By Jess Charle
“Even though I was with Marcus, I wanted Nate to notice me. I didn’t realize that it’s not always nice to feel wanted. I have my boyfriend – sorry – ex-boyfriend, to thank for teaching me that.”
I wanted to stop the tape, remind her to stay focused, but I could already tell this statement was going to be a long one. This was far from how I wanted to spend Christmas day, but I understood that she needed to tell someone the whole story, her story, and it wasn’t worth it to rush her.
“Marcus isn’t bad… I wouldn’t have dated him if he was bad” she emphasized the word, as if it were a sliding scale and “bad” was the extreme. “But, I guess I’m not as good a judge of character as I thought.” She looked pained.
I cleared my throat. She sighed and looked back up at me. “I started dating Marcus about a year ago.” She thought for a moment, “yeah, pretty much exactly a year ago. He had been crushing on me for… well for forever. My longterm boyfriend had broken up with me the week before our office’s annual Christmas party – I remember because I was annoyed I didn’t have a date to go with – so…” She groaned at the memory. Her face scrunched as if she tasted bile at the back of her throat and was about to be nauseous, “I drunkenly made out with Marcus under the mistletoe. It was late and I was a mess. But the next morning I woke up and Marcus had bought coffee and a croissant from the bakery down the block. We didn’t even have sex, he had just… put me to bed. He even slept on the couch. Yeah, he’s a little… obsessive, but…” you could hear the air quotes, “he’s sweet. Or, at least I thought he was. But he took care of me and… and I guess that was the first time a guy’s ever really done that. And, well” she paused, “I guess that’s what I needed. I am almost forty and, as my mother constantly reminds me, I’m not getting any younger.”
I nodded, feeling more like a therapist than a police captain. I touched the button on the side of my phone, seeing if there was any word. Wondering if I would be more needed elsewhere. But it was Christmas and the force was out seeking a homicidal maniac, for the first time with an actual lead, so I sat back and continued to listen to Ms. Monroe’s story.
Her eyes were locked on the back of a picture frame on my desk. It was a picture of Myra, my wife. Bridget’s eyes were focused but also, not… They were focused on the black back of the picture, but her mind was far, far away. I resisted the urge to take the photograph, to hide it in my desk drawer, to keep her cold, focused eyes away from my wife. I thought of Myra, pictured her sitting on the couch, watching Love, Actually for the third time this season. God, I hate that fucking movie.
“Then I met Nate.” Her voice was breathy and her eyes glistened at the mention of the name. If she was an anime character, this is the part where her big wet eyes would reflect penciled in twinkles radiating inside her giant pupils. She was still looking at the back of my wife. The back of her picture. Before I could stop it, my hand shot out and nudged the picture forward, towards me. Bridget looked up at me, startled. The spell broken. She blushed slightly, and continued, “Nate started working at our company a few months ago as the IT guy. His official title was helpdesk specialist or something.” She waved away the nonsensical title as if it irritated her. “He replaced Terry, who left to go work at some stupid startup that I know will be bankrupt in six months if it isn’t already.” Bridget rolled her eyes. She said Terry’s name as if it had coated her tongue in an unpleasant lemon flavor. Apparently, Ms. Monroe did not approve of Terry. Her nose was turned up into sneer as if he were the human equivalent of discovering shit on the sole of your shoe. She leaned in towards me, her eyes looking up at me conspiratorially. She lowered her voice, “he was a republican.” She quickly sat back upright and looked at me gravely. I nodded my head as if in understanding. There was no need to tell her that I too, am a republican, and no, I’m not a piece of shit, but thanks.
She nodded back at me, her focus loosening again, as if her hate of Terry had been the only thing normalizing the situation. She stared down at her fingernails. “Nate is…” she trailed off, picking under her thumb nail. “He’s perfect.” She finally finished. She looked up at me, not sheepishly like I would’ve expected, but with a sad kind of longing that made her look much younger than she was. “He’s young and handsome. Smart, kind. He’s the drummer in some punk band. I’ve dragged Marcus to a few of their shows.” She gave her fingers a small secret smile. “They’re terrible.” Her voice was light with laughter. The voice that people only use when discussing the quirks of someone they love. “He just… He has so much life. So much character. I can feel him enter the room without seeing him, without hearing him. I can just feel his presence.” She looked up at me and we stared at each other for a moment. I had nothing to add to this school girl crush, so I did what years in the force could never teach me but two daughters and wife could: I stayed quiet and waited. “See, Marcus doesn’t really have any hobbies. He doesn’t even have a favorite type of movie. It’s not that we disagree on whether to watch a romantic comedy or an action film, he just has no opinion. He watches what I want to watch and likes what I like. Unless you consider painting tiny figurines of wizards and dragons as a passion.” She snorted.
I do consider that a hobby, but I didn’t say anything.
Her blue eyes danced above my head as she eyed the dusty corners of the small beige office. I sat patiently, waiting for her to continue. She didn’t. There was a reason why Deputy Black wanted me to conduct this interview.
I cleared my throat. “And Nate is the man you believe to be in mortal danger, correct?”
She nodded, her eyes widening with fear. “Have they found him yet? Have they found Marcus? Is Nate ok?” Raw anxiety formed broken jagged paths through her voice.
I touched my phone again, out of habit more than anything. I knew I hadn’t received any updates. “No news yet, but we’ve got almost the entire force out tonight. We’re doing everything we can to prevent another death. In the meantime, please continue with your stor…” I cleared my throat again, stopping the word short, “statement.” I amended.
“I should have broken up with Marcus. It would’ve been the adult thing to do. Break up with Marcus, ask Nate out, then go from there. But I’m an idiot, a coward, and idiotic coward.” She looked exhausted, “I didn’t want to break up with Marcus, because…” her eyes darted to the side of the desk, “I wasn’t sure Nate was into me and I didn’t want to be alone.” She admitted looking up at me, her eyes pleading for forgiveness, “not again.”
“But that’s why I think he’s in trouble.” Her voice was louder, stronger. Her tone serious, grown confident with genuine fear.
“I know, Ms. Monroe. We’re doing everything we can. Please, tell me about the gifts you mentioned earlier.”
“Yeah, the gifts.” She shuddered slightly, almost imperceptibly. “I think Marcus knew I was into Nate. I mean… I tried to hide my crush. Like I said, I don’t even know if Nate thinks of me that way, so I try to treat him like just another co-worker. I guess more than just a co-worker, but still just a friend.” She looked briefly guilty, and then continued, “I started getting small presents last Thursday, December 14th.” She nodded towards the charm bracelet sitting in an evidence bag on my desk. “The day of the first murder.”
I couldn’t stop the image from flashing into my mind: Helen Roger hanging limply from one of the tall oaks in the park. A jogger had found her body at about eight am during his routine morning run. Her neck had broken with the impact. A coldness crept from my spine as I remembered her pale face. Her eyes were much too large, bulging from her eye sockets. They were turning a white I never want to see again. Her pupils grey, no longer searching for help, but gone forever into the void.
I ignored the cold sweat forming on my brow and took a large silent breath to slow my heart rate before I asked, “what was the present exactly?”
Bridget tapped the evidence bag with a long fingernail painted a festive red. “It was the bracelet and the partridge in a pear tree charm.”
Helen’s swollen filmy eyes popped into my mind.
I steadied myself and swallowed. “And you think the charm was a message? That Mrs. Roger was the partridge in a pear tree?”
Bridget nodded, her eyes wide. “I didn’t realize at the time, but now it makes sense. It’s a pattern.”
“You mentioned a note before, but you no longer have it, is that correct?”
“Yes. The box was sitting on my desk when I showed up for work, wrapped in a soft pink paper. There was a note that read ‘To my true love on the first day of Christmas.’ And it was signed, ‘your admirer.’” Rosey splotches grew over her cheekbones.
“But you didn’t keep it?”
“I.. I didn’t want Marcus to find it.”
“I didn’t want him to get jealous.”
I studied her for a moment, one eyebrow raised. “And what made you believe that Marcus wasn’t ‘your admirer’? Wouldn’t that have been your first suspicion?” Now I was the one with air quotes in my voice.
She shrugged, “women just know, you know? Marcus isn’t creative enough to do something like that. He bought me socks for my birthday. A bracelet, let alone a charm bracelet, is not like him.” She picked at her nail, eyes trained on a coffee stain in front of her. “But I guess I was wrong.”
“What did you do with the bracelet?” My internal voice chided myself for asking the question, since it was more out of personal curiosity than professional necessity.
“I hid it in my desk drawer.”
“So Marcus wouldn’t find it?”
“And you continued to receive these… presents. One every day, correct?”
She swallowed. “I didn’t realize they were connected to the murders until yesterday.”
“I understand, Ms. Monroe. You had no reason to suspect anything. Please describe each gift for me. In the order you received them. They’re all here in the evidence bag, correct?” I asked.
“Yes, they’re all there.” I noticed her gaze caught everywhere but the bracelet, sitting between us like a disowned child. “I received the charm with two turtle doves that Friday.”
“December 15th.” I added.
She nodded. “Like the first gift, this one was wrapped in the same pink paper and was sitting on my desk when I arrived in the morning. It was the same day you found that couple.”
Mrs. and Mr. King had been found that morning at the bird sanctuary up the river. The caretaker had discovered them as she began to open for the day. They were both in their late twenties, married for four years, Mrs. King’s mother explained to me on the phone later that day, her voice wet with tears. I didn’t tell her that they had been found naked, Mr. King positioned on top of Mrs. King in a staged act of intercourse. The wooden handle of a small knife stuck out from her breast.
“Cause of death for Mr. King was poison, surprisingly enough.” The coroner told me. Surprising because poison victims aren’t often staged like this, as a calling card to the cops, or the victim’s family, or to the victims themselves. Or maybe just as a giant “fuck you” to the living.
“Was Mrs. King poisoned as well?” I asked.
The coroner shook her head. “No, she died from the stab wound. I’d say about a half hour after her husband died.” She picked up the picture of the bodies from the crime scene, examining it like one would a painting at the Louvre. “It’s a macabre Romeo and Juliet. Him poisoned, then she stabbed, taking her life to follow him into death.”
“Why position them as if they were having sex then?”
She looked up at me, her forehead scrunched in thought. Finally, she said, “I think it’s one final expression of their love for each other.”
I shook my head in disagreement. “No, that’s not it… love can’t be staged by a madman. I think… I think it’s a power thing. Like rape. He forced them to make the ultimate sacrifice as lovers, and forced them into a position of intimacy and love. A scene that should be personal and private, but he put it on display.”
“Their love raped and soiled for the masses.” She nodded, the photograph hanging loosely in her hand over the corpse of Mrs. King, a white sterile sheet covering the shame the killer exposed for all to see.
“And then the next day you received the charm of the french hens.” I said, no longer asking. The story obvious from here.
Bridget nodded, her face pale.
The sisters. Three elder sisters had been abducted from Sandy Hills Retirement Home early December 16th. Sometime after 3am according to the nurses on the nightshift, one of which had helped the eldest sister use the restroom around 2:45am. Their bodies were quickly discovered in the manger scene outside of St. Peter’s downtown. Their bodies had been positioned so that they were kneeling around the statue of baby Jesus. Their ankles were tied tightly together behind them, and their wrists were tied in front of them. The soft skin of their inner forearms turned up towards the sky, long red lines forming angry crosses on each of their wrists. They had been murdered there, in the manager, their blood painting the holy scene as large sticky pools formed around the crib. Their delicate faces and bodies bruised. The smell of hot iron mixing with snow was strong, filling my nostrils like angry bees attacking my sinuses. It was then that talk of a serial killer began to echo through our minds, our meetings, and the media around us, leaking out to the town, creating fear and panic during the happiest time of year. The theatrics alone connected the murders, despite each victim and scene contrasting drastically from each other. Until this month, three murders in as many days had been unheard of here.
“Then on December 17th you received the four calling birds charm?”
“Yeah.” She said, her voice strained. “It was a small metal charm with four birds in a nest.” The children’s choir. He hadn’t killed just four, he had killed all seven. None of them had yet seen their thirteenth year. Their choir director found them in the school’s auditorium, where they were going to rehearse for the Christmas show. Their tongues had been cut out, fishing line threaded through the tips and formed into a loop so the sick bastard could hang them from the tree that decorated the left side of the stage, like dry, thick ornaments. Their bodies sat on the benches where they would’ve sang that very night, blood staining the metal ridges on each surface, so thin and close together that the blood would be almost impossible to completely remove. The overflow dripping from the open sides of the benches, falling to the polished wooden floor with a thick drip. Drip. Drip.
“There was a note with that one.” Tears formed around the edges of Ms. Monroe’s eyes.
I waited for her to continue.
She cleared her throat and recited, “four calling birds, voices sweet as honey, pure as snow, for my true love, may I admire the echoes of your song for years to come.”
“And let me guess, you threw that note out too?”
“I didn’t realize…”
“It’s ok, Ms. Monroe. I believe you.”
On December 18th, Mr. Harold Goldberg was found slain in the backroom of his jewelry store, his throat cut from ear to ear, his fingers removed except for his thumbs and each digit placed in one of the candlestick holders of the menorah on his desk, blood coagulating at the base of the gold symbol for Divine wisdom. The coroner informed me that his fingers had been removed before his throat was cut.
“I didn’t realize…” she repeated.
On December 19th we received a call from a house off of Longfellow road. The owners of the home were in the process of finishing their basement, and the construction workers had arrived that morning to find human intestines hung along the bare rafters like a Christmas garland, small twinkling lights wrapped around them, winking at their audience. I remember my stomach sinking like a rock when we got the call, the images of the other murders still so fresh in my mind. When we arrived the men showed us to a section of brick wall that had not been completed the night before, the mortar still fresh. It took three hours for us to catalog, and then remove the bricks, careful not to disturb the body we knew to be inside. One of the men identified him for us: their contractor, Peter Zinferd. There was a large cut from his sternum to his genitals, the skin of his stomach open like the cardboards walls of an advent calendar, exposing his insides, which were disturbingly empty.
“I didn’t realize…”
Elizabeth Turner, lead ballerina for the community theater’s upcoming production of Swan Lake, was found December 20th floating in a fountain at the middle of the park. She bobbed in the red water like a lightless buoy. Her feet had been cut off pre-mortem.
Bridget began to sob.
Two women were found brutally dismembered in a room at the Blueberry Inn downtown on the 21st. They were only identifiable by their shredded maid uniforms, clinging to what remained of their torsos. Jill Thompson and Mary Higgins had come in to work at 8am that morning and were found at 10am. How the bastard had done it so quickly and quietly is a mystery. Instead of fanned splatters, their blood was in solid, purposeful marks as if the murderer had painted the walls with their body parts.
Ms. Monroe’s body heaved up and down, her slim shoulders shaking with the force of her cries which echoed off the plaster walls of the small office.
We still hadn’t been able to identify the girl we found in an alley on the ninth day. She was outside the emergency exit of Tiger’s Paw, a dance club near the heart of the city. Her head had been removed, her neck now a jagged raw mess. Seeing the bone and muscle reminded me of walking into a butcher shop, the naked meat a moist red in the cold white light. She was wearing a tight black dress and strappy heels. She had wanted a night of thoughtless fun, a night to lose herself to overpriced alcohol and loud music. Maybe even lose herself to the sexual embrace of another. Yet, instead, she has lost all identity. Without a face, it was difficult to estimate her age, but I could tell she young, probably about the age of my eldest who just celebrated her twenty-first birthday in November.
Bridget sniffed loudly, her body still racked with sobs that escaped her mouth sharply in short bursts like coughs. She calmed herself enough to continue, but I had to struggle to catch her words, “I should’ve noticed. I should have realized Saturday. That… that poor man.” Tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t continue. Mr. Jason Larson, the manager at a big box store. His eyes had been gouged out and shoved deep down his throat, his heart removed. Using a sharp blade, the killer had cut a deep slit into the base of the organ, which was placed with care at the top of a Christmas tree.
“I should’ve realized the connection!” Bridget cried suddenly, startling me out of my reminiscence. “I should’ve seen it!” Her voice rose with a cry.
She stopped and breathed sharply, hyperventilating. I stood and was beside her in two steps. I placed my hand on her back and lowered my face so it was level with hers. “Ms. Monroe, it’s ok. Try to hold your breath. That will slow your body and hopefully your breathing.”
Bridget closed her mouth, her lips pressed tightly together. Her body shook with the effort, but she locked eyes with me and refused to let herself breath.
“Good. Very good, Bridget.” I patted her on the back softly. After a few moments, she let the air inside her lungs escape with a violent explosion. But she was able to inhale deeply and slow her breathing. “Better?” I asked.
She nodded and I returned to my seat. Bridget looked shaken. Both her hands cradled the styrofoam cup of coffee in front of her, her knuckles turning white with her efforts to stop them from shaking.
“Hindsight is 20/20.” It was a stupid thing to say, but it’s all I had. How was she supposed to connect her bracelet with Mr. Larson being found in the display window of the Lord & Taylor where he worked.
Mrs. Monroe straightened her neck which gently rocked beneath her head, as if her head was suddenly made of lead and she was too weak to fully support it. “I… I didn’t realize until the next day.” Her throat was rough and raspy with pain, the bottom of her right nostril glistened with snot. She inhaled deeply as she tried to resolve herself, then continued, her voice still weak, but calmer. “There was a note on the eleventh day. It came with the eleventh charm: a small silver woman holding up one of those flute things you always see Peter Pan or Peter Piper with – I can’t remember which. Then I saw all these facebook posts about her, the girl, Piper.” Tears started to blur her words again, her voice rising an octave, “She was only six years old.” A sob choked in the back of her throat as she lost all of her strength and fell into her arms which rested on the edge of my desk..
Piper. Poor Piper. So little and frail. Her mother reported her missing at 4pm after trying to pick her up from school. She had waited in the pick-up lane for ten minutes before asking one of the teachers supervising if her daughter was running late. The teacher went into the building and returned moments later to say that Piper’s teacher had seen her leave the classroom at her usual time. The mother, a Mrs. Carol Dosher, immediately panicked. Staff searched the school for the young girl, but she was nowhere to be found. We came as soon as we were called, hyped up on the knowledge that someone was going to die that day, but no one knew who. Our stomachs twisted as we realized that the only thing we knew for sure was that we would be too late. Always too late.
Her body wasn’t discovered until 5am Christmas morning, this morning, even though it felt days, weeks, months ago. A fisherman saw her as he was walking down the pier. He had pulled her out of the water, a job I’m ashamed to admit I’m glad I avoided. She had been tied to the leg of one of the docks, so he cut the ropes with his jackknife, tearing them with the blade urgently, not noticing as it cut dull grey lines into her thin arms. Dark blood oozed out lazily, stiff from the cold and the absence of a heart beat.
The coroner said that she had been alive when the murderer left her, but that the tide had made sure she didn’t survive the night. High tide was at about 3am that morning, so her mouth and nose wouldn’t have been fully submerged until then..
“Would she have frozen to death before the water got to her?” I asked, keeping the hope from my voice to try and sound professional. I internally begged the heavens that the child went with the numb death of freezing instead of screaming herself hoarse as the cold water slowly ate at her, rising over her chest, tightening like a vice around her ribcage, threatening to break it with it’s cold strength. Unfamiliar fingers of frost reaching up her neck, searching patiently for a way to invade her small body, to take it as their own.
“Unfortunately, no.” The coroner’s voice was quiet and soft as she kept her eyes on the file in her hand. I tried to remember how old her son was. Probably not much older than Piper. Maybe even the same age. “Not with the mild winter we’ve been having.” She didn’t continue.
I nodded. It would’ve been cold enough to hurt, but not cold enough to release her.
“Can you tell how long she was out there?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Based on the bruising where she had been tied….” Her face grew dark and I had my answer. Night comes early this time of year. The fishermen who still fish in winter are few and far between, and the men that’d be out on Christmas eve would’ve been even fewer. No one would’ve been around to catch him doing it. No one would’ve been around to hear her cries. To save her.
Bridget mumbled something into the wooden desk. I waited for her to continue, but she didn’t. She kept her head down, her forehead resting on her arm.
“Can you repeat that Ms. Monroe? Louder for the microphone.”
She lifted her head, her face was red and wet. She wiped her nose with her sleeve, leaving a trail of snot. “I finally realize the connection this morning. I woke up to a small pink package inside my front door: it had been slid through the mail slot. After I opened it, after I checked my phone, saw that’s poor child’s picture, only then did I realized the murders were connected to my charm bracelet.” Bridget looked down, ashamed. “I’m so sorry.” She said, her voice shaking. “I’m so so sorry.” She was asking for forgiveness, but not from me. She needed forgiveness from someone with more power to heal than me.
I looked down at the note that lay on my desk in a clear evidence bag. The words scrawled in red ink, “Why won’t you love me?”
We sat in silence for a moment.
“And that’s why you’re here, because you connected the murders with the charms.”
She sniffed, fresh tears flowing down her face. I looked at the yellowish smear of snot on her right sleeve, stretched out over the cloth like a burst bubble of gum sticking to the bottom of someone’s chin. “Marcus has been out every night this week. We usually go to dinner or a movie every few days, but he keeps saying he’s busy.”
“And you think he knows you like Nate and will target him tonight?”
She looked up at me, her eyes fierce with earnesty, the brevity of the situation hanging heavy in the air. “Nate’s a drummer.”
My office door opened and Detective Lancer came in. He closed the door solemnly behind him and looked at Bridget, his face tight with bad news.
“I’m sorry Ms. Monroe, but we were too late.”
A choked sob escaped her throat, and she dropped her head into her hands.
Lancer looked at me and continued, “we found the body at the music store on High St. It was officer Rodriguez’s hunch. His kid takes guitar lessons there. He says it’s one of the only places with practice space for bands in the area.” He handed me a photo of the crime scene. A young man with brown hair was dangled over the drumset, his face against one of the drums. The end of something wooden stuck out of his neck at a jarring angle: a drumstick had been forced through his jugular, exiting at the back of his neck. “The room was being rented by a band called The Rivals.”
A noise broke from Bridget that was part sob, part scream.
Lancer passed me an evidence bag, “we found this note on the body.”
I looked down at it and shuddered.
“We talked to the owner of the studio – who is understandably freaked out – and he said the victims been taking lessons from a local musician for months.”
I looked up from the note. “Sorry?”
“I guess the victim was in every night this week by himself, practicing. Something about learning how to drum as a Christmas gift. Said the guy’s girlfriend had a thing for musicians.”
Bridget stopped crying. She raised her head slowly, wide eyes looking at me with horror. We stared at each other as Lancer continued, shaking his head sadly, “poor guy. What we do for love.”
“The murderer…” I started.
Lancer shook his head, “The guy who was giving him lessons was long gone when we got there. We’ve got cars out looking for him now.”
I looked back down at the evidence bag in my hands. I recognized the handwriting from the other notes. This message was written in the same bright red ink:
Merry Christmas, my love. Now we can be together. Forever.