On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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Chain of Evidence
This is probably the worst case of my career, Morris thought.
He had made detective only the previous year, reasonably young as these things go, and it seemed that whatever luck was propelling him had now resolutely run out. Morris had managed to get five hours of sleep after leaving the precinct last night, before being woken by the call he was dreading.
There’s been another one.
That’s what his junior partner Blane had told him, sounding as edgy as Morris was. Twenty minutes after hanging up, Morris was on the road, heading to a refrigerated goods warehouse half a mile from the docks. He parked just outside the unnecessary cordon, and reflected on the fact that while the flashing blue lights weren’t a positive sight for anyone, it was only police officers who knew the true dread that they could inspire.
“Morning,” Blane said, handing Morris a cup of coffee that wasn’t just appreciated, but absolutely required. Blane gestured towards the open doorway flanked by two uniformed officers, and Morris just nodded, content to follow the younger man in.
“I didn’t have breakfast,” Morris said, glancing at the racks of frozen meat, and shelves of pre-packaged foods.
“Probably for the best,” Blane replied, as they reached a wider area where little yellow evidence-markers were already dotted around the otherwise conspicuously empty floor. Morris sighed, steeling himself, and looked up.
The latest victim hung there, attached to a hook in the manner that Morris had been expecting, but hoping wouldn’t turn out to be true. It was the body of a twenty-something male, slim-built, average height. And of course there was the now-familiar facial injury.
“Looks just like the rest,” Blane said, with his gift for stating the obvious. “At least at first glance. The examiner will be here shortly. Not much else for us until forensics finishes up.”
Morris nodded, sickened with the whole thing. He found he was actually looking forward to getting back into the precinct. He jerked his thumb in the direction of the door they’d just come in, and Blane wordlessly followed him. Each drove in silence, Blane following Morris, lost in their own thoughts.
It was less than three hours later when the medical examiner’s preliminary report arrived, in a thick folder, complete with a bright pink sticky note on the front advising Morris to go straight to the ancillary document.
“Dental casts?” he muttered to himself, which prompted Blane to get out of his own chair and come over to Morris’ desk. He waited nearby while Morris read the appendix, and after a minute he saw the other man blink several times, look back at a previous section, and then place the whole file down on his desk. A moment later, Morris stood up and walked over to the window.
“You alright there?” Blane asked, but Morris didn’t immediately reply. It took another minute or so before he spoke, without turning around.
“Those marks on the faces of the victims are from teeth,” Morris said. “Hence the dental casts.”
“The guy bit them?” Blane asked, unsettled by the idea. The facial wounds were inflicted post-mortem, which was unfortunately not unusual, but they had a strange punctuated pattern. The discrete impacts of teeth would make sense, but there were only two small, blunt punctures in each case.
“No,” Morris replied. “They were molars, from the back of the mouth. You couldn’t bite with them. And they weren’t the same for each victim.”
Blane pondered this revelation for a moment. “Surely we’re not dealing with multiple perpetrators?”
“Hopefully not,” Morris said. “And the victims are also apparently each missing molars. There’s a match there for the wounds, too.”
Blane was losing track. “A match to which one?”
“One each,” Morris said, looking a bit pale. “Except the first victim. Not sure we’ll ever resolve that one. No match for his wounds.”
Blane ran through everything Morris had said, trying to make it all line up, but eventually he sighed. “Break it down for me. What am I missing?”
Morris nodded, having expected the question. “The M.E. says that the molars were extracted and probably attached to something that could be using to create the facial wounds. Like a knuckleduster or something like that.”
“Christ,” Blane said. “The molars from the first victim?”
Morris shook his head, although the observation as partially correct. That was the worst part of it.
“The wounds on the second victim’s face were made with the molars from the first one,” he said. “And so on. Right down the line, like a… like a bloody chain letter. Including the guy today.”
Blane seriously considered whether he was about to lose the meagre breakfast he’d managed to eat when they arrived back at the precinct earlier. He took a breath and steadied himself, looking up at the patchy ceiling and focusing on a particular stained tile. After a few seconds, his stomach settled a little. Then a thought occurred to him.
“The first victim had a wound too,” he said quietly. Morris met his gaze, but didn’t say anything. A reply was unnecessary. They were both good at their jobs.
“We should take that file upstairs and see what the DS has to say,” Blane continued, and this time Morris did nod. Blane picked up the phone on Morris’ desk, pressed a button, and waited just a moment.
“It’s Blane, sir,” he said into the receiver. “Yes, sir. We have it here. I’ve got some bad news.“
He made eye contact with Morris, but the other man only shrugged, which Blane took as permission to go ahead. Blane cleared his throat before speaking again.
“The first victim wasn’t the first, sir,” he said. “And there’ll be more to come.”
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