Sometime After Midnight

By Steve Bates

It was the police sirens that woke him. Their ever louder Banshee shrieks sliced through the early morning silence like a switchblade. He could hear as they snaked their way closer, until they screamed just outside the room. Then the sirens stopped. They were here.

As Cole Edwards sat on the edge of the bed, still fully clothed, he pulled the cigarette pack and lighter out of his shirt pocket and lit the first of the day. In the short time he had left before the police stormed in, Cole quickly surveyed his surroundings. Other than appearing to be a cheap motel room, they offered no clue as to where he was, or how he’d gotten there. Most significantly, he didn’t see anything that would tell him who the dead woman was he’d woke up lying next to.

A fog was clouding his mind, covering it like a translucent shroud. It wasn’t a hangover, though he had one of those, too. This was something different. Something strange and unknown. Once his head cleared, maybe he’d figure it out. He didn’t have time to worry about it now.

Cole knew what was coming next. There would be a loud bang on the door, and the shout of “ police.” He knew because, after fifteen years on the force, he’d participated in the drill numerous times. Previously, he’d always been on the other side of the door. Cole stumbled across the room and opened the door, as the officers scrambled up the stairs. Then he sat on the floor, and leaned back against the wall. He inhaled another drag from his Marlboro as two uniformed officers charged through the doorway with guns drawn. The long day had begun.

                                                                          #

The ride to the Precinct Station was uneventful. A uniformed officer had put Cole in the backseat of a Patrol Car. It was the first time he’d been behind the wire mesh divider, with no door handles or window controls. This was a space usually reserved for criminal suspects, but Cole’s brain was still too cloudy to question it. He’d had the presence of mind to tell the officers on the scene that he was a police detective, and show them his badge. Their only response was to insist that he surrender his department issue firearm and shoulder holster. Also his backup semi-automatic and holster, clipped to the back of his belt. He complied without complaint, but thought it was a crappy way to treat a fellow cop. An unknown detective rode in the front seat, next to the uniformed officer. He asked a few questions on the ride to the station, but Cole Ewards’ mind was too muddled to respond much beyond a blank stare. By the time they reached the precinct the brain fog was starting to dissipate, allowing the sunshine of clear thought to peek through. Cole still didn’t volunteer much information. He was mad about being treated like a common criminal.

                                                                           #

The Interrogation Room  was similar to one’s he’d been in before. A small, gray room with a table and four chairs. There weren’t any windows, only a solid steel door, and a large two-way mirror. Until today, Cole had always been on the opposite side of the table, interviewing witnesses or grilling suspects. A uniformed officer had brought him in, “ this way please, Detective Edwards,” and directed him to sit on this side of the table. The hot seat. So was he a witness, a victim, or a suspect? Cole looked at his reflection in the two-way mirror. The face staring back at him appeared haggard and drawn. And confused. It didn’t know the answer.

Another uniform came in and sat a styrofoam cup of coffee on the table. “ Here you are, detective. Compliments of the house.” The officer, unlike Cole’s reflection in the mirror, looked very young.

 “Thanks,” Cole said, appreciative of the kind gesture, and the dark, steamy liquid. It should help dissolve the cotton residing in his mouth. “ Any idea how much longer it’s going to be?”

The officer flashed that smile people reserve for questions they don’t know the answer to and said, “ I’m sure it won’t be long now.” Still smiling, he retreated through the door, the latch clicking shut behind him.          

He must not be a suspect. They don’t bring coffee, or anything else, to suspects. Cole picked up the cup of coffee and took a sip. It was black with sugar, the way he liked it. This wasn’t his precinct, but someone here knew him. Knew he drank coffee, and how he wanted it. As he pursed his lips for another sip, he looked at the two-way mirror again. Was someone watching him? Was the cop who knew him standing there now, observing his behavior and demeanor? Was he formulating an opinion as to his involvement in the murder? It was murder, wasn’t it? Cops don’t run into a room with their weapons drawn if they think there’s a death from natural causes. Cole’s focus returned to his reflection in the mirror. A strange smile crept across its face. He had no idea what there was to smile about. Maybe his subconscious was trying to tell him something about last night. Something his conscious mind couldn’t, or wouldn’t, remember. Whatever it was, the memory was miles away, lost in the fog. Or was it?

Serial killer. Cole didn’t know why he hadn’t thought of it earlier. There was a serial killer loose in the city. The press had dubbed him the “ Midnight Strangler.” They always have to give them a name. It’s good for business. Between the press reports, and police scuttlebutt, Cole knew the basics of the case. An anonymous call to the Police Department, giving directions to a room at a cheap motel. When the police arrived, they always found the same thing. Two people in bed, still wearing their clothes. One a man, totally clueless in a drug-induced stupor, the other a woman, totally dead. Strangled. Garroted. Probably with a thin, braided wire. That was all he knew about it. Now, he was the latest male victim. The smiling face in the mirror seemed pleased that he was starting to remember things.

                                                                           #

After what seemed like an excruciating amount of time, the door opened, and Detective Mike Bryerson walked in. He and Cole had served together in the Robbery Division of the Tenth Precinct, until Bryerson had been promoted to homicide and changed precincts. They’d been friendly, but not friends. Edwards had suspected  Bryerson of sleeping with his wife, Annie. He’d suspected her of sleeping with a lot of guys. Whether it happened or not, Cole hadn’t seen him in several years, and was pleased to see Bryerson had gained weight, and was losing his hair.

 “Hi Cole. It’s been a long time.”

 Mike Bryerson pulled out the chair across from Edwards and sat down. Cole simply looked at the detective and nodded. Bryerson brought a small recorder out of his inside pocket and placed it on the table.

 “Do you mind if I record our conversation?”

  Cole shook his head no. Bryerson punched a button on the recorder and began.

  “This is Detective Mike Bryerson conducting an interview with Detective Cole Edwards on June twenty-seven of this year. It’s in regard to events of the previous evening at Sunrise Motel. Specifically, the death of Julie Ann Warren. Detective Edwards, do you waive your right to counsel for the purposes of this interview?”

 Cole looked irritated, but replied “yes.”

Bryerson switched off the recorder. “I’m sorry, Cole, but we have to do this by the book. We’ve got a maniac on the loose, and we have to catch him. You’ve heard about it, right?”

  “Of course. It’s the talk of the department.”  

 Bryerson nodded and continued. “Well, I think you’re his latest victim. You and the woman you were with. I’m part of the task force trying to catch him. Since I know you, we thought I should be the one to do this interview. We’ve talked to all the other male victims and cleared them, so there’s nothing to worry about. Let’s just get this over with, and you can go home. Your captain’s already been informed of what’s going on,so he’s not expecting you to come in today.”    

 Edwards looked at Mike Bryerson. “Her name’s Julie Ann Warren?”

 “Yes. Did you know her?”

 Cole shook his head. “No.”

“Alright. I’ll fill you in on some of the investigation after we finish the interview. Of course, there are a few aspects of the case that I can’t disclose. To catch a nutcase like this, we need to have an ace in the hole. You understand.”          

Cole nodded in the affirmative. He’d worked complicated cases before, where there were certain things you didn’t talk about to people who weren’t working on the case. Not other cops. Not witnesses or victims. Not even Annie. He didn’t talk about work much with his wife anyway, and never over the past few years. They didn’t talk about anything. They only argued.

Bryerson turned the recorder back on. “Detective Edwards, tell me everything you remember about last night.”

 Cole hesitated. All he remembered about last night was going to a bar and getting drunk, like he did a lot of nights. Sometimes he drank so much he had  blackouts, and woke up at home the next morning , not remembering much of anything. He’d always been a drinker, but it had gotten worse since Annie left. That’s not the kind of thing one cop tells another. Still, he decided to tell the truth. If he didn’t, Bryerson would probably find out anyway, and if he lied during a murder investigation, it wouldn’t look good.

“I went to Harry’s Bar and Grill, a little place over on Euclid Street, about seven, to eat supper.”

 “Then what did you do? Did you leave?”

 Edwards hated this. He felt like a criminal. “Well, no, I didn’t leave. I stuck around and had a couple of drinks.”

 Bryerson’s eyebrows went up. “Just a couple of drinks?”

 Cole shrugged. “I don’t know, a few. Five or six. I wasn’t counting.”

  “Did you see anybody you recognized?”

  “No, just the bartender and waitress.”

 “Did you see Julie Ann Warren?”

  Cole thought for a moment. “No, I don’t remember seeing her.”

“Did you notice anyone watching you, maybe someone who looked away when you turned in their direction?”

  Cole tried to think, but last night was so fuzzy, he couldn’t remember much of anything. “No, I don’t remember anyone like that.”

 “Is there anything else you can tell me about last night?”

“I-I don’t know. I was sitting at Harry’s and the next thing I remember, sirens are blasting outside, and I wake up next to a dead body.” Cole was getting restless, but Detective Bryerson wasn’t finished yet.

 “What time was it at the bar, the last you remember?”

  “I don’t know. It was late, but not yet closing time. Sometime after midnight.”

  “Alright, Detective Edwards, thank you for your cooperation.” Bryerson turned off the recorder. The official interview was over.

Neither man said anything. They both seemed lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Bryerson spoke.

“I’m sorry you have to go through this, but we have to catch this guy.”

Cole agreed with that, though he didn’t see how a simpleton like Bryerson could ever accomplish it. Hopefully, the other members of the task force are smarter. Cole also hoped that when the police caught the killer, they shot him like a rabid dog, and saved everyone the expense of a trial. If he knew who it was, he’d shoot the bastard himself.

“I’ll help any way I can,” Cole said. He was tired, irritated, his mouth was dry, and his head was beginning to throb. “Of course, I don’t know how much help I can be. I really don’t remember anything.” He picked up the coffee and took a sip, then a big gulp. It was getting cold.

Mike Bryerson looked like he had a question he wanted to ask, but was reluctant to do so. While he was waiting for the detective to make up his mind, Edwards pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He knew smoking wasn’t allowed in here, or any public building, but right now he didn’t care. He glanced at Bryerson, expecting a reprimand. When none was forthcoming, he inhaled deeply, and noticed his hand was shaking. Between the events of last night, and being on this side of an interrogation, his nerves were shot.

Bryerson cocked his head. “I thought you quit smoking a long time ago.”

“Yeah, I quit once, but I started again a while back.” Cole inhaled again, his hand still shaking.

“Well, you really should quit. Those things’ll kill you.”

 It’s almost worth croaking, Cole thought, if it’d get me out of here.

Bryerson’s expression changed. He’d made up his mind about the question he’d been reluctant to ask. “So, Cole, how’s your wife doing?”

Edwards glared at him. What business was it of his? What did his wife have to do with the investigation? “Oh, she’s fine, I guess.”

 “You guess?”

Cole took a long drag off his cigarette and in a juvenile act of rebellion,blew the smoke toward Bryerson. Then he tapped his ash into the nearly empty coffee cup, which he’d converted to an ashtray. Still glaring he stated, “we’re separated. She’s staying up north with her sister.”

 It was a lie, but he wasn’t going to tell this jerk the truth. Annie had left him. Ran off. Probably with some guy. He had no idea where she was, or who she was with. At least, he thought, she must not be with this clown.

 “Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” Bryerson said, “but at least she’s safe.”

 Edwards looked at him quizzically. Safe? Safe from who? Me?

 “I know you were drugged,” Bryerson continued, “so I don’t know if you noticed. Julie Ann Warren bears a striking resemblance to your wife.”

Cole Edwards’ jaw dropped like it was weighted. Bryerson was right! The dead woman he woke up with was a dead ringer, no pun intended, for Annie. How could he have missed it? His mind must’ve been foggier than he thought.

Mike Bryerson looked around carefully, even though there wasn’t anyone else in the room but them, then leaned in close. “I don’t know if I should tell you this,” he said quietly, “ but all six women he’s killed are almost identical: petite, blonde, thirties, just like your wife. And it gets weirder.” He glanced around the room again. “Nobody outside the task force knows this, so keep it to yourself. None of the victims, male or female, knew any of the others. But all the men have a woman in their life, wife, girlfriend, sister, that looks just like the female victims. So this guy isn’t just killing surrogates, women who resemble his true target, he’s killing surrogates of the surrogates. How bizarre is that?”

Cole shook his head. This murderer sounded way beyond peculiar, even for a serial killer. The shrinks would have a field day trying to figure him out. Edwards was beginning to appreciate the tough spot old Bryerson was in. It almost made him feel sorry for the guy. Almost.

“Just a few more things, Cole, and then you can go home.” Bryerson could see the inquisitive look on the other detectives’ face. “It isn’t common knowledge,” he continued, “but he’s using Starfire to drug his victims.”

Edwards nodded. He knew what it was. Originally meant to be a sleep aid, it was being manufactured in a stronger form, then sold on the street under the name Starfire. It put people to sleep for hours and, as a side effect, wiped out their memory for up to two hours before it was ingested. Young guys were using it as a date rape drug. Women would wake up and not remember who they’d been with, or what happened. Now it was being used for murder.

“Also,” Bryerson said, “we’d like to get a sample of your DNA.”

 “So you have his DNA?”

 Mike Bryerson didn’t respond.

 “Alright, no problem,” Cole said. What did he care. He didn’t have anything to hide.

#

The nurse who drew his blood sample, and swabbed his cheek for DNA, wasn’t like the old crones the Police Department usually employed. She appeared to be in her late thirties, about Cole’s age. Despite not expecting Annie to return, and the nurse’s lack of a wedding ring, he wasn’t that interested. She wasn’t his type. She was reasonably attractive: tall, with a large frame, and long, dark hair. As with the killer, Cole preferred women who were short, petite, and blonde, like Annie. So they merely exchanged pleasantries, the nurse did her job quickly and almost painlessly, and he was free to leave.

                                                                           #

Edwards went downstairs to retrieve his car. Bryerson told him it had been parked at the motel, and they towed it to the precinct.  He didn’t remember driving to the motel. The Starfire must’ve erased his memory of going there. Maybe the killer had driven him there. And what about the woman? Had she been brought there in his car? He had many more questions than answers. The forensic team would’ve gone through it while he was being interviewed. They probably didn’t find anything. Whoever he was, the killer, as far as Cole knew, hadn’t left many clues behind. He was very good at his work.

Cole signed the paperwork to release his car, and was given his keys by a sergeant he didn’t recognize. He walked down the center of the garage until he spotted his car, at the end of the line of vehicles parked on the right. His dark blue Tahoe, in the corner of the dimly lit garage, appeared to be looming, ready to pounce on him as he approached. He stopped for a moment, afraid to go any closer. Finally he moved forward, chastising himself for being so foolish, and hit the button to unlock the doors. The headlights blinked a greeting, ominous in the dark garage. He opened the front door, and quickly got inside. He knew there was nothing here, in a police garage, to be scared of, yet he was trembling with fear. Having no memory of his encounter with a killer was making him feel vulnerable and, for the first time since he became a cop, truly afraid.

Cole started the car, and quickly drove the length of the garage toward the open door, and the safety of the bright sunlight. As he drove across town, he began to feel a little better. His hands, which had been shaking uncontrollably, were beginning to regain their composure. At least enough that he could get a cigarette out of his pocket and lit, without dropping it or the lighter. What he really needed was something for his throbbing head, and a stiff drink.

                                                                           #

Cole pulled into his driveway and stopped, as the squad car that had been following him since he left the station parked across the street. It was standard protocol. He was technically a suspect, until he was officially cleared. And a witness. And a victim. With the killer still at large, it was essential for the police to keep a watch on him, for his own safety. In his current state of mind, and with his guns temporarily out of his possession, he was grateful for their attention.

Detective Cole Edwards didn’t like being a victim. Why him? Why had the killer picked him to be an unwilling participant in his macabre little game? Was it because of Annie? According to Bryerson, the only connection between the victims was a specific female body type: blonde, petite, thirties, just like Annie. Only she’s been gone for weeks. Has the killer been stalking him all this time, following him around, spying on him? The idea gave him the creeps. It might even be someone he knows! He’d been in scary situations on the force, but nothing this terrifying! What if the maniac comes back? No, that probably won’t happen. The next time, and until he’s caught there’ll always be a next time, he’ll find some other poor chump to fulfill his sick fantasy. Cole got out of the car, and went inside the house. He glanced out the front window at the squad car across the street. Its’ presence didn’t make him feel much better.

                                                                           #

 In the Situation Room at the precinct, the members of the serial killer task force were gathered around the desk of their boss, Detective Mike Bryerson. He was nervously tapping an ink pen on his desktop. He was already getting heat from the top brass, who were constantly being questioned by the press about the Midnight Strangler. Now one of their own, Detective Cole Edwards, was involved. If the press found out that a cop was the most recent male victim, or worse, a possible suspect, it would really hit the fan. Bryerson knew the crap would ultimately land on him. He also knew that sometimes, you just have to play the cards you’re dealt. He sighed, and laid the pen on his desk.          

“Ok, here’s what we know about the latest murder. The killer has changed part of his method of operation. He’s never used a victim’s car before. At least, he’s never left it at the scene. It’s possible he may have been interrupted, and fled before he was finished. But my guess is, it was intentional. Also, he left a bag with his murder kit in it in the back seat. The forensics guys are checking it, but they’ve confirmed that it contained Starfire, and a wire garrote. I don’t believe the killer would’ve left it accidentally. It’s too sloppy. Our guy’s very methodical. Finally,” Bryerson took a deep breath, “our latest male victim is one of us. Detective Cole Edwards. Until the DNA clears him, Edwards is still technically a suspect, but I think it’s safe to assume he isn’t our killer. He may drink too much, but he isn’t an idiot. So now this s.o.b. has come after a cop. A detective just like us.” Bryerson looked around at the other detectives. “Any ideas?”

“Maybe he’s trying to frame Edwards so we’ll think we’ve got our man, and stop looking.”

“Maybe. But then he’d either have to change his m.o., or stop killing altogether. I think his victim preferences are too specific for him to change, and I don’t see him stopping voluntarily. He enjoys it too much.”

There was a momentary silence, then another detective spoke. “Maybe he’s taunting us. He picks a cop to be his victim, and leaves evidence implicating him. The bastard thinks we can’t catch him, and he’s rubbing our noses in it.”

Bryerson nodded his head in agreement. The killer was smart, but now he was becoming arrogant and overconfident. That could be his downfall.

The Desk Sergeant stepped into the room. “Detective Bryerson, the chief wants to talk to you. He’s on line two.”

Bryerson looked down, and saw the light flashing on his desk phone. “Thanks sergeant.”

Mike Bryerson looked at the other detectives. “Well, I’d better take this. I don’t know what to tell him, though. You guys get back to work, and let me know if you come up with anything.” Then he reached, reluctantly, for the phone.

                                                                             #

Cole Edwards opened his eyes. When he got home, he’d poured himself a glass of Jack Daniels and water, downing more than half of it immediately. Then he got two painkillers for his throbbing head, and two Valiums for his nerves, out of the stash of drugs he’d stolen from the police evidence locker. He washed them down with the remainder of the whiskey and water. Next he went into the living room, sat in his recliner, and turned on the television. Jeopardy! appeared on the screen. “Alex, what is the Strait of Gibraltar?” He soon drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep. When he awoke, the news was on. It was nearly six o’clock. He’d slept most of the day. His head no longer hurt, and his nerves were steadier. He got up, stretched, and went to the front window and peeked through the curtain. There was still a squad car parked across the street. After going to the bathroom he went to the kitchen, poured another whiskey and water, lit a cigarette, and sat down at the kitchen table to think.

Cole knew he would be quickly cleared as a suspect. Since Bryerson had wanted his DNA, they must have some of the killers’ to compare it with. He was sure that the DNA results would be back in record time.They wouldn’t want to have a cop as a possible suspect. When he was cleared, his guns would be returned, and he could go back to work.

He wondered what could drive someone to do what this killer was doing. He could understand anger, even rage. He’d experienced it when the arguments between him and Annie had become heated, or when he was a teenager, after his father left. His mother, always religious, became almost unbearable. She wouldn’t let him go anywhere, or do anything with his friends. She was always berating him, and constantly quoting Bible verses. He never told anyone, but he was relieved after her accidental death when he was seventeen. But he didn’t understand the kind of premeditated murder this killer was committing. How could killing a surrogate, or a series of surrogates, give someone satisfaction? Maybe it didn’t. Or at most, it was fleeting, which is why he needed to repeat it over and over again. Why didn’t he kill the real object of his anger, wouldn’t that be more gratifying? Unless she was unattainable, in hiding, or already dead.

#

At the Precinct Station, Detective Mike Bryerson had just gotten off the phone with his wife. He was staying late, and wouldn’t be home for supper any time soon. The idea of missing out on his wife’s pork chops  didn’t appeal to him, but he wanted to wait for all the results from the Forensics Laboratory. All day he’d had a gut feeling that the case was coming to a head. He could sense that something big was coming. The killer was beginning his end game, whatever it might be. He’d changed his m.o., and left clues behind. He’d directly involved a police detective, making him a victim. Bryerson believed the murderer was ready to commence the conclusion to his personal Shakespearean tragedy, and he wanted to be ready when the final act began.

                                                                           #

Cole was getting hungry, and restless. There wasn’t anything in the refrigerator he could use to cobble together something resembling a meal. He started  to get a frozen dinner from the freezer, but remembered there weren’t any left. He could go to a fast food restaurant, but their meals were all missing one crucial ingredient that he desperately needed, alcohol. He decided to go to the Downtown Lounge, one of his favorite haunts, which featured rubbery steaks to go along with an abundant supply of liquor.

He didn’t want the squad car out front following him. The rest of the force needn’t know about his nocturnal habits. He especially didn’t want Bryerson knowing he’d gone to a bar again tonight. Cole thought if he left the television on, and turned on a few lights, the officers across the street wouldn’t know he’d left. He could leave his car in the driveway, and slip out the back to where Annie’s car was sitting by the alley. That’s one reason he was sure she’d run off with a man. She hadn’t taken her car.          

As Cole walked into the living room to turn on a light, a cast iron elephant sitting on the coffee table caught his eye. He’d given it to her as a birthday present shortly after they were married. He picked it up and held it close to his nostrils, trying to catch a wisp of her perfume, a slight trace of her essence, but there was nothing. He missed Annie, but not in the way a husband is supposed to miss his wife. It was more the way you might miss a prized possession that’s been stolen or lost. There’d been too many arguments, and accusations. He’d picked up the elephant once during one of their heated arguments, and nearly thrown it at her.

A large mirror was hanging on the living room wall. Cole thought it was a godawful ugly thing, but Annie had insisted they buy it. She said it reminded her of the mirror in her parents’ house. Cole didn’t want or have anything to remind him of his sullen, drunken father, or his Bible quoting mother.

He caught his reflection in the hideous mirror, and it was smiling again. It seemed to be saying, “I know something you don’t know.” Cole hurled the elephant at the mirror, the way he’d wanted to throw it at Annie. The elephants’ trunk broke, and the mirror shattered in a hundred shards of bad luck. He headed for the back door. He’d clean up the mess tomorrow.                                                                           

#

The phone on Detective Mike Bryerson’s  desk was flashing. It was after eight o’clock, and he was still waiting, hoping to get some answers from the lab. The night shift Desk Sergeant had ordered some pizza, and graciously invited Bryerson to join him. Now satiated and ready to go home, he was only awaiting news from the Forensic Department. If this was them on the phone, his night would either be ending soon, or just beginning. The pepperoni and pizza sauce in his belly were starting to argue as he snatched up the receiver, punched the flashing button, and closed his eyes.

“Hello, this is Bryerson.” There was a hesitation on the other end of the line.

“Uh, Mike, this is Connie in the lab. I think you need to get down here right away.”

“Ok, did you find something?” There was another pause.

“Yes, but I think we should talk about it in person.”

Bryerson didn’t know why the lab tech was being so cagey. “Alright. I’ll be right there.”

“Thanks, Mike, it’s important.”

#

Cole Edwards had finished his dinner of steak, french fries, and two beers. He switched to whiskey and water, and was on his third, when the phone in his pocket began to vibrate. He sat his glass on the table, and pulled out the aggravating device. Whatever this call was about, it had better be important. Between the food, the booze, and the country music whining from the jukebox, this was the best he’d felt all day. He didn’t know who could be spoiling his mood this late, unless it was Bryerson. He was right.

“Cole, can you come to the precinct? There’s been a break in the case, and I want you in on it.”

Edwards was surprised, but pleased. He wanted the killer caught as soon as possible, for his own peace of mind. So he told Bryerson he’d be right there, finished his drink, and walked outside.

The night air was becoming cold and unforgiving. Fog was rolling in from the river, slowly and silently creeping like a predator stalking its prey. It would soon envelope the darker areas of the city, partially obscuring them with a damp velvet shroud. This is the time when the creatures of the night begin their nocturnal activities. The stench of mayhem permeated the air, arriving with the fog like an unwanted guest. Cole shivered as he got in the car and started it. Bryerson had offered to send a car to pick him up, but he’d refused. He wasn’t too drunk to drive. He was, however, too drunk to notice the black sedan idling at the other end of the parking lot, lying in wait in the fog.

He’d only driven a few blocks when he realized he was being followed. As Cole zigzagged through the city, taking an indirect route to the precinct station, the black car followed him at a discreet distance, matching him turn for turn. It wasn’t the patrol car that was parked across from his house. It was a plain sedan, like anyone might drive. Even a serial killer. Cole reached for his gun out of habit, before remembering it’d been confiscated. He fumbled his phone out of his pocket to call Bryerson, but dropped it on the floorboard. The dark pursuer continued to follow at the same distance, never growing or shrinking in Cole’s rear view mirror. It was as if they were tethered by an invisible umbilical, and Cole was unwillingly pulling the killer along with him toward a predetermined fate.

Cole jumped the curb at the precinct, and slid awkwardly into a parking spot at the front of the building. Though the interior of the car had warmed up, he was shivering. He flung the drivers door open and leapt out. As he hurried to the front door of the station, he glanced down the street. The black sedan had stopped a block away. It was setting with its parking lights on, quietly purring in the fog, like a big cat waiting to pounce.

                                                                           #

Detective Mike Bryerson had never been inside the lair of a serial killer. It wasn’t what he’d expected. In the movies and on television, there were always walls plastered with pictures of the killer’s victims, or newspaper articles about his crimes, or both. There was no evidence of any of that here.  

Bryerson had called the other members of the task force and gathered them at the precinct  while they waited for a lawyer from the District Attorney’s Office to round up a judge, and secure the Search Warrant. Entry was quick and quiet. The killer wasn’t home.

So far, the search had turned up a few items that could be of consequence. A few pills that might be Starfire. A roll of braided wire that might match the garrote used by the killer. It would all have to be tested by the lab to be sure. The things they’d found were suspicious, but there wasn’t anything definitive. Bryerson was in a bedroom, fruitlessly tearing through drawers of clothes, when another detective ran panting into the room.

“Mike, you need to come down to the basement. I think we’ve found something.”

                                                                           # 

They put Cole in the Interrogation Room again. When he rushed into the precinct, he told the Desk Sergeant who he was, and that he was working with Detective Bryerson. He also said he’d been followed, possibly by the Midnight Strangler, and the car was setting down the street. The sergeant sent a couple of uniforms to check it out. Then two Patrol Officers escorted him to interrogation. They sat him on the backside of the table, where he’d been before, with nothing to look at but the two-way mirror. He was getting tired of seeing his own reflection.

Einstein said that as you approach the speed of light, time speeds up. What he didn’t say was sitting in a Police Precinct Interrogation Room slows it down. When he’d been brought into the room, the officers had told him that Detective Bryerson was out of the precinct, but wanted Edwards to wait until he got back.  Cole didn’t know what time it was, or how long he’d been there. His phone was stranded on the floorboard of Annie’s car, where he’d dropped it while being stalked by the black sedan, and he didn’t wear a watch. He only knew it seemed like he’d been waiting forever. This isn’t how you treat a fellow cop. It had to be late, probably sometime after midnight.

He raised his aching head from the table, where it’d been resting on his folded arms. The reflection in the mirror bore little resemblance to the man Cole Edwards used to know. It was grayish, with bags under its bloodshot eyes. The corners of its mouth drooped in a manner suggesting resignation and surrender. The arrogant smile that had taunted him earlier in the day was nowhere to be found.

Cole straightened up in the chair. Snap out of it! You’re a police detective, not some murdering creep they can keep in this hole all night. I’ll have a smoke, and if nobody’s shown up by the time I’m finished with it, I’m leaving. If Bryerson doesn’t want my help, then to hell with him. They can give my guns back, and if the killer comes around me again, I’ll take care of him myself. The dull, glazed eyes in the mirrored glass had regained their primal spark. As Cole was reaching to take his cigarettes out of his pocket, the door opened. It was Detective Bryerson.    

Edwards slipped the cigarette pack back into his pocket. Bryerson sat down and stared at him without saying anything. Time seemed to stop, as if the universe came to a screeching halt. Cole decided he’d waited long enough. If Byerson wouldn’t start talking, then he would.

“I was followed here by a car, a black sedan. It may have been the killer.”

Bryerson shook his head no. “It wasn’t the killer. A couple of my guys were tailing you. We tracked your phone.”

Anger began to rise in Cole. “You had me followed? Am I a suspect now?”

Mike Bryerson considered his answer before he spoke. “No, you’re not a suspect. You’re him. You’re the killer.”

Cole Edwards was stunned. “What? I’m the victim here! I gave you my DNA. Don’t you have the results yet? Doesn’t it prove I’m innocent, or did you manage to screw it up?”

Now it was Bryerson who was angry. He jumped up and placed both hands on the table, leaning in toward Edwards. “We’re not stupid! The forensic people found the little souvenir you always leave behind. You kiss the women on the forehead, leaving a trace of your DNA. You’re not as clever as you think you are. We’ve got you!”

The air in the room was becoming hot and stale. The room itself seemed to be getting smaller. Perspiration was popping out on Cole’s forehead like little droplets of guilt squeezed from his brain, parading in front of Bryerson like a marching band, proudly trumpeting that the detective was right. Cole Edwards is the killer! Only it isn’t true. It can’t be true.

“Wait!” yelled Cole. “You know me. I’m not a murderer. Somebody is trying to frame me. I don’t know how he got my DNA, but if we work together, we can figure it out. You just have to trust me. Now if we-.”

Bryerson slammed his right palm down, shaking the table, and the desperate man sitting at it. “My God, Cole, we found Annie! She was wrapped in plastic in the freezer in your basement.”

Silence engulfed the room. It mingled with the heat and closeness and sweat and fear. Cole didn’t know what to say, what to think, what to feel. Annie was dead? The killer put her body in his house? When? He couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked in the freezer. Had she been there all along? All this time he’d been cursing her for running off, and she’d been dead the whole time? His mouth was moving, but no words were coming out. His mind was unable to make it speak. It was up to Detective Bryerson to break the silence.

“Stand up, Cole. If you promise not to make a scene, I won’t put the cuffs on. The guys outside will read you your rights, and make the formal arrest. I-I don’t want to do it myself.”

Bryerson shook his head. He’d just caught a serial killer, a monster, yet he felt like the one who’d been beaten.

Cole stood up blankly and eased around the table, toward the spent detective. As he approached he seemed to swoon, and fell to the floor at Bryerson’s feet. He grabbed at the detective’s lower right leg. Bryerson still kept his backup gun in an ankle holster. Cole pulled it out, and leapt to his feet.

 “Cole, what’re you doing?”

 “I’m sorry, Bryerson, but I need time to think.”

 Mike Bryerson held out his right hand. “Don’t be foolish, Cole. Give me the gun before someone gets hurt.”

Edwards had no desire to hurt anyone, but he needed time to focus. “Go on out, and tell the others to stay out. I don’t want to shoot anybody, but I will if I have to. I just need a little time. I’ll come out when I’m ready.”

 “Ok, Cole, just don’t do anything stupid.”

Bryerson turned and opened the door. He could feel the gun in the middle of his back. “I’ll help you any way I can, Cole. This doesn’t have to end badly.”

Edwards pushed him outside, and closed the door. Then he grabbed a chair, and propped it against the door, so it couldn’t be opened from the outside. There were people on the other side yelling, but he ignored them. They were only background noise. He was alone.

Cole wandered around the room like a lost child, trying to reassemble his thoughts. Annie was dead. The police believed he was the killer. They’d found his DNA on the bodies. Annie was dead. He wished Bryerson believed him, and was willing to help him figure it out. He needed someone, or something, to tell him what was happening, what he should do. He looked around the room, desperately searching for answers. He didn’t see anything except his reflection in the mirror again. The knowitall smile had returned.

Outside the Interrogation Room, Detective Mike Bryerson quieted everybody down.

“Just leave Edwards alone for now. He isn’t going anywhere, and he knows it.”

Bryerson sent for a negotiator and, though he hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, the Swat Team. He could see Cole pacing around the room, then  stopping close to the glass, facing it.He was smiling. Mike Bryerson knew something was about to happen. His gut told him it wouldn’t be something good. 

As Cole stared at his reflection, the subconscious memories flooded him like a tsunami.  He saw, he remembered, everything. Using police resources to find and track his victims. Following them. Drugging them. Flashing his badge and gun to control them. Strangling the women, and placing a kiss on their foreheads; not out of remorse, but satisfaction. He’d done it while having what he thought were alcoholic blackouts. And he saw much more. His mother laboring down the basement steps with a full laundry basket, yelling at him. “You want to take a girl to a dance? Absolutely not! You’re not going to be a whore chaser like your worthless father. Not while I’m alive. ‘Romans 623: For the wages of sin is death.’” It hadn’t taken much, only a slight push in the back. Her blonde, petite, thirty-six year old body lying on the concrete floor. His mother the saint, suffering the slow, agonizing, martyr-like death she’d always wanted; as he stood over her, smiling. And he saw Annie, standing at the kitchen stove with her back to him, telling a joke she’d heard from someone, probably a lover. “What’s the last thing that goes through a bugs’ mind when it slams into a car windshield? Its’ butthole.” He saw himself looping the wire over her head and around her neck, pulling it taut. He took great pleasure in slowly choking the life out of her body. Then he touched his lips to her forehead in a final kiss, all the while, smiling.

The revelations, the memories inside Cole Edwards’ head, were spinning. The Furies had him in their grasp, refusing to relinquish control. Faster and faster they spun, spiraling out into space, until Cole was gone, only his reflection remaining.

The image in the mirror put Bryerson’s gun to its head, the barrel pressing against the blood vessels pounding beneath the skin. Its thumb gently pushed the safety until it clicked off and then-

“The wages of sin is death.”

The forefinger caressed the trigger guard, slowly slipping inside and then-

“The wages of sin is death.”

The finger coiled around the trigger like the serpent in the Garden of Eden and then-

“The wages of sin is-”

What’s the last thing that goes through a killer cop’s mind when he slams into reality?

 A bullet.     


Bio: Steve Bates is retired from the newspaper business and lives in rural Missouri where he watches the seasons change, reads, writes some, smokes too much, and drinks too little. His first novel, Come Dance With Me, is about a solitary police detective who’s nearing retirement and questioning his past mistakes and uncertain future. He becomes involved in what on the surface appears to be a simple suicide case, but which propels him back to a similar case when he was a rookie cop thirty years earlier. As the eerie similarities compound, and ghosts from the past reappear, he begins to question not only whether these events were truly suicides, but the possibility of unknown, otherworldly forces being at work. Come Dance With Me is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.    

     

                                                                           

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