we called him Mule, and I had a small competitive streak about a country mile wide. I shook my head. “Nah, man. You couldn’t hit Texas with a nuke, if you were standing in Texas with a nuke. I’ll get the first kill with it.”

There is about fourteen months that separated us in age, and we bickered like two old wet hens. He punched me on the shoulder while dad looked the gun over.

After some bartering took place, dad handed Uncle T the agreed upon sum. We went home with the gun. Dad was so proud of it. He would sit at the dinner table and look at it. His pride shined in his eyes when he would look at his new gun. I couldn’t wait to shoot it.

Summer transitioned to fall, and fall brought us squirrel season. We waited until we got a good frost, and my brother poked me one Friday afternoon.

“Wanna go kill dinner,” he asked me. I shrugged. “Sure. I’m gonna use dad’s new shotgun.” We loaded up and headed to the woods. We walked for what seemed like eternity and sat down next to an old oak tree. Squirrels were everywhere. We killed our limit in half an hour. “Let’s go by the creek and see where we can set up some traps,” I said. My brother nodded. “Yeah, coon is fetching fifteen bucks,” Mule said. 

Both of us attended school in Purvis, Mississippi. The gas prices had risen to a staggering .68 cents a gallon. I was going to need a lot of fur to make it to Purvis and home five times a week.

The creek was usually just a small stream, but it had rained for the past week. Water gushed by and the small creek was out of the banks. 

“How are we gonna get across, Possum?” I don’t know why he asked me, I was as daft as he was. We stood there for a moment and considered our options. Out of the blue, I had a thought.

“We will throw the guns across to the other side and walk across that log.”

“Yeah,” Mule said. “Sounds like a plan.” Both of us tossed our guns to the other side. My brother’s gun landed in the brush, mine ended up with the barrel stuck in the mud. Mule laughed. 

“Well, that sucked. The barrel is jammed with mud. How should we get it cleaned out,” I asked.

Mule shrugged. “Shoot it out.”

“Yeah, okay.” I cocked the hammer back and yanked the trigger. What happened next, well, it isn’t something I have forgotten. The barrel split in twain. My brother and I stood there confused, astounded, and completely horrified.

“Oh Jesus,” I gasped. Mule nodded. “Yup, dad’s gonna kill you.” The constable’s house wasn’t far from where we had hunted, so we raced there. Thankfully, he was home. I knocked on the door. Mr. Dearman, or Johnny Law as we knew him, answered the door. 

“Can I help you young’uns,” he asked.

“Sir, my gun barrel split. Can you do something with it?”

He looked at me and then my brother. “You two idiots are lucky to be alive. Come on out to the shop.”

Mr. Dearman took a hacksaw to the barrel and cut half of it off. I lost all my color and envisioned the multiplicity of deaths my dad would inflict upon me for ruining his new gun. Johnny Law must have noticed because he patted me on the shoulder.

“It’s alright, son. Your dad will be glad you’re okay.” I nodded my head silently. Fear gripped my throat; words could not express my disbelief. What was once a beautiful 28” gun was now an 18-inch gun. 

“Maybe dad won’t notice it got shorter, Possum.” I stared at my brother, at that moment, I could have killed him. I probably should have. 

“I’m dead” 

“Nah. You’ll probably wish you were, but dad won’t kill you. You will probably be mostly dead.”

We trudged back home, and I put the weapon back on the rack. My brother and I skinned the game we had killed. I threw my coat on the shortened gun. “Maybe dad won’t notice.”

That evening, I heard dad pull up into the drive. He came in and sat down in his recliner and opened up the Hattiesburg American. After he finished reading the news, he called my brother and I into the living room.

“Tomorrow, we are going rabbit hunting in Greene County. We will leave before five. Be up and ready to go.”

“Yes, sir.”

I had horrible nightmares that night. The next morning came, and dad took down my coat. For a long moment he just stared at his beautiful gun. I could have sworn he had a tear in his eye as he gazed at the hacked off barrel of his prized shotgun.

“What happened to my gun,” he hissed softly. I stood rooted to the ground unable to answer. Thank God, Mule was there to answer for me.

“Possum threw it across the creek, and it got stuck in the mud. Then, he cranked one off, and then barrel went whoop!”

“I can’t have anything nice,” my dad muttered. I waited in silence for my death, but it never came. Dad never said a word to me. He just stared at that gun like I had ran over his favorite dog with his favorite car.

That hurt as bad as being murdered for my stupidity. I was given the ‘modified’ shotgun. Dad went back to using the old gun that he had upgraded from. He still managed to kill more squirrels, rabbits and deer with that thing than I ever did with any weapon. 

I don’t know if dad ever forgave me for ruining his prized weapon. I don’t know if I ever forgave myself. We used that ole shotgun with the beautiful engraving for many years. It still served its purpose as a tool that we used to provide our family with food.

It just got a lot shorter thanks to two lunatics named Possum and Mule.

A Walk in Darkness…new writing…incomplete and unedited…

 Outpost Charlie was a small camp located outside of an oil refinery town. For as far as the eye could see there was nothing but oil wells. The only difference between those in the United States and those here was that these were on fire.

Towering flames shot out of the wells; the desert appeared to be on fire. Thousands of feet above it I watched the desert burn. “It looks like hell,” I thought. “Unquenchable fire, eternal torment, and the knowledge that you did not have to be there, what a horrible place to be trapped forever.”

 I had not thought of hell in a long time. As I watched the fires reach toward heaven, I considered my soul. My memories took me back to Sunday School where we learned of the tender mercies of God. The plane began its descent to my new destination. I snapped out of it. It was time to get back to work.

The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “Um, guys. The airfield is under attack,” he squeaked meekly. “We can’t land. We are going to drop to ten feet, and you guys need to go out the side door. Make sure to take your gear with you.”

His co-pilot stood next to the side door and motioned for us to stand. We stood. He pushed the door open, and we bailed into the night.

I crashed into the earth with a thud. It felt like I had been smacked with a shovel. “Definitely not my most graceful landing,” I grunted to myself. The enemy had locked in on the small aircraft. Tracer fire and rockets filled the night air.
“Grab a bag and head north,” came a voice out of the murky darkness. “We will sort it out behind cover.”

I oriented myself to north and grabbed a bag. Bullets whined close, but I kept crawling toward what I hoped was cover.

We made it to cover without serious injury. Flecks of rock would fly up and hit us in the face when bullets landed close, but other than that no one took a round to a vital organ.

The team members gathered in a loose gaggle and sorted out the bags. In the distance came a rumble. A rickety old bus came chugging down the road that ran parallel to the airfield. The driver stopped.

“Y’all need a ride?” We laughed. “Yeah man,” said the highest ranked individual with us. “We need to get to headquarters to in process these guys.”

“Hop on. I am headed there.”

We loaded into the bus with our bags. I leaned back and thought of hell on earth.

Camp Charlie was a multi-national post. My eyes were opened to many different things while stationed there. Our crew was small, so small in fact, that we could not go to chow because we didn’t have enough people to cover down on our responsibilities.

The dining facility would send us Liverwurst and mayo sandwiches, along with a Mars bar and an apple. It was at Camp Charlie that I saw temperatures reach over 140 degrees. 

It was hell on earth.

My health declined on a steady basis. I refused to give in to it, heck, I refused to take care of myself. “You’re not going to quit,” I chided myself. “You are going to outlast it.”

I took liberal amounts of ‘Ranger candy’ aka 800 mg. of Ibuprofen. I ate them by the handfuls. Nothing worked to ease my pain. My stress levels continued to be through the roof.

I was burnt out. To ease my stress levels and secure a good future for my family, I re-enlisted for an indefinite amount of time. “That’ll show me.”

Four months, six days, and a matter of hours later, I returned to Europe intact. Well, mostly intact. Physically, I was fine.

Mentally and emotionally, I was all over the place. My thoughts were scattered, it was impossible for me to hold a conversation. Madness waited at the door.

I began to see things, I refused to tell anyone of my issue. At night, I dreamed of the people I had hurt, of the families destroyed in the name of a ‘just’ cause. These specters would crowd around my bed and stare at me.

They couldn’t talk. They were dead. A small boy would stand next to my bed. He held his brains in his tiny hands.

I dreaded the night. The day kept the horrors away, I focused on work. Once again, I was offered 90 days stabilization to readjust to civilian life. I refused it.