The dirt sifted through my hand like sand in an hourglass. Many of us don’t realize that time is a finite resource. We use it and abuse it like any other resource we humans think we are entitled to. It seems like no one stops to take a breath and cherish a moment anymore. Busy lives breed sad goodbyes. Before we know it the ones closest to us may pass on and leave us behind. If we’re lucky we won’t be left behind with feelings of regret and thoughts of “what if?” things were different. Death, the final frontier of the journey that is life; sooner or later all of us are forced to cross the border. No one can escape it. Every living being is born with the pre-programmed coordinates for dying sewn into their DNA. We cannot control how we die. We can only control how we live. The last piece of grist fell from my hand and the millstone in my mind stopped turning for a moment. My tears were held back briefly by the slight consolation that my mother is no longer a slave to her cancer. Her suffering has passed. At least we did get to say our sad goodbyes, a moment my family never got with my father. Tears started to flow from my eyes. Fuck it, my mother died I’m entitled to cry. With the help of my cane I stood up from my kneeling position and wiped my eyes. The tears stopped almost as quickly as they came. The other funeral attendees had their eyes lowered or focused toward the casket. My sister took a hold of my hand and squeezed it tight as our mother was lowered into the ground.
“Jane, I just wish there was something more I could have done.” I said to my sister.
Jane sighed, “Jack, you’re a detective. Not a doctor. It finally got to the point where the doctors couldn’t help her either. At least we got the time we did with her.”
I nodded and turned toward Jane, “You’re right. Criminals I can deal with. However, who is the person of interest when it comes to cancer? God? Good luck trying to bring him in for questioning. He is great at listening but cryptic with his answers. We still don’t know why our father was taken from us.”
Jane turned toward me, “We might never know the answer to that question. It looks like you have someone that would like to speak with you.” She nodded indicating someone behind me.
We released each other’s hands and I turned around to see Selene. We have worked together on numerous cases. Most of the cases involved an element of the supernatural. Selene was a witch and the leader of the Legion of Light—an organization founded with the intentions of warding off the forces of evil. However, most people just knew it as a consulting firm. Selene stepped forward and hugged me.
Selene spoke softly, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
I returned the hug, “Thank you,” we ended our embrace.
Jane tapped me on the shoulder, “Jack, I’m just going to meet you at mom’s old house ok?”
I turned my head towards Jane, “Alright. By the way, this is Selene with the Legion of Light.” I gestured towards Selene.
Jane stepped forward and extended her hand, “How do you do? Jack has mentioned that you both have done some work together catching bad guys.”
Selene took Jane’s hand and shook it, “Has he now? I’m doing ok. Like I told Jack I am sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you.” Jane replied.
They released each other’s hands and Jane walked away.
Selene gave me a bittersweet smile, “You’re lucky I like you, this is the third funeral I’ve been to in the past year.”
I smirked back, “Shut up and walk me to my car.” We began walking towards a row of vehicles parked near the tombstones. The graveyard also contained numerous trees with benches beneath to provide shelter for grievers. The sky was cloudy and seemed like it could let loose with rain at any moment. “I’m only one funeral behind you. Your father was a great man Selene. At least with my mother we knew it was coming, not that it has been much of a consolation. I hate how both of our fathers were ripped from our lives in an instant.”
“Thanks, my father was great. I don’t think you ever told me about yours.” Selene looked down at the ground.
I sighed, “He died when I was ten. It was a car accident; he fell asleep at the wheel coming home from work one night. He was one of the greatest tool & die makers in the world.”
Selene lifted her head and gave me a quizzical look, “How come you didn’t become a tool & die maker like him?”
I shook my head, “It was never really a particular skillset of mine. The main thing I remember about my Father is how kindhearted he was. He would do anything to help anyone and taught me to never look the other way when people were being treated unjustly. That is part of why I decided to be a detective.”
Selene nodded, “I see. How is it you get put in charge of dealing with the special cases?”
I shrugged, “I’ve always had a knack for detecting supernatural things. It’s like a sixth sense. I can’t explain it but it is helpful. I do enjoy having the help of the Legion when it’s necessary, there are some things that a normal human like me just can’t do.”
Selene smiled, “We are always happy to help. Don’t hesitate to ask us for anything.”
We made it to my vehicle. I pressed the button on my key fob to unlock the door. In a small bit of effort I opened the car door.
“Thank you Selene, would you like a ride back to your headquarters?”
She waived her hand in dismissal, “No thanks, I prefer to travel by teleportation.”
“Suit yourself. Thanks again for coming. I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”
I leaned towards her and gave her a hug. We stepped back away from each other and she turned to walk away.
Selene waived goodbye, “See ya later Jack.”
I nodded towards her, “See ya Selene.”
Selene stepped behind a tombstone and disappeared. I lowered my head and got into my car. I leaned my cane against the passenger seat. The door gave a loud thud as I closed it. The car was a 1983 Chevy Caprice Classic. The interior was huge. The back of it I had paid to have redone so that I could use it to bring in criminals. I had a light that I could place on the roof if I needed it but most of the time I just do detective work so the light isn’t necessary. I put the key into the ignition and turned it on. The engine revved to life. Getting out of the cemetery was tricky. The roads seemed to consist of mazes upon mazes of tombstones. After about ten minutes I finally made it back to the cemetery exit that connected with the main road that I needed to take to get to moms old house. I turned the steering wheel toward the left and made my way onto the road.
“You should be careful of the company you keep Detective,” said a female voice from my passenger seat.
“Jesus!” I screamed.
My body lost control of itself and my right foot slammed the brake pedal as my hands jerked the steering wheel further left than I intended. The wheels made a grinding noise as they passed over the rumble strip. The car behind me honked their horn as they swerved to miss me. After a brief moment I regained control and corrected the car.
I gave my new passenger a scowl, “So who or what in the hell are you?”
She smiled, “I am the Harbinger of Fate. Also known as Lady Luck or Fortuna,” She said with a detectable Irish accent.
I shook my head, “Why do some of you supernatural beings have to have so many names? Does it make you feel that many more times important?”
Her smile faded, “Condescension is not becoming of you. I’ve come to warn you that soon the time will come when you will have to make a choice. Hopefully you choose the right side.”
Fortuna vanished as quickly as she came. Her message was a cryptic one. She must have been warning me to be careful about Selene, however it wasn’t Selene I was worried about. The things that the Legion helps protect us humans from are the things that worry me. I pulled back out onto the road and continued on my way to meet Jane at mother’s old house. Upon arrival I grabbed my cane from the passenger area; every once in a while I have to take some time to admire it. The wood was finely polished with runes carved into it. The top of the cane had a ball shape that twisted. I could turn it to the left to activate a shield and turn it to the right to activate an energy release that would send any would be attackers flying backwards. One of my favorite features was the built in sword that I could pull out of the cane by twisting the shaft of the cane part way down. I opened the door, stepped outside, and slammed the door shut behind me. Jane walked to the door and held it open for me. She was in tears. I walked up the porch steps and through the doorway. The living room was a mess. Jane had been going through some of mom’s old things. Jane closed the door behind me and locked it.
“I haven’t gotten rid of anything yet. A bunch of stuff is missing. Someone broke in while we were gone and stole some stuff. Was there anything that you absolutely wanted to keep?” Jane asked.
I nodded, “Yeah, mom had a copy of the first printing of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. She would read it to me when I was younger. Hopefully the thief didn’t take it. I’ll find out who it was.”
Jane scrunched her eyebrows together, “That’s all you want?”
I nodded again, “Yep. I already have pictures of her and dad.”
Jane walked over to a pile of books and grabbed the one off of the top and handed it to me.
Jane waved towards everything in general, “Most of the things stolen were jewelry and some cash from moms various stashes throughout the house. Things that the thief could use quickly.”
I growled, “I’ll find out who did it.”
Jane shook her head, “Whoever it was probably needed the stuff more than we did.”
I rolled my eyes, “Whoever it was probably has an addiction they were trying to fuel. It doesn’t give them the right to steal.”
Jane and I took a seat on the couch. I leaned my cane against the armrest and placed the book on the end table. We began looking through some old photos of us and came across some pictures of our birthday parties through the years.
Jane turned to me, “Jack, when are you going to find yourself a woman and settle down and have kids?”
I closed my eyes, “Jane, how many times do I have to tell you that I am childfree-by-choice. Even if I was to find a woman it wouldn’t change my mind about having kids.”
Jane shook her head, “But Jack kids are awesome. My kids help to fulfill my life. Maybe kids would help to fulfill yours too. Don’t you want to leave behind some kind of legacy?”
I shot her a glare, “Viktor Frankl once said ‘Procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life in itself would become meaningless, and something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation.’ I have my own identity and my legacy will be my work. I’m a detective. I’ve seen what criminals do to children. It’s sick. Why would I want to give them another target? Besides, I’ve never really developed the paternal instinct. My purpose in life is to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. I may not want to have kids of my own but I will for damn sure traverse hell and high water to make sure that yours are safe.”
Jane looked down at the floor and sighed, “Let’s not fight. We just buried Mom today.”
I nodded, “Alright it’s a deal.”
She smiled, laid her head down in my lap, and pulled her feet up onto the couch. I stroked her hair until she fell asleep like I used to when we were younger. Up until she became a teenager she had a fear of storms. As the older brother I always took it upon myself to try to calm her down. Stroking her hair while she laid in my lap was one of the only ways to get her to sleep if a storm was raging outside. I leaned my head back on the couch.
I woke up to my phone’s ringtone. It is set on Renegade by Styx. A quick glance told me it was the Chief calling. After a few moments to clear my mind of a bit of fog I answered the phone.
I cleared my throat, “Detective Crimson.”
“Jack, this is Chief Levitt,” she sighed, “I know you are still on bereavement leave but we could really use your help. There was a murder downtown that fits into your area of expertise. It’s pretty messed up.”
It was my turn to sigh, “I’m at Mom’s old house right now. It will take me a bit longer to get there but no problem. What’s the address?”
“2460 Georgia St. It’s a bar called Fate’s Warning. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Alright, tell the forensic team to try not to fuck with the scene too much. Last time was a fiasco. I would hate for there to be another murder.”
She laughed, “I’ll tell them. Just get down here ok?”
“Will do. See you there Chief.”
I hung up the phone and placed it in my pocket. Great, Fate’s Warning was my favorite bar. Jane began to stir. She was still lying on my lap. When we were children on Christmas Day I would always wake her up by poking her in the forehead and whispering her name until she woke up and then we would come downstairs to get our stockings. We waited until our parents got up before opening our other gifts.
I began tapping her forehead, “Jane, Jane, Jane, Jane,” I whispered.
She groaned and swatted my hand, “Jack, what the hell?”
“Jane, the Chief called. I have to go check something out.”
“Really, they couldn’t have someone else do it?” She asked groggily.
“Apparently I’m an expert. Her words not mine. Besides, it will help to take my mind off of things.”
Her eyes were still closed but I could tell they rolled, “The last thing we need is your ego being stroked. It’s big enough as it is.”
I laughed, “And just think, you get to call me brother.”
She elbowed me in the stomach as she rose up and shook her head.
Jane smiled, “You remember your adopted right?”
I punched her arm, “Semantics sis. Semantics.”
She grabbed her arm and rubbed it, “Go do your thing. I’ll stay here and keep going through stuff.”
“Thanks for the permission,” I said.
She rolled her eyes again. I grabbed my cane and the book from beside me and used the cane to help me stand up. There was no way I was going to the scene dressed like I was going to a funeral. Luckily mom kept some of our old clothes here just in case were over visiting. The living room floor was piled with various items Jane had been sifting through yesterday. I walked around them and left the living room for the dining room. The stairwell was steep. My leg problems didn’t happen until I was older so they were no problem when I was younger. I placed the cane and book in the crook of my left arm and grabbed the handrail for the stairs with my right. It wasn’t easy but I managed to make it up the stairs. The stairs opened up into a hallway with four rooms off of it. My parents room, Jane’s room, my room, and a bathroom. I walked down the hall to my bedroom and opened the door. It was pretty much how I had left it when I moved out. Mom kept it clean and some of the stuff I had taken with me but for the most part it was the same. I placed the book on my old bed and walked over to the closet. My shirts and jeans were hung up and my undergarments were in a dresser below them. I bent down to grab a fresh pair of underwear and socks. Somehow I hadn’t changed sizes since high school. Most of the t-shirts advertised my favorite bands on them. My jeans were basic denim. I grabbed a pair of jeans and my old Iron Maiden Somewhere in Time t-shirt. With the clothes in hand I left my bedroom and entered the bathroom to get a shower.
My leg was really starting to act up. I grabbed my pill bottle out of my pocket and grabbed a couple of Vicodin. The shower was refreshing. I used the water from the shower head to help get the pills down. I stood there and let the water flow over me until the medication began to kick in. It took me a few more moments to wash up and I was done. I got out of the shower and got dressed. My holster was the last thing I put on. I placed my badge in my pocket. On the way to the stairs I stopped by my room and grabbed the book. Going down the stairs was worse than going up but I made it without killing myself. It’s a good thing I took the pills. I walked back into the living room and gave Jane a hug before walking to the front door. She handed me my keys.
I opened the door, “See you later Jane. Love you.”
“Later Jack, I love you too.”
I closed the door behind me. My car was in the drive where I had left it. Slowly, I walked over to it with the help of my cane, got in the car, and placed the book in the passenger seat. I set my cane in the usual spot. Hopefully the book would prevent any supernatural entities from appearing spontaneously beside me. I backed out of the driveway and started driving towards Georgia St. The Chief would have to forgive me for taking the time to shower. Considering I hadn’t had one for the past few days due to the funeral, I did her a favor.
When I made it to Georgia St. there were all kinds of cars and people gathered around the building. I parked on the street as close as I could to Fate’s Warning. Yellow police tape blocked off the entrance to the building. News crews were already set up to report. I opened my car door, grabbed my cane, and got out. After a deep breath I closed my car door and locked it. I made my way towards the crime scene. The news crew tried to rush towards me but my colleagues managed to hold them back. I moved aside the police tape and stepped through the door. The stench of death immediately punched my nostrils. You never really get used to it. The Chief was sitting at the bar talking to Shirley the owner of Fate’s Warning. Numerous bottles were lined up on a shelf behind Shirley, the tools of the trade. The forensic team was busy around the stage area where most of the time local bands played or open mic nights were held. Posters were hung up all over the place and some were signed by famous people. What you could see of the dull grey paint on the walls was chipping off in multiple places.
Shirley nodded towards me when I got closer, “Hey Jack, Mary was just asking me some questions. I found the body first thing when I came in this afternoon. Nothing was out of the ordinary when I left last night. Would you like something to drink?”
I nodded, “Sure, I’ll have a beer.”
The Chief whipped her head around, “Seriously Jack?”
“I’m not even supposed to be working today,” I shrugged my shoulders.
She rolled her eyes at me. Shirley grabbed a beer from out of the fridge behind the bar and tossed it to me. I grabbed it out of the air with my right hand and brought the lid down on top of my cane. The lid popped off.
The Chief shook her head, “You two do that too well. While you’re here Jack, you might as well take a look at the crime scene.”
I faked surprise, “There’s a crime scene? Where?”
The Chief ignored my sarcasm, stood up from her stool, and walked across the room towards the stage. I followed her. The forensic team at least looked like they were trying to be careful this time. They all noticed my arrival and decided to take a break. When they cleared the stage I could tell why the Chief had called me in. Someone had staged the body. It was a tableau. A middle-aged man of average build with short dark hair speckled with grey was tied to a wooden board with seven candles surrounding him. The candles had been blown out. A blindfold lie on the stage next to the board. He had been tied up and tortured. He wouldn’t have known his fate to start with. The body had a large blade sticking out of it. The blade had been attached to a rope that was draped over a janky fixture set into the ceiling. Someone had built a makeshift pendulum. Upon closer inspection of the body I could tell that the blade had been allowed to graze the skin and slowly eat a rut into the torso before the torturer finally pulled the blade up and let go allowing gravity to do the rest. This man didn’t stand a chance. There were some letters scrawled in blood on the stage next to the body.
I had but escaped death in one form of agony…
I stood up and finished the quote, “To be delivered unto worse than death in some other.”
The Chief gave me a puzzled look, “What are you talking about?”
I glanced over at her, “Edgar Allen Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum. ‘Free!—I had but escaped death in one form of agony, to be delivered unto worse than death in some other.’ Have you identified the victim yet?”
She shook her head, “No, we are still waiting on forensics to get back with us with a fingerprint or DNA match.”
I smiled, “I’ll bet you twenty bucks this man is an ex-convict that was once serving life in prison. He escaped one death and the perpetrator made sure it caught up with him with interest,” I held out my right hand.
The Chief grabbed my hand and shook it, “There is no way you know for sure yet. I’ll take the bet,” we ended the handshake.
A serious look came across the Chief’s face, “Do you think this could be mixed in with the occult? That is part of why I didn’t want to wait to call you in.”
“It’s still a bit early to call. At first glance this seems more like a vengeance killing than a ritualistic one. The candles were meant to invoke the scene from the story,” I took a drink.
One of the members of the forensic team rushed over to us. He had a tablet PC in his hands and was looking at something on the screen.
The forensic tech stopped in front of us, “Chief, Detective, the victim was an ex-convict by the name of Greg Howe. He was recently let out after serving a sentence of twenty years. Apparently he was cleared of his crime. The original sentence was for life in prison for murder in the first degree. He broke into a house when he was younger, stole a bunch of stuff, and killed everyone that lived there. He filed an appeal a few months ago and got out because of circumstantial evidence.”
The Chief reached into her pocket and pulled out a money clip. She pulled a twenty out of it and held it out to me. I downed the rest of my drink, placed the empty bottle on a nearby table, and grabbed the twenty. The forensic tech looked confused. I smiled and pocketed the cash. The Chief’s cellphone rang.
She grabbed the phone out of her pocket and answered it, “Hello, Chief Levitt speaking.”
Her face grew grim, the longer she listened to the voice on the other end the grimmer it became. She hung up the phone without saying goodbye.
She gave me a long look, “Jack, the body of state representative Howard Murphy was just found in the basement of the government building. It was setup like a tableau as well. It seems we may have a serial killer on our hands.”
I closed my eyes, “Shit, that’s just what I need. The last one just about killed me.”
She sighed, “At least he shot you in the knee and not in the head.”
I reopened my eyes, “Sometimes I wish it had been in the head.”
“Shut up, we got to get to the government building. Forensics can take care of the rest here,” She gestured towards the room.
We made our way towards the exit. Shirley waved goodbye and we waved back as we exited the building. The news crews were gone. They had most likely heard about the body of the state representative and crawled over each other like cockroaches trying to scurry to the new prime source of food to feed their hunger. A state representative gets better ratings than an ex-con. They’re going to be beside themselves when they find out the two could be linked. I walked to my car and unlocked the door. When I opened it Fortuna was sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Really?” I gave her a blank stare.
“Officer, what seems to be the problem?” She smiled with her hands on the wheel and tried to appear innocent.
I rolled my eyes, “Apparently you seem to be my problem.”
She placed one hand on her chest and looked taken aback, “I do declare, is that any way to speak to a lady?”
I gave her my best unimpressed look, “I’ll give you twenty bucks to get to the point.”
She turned and got out of the car making sure to flash some leg at me before allowing the bottom of her shimmering green dress to fall towards the ground. Her feet were bare. A golden hair stick held her hair up. She slowly removed it and shook her bright red hair out. She held her hand out in front of her and the golden stick stood up straight. It melted down and took the shape of a coin with her face on it. She spun it a few times between her fingers. The coin had her face on both sides.
Fortuna held the coin out to me, “Keep your money. I have plenty of it. Take this coin and should you ever need me just lay it on the ground and say my name three times. Please heed my advice from before. You don’t want to be on the losing side.”
I took the coin and pocketed it, “It’s going to take more than a gorgeous woman to sway me not to trust a friend like Selene. Perhaps it is you that is currently on the wrong side.”
She smiled, “Perhaps, but as the Harbinger of Fate I am granted the ability of divination. I am afraid that if you continue on your current path then you will soon know death,” she snapped her fingers and disappeared.
I shook my head and got into my car. That woman is going to be a problem. I closed the door and started the car. The government building was about four miles away.