5 Page Challenge
Every twelve hours a woman turns up dead, already in the process of decay. All leave a note but Detective Harry Muir can do nothing because they’re all addressed to him and expose his secret sins. Filled with guilt for the dying girls, Harry's reality begins to blur into something deeper and darker.
Pages 1 - _
Blind Sheep To The Slaughter. The graffiti on the subway window was still fresh.
‘You sure you’re up for this, Harry?’ Detective Dogard looked sombrely at his partner. ‘You look like shit. I can do this alone.’
‘I need it.’ Harry just looked at the windows of the subway doors.
‘I figured as much.’ Neal gave his friend one more second and then looked down at the end of the train. A subway conductor waited inside with his head protruding from a small window.
‘Open it up!’
The subway doors opened and the air inside flushed out. Neal turned his face as the smell of decaying flesh filled his nostrils. Harry never flinched. He could already see a shoe from the victim through the entrance; blue jean runners with white rubber soles. Harry stepped inside.
‘Nothing’s been touched.’ Neal followed behind with a white handkerchief over his nose. ‘We’re the first inside.’
Harry said nothing as if he didn’t hear a word. He stood over the young woman. She was face down on the floor. Her faded gray jeans were ripped across both pant legs just under her buttocks. She wore a tight white top with no visible markings on the back. Everything was completely drenched. Her black soaked hair matted down on her back, neck and face.
‘We got an anonymous call from a payphone just outside the station.’ Neal stood on the other side of the girl. ‘I’ve already made a call to look at any security videos in the area. Problem is that the call was made before the subway got here and this cart didn’t have anyone else when it stopped. This wasn’t a one man job.’
Harry didn’t take his eyes away from the victim below. Her right arm was awkwardly stuffed underneath her body. Her left arm rested by her side. Her hand clenched an envelope.
‘You’ve been awake for almost three days, Harry.’ Neal breathed out. He knew his words were going to fall on deaf ears.
Harry crouched down. His eyes were now focussed on the tightly held envelope.
‘Just wait for forensics. Let them tag and bag...’
Harry grabbed the girl’s hand and forced her stiff fingers open.
‘Shit, Harry.’ Neal looked out the subway doors to make sure no one was around. ‘I can’t keep lying for you.’
Harry took the envelope, the only thing dry on the body, and ripped it open.
‘Harry?’ Neal tightened his jaw.
‘Why don’t you get us a couple of coffees?’ Harry Muir finally looked at his partner. ‘No reason for any more lies.’
‘Never any use talking to you is there?’ Neil threw up his hands. ‘Fuck it. But you better be done with whatever you’re doing soon cause this place is going to be crawling any second. I’ll be back in a few.’
‘I know your fucking coffee.’ Neal was already walking out the subway doors. ‘I swear to god, if it wasn’t for all those times you saved my ass, I’d hate you.’
Harry let out a smile before turning back to the opened letter.
Here he was again; another letter for him to find. He pulled the white paper from within the envelope. It felt so familiar in his hands. The paper was folded twice over like the previous five. Even without opening it, Harry knew what he’d see- Georgia 12 font, double spaced, generic black ink.
He hesitated. He didn’t want to read what was inside. Instead he looked back at the body. Even without looking at her face, he knew she would be in her early twenties. She’d be another escort or body-rub worker.
Still crouching, Harry brushed the thick wet hair away from the side of her face. She was going to be exactly the same. He could already see the flesh touching the subway cart melting onto the floor. She was decaying right in front of his eyes. The whole front of her body would be like this.
Harry closed his eyes. Instantly he felt the exhaustion rushing to overtake him. He opened his eyes hastily and pushed the feeling deep inside. There wasn’t any time for sleep. Twelve more hours and another girl would be found face down.
Harry looked around. Everything was clean as far as subway carts go. The red seats were almost all torn and more graffiti filled the windows, but evidence for the crime was nowhere to be seen. Most perplexing was the fact that nothing else was wet except for the girl.
Attention went back to the letter as he finally sat down on one of the ripped cushioned benches. He unfolded the paper once.
DETECTIVE HARRY MUIR. It was written in black ink, Georgia font 12.
Looking at his name on the paper made his heart sink deep inside. It was happening all over again. Why him? Why was this happening? His sins were catching up to him.
His fingers brushed over the second crease in the paper. He knew that he had to open it. Time was already trickling away.
Slowly he slipped his thumb inside to open the letter completely.
“Another sloppy Jane?’
Harry turned to see the first of the forensics team members walking into the subway with his bags in hand. Quickly the letter was stuffed into Harry’s pocket.
The technician put his two bags on one of the benches. His hands were already gloved and he quickly headed over to look at the body.
‘You ready for another lost lunch?’ The man smiled at Harry and slowly began peeling the girl off the subway floor.
Harry turned away slightly as the stringy flesh stretched from the wet floor to what was left of the girl. The front of the girl’s shirt and pants were completely rotted again. There was nothing left of a human being below. It was all a wet, sticky mess. How could a body end up like that?
‘Enough, John!’ Harry raised his hand.
John smiled again. He took pleasure in making the tough guys queasy. Slowly he laid the body back on the floor. He was going to have enough work processing and logging the girl’s back anyways.
‘Doesn’t look like we’ll get much of an ID on this one either.’ John shook his head. ‘The fucker who’s doing this is defying science, Detective. We’ve gotten nothing. They’re just melting away. The first body is nothing more than a bucket of goo now and the others are going in the same direction.’
‘Just do your job and figure out what the hell is going on.’ Harry stood up.
‘You alright?’ John rubbed his nose with the back of his gloved hand. ‘You look terrible. Have you slept yet?’
‘I’m fine.’ Harry walked through the doors.
‘Sixth girl in three days...’ John kneeled down by the girl and lowered his head to get a better view. ‘Starts taking its toll after a while. You fucking let them all die.’
Harry turned to face John. ‘What the hell did you say?’
John looked up dumbfounded.
Harry stepped back inside. ‘What the fuck did you say to me?’
‘Just that this case is taking a toll on all of us.’ John instinctively inched back. He knew what stress could do to a cop. He wasn’t half his weight.‘What?’
‘What you say after that?’
‘What you say after that?’
John could see Harry’s fists tightening.
‘Nothing.’ John swallowed. ‘Jesus Christ, Detective. Just making some chit-chat. What’s your problem?’
‘Harry!’ Neal walked down into the subway platform with two coffees. Even from behind he could tell what Harry was doing.
Harry unclenched his hands before turning around.
Neal got closer and looked at the fear in John’s eyes. No one spoke. The uncomfortable silence was needed. They all knew better than to ask questions they didn’t want answers too. This was all part of the code. This wasn’t the right place to talk.
Neal finally handed over a coffee to Harry.
‘Thanks.’ Harry twitched a smile. ‘I needed this.’
They both took a sip.
‘I need some fresh air.’ Harry finally decided to leave what he heard alone. ‘Tag and bag the girl, John. No mistakes.’
Neal had to jog to keep up with Harry’s long rushed steps. He took another sip of the coffee to keep it from spilling over.
‘What was that?’ Neal reached out and grabbed Harry by the arm. ‘You scared him half to death down there.’
Harry paused. They were only a few steps from the stairs leading out into the city. He could see the dark sky and gray clouds above the buildings. The night was cold and breezy.
‘Just hate how disrespectful those guys can be.’ Harry took a sip and continued walking. ‘They’re calling them all sloppy Janes now.’
‘You’re taking this all too personally, Harry.’ Neal caught up and stayed beside him as they headed to the car. ‘You know that’s just their way of disconnecting from it all.’
‘This is personal!’ Harry took out the folded letter. ‘Fucker keeps playing with me.’
Neal looked at the paper and then back to his friend. He wouldn’t ask what was on it, not after the first note. They had made the deal between them, illegal or not.
‘There’s nothing more we can do here.’ Neal finished off his coffee and threw it at a nearby trashcan. The crumpled cup never made it to the garbage and instead rolled away with the strong wind.
‘You want me to go home and sleep on it?’ Harry shook his head smiling. ‘We’ve already got less than twelve hours.’
‘Whoever is doing this wants you off your game, Harry.’ Neal opened the driver’s door to the car. ‘You’re useless like this. You need to sleep and let your mind organise all this. Might be just what we need.’
‘Fuck.’ Harry laughed. ‘You know how messed up this is?’
They both got inside the car and drove off towards Harry’s apartment. Not much was said. They had no leads on the case. There was no evidence outside of the letters that they were forced to keep secret. They couldn’t even divulge the fact that they knew who the victims were. The killer was keeping them silent. He was winning.
‘Sleep!’ Neal shouted out of the car window as Harry slowly made it up the apartment steps. ‘Don’t even think about turning on that TV.’
Harry simply raised his hand to signal a goodbye and opened the door with a key. He heard Neal drive off and breathed out. His hand could feel the paper in his pocket. He knew he had to read it but didn’t want to know what new secret was now out in the open.
He didn’t bother with the elevator but walks the two stories up to his apartment. He stared at the rusting bronze numbers on his door; 317. Everything inside told him that he shouldn’t be there. If he slept in at all, another girl would be dead. Someone was going to die and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. What was worse, it would be his fault.
He slid his key into the lock and turned it. The tumbler inside sounded like the crashing of an ocean wave. Harry didn’t need to sleep. His senses were at their peak. Even the faintest sound echoed in his ears. He looked down the hall, wondering if he should just go straight back outside.
The sleepy woman’s voice came from within the apartment. Harry put his palm on the door. There was no getting away now. He couldn’t just leave. Part of him didn’t want too.
‘Sweetie?’ The door opened to show a young woman rubbing her eyes. She was wearing a white terrycloth robe and held it tightly to her with one hand.
‘Jenny.’ Harry smiled and gently kissed her cheek. ‘Sorry that I’m coming home so late.’
‘I had a bath and must have fallen asleep on the couch waiting for you.’ Jenny closed the door and followed him into the living room. ‘I couldn’t go to bed without seeing you, not with me leaving for two weeks tomorrow.’
Looking at her melted all the negative feelings inside. He held her arms with a longing that he couldn’t explain. All the dead, rotting girls were fading away in his mind. Her eyes were so dark and deep. He could stare at them forever. She was beautiful.
‘How is your mom doing?’ Harry ran his fingers through her hair, still wet from the bath. The touch could have easily drawn him back to all the girls he had seen, drenched and melting, but it was the exact opposite. All he could see was her now.
‘I’ll really only know once I’m there beside her, but the doctors say she’s doing better.’ She leaned her head on his hand, enjoying his touch. ‘I miss you already.’
‘I’m right here.’ He leaned forward and kissed her lips. He could taste the lip balm she always put on after a bath. She smelled like vanilla; the perfume of the body wash still lingering on her skin. She was so warm. He missed her too. His job was taking over his life. It was taking away everything he loved.
‘This is our last night together, Harry.’ Jenny put a hand on his chest. ‘Make love to me. I want your touch to stay with me while I’m gone. I want to feel your kisses on me forever.’
‘Forever...’ Harry kissed her again. ‘Wait for me in the bedroom. I just need to clean up first.’
Jenny slowly pulled away, letting her hand linger and then slip off his chest. Their eyes never separated until she vanished behind the bedroom door. He wanted to follow her but there was still something he had to do.
Instantly the feelings were back inside his gut. His hand was back in his pocket, his fingers caressing the folded paper.
Just get it over with. Harry closed his eyes for a second and then headed for the bathroom. He pulled out the paper as he walked. He felt sick to his stomach.
He stood there motionless by the sink. The paper stayed folded in his hand. He could hear the dripping of water coming from the bathtub. Jenny never shut it off completely. Lousy taps were the least of his problems. He unfolded the paper.
DETECTIVE HARRY MUIR.
His name was still there. Nothing had changed. There would be no miracles for him this night. There weren’t any, any night. Slowly he unfolded the paper a second time.
My name is Susannah Lorries, but most people know me as Jasmine. I have a beautiful daughter named Hannah. She’ll be three next month. I wish I could be there to celebrate her birthday, but I’ll be dead.
I guess by now, I’m already dead.
Why’d you let me die, Harry?
Who will be Hannah’s mommy now?
I hate you, Harry!
We all do. We’re waiting here in hell for you.
You know my name, just like you know all the other girls. You know so much but you do nothing about it.
Because your sins are all over my walls. Casey York is all over my walls.
You have a choice to make Harry. Expose your sins for the entire world or watch another of my sisters’ die before your eyes.
Harry folded the paper again and put it back in his pocket. It was another name to keep hidden. There was nothing else he could do. He would find her home tomorrow and clear it. He prayed to God that Hannah wouldn’t be there. If she was still two, she would be with a nanny or family member. He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to admit that he was becoming as guilty as the killer himself.
He looked at the mirror in the bathroom. His reflection looked right back at him. How many girls would have to die before he broke? How many before someone else found a letter before him? His reflection stayed quiet. It was just as lost as him. They were both cowards.
His soul was empty. Everything was building up around him. The FBI was already starting up its own investigation. There wasn’t a chance in hell that he’d be the first one to the next crime scene. He could feel the noose around his neck already.
‘Shut the fuck up!’ Harry turned to face the tub. The dripping was driving him mad. It was only getting louder. He could feel every drop; each one a hammer crashing down on his temple.
That’s when he saw the red stains. The plastic curtain was covered in long red lines. It was too thick to be water. The more he looked at it, the more he could smell the blood in the air.
Harry’s hands quivered. He could see someone floating in the tub. Someone was there motionless behind the plastic curtain though the blood made it impossible to see the face. He could smell vanilla through the metallic odour of the blood.
He took one step towards the tub. That’s all he could do. Every inch of his body kept him from moving closer. His eyes were transfixed at the blurred red face behind the plastic. His own vision began to give way. Tears began to bend the image even more.
His feet were stuck but his hand stretched out closer. He could reach the curtain if he forced himself but the urge was overpowered by the unimaginable thought.
He could make out lips. They were unmistakable. He trembled more. His heart stopped beating.
A blink and a turn caused his heart to start again. Harry was looking at Jenny peering through the bathroom door.
‘What’s taking you so long?’ Jenny looked concerned. ‘Are you okay? You’re shaking.’
Harry just took a glance back at the tub before answering. There wasn’t a trace of blood. The curtain was clear and the tub was empty. Even the dripping was gone.
‘I...’ Harry turned, trying to hold back his tears but failing. ‘I’m losing it Jenny.’
Jenny swiftly entered. The terrycloth robe was now free and fanned out as she approached. She hugged him deeply, trying to console the dark feelings that were boiling up. This wasn’t a normal thing for Harry. The tears were a clear sign of his loss of control.
‘There are just so many bodies...’ Harry dug his face into Jenny’s shoulder. ‘I can’t see any more of them.’
‘Hey... Hey!’ Jenny forced their eyes to meet. ‘I’m the only one here. Just look at me. Be here with me.’
Her dark eyes spoke what her words couldn’t. He stared at them and let himself slip inside them. There was a comfort there. He could hide in them. Everything else faded into the darkness. She could do what nothing else could.
‘Shh.’ Jenny put a finger over his lips.
She squeezed closer to him. He could feel her warm breasts on his clothes. The robe fell to the floor behind her. His hands weren’t shaking anymore. Instead they were following the curves of her body. He wasn’t surrounded by death but by a living, breathing, loving body.
‘Make love to me, Harry.’
He sunk his face back onto her neck, kissing up and behind her ear. Her hair was still damp, still full of the scent of vanilla. He was exactly where he wanted to be. Twelve hours meant nothing to him. No one else meant anything to him.
Harry felt her hand running between their bodies. He felt his buttons coming undone and finally her flesh touching his own. He could feel every inch of her, her breathing and her heart beats.
By the time they reached the bedroom, they were both naked. He never let her go; never took his eyes away. Nothing escaped him. His senses focussed on nothing else. She was more real to him now than ever before.
‘Don’t leave.’ Harry finally took his lips away from her body long enough to speak. ‘Don’t go away.’
Jenny became still.
Harry closed his eyes. He knew how selfish it sounded but it was complete truth.
‘She’s my mother. I just can’t let her die alone like that.’ Jenny closed her own eyes now. ‘She’s in less pain now but that doesn’t take away the fact...’
‘I know.’ Harry looked to see her eyes closed. He was hurting her, forcing her to choose between them. ‘I’m sorry. I was being stupid.’
‘Don’t say sorry.’ She opened her eyes and kissed him. ‘You don’t know how much it means to hear you say that you want me with you.’
‘No...’ Jenny put a finger on his mouth again. ‘Let me finish.’
She paused for a long second, looking at him and trying to find the right words.
‘It’s been so long since you touched me.’ Tears began to appear in her eyes. ‘Sometimes I feel like you don’t want to be...’
‘I do!’ Harry interrupted. ‘I’ve made some stupid mistakes but all of it has shown me just how much I want to be with you.’
Jenny kissed him again. It was a long kiss that pushed away any further conversation. She took his hands and led them to her breasts and begged for his love. Harry followed every request until they both fell into a deep sleep.
Harry dreamed. He was riding on subway 59. His body swayed back and forth as the carts rumbled over the rails. He could hear each soldered joint that connected the rail into one long unending line.
Susannah lay still on the floor by his feet. She was still face down, just as he had seen her before. He didn’t have to investigate. She was dead. There was only one difference. She was completely dry.
‘Susannah.’ Harry whispered, not at all perplexed by her death. ‘Your stop is up next. Don’t miss it or you’ll to be late for work. You don’t want to be late for work, Susannah. So many men will be so disappointed.’
‘She’s not going to make it to work, Harry.’ Neal sat on the other side. He also swayed side to side. He smiled unemotionally at Harry. Susannah’s daughter, Hannah sat on his lap.
‘Someone killed her, Neal.’ Harry was also smiling now. ‘What a strange thing to do. So many men will be disappointed.’
‘Why would someone do that? Why kill Susannah?’ Neal lifted Hannah and put her on the floor. ‘Who will be Hannah’s mommy now?’
Hannah quickly ran to her mother and began playing with her hair. She smiled and laughed as the hair slipped through her fingers.
‘Bad men kill, Neal.’ Harry watched emotionlessly at the girl. ‘They take away mommies.’
‘Are you a bad man, Harry?’
Harry smiled. ‘Of course I’m not, Neal. I’m the good man. I catch the bad men.’
Neal leaned forward and pointed directly at Harry. ‘Than why are your hands full of blood?’
Harry looked down at the red mess in his palms. One large pool of blood was filling in his cupped hands. He watched as he saw droplets falling into the small pool.
‘You’re crying, Harry.’ Neal stood up and walked to the subway door.
The train slowly came to a stop and the door opened.
‘Why are you crying, Harry?’ Neal smiled again and left the train.
That is when Harry saw his reflection in the windows of the subway. Two long lines of blood meandered their way down from his eyes and dripping into his hands. On his shoulder was a raven that quietly looked around.
Hannah then stopped playing and looked at Harry.
‘Your hands are full, Detective.’ Hannah pointed at his hands. ‘There’s enough to feed the raven already.’
Harry looked down again and watched as the blood overflowed from his hands, fell to the floor and steadily made its way to Susannah. Slowly the dead woman began to soak in the liquid.
‘Mommy’s getting all wet.’ Hannah stroked her mother’s hair again. Her hands were left stained. ‘Who’s next, Harry?’
Harry’s eyes darted open as his cell phone rang out and vibrated on his nightstand. His hand fumbled over the surface of the nightstand, pushing over the clock and almost knocking the phone off. He finally got a good grip and brought it close to his face. The whole time he was touching his eyes with his other hand. There wasn’t any blood.
‘Fuck!’ Harry saw the time on the phone.
It was already past noon. He was already too late. He flipped the phone open and coughed.
‘Detective Harry Muir?’ The voice on the other side was dry and joyless.
‘I’m Agent Armstrong.’
Harry’s eyes widened.
‘I’ve been told that you’ve been leading the case of the recent string of female killings.’ The agent paused for a second. ‘There’s been another murder and we’d like to see you about it.’
All Harry could think about was the note. He could already see his name in Georgia 12 font within the first fold.
‘We’ve already handed over everything to you back at the station.’ Harry forced himself to stay calm. ‘What could I possibly help you with?’
‘We’ll discuss that once you’re down here.’ The agent paused again. ‘Civic Courthouse on 5th- lower parking garage. Just follow the yellow tape.’
‘I’ll...’ Harry was lost for words. ‘Sure... I’ll be there right away.’
He closed the phone and sat motionless on the bed.
Harry looked over. ‘Shit!’
She had left already. He missed everything. He might never see her again if what he imagined was true down at the courthouse. He didn’t even have time to clean up his mess at Susannah’s home. It probably wouldn’t make a difference now anyways.
Harry finally made his way to the bathroom. The curtains were different on the tub. He noticed it instantly. They were no longer clear but green. Of course that was always the colour. He had never had clear curtains.
Damn me. Curtains are the least of my worries.
He didn’t have time for a shave, but simply gargled mouthwash and splashed his face with cold water. The water did nothing to reduce the dark rings building around his eyes. He had slept in but still felt exhausted.