He held the lousy lamp in his clutches flipping the switch at either ends staring at the lime light. The beam emerged from the curved glass, kissed his face and painted his shadow on the floor. His elbow rested on the table, preloaded with other stuffs – a white table clock with its boundary of red, a pen stand, a large pile of books, his homicide badge which was reflecting the lime light and a photograph which was torn in two, separating him from Daisy, his spouse. Sitting in the dark room dwelt in his thought he didn’t notice his wife approaching.
“Get some sleep Steve, its late”, said Daisy.
“You should not let him get any deeper into you, you will catch him when the time comes”, she said again.
“STEVE”, cried Daisy.
“I’ll be with you in a while D, go to bed “, Steve responded.
She took her step backwards and strolled her way out of the study room.
“Shut the door behind you”
He lay still with his eyes wide open staring at the lamp while the darkness sang the lullaby. The discreet melody of Daisy’s fading footsteps broke his vision. He took off his glasses and rested them on the table.
“I had you… I had you, you ba**ard”, said Steve as he banged his fist on the table. The lamp shook too hard and the wire disconnected. Pitch darkness. He wrapped his face in his arms and his consciousness abandoned him.
He was fast asleep when he felt a sudden vibration. At first he decided to ignore but, it just won’t stop. A while later he gained his consciousness, it was his cell phone.
It has happened again. A seventh murder.
Around three weeks had passed when Steve got his first call from his colleague George informing him about a strange murder. The victim was tied with a barb wire and his body hung upside down with a dry rose clung to his teeth. He took it easily but little did he know that it would turn out to be his obsession. The murders continued one after another without single evidence. The killer left no trace. He was clean in his work and took a substantial amount of time in doing it. The only thing common in all those murders were the dry roses. Steve was assigned for catching the phantom. But, the killer was too careful which left Steve on a wild goose chase. As no one knew the identity of the predator, he got an alias – The Dead Rose. As the days proceeded, The Dead Rose dug deeper into Steve’s brain. Steve tried his utmost but irrespective of his efforts, he couldn’t manage to inch towards the killer. His obsession heightened exponentially with each consecutive murder. He started losing hope, until one day when he got his first opportunity.
The killer had broken his pattern. He fed on two victims instead of one. It was an abandoned garage about a mile away from the city, in the middle of nowhere. Inhabited by various tools and equipments, the doors and windows were painted with rust and the air smelled of rotten iron. The floor was covered with a heap of dust and burnt oil. As Steve entered the garage he was welcomed with a dead body chained to a wooden chair. The victim’s feet were nailed to the ground and his head was bagged with a rucksack smeared in blood. His right hand was tied to the chair’s arm while his left hand was holding a dry rose. The second victim was tied to a chair as well, but strangely the knot was loose as compared to the previous one. Steve checked his pulse. He was alive. The unit hurried themselves to the second victim. Untying him wasn’t that hard. He was electrocuted from his sleep as soon as George sprinkled water on his face.
“The…the man… please don’t…don’t kill me please”, he was in a deep shock. He couldn’t figure out his situation and was floating in a trance state. Steve pampered him and ensured him that he was safe. He introduced himself which helped and the victim calmed down. As soon as Steve introduced his name the victim locked his gaze into him. Steve felt strange.
“What is it?” asked Steve.
“If you are the same Steve Smith to whom that maniac was referring to, then I have a message for you”, said the victim as he struggled himself to speak coherently.
“The Dead Rose?”
“Whatever you call him, inspector”, he pulled himself out of the trance state and continued
“ ‘I hope that you love your wife dearly because I want to witness the look on your face when I cut her warm flesh apart, just as I did for Taylor’ , he said to me”
Steve could feel his body turning cold. He was dumbstruck and his heart beat was amplified. He swept the cold sweat from his forehead and walked his way out of the garage. George followed him.
“Take him to the bureau for further questioning”, said George to one of his accomplice and then turned to Steve “Is he the same Taylor?”
“Yes, I presume”, he was biting his lips and looking towards the car carrying the victim, leaving for the bureau.
“Was she still seeing him after you found out about them”, George gave a soft look towards Steve.
“I don’t think so” said Steve “But that doesn’t cleanse her from the sin which she did, does it? She CHEATED on me man”, he took a moment and then continued “I’ve filed for the divorce papers; it won’t be long till we get rid from each other. I think that’s…”
George noticed an unusual look at Steve’s face as he saw him lifting his hand from his pocket with a note clutched between its fingers.
“What is it?” inquired George.
“I don’t know”, Steve gave a puzzled look. He unfolded the paper. The handwriting was a mess but it was readable.
Now I know how much you love her. That look on your face when I told you how I would cut her into pieces. Now I know where to punch you.
His pupils widened, adrenalin elevated as he ran forward, yelling, “STOP THAT CAR.”
It didn’t take long for him to understand that the car went way too far from his audibility range. He rushed towards his car, “George, get in the car, call your accomplice, ask him to arrest that guy”, He got on the driver’s seat while George followed beside him, “He is not answering his phone”, he looked at Steve, ”Something is not right, I have a gut feeling”
They dashed in their direction to chase down the car. They hardly traveled half a mile when they saw the car parked at the roadside. Steve dismounted and George followed. They pulled their guns and pointed them at the car.
“Is anyone there? Just come out slowly with your hands above your head”, instructed Steve.
There was no response. They advanced further with their guns still targeting the cars window pane. Steve could feel his body shiver and sweat emerging from his forehead made its way through his nose and adhered to its tip. They walked close enough to make the rear seat visible. There was no one inside, except a lone being at the driver’s seat. He was George’s accomplice, his throat was slit. Steve checked his pulse. He was dead and a dead rose was gummed on the windshield. Steve banged his fist at the bonnet.
“I had you bas**rd, I had you”.
They rushed towards the car as their foot ran through the dirt and sand. Steve accelerated while George sat beside him hearing the engine roar. They drove through the no man’s land leaving behind a mist of grime. Tires screeched as they reached Steve’s abode and hardly had the car stopped when he hopped out of his seat. He bolted towards the entrance and forced the door open with a sudden kick.
“DAISY!!!” he yelled.
The silence amplified his uneasiness. His heart thudded against his chest and his pupils dilated. He pulled out his gun, “DAISY! Are you in there?”
Just as he was about to lose his sanity he heard a soft feminine voice from behind “Steve?”
He turned back to witness the love which was dissolved in the muddle of anger. The extinguished flame of affection between the two seemed to ignite. How badly he felt the urge to run to her and embrace her in his arms, kiss her on the forehead and bestow his love upon her. But something held him back. His conscious mind restrained him from doing so, reminded him of the betrayal. But, it was strange how suddenly he didn’t care what she did to him. In spite of that his heart was beating for her. But he stood tall, ignoring his heart’s cry.
“What’s the matter Steve”, she could witness the fear that crept in his heart. His eyes spoke everything for him.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Did anyone arrive here lately?” he asked.
She looked at George as he was inspecting the house, “Nobody, but, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing D, everything’s fine”, he said.
It was not long since that incident. A rough sketch of The Dead Rose narrated by Steve was circulating the town. The entire team was assigned the task for finding Taylor’s body. Steve had a gut feeling that he could get some clue in it as he was the only victim who has been missing. They failed, and yet another murder occurred.
“Where’s the body”, it hardly took ten minutes for Steve to reach the spot. George pointed towards an abandoned truck adjacent to a Dispensary. Steve walked towards the situation as George followed. The victim, a doctor, was tied to the driver’s seat. His neck had several syringe marks. His eyes were resting peacefully wrapped under the eyelids. He smelled of medicines and chemicals, a strange yet gentle odor. Calculating from the drop of his body temperature, the experts suggested that it was not long since he was murdered. They inspected the truck but found nothing. The most crucial piece of the scene was missing – the dry rose. The surveillance camera had captured the killer. Steve recognized him at once.
“What do you analyze?” asked George.
“He had missed his signature mark this time. What does that tell you?” Steve allowed George to analyze the situation himself.
“This murder was not planned?”
“Exactly!” responded Steve, “He must have come here for pills. That says either he is sick, or injured.”
“Why did he kill the doctor then?” George couldn’t assemble the pieces of the puzzle.
“The doctor must have recognized him, or maybe he denied him. Our client doesn’t seem to tolerate denial”, he waited for George to grasp the situation, “and my senses tells me that he is looking for another infirmary nearby. Now, I know all the nearby infirmaries here. Funny thing is that that there’s only one.”
The infirmary was not far away from their present location, but Steve couldn’t risk his chance of catching him. The engine cried and the needle of the speedometer touched its height. George witnessed Steve’s driving skills as he paved its way through the traffic at such an extreme speed. The others offered him their space as they would do for an ambulance although they had their sirens turned off. George almost lost his breath when an XUV blocked their lane as it was about to take a turn. He saw Steve’s eyes widen. His reflexes pushed down the brake pad. The tires screeched drifting the car off its collision path. Steve turned his head to find a gigantic truck loaded with lumber. It was heading right towards them. Few meters from their car, they heard the trucks tire squeal. They sat at their seat holding their breath as the truck wagon edged towards them making a mark on the road, drifting. God was in their favor as the wagon halted at an inch before them. They fell short on clock for thanks and apologies. Steve turned the key and charged for his destination. It hardly took ten minutes to reach the spot.
They dismounted their car and hiked towards the Dispensary. Just as they were about to reach the door, someone else opened it for them – the doctor. Steve saw the panic in his behavior.
“Hey, stop there. Its police”, he summoned him for questioning, flashing his badge.
“There’s a mad man inside, arrest him instead of wasting your time with me”, yelled the doctor, “Rush in, he is all by himself.”
George and Steve looked at each other. A slight smirk stretched their lips. George admired Steve’s senses. Finally, it has come to an end, they said to themselves. Steve walked inside, slowly and steadily, damping his footsteps while George requested for backup via wireless. With the gun held firmly pointing the ground, he advanced towards the cabin. He kicked the door and it fluttered open.
There sat the man with bloody hands resting at the table – The Dead Rose. His eyes reflected slyness. His breath weighed heavy as he sat there like a predator awaiting abomination. The air felt poisonous in his presence. He had that utter annoying smirk in his face which outweighed the ugliest of the livings. It was a strange reckoning – A killer so clean, so vigilant at his task, sat there, exposed and vulnerable.
“Keep your hand where I can see them”, Steve pointed the crosshair at his head. He was still not sure that the serial killer was in his grasp, “No sudden movement, or else you will be responsible for the outcome.”
He sat still. His gaze followed Steve as he proceeded towards the murderer. He made no effort to retaliate as if he was awaiting his demise. Steve pulled out the manacles and walked forward bit by bit.
“It’s a shame inspector, what took you so long?”, his voice sounded absurd. There was a hint of slyness in his voice. The smirk persisted on his wretched face.
“You might want to shut up, you psycho, anything you say, might be and will be used against you in the court of law.”
“Now, why would I turn myself in if only I’d to fear my trial?” His response was as plain and coherent as if he had planned it as well. He neither had any fear, nor any shame for his deeds.
Steve was offended, he can’t let anyone deny him his efforts, “You didn’t turn yourself in, we caught you, I caught you. You became lazy and less attentive with your every crime and you started leaving traces, each of which were more vivid than the previous one.”
“Oh, come on Steve, I got bored of my effectiveness. I could do this all my life and no one in this world could ever succeed in arresting me. No one.” he cleared his throat, looked him in the eyes, “I left the traces on purpose, I wanted you to find me, I wanted to get caught”
Steve reached the murderer, pulled his hand and cuffed it, “Oh, so you wanted to get caught? Impressive”
“You know what’s more impressive? Your wife.” Steve froze for a moment. He turned his gawk into the murderer’s; He pierced his gaze through his eyes, “Oh yes, that’s the look I’ve been waiting for all those days”
Steve pushed aside the table and held the murderers neck by his collar. His other hand grasped his hair and he pulled it hard to prove his annoyance, “To be very clear mister, there is no one around except the two of us. So, choose your next word wisely. Believe me; you’ll hate me when I lose my temper”
“Anger, anguish, hatred. Tell me officer, are you still holding a grudge against the man who was sleeping with your wife. What was his name? Ummm…” Steve loosened his collar and pushed a punch at his cheek. He felt his cheek bones shiver, and the lights went off for a while.
“Kevin…Kevin Taylor, I presume”, blood appeared from his lips. He spat the blood, but his smirk remained intact “Damn, your hands are cold, and you look puzzled. You fail to hold your sensations. You can’t put a leash on them no matter how hard you try. And that’s your flaw”, He could see Steve’s dilemma. His words were blowing his mind, creating turmoil in his senses, “Evidently, you love your wife dearly. But the question here is . . . what would you do to save her?”
“Enough with the riddles, you jerk, let’s go home now”, Steve pulled him from the chair and headed away. But, his heart somehow couldn’t ignore the murderers’ taunts. He called Daisy. The call went blank. There was no answer. A smile impressed upon the murderer’s face, “What would you do to save her, Officer?” he said with a raised eyebrow and that cunning smile.
“Where is she?” his temper began to elevate. He held his neck and banged his face on the table, “WHERE IS SHE?” his needless and fruitless effort of violence failed to endure any consequence. All he got from him was the hysterical hooting of laughter. Apparently, The Dead Rose seemed to enjoy Steve’s agony. He fed on peoples weaknesses, he found Steve’s.
“Tell me where she is or I’ll kill you right here.”
“I could tell you her location and I assure you that she is alive and cozy, but, the irony of the situation is. . . You’ll have to kill me to save her”, His words were playing with his poor mind, creating chaos and disorder in his reason. The choice was simple yet he had a hard time deciding owing to the mayhem in his senses. He pulled his collar and pressed the barrel against his forehead.
“Shoot me Inspector, pull the trigger and liberate me from the world of treachery and deceit for a place much more peaceful and serene.”
He shut his eyes. He could hear the song of his calling. A light beam of awakening and freedom was shining upon him. All the jingles of the worldly elements went silent except for the beat of his heart, reminding him that he was still alive. Steve pushed him and he fell on the floor. He spread his arms, ready to embrace his salvation. He took a last deep breath of his life and then . . .
The bullet pierced deep through his body followed by a splash of blood. Every drop of blood emerging from his contaminated body were an equivalence for all the innocent lives lost for no reason at all. The blood was flowing from his body leaving him dry, but yet mustered every ounce of his strength to push his arms up. He raised it pointing towards Steve’s pocket. Steve touched his pocket and felt something inside. It was a piece of paper folded in four. He knew at once how that paper landed into his pocket. He glanced towards the murderer. His eyes went pale and eyelids refused to blink. He was dead.
He unfolded the piece. The handwriting was identical
“She is home, waiting for you. Take good care of her inspector. Tell her how much you love her because she does love you, very much. She chose you, over me. Make her yours – Taylor”
A cold shiver ran through his body. A strange feeling of shock mixed with sadness and sympathy dwelt in his heart and mind. He pulled his gun away and stuck it behind. He could hear the noise outside, the hassling footsteps of his squad marching. He could very well distinguish George’s voice leading the team inside. He loosened the note heading outside when he heard the phone ringing. It was Daisy.
“Steve? I am so sorry; I was asleep while you called. Is everything all right, are you… “
“D?” Steve interrupted.
“Yes?” she responded. Her breath was creating an annoying noise. She was breathing heavily, depicting her nervousness.
“I love you”, he said with his eyes closed and numb, imagining her reaction. He pictured the look on her face wishing that he could have said it to her face, long back. How ungrateful he was to his fortune which had spawned a second spark to their love. The silence made him perturbed, making him aware of Daisy’s feeling who tolerated his silence all these time. After a moment of stillness, he heard the soft voice on the other side,
“I love you too, Steve”