Hunted: The Devil You Know

Hunted: The Devil You Know

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 11:34 am by Jeffrey James Roberts

Flashback
2011.

Jeffrey Roberts, sitting in a metal chair in the Department of Corrections, Gainesville, Florida.

Roberts places both hands on the table and leans in Detective Rona Callaway’s direction slightly.

“Yeah,” he said through a smirk. “Better than fiction, right?”

Callaway tilts her head up a bit and matches his posture, leaning toward him.

“How so?”

He holds her gaze, stares hard into her eyes. “No one reads them, no one cares about them… but me. Oh, by the way?”

Every facade of kindness falls from his face and his expression goes empty.

“You’re not gonna find anything in my house.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

”The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” – P.G. Wodehouse

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A clean stovetop.

Three dark-colored coffee mugs on a countertop with a speckled design.

Three clean scouring sponges on the sink.

The kitchen shelves are lined with items grouped in threes. There are three shelves to the right of the square wall clock. The topmost shelf has just three unmarked cans. The middle shelf has just three cans of whipped cream. The bottom shelf has just three more unmarked cans. The shelf just above the clock has three boxes of something unidentified. The shelves and kitchen walls are painted white and pristine. The three shelves to the left of the clock are the same: three shelves with three items on them each.

Detectives James Gardner, William Podnick, and Rona Callaway are inside the home of Jeffrey James Roberts. Gardner is a thickly muscled African American man in his mid-40s, a little less in shape than in his prime, but still impressive looking. Podnick is a heavier set caucasian man in his mid-30s. Each has standard blue gloves on, so as to not contaminate the scene. Various other people from the crime scene unit are milling about, doing the work of finding something, anything.

Podnick shakes his head.

“Not a hair out of place. No dirty dishes, no stained laundry, nothing.”

“He had to wash the blood off somewhere.” Detective Callaway frowns and sighs slightly.

Gardner walks closer, pondering. “They’re dusting his clothes for prints. If our victims fought back, maybe we get lucky.”

Callaway leaves the room. Podnick runs his fingertip along the book on the shelf.

Shakes his head, no. “I’m not even getting dust here.”

Gardner finds something and picks it up.

“You hunt, Nick?”

The larger man responds with a nod, “Yeah, of course.”

“Look at this.”

Gardner shows Podnick a glass bowl of deer eyes.

Later, just outside the interrogation room back in the office, Detectives Podnick and Gardner walk past Detectives Simmons and Rodriguez. Rodriguez is still shaken up from his attempted questioning of Roberts. He holds out a hand and lets it rest on Gardner’s arm.

“Be careful…”

Gardner nods back, then he and his partner open the door and walk in.

Roberts is still sitting in the same metal chair, back against the far wall facing the two-way glass opposite him.

Podnick walks slowly around the front.

“Saw your place, Jeff. You’re a hell of a neat freak.”

Gardner stays near the door but interjects. “How’s such a tidy guy do the messy business of taking off heads there?”

“Pffft…” Roberts scoffs. “I didn’t take off anyone’s head.”

Gardner walks over near the table and squints down at him.

“I meant animal heads, Jeff. You hunt, don’t you?”

Gardner puts a deer eye on the table in front of Roberts.

“No..” Roberts shakes his head. “Chasing dumb animals in the woods — no challenge.”

Podnick rests one hand on the corner of the table. “You like a challenge, Jeff?”

“Heh..” Roberts smiles. “I bore easily.”

Podnick sits in the chair and looks at Roberts, thoughtfully.

“So if our killer wants a challenge, why hunt women, why not men?”

Gardner nods.

“An NBA player, Olympic athlete, the guy at the gym.”

Gardner looks over at Podnick, who himself has a look of deep thought on his face.

“Why does he always go for the doe, the weaker sex? Why is that?”

Roberts perks up. “Maybe those females had more to live for. Like the ones with children put up a real squall, I bet, if he promised to bring their little ones into the swamp, too. Hmm?

Podnick lets out a disgusted noise. “Some hunter.”

“Plus,” Gardner says. “He let one get away.”

Roberts chuckles at this. “What, you mean the drunk? Or is she a full-blown addict by now?”

Gardner sits in the chair next to Podnick and leans forward on the table, resting on one elbow.

“How’d you know who we’re talking about?”

Roberts rolls his eyes. “I read her report. No D.A. would ever put her on the stand. Sloppy police work. Ms. Callaway will be disappointed…” He points his head to the mirror. “AGAIN.”

Behind the glass, Callaway bristles.

Back inside, Roberts continues. “Another bungled lead,” and looks at Podnick again. “Kind of like the Corrato case.

This gets the big man’s attention.

“What’s that?”

“Oh..” Roberts snorts. “I read those files, too, Billy boy. You screwed the pooch big time. Or rather, someone screwed a lot of juicy pooches because of you.” As Roberts finishes his sentence he looks at Podnick, then away from him dismissively, chuckling.

Podnick leaps to his feet, and Gardner is up fast enough to get in between him and Roberts, as Podnick reaches an arm around his partner.

“That’s it. Come on, get up.”

He tries to take a step forward, but Gardner stops him.

“Hey, hey, Will….. Will….” Gardner protests as Podnick tries to push his way past him.

“Get up!… Come on, get him up!”

But Gardner holds him back. Roberts looks up at him, calm, disappointed.

“Fine line between being human and an animal. Look at you.”

Podnick glances over at the mirror then closes his eyes and takes a breath, trying to regain control.

“So,” he finally interjects. “Tell me about the dumb animals, Jeff.”

Roberts smiles a cold smile and looks up at him.

“I once read that a pursued animal will run on broken toes, fractured shins, bloody stumps of feet. There are worse things than rape, Billy. Things that go on for hours… hypothetically speaking, of course.”

Gardner’s face turns intense, upset.

“She was only 18 years old. She was practically a little girl.”

Roberts shrugs, unmoved.

“Oh, I imagine at the end she wasn’t. The things a female will beg to do if only you’ll let her live. Ever wonder what Mrs. Gardner begged for on that lonely highway before she died?”

The comment strikes hard, as Gardner’s wife had been carjacked and murdered a year earlier. But outwardly, he keeps his composure better than his partner.

“Not gonna work, Jeff. Sorry.”

Roberts tilts his head forward and down just slightly, looking up at him through sinister eyes and growling in his direction.

“Because I know.”

Roberts relaxes, then sits back up straight, and smiles, pushing the little object on the table across toward the two men. “Don’t forget your deer eye.”

Podnick perks up at this.

“Deer eye, Jeff?”

Gardner looks at his partner, then back at Roberts, a small smirk forming in the corner of his mouth as he reaches for the deer eye.

“You a, uh…. Taxidermist?”

At this, Roberts stiffens up, a small twitch in his left eye.

“Done talking to you.”

Podnick leans over the table, his own face developing a smirk also. “‘Cause if you never hunted, why do you have these at your place?”

Roberts turns his face and glares into his eyes.

“Done…. Talking….”

The two detectives stand up, shoulders slumped, defeated. Roberts squints his eyes and looks at the mirrored glass.

“I want the girl.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

”You not only are hunting others. You unknowingly hunt yourself.” – Dejan Stojanovic

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t like the bargain basement heroes people used to subscribe to, the hunters of wild things. I do not like those killers, and the killing bravely and well crap. I do not like the bully boys, the Teddy Roosevelts, the Hemingways, the Ruarks. They are merely slightly more sophisticated versions of the New Jersey file clerks who swarm into the Adirondacks in the Fall, in red cap, beard stubble, and taut hero’s grin, talking out of the sides of their mouths, exuding fumes of bourbon, come to slay the ferocious white-tailed deer.

It is a sad search for balls, is what it is. A man should have one chance to bring something down. He should have his shot at something, a shining running something, and see it come a-tumbling down, all mucus and steaming blood stench and gouted excrement, the eyes going dull during the final muscle spasms. And if he is, in all parts and purposes, a man, he will file that away as a part of his process of growth and life and eventual death. And if he is perpetually, hopelessly a boy, he will lust to go do it again, with a bigger beast.

This is what it means to be a fanatic – but a fanatic, that is to say, in a very special sense. It has little in common with the obsession of the politician or the artist, for instance, for both of these understand in a greater or lesser degree the impulse which drives them. But the hunting fanatic – that is another matter entirely.

As a small child, I visited an uncle once, one of those uncles who lives out on his own somewhere, off the grid, hunting and drinking and fucking what he could. And standing in his living room, my thoughts fixed solely on a vision of a mounted trophy against the wall, the eyes now dead that were once living, the tremulous nostrils stilled, the sensitive pricked ears closed to sound at the instant when the rifle shot echoed from the naked rocks. This man hunts his quarry through some instinct unknown even to himself.

I am not a sportsman of that kind. It is not the skill needed that drove me, nor the delight and excitement of the stalk itself, but a desire, so I told myself, to destroy something beautiful and rare.

And what, tell me is more beautiful and rare than someone in the Hall of Fame, and someone who should be?

Did you know that you can show someone respect when you think very little of their talents? It’s called courtesy, and anyone who is in anyone’s Hall of Fame should receive that courtesy, at minimum. But it’s hard to ignore, Jatt Starr, that you have failed to do much Hall of Fame shit since coming back, right? You wouldn’t say you’re excited about your failure to do much beyond a token LSD title run and some fun puns and jokes about pussies, right?

What a tiresome human being you are. I cannot imagine anything more tedious than a man who looks like the human personification of a jello mold flaunting his wealth earned in better days, riding around in his fancy little cars, regaling us with tales and mutterings and musings that are less eloquent than a Mexican food restaurant’s menu.

You are nothing but a two-bit spoiled waste of a trust fund. You offer nothing to this company or the world in general. If you were to disappear from the face of the Earth tomorrow, the only person who would miss you is your Porsche dealer. Somewhere out there is a tree tirelessly creating oxygen so you can live. I think you owe it an apology.

Yes, you’ve made many mistakes since coming back. But I think the real mistake was when your father spotted your mother across a crowded swamp, dragged her back to his hut, and made you.

And Jace, sir, a guy who looks like someone’s dad who is picking up his daughter at JC Penney is in the Hall of Fame before you. That’s gotta sit well.

You two, you’ve had lots and lots of wrestling matches, and you’re well-prepared for almost anything that can happen in a wrestling ring, until now. I’m no mere wrestler. No chains of wristlocks and arm drags. We are not destined for a sixty-minute classic. I’m here because I’ve been tasked with a job to do, and I will do it efficiently and brutally. I will hunt you, the rare and the beautiful, and I will be the one who snuffs you out.

There were once men that roamed the swamps where I grew up for food. They hunted with equipment that gave their prey great odds. They set foot in lands with no guides or maps. They realized that sometimes torches and pitchforks were necessary when grievances to the master would take too long or go unanswered.

My ancestors were men that were not afraid to take action with their own hands, with their brothers and neighbors, and to suffer the consequences. This was their order, their way, and their set of norms. This is not my way, as I am more civilized. What is civilized about enduring the small cuts or humiliations that have come my way at the hands of an indifferent system and malicious individuals? There are countless other behaviors that I engage in that are uncivilized or degraded from those old days that no amount of legal restraint is going to make up for us to claim superiority. People are mollified. They are pacified. They have been conned into the belief that words on paper mean that the men behind them do not matter.

The hunter I’ve become is something elevated, something more. My prey is marked long before it is aware of my designs on it. With feelings of pleasure and approval it is contemplated, observed, and kept watch over; it is seen as meat whilst it is still alive, and so intensely and irrevocably seen as meat that nothing can deflect the hunter’s determination to get hold of it. Already while prowling around it I feel that it belongs to me, because it does. From the moment I select it as my prey, it is incorporated into myself.

So it will be with you.

Arthur has revealed himself now, but he is not the same man you remember. He too has a purpose now. Those who cannot conquer must bend the knee. You must find the strength or serve those of us who have it. He is one of my generals. I will send him out: my hunting dog, my wolf with iron teeth. When you close your gates in fear, he will destroy it. When you make roads and walls, he will cut them, pull down the stones. He is my right arm, my burning brand.

Like him, there are more coming, and you would be wise to fear it.

But you’ll peek over your shoulders with a lazy glance and expect nothing to come and reap you from behind. You’ll continue on in your wrestling rings with your wrestling matches, while I work to a thing much greater. I will open you up, eviscerate you and make you bleed until you can bleed no more. Your loved ones will weep a sea of tears…

… and I will drink it all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

”Believe me, it would be better if we didn’t meet again. Go back to school. Go back to your life. And next time they ask you, say no. Killing is for grown-ups and you’re still a child.” – Anthony Horowitz

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Detective Callaway opens the door, meeting Jeffrey James Roberts’ look with a smile, which he wryly returns. She walks around, casually, and then sits in the chair across from him. He leans forward with interest and she holds her look into his eyes, refusing to show anything but determination.

“Like being in this room, Jeff? Playing games… excite you?”

He chuckles lightly. “I’ve watched you here…. Upon occasion.”

Callaway smiles. “Really?”

He gives her a mock surprised look, then his face contorts back into an empty grin.

“Reeeally.”

She stands up, turning and walking over to the mirror. “So you snuck into observation? Groped your ding-a-ling in the dark?”

Roberts doesn’t flinch.

“I wouldn’t flatter myself if I were you.”

She furrows her brow. “That thing only work in the swamp? Or maybe not even there?”

Shaking his head, Roberts leans back in his chair. “Yet another tired-assed Detective Callaway trick. Seen it before, seen it before. Yawn.”

Detective Callaway smiles as if the two are joking like old friends.

“Ah.. we’re just warming up.”

He crosses his arms, smirking. “Ooooh, show and tell.”

She nods.

“That’s right.”

Callaway sits back down opposite Roberts. He leans forward again, never losing eye contact.

“Then let me tell you something about Detective… Rona…. Callaway.”

She holds her posture, steeling herself for what could be coming.

“Hmm…”

And Roberts never loses track of her eyes. “Why you really became a cop. What you’ve never told a soul. The bad thing that happened to little Rona… long, long ago.”

She looks back at him, refusing to lose this game of chicken. “Hmm…” is the only sound she makes.

Roberts smiles. “I read your file.”

Her eyebrows perk up. “Did you?” She fidgets in her chair.

He tilts his head to the other side.

“You ever dream about it, Detective?”

She shakes her head, not giving an inch. “No. No, I don’t.”

Now his eyebrows go up, and he leans back, smiling, unbelieving.

“Uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that.” He chuckles at her.

Callaway takes a deep breath. “Know your enemy. You’ve done your homework.”

Roberts nods, satisfied.

“Mm-hmm.”

Callaway’s smile fades. “So have I.”

Callaway opens the desk drawer and takes out a Tallahassee police report file folder. She puts it on the desk between them and opens it. Roberts swallows, flinching slightly as she reads.

“Age 16… lied about your age to take the Police Academy entry exam, and failed. Age 17, you fail the physical for a, uh…” She chuckles. “Shopping mall security guard? Couldn’t even make it as a rent-a-cop. So here you are, 19 years old, filing away pieces of paper, nothing special. No wonder you like to play dress up. You know, you wanna walk, be my guest.”

She tosses the file folder on the table and pushes her chair out.

“I’m done with you.”

She leans forward and stands up.

“Oh, and one more thing. Age 12… your mother is murdered.” She walks around the table and sits on its edge next to him. “What could she have done to you?”

He doesn’t respond.

“Ever dream about it, Jeff?”

She reaches out to touch him on the shoulder and he recoils.

“No wonder you’re such a small, little man.”

Callaway hops off the table and heads for the door.

“HEY!” He screams at her suddenly. “Don’t you walk away from me. Don’t you walk away from me!!”

She stops. He frowns, glaring at her with hate in his eyes.

“Not out there, he isn’t.”

“Where,” she fires back. “In the swamp? Tell me, who are you in the swamp?”

His nostrils flare.

“He…”

Callaway turns fully to face him and shouts in his face. “YOU! Who you are. TELL ME!”

He squints his eyes again, seething.

“God.”

They stare at each other for a beat, and finally, Roberts takes a deep breath.

“I’m done with you.”

Roberts stands up. Detective Callaway stands in his way.

“Tell me how you killed her.”

He raises an eyebrow. “I gave you my thoughts… my opinions. We were just talking, right?”

She holds her ground.

“What did you do with her head?”

Roberts holds a finger up in correction. “You mean, what did he do?”

She’s losing ground, and she knows it.

“Where did you put them, Jeffrey?”

His face calm, he adopts a neutral expression. “Ask him. I have no idea. It’s over.”

She shouts. “No, it’s not over, so sit down!”

Carefully he steps forward, coming to within a few inches of her face.

“Oh no. It is over.”

He brushes past her and heads for the door. Opening it, the eyes of the entire department are on him, and Detective Callaway calls after him.

“I’ll be watching you.”

Roberts looks up slightly, thinking. “I think I might leave town. Do some traveling. Beautiful state we live in, lots of empty swamps. You ever hunt?”

She holds her place. “No.”

He smiles back at her.

“We should do it sometime. Together.”

She holds the look again, refusing to turn away.

“Maybe we will.”

Roberts turns and waves to the men behind the mirror. With a last glance at Detective Callaway, Roberts turns…. and leaves.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

”The dumber people think you are, the more surprised they’re going to be when you kill them.” – William Clayton