There is this pain in the pit of my stomach, a swelling in my throat. Where the hell is she? It’s been two months and no word – nothing.
What was I supposed to do? What the fuck did she want me to do?
I’m going over the old reports in my study – the ones I managed to photocopy – shuffling frantically through the pages and pictures on my desk, scattered there in incoherent disorder, looking for anything that I might have missed.
Two months. Did I do something wrong? Have I missed my chance? Dread coldly grips my gut; the thought is too much to bear.
‘Fuck!’ I throw the lamp across the room, only to have the wire snap tight and stop it dead before it reaches the wall. That felt good. Release. But the dread slithers back and coils up in my stomach.
This time I pick up my chair and scream as I swing it into the wall. It doesn’t break like in the movies – the impact jolts up my arm and sends my brain crashing against my skull. More.
I go into the library that was my father’s. It’s dark and cold and the dismal rain beats against the windowpanes. I rip the books from the shelves, tearing out pages and casting them aside, hurling books blindly across the room. I hear glass smash – whether it’s one of the cabinets or the windows I cannot say. I just give myself up to the rage, the exhilaration of chaos.
But as before, when the fire dies, the cold dread comes crawling back. I find myself sat in broken glass, crying in the moonlight, holding the picture of Victim Four’s pretty, naked corpse.
When I arrived at the scene of the crime, the Scientific Support Branch were already collecting evidence and taking photographs. Jack was stood outside smoking, flirting with a new, young constable; when I saw the body I imagined it was Jack laying there dead, his head bludgeoned to bloody pulp and his fingers severed from his hands.
The flat was trashed and the bed was spattered with blood and bits of brain. The whole scene was chaos. Everything was a mess, except for the bookshelf.
The books were ordered alphabetically by author, with romances and detective novels pressed cheek to cheek. As I expected, there was an empty space, the books either side smeared with blood. I thought of the bookshelf from the previous murder, stupidly arranged by the colour of the spine.
‘There are traces of what appears to be semen here, Sir.’
They were telling me what I already knew. This was the second murder that month: male victim bludgeoned in their sleep, fingers severed postmortem, traces of semen, and a missing book.
‘It looks like we have a serial killer on our hands.’ Jack came to stand by my side. Even through the stench of death I could still smell the stale smoke clinging to his clothes and his stubble. ‘Inspector,’ he said, by way of greeting. ‘How’s Caroline?’
‘She left me.’ I acted sullen to kill any further enquiry; truth be told I couldn’t care less about her leaving, we’d been growing apart for a long time.
Jack started mumbling half-hearted words of comfort, but I shut him out and thought about what this meant. A serial killer; I’d never investigated a serial killer before. My heart started to beat fiercely. This is what I needed – something to focus on. Was the book just a trophy, or did it mean something more? The killer was most likely female, seducing her victims, fucking them, and then killing them while they slept. I felt a little rush as I imagined the killer and victim writhing naked in the bed. I hadn’t had sex since Caroline left – the only thing I really missed.
She came home late. I stood in the library in the dark waiting for her. As she walked past, she glanced over at me and let out a little squeal.
‘God! You frightened me. What are you doing standing in the dark?’
‘Come here,’ I said, and she did. ‘I wasn’t allowed in here when I was a child, my father would lock the door. One day my sister gave me the key and I came in and looked at the books, so ordered, each in it’s designated place – it looked almost natural. I started taking down different volumes, flicking through the pages and touching the spines; they smelt old and dusty. I must’ve had a dozen books scattered around me when my father walked in. He came over and hit me hard across the face with the back of his hand. “Put them back where they were,” he said. I knew I shouldn’t have been in there.’
Caroline moved towards me. ‘That’s horrible,’ she said, and reached out her hand.
I recoiled from her touch. ‘Where have you been?’
The question took her by surprise. ‘I just had to work late.’
‘Don’t lie to me.’ She flinched at the tone of my voice.
‘I’m not lying, I was at the office.’
‘You left work on time, Gerry saw you.’
She stepped back and her face screwed up in anger. ‘You had someone follow me? Fuck’s sake, Frank, that’s crazy!’
‘Where were you?’
‘You’ve got to stop with this jealousy, you’re destroying us.’
I grabbed her by the arms and pushed her hard against the bookshelf. ‘You’re destroying us with your lies. Tell me where you’ve been.’ I could see fear in her eyes, brimming with tears. I could see fear and I could see defiance.
‘I’m not some suspect to interrogate, Frank, I’m your wife. You can’t intimidate me, you bully. You don’t control me.’ She shoved me away and stormed out the room. Some horrible impulse rushed through me – to go after her, to hurt her – but it passed as quick as it came, and she was gone.
I calmly left the library, and went about my nightly routine. The next day I woke at 5:35am, as I do every day, and left at 6:15 to go to work.
I drove to the scene of the crime, excitement reawakening my exhausted body. There had been a fourth murder, the same MO as my killer.
The case had been going on for six weeks now and I’d been heading the investigation. Late nights poring over the smallest details had done nothing but assure me of the intelligence hidden behind the chaos. She was good, my killer, left nothing but mess at the scene – no DNA, no prints, no nothing. We had checked the victims’ phone records but they yielded no suspects, and were waiting on Facebook to give us access to the victims’ private messages. But it was the book that was key, it had to be. I was convinced the same book had been taken from each of the victims, but to figure out the title was near impossible. My killer was sending a message by taking this book, and once I found the book, I’d find my killer.
Walking into the crime scene was intoxicating.
The bookshelf was in the hall, the volumes carelessly shoved into loose groups – graphic novels on one shelf, mixed fiction on another – and sure enough, a smear of blood, implying something had been taken.
I cursed the victim’s sloppiness, the disorder of the bookshelf would give me no help in uncovering the title of the missing book. But when I entered the bedroom, the breath caught in my throat.
There she was, splayed out on the bed, pale, naked and beautiful. The duvet that covered her head was soaked through with dark blood but the rest of her body was untouched – perfect. Her hands were resting on her hips, fingers still attached, as if she were reaching down to touch herself.
Why the deviation? All the other victims had been male. What was different? What was she trying to say?
I felt nervous and nauseous, but I wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t the body – I’d seen too many grisly sights to be squeamish. Besides, she was not a grisly sight: from the neck down, that perfect body, that pose, it was almost inviting.
Was that it? Was this an invitation?
‘Wow! that body. Shame about the face.’
Jack. How long had he been here? What was he doing here anyway?
‘What are you thinking, Inspector?’
‘I-I’m not sure.’ I stepped closer to Victim Four. Was this my killer reaching out to me? It was a completely absurd thought but I couldn’t push it away.
‘Well I’ll tell you what I’m thinking, come on.’ He led me away from Victim Four and into the empty hall. ‘You look like shit. Is everything OK?’
It was true, I did look bad. I stayed up late most nights working on the case and woke at 5:35 every morning for work, no matter what time I went to bed. Some nights I didn’t sleep at all.
‘I’m fine, Jack,’ I said, distracted. ‘I’ve just been working hard on this case.’
‘Yeah, and no one doubts that.’ He put his hand on my arm and moved in close. ‘Look, I know things must be tough with Caroline leaving,’ – his breath stank of stale smoke; I struggled with the urge to head-butt him – ‘but you can’t let it interfere with your work. Go home, Inspector, get some rest.’
I jerked my arm away from his hand. ‘The only thing interfering is you, Jack. You’re not my superior, you don’t give me orders.’ I started back towards the bedroom.
‘They’re not my orders, they’re Wilson’s.’
I stopped, turned.
‘She’s taking you off the case. You’re getting nowhere. She says you’re obsessing over the missing books, failing to follow up on suspects – completely discounting male suspects. How do you know the killer’s not a man?’
‘I know my killer, I–’
‘Your killer? It’s not your killer, not any more.’ I felt a flush creep up my neck. ‘We’ll keep you informed; you can still play a part in this case. But for now, go home, Inspector.’
I barely remember the drive home – my mind was a mess. Was I right, was it an invitation? My killer.
The gravel crunched beneath the tyres as I parked in my driveway. The house loomed over me, silent and empty.
I took my reports, notes and photos from out of the filing cabinet and arranged them on the coffee table, sitting down on the couch. I had to figure this out, I had to find her. But after hours of reading and rereading, my eyes became leaden, my thoughts sluggish, and weeks of exhaustion finally dragged me down to sleep.
I’m in my father’s library. I’m looking for a book but I don’t know the title and the shelves keep shifting and changing shape. It’s dark, I can barely see. I switch on the light but nothing happens; I light a candle but the flame barely touches the darkness. I start pulling down books but none of them are right.
I hear my father coming, I’m gripped with terror, I run into the next room.
Victim Four lies on her bed, her hands move between her legs. She sits up, the blood soaked duvet covering her face. I walk over and push myself inside her; her skin is cold. I peel the cover off her head and it’s Caroline, and she’s telling me to go deeper. Her face shifts and it’s Jack, grinning at me with stained yellow teeth.
I woke up on the couch, groggy, dry-mouthed and rock-hard. I tried to remember what I’d dreamt of but the images slipped away. I rubbed my eyes and with blurred vision looked at my watch: 9:06am.
I wake up in the library to a knocking at the door. I’d cut myself on the glass last night; the room looks like one of her crime scenes.
I open the door to Gerry, smiling excitedly.
‘We got him!’
‘The killer. Jack brought him in today.’
‘Yeah, the guy’s just some librarian. Facebook gave us access to the victims’ private messages. He’d groom them online, sleep with them and kill them.’
What? ‘But… Victim Four?’
‘Oh, she was a mistake, his fourth target’s girlfriend – she wasn’t supposed to be there. Jack got a full confession today. I’m sorry, they wouldn’t let me tell you until it was all tied up. But we got him!’
The room starts to spin. ‘Thanks Gerry, I appreciate it. Take care.’ I close the door while he’s still talking.
I find my phone and see I have a text from my sister. We haven’t spoken since she left, when our father died. I let the phone drop from my hand and walk back down the hall.
The library that was my father’s looks like a crime scene. I pick up a shard of broken glass and press it to my wrist.