By Matthew Henry -
This early into the investigation they’re thinking a pressure cooker or pipe-bomb. Maybe C4 or Semtex. But I’m certain we’ll find the chemical signature of TNT. Simple sticks wrapped in red wax took this general contractor’s life. They’ll rule it an accidental detonation: a domestic terrorist who got what he deserved. But this family man, with no criminal record, no ties to any known extremists, was no anarchist. I know the charred how-to manual was too conveniently placed, too well preserved. The killer I’m hunting is escalating. This was his fourth victim.
His first was the tax accountant crushed by a falling display in the hardware store. The insurance company said a faulty bracket failed, sending scores of hammer claws into his soft skull. A week later, his second victim was caught on camera. Security tapes from outside the bank across the street showed the sudden snapping of unfrayed ropes, just as the deputy mayor exited his luxury apartment. His eyes only made half the journey up from the growing shadow at his feet. When they landed on my desk, there was no reason to suspect the two events were related, but something raised the hairs on the back my neck. There was something old, something familiar about these deaths. An initial inquiry showed the men didn’t run in the same circles, and had never met. The piano movers were not insured by the same company as the hardware store. No connections. I was ready to let it go. When the junior senator died by shotgun two weeks later, the pattern emerged. Farcical, but present.
Of course the Feds barged in—with their blue suits and army-doll haircuts— and stole the case from under me. It took them all of three days to rule it an accident: he had no known enemies, no skeletons in a mistress’ closet, no high profile legislation pending. Hell, he hadn’t even made it on some lobbyist’s radar yet. The way they tell it, he was shooting clay pigeons with his son at the back of their estate, when a tragic misfire blackening his face and sent shrapnel into his jugular. I asked one of my guys to review their findings, to see if there was anything our arrogant “big brothers” might have missed. Mark said the conclusions were solid, but joked that someone rigging the shells was the only other alternative. He was bothered when I didn’t laugh along. Still, I found no connection between the three victims. And with no apparent motive, I was nowhere toward profiling a suspect no one else believed existed.
So I re-canvased their neighborhoods and talked to the witnesses again. I re-interviewed family, friends, and co-workers. I sifted through their school, medical, and financial records. I turned their entire worlds upside down, but found nothing indicating that these men had ever been in the same room, even at different times. Or a reason for hatred strong enough to plan such intimate, violent deaths. It was while being screamed out of the senator’s backyard by his widow that I found the answer I wouldn’t understand until later.
Back in the bullpen, after having my ass handed to me by the captain, my eyes landed anew on the shotgun’s autopsy. It was an expensive piece. A collector’s model of someone who knew guns. I spend the next thirty minutes confirming a hunch, and finding the first connection; each victim had a long-gun, and the appropriate seasonal licenses, registered in their names. Another hour pouring through their social media accounts confirmed each was an avid hunter. Pictures of their balding pates covered with plaid trapper hats, smiled out at me from the screen. Deer and duck, but mostly rabbit and various hare. Speechless, I slumped back in my chair as his motive fell into place like a cartoon anvil. It was insane—sheer loonacy—but the madness fit the evidence.
I brought the captain the hunting connection between the victims, told him we had a serial on our hands, but he didn’t want to hear it. He said 80% of the men in this region are small game hunters. Said I was wasting department resources chasing figments of my imagination, trying to connect three closed cases. But he doesn’t know what I saw at the senator’s house: the 16-inch long paw prints in the mud, the orange stub with leafy green tendrils, scoured by board incisors. Both were missing when I snuck back onto the property, but I saw them. They were real. Real as the van I spied idling around the corner from the contractor’s house this morning. The windows were tinted, but I could tell the driver was tall, knew what was under his oddly balanced ball cap. The van was plate-less and grey, criminally nondescript, but the “ACME” stenciled in red on its side will at least give me a place to start.
Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is an educator who usually writes poetry and prose about education, race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground, but went in a different direction this time. You can find him at MEHPoeting.com and on Twitter @MEHpoeting.