| SKINNERS by Jerry Roth ------- Full version available at Lulu.com
Tracy pulled the window shades down, switched the end table lamp on, and wondered how the early darkness could sneak up on her every year. Moonlight shone in through the edges of the shades giving them the appearance of high noon in the darkened family room. She pulled her long, curly, blonde hair behind her ears, secured her strands with a barrette, and smelled her tea that was brewing on the stove. She hated the isolation of night, almost as much as feeling of the first crisp, autumn breeze that began to chill the bones. Her fiancé, Josh never left her much since they moved in together a year ago. In fact, they never spent a night apart, never once, and this thought struck her with a sadness she hadn’t felt before. Although Josh would spend long nights on his scientific endeavors, working away endlessly, he was always in her bed before the sun could rise. She hung on tight to the hope that this night would be no different, oceans away or not, Josh might quietly undress in the dark and slide in next to her matching his body to hers. The thought was nice and she basked in the illusion a few more moments before letting it go. Science had stolen a lot of Josh’s precious time away from Tracy during their relationship and now a scientific convention in France gave them their first night without each other. Tracy understood the importance of the work in her man’s life and would never begrudge him a short trip that could garner him the success he has worked so long to achieve. Still, something deep inside, that she could never allow to surface, wanted Josh all to herself. Sharing him with the scientific world required an extreme act of will power, hers being slowly eroded over time. The hallway creaked loudly and rebounded off the walls making the sounds seem as if they were coming from an invisible strider somewhere just behind. When Tracy made it into the kitchen, she grabbed her cell phone of the table, flipped it open, and scanned the list of missed calls. Her sister Sara called her doctor, and a call that left her somewhat breathless, a call from Josh. Just seeing his name blinking in block text made her go weak. The cliché, weak in the knees never applied aptly and she imagine that it wasn’t likely to apply again, that is unless…she went all giddy with the enormous change that would sweep through their lives. Tracy dialed Sara’s number, listened closely, and poured hot, aromatic tea in a coffee mug, watching the steam rise from the cup like a spirit leaving its body. The solid lumps of sugar melting away transfixed her when a voice broke the silence.
“Hey, sis, what do you want? You know how busy I am,” Sara said. Tracy changed the hand that held her cell phone, stirred her drink, and wrinkled her face toward her unknowing sister.
“Blah, blah, blah. I’m so busy studying, poor me.” Tracy teased.
“I’d love to see the happy housewife take these medical courses,” Sara retorted through the phone static. “Did you get the news?”
“The doctor just now left a message,” Tracy said.
“Well, make sure you spill the news the moment you know, you hear me?”
“No can do.”
“Are you fooling with me?”
“Do you really think I would tell you before Josh?” Sara asked.
“You damned well better, I’ve known you a lot longer than Mr. Wonderful.” Tracy lifted the warm cup to her lips, tilted it until tea trickled into her mouth and instantly burned her tongue.
“Wow, that’s hot. I must go, sis. I’ll call you back later.”
“Don’t hang up…” Tracy was off the phone and dialing it immediately. She listened intently to the doctor’s message, swiveled in her chair excitedly, and let out a slight shrill. The feeling completely welled, and threatened to burst from every pore in her skin. Tracy snapped the phone shut in time to hear wind picking up, blowing heavily against the side of the house. The world seemed to reverberate the wood floors, shake the drywall, and groan uncomfortably like a hungry tornado looking for its next meal. A kitchen window, looked out to the relatively large lawn for a new development, into the darkness. The air was electric, charged with an energy that Tracy never felt before. She tasted copper, allowing her tongue to scrape against her teeth, sucking in the flavor again and again to discover the cause. Her eyes darted to the newly laid sod, and searching by the dimly lit porch light, nothing was out of place. With an abrupt burst the light crackled, a spark filled the globe, and shattered until only darkness remained. The sudden darkness forced her to take a few steps away from the window, to safety. Tracy, still focused on the broken light, returned her focus to her forgotten phone. Moving slowly into the living room, pushing a button when her fiancé’s number appeared, she placed the phone to her ear. A large crash rebounded from the backdoor, echoing through the house, and left Tracy too petrified to budge. The phone was already ringing when the second thud, this time louder than the first, jarred the receiver from her face. Her feet carried her further into the living room; she eyed the bedroom at the same moment a third, and decidedly, more destructive blow against the back door. The sound of splintering wood, and twisting metal soared freely toward her in a rush. Josh’s voice sailed in a muted tone from the phone, with Tracy running for her bedroom, slamming each door as she passed. She tuned her ears to the noises that grew in another part of the house, hunkered in a pile of shoes in a tiny closet, watching for any sign of movement. Open just a crack; the closet door bathed her face with a thin line of light. She heard a beep from the cell phone; panic stirred her voice to a whisper. “Josh, are you there? I think someone broke into our house.” Broken glass, followed by a large footstep, moved rhythmically toward the bedroom, and Tracy. Louder and louder, the sound of shattering glass rose to a peak, and then stopped altogether. She listened intently, hearing her own stuttering breaths in the silence. Tracy pushed closer to the crack, watched light shuffle under the bedroom door, and prayed she locked it on her way inside. The shadow beyond the door moved erratically, threw distorted images under the doorway, and rattled the doorknob violently. Her eyes stayed on the doorknob, relieved that it held tight. Thunderous crash entered the room; surprise forced a scream from Tracy in the dark closet.
Blue and red lights blanketed the small line of homes, some finished, and others in varied states of completion. An officer pushed bystanders past an edge of sidewalk, unrolled yellow, caution tape and fastened it around a stake positioned at the corner of the property. Investigators crouched on hands and knees on the front lawn, like children collecting insects for a science project. They combed lush, green grass for anything out of the ordinary, all the while knowing the real clues were waiting inside, out of reach. An unmarked police car drove past the house, screeched to a stop, and reversed in line with the mailbox.
“The good life,” Bruiser said, He looked up and down at the monstrous, stained-glass entryway. Bruiser exited the Caprice Classic. The car rose, lifted inches from its lower level by the absence of its passenger, and righted itself with a creak from the springs. Bruiser was heading toward the home before his old partner has the chance to leave his car seat.
“Wait up, Bruiser.” If Bruiser heard his partner, he never let on. He rushed under the yellow tape, brushed by a crime scene technician, who was already gathering evidence, and ducked into the luxury home. The color of the living room caught Bruiser off guard; his legs began to buckle and threatened to heave his gigantic body to the floor. Blood splatters trailed down the walls, trickles ran the length of the living room floor, like the finger painting of a first grader. The amount of blood didn’t upset Bruiser; although it didn’t help it was the vivid color that sent his mind into a swirl. The blood seemed fresh, too fresh, like the perpetrator left seconds earlier with the sound of their arrival. The old officer stepped next to his partner, breathing heavy, coughing into his a handkerchief, and not yet noticing the blood that decorated the room.
“What I miss?” Jake asked.
“You missed a blood bath,” Bruiser said. He grabbed the jacket of the closet flatfoot and turned him around. “Are you the first responder?”
“That’s right, William.” Bruiser and Jake grabbed his hand. “ We got a call an hour ago, nothing too out of the ordinary, loud screaming, broken furniture. A typical domesticate call, until I got here and saw for myself.” Bruiser shook his head slowly with some respect for what he walked into.
“So what do we have to start with?” Bruiser said.
“As far as we can tell, breaking and entering, initially,” William said.
“Initially?” Jake asked.
“So what’s missing, what was stolen?” Bruiser questioned. William shook his head, staring at the blood trail for an answer.
“Nothing was stolen, stolen or out of place. It wasn’t a robbery, not at all,” William said.
“Why are you so sure?” Bruiser asked.
“Because of this, look.” Picture frames, of all sizes line the hall. The glass is shattered in the center of each, obscuring the picture of Tracy and Josh smiling happily.
“Someone punched every picture in the house. The motivation was jealously. Have we identified the victim yet?”
“Yeah, the victim is the woman in the picture, Tracy Witmar. The soon-to-be Mrs. Josh Sterling,” William said.
“Where is this fiancé, Josh?”
“He’s in France, been there two days. We broke the news and he should be home tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a great homecoming,” Bruiser said, “There, right there.” Bruiser pointed to a tinge of red on the crackled glass. “There’s a trace of blood. Houston, we have DNA. All we need now is a fingerprint.”
“Then you’re gonna love me, detective,” William said, humor in his voice for the first time. “Take a gander at the living room window.” Bruiser spun around, shock capturing his expression. The window, spotlessly clean except for a complete handprint made of blood in the center.
“You got to be kidding me, DNA and fingerprints? You all can go home, this should be wrapped up by tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Jake added, “Did you notice the area around the handprint? No sign of struggle, no blood splatters. The assailant went out of their way to leave these prints. This was no accident. We were meant to find these.”
“So, a mistake is a mistake,” Bruiser said.
“The over confidence of this killer makes me nervous.”
“Are you ready to see the body, detectives?” William asked. The officer led the way, looking down to avoid the bloody, sticky path to the bedroom. The three men found Tracy’s body, a hush fell, and they took an extra moment to stare at each other, anything to keep from looking down at Tracy.
“Have either of you heard of anything like this before?” William asked.
“Yeah, maybe, there was a man named Damon Torinson who was a serial killer in these parts, he was electrocuted at the Reclamation facility in the sixties. He done some things that looked as bad as this, maybe,” Jake said.
“This killer took pleasure in this, Jake. The cuts are precise, he was relishing this, making up for lost time.”
“What do you mean?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know, I really don’t. What’s that, in her hand?”
“It’s a phone,” William said.
“You mean to tell me that Tracy was able to hold onto the phone the entire time this psycho carved her?”
“I guess so.”
“That must be some important call,” Bruiser said.
“We’re checking the calls now,” William said.
SKINNERS by Jerry Roth -- Full version available on Lulu.com
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