SAN FRANCISCO – NIGHT
Police helicopters hover above the city at night. They shine their floodlights down on Golden Gate Park.
A crime scene, deep in the park. Police lights glow. Uniform cops tape off the area. Detectives Bradford and Jameson step from their car, taking in the chaos. They walk toward a body.
Jameson kneels over the dead man who has been badly beaten. He checks the back of his head. Bradford watches.
“We need to call the FBI. It’s starting again.”
A spotlight washes over them, illuminating the lonely scene.
Elsewhere, on Noe Street, Craig Watts, 40, and his daughter Jane, 14, exit a building. The sound of the police helicopters fills the air. They look up to see the spotlights in the distance. They walk and talk.
“Are you hungry?” the man asks.
She doesn’t look up at him.
“Don’t try and act like you care.”
He frowns. “I just want to know if you’re hungry.”
She keeps her head down, still walking.
“No, I’m not hungry.”
Craig pauses, exasperated, then continues. Behind them, we see a man walking. He slows his pace and falls in behind them.
“I’m not the enemy, Jane.”
She finally looks up at him. “Of course not. My friends are, right? And David.”
“You’re fourteen,” he replies. “It’s too young to go on dates, especially with a boy who’s already driving.”
Her eyes narrow.
“Mom thinks you work too much.”
He looks at her and frowns again. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s not my fault if you two aren’t getting along.”
Her words cut, and he flinches a bit. “I’m not saying it is.”
“No,” she interjects, sighing. “You’re just trying to ship me off.”
Craig stops, and the two face each other. “Your mom and I love you.”
“Don’t even,” she scoffs.
The noise and spotlights of the helicopters seem to add to the father-daughter stress.
“Okay,” he says. “You want to be treated like an adult, fine. Let’s have an adult conversation.
Just then, Craig notices the man behind them and notices that he has stopped as well.
“Can I help you?”
The man stares at Jane. They can’t clearly see his face.
“Hi, Jane.” The man speaks in a cold, monotone voice.
Craig instinctively puts his hand across the front of his daughter and pushes her behind him.
“How do you know my daughter’s name?”
There is silence for a few beats. The man raises a rifle and aims it at the pair. The red scope light shines on Craig’s chest.
“You come quiet, or you both die.”
In a bar and grill on 2nd Avenue, a flash of daylight as the front door opens, briefly letting sunlight into the dank surroundings. Detective Samuel Burns steps in. He sizes up the dive and walks toward a booth in the back. Detective Jason McDonald sits drinking coffee and reading from a batch of files. He’s 50 years old, intense, quiet, and dressed like he belongs in the place. His head is in a file as he hears…
“You never were one for offices.”
McDonald looks up to see Burns. They shake hands.
“Thanks for coming,” Detective McDonald begins.
Burns stands by the table in the booth. “I don’t have long. I’m leaving on a case.”
McDonald nods. “I know. San Francisco. I hear things.”
Burns sits. “What’s going on?”
McDonald leans forward on the table.
“How much do you know about the case you’re working?”
Burns shrugs. “I’m on my way in to look at the files.”
McDonald pulls several more files out from underneath the opened one on the table. Burns is surprised to see that they are all from the case he’s been assigned to work, except for one.
“Been looking through all of these files on your case, and I couldn’t help but notice something.”
Burns frowns, not following.
McDonald pushes three of the four files across the table to Detective Burns.
“Two years ago, a male body turned up in Golden Gate Park. Massive amount of blunt force trauma, defensive wounds, a single gunshot to the back of the head. Over the next three days, three more bodies, same M.O. After that, nothing. Until…”
He points to the second of the three files.
“Exactly one year later. Dead male, badly beaten, shot execution-style followed by three more victims over the next three days. Then, once again… nothing.”
Burns starts to understand and eyeballs the third file.
“Until last night.”
McDonald nods. “One year later.”
“Which means,” Burns interjects, “We have three days to crack this thing before the trail goes cold again.”
McDonald nods again and takes a sip of coffee.
Burns looks up at him. “So, why all the interest?”
McDonald reaches for the final, fourth file, still in front of him, and turns it around for Burn to see.
“What do you know…..” He opens the file, and paperclipped on the top of the papers inside is an 8×10 photo of a man in his 20s, close-cropped hair, and an orange jumpsuit. He has a small tattoo over his left eye, another underneath the eye, and a third visible around his neckline. “What do you know about this man?”
Burns stares at the photo, the color draining from his face, and says nothing. Finally, he remembers McDonald staring at him, and he jolts back to the present.
“Jeffrey James Roberts. How could I forget?”
McDonald grimaces. “I know you worked the case.”
Burns nods his head. “I was one of the first on the scene of his first three kills. You don’t forget a sight like that.”
“Yeah, I’d imagine not. Same M.O. People out for a jog or a walk, a shot to the back of the head…”
Burns looks up. “Execution-style. Only… Jeff decapitated them afterward, buried them in the reserve. He didn’t just dump them in the park.”
“There’s something else.” McDonald pulls one of the first files back open. “Remington Huntsman Series rifle… it was used in all of the murders. That’s our boy, Jeff… right there.”
Burns shakes his head. “No, that isn’t possible. Jeffrey James Roberts has been in prison for ten years. Why…. how… would he be in San Francisco? Is it maybe a copycat killer?”
McDonald shrugs. “I don’t know. I’m not sure yet. But I do know this, Jeff Roberts isn’t in state prison anymore.”
Burns leans in as if he didn’t hear correctly. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Someone struck a deal with the D.A., and apparently… the Governor. Roberts isn’t in prison anymore. He’s in the custody of a private citizen based out of Chicago. A few weeks ago, we have reason to believe that he escaped their custody and before being returning… willingly, was unaccounted for, for at least three days.”
“I’m sorry,” Burns shakes away the cobwebs. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”
“It gets worse.” McDonald leans over, in a whisper. “I wanted to bring in the people who worked the original Roberts case. You, Detective Callaway….”
Burns nods. “Right, right. Callaway should be all over this. She caught him in the first place.”
“Yes,” McDonald says. “But there’s a problem.”
Silence for a few moments.
“Five days ago… Callaway went missing.”
Burns leans back in his seat.
Then stands up.
“San Francisco can wait. Time to pay our old friend Jeff a visit.”
A black Lincoln Town car pulls into through the entrance to the parking entrance of the Target Center. It drives along the circle drive to the far side of the building where trailers are set up, all having the High Octane Wrestling logo on the sides, in 97 red.
The car comes to a stop in between the arena and the first row of trailers, and the front door opens. Detective Burns steps out, alone, and shuts the door behind him. He walks in between a set of trailers into an interior open space where set in the middle is one larger trailer, roughly the size of a double-wide mobile home.
He checks the number on the trailer, remembering the information he was given, and climbs the temporary steps up to the door. Stepping inside, he finds himself in a small office area, approximately 12×12, with a desk set to the back in the direction the Detective is facing, and sitting in a chair behind it, a rather large man.
Standing up, the man walks around the desk. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and ill-tempered based on the expression on his face.
“You must be Detective Burns.”
Burns scans the area. “Um….” and then back at the giant of a man in front of him. Burns holds up his badge. “Yes, I am. I’m here to speak to the prisoner. And you are?”
“4th Wahl is what they call me.”
Burns smirks. “Your name is 4th Wahl? No, what’s your actual name?”
4th Wahl smiles back, mockingly. “Oh, you mean my government name?”
4th Wahl loses the smirk, now snarling down at the detective.
“My actual name is none of your business. You can call me ‘Wahl’ if you like.”
Burns holds his hands up, apologetically. “Fair enough. Wahl it is…”
4th Wahl starts to walk to a door to his right, pulls out a set of keys, and unlocks it. Opening it, he steps into another small lobby area, this one empty. Burns follows him inside. Yet another door is set in another wall, about ten feet in, and this time, 4th Wahl steps up and allows a retinal scanner to scan his eyes.
The door clicks open, and 4th Wahl pulls it toward him, gesturing the detective to go in.
“Down the hall at the end on the left. Stay to your right….”
The detective nods. “And stay out of arm’s reach…” This isn’t his first time dealing with a dangerous criminal. It’s not even his first time dealing with THIS dangerous criminal.
In front of him, to the far right of the trailer, he can see the front end of the aforementioned hallway. The entire 22 feet of trailer opposite the hallway takes up the rest of the space. Burns walks into the hall, passing by several empty rooms. They are all missing a wall on the side closest to the hall, with a thick piece of plexiglass in its place, from floor to ceiling. Inside is a cot, a small sink, and a toilet. The first two are empty, and as he continues down the hall, he passes an empty third holding area as well. All are identical to the first.
Finally, Burn reaches the last cell and, staying as close to the hallway wall as he can, steps forward enough to look inside.
There is the expected cot against the right-side wall, a small sink, and a small toilet. There is also some exposed pipe from the plumbing in the wall. Sitting on the floor wearing orange pants and with no shirt on, handcuffed to the exposed pipe, is Jeffrey James Roberts.
The very split second that Burns comes in view, Roberts trains his gaze on the detective, and he follows him as he moves further toward the middle of the plexiglass barrier. He watches, eyes never leaving him as the visitor takes in everything in the cell in front of him.
Finally, Burns looks at Roberts, who is still sitting slumped against the wall, arm out to the side, cuffed to the metal pipe.
Burns opens his mouth to speak, but Roberts beats him to it.
“Detective Burns. So nice to see you again. It’s been quite a long time.”
“It has, Jeffrey.”
Roberts raises his head slightly. “Tell me, how is your family doing? Your wife? What was her name… Amanda or something?”
Burns stiffens up. “I didn’t come here to talk to you about my family, Jeff.”
Finally, Roberts smiles.
“No, of course not. So then, why exactly are you here? Did you miss my company?”
“Not exactly.” Burns looks around the room. “So what’s with the little trailer cell? Someone went to a lot of trouble to keep you locked up and out of the public eye, except of course, when they need you for something. Chained to a pipe, big plexiglass wall keeping you in. Why does someone do something like that?”
Roberts waves his hand. “Oh… I suppose because my permanent home was somewhat destroyed by my friend, Arthur.”
“Arthur?” The detective squints his eyes. “And who would Arthur be?”
“Oh,” Jeffrey replies, running his free hand along the grooves in the wall behind him. “He’s an associate of mine.”
“I see you’re still keeping mementos.”
Burns points to the far left wall where Roberts’ wall of photos remains, various victims eyes cut out, large red Xs across them, and in several cases, little bits of hair or old decaying flesh. The detective’s eyes stop on the one in the middle, larger than the others. It’s Detective Rona Callaway. The eyes of the photo are gouged out as if by a knife, haphazard and angry. A large red dot, in red sharpie, is in between her eyes, and a giant X crosses out the entire image.
Burns looks down, closing his eyes and breathing deeply.
“I’m told Detective Callaway is missing. Disappeared about a week ago.”
Roberts feigns concern. “Oh no. Little Rona is missing? I do hope they find her.”
“Yeah,” Burns responds. “I’m sure you do.”
They stare at each other for a few moments, Roberts smirk slowly turning back to a serious scowl.
Burn nods his head absent-mindedly.
“Talked to the Gainesville Department of Corrections. They said you were no longer a prisoner there. Imagine my surprise to find out that a man convicted of thirteen murders somehow found himself in the custody of a private citizen.”
Roberts opens his eyes wide. “Imagine that. The world is a funny place sometimes.”
“Yes,” Burns says. “Yes, it is. Do you know what else is funny? I heard that the reason you’re in this shiny new mobile holding cell is because of what happened to your more permanent cell last week.”
“Yes,” Roberts replies. “Arthur. As I said. I believe we’ve driven down this road already.”
“I also heard that your friend Arthur was in your cell as a distraction and that you disappeared for several days to do, oh, God knows what?”
Roberts smiles back at him, fake genuine.
“I do enjoy getting out and getting some fresh air now and then.”
Burns moves slightly closer to the glass. “I find it interesting that your new custodians here don’t seem to consider these events troubling. In fact, they don’t seem to want to talk about them at all. Now, I called some people, and apparently, this deal… this thing that has you being paraded around the country fighting for what reason… I don’t know… is airtight. There’s nothing I can do about that. But if you did something to Callaway…”
“Come now, detective. I’m absolutely fond of Ms. Callaway. I miss our talks so much. I get so little intellectual stimulation in here, you know. Why would I want to remove such a lovely person from the world? Why would anyone want her to leave the living?”
Burns just stares at Roberts, listening. Roberts finally blinks, looks up at the ceiling, then back at the detective.
“Oh yes, I just remembered, I do know how your dear wife is doing. Or rather… who… she’s doing.”
Burns tenses up. Roberts smirks.
“It’s a shame, isn’t it? You bust your ass day in and day out to provide for her and this is the thanks she gives you – shacking up with your old college buddy, while you’re forced to move out, sleep on a futon, and keep paying for the house they’re living in. Cucked and humiliated. Tsk tsk tsk. I feel for you, detective.”
Burns listens, pushing back his anger, and finally, sighs then smiles. “And I feel for you, Jeffrey. I remember a time when you struck fear in the hearts of everyone… your victims… the police… even the judges. And now you’re here locked in a cage, set lose only to do violence for your master…”
Roberts’ face slowly turns red, which Burns notices.
“… like a dog.”
With that Roberts leaps to his feet and nearly pulls the pipe out of the wall with the force of his movement. He snarls and reaches for Detective Burns, but the man is well out of reach, and the glass still separates them.
“I’ll be back,” Burns finally says. “Don’t go anywhere.”
And he walks back down the hall.
”Make improvements, not excuses. Seek respect, not attention.” – Roy T. Bennett
Stronk Stronk Stronk.
What a name. You strike quite a figure, I must say. Gigantic. Muscled up. Shaped like a box. I heard from someone somewhere that you kinda looked like Paul Hogan. The Crocodile Dundee guy? I don’t really see it. I assumed it was Paul Hogan. I don’t know of any other Hogan that you could look like.
And you’re not a bright fellow. No, not the sharpest knife in the drawer at all. You think soy milk is Spanish for “I am milk.”
But I’m not here to tear you down, dear Stronk. Not here to point out our differences. No, I’m not here for that. We each have a part to play. We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.
I am evil incarnate. I came to grips with this fact at a very young age. You and I are pretty much the same age, but I daresay we’ve led very different lives. I, the eternal outcast, destined and born to sow chaos, and you, the empty-headed gym rat, devoid of intellect, lacking in any social grace or class of any kind. You are funny, not for your wit, but for how incredibly dumb you are. But who needs smarts when you can crush a Volkswagen van with your bare hands?
But I have to say, my leaner frame has not made me any less dangerous. I have literally killed with these hands, while you play life as if you were a walking plastic action figure. I can’t force you to show me some fucking respect, but you should do it anyway.
But maybe it doesn’t matter.
Your last name is Godson.
So do you believe in God, son?
I’ve only recently discovered social media since the change in my incarceration situation, and about once or twice a month I engage in debates with those whose pressing need it is to woo and to win the approval of supernatural beings. Very often, when I give my view that there is no supernatural dimension, and certainly not one that is only or especially available to the faithful, and that the natural world is wonderful enough – and even miraculous enough if you insist – I attract pitying comments and anxious questions. How, in that case, I am asked, do I find meaning and purpose in life? How does a mere and gross materialist, with no expectation of a life to come, decide what, if anything, is worth caring about?
Depending on my mood, I sometimes but not always refrain from pointing out what a breathtakingly insulting and patronizing question this is. It is on par with the equally subtle inquiry: Since you don’t believe in God, what stops you from stealing and lying and raping and killing to your heart’s content.
Nothing, it turns out.
But just as the answer to the latter question is: self-respect and the desire for the respect of others – while in the meantime it is precisely those who think they have divine permission who are truly capable of any atrocity – so the answer to the first question falls into two parts.
A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’ except if the person living it is also an existentialist and elects to call it so. It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so. Whereas if one sought to define meaninglessness and futility, the idea that human life should be expended in the guilty, fearful, self-obsessed propitiation of supernatural nonentities…
Oh, but there, there…
I know there’s smoke coming out of your ears. I can smell the burnt toast from here. Perhaps Shelley can explain it all to you, but before I go, let me leave you with this, my dear dear friend and opponent.
Do as you think best. That’s every man’s right and duty. But for me, I pledge now that I will not surrender one hair on my head to you. This Television title is mine. What I took, I took, and by God, I’ll keep it, too. Take him home afterward, Shelley, and never look back to watch what I’ve done, for you know it before. I would not give one speck of my championship to the likes of you. Only over my dead body. And where dead bodies are concerned…
I’m the expert.
You don’t frighten me. I am unfrightenable. I’m deeper than the shit I’m in and I don’t really give a damn about you. I burned bridges so the devil couldn’t follow me.
I will not make any deals with you or anyone else. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered. My life is my own. I’m not an animal. And I’m not their weapon. I’m not their anything.
Tuck yourself in nice and tight on your great big pile of needles. But fuck you, because you’re not getting my championship. Not ever.
If you think you can stop me, I defy you to bring the best you have and I shall roast you over a pit of your own arrogant stupidity.
Yeah, you’re real funny.
I’m gonna slice you up like a motherfucking canteloupe.
Isn’t that funny?