Blink and Other Stories – “Third Sight”
“I think it will make a number of things clear,” Hensley said, a schoolboy’s insistence. “Maybe it can offer closure to some of those….families.”
And that was a rope that had hung more than one investigator. But there was a reason that the bait often worked.
BLINK AND OTHER STORIES is the second short fiction collection from Matt Maxwell (me, not that I like to talk about myself in the third person), available exclusively on the Kindle format for the next 90 days and then perhaps to a wider release after that. Honestly, I’ve only ever sold anything on the Kindle. I’ve sold exactly one copy of one other book from Smashwords, so I’m not fussed by exclusivity. Besides, you can run the Kindle app on anything form a smartphone to an iPad to a desktop machine. Not particularly limiting.
Here’s the url to hit: http://tinyurl.com/blinkkindle
I’ll be archiving excerpts from the three stories printed within: Blink, Third Sight and The Sunyata Routine (Another Name for Heaven). “Blink” was yesterday’s. Today’s excerpt is from “Third Sight,” where an FBI agent on the track of a serial killer finds something else entirely. Free fiction (but not the whole story) after the jump.
Dracula had been getting careless. Early in his career, Brian Cole might have welcomed such a development. Tracking lone wolf killers, there were nights that as he hunched over the monitor or sat in a dusty property room or sterile lab, there were nights that he would have given his left eye for a single clue to open things up. Something. A laundry ticket or a dormant stolen cell phone being fired up for one last gloating call to the authorities.
Early in his career, he thought that the killers growing bolder was a good sign, one that they’d screw up soon and they’d be behind bars or better yet, dead with a bullet between their eyes. It was difficult to work up sympathy for a psychopath, no matter how polite they were or how often they went to church. When a man (or woman, he reminded himself, remembering Two-Finger-Sally from Kansas City) spent his time tying up people and killing them by inches, it became a lot harder to focus on their kindnesses. Eventually the gravity of their crimes becomes a force unto itself, consuming any other qualities they might have pretended to, annihilating them as surely as rolling downhill or falling down a well.
But now he knew better. He understood that the carelessness and recklessness that he saw in late-stage killers wasn’t a prelude to capture, but was much more often a recognition that without luck, they would never be caught. Dracula would probably never be caught. He’d moved around too much, gone quiet too many times, outlasted supervisors and even presidential administrations. Didn’t really matter. Once the strings got long enough, the cases became not only a priority, but an urgent one. At least until enough resources were blown and you either drank yourself to death or ate a bullet in despair
Getting reckless worked both ways, Cole knew that. He’d seen his mentor transform from dogged pursuer patient like a wall of rock, to being worn down by a constant stream of bad news and fresh bodies. Eventually even the tallest wall crumbles to rubble. Dracula had driven him to a quiet death by garden hose to tailpipe.
And that was how Dracula had fallen into Cole’s lap. Not that he was a real Dracula. There wasn’t any such thing, no matter how many knuckleheads in California got prosthetic teeth and pancake makeup and eyeliner tattooed into their faces. Sure, there were people who played at it, mostly for kicks, mostly after having read about it on VampireHow dot com. They were all dilettantes, and the real bodies that had come out of all the vampires in LA County wouldn’t even get a rise out of the freshest newbie.
No, this Dracula was something else entirely. In an era where the only cases that got a lot of attention came from homegrown terrorists taking on Arabic names or cartel violence that had spread too far north, the Dracula case got whatever it wanted, so long as one man could do it. It was the Bureau’s way of preventing mission creep. Because, in his heart of hearts, when he was awake and smoking at three A.M. and couldn’t do anything but obsess on the case, Cole knew that he could have twenty men under him and never catch Dracula. The string of expertly-opened throats (two incisions: one to the right of the trachea, alongside the jugular and one perpendicular to that, always at least six inches in length but never more than eight) would not stop. They might go quiet for months at a stretch.
But they would not stop.
This carelessness, however, was a new thing. Dracula had left a fingerprint, or more accurately a thumbprint, on his latest victim. Darlene Anson had been a waitress at the Sunrise Diner in Tiburón, California ever since she had left high school. She was unremarkable in nearly every way, other than having retained some of her youthful good looks, even in the dusty traces of the San Joaquin Valley, where twenty looked like thirty and forty looked like sixty. The coroner had pointed out the very small nick on her jugular where Dracula had screwed things up. It wasn’t a big cut at all, but it was enough to spray a lot of blood and leave things very messy. Dracula was pretty clean as bloodletters went. Not crazy clean, but tidy.
This was not. The inside of Darlene Anson’s apartment looked like someone had started to paint it but lost interest after a half and hour or so. And in all that sticky, he had left a thumbprint and the traces of three fingers where he had paused to steady himself. Probably after the shock of the botched incisions.
Cole held out the smallest of hopes, almost lost in the swarming bleakness of his day-to-day searches, that Dracula was among the rarest of lone wolves: those who actually wanted to be caught. It was too much to ask for. Still, Cole was desperate enough to ask for it.
Tiburón lay at the middle north part of the San Joaquin Valley like a coyote that had crawled to the side of the road to die. The trailer park broiled in the midday sun and Cole had cooked right along with it. He sat in the silver Impala and watched the dirty and beaten Airstream trailer through the binoculars. It was hot enough and he was far enough away that it was almost useless, heat ripples distorting the view so that the thing looked like a lump of boiling mercury. The trailer in question belonged to Steven Hensely, alias Steven Parker, alias Parker Stevens, alias Henry Stefanovitch.
Hensley was the name that belonged to the thumbprint that had been left at the Anson apartment. Looking at that, Cole was ready to throw that lead away. Hiding in plain sight only worked in the movies, and there was a reason that so many lone wolves were drifters. It’s much harder to hide a crime like this than you’d think, unless you keep moving. And Tiburón was a place tailor made for that. The whole place had been made out of rolling stones that had simply lost momentum or given up and were left to eke out a life in agriculture or what little service work there was here.
Hensley had listed himself as a museum worker on his most recent arrest, that for being at the Frazier Park rest area for a day or two too long with his silver Airstream and beat to hell F-150 that was so old it was a miracle it even had seatbelts. The CHP made a basic search but didn’t turn up anything. Caught and released, probably hoping that he’d just wander east past Tehachapi and into the desert to be someone else’s problem. That was two weeks before the nicked jugular and the fingerprint.
That was careless was what it was.
The F-150 was nowhere to be seen, but the trailer was moored there pretty permanently, at least as rolling stones went. The sun gleamed off of it and Cole knew he was going to have to be going in. The warrant was good, though he’d had to get the judge to look up from his Lords of Warcraft game to get it signed. When Cole had told him who it was for, the judge had laughed and asked where Cole’s wooden leg was. To his credit, Cole didn’t tell him where he’d happily put that wooden leg.
The deputies drove up and Cole pointed out the trailer and told them who they were going after. The deputies didn’t find it funny at all. They went back to their cars and Cole followed them as they drove to the caretaker’s office to explain that a serial killer had taken up residence there. The caretaker, shrugged his shoulders, which seemed as if they’d fused to his neck and shook his flabby frame and made a noise like he knew it all along. Even though Hensley had rented this slot on-again, off-again for the better part of ten years.
Then they parked on the blind side of the Airstream and waited. Cole went in alone. They were supposed to call whenever Hensley or whoever he was today showed up.
This was the worst part of the job. Actually going into the den of a killer. Many of them only had temporary residences, transient homes that never had a chance to soak up their essence, their vibrations, their damage. But there were a few like Hensley who either worked an area for years or brought their work with them wherever they went. There were very few places that an field agent felt not only unwelcome but actively in danger. Maybe prisons were the worst, where the prisoners had nothing but time and rage to sublimate into the walls like the smell of sweat and urine.
But dens were something else entirely. Maybe bear hunters knew this feeling, coming across a marked cave. Maybe. Probably not like this, though. The den was where the killer could really be themselves, let slip the mask of sanity that they had to wear to get by, to get past toll takers and waitresses and gas station attendants, the minimal societal transactions that come to normal people like breathing, but for some are just too much to bear
The place smelled like bleach or ammonia and was stiflingly hot in the afternoon. Cole choked on the fumes and stood in the doorway to let them filter out. He wondered about the make on the prints. This wasn’t the den of a serial killer; it was the home of a mobile accountant. Everything was laid out neatly, as much as he could see from the sunlight streaming in through the west side windows. There was no dust, no grime. And the bleach smell led him to think that there wouldn’t be any blood traces here and maybe the CHP had let Hensley go not because they were incompetent, but because there wasn’t anything to find.
Though there was that oddly-placed table. Right in the middle of the floor. Cole’s feet rapped lightly on the linoleum, but went dead when he hit the carpet that the table sat on. More than that, the floor gave a little under his feet. He slid the low table from the carpet then pulled a corner back. There was a sheet of plywood there, bowed from years of laying across the unsupported shaft. The false floor covered a hole big enough to bury a family of five in. Cole almost fell into it when he got the call that the truck was coming up the road.
To purchase “Third Sight” and two other stories for the price of less than a cappuccino, click right here: http://tinyurl.com/blinkkindle.