Jessica Wright's Double Vision (short story and opportunity)
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I first met Jessica in Maplewood, Missouri, at an open mic. She is half of a goth/dark wave/new wave/experimental band with an amazing voice and keyboard skills too. They make some pretty amazing music. You can look them up on SoundCloud here, they are known as Paperkite and you can catch them regularly around St. Louis.
[caption id="attachment_1138" align="aligncenter" width="720"] The real Jessica Wright is sweet, awesome and super sarcastic.[/caption]
She had requested a mystery, and I went all in with that request. The story tops off at just under 15,000 words. Like I said, longest short I've ever written to date. And because of that, I took extra steps to make sure it was good. I had my good friend, and author, Neal James across the pond look it over for me. He read it and critiqued and slaughtered it with his pen.
I'm super excited to share it finally. In this story, like the others before it, I've tried to sprinkle it with trivia about the real person behind the character. I've managed to squeeze in some lyric references from Paperkite. See if you can find them.
Now, get to reading!
Jessica Wright's Double Vision
In honor of Maria Ouspenkaya, who taught me to love horror and empathize with a monster.
Private Detective Mercedes Masterson pulled to a stop at the carnival, and slammed the gear into park so hard the engine growled at her. She pulled her pistol from its holster underneath her left arm. She checked its magazine, and turned the safety off. She looked out into the dark night, the rain tearing down like razor blades—the carnival was lit up as sunset neared. Despite the rain, families had their children out at the carnival. The place was packed with revelers. She dreaded what she might find, if she were too late. She stepped out of the car, slammed the door behind her, and took off through the muddy and uneven terrain.
She passed a game where children were shooting at ducks with toy guns which were attached to the stand with wire. A young boy spun around and aimed the gun at her from underneath his cowboy hat he’d won in a game.
“BANG! BANG!” He yelled, pretending to take shots at her with the toy gun.
Startled, Mercedes stopped, glared at him and showed him the pistol tucked beneath her overcoat. His eyes popped out of his head, and she nodded. “Yeah; now get lost, kid.”
She walked around the outside of the merry-go-round, the music ringing in her ears. She saw the fortuneteller tent on the backside of the carnival. It was tucked away at the back, beneath a canvas of trees. Children and their parents tore across the carnival, barely noticing it as they passed by. It was a rather small tent, black in color, and with a large graphic on the side that was a faded image of The Mystical Mistress Maria. But Mercedes had come to know the young fortuneteller by her real name, Jessica Wright. The image showed a gothic-looking Jessica with her long, blonde hair spreading out behind her in classic gypsy fashion. She looked mesmerized as she stared into a crystal ball, her hands covered with rings, each one positioned on either side of the globe. Around her eyes, dark eyeshadow gave an almost silent film look. Her lips, pressed together, were colored in a faded black which appeared blue.
As she approached the tent, she could hear the pianola sounds that played through speakers hanging on the outside—the Mystic Mistress Maria’s theme music and her baiting atmospheric score. She slowly reached into her leather overcoat, pulling the pistol from its holster. She held it at her leg’s side, beneath the cover of the overcoat. She reached out with one hand, slowly pulling back the tent door. She stepped inside and drew the weapon up into both of her hands.
“Jessica?” She called out, but there was no answer. “Jessica, are you there?”
She looked at the tent floor, flattened dirt, and she could see signs of a struggle. A few items had been knocked onto the ground, and something had pulled at the tablecloth from her table where she conducted her readings. It was almost completely draping the floor.
Mercedes could tell something was underneath the tablecloth and she suspected the worst. She stepped closer and knelt down to uncover what she knew would be a body.
She pulled back the tablecloth.
It was a man. He appeared to be in his early twenties with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes. He had been shot only once, in the face, and that was enough. The bullet had gone straight through and out the back of his head. His body was still warm.
That’s when she noticed the familiar set of jewelry on the hand of the woman lying behind the man. She stood up and walked behind the table; she found Jessica on the ground in a pool of blood—she was flat on her back, riddled with bullet holes. She was staring at the ceiling of the tent and barely breathing.
Mercedes fell to her knees and her medic training at the academy kicked in. She grabbed the tablecloth and ripped off shreds for closing off wounds. But Jessica just grabbed her by the arm and pulled her in close to her mouth.
“Get the doctor,” Jessica whispered.
“I know,” Mercedes said, “But if I don’t stop this bleeding—”
Jessica squeezed her arm tighter, “No. Kill the doctor.” Her fingernails tore into Mercedes's triceps. She pulled out of her grip once the fingers had penetrated flesh. She licked the blood off her fingernails and mumbled something under her breath. Her eyes rolled back into her head.
Death was a familiar look and feeling to Mercedes, so she knew when it was real. It was real. She stood up and looked down at the young girl she was starting to consider a friend. Mercedes had made few friends in her life. And those she made usually left her, pushed away, or died.
She recalled this affair had started on a Monday and questioned whether she should even work Mondays. Nothing good ever came of it.
Mercedes walked through the front door to her private detective agency and was met with the usual sarcasm she had come to expect from her assistant and singular employee, Misty.
“Late again, I see,” Misty said from behind her desk.
“It wasn’t my fault this time,” Mercedes started, rolling her eyes. “My car wouldn’t start and I had to hail a cab.” She let her overcoat fall to her wrists and slipped it off. She hung it up on a coat rack in the corner by the window. “Sounded like the engine. Guess I’ll be looking for a new car in the near future; that’s gonna kill my bank.”
“Oh,” Misty said, “Should I be dusting off my resume?”
“No, my account, not the business account,” Mercedes replied.
“Good,” Misty said as she poured a cup of coffee for Mercedes. “You can be poor; I don’t care, just don’t touch my business account.”
Mercedes looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Thanks, and call me in a rental car.”
“There’s a gentleman in your office, by the way,” Misty started, “He’s been waiting since before I got here.” She handed Mercedes her coffee and removed the spoon she had used to stir the two scoops of sugar and creamer.
“Thanks,” Mercedes said as she took the coffee and entered through the open door to her office.
Sitting in one of the guest chairs was a gentleman of about fifty. He wore a gray suit that was wrinkled, and possibly moldy. It smelled of dampness, probably pulled from the back of a closet or even from a basement. His hair looked as though he had tried to comb it, but it just wouldn’t cooperate. It looked like he had been sleeping on it and hadn’t combed it in a long time—the part wouldn’t stick.
She crossed in front of him and introduced herself, extending her hand for a handshake. “Good morning, sir, I’m Mercedes Masterson.”
He didn’t take the hand; he glanced at it with disgust, and then looked up to her. “I’ve been waiting a long time. If this was a restaurant, I would have demanded a refund and left.” The man spoke with a thick German accent, and a whole lot of distain.
“You haven’t paid me anything,” Mercedes said as she walked around behind her desk to take her seat. “And you haven’t even convinced me to take your case yet, either.” She sipped her coffee. Perfect. Misty always made it perfect.
“What do you mean?” the man asked. “You can turn me away? Why wouldn’t you take my case?”
Mercedes laid her coffee on the desk. “It’s more a question of why should I? Convince me.”
The man shook his head. “I came to you because my wife is having an affair with another man. They are both planning to kill me and take my life’s work. I’m a scientist and I’ve been working on a most secret project for the government. Her lover is using her to get to me, to take my work and sell it.”
“How do you know all of this?” she asked him, sensing a healthy amount of paranoia coming from the man. “Did she tell you? Did her boy toy tell you?”
“Boy toy, I do not like that term,” he said. “No, she did not tell me, and I have not spoken to her lover.”
“How are you so certain she has a lover?” she asked. She still wasn’t convinced he wasn’t just some jealous and paranoid alpha male.
“I have seen things which the eye cannot forget.” He leaned forward and reached into his suit jacket. He pulled out a stack of pictures. He slid them casually across the desk.
A series of telltale images scattered across the mahogany. A younger woman in a little black dress meeting a tall, dark stranger. Other images of them through a window ranging from foreplay to intercourse. Mercedes picked up the images and thumbed through them. His wife was way too young for him, and she could see why she had turned to the arms of the man in the picture. He was more her age and appeared to be a playboy in his tailored suit and tie. She had to admit part of his story was accurate, but she still smelled that it was simple. He was older, and his hygiene appeared to be lacking. He certainly didn’t have the sense of style as the other man, and she wondered what a normal outfit would be for the man before her. She also wondered if maybe it was possible he was suffering from erectile dysfunction. It would explain a lot as to why she was holding the images in her hand.
“Oh,” she said and turned an image sideways to look at it. “That’s new.”
“Miss Masterson!” the man shouted out of shock. “Some taste, please.”
She handed the photos back over to him. “Sure. Look, I’m not convinced yet that these two pose a threat on your life, or your work for that matter.” She paused for a moment, and then jumped into it again after a sigh. It was time to get to the point. “Sometimes a woman can move to another man for many reasons. The man in the photograph is closer to her age and you’re upwards to fifty I’m guessing. He also appears to be quite the charmer. And, lastly, sometimes relationships can deteriorate over the years and can have an impact on a couple’s sexual relationship. What I’m saying is that these images may not represent that she has left you, or is going to leave you. It may be that she feels she needs another man to reach pleasure now. I’m not saying that’s nice, or that you should feel great about it, but what I’m saying is it may not be sinister. Have you tried broaching the conversation with her? You know she’s cheating on you, so why not just tell her? Show her the photographs and ask her what’s going on. That may be all you need to do, that may be all there is to it. Maybe you need a couple’s therapist, not a private detective.”
“I know what I do, and I know how important it is and how much others would like to have my work,” he said. “But I understand your assertion. I will pay you to prove me wrong. I would love to be wrong. If you find that this is all merely about sex, that the man has no interest in my work and neither are plotting to kill me, then I will do exactly as you say. I will show her the photographs, ask her about them, and we will seek counseling.” He paused and leaned forward to the edge of his chair. He sat his arms across her desk and whispered. “But if I am right, you will take all of your information to the authorities and make sure that this plot is stopped before it can be carried out. Do we have a deal? Are you not convinced?”
“Fair enough,” she said. “I’m convinced.” She took another sip of her coffee and sat back.
“Here is a little something to get you started.” He reached into his jacket again and pulled out a wrinkled envelope. He placed it on the desk and turned to leave.
“Wait,” she said. “I need your name, number, and address if I’m to do the job. Give that information and anything Misty asks for on the way out.”
“Thank you,” he said and walked out of the office.
Mercedes picked up the envelope and opened it. It had several hundred dollar bills in it. She stopped for a moment when she saw them, and then she began counting. He had just dropped one thousand dollars on her desk as a little something to get her started on his investigation. Maybe getting a new car wasn’t going to be so hard after all, and maybe she could even splurge a little on herself.
LATER THAT SAME DAY
Mercedes pulled up outside the residence of Christophe Nimitz, the scientist who had hired her that morning. The sun was setting and he was leaving to run nightly errands to work on his "top secret duties" for the United States government. She was still certain he was crazy when it came to his job duties, but the photographic evidence was incriminating in terms of adultery.
Nimitz stepped out of the large, overtly American house in the style of a southern ranch—the kind that owned slaves before the Civil War. He stormed to his vintage Aston Martin and climbed into it yelling back at his wife in German. Mercedes had taken some German in college, and it was a bit rusty. She was able to decipher enough that he was blowing her off. Mrs. Nimitz stayed at the foot of the stoop and yelled to him to come back, but he just spun around the fountain on their brick driveway and sped through the gates which opened automatically. After he spun off down the street, he screeched at the stop sign and got out of his car, frustratingly aiming a remote at the gate. He pounded it on the back and pressed the button once more. The gates began to close. He got back in his car, slammed the door, and then sped off around the corner.
Mercedes penciled the word "unstable" into a small notepad. She looked back to Mrs. Nimitz who was visibly upset with whatever had happened behind closed doors. She was standing in a white negligee that barely covered her body, with a pink silk robe draped over it. She noticed the cold and that she was standing outside exposed. She pulled the robe tight and tied it off. She was barefoot. She sighed and walked to the garden next to the stoop. She bent down and picked herself a white rose. She walked back up the stoop and entered the house.
“Well, he’s Mr. Charming in my book,” a voice said from her backseat.
Mercedes turned around and saw a mirror image of herself in a gray suit and black blouse. Her alter ego. “Has it been that long since I took a pill?” she asked.
“How should I know?” her alter ego said. “You’re the idiot not taking your pills.”
Mercedes looked across the street. She wondered what the wife was up to inside. Nimitz had prepped her to believe that after he left, in would step the boy toy. After the tirade in which he left, she wouldn’t blame Mrs. Nimitz.
“I wouldn’t blame her either,” the lady in back said and sat forward, resting her arms on the back of the front seat. “If I was married to a guy the age of rocks, and he treated me like that, no matter what language, I’d do something.”
“I don’t need you right now.” Mercedes said with a raised voice. She turned and came face-to-face with her own likeness.
The alter ego laughed in her face, and then stretched across the backseat of the rental car Misty had reserved that morning. “I, you, me. We are one. When do we ever really need our own selves? When it matters most.”
“Go. Away.” Mercedes said through her teeth, her face warming to a red. She could see that smile she hated, her own, looking back at her from the backseat. She had gotten what she wanted, she was under her skin. After a few seconds or minutes, she wasn’t sure, she blinked and she was gone.
Mercedes turned back around and stared at the beautifully happy house that didn’t know love, or happiness. No matter the size of your wallet or house. No matter the uniqueness of your cars and furniture. No matter what. Happiness and love were never a given. Never. What you want is not quantitative to your needs.
She picked up her coffee from the console. It was already getting cold. It was going to be a long night she feared.
LATER THAT EVENING
Jessica Wright was seeing the inside of a house; nothing extraordinary about it. Loud music played, classical. She recognized it, but in her dream state couldn’t put her finger on the composition or composer. She continued to watch through the eyes of a man she didn’t know, but had come to piece together parts of his life. He suddenly turned and stepped into a coat closet, closing the door on himself. He looked through a small crack in the door. She could see through his eyes that there was movement in the living room they had just been standing in. The man tilted his head up and the two watched through his eyes as shadows danced on the roof.
Someone was home, and he was the intruder.
Jessica could feel her heart pounding, as she knew what would likely come next. It was what always came next. The unrelenting treatment, violence, screaming, and then… it was over. And she’d be awake.
But for now she was stuck in a closet, waiting for the moment. The moment for chaos to unleash. And the music kept getting louder and louder. More intrusive. She couldn’t hear the person or persons in the house. She hoped maybe he would be outnumbered this time and he would be overpowered.
Someone just outside the closet, standing right in front of them. He stepped back into the coats gently, anticipating that the door would open.
“NO!” Jessica screamed in silence. “GO AWAY! GO! RUN!”
The door opened and there stood a small, elderly woman with an overcoat in her hand. The woman was stunned, and just looked at him funny, mouthing something to the man. But it was too late.
The man lunged at the old woman and Jessica came with him. Watching in horror as he stabbed her three times in the torso and tackled her to the ground. They sat, straddled over the woman’s broken body, her eyes barely grasping onto life. He held the hunting knife in his right hand and covered her mouth with the left. He leaned in and yelled in her face, making demands. But she couldn’t hear, same as always. Just silent screams, silent demands, silence. Except for that music.
He removed the hand from the old woman’s mouth. She whispered something under her breath. The man leaned in to hear, placing his ear against her mouth. In this moment she used his eyes to look about the room, trying to find some clue.
A newspaper hanging over the side of the coffee table. A partial headline, a byline. That might be enough.
He turned and set up over the old woman, looking down on her, crushing her under his weight. He raised his arms above his head, clutching the knife with both hands.
“I’m so sorry,” Jessica whispered in silence to the little old lady.
Jessica woke up at the exact moment the knife entered and the woman’s life was taken from her. She was in a puddle of sweat, and tore back the sheets from her body. She leapt out of bed and nearly stumbled to the floor. She grabbed a notebook near her bed and ran into the other room of her modest RV. She sat it open face on the table. She scurried around the RV, rummaging through drawers, searching for a pen or pencil. She found a Sharpie. She returned to the notebook on the table and started writing down everything she could remember. She started first with the clues she had managed to scrap.
REDHAWKS WIN TOURN(AMENT), PARTIAL HEADLINE. The partial headline she had snatched from the newspaper. It had ended with “TOURN”, but she filled the rest in herself.
TOM BRADSHAW, BYLINE. The writer byline that accompanied the story.
She then turned her focus on the entire scene of the crime, everything she could remember in chronological order. That’s when it hit her.
“Scheherazade,” she said it out loud, excitedly. She wrote it down in her notebook.
SCHEHERAZADE, RUSSIAN COMPOSER RIMSKY-KORSAKOV. This was the music that played in the visions. This was the song she had to sit through, tortured that she couldn’t glean more clues from the sounds of the crimes themselves.
She looked to the right of her bed and there were piles of boxes with other notebooks in them. All of them contained detailed accounts of the horrors in her visions. She had first thought they were nightmares, but that seemed ages ago when she was a teenager living in a small town in Missouri. Eventually, she began to question that the nightmares might be real and she began to research gruesome murders online, hoping to find a connection to one of her nightmares. She eventually found one, and soon another, and after that five more. Someone was killing people, in the most grotesque ways imaginable, and she had to see it. She was unable to help, unable to step in. Just a bystander in the killer's eyes.
Jessica looked to the left of her bed. More boxes. More notebooks. More victims. More blood. Mountains of bodies, oceans of blood. Back in Missouri there was a storage unit filled with boxes of notebooks, and a desk and chair where she could review them. This was her archive. A treasure trove of death journals. And although she hadn't committed a single crime, she knew if anyone ever found her notebooks, she would be charged with every one of them. Her intimate knowledge of the crimes and a fear of the unexplained and unknown would make her the killer. No one would accept that that she had only been a witness. That she wasn't there in the flesh. It was too dark, too supernatural or spiritual for most minds to accept. She would be guilty of giving a crap.
She was the only one who knew what she knew, the closest person to the killer. Closest to knowing his face, his name, his motives.
She was becoming drowsy, her eyelids heavy. She rose from her bed and entered the kitchen area. She put on a pot of coffee. It was going to be a long few hours before she could return to sleep. She had to extract every detail of information from the vision.
Mercedes was eating a donut and drinking coffee in her rental car, when Mrs. Nimitz emerged from the house shortly after her husband had left for the morning. Mercedes followed close enough behind that she wouldn't lose her, but not so close that she would be noticed. The trip was long, and took them far away from suburbia lifestyle. Mrs. Nimitz pulled her little Porsche onto a gravel road that led into the farmland that served as both fairgrounds and carnival grounds. Mercedes knew it all too well. She had frequented the territory often when she was a teenager with her friends. A few flashbacks of happy and stupid moments flittered through her mind, as she first passed the grounds and then doubled back and pulled in. She could see Mrs. Nimitz's black Porsche parked as close as possible to the entrance to the carnival grounds. She watched as Mrs. Nimitz argued with a young man at the gate, and finally handed him some money from her little purse with diamonds on it. The man let her through and went back about his business. The carnival was closed during the day, and the young man was putting himself at risk of getting fired for letting her through.
Mercedes parked her car in the grass, far from the little Porsche she was tailing. She walked up to the gate and the young man came over to stop her.
"Mercedes Masterson, Private Eye," she told him, waving a permit in his face from her billfold.
"No matter. We're closed," he said.
"I know," she said. "Take me to your boss and I'll tell him you took a bribe from the lovely lady in fur."
The young man stuttered to find his words, and the finally said, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do," Mercedes said. "But I'm not interested in getting you fired, so just let me pass and I'll forget I saw it."
"OK," he said, whipped. He scurried away and she moved passed him.
Mercedes kept her distance from Mrs. Nimitz who was moving at a pace that said she had a purpose. It also said she knew exactly where she was going. Mercedes wondered what strange reason brought Mrs. Nimitz to the carnival. It seemed so unlike her class to have any purpose or desire to be tripping through the uneven carnival grounds in heels.
At the other end of the carnival, Mrs. Nimitz found that purpose. A fortuneteller. Before she entered the tent, she stopped and looked around to make sure no one saw her. Mercedes hid beside a pillar to a pavilion labeled The Barbeque Pit. She watched Mrs. Nimitz go inside.
Mercedes darted across to the backside of the fortune teller's tent and tried to listen in on the conversation. But she could only hear mumbles. She walked over and found a picnic table nearby. She sat and pulled out her cellphone. She played a game of Blackjack on the phone, while mostly keeping her eyes on the entrance to the fortune teller's tent. She waited for Mrs. Nimitz to reappear. Finally, after twenty-two minutes, Mrs. Nimitz came out of the tent. She looked worried and checked around even more for someone to be following her. Mercedes kept her head down as Mrs. Nimitz scanned over her.
Mrs. Nimitz hurried back to the entrance of the carnival. Mercedes waited until she was completely out of sight before standing up from the picnic table.
Mercedes entered the fortune teller's tent.
"Sorry," Jessica said with her back turned. "Come back tonight. I'm closed during the day."
"I'm Mercedes Masterson," she said. "I'm a Private Investigator."
Jessica spun around and looked surprised. "I know who you are," she said. "You're practically famous in some circles."
"Sure," Mercedes grumbled.
"What brings you here?" Jessica asked.
"I need to ask you a few questions," Mercedes replied.
Jessica scowled at her. "About what?"
"Well, about the woman who was just in here for one," Mercedes said.
Jessica grinned. "Not surprising. Sit down."
Mercedes sat down at the only chair available, which was at the table with the crystal ball on it. Jessica sat across from her and pushed the crystal ball to one side so they could see each other better.
"You really believe in this?" Mercedes asked, looking at the crystal ball.
"I wouldn't be very good at my job, if I didn't," Jessica answered.
"You sure you're not just a hack?"
Jessica sighed. "You know, you're not really getting on my good side."
"Yeah," Mercedes said. "I have a knack for that." She pulled out a tiny notepad and pen.
"People still use those things?" Jessica laughed.
Mercedes raised an eyebrow. "I'm old school."
"That's fine," Jessica said and gestured at her trinkets around the tent. "I got you beat, though."
"Yeah, I'd say you do," Mercedes remarked. "Why did Mrs. Nimitz come to you just now? What did you two talk about?"
"Is that her real name?" Jessica asked. "She always goes by Joan Black when she comes in here. Always knew that was fake."
"Yes, that's her real name. Joan Nimitz," Mercedes said. "So what of it?"
Jessica sat back in her chair and crossed her legs. "Joan came to me because she believes I have the gift. And, more importantly, she believes her husband is trying to kill her. I gather he's a real—" she pointed down at her lap and mouthed the word dick.
"It's plausible," Mercedes said. "Why does she think that about her husband?"
"But is he?" Jessica asked. "I don't know, I haven't met the guy. All I know is what she tells me and he sounds like a total—well, you know."
Mercedes rolled her eyes. "Yeah, he's kind of like that. That's the vibe I get."
"Oh. Thought so," Jessica said. "Well, Joan started cheating on him and she thinks he knows and believes he's plotting to kill her because—matrimony, I don't know. She's paranoid and with good reason; he's becoming more and more violent and aggressive with her. And, honestly," she leaned in, "She is going to die very soon."
"Is that what you told her?" Mercedes asked. "That she's going to die very soon?"
"Not in those words, no," Jessica said as she leaned back in her chair. "I told her she is in danger and that she needs to get away from her husband. That she needs to find help."
"Is she going to?" Mercedes asked.
"No, she's not," Jessica said.
Mercedes chuckled, "She said that?"
"No," Jessica started. "She didn't say that. She said she would, but she lied. She's too scared of him. And, in the end, that'll be the death of her. Fear. Fear is the most dangerous game."
"Amen to that," Mercedes said.
"Anything else?" Jessica asked.
"What do you think Mrs. Nimitz is going to do?" Mercedes asked.
"Die." Jessica said.
There was a brief silence. Mercedes didn't quite know how to respond to that answer. Jessica seemed young and honest. She didn't seem like someone who was interested in introducing more drama into her life. She wanted to blow off everything she had said as mumbo-jumbo, but she couldn't. Suddenly, Mercedes felt like she was caught in a strange three-way that was not going to end well for her.
"Thank you for your time," Mercedes said and stood up to leave.
"Wait, I have a few questions of my own," Jessica said.
Jessica convinced Mercedes to stay long enough to have a cup of coffee with her, so she could hear her out on her dreams, the nightmarish visions she had been having. She wanted a detective's perspective on the situation, and possibly, if she was willing, her help. Jessica couldn't offer her money and knew it was a longshot. But three hours and four cups of coffee later Mercedes left her tent.
Mercedes's phone rang on the nightstand and she checked the clock before answering. She hadn't even been asleep ten minutes, and it was half past three. She grabbed the phone and grunted into it before greeting.
"This better be good,” she said.
"It's not," a familiar voice replied—that of Agent Dean Ekron from the State Bureau. "Not even close. Get dressed and call me back on your way to the address for your current client, one Christophe Nimitz."
"Perfect,” she said and hung up.
She grabbed the clothes she had tossed on the floor a few hours before, and put them back on. She threw on an overcoat, hoping to cover most of the wrinkles. She checked her face in the mirror and stormed out the door.
In the car, ignoring traffic laws, she dialed Ekron's number. "So what's up?" she asked.
"Wife's dead, and her lover," he said, and she could hear a sigh in his voice. "In an apparent murder-suicide, according to Babylon's finest."
"And why do you care? What's the State's involvement?" she asked.
"I don't care," he said. "But the State very much does. Turns out Nimitz has his fingers in with the Department of Defense and is friends with the governor. There is even word the Feds might get involved. That's assuming we don't wrap it up all nice and tidy."
"Nice and tidy? You mean, like a murder-suicide?" she asked, knowing the answer.
"Yeah, exactly that," he replied. "Just get here, yeah? And fast before the District Attorney signs off on everything."
She hung up, stepped on the gas pedal, and tore through every residential neighborhood between her shabby neighborhood and the Nimitz estate. She tried to make some sense of it before getting there, afraid it would all be booked by the time she reached the front door. Certainly Mr. Nimitz himself had a fine motive; his paranoia and jealousy driving him to rage would be pretty obvious to even a novice detective. But he didn't seem like the type to get his hands dirty. Would he be so ridiculous as to hire a contract killer? Certainly not. With all his delusions, it was likely he had his own muscle employed. No, the killer probably wasn't far from his side.
And then, a straw. She grasped at it and pulled out her phone. She feverishly dialed a number, new and foreign to her, while weaving all over the road.
"Hello?" A tired voice from the other side answered. It was Jessica.
"Hate to wake you at such a wicked hour," Mercedes started. "But this is Mercedes, and I need to know any detail you can give me about the murder of our beloved Mrs. Nimitz."
"She's dead already?" Jessica sounded surprised. "That was quicker than usual."
"Nothing," Jessica said. "Well, I did have a rather weird vision. But I didn't imagine you wanted to hear about that."
"I'm on my way to the crime scene," Mercedes said. "Just tell me."
"There were two men in silhouette," Jessica started. "Pretty certain a gun was used. Outside of that, I can't say much other than that one was large and walked with a limp. Outside of that, it was pretty vague."
"That's vague?" Mercedes said and swerved from hitting a parked mini-van.
"More vague than my nightmares," Jessica said.
"Fair enough," Mercedes said. "Thanks." And with that she hung up and tossed the phone across the rental into the passenger seat and grabbed the wheel with both hands.
Mercedes parked behind an Audi R8 GT on the street, greeted by the usual array of blinding lights from a crime scene. Like a nightclub scene in groovy, rhythmic cynicism. Beckoning the children of the night to join in the night's dance of the dead. She met Ekron at the police tape near the sidewalk. He rolled his eyes.
"Come on in, I've gotten you maybe five minutes max," he said, and then lifted the tape for her to step under. She crossed the line and walked through the gate to the Nimitz estate with him. "It's not a murder-suicide, I can pretty much guarantee it. But they wanna put this under the rug. Deep under it. Under the wood, in the ground and in some old lady's garden in Australia. Nimitz doesn't have diplomatic immunity, but it sure feels like it."
District Attorney Williams stepped out of the front door when they reached it. He glared at Mercedes and turned a cold shoulder to her to address Ekron. "Detective Ekron, we need to talk. Privately."
"I didn't vote for you," Mercedes said as she walked by Williams.
"You've told me that before," he said back to her.
"I know. I just like saying it," she said and made her way into the atrium. She found a young officer in uniform. His face was glowing white. She checked his nametag. "Officer Milton?"
"Um, yes, ma'am," he replied nervously.
"First murder scene?" she asked.
"Yeah," he answered.
"You tell me how to get to it, and I'll do the rest myself," she said.
"Sure, thanks," he said and gave her directions to a bedroom on the second floor.
She climbed the marble staircase, which wrapped around the large atrium. At the top of the stairs, she found Christophe Nimitz talking with the Chief and drinking coffee. He half smiled at her when he saw her.
"Mrs. Masterson, I'm surprised to see you," he said and waved her attention to the chief. "This is the Chief of Police—"
"I know," she said.
"We do golf sometimes, you see," he explained. "So, naturally he was concerned when he heard what had happened." He let out a big sigh, and placed the back of his hand against his forehead in melodramatic fashion. "I suppose all the drama, going behind my back and such, was just too much for her to handle. So, she ended it the only way she knew how. Tragic." He paused and spoke again before anyone had a chance. "I hate for you to come all the way out here just for this." He turned to the chief. "You see, I had only recently hired Mrs. Masterson to confirm my suspicions that my wife had been cheating on me. And I believe she had done that." He turned back to Mercedes. "Had you not confirmed those relations, as I surmised?"
"It seemed likely," Mercedes said and took a deep breath. She really wanted to punch him in the face. She could tell she was part of the con, and that he had been using her. She pushed through the chief and Nimitz. "And by the way, it's Miss not Missus."
As she continued down the hallway, she could see a collection of officers, detectives and criminologists standing outside a bedroom door. She knew that it must be the place. As she approached, the men stopped talking and stared at her as she came up. Most of them knew her from her former life, and the others knew her from the string of popularity she gained from shutting down two mob families and corruption in both the police and state departments. She was not liked by her peers then, and she was hated even more now that she was a private detective. And it never helped that she had a vagina between her legs. There was just something about that slit, it really pissed them off.
"Excuse me boys," she said as she pushed her way through the pillars of man meat. It was like high school all over again. Except there was a lot more blood.
She stepped into the large and extravagant bedroom. In the middle of the room was an oversized king-size bed, which was likely very difficult to sheet and blanket. So, it had to be custom from top-to-bottom. She was still sleeping on her old full-size bed from her teenage days, when her family lived in a rundown trailer park. Maybe she should start making bombs or whatever Nimitz did, it clearly made more money.
On the floor and spread out in a puddle of blood was Mrs. Nimitz's former lover. He had been hit with a series of bullets to the torso, close range. A passion kill. Crime of passion. Heat of the moment and emotional. At least, that was the way it was meant to look. Whoever killed him knew exactly where every vital organ was in the torso. It was cold, deliberate and professional.
She made her way around the young man. She stood at the edge and examined with her eyes the late Mrs. Nimitz. She too was spread out on the bed. She was laying on her back, her feet dangling off the edge. A revolver was in her right hand, presumably the murder weapon. In her right temple was an entry wound. The gun barrel had been placed directly against the skin, judging by the burn marks around the wound. The bullet came out the left side of her skull, lodged into the wall and was carefully being removed and preserved by a couple of young men. She noticed markings, burns on her wrists. These appeared to be from being tied up. She looked down at the ankles as well, and there were similar markings. The four posts of the bed each had a leather strap, which according to some of the pictures she had seen were in line with Mrs. Nimitz's style of foreplay.
On the other side of the bed was a young criminologist. He was taking photographs of the body. She waved at him. "Hey, kid, what's your name?" she asked.
"Thomas," he said.
"Thomas, do you know if you guys did a rape kit on Mrs. Nimitz?" she asked.
"A rape kit?” he asked, puzzled. “Why?”
"Well, judging by how the two are dressed, barely, and that she was strapped to the bed posts by all limbs, she probably had sex." She started. "It's possible something else might have happened here, either way, you should probably do a rape kit." She gestured at the young man on the floor. "My money is on Loverboy had sex with her, and it was consensual, because that's the picture we were meant to see."
Thomas lifted Mrs. Nimitz's nightgown and looked up it. "The picture we were meant to see?"
"That's right, Thomas," she said. "This was staged." She started to walk off.
"Hey, she did have sex recently!" Thomas said to her.
"I know," she said and walked out.
Back in the hallway, Mercedes tried to slip by Nimitz and the chief unnoticed, but overheard something which peaked her interest. Nimitz was talking about his security detail, bodyguards.
"Excuse me," she interrupted and both of the men seemed annoyed. "Where were your security guards?"
"Unfortunately, I had given them a night off," Nimitz replied.
"You gave your bodyguards the night off?" Mercedes scoffed. "Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"
"I would have them at my side all year, but unfortunately that's just not feasible," he replied.
"I find that financially hard to believe," she said. "Where are they? I'd like to question them."
"I don't know, they could be anywhere," he said. "It is their night off after all." He looked to the chief for backup.
"Drop it, Masterson," the chief said.
Outside she bumped into Ekron in the yard. He came over with an annoyed look on his face. "So, they're gonna push this one down the drain. The D.A. wants to bury it."
"Of course he does," she said.
"What did you think?" he asked.
"It was a double murder, and very calculated. It was professional,” she said. "I have the guys inside running a rape kit, but it may get shut down before even that concludes. And, Daddy Nimitz gave his guards the night off. Oddly convenient."
"Where are the guards? Are they here?" he asked.
"Nope. They're missing in action," she said. "But I aim to find them."
EARLY WEDNESDAY MORNING
Mercedes arrived back home and dropped her keys on the coffee table as the sun was rising. She headed straight for the kitchen and started making coffee. She took off her overcoat and draped it over the kitchen chair. She leaned against the counter near her coffee maker, waiting impatiently. She didn't dare sit down, afraid she would fall asleep if she did. Her mind began to wander about, trying to piece the puzzle together in her head.
"Well, she was cheating on him." Her alter ego appeared in gray suit. She sat on the counter across the room, her legs crossed. "The slut had it coming, I say."
"No," Mercedes said, looking straight ahead.
"No? No meaning she didn't have an affair? No meaning she wasn't a slut? Or no meaning she didn't deserve it?" her alter ego asked.
"Two out of three of that," Mercedes replied. "She did have an affair. But nobody, absolutely nobody deserves that."
"That's rich, coming from you," her alter ego said in a voice that cut deep.
For the first time during the conversation, Mercedes looked at her alter ego. Her eyes cut right through her like knives. "Can it. I'm busy."
"OH, excuse me," her alter ego joked and jumped off of the counter. She walked by her and faded out of existence. "You're busy," she said after she was no longer visible.
Once Mercedes could feel the woman she hated was truly gone, she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down with it. She sipped on it, black. Nimitz was sure of the affair before hiring her, but he needed her to confirm the accusation. What didn't fit was his strange story about fearing the two were trying to steal his secrets. How did that all come into play? Or did it at all? Maybe it was all part of the ruse. The key was he wanted her out of the picture, that was clear from his hostile behavior towards her. Loverboy just made it easy. Gave him a way to make it happen. The guards were likely professionals, or used to be professionals. He could use their knowledge and skill to take carry out the kill itself. Perhaps the story about Loverboy being a spy was merely something to tickle the ears of statehood and other dignitaries.
She fell asleep sitting up.
Jessica glared at the clock, her head hurting. She had tossed and turned all night, afraid to close her eyes. Tired of the dreams. Tired of the killings. And still, she worried about confiding in Mercedes Masterson. It was possible it could backfire on her in a terrible way. All those journals. She knew one day they were going to provide a link to the crimes for some zealous detective. She hadn't slept a wink, or if she did she was unaware of it. She took a glass of wine and entered her tent.
She wasn't serving any customers, she always waited until after sunset. The dark shadows worked in her favor, as she played tricks on the minds of horny teens and fake goths. She didn't know which group she hated more. She thought for a moment, and determined it was the hipsters. Hipsters deserved to die. A thousand deaths over.
Die hipsters, die. The thought made her smile.
She heard someone enter the tent behind her.
Mercedes woke up startled at the table, and knocked her cold cup of coffee to the ground. A chill went up her spine and one word came out of her mouth: "Jessica."
Lightning struck, followed by a thunderous clamor that shook her small house. The lights flickered.
Jessica was the last piece of the puzzle. The only one Nimitz knew for sure would not corroborate his wild story. She would be next on his list. That's why the body guards were disposed. They weren't finished. There was one more body on their list.
"I'm closed," Jessica said without turning around to see her guest. "I don't open until sunset."
There was silence, and she could hear the breathing of her guest behind her. But the breathing sounded as if it were own. And her vision became clouded and suddenly she could see the back of herself in front of her.
It was him.
She spun around on her boot heels and saw a man standing timidly before her. They were about the same height, same age. Same weight, same figure. He even had the same blonde hair. He wore a pair of round glasses, which screamed Harry Potter. His hair was parted to the right side and neatly combed. But she could tell he was sweating, and it was starting to lose its grip. He wore a tucked in flannel shirt with khakis and a belt. He was breathing heavier and heavier. And finally, he spoke.
"I would like a palm reading. Please." His voice was shy and timid. He sounded like he was begging for something taboo, something his mother told him never to do.
"Sure," Jessica said, and then gestured to the table and chairs. "Have a seat."
He looked around timidly before moving forward and sitting down. "I'm nervous."
"Yeah, I can see that." Jessica sat down. "One moment, please."
Jessica reached for her little black purse hanging around her body, she opened it and the man almost completely came out of his chair.
"What are you doing?" he demanded. His hand reached for his right pocket.
"Relax, please." Jessica comforted him. "I'm just going to silence my phone." She pulled out a little pay-as-you-go phone and silenced it. She placed it face down on the table. She looked down and could see the little pistol in her handbag. It was just within reach.
"I have one of those!" He got excited at the sight of the phone. He reached into his left pocket, and she almost grabbed her gun and shot him, but he pulled out a phone that was almost identical to hers. "See! The same! Incredible." he said.
"Yeah. Imagine that," she said. She was starting to sweat, too. "What's your first name?"
"Can't you tell me?" he asked, sounding disappointed.
"I don't get to pick and choose what works and what doesn't," she said. "A name."
He thought about it for too long, and then said. "Jason."
She could tell it was his real name, because it looked like a burden had been lifted in saying it. "Look into the ball, please," she told him. She looked down into it. But then her eyesight became blurry once more, and she could see the top of her head from his point of view. She looked up and he was staring at her. "The ball. Not the top of my head."
"You see it, don't you?" he asked.
"Not until you look into the ball," she said. She knew what he meant, but she needed to know something.
He looked down into the ball.
"Put your hands on the table. I'm going to take them in mine," she said.
He placed his hands on the table.
"Palm up, please," she said.
She placed her hands in his palm down. She firmly pressed her index fingers against the veins in his wrist. She looked down into the ball, and took a deep breath. "Jason, I need you to trust me," she said.
"OK," he lied.
"Don't lie," she said. "Trust me."
"OK," he told the truth.
She took a large breath and closed her eyes.
She could feel the rage. The anger. The confusion. The hate. But that's not what she wanted to know. She wanted to know why he did what he had done. And why he had sought her out after all these years. She pushed herself to go further, deeper into his past. There was so much anger. So much hate. She struggled to make sense of anything. She pushed further. She saw him as a teenager standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom. He was in his pajamas, scared and had wet himself. She pushed further. He was twelve, and his mother found him cutting on his wrist with a piece of broken mirror. She pushed further. He was seven, and his father was drunk. His father was yelling at him, angry the boy wouldn't sleep alone. Angry that the boy was always afraid to go to sleep. She pushed further. He was baby in a nursery at a hospital. His name, Jason, was on his blanket. He cried as someone took a baby girl next to him. A blanket fell from the baby girl, and it read Jessica. She pushed out.
Jessica jerked back so hard that she fell over in her chair. She hit the back of her head against the dirt. She looked up and saw Jason standing above her.
"Now you see, yeah?" he said. "Now you know."
"You—" She paused at the thought. "We're twins?" Lightning screeched across the sky, and she could feel the dirt shaking beneath her.
"Yes," he said with great pride. He stepped around the table, and she saw he had taken a knife from his right pocket. "They took you away. They separated us. And all these years, all these years we've been seeing each other's memories in our dreams."
"Why did you kill all those people?" she asked and looked at her handbag. The gun wasn't in it anymore.
"Don't you see?" he said as if she should know. "I was trying to find you. I was following you. All those years."
"But why?" she asked.
"So I could kill you." he said and gripped his knife harder. "So I could have my dreams back. I just want to be normal."
He lunged at her and she tried to get up, but he had straddled her before she could even sit up. He sat on her stomach and held the knife above his head with both hands, ready to thrust it into her chest. She looked around frantically for her gun.
"Finally." he spoke looking up. "Finally I can be whole once more. It's all I ever wanted. Tonight, I will sleep in peace."
He looked down and she had the gun cocked in his face.
"Rest in peace," she said and pulled the trigger.
His head jerked back violently, and his body fell over backwards onto her legs and feet. His head wrapped into the tablecloth on the way to the ground, and pulled it over his face. She could feel the warm blood streaming over her ankles. She struggled to push him off her body as she pulled out from underneath him. She stood up over him and looked down at him. The bullet had entered just between his eyes and exited the back of his head. Dead in a matter of seconds.
Jessica looked up and saw two men in suits standing on the other side of the table. They both had guns with silencers aimed at her. "You've got to be kidding me," she said. She lowered her gun. "Single bullet. Bought it cheap off some old lady in Sullivan, Missouri, like six years ago." She dropped it on Jason and smiled. "You need a reading?"
They opened fire on her. Two to the chest. One to the right shoulder. Another broke her left collarbone. She collapsed to the ground. She watched the shadows dance across the tent. This was going to be her last reading.
The two men stood on either side of her, staring down. One kneeled down to check her pulse, while the other checked on Jason. When the man touched her neck, she closed her eyes. She took a deep breath.
She saw conversations between the two men, bodyguards, and Nimitz. She heard about the plans to murder Mrs. Nimitz and her lover. Money was exchanged. She watched as the two men forced Mrs. Nimitz and her lover to make love one last time. And then, she watched as they meticulously and savagely murdered both of them. And she saw one final conversation between the two guards and their boss, Nimitz. She heard very plainly as Nimitz gave the order for them to kill her. That she was the last loose end in their plans. She cursed him.
She opened her eyes. The two men were running out the back of her tent, one was limping. She wondered why they hadn't finished the job. A moment later she saw Mercedes looking into her eyes.
She figured she'd have to do.
Mercedes stood at a small plot in Forrest Park Cemetery. She pulled some strings, and it turned out Ekron had a cousin who did woodwork. He carved out a beautiful, oak casket. When Ekron and Mercedes offered to pay, he waived them off and said it was on the house. She stood there with only Ekron nearby as they laid Jessica into the ground. A small nameplate was placed on the ground. There was no mention of a twin.
Mercedes tried to get Jessica’s family to claim her body, but they weren't interested. Her foster parents were still angry with her after she had left them at an early age. “I have no daughter.” Her foster father had said over the phone. So Mercedes chose to claim her body and give her a proper burial. It felt good to use the money from Nimitz to do so.
No one claimed her brother’s body and he was unceremoniously cremated by the morgue.
“Thanks for coming, Dean,” Mercedes yelled to Ekron through the rain, and from under her black umbrella.
“Yeah,” Ekron replied. They stood there in the rain, and Ekron could feel his feet sinking in the mud. He stepped up and tried to replant on sturdier ground. “They’ve swept it all under the rug, ya know?”
“I know,” Mercedes said.
“Looks like Nimitz got away with it,” Ekron said, and then turned and walked away.
He was frustrated. He couldn’t bear it. And watching another one of Nimitz’s victims be laid to rest wasn’t helping. Mercedes understood him all too well. They both had a very low threshold for injustice. The difference was that she always found a way to fix it, or cope with it. Usually coping with it meant blaming someone else. Ekron on the other hand, he just buried it deep. Another mistrial, another thrown case to the pile inside. She knew one day he was going to turn to drinking or suicide, probably both.
But standing there, Mercedes felt a strange sensation come over her. She felt a tingling in her spine and a chill in her body. She had a feeling it wasn’t over yet. That there was one more dirty chapter in the Bloody Nimitz Affair. She stepped forward and dropped a single, black rose on top of Jessica's coffin. A white ribbon was pinned to the rose with the word "FRIEND" in black.
Mercedes fell into a kitchen chair at her house. She tried not to think of the funeral bills she would be paying for years to come. She had only just paid off her mom’s funeral bills, and that was fifteen years ago. She shook her head. She was thinking about it. She pulled a greasy burger out of the bag she brought in from the rain. She had grabbed some greasy lunch on the way home from the funeral. She needed comfort food. She tore the wrapper off and took a big bite out of the burger over the table. Grease fell onto the surface.
“That looks like a heart-attack in the making.” An unfamiliar voice spoke to her.
Mercedes looked up and saw Jessica standing in front of her, leaning against the counter. You could see the bullet holes and blood stains. She was seeing a ghost.
“Oh, great,” Mercedes sighed and dropped her burger on the table. “Now, I’m seeing ghosts.”
“Well, I’m not exactly a ghost,” Jessica explained. “I’m in your head. Kind of a possession type thing.”
“Who is this?” Mercedes’s alter ego appeared leaning against the counter from Jessica. “I don’t recall inviting friends.”
Jessica looked at the alter ego, and back to Mercedes. “I didn’t realize we’d have company.”
“It’s complicated,” Mercedes said. “What are you doing here?”
“Well,” Jessica started. “I needed a body.”
“No,” Mercedes said without hesitation.
“I know who killed me,” Jessica said. “And I know you know he’s gotten away with it. This is a chance to fix that. To set things right.”
“And what?” Mercedes asked. “Kill him?”
“All of them,” Jessica said in a cold voice. “The doctor and his goons.”
Mercedes groaned and shook her head. “I’m not a vigilante.”
“Well, not at the moment,” her alter ego chimed in. “But you’ve been there a few times. Remember that guy’s arm you chopped off?”
Mercedes stood up and pointed at her alter ego with a commanding finger. “You need to shut up.”
“You know you’re pointing at the cabinets, right?” her alter ego mocked.
“You cut someone’s arm off?” Jessica asked.
“Yes,” Mercedes turned to Jessica. “But that was a long time ago, and I was young and stupid.”
Her alter ego leaned over and whispered to Jessica. “She used a Samurai sword.”
“You’re not helping,” Mercedes said.
“You used a Samurai sword?” Jessica said. “That’s awesome. Did he die?”
“No,” Mercedes said. “But he could have. And the worst part is I should have been tried for it. I got lucky. You don’t get that lucky twice.”
“It wasn’t really luck,” her alter ego chimed in once more.
“Not another word,” Mercedes said.
“And then, there was that one time—” her alter ego started, but didn’t finish because Mercedes opened a drawer by the sink. She pulled out a pill bottle.
“I’ll take this pill,” Mercedes said. “I’ll do it.”
“You’re no fun,” her alter ego said and faded away as she walked towards the living room.
“She’s weird, ya know?” Jessica said. “I kinda like her.”
“She’s a pain,” Mercedes said, put the bottle back in the drawer, and closed it. “What is it you want me to do exactly?”
“Let me take over your body, just for a short time,” Jessica said. “Just long enough to kill Nimitz and his entourage.”
“And then what?” Mercedes asked as she sat back down at the table.
“And then I’m gone,” Jessica said. She sat down across from Mercedes at the table. “I’ll have done all I need to do. I’ll have no reason to stick around.”
“Yeah,” Mercedes said. She picked up a couple of fries and shoved them in her mouth. “That works for you, but not for me. I’ll be stuck with my evidence left all over the crime scene. Your motive, my physical evidence. I’ll be convicted of murder for sure.”
“I know,” Jessica said, and looked down concerned. “I’ve been trying to figure that out. Do you know anyone who can get you a piece that can’t be traced back to you?”
“Of course,” Mercedes said. “But there’s more to it than that. I have to worry about dropping a hair, leaving a fingerprint. And if they fight back, I might leave blood behind. It’s stupid on so many levels. Murder isn’t a game to be toyed with.”
“Nimitz got away with it,” Jessica said.
“Yeah, because Nimitz is Nimitz,” Mercedes shot back. “He has friends in very high places, which is another reason why this is a bad idea. Those friends are going to want to blame someone for his unfortunate passing. And they won’t blink until someone is hunted down and executed. Whereas, you and me—we don’t have very many friends. I only made one friend at Babylon P.D., but I burned that bridge a long time ago. And I never made any friends anywhere else. Nobody likes me.”
“What about that Ekron guy?” Jessica asked.
“How do you know about Ekron?” Mercedes said.
“I’m in your head,” Jessica said. “There’s a lot of weird things floating around that I’m trying to ignore. I don’t wanna be invasive.”
“You don’t wanna be invasive, huh?” Mercedes started. “Well, then maybe you should’ve stayed out of my head and stayed dead.”
Jessica sighed again and her shoulders caved in to her chest. She looked tired and lost. “I know I’m asking a lot. I do. But it’s just something I have to do. And it’s not for me. It’s for Mrs. Nimitz. I just hate the way Nimitz is allowed to cast her aside like an old rag.”
“Worse,” Mercedes said and put two more fries in her mouth.
“Alright.” Jessica sat up. “I want this to be your call. You’re the one who has to live with it. And I have no desire to take over your body against your will. I have no desire to be that entity. If you say no, I’ll respect that and be on my way. And I won’t come back.”
Mercedes sat back in her chair. She turned and looked out the window through her blinds. It was a dark afternoon from the storm clouds and heavy rains. It had been raining all night and all day. The streets were flooding with water. Some of the neighbors’ kids were outside running around and splashing in it. Some of them had found their sled and were riding the rapids down the street. Through the rain and thunder short bursts of children’s laughter could be heard. Mercedes was feeling sentimental. And mad. In truth, she had yet to find a way to fix or cope with all that had happened. So Jessica’s offer was the first one that had some validity to it. She knew if she allowed it, it would be enough to scratch the itch. And even for Ekron. Even Ekron would get some degree of satisfaction out of it, though he’d never admit it. By the book was his style.
“Alright,” Mercedes said as she turned to her. “I’ll do it. But I have a few conditions.”
“Sure,” Jessica said.
Mercedes bit her bottom lip, thought for a moment, and then laid out the groundwork for murder. “I will talk with a guy I know. Real piece of scum. But I use him for intel. He trades guns on the black market. Nothing crazy like a rocket launcher, but stuff that gets the job done. I can get a gun from him. We’ll use it for the crime we’re talking about committing, and we’ll dispose of it after it’s over.”
“OK,” Jessica said. “Is that all?”
“No, that’s not all,” Mercedes said. “I know you’d love to take out the two bodyguards who shot you down, but they’re professionals. And while you’re dead, I’m not. I take care of the bodyguards, and once I feel it’s safe for you to take care of Nimitz, then and only then, you can take over and put a bullet in the moron.”
“Sounds fair,” Jessica said.
“Sounds stupid,” Mercedes retorted as she shoved two more fries in her mouth. “Stupid, but simple. And if we’re lucky, maybe this whole affair has put Nimitz’s friends in the frame of mind of seeing him disappear.”
THE NIGHT THAT WAS THE NIGHT
Mercedes arrived at the Nimitz estate at a quarter to midnight. She had parked her car seven blocks away at a McDonald's that was open all night. She and Jessica walked the seven blocks together under the cover of darkness, and Mercedes ran the plan by her multiple times. Jessica was nervous, but determined to have her revenge and set things right for the late Mrs. Nimitz and her lover.
"Are you nervous?" Jessica asked Mercedes.
"I was," Mercedes replied. "But to do this sort of thing right, you have to forget nerves and just know that you know what you're doing."
"You've killed before?" Jessica said.
"Sure," Mercedes said. "Just never under these circumstances. There it is." Mercedes stopped and Jessica stepped beside her. The Nimitz estate was completely dark. Not a single light was visible from the outside. "Last chance. Are you sure about this?"
Jessica hesitated for a moment, but then remembered everything that had happened. She also remembered her twin brother. All the horrible things he had done to find her, just so he could kill her too. She wasn't like him. Justice would be paid. No innocents would be lost at her hand. She was not her brother. And then there was Nimitz. A bona fide, certified dick.
"Yes," Jessica said. "Let's do it."
Mercedes climbed a tree that extended out over the wall surrounding the Nimitz estate. She dropped down from a branch into the side yard. She scanned the area around where she had entered. No one had spotted her. And there was no easy exit from the way she had come in, so she would have to choose a different path on the way out. She pulled out a pistol from the holster underneath her left arm, something she'd bought off her old contact in the black market. She had never been on the purchasing end before with him. That was a position she wasn't comfortable with. They were even now. She couldn't turn him in, and vice versa. They were equals, she no longer had the upper hand on him. She hated that.
She pulled a muzzle from her pocket and fastened it tightly to the end of the small Walther PPk. She gripped it tightly between her hands, and her training at the Academy and State Bureau kicked in. This was only a mission. Just another covert operation. She scanned the yard once more, and then quickly and quietly crossed the open yard to the side of the house. She planted her back against the house and checked her 6 and 12. She moved forward to the back of the house.
Jessica walked at a distance behind the shadow that Mercedes had become. She admired her skill. She was dressed in black from head to toe, and had her long, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. She moved gracefully across the grass, and she couldn't even hear her feet touch. She wondered who was the better ghost.
At the back of the house, Mercedes scanned her surroundings before sitting down on one knee. She placed the gun under her arm and picked the lock of the servant's entrance with a bobby pin she pulled from her hair. A small click was heard when she succeeded. She shoved the bobby pin back into her hair. She scanned around once more, and then reached into her pocket and pulled out a stocking cap. She pulled it over her head and shoved her ponytail underneath it. She was determined not to leave behind one strand of hair, or one fingerprint. She tugged at her leather gloves, covering her wrists, and took the pistol out from under her arm. She held it in her right hand as she opened the door with her left.
Jessica watched as Mercedes slithered through the doorway, and quickly closed it without a sound. From a crouched position on the floor, she scanned the doors and hallway before her. No one.
At the end of the hallway was the entrance she had come through a few nights before. She could see there was a little bit of light spilling from the top of the stairs. She looked beside her and Jessica had slipped through the wall next to her, a new trick she'd learned from being dead. Mercedes put her index finger to her lips to remind her not to speak until she gave her permission.
Jessica nodded at the gesture.
Mercedes took a deep breath and moved down the hallway.
At the atrium, they both moved slowly up the stairs towards a strand of light that was escaping from a door just within the hallway at the top. They both stopped for a moment and listened. Several male voices were arguing upstairs. It was clear someone was put out by Nimitz and his behavior as of late. Mercedes took one step forward and listened. There was no change in the fight upstairs. She took one step at a time, stopping with each one to make sure she hadn't been noticed.
Ten minutes later, the two of them had reached the top of the stairs. They could see the source of light, a crack in a door left ajar. Mercedes made eye contact with Jessica and motioned for her to check out the room.
Jessica moved to the door. She panicked just before sliding through the door, afraid somehow she would move it or make noise. On the other side of the door, she counted four men. She recognized two of them as her killers, Nimitz's bodyguards. They sat quietly. They were merely watching and listening to the fight. There was a man she didn’t recognize in a suit arguing intensely with Nimitz, who was sitting behind his desk. The man in the suit was standing over the desk, yelling at him.
"The committee is very upset," the man said. "And rightfully so. You've acted like a buffoon. You aren't invincible, you know? You can't just go around killing people and not expect that to catch up to you. We can't protect you from your own stupidity." The man stopped for a moment, exhausted from frustration and anger, but it didn't last long. He took a drink from a shot glass and continued his verbal assault on Nimitz, who seemed unscathed. "If you wanted to get rid of your wife and lover, fine. But you should have contacted me first. I'm your handler, think of how that makes me look. It looks like I have no control over you. Like you're running around off the reservation. The committee can't have that."
Nimitz finally spoke up, a glass of wine in one hand and a cigar in the other. "If you are going to threaten me, by all means threaten me. I haven't the patience for such nonsense."
The man slammed his shot class down and leaned in. "The committee says if you don't whip into shape there will be consequences. How's that for a threat?"
Nimitz smirked. He put his cigar back in his mouth and puffed out a cloud of smoke. "Weak. It sounds very weak. You need me. The committee needs me. Your government needs me. Without me the project is nothing."
"Your ego is gonna get you killed, Nimitz," the man said. "One more false step and we'll be scraping your body off the bed next."
The argument continued, but Jessica had lost interest. She moved back into the hallway. She found Mercedes standing next to the door, in position to breach the room. Jessica held up four fingers, one for each man in the room.
Mercedes knew she stood a better chance if she could split the men up. She figured two of the four were the bodyguards. They'd likely be armed to the teeth and trained in hand-to-hand combat. They'd also be sent out to investigate if she announced her presence. She looked around and saw a very large vase sitting atop a column. It looked expensive, very expensive. And that made her smile. She picked up the vase and headed to the end of the hallway, right outside the entrance to Mrs. Nimitz's bedroom. She motioned for Jessica to get in the bedroom. After she did, Mercedes tossed the vase straight up into the air. It went up and came down with a crash on the marble floor, shattering everywhere. Shards slid up and down the hallway.
Before the vase had even hit the floor, Mercedes was at the bedside of Mrs. Nimitz's former bed. She got behind it and slammed her back against it. To her surprise she found Jessica and Mrs. Nimitz behind the headboard.
Jessica just shrugged her shoulders, indicating she didn’t know.
Mrs. Nimitz spoke to her. "Thank you for coming here. I appreciate what you're doing."
"That's nice, Mrs. Nimitz," Jessica said, "But she doesn't want us talking at the moment."
"Oh, right," Mrs. Nimitz said.
Mercedes watched from around the edge of the bed. Waiting for the bodyguards to appear. Heavy footfalls could be heard coming up the hallway, getting louder as they approached. They were amateurs. Good enough to kill someone, lousy at everything else. Just brute force, thickheaded morons. And then she noticed it, the sound of a limp. Jessica's vision had been right about Mrs. Nimitz's killers.
The footfalls stopped, when they reached the door and broken vase. The limping pair of feet moved through the broken glass to the other side of the door. She knew she had one on each side. She controlled her breathing. Brought it down to a slow rhythm.
The double doors opened simultaneously, but only the bodyguard on the right peaked in around the corner. Mercedes took one shot. It hit him in the right eye and his body immediately collapsed to the floor. She quickly moved down the back of the headboard to the other side of the bed. She moved right through her two ghostly companions.
Jessica felt chills as Mercedes violated her space. She was never going to get used to that. Fortunately, she wouldn't have to if things went according to plan. She watched Mercedes on the other side of Mrs. Nimitz. She was waiting for a shot. She was peeking from around the corner of the bed with her pistol aimed. And then, without warning, she took two shots. The flashes lit up the bedroom twice, as if lightning had just struck. The shots were quiet and hollow sounding.
There was a thud.
Mercedes jumped from her cover and moved quickly to the door. Jessica jumped up from behind the headboard and watched as Mercedes kicked the second bodyguard's weapon away from his hand. She then promptly put one more bullet into his right temple. Blood began pouring out onto the floor beneath him. She could see his life draining away from him as he went weightless.
Jessica and Mrs. Nimitz came out from behind the bed and followed Mercedes. She had already taken up cover at the door and was looking back down the hallway from where they had come. She stepped over the broken glass and tiptoed down the hallway along the opposite wall—back to the door where Nimitz was last seen.
Jessica and Mrs. Nimitz tried to keep up with her, but she was too quick for them. At the door, Mercedes threw it open. Three bullets were fired into the hallway past her. She kept her position against the wall beside the door, and leaned in after the firing had stopped. She took one shot, and then entered quickly. Two more shots were fired.
Jessica was furious. She was certain Mercedes had gotten carried away and killed Nimitz. She hurried into the room, fully prepared to cuss her out for not keeping her word. But she was shocked to find that neither of the two men had been killed. Mercedes had lodged one bullet in Nimitz's firing hand, relieving him of his firearm. He held his hand in a tight grip as it bled, almost crying from the pain. A second bullet had been used on the knee of the other man. He had collapsed onto it and was grabbing at it with both hands.
"Do you have any idea what you have done, Masterson?" the man yelled at her. "You just shot an official! I'll have you lit up for this."
"You shouldn't keep such lousy company, Williams," Mercedes said to the man. "And at such ungodly hours."
"You've slipped up your last, Masterson," Williams said as he picked himself up and fell backwards onto a couch. "I'm going to enjoy watching you burn. Did you really think you'd get away with this?"
"Who is this man?" Jessica asked. "And how does he know you?"
"Meet the District Attorney," Mercedes said. "This is the man who determined not to pursue the murder of Mrs. Nimitz. Now, we know why."
"Who are you talking to?" Nimitz asked.
"You'll know soon enough," Mercedes said. "For now, shut up."
"This guy said he's Nimitz's handler," Jessica told Mercedes. "That they work for some committee which oversees Nimitz's work."
Mercedes smiled at the thought that she now knew things she shouldn't know. She saw an opportunity for some fun. "Tell me about the committee," Mercedes said to Williams. His eyes stretched wide-open and he looked at Nimitz to blame him. "No, not him. You and I are having a conversation. Look at me." He looked at her. "Good. Tell me about the committee."
"I can't tell you anything about something I know nothing about," Williams said.
"He's lying," Jessica said. "Ask him what he does as his handler."
"What do you do as Nimitz's handler?" Mercedes asked.
Williams looked bewildered again. "I, I'm not sure I know what you mean." he said.
"Right," Mercedes said. "How'd you like to be dead on an account of not knowing what I mean?" She aimed her gun at his face.
"Wait! Wait!" Williams pleaded, holding his bloody hands up. "I'm not… it’s just that… I can't tell you anything. It's top secret. Not even the president knows."
"Who else is on the committee?" Mercedes asked.
"I can't say anything," Williams said. "They'll kill me. They'll kill all of us."
"OK, so your mom is on the committee," Mercedes said.
"What? No, of course not," Williams said.
"Yes, she is, unless you give me names," Mercedes said. "And she'll be first on my list after you two."
"What? You wouldn't," Williams said.
"I've killed two men tonight and wounded two others," Mercedes said. "You really wanna take that chance?"
Williams looked at Nimitz, it was clear he was considering his options. "Alright. I'll tell you everything. What do you want to know?"
"No. Don't tell me," Mercedes said, and then grabbed a pen and notepad from Nimitz's desk. She shoved it into Williams's lap. "Write. Write it all down. Names. Duties. Responsibilities. Mission statements. Whatever. Write it all down."
Williams started writing feverishly on the notepad.
Mercedes turned to Nimitz, who had remained quiet. He was still holding onto his wounded hand and sweating profusely. "Now, Dr. Nimitz, it's your turn."
"You can't touch me," Nimitz said. "I'm an asset to the United States' National Security."
"As best I can tell, you're a threat to National Security," Mercedes said. "But what I think of you doesn't matter. I have two women here who really don't like you. You have to answer to them." She turned to Jessica. "Do what you have to do. Make it quick."
Williams looked up from his notepad. He looked over at Nimitz, both equally confused. "Have you lost your mind?" Williams asked Mercedes.
Jessica stepped up to Mercedes. "I've never done this, so it might be a little... weird."
"Yeah," Mercedes said. "I imagined it would be."
Jessica closed her eyes and stepped into Mercedes's body. Almost instantly, Mercedes fell over onto the floor. Nimitz leapt to his feet and Williams watched in horror, afraid of what would come next.
"Is she dead?" Nimitz asked.
Williams leaned over to get a better view. She turned her head to him and he about fainted. He sat back up on the couch and started back in on his writing.
"What is it?" Nimitz demanded. "What is going on?"
Mercedes's body turned about and stood back up to its feet. But she was shorter, and her face had changed drastically. Blue eyes looked coldly at him from underneath the stocking cap. And the skin was a pasty white, a result of makeup. Her lips black. She reached up and removed the stocking cap, and blonde hair with blue highlights fell down.
"I'm Jessica Wright," Jessica said. "You don't know me, but you had me killed."
Nimitz recognized the name, and his knees buckled. He fell over into his chair. "How is this possible?"
"I willed it," Jessica said. She stepped around his desk, tapping the barrel of the gun against her thigh. "You pissed me off, Dr. Nimitz. And I have postponed my crossing over, so that I might put a bullet in your head."
She stood over him, as he cowered backwards in his chair. "But, but..."
"Your wife is here," Jessica said, and Nimitz's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "She's pissed, too."
"But she's dead," Nimitz said. "I saw the body! I saw the body!"
"Yes," Jessica said. "She is dead. Very dead. Even though I told her you'd kill her, she stayed and now she's dead." She cut eyes at Mrs. Nimitz. "No one listens to me. Idiots."
"Impossible. This is impossible," Nimitz kept rambling to himself in disbelief.
"Do you have anything you'd like to say, Mrs. Nimitz?" Jessica asked.
"Yes, Jessica," Mrs. Nimitz said and stood up proudly. "Tell him that his lapdog, Rupert, didn't runaway. I killed him and buried him in my garden while he was at the convention. I hated that dog. Tell him that."
"You two had the worst marriage ever, I swear," Jessica said to Mrs. Nimitz, and then turned back to Nimitz. "She wants me to tell you that she killed Rupert and buried him in the garden while you were at some convention."
"No," Nimitz choked. He looked at the room before him and talked to the air, not sure where to look. "How could you kill Rupert? He was such a sweet dog. He never hurt anyone."
"Alright," Jessica said, placing the tip of the muzzle against Nimitz's forehead. "I'm done with this. Dr. Nimitz, you suck."
She pulled the trigger and an explosion of blood spatter hit the head of the leather chair behind him. His head thrashed back and he slumped over in the chair. A little trickle of blood trailed down from the entry wound in his forehead and entered his eyebrow. It dripped.
She looked over at Williams who had looked up from his writing when he heard the shot. He looked terrified.
"You better keep writing or you’re next, bub," Jessica said.
He looked down without a word and continued writing. He turned a page.
Jessica saw Mrs. Nimitz standing with a defiant smile. "Thank you, Jessica," She said, and then without warning, or sign or shiny light, she was gone.
Jessica closed her eyes and focused on diverging from Mercedes's form. Her head was spinning, and before she knew it she was opening eyes from across the other side of the room. She could see Mercedes pulling herself up from the side of the desk. Williams was still writing away in the notepad.
"I'm almost done, Masterson," Williams said with a shaky voice. "Just a little bit more."
Mercedes sat down on the edge of the desk and felt completely drained. "Don't forget your confession."
"OK," Williams said without pulling his pen from paper.
"And your suicide note," Mercedes added with a deep breath.
Williams stopped and looked up, horrified. "My what?"
"Your suicide note," Mercedes said. "How else are we gonna explain all this? Clearly, what happened here tonight was a murder-suicide."
"But nothing!" Mercedes barked at him. "Do it."
"Yes," he said and continued writing.
"Make sure the suicide note is on a separate page," Mercedes said coldly. "Can't blend what you're giving me with the suicide note."
"OK," Williams said. He started to cry, and tried to wipe away the tear with his hands. He smeared blood across his cheek.
Thirty minutes later, Williams had finished his notes and confession for Masterson. He also wrote a suicide note explaining the night's events. He left out Mercedes and hauntings. Everything pointed back to him. The story was that he had come there to confront Nimitz on the matter of his wife, but things went south and he killed Nimitz and his bodyguards. He then turned the weapon on himself. The reasoning was that he too had been a lover to the late Mrs. Nimitz, and it was a crime of passion. It was all fabricated, but served the purpose of taking the attention off of any other potential suspects.
TWO WEEKS LATER, MONDAY MORNING
Mercedes was sitting at her kitchen table, sipping coffee and dreading the Monday ahead of her. She had a folder open on the table in front of her. Inside the folder was a series of poorly written notes from Williams with blood smears and prints throughout. She had been studying his notes for two weeks, and hadn't decided how she wanted to move forward with it. She sipped her coffee and frowned. There just wasn't enough sugar. She got up and walked over to the counter to get some sugar.
Jessica suddenly appeared in the kitchen with her. "I have a problem," she said.
"You're still here?" Mercedes said.
"EXACTLY!" Jessica exclaimed. "I can't figure it out. I had unfinished business, but I took care of that. I killed Nimitz, and the two bodyguards are both dead as well. What could I possibly be missing?"
Mercedes calmly walked back over to the table, mixing the sugar into her coffee with a spoon. She picked up the folder and handed it to Jessica. "Maybe this is your answer."
Jessica opened it and saw the bloody notes. "The notes?"
"The Committee," Mercedes said and took a sip of coffee. "Much better."
"What are you saying?" Jessica asked.
"We still have a lot of names to get through," Mercedes said.
Jessica processed what Mercedes had implied, and she slowly smiled. Her black lips stretched from ear to ear at the thought.