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Stepping into the captain’s office my headache is nearly tripled in force as the onslaught of incense and oils the man has gathered wash over me like a tidal wave. He is trying new relaxation techniques and has even gotten into Feng Shui. I guess being the compact man that he is, an Asian wife made sense, but his dedication to going the whole nine is a bit much. He has wall scrolls, banzai trees, and those guardian lions. The problem for me is he has no idea that nearly every piece of his collection comes from a different Asian country. The least he could do is pick one and stick to it instead of creating a salad bar of Far East culture.
That, and it really does smell like shit.
“Good morning, captain,” I say, stepping across the office and taking a seat next to the coroner.
The captain’s slicked back copper hair is plastered to his head today and he’s drumming his desk with his fingers, brows constricted. I can actually hear his teeth grinding together. The doctor is adding to the ambiance with a serious overload of cologne and mouthwash. He at least smells clean, as opposed to the stench best described as “Faux Asian Massage Parlour,” permeating the room.
“You said you found something,” the captain grumbles. His jaw is working overtime already, so I know better than to draw this out.
Digging into my jacket pocket I take out the object I found on the priest. This may be the key to unlocking our brolly butcher. I rub the circular object between my thumb and fore finger, roll it across the back of my hand, and then set it down in front of the captain. He picks it up, tilts his head to the side and begins scratching at his cheek.
“It’s a poker chip. So our priest had a gambling problem, something tells me that isn’t all that rare, sadly.”
I take my eyes off the captain and I stare into the side of the coroner’s ashen face. His left eye is twitching a bit and he’s biting the inside of his lip. He knows why that chip is important and I’m going to let him do my job for once, since he’s always so keen to butt in. Strangely, this time I think he actually wants nothing to do with opening his mouth.
The captain is looking up at me now, I can feel his eyes on me, but I am not going to take mine off the good doctor. Glancing back and forth between the two of us, the captain’s keen sense finally kicks in and he realises something is amiss. I was certain some sort of flashing light was going to have to clue him in, but he’s uncharacteristically sharp today. Miracles never cease.
“Do you know what the significance of this chip is?” he asks the coroner, but the doctor shakes his head quickly and licks his lips.
“No idea,” he says in a quick spurt, but he’s tipped his hand. Being the loudmouth that he is, speaking in such a constricted manner only makes the lie stink more.
The captain leans forward in his chair and rests his elbows on the desk. He stretches the marker out further and practically points it at the coroner.
“I’m going to ask you one more time, and if I don’t get the truth this time we are going to have a problem.”
If I didn’t know how empty his threats were I would be impressed. Unfortunately, being threatened by a man who looks like he loses a lot of battles to Christmas sweaters, I hold off the trembling.
The doctor, on the other hand, knows he has the option of either outing his knowledge or having me put it out there for him, and, casting a glance at the stupid grin on my face, he must know how much worse I am going to make it sound.
“That isn’t a poker chip,” he says in a low voice, his eyes fixed on the desk.
“Then what the hell is it?” The captain shouts.
He’s going to have to burn another stick soon and I don’t want to be around for that. It’s time to take the wheel.
“It’s a sobriety chip.”
The captain frowns and begins to blink rapidly.
“So, he was a drunk?”
“No. Though many people go to support groups for aid in their battle with drinking,” I say, casting a glance over at the coroner, “there are almost innumerable kinds of addiction in the world. Our priest actually had an issue with debt.”
The captain sits back in his chair and crosses his arms over his chest. He’s going into his professor mode, thinking he knows what’s coming.
“So our victims were all in debt, is that what you’re telling me? Let me guess, they borrowed money they couldn’t pay back and the loan shark showed up to settle the account. Are these paid hits? I thought the mob made it a policy not to kill non payers. The only sure way not to collect on a debt is to kill the source.”
I let him rattle on, his smug face making me relish telling him the next bit a little bit more than I should. I have to bit my lip to keep from smiling right in his pompous face.
“Actually, no. They were all in self help groups, but the priest was the only one who was in for debts. He, along with the second victim, were also involuntary attendees.”
“How does that work?”
“The priest took out a loan to pay for his church, hoping to back it with tithes, but the charity of his parish has been on the wain for quite some time. He couldn’t pay back the debt, so he took out another loan to cover the first. He was betting on his charisma producing a better showing in the second round, but the people still held out on him. Well, this pattern kept on and on, taking on loans to cover other loans until he built up an insurmountable debt. The people he owed, far from wanting to kneecap a man of the cloth, took the information to his superiors. The church found the money to pay off the debt and he was punished severely, with one of his atonements being required attendance to a debtors anonymous group. He’s been in the group for nearly a year, growing more embittered by the day from what I hear.”
The captain nods, “Okay. What about the second man, the day trader?”
“That’s an even easier story to tell. He forced himself on one of the junior members of his company. She cried rape until the dollar amount got high enough and then she decided her pain and suffering actually did have a price tag. The company wouldn’t fire him, despite his actions, because he was a cash cow. His rake in the six months prior was nearly triple what the woman cost them. They figured that as long as he did it less than six times a year, they were still in the green, so who cares, right?”
I pause, shrugging my shoulders, “they did think it was best to force him into an anger management group as recompense though. Fat lot of good it did him. A week later that woman was found dead in her own home. The case has been bogged down in a lack of evidence, but I spoke with the DA this morning and she says they were only days away from charging him with her murder. He’s apparently got a laundry list of payoffs from roughing up women. He’s the kind of scum you can’t help but feel deserved to fall into our boy’s path.”
The captain frowns and the coroner snorts out a laugh. Their morals are obviously not on par. The coroner is the type that relishes the power a killer like our man has to eradicate the types he finds objectionable. Dealing with death can make one feel like God, and the doctor has long since moved past any qualms with judging others, his own faults be damned. The captain is a boy scout in comparison. He’s law and order, through and through. He couldn’t be more upright if you shoved a meter stick up his ass and doused him in starch.
“The priest was a debtor, and the stocks man was losing his battle with anger. What about the two women?”
“The fashion designer has been under the knife more than two dozen times and is an alteration addict. As for the heroin user, surprisingly, she wasn’t in a drug rehab group, but a sexaholics group. Apparently it wasn’t love of drugs that lead her to sex, but her love of sex that lead her to drugs. She wanted the sex, needed it, and most of the men that pay for things like that like a little needle play to enhance the experience. She got addicted to drugs through her nymphomania.”
Once I found the chip, it didn’t take long to dig through the other victims lives. The key in almost any investigation is to know what details you are looking for. With their entire lives to pick apart, it was nearly impossible to see how they fit together. Now it was all too clear.
“Okay, the question that remains then is why this matters to our killer. So they are all flawed, there are an untold number of people in self help groups. Why did he choose to kill these four?”
I smile, I can’t help it. I look over at the coroner with a smile creeping up on the right side of my lips. I bite my lower lip and raise my eyebrows at the man.
“Because they all fell off the wagon. They’ve been receiving their chips, lying about being clean, and I think it pissed our man off. I have a feeling he sees himself as a kind of messenger of righteousness.”
“What makes you say that,” the coroner grumbles.
“Because of the odd reports I’ve gotten back from the second and third victim witnesses. People around the killer before the trader was pushed in the street report him saying some condescending things to the victim just before he pushed him. It was similar with the other junkies who were within earshot when the drug addict died. The evidence was mostly useless without context, but now that I have it I think it’s rather obvious.”
I look over at the captain and fold my hands into my lap.
“He’s speaking out against hypocrites, that is the message. He’s telling people that repentance shouldn’t be taken lightly, and those that do might meet with some unsavoury results.”
The captain pulls out the files on the victims and I pass him the information I have collected over the past few days. He begins rubbing his hairless chin, his tongue peeking out from his lips as he flips through the pages.
“It says here that they all found their help groups through different churches. How did he pick them out? Does he attend these meetings?”
“I think he does. He isn’t leading them though, because the organisers are all different, and digging into the attendees is going to be impossible. These groups are anonymous for a reason. Almost no one uses their real names and the best we might be able to do is confirm a physical description. Even that is iffy because most organisers who know their responsibilities won’t offer up anything about their attendees. So, we won’t get much from the groups. They are also spread all over hell and gone, which I am sure you also noticed.”
He hadn’t, I could see, but he nodded his head as if he had.
“So where do we go from here?” The captain asks, flipping through more papers.
“Well, thankfully we have someone on staff that should know all about these groups,” I say, looking back over at the coroner. “They also know all about faking sobriety. That should give us some idea about the psychology of our victims.”
The doctor looks like he could shoot fire from his eyes, but I could careless. I am also lying out of my ass about needing his input, I just want to out his bullshit charade. He comes in smelling like too much cologne, garlic, and mouthwash for a good reason. It’s not that I care, the bodies he’s working are already dead so how much worse could he really make it? But I don’t like a faker anymore than our killer does. If you’re going to have a flaw, own it. Don’t add denial to your list of sins. I detest cowards.
The captain looks over at the coroner and tosses down the file on our killer. He’s glaring at the doctor, exasperated. The captain’s high morals and holier than thou personality are about to lead us to a lecture. I don’t have the time or the patience for that.
“Well, I have an appointment with a few of the group organisers today and I better get to it. I think I’ll leave you two gentlemen to brainstorm strategies for rounding up our boy.”
I stand up and make my way towards the door, stopping just before I close it behind me.
“I guess it goes without saying that we should all be a little more careful about sticking to our commitments until we get our hands on this guy. I would hate to see someone close to us fall victim to this killer.”
I start to pull the door the last few inches, catching the doctors eyes.
“Especially because I don’t own any nice black suits.”
Downfall is one of two series I am developing on this site and a new episode will be released every other Friday. Posts on Fridays alternate between Downfall and Othersiders.
Next Friday (February 26th) will be the next episode of Othersiders. The next instalment of Downfall will be released on the 4th of March.
Thank you so much for reading and, as always, I appreciate your feedback and support!