”There are, unfortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.” – Margery Allingham
Inside a cold, dark cell, there are several newspapers splayed out over the floor. Each has similar headings:
“San Francisco Father and Daughter Missing”
“Search Continues in Golden Gate Park Case”
“Community Search for Missing Father and Daughter Continues”
Water drips, drips, drips.
But this isn’t Jeffrey James Roberts’ old cell. That cell was destroyed. This is something different. It’s darker, dingier, nothing on the walls, and only iron bars in place of the more secure plexiglass setup.
It’s cold, dark, wet.
Craig and Jane Watts are each chained separately to metal pipes. Craig thrashes against his chains. With every strain, Jane’s anxiety grows.
“Stop,” she calls out.
Her father glances up but continues struggling against the restraints. “If I can snap the chain…”
She shakes her head.
“You’re just gonna hurt yourself.”
But Craig thrashes against the chains more. Until Jane YELLS…
“Stop it!… Please!… Just stop!”
And Craig stops, exhausted. The door to the cell opens. A man enters, his face concealed by a hoodie pulled down over the top half of his face and sunglasses. In his right hand, held down toward the floor of the cell, he carries a Remington Huntsman Series rifle. He steps forward another step, looking at Jane.
“Are you okay?”
“Get away from her.”
The man looks at the young girl’s father. “I heard screaming.”
Watts snarls back. “I said get away from her.”
The hooded man just stares down Craig. Craig is powerless.
“What the hell do you want?” Craig sighs, defeated.
“It’s simple,” the hooded man replies, “You give her to me, you both live.”
Craig growls back at him. “Go to hell.”
The hooded man stares at Jane and holds a beat.
“If that’s your answer.”
He exits. As Craig and Jane watch the cell door slam shut behind him.
”The truth must be quite plain, if one could just clear away the litter.” – Agatha Christie
San Francisco Homicide.
Inside, Conference Room.
Files are out all over the table.
Detective Burns is seated at the head of the table and around him Detectives Dillard, Irwin, Bronson, LaFleur, and Jandrill. Detective Jandrill steps in, closing her phone.
“San Francisco police already have a war room set up for us. They know we only have a three-day window.
Dillard taps his fingers on the tabletop. “What do we know about the past years’ victims?”
“The Tenderloin District has a high concentration of drug addicts and homeless people. The victims were all transients from the area.”
They look at the crime scene photographs of past victims.
“So,” LaFleur says, “the perp’s choosing easy targets that won’t be missed. That tells me he’s not concerned with the challenge of the hunt. The victims are part of a larger plan.”
“Which he executes on the same few days every year.”
“Hmm,” Burns frowns as he looks around the table. “Have we found any significance to the dates?”
Irwin shakes his head to the negative. “Nothing historically. It must be personal to him.”
Detective Jandrill stands to her feet.
“I’ll have Garcia run the last ten years of criminal records for the days in question. Maybe it’s some kind of anniversary.”
Burns nods. “Good.”
“You and Reid get set up in the police station. Dillard and LaFleur, head to the coroner’s office. Bronson and I will go to the dumpsite. I don’t think any of us should plan on getting much sleep the next three days.”
Dillard stands up. “What about Detective McDonald’s team? You said he had a theory.”
Burns sighs. His partner, Detective McDonald, had a cardiac event while on duty, and his team was leaderless but focused and determined. “They’ll work it themselves. If they get a lead, they’ll bring it to us.”
LaFleur looks a little confused.
“Why not come along for the ride?”
Burns shrugs. “They’re working off the clock.”
The others share a look.
“They’ve got their own way of doing things. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories.”
Bronson crosses his arms. “So, they won’t be at the police station?”
“Officially?” Burns responds, staring at him. “They won’t even be in California.”
”Only once in a generation does anything as fresh as a vomiting detective come along.” – Dean Koontz
Outside the Best Arena.
Production trucks spread out all around the East side of the building. Cables are stretched out across the parking lot, some connecting one trailer to another, some disappearing into a hole in the ground. It takes a lot of work to put on a show like this. Everyone is very, very busy.
Tucked into the middle of the group of trailers is the one containing convicted murderer and HOTv Champion, Jeffrey James Roberts. Detective Burns climbs the familiar steps to the door, and after a short pause, opens and steps inside.
4th Wahl is seated at the desk, but he barely gives the intruder a glance. He just goes back to reading his newspaper. On the side facing Burns, the headline reads, “Search For Killer Continues into Week 3”. Burns sees this, ignoring the rest of the page, then turns and looks toward the door to his left.
4th Wahl pushes a button on his desk, and the door’s locking mechanism can be heard unlatching. Burns walks through, reacquainting himself with the interior of the room, then heads to the hallway that dominates the back right wall of the building.
He doesn’t look into the other cells like the last time he was here, but instead keeps his head forward, only focusing on the light coming from the last cell on the left, and the floor-to-ceiling plexiglass wall holding in its inhabitant.
As he comes into view of the cell, Burns is surprised to see Jeffrey standing in the middle of his room, smiling slightly, his arms crossed behind his back in a relaxed posture.
“Detective Burns. You’ve returned. Come back to insult me some more, Detective?”
Roberts smiles a devious smile, then shakes his head.
“No, I don’t think that’s why you’re here. But I must say, I am curious. So Detective, how is the search for Ms. Callaway going?”
Burns sighs. “Still missing, but I suspect you already knew that, right Jeffrey?”
Roberts shrugs, then turns, absent-mindedly walking to his left and then back again.
“I mean, I’ve been locked up in here the last few weeks, but I do hear things from time to time. For example, I heard that your partner went to introduce himself to my friend Arthur. I hope it was a pleasant visit if you’ll excuse the pun.”
Burns looks around the cell. Everything appears identical to the last time he was here, nothing new. He looks back at Jeff.
“I’m afraid not.”
Roberts looks concerned. “I’m very sorry to hear that. How is the good Detective? Alive and kicking, I hope.”
“Alive,” Burns responds, “But not yet kicking. But he’s tough. He’ll pull through.”
Roberts nods. “Oh, I have no doubt. All of you detectives come from sturdy stock, don’t you? McDonald, Callaway, so tough. But they always end up begging in the end, don’t you know? No, you wouldn’t.”
He smiles. “Now then, with the pleasantries out of the way, what are you here again for, Detective?”
Burns holds his stare on Roberts, consciously trying to keep emotion out of his face.
“A string of murders and abductions. I thought I might ask you if…”
“Oh,” Roberts interjects. “The San Francisco business?”
Burns’ eyes light up. “You know about that?”
Roberts smiles again.
“As I said, I hear things. Nasty business, abducting and killing homeless people and young girls.”
Burns holds his stare. “Similar M.O. to you. Same model rifle, dumped the bodies in a park.”
Roberts grins. “Oh, so he’s a huntsman, too? How nice. It’s a small world. Tell me, have you found their heads?”
Burns flinches slightly.
“He didn’t decapitate the victims, just killed them and dumped their bodies in the park.”
“Detective,” Roberts says. “I thought you said our M.O.s were similar.”
Burns smiles back.
“I admit there are some differences.”
Roberts looks away in thought, up at the ceiling. “They were abducted and killed, then dumped in the park, but kept their heads. Tell me, was the other abduction nearby?”
Burns steps forward toward the glass just a bit. “Abducted less than a half-mile away, just a bit down the road from a small restaurant where they were last seen. You could have walked between the two spots in no time.”
Roberts looks back at the detective.
“Maybe he did.”
The two men hold a look for a few moments until Roberts speaks up.
“Tell me something else, detective, this man you’re looking for, is he killing constantly or is there some sort of pattern?”
“There’s a pattern,” Burns steps forward again, getting ever closer to the glass. “Every year, same dates, he kills for three days, then disappears off the face of the Earth, until the next year.”
“Which days, exactly?”
Burns looks down. This may be going too far. But this is his best lead yet. “February 17th through 19th.”
Roberts and Burns stare at each other without saying a word until slowly, a smile creeps over Roberts’ face. Slowly a light chuckle escapes his lips, growing until laughing boisterously. A few moments this lasts, and then, Roberts starts to regain his composure.
“What?” Burns replies. “What is it? What’s so special about those dates?”
Roberts looks mock surprised.
“You really don’t know, do you? Think hard on it, detective. Think think think.” Roberts walks slowly forward to the glass, until the two men are a mere three inches from each other, face to face, with a plexiglass barrier between them. “Perhaps the answer is staring you right back in your face.”
Burns thinks for a moment, then his eyes grow wide.
Roberts makes an “aha!” expression with his eyes. “Is it all coming back to you, detective?”
Burns looks down, thinking, then looks back up.
“Your final killing spree. It was the same dates.”
Roberts smiles and nods, repeating Burns’ words back to him. “It was the same dates.”
Burns backs away slowly, the closeness between them becoming uncomfortable. Roberts stays where he is. Burns tilts his head slightly.
“So why are those dates so important to him? Is he simply a copycat killer or…”
Roberts interrupts him. “Something more, detective? That’s what you were about to say, correct?”
Burns frowns, serious. “No more games, Jeffrey. Do you know this guy? Why is he putting such an emphasis on those dates?”
Roberts blinks, shaking his head in an ‘I don’t know’ manner. “I wouldn’t know.”
Burns’ voice lowers just a bit. “Have you been in contact with this guy?”
Roberts shakes his head, disappointed.
“You people really don’t pay attention well, do you? I thought you were supposed to be detectives. And maybe none of us are really what we seemed to be at first, eh detective? What someone could consider a monster, someone else may consider a hero. Where one sees horror, another sees a kindred spirit. There are all sorts of reasons this guy could be doing the things he’s doing, but if you want to figure out why he’s fixated on me, you’re gonna have to go back and do your homework, and figure it out for yourself.”
Roberts smiles widely.
Burns frowns, and with a frustrated grunt, starts to walk away.
“Oh, detective?” Roberts calls out.
Burns stops at the end of the wall between cells and looks at Roberts, but doesn’t speak. Roberts smirks again.
“Do say hello to your friends for me.”
Burns looks at him, and then without another word, walks away.
”Once you have been tortured, you can never belong in this world. There is no place that ever will be your home.” – Roma Tearne
The first time it was reported that people were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.
I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was. No one who remembered her girlhood and her early mischief and family lore; no sibling or boon companion who could tease her about that first romance; no lover or pal with whom to reminisce. All her birthdays, exam results, illnesses, friendships, kinships – gone.
She went on living, but with a tabula rasa as her diary and calendar and notebook. I think of this every time I hear of the callow ambition to ‘make a new start’ or to be ‘born again’: Do those who talk this way truly wish for the slate to be wiped?
Genocide means not just mass killing, to the level of extermination, but mass obliteration to the verge of extinction. Do you wish to have one more reflection on what it is to have been made the object of a ‘clean’ sweep? Try Vladimir Nabokov’s microcosmic miniature story ‘Signs and Symbols,’ which is about angst and misery in general but also succeeds in placing it in what might be termed a starkly individual perspective. The album of the distraught family contains a faded study of Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, cancerous growths – until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about.
In the debate between the anarchist and the killer, the burden of proof clearly should rest on those who place their trust in the killer. Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the killer’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.
Consider the species known as man. We lie, we cheat, we want what others have and take it; we make war upon each other and the earth; we harvest lives in multitudes. We have mortgaged the planet and spent the cash on trifles. We may have loved, but never well enough. We never truly knew ourselves. We forgot the world; now it has forgotten us.
But who needs the world when we have each other? We both want the same things, and in fact, why wouldn’t we? This much is clear. Genocide, after all, is an exercise in community building. My community grows ever larger, week by week. You have all of those shepherded fans from Pro Wrestling: Assault, I have a network, a line of marionettes whose strings I manipulate for my own purposes.
I am their leader, and the specter of an absolute menace that requires absolute eradication binds leaders and people in a hermetic utopian embrace, and the individual – always an annoyance to totality – ceases to exist.
Everyone thinks they can mold the killer to what they want him to be. But it seems to me at the end of the journey, that reconciling the long shadows cast by the uneasy past may ultimately depend on elements so basic that they bring to mind a simple proverb I once came across and never forgot: Eat bread and salt and speak the truth. They are the recovery of fact, public accountability, and the instituting of fair trials of one sort or another, to help mark ends and beginnings and to return the moral compass as close to the center as possible. Like your friend, this James Cornfield. Does he understand you, really? It intrigues me.
I’ve never had a person to lead me around. There have been attempts by others, naturally, to have someone oversee my ‘treatment’, but it never lasts long. They either quit or are ultimately found bloodied and mutilated in a ditch somewhere… for whatever reason.
The world is crumbling into ruin. Armies are marching. Men and women are dying everywhere, in huge numbers. Fields are abandoned and towns deserted. The wrath of God is upon us and He may be intending to destroy the whole of creation. People are without leaders and direction. They want to be given a reason for this, so they can be reassured, so they will return to their prayers and their obedience. All this is going on, and James Cornfield is concerned with winning wrestling matches.
But I see him working. These are fun psychological ploys, of course, and James Cornfield is a very smart man, I can tell that just by listening to him. I don’t have to listen too long to a person to determine their intellectual worth, so take that as a compliment. I know what I’m doing. But let me tell you something, James, just a little nugget, not the whole meal…
You don’t know. The first time they came for me, in the name of ‘research’ and ‘treatment’, they looked at my hair, noticed apples on my tray, and thought ‘hippie.’ Then, from ‘hippie’ they thought ‘druggie’. From there it went to ‘will get himself in trouble’ and ‘not worth our time,’ and then they stopped thinking at all.
No one bothered to find out if what they thought about me was true. No one wanted to hear what I thought. No one cared what I believed in. No one cared about talking to me or asking what my plans were for the day or night.
And then, now, comes you.
Don’t let what you think you know make your masked friend into what I could have been. Don’t become someone who doesn’t think, just because you see profit in him for some reason. Because quite frankly, I like how you think. Except for now, of course. But I hate that you think you’re irreplaceable. Gentlemen, you’re actually upgradable.
You could be part of it, but you’re greedy.
You want what is mine, but you can’t have it. You can have everything in the world that you see, everything the light touches, even the shadows, but you can’t have this. It is mine. I will jealously guard it, and I will happily rip the vocal cords from your throat and choke your big friend with them. I will raze your existence from High Octane. You’ll be #97Dead.
That’s what I do.
I don’t have any fans behind me. But I’ve got followers. Instruments of my anger and wrath.
I figured out something very young, my friends, something that even older men rarely understand. I’ve learned that fear isn’t a terrible-looking thing but something lovely and seductive. I peddle in fear, I sell it and sometimes give it away for free, to anyone who would listen.
I look at you, Genosyde and I imagine the lovely art we can create together. There was a time, once, early on in my incarceration when I was allowed things such as a canvas and watercolors, and I’d paint things like the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. I had it there in my cell with me, painted from memory, my single look at what the outside world looked like… Until I took a careless warden and gouged his eyes from his skull, and set them on my little table, while he bled out on the floor of my cell. And I just sat there, and smiled, and listened to my music.
So no more art. It was taken from me as a punishment, you see.
But now… the anticipation is rising in me that I will soon be able to create more precious art, and we will do it together, my incredible vicious beast of an opponent. We have our own canvas and the tools to paint with.
Let’s not waste this chance…