It’s been a while since I’ve written in earnest, but I doubt you care. I will tell my story here, trying as hard as I can to exclude unimportant bits, and including the scandalous ones for your reading pleasure or disgust.
This might not be a perfect recollection, but it’s mine, regardless.
The first thing I remember from my arrival in town was in the taxi cab. I must have fallen asleep. My eyes creaked open and I took in, through my nose, the cigarette-and-pine scented upholstery around me. The cabbie was talking to the darkness.
“You from around here, anyway?”
I didn’t want to force a response. I wondered if this was sleep paralysis. The cabbie sighed and the engine hummed on.
My head was leaning on the window. On the other side, I could see what looked like wheat fields in the dark. In my mind, they continued on for miles and miles, a golden flood that tastes like beer. What a poet I am, right?
Disappointed in my wandering mind, I pulled my briefcase onto my lap and popped it open. Inside, I saw the material makings of a real agent of the law. A few manila folders for various purposes, a small pack of breath mints, a pair of glasses, a satellite phone, a flashlight, and, most importantly: a .38 revolver.
Cops need guns, otherwise they aren’t cops. A cop with no gun is like a man with no dick, and who obeys orders from a eunuch? A cop is an artist, and his gun is his brush. You might believe that guns are a tool of destruction, meant to kill and annihilate. I believe that you’re wrong, then.
A gun is a chisel and a community is a block of marble. Inside this society, there is a beautiful sculpture, waiting to be expressed by the interpersonal sculptors we collectively call cops. Sure, some might cry over the scraps left behind; is this not, though, a fair price to pay for a glorious statue? When you see Michelangelo’s David, do you mourn the bits of rock that didn’t make it?
I took the revolver from the case and nonchalantly slid it into my shoulder holster. The cabbie’s eyes flicked up at the rear-view mirror, passively lit up by the headlights’ reflection off of the dirt road ahead. He looked inquisitive, in a quaint kind of way.
“What’s in the case?”
“Please, just focus on driving.”
I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself than absolutely necessary. An outsider is, from my knowledge, suspicious enough in this town. If the locals knew why I was here, especially this early, the frog might hop away too early. I knew I should ease in my presence, turning up the heat ever so slowly. But, then again, I did have a gun.
I’d been awake for about twenty minutes when I started feeling antsy. The hotel surely couldn’t be so far away, especially across so much empty farmland. I checked my watch: 10:00 PM, on the dot.
“How close are we?”
“Shouldn’t I focus on driving?”
“I asked a question.”
“We’re almost there.”
“You’ll know when we get there.”
“Do you have family here?”
“Eyes on the road, pal.”
I hate making small talk. There’s always some small part of my brain that prays so hard to break the norms of the moment and mock and laugh. No, Mr. Cabbie, I do not give a shit about your feelings. When was the last time you shaved? Have you ever been loved for anything other than your simplicity?
I think it was then that I began to visually catalog the cabbie. Ron, the cab driver, a little slip of paper taped to the sun visor over his windshield informed me. Presumably one of only a few out here on the edges of nowhere; I waited an eternity at the airport to get a ride. He seemed about fifty years old, maybe. Certainly aged by smoking. He was likely a drinker, too, based on his demeanor. There was no ring on his finger. His hair was long for a man’s, and greasy, and spindly, creeping out from underneath his cap like some sort of inky blood, clinging to the acne-scarred and stubble-marred edges of his face by sweat and other gunk. More than anything else, he seemed tired. I wondered how he could stay awake through these late-night shifts.
I knew I was here on work, though. I guess, even if I weren’t, I probably still would have been kind enough. After all, I was in the back seat of his cab. If he kicked me out there, in the middle of that barren field, I would have been slightly screwed. So, I kept my mouth shut as much as I could, muffling the malice and confining it to the spaces in between my lines.
From the cabbie’s unhelpful response, I figured there was still a decent chunk of time before arriving at the hotel. With the briefcase still open in front of me, I pulled out the topmost folder and snapped the case shut. Bearing down on the now-closed case, I began to leaf through the file.
As always, I was here for a suspected murder. They don’t send guys like me for kiddie crimes. I play in the big leagues, the games the locals are too scared to attend. Stray balls get hit into the crowd, usually traveling at dangerously high speeds. Most aren’t cut out for this line of work.
The victim was some woman named Rose Paxton. A single mom with two sons, ten and fourteen, Devlin and Mallory respectively. She had vanished seemingly overnight about a week ago, reported by one of her coworkers at the local supermarket after she failed to show up at work. During a wellness check at her residence, local cops found her bedroom soaked in blood, later confirmed to be hers. I don’t have the specific measurements, but it was clearly enough blood such that, under normal circumstances, any person who’d lost so much would be pretty fucking dead. But I am not in the business of making assumptions.
The report made no mention of her boys or their outside of clarifying that she was their primary caretaker. Someone else, presumably a colleague of mine, emphasized this fact with a cartoonishly large red question mark scribbled onto the page by their names.
Deeper in the folder, I found some scanned pictures of the house. For the most part, everything seemed ordinary. It was a messy house, but not filthy. In the pictures of the kitchen, it seemed as though nobody knew what function a pantry should serve; boxes of cereal, bags of bread, bottles of water were haphazardly scattered around any horizontal surface with space. Again, though, nothing was filthy– boxes and bottles were closed, bags were sealed, dirt was (from the pictures) nowhere to be found.
Reserving my judgement for later, I drew some tentative conclusions from these images. The woman was busy, likely not at home much. She probably worked long hours at the supermarket. I doubted that she was romantically involved with anybody, at least publicly, by the state of her residence. This was clearly not a lover’s den of any variety. The children, though not particularly helpful, had grown up for at least part of their lives in a more organized environment, as seen by their ability to keep the house “clean,” despite the chaos of it all.
The main bedroom, though, clearly told a different narrative. Most obviously, blood was disturbingly smeared and mushed into the carpet and the bed with such ferocity, as if someone had pressed it deliberately into every soft surface they could find. Could this truly all be hers?
Stepping away from the blood, the rest of the room didn’t seem to fare much better. It appeared as though a struggle of some sort had taken place here, which certainly jibed with the visceral gore. A lamp had been knocked off of the small table beside the room’s queen-sized bed and shattered into ceramic shards, though its cord remained plugged in to the wall’s electrical socket and attached to a jagged chunk of the lamp’s base dangling from the bedside table. The rest of the room was in a general state of disarray, as well. The walls appeared, at least in the spots without blood, to be exceedingly battered. The few picture frame in the room had been knocked down and sometimes shattered. It was somewhat obvious that a fight, or some other vicious act of aggression, had taken place here.
Considering that it’d been about a week since these photos were taken, I couldn’t imagine that the scene hadn’t been cleaned. These, alongside with our lab results, were all the forensic evidence I was going to get. I leafed through the rest of the folder but nothing caught my eye.
I grunted to myself and put the folder back in the case. I snapped the case shut and slid it back in between my legs. After some time, I felt the texture of the road change as we drove on. It felt and sounded like gravel, now. The car was slowing down.
“Are we here?”
“Just about. I’m not taking you past where the road ends. You’re gonna have to walk.”
For my anxiety’s sake, I checked my watch again in the dim ambient light inside the car. I was disappointed with the time– still 10:00 PM. Was it broken? From my somewhat-basic understanding of physics, I wondered if the pressure from the flight had screwed with the internals somehow. There wasn’t much point in worrying about it now, though. I was about to be booted out of this nice man’s taxi cab; I made a mental note to look into fixing my watch and left it at that.
The car, conveniently timed, slowed gently to a stop. The indicator on the dashboard indicated that I owed about $200. Damn, it must have been a pretty long ride. I reached into my jacket’s pocket and pulled out a money clip. I removed two $100 bills and a $50 bill and held them out between the two seats in front of me. The cabbie grabbed the stack of cash gratefully.
I opened and stepped through the car door, my briefcase in hand, before walking around to the back of the yellow pill-shaped car. I grabbed at the little latch on the trunk, popping it open and revealing a bulkier bag than the one in my left hand. It took some repositioning and two hands, but I yanked the bigger bag out of the trunk and laid it on the gravelly earth. It wasn’t heavy, simply unwieldy. This must be where I packed my clothes. I hoisted one of its straps over my right shoulder and walked up to the driver’s side window which the cabbie had rolled down.
“The hotel is straight that way. There’s no trail, but there should be some signs along the way. If you’re walking for longer than half an hour without getting there, you’re lost. You’ve got a phone, right?”
“I’ll be fine. Thanks for the ride.”
“It’s my job, guy.”
This place was strange. We were still in the middle of some sort of field made of some sort of grain. The only departure from this particularly natural theme was the strangely wide gravel road running from behind the horizon to its terminus about five feet in front of the car. The car’s headlights were pretty bright, all things considered, but the cabbie wouldn’t hang around for very long. The moon was pale. I bore down on the car to quickly crack open my case and take out the flashlight, holding it firmly in my right hand.
“You can go now,” I suggested to the cabbie.
“Best of luck, guy.”
He made a deliberate three-point turn, the kind I had learned as a teenager, and slowly drove back down the gravel road from which we came. I was now alone.
I clicked on the flashlight and began my trek through the field, onward to the hotel.