Chapter 25: Epiphany

As O’Malley and I slept, the newest murder was the talk of the town. I knew because, when we got up that evening and turned on the TV, it was all over the news.

“Dammit, Grin! What did this one do?” O’Malley scolded.

“Caught him raping a woman,” I said, watching the screen, perplexed. “I don’t get it. Why aren’t they mentioning that part?”

“Wait, so you just pulled ‘im off ‘er and killed ‘im right in front of ‘er?”

“Y’know, I can tell when you’re angry. You start sounding way more Irish. …It’s really sexy,” I said, and smiled.

She rolled her eyes and slouched back in the couch.

“Look, don’t worry, all right? She barely even saw me,” I told her. “Besides, it doesn’t look like she came forward. They’re not saying anything about the rape.”

She took a breath to argue, but there was a knock on the door. O’Malley sighed and got up. I watched some of the next news story. It seemed that, over the past few weeks, three guys had been found in hotel rooms, tied naked to their beds, robbed and strangled.

When O’Malley opened the door, Dodger was standing there, grinning, holding up a folded slip of paper between his fingers. “The address, as per your request. He’s there right now, and he goes there often, it seems. The waiter brought him a coffee without even asking what he wanted.”

I came up behind O’Malley as she took the paper and read it. It was an address to some place downtown. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Our key to finding out what Tanner thinks of all this,” she answered, and looked up at Dodger. “How long has he been there?”

“Followed him there from his work, watched him sit down, came here straightaway.”

“Okay. Dress down, Grin,” she told me, shoving the paper in her pocket. “Don’t want him recognizing you.”

“Wait a minute… We’re going to see Tanner?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes. Hurry up and change, and meet me in the garage,” she said without any further explanation. She went out onto the stairs with Dodger and closed the door.

“Yeah. He won’t recognize this forgettable face…” I muttered to myself, and went upstairs to change.

I obeyed O’Malley’s instructions and dressed in a plain black t-shirt, blue jeans, and tied my hair back, leaving my bangs in my face to cover my scars. Then we hopped in my car and went to the address, a small café downtown.

“This is crazy,” I said to her before we went inside. “I can’t go near this guy! He searched for my body! You think he didn’t memorize what I looked like?”

“Think about what you just said,” she answered. “He was looking for your body. Do you really think he’ll believe that he saw it strolling around Arlington?”

“No, but—”

“Then what are you worried about? You’re not even gonna be the one talking to him.”

“So you go talk to him and tell me what he says.”

“This is your thing, Grin,” she reminded me sternly. “You’re the one that decided to start knocking off scumbags and leaving your mark on them. You wanna be a vigilante? You gotta learn from one.”

She watched me for a long time, waiting for my response. This was different from what I had done the night before, letting myself get captured on camera. For all anyone knew, it could’ve been a prank, just some guy in a wig breaking into the school and playing a sick joke with a dead kid as the punchline. But now I was about to be seen in the flesh by a guy who had probably spent a lot of time studying photos of me so he would recognize my corpse if it washed onto the riverbank or turned up in a roadside ditch. I hated it, but she was right. She didn’t just kill scumbags, she got paid to do it. That was how good she was. And if I wanted to stay ahead of Tanner, I had to know what he knew.

I sighed heavily and started for the door. O’Malley followed me inside. We took the booth next to his, separated by a dividing wall just tall enough to hide our heads as we sat down, though I had to hunch over a bit to take advantage.

“How is this gonna work?” I asked in a low voice.

“It’s simple. First, we order. Then, I’m gonna head to the ladies’ room. On my way back, I’m gonna recognize him from the news, ask him some questions as a concerned citizen, and see what he can give me,” she whispered.

“That’s it? You should at least say you’re a reporter or something, or he’s not gonna have much to say.”

“He’ll have more than nothing to say,” she assured me.

The waiter came to the table and, as we were ordering the coffees we had no intention of drinking, someone showed up and sat down with Tanner. He was a heavy guy with a balding head, mustache, and glasses. Obviously another cop.

“Hey, Mike. Thanks for coming out,” Tanner said.

“You’ve been working since four AM, kid,” Mike said. “Do you ever sleep?”

The waiter left and returned with our drinks, but O’Malley wasn’t going through with her plan. She sat there with her brow knit in concentration, staring thoughtfully at the table.

“Once you hear what I’m about to say,” Tanner answered, “you’ll see why I don’t.”

O’Malley looked up at me and I realized why she hadn’t gotten up yet. From the looks of things, she wouldn’t have to.

“All right… Let’s hear it,” Mike said.

“I was going over the prints,” the detective began. “Y’know, from the last few murders?”

“The Drained?”

“No, the Carved. The guy from behind the strip club and the one from this morning. Found the same set of prints at both.”

“Not surprised. Same, um… ‘unique’ facial mutilation… ID’d the guy?”

“Prints aren’t in the system, but I matched ’em to something else… the knife we found in the guy who had his dick cut off.”

“Same killer?”

“Looks that way. Prints on the knife matched the ones on Strip Club’s throat and the gun in Bar Guy’s ass.”

O’Malley gave me a weird look. I shrugged.

“Shit…” Mike groaned.

“It goes deeper, Mike. Hear me out. Now, we know Dickless molested his niece the night he was murdered. But when I looked into the other two, I found they weren’t exactly boy scouts either.”

Tanner’s voice was getting progressively uneasy. I heard a lighter flicking. He lit a cigarette, inhaled and exhaled deeply, and continued with a bit more calm.

“I talked to Strip Club’s girlfriend the morning after we found him. Wasn’t home, but I tracked her down at her mom’s place. Asked her if she knew where her boyfriend was. She said he’d gone to the club the night before, and after he left, she went to her mom’s, where she’d been until I showed up. Now, there was a pretty fresh bruise on the girl’s face when I saw her, so naturally I asked if it had anything to do with why she spent the night there. It took some coaxing and she was really upset—you know how it’s hard for abused women to tell anyone what’s happening—but she told me, and… that was where things took a turn.

“I’d noticed when I walked in that her hand was wrapped up. Turns out, he’d broken her wrist and two of her fingers… Then she showed me stitches on the back of her head where he’d broken a beer bottle on her skull… And finally, she showed me her cigarette burns…”

“Shit,” Mike cursed again.

“Now, keep in mind, she didn’t know he was dead yet. She was terrified, kept going on about what he’d do to her when he found out she’d told a cop. She said he’d kill her. Then I told her someone else had already killed him.”

“Okay, but back up, kid. The same injuries the guy gave the girl were found on his corpse. That means whoever killed him knew what he’d done to her. Knew specifically.”

“Got that covered. Wasn’t her, even if her alibi was false. I mean, you saw that guy. Killer had to be a very strong man. Or an unnaturally strong woman, which this girl was not.”

“Maybe she hired someone? A hitman?”

O’Malley and I exchanged stern, nervous looks.

“Nah. She wouldn’t have kept lying about the abuse if she knew he was dead. Wouldn’t have been shocked by the news, either.”

That was good to hear, but our comfort was only momentary.

“Anyone else besides the mom know?”

“Unlikely. You gotta understand, the girl kept this thing tightly under wraps. Her mom didn’t even know about it until she confessed it to me.”

O’Malley closed her eyes in relief. Her client was safe.

Mike sighed. “All right, so what’s the big epiphany here?”

“I’m getting to it. Keep this part under your hat, okay?”

“You got it.”

“Okay. Earlier today, a woman came in, really upset, asking to speak to me. So I sat her down and asked what was wrong. She said she’d seen me talking about our Bar Guy on the news and she wanted to give a statement. She witnessed the murder. Couldn’t describe the killer, though. Said it had been too dark to see him, but she knew it was a ‘him.’ A very tall, lanky, shadowy ‘him.'”

I let out a breath. Thank you, weird vampire hypnotism.

“What? Why didn’t she report it when it happened?”

Tanner paused, took a long, hard drag off his cigarette, and forced himself to answer, “Because our victim was raping her when the killer showed up.”

I expected Mike to say “shit” again, but there was just a long silence. I was getting really nervous. Tanner was way too good at his job.

“Shit…” Mike finally murmured. “I see it now… The child molester, the abusive boyfriend, and now the—”

“Please, let me say this. I gotta get it outta my head.”

Tanner took another hard drag and blew it out harshly.

“The first victim raped a little girl. Stole her virginity, took a piece of her away, and the blood loss could’ve killed her. So the killer cut off a piece of him and left him to bleed and choke to death on the instrument of his crime. The second victim beat his girlfriend, so the killer beat him, leaving him with the same injuries he inflicted. The third victim raped a woman, so the killer raped him with the barrel of a gun and pulled the trigger. …Whoever’s doing this, Mike… he’s killing people in accordance with their sins.”

The two were quiet again, and O’Malley and I waited anxiously.

At last, Mike joked, “All right, I’m sold. Let’s find this guy and pin a badge on him.”

Tanner laughed a bit. “Not exactly what I was thinking…”

“Okay, so, what do you make of the facial mutilation? Some kinda calling card?”

“I thought so, but that doesn’t make sense. He didn’t do it to the first. But… Now, this is just a feeling, okay? …I think it’s less of a calling card and more of a… signal or something.”

“A signal?”

“Yeah… I mean, I’m assuming he’s a vigilante-type. All three of his victims were bad guys, but only the first was an obvious one. The little girl told her parents what he did, so they went to the police. The other two had silent victims. The abused girlfriend was too scared to speak out, and the rape victim was too embarrassed to come forward at first. I think, maybe, this guy carves their faces to send a message, that they were killed for a reason.”

“Wow… Never thought of it like that.”

“Just wait ’til you hear what else I found…”

“Damn, kid! Where does this end?”

“Just listen, okay?”

Mike sighed heavily.

“Did you know the last two were missing their blood?”

“Yeah. What, you think our Drainer just started carving his victims’ faces?”

“No, but I found a connection… Like I said, I was going through the prints, and on a hunch, I decided to compare the ones from the Drainer cases to the Carver’s. And Mike… You’re not gonna believe this…”

“Probably not. So give me one of those before you tell me.”

Tanner’s cigarette box slid across the table and Mike lit one.  “Okay, go,” Mike said.

“The Drainer’s prints? …They were on the Carver’s second victim. On the lapel of his leather jacket.”

Mike coughed hard and gulped down a drink of something. “What?”

“The Drainer and the Carver know each other. And I think they’re working together. …That’s what I wanted to tell you.”

“We gotta go,” I whispered to O’Malley. “He’s better than I thought. If he sees my car out there, he’ll recognize it.”

“Kid, I’m buying you a beer,” Mike said triumphantly.

“Um… Sure, let me pay the check.”

“All right,” O’Malley said. We left the money on the table and jumped up, maybe a little too quickly. Tanner and his friend reached the counter as we made it outside.

“Shit!” I cursed into the night. “What’re we gonna do?”

“Grin, calm down. He doesn’t know who we are,” O’Malley reasoned. “All he has are fingerprints. One set belongs to a ghost in this century, the other belongs to a guy who died in a motorcycle accident.”

It took me a long moment, but I decided to take her word for it. She’d been killing for over a century; there had to have been times when she’d almost gotten caught.

The door to the café began to open and Mike stepped out. I shoved my keys into O’Malley’s hands and ran around the corner, hoping she’d know what I needed her to do. I heard her open the driver side door, and Tanner called, “Excuse me, miss!”

Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit. Shit!

“Yeah?” she asked nonchalantly.

“Detective Tanner. Can I ask you some questions?”

“Sure.”

“Where’d you get this car?”

“I bought it.”

“From where?”

“A man in Findlay was selling it.”

“I see… He was also selling a motorcycle. A black Triumph Rocket III.”

“Yeah, I um… I bought that, too.”

What the hell are you doing? Don’t tell him that!

“Pretty big splurge for a young lady. What are you, sixteen?”

“Seventeen.”

“How’d you manage to afford them?”

“I was paying installments on the car. Until the seller died, anyway. He threw in the motorcycle because…” Sadness entered her voice as she said, “I was a friend of the original owner.”

“…You knew Jake Grinley?”

“Yeah… They were so important to him, y’know? His bike and his car… I couldn’t let them go to someone who didn’t care about him.”

“All right,” he said sympathetically. “I’m sorry to bother you. I’m deeply sorry for your loss, too.”

“Me too,” she sighed miserably.

“I haven’t forgotten about him, okay?” Tanner assured her. “Still keeping an eye out for him.”

“What’s the point?” she muttered bitterly. “He’s fucking dead.”

She slammed the door on Tanner, started the engine, and roared away from the curb. Tanner and his friend left soon after. Then I heard my car returning and O’Malley came back for me.

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