Part Three – The Red-Headed Woman
The Feds only glanced at the case once before dismissing altogether.
Martin remembered sitting in the corner of the room, drinking coffee as the FBI agent shrugged off Carl Powers. “You’re looking for a serial killer when there’s nothing to support the idea,” he said brusquely, walking past the rank and file detectives as though the building was on fire. “At best, you have a few homicidal Goths or a gang of vampire wannabes who’re concealing their work using knives. I’m willing to bet, though, that half of these cases are just stabbings that your department has mislabeled.”
“With all due respect, sir,” Powers said, looking something like the small dog chasing after the big one. “These murders are not random. In fact, we have reason to believe there may be more. We have a ton of unsolved homicides that…”
“That just seems to suggest your department is inept, sir. What do you want the Federal Bureau of Investigation to do about it?”
“Help us!” Powers stopped in his tracks. The entire homicide department watched as he threw up his hands and raised his voice to the federal agent. “You barely looked at the Franklin murder case, Agent Blane, and didn’t bother to listen to two words I had to say about the other cases. We have enough evidence to suggest these murders are linked together. Fucking hell, they’re all happening in the same section of Philadelphia!”
Blane turned around, facing the latest piece of meat being tossed at the dogs for consumption. Truthfully, Powers was just at the end of his rope; that’s why he called the Feds in the first damn place. The federal agent was less-than-sympathetic to his cause, though. “Sir, what you have are some fringe Goths or a gang war – just like every other city in the United States – and that’s your jurisdiction, not ours. A serial killer has a modus operandi and ‘he prefers women’ is not enough. You don’t even have the physical evidence to link the same killer to each murder. No fluids. No hair, fabric, anything that has appeared at each crime scene that you can use. All you have is a hunch and I’m doing you the favor of saying you’re wrong.” He nodded to Powers. “Good day, sir.”
The fed stormed out of the office and, in his wake, left Powers’ hope for salvation, shattered into a thousand pieces. Powers stared at the doors, looking more like a madman than Bill Frazier had ever looked to Martin.
It was hard for Martin to buy that Bill started believing in the undead.
Running his fingers through his hair in a huff, Martin glanced from the wall of his apartment to the table positioned in front of his couch. A long-forgotten cigarette wafted smoke in front of his notes, next to a cup of coffee which had grown cold hours ago. Martin’s mind wandered through the maze laid out before him by Bill, a few conclusions becoming more and more evident. Agent Blane was full of shit. This was no gang war.
But then, what was it?
Martin sighed, sitting back against the stained fabric and flat cushions. He didn’t need to reread the files; he knew them all by heart. When Bill disappeared, there were ten murder victims who had his interest piqued. Nobody doubted they all looked suspicious, with similar stab wounds and punctures. Bill took two additional cold cases on independently, though, and linked them to the others. There was something Bill recognized in each case that proved the same person was behind them all, something none of his successors were able to pinpoint themselves.
Pictures of those twelve victims hung on Martin’s wall, the major facts of each case jotted onto paper and tacked beside them. All, but one, were female. Two found in similar, if less graphic, positions as Jill Franklin. What set them apart had nothing to do with gender or any form of externals since eight of them weren’t targeted for sex. Random was his modus operandi, but there was something else that connected Bill’s original ten. Something Martin noticed when Jill Franklin died.
The knife wound on each victim was postmortem. The coroner from each autopsy had confirmed as much. And while the crime scenes were devoid of spatter and mess, the victims themselves had lost a lot of blood from a secondary wound.
“… A guy murdered his girlfriend and then became a vampire.”
Martin frowned at his notes. The crime scenes were way too clean for anyone’s taste. No hairs. A couple of black fibers in one that could have belonged to anything. Most happened outside, in places contaminated by city debris and Mother Nature. For all they knew, there could have been plenty of physical evidence, but nothing linked directly to the victim. Martin swore as he picked up his pack and lit another cigarette. He took a drag and continued staring at the photographs in front of him. There was more to this. Bill wouldn’t have arrived at a conclusion straight out of a fiction novel without a damn good reason; he just wasn’t that unhinged.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Isn’t that right?” Martin sighed. “Alrighty, then. What the fuck did you find, Bill?” Nodding to himself, Martin rose from his seat and padded to the bedroom. There had to be something in the box of evidence he still had scattered on top of his desk at work.
It only took Martin a few minutes to shower and dress. As he entered the police precinct and marched to his desk, he nodded at Lieutenant Graham and said, “Cleaning that shit up and getting it back down to the basement,” before continuing on his trek. She nodded, a pleased expression on her face that indicated she bought it. Good, Martin thought as he approached his desk. Now he wouldn’t have her breathing down his neck.
The box and its contents were exactly as he left them, with the tape recorder and Dawes’ file placed in the center of Martin’s desk. Martin picked up the tape recorder and plucked out Chloe Poole’s interview, so he could return it to its case. With a flippant toss, Poole returned to her crypt…
“…Yes, he was acting a bit strangely…”
… And joined the others who believed Peter Dawes should’ve been nominated for sainthood.
Martin stared into the box and raised an eyebrow. He’d not bothered with the other co-worker interviews because the reports all indicated a lot of the same that Miss Poole had to offer. Peter wouldn’t kill anyone. Peter wasn’t that kind of person. No, not even if his girlfriend was caught in bed with another man; he’d sooner kill himself. Fucking spotless record. Not even a traffic ticket. What the fuck made him pull the knife on his girlfriend, then? The answer to that question had to be in there somewhere.
Martin glanced around quickly for Lieutenant Graham’s location before digging further through the tapes. Names were followed by their relevance, listed as ’Temple Med Ctr.’ or ’Landlord’, but one tape in particular stuck out to Martin as he rifled through and stopped to study at it.
‘Carlos Velez – Coffee Shop’
He hadn’t seen this one on the original interview list. In fact, he hadn’t seen any mention of any tape-recorded conversations with anyone from the coffee shop. This had to be one conducted by Bill himself. Martin looked around again and hesitated while Lieutenant Graham walked into her office, waiting until she closed the door before pocketing the tape and rifling through the rest of the box. Seeing nothing else that piqued his interest, he grabbed for the crime scene photos – throwing them on top of the Dawes file – and put the lid back on the box of evidence. Martin stole a quick moment to slip the tape player into his pocket, too, and threw the pictures and file folder on top of the box before grabbing it and starting for the basement.
Well, he told her he’d be returning the box. He didn’t promise everything would be in it.
The cop working the desk down in archives was easy to pacify. Martin claimed the folder and photos he snatched from the top of the box were from a different case. His coworker offered nothing more than an apathetic shrug, not even bothering to examine the contents of the box before walking off to shelve it. Martin mused that he could have probably snatched the blood-soaked knife from inside and walked off with it…
“Son of a bitch knew what he was doing. In and out, like the guy was some fucking butcher.”
… And nobody would have given a damn about it.
Instead, he only had his sidearm and his contraband when he found himself sitting in the middle of JFK Plaza, revisiting his conversation with Bill from three years back. His hand drifted slowly into his pocket as he considered what could have been flying around in his friend’s head; the things he didn’t vocalize to Martin knowing he might sound insane. Martin thought up an amendment to their conversation – the one where the fatigued and haunted Bill Frazier confessed that maybe his ghost was a vampire. Somehow, Martin could picture this with much more clarity now.
“I must be fuckin’ out of my mind,” Martin said, but he still slipped the tape out of his pocket and placed the small tape player next to him, so he could extract the three-year old testimony from its case. Within a few seconds, the tape was secured inside the player and Martin’s thumb hovered over the ‘play’ button. He felt like Alice about to enter the looking glass.
Before he could stop himself, he pressed play.
Bill Frazier was the first to speak. “This is Bill Frazier. Interview conducted June 17, 1983, approximately six months after the Davies murder. Witness Carlos Velez – Hispanic male, twenty-two years old – present. Mr. Velez was a college student at Temple University at the time of the murder. Mr. Velez, thank you for agreeing to this interview, sir.”
“You’re welcome, Detective,” Carlos said, sounding very lucid, if a bit apprehensive.
“Now, for the record,” Bill said, “You were present at the Broad Street Café on the evening of January 20, 1983, am I correct?”
Carlos paused to take a deep breath. “Yes, I was.”
“And you claim that you recognize the man in this photograph?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“For the record, this is a photograph of Dr. Peter Dawes – Caucasian male, twenty-eight years old at the time of the murder.” Bill paused. “Could you please tell me what you remember about that night, Mr. Velez?”
“Yes, sir.” Carlos hesitated for a moment, indulging in another cleansing breath that reminded Martin of a woman in labor. Whatever he was about to say was difficult for Carlos to force out. “I… I used to be a regular back around that time. I came here after classes to do homework and read since I shared an apartment with a couple of rowdy roommates.” He let out a nervous laugh. “Kinda… hard… to get any studying done when your roomies invite their friends over to get drunk all the time.”
“Understood,” Bill said. “For the record, you’re a student of Temple University?”
“And you were here doing school work on the evening you spotted Peter Dawes?”
“Um, yeah. I’d actually seen him a few times. He’s one of the doctors down at the hospital. I remembered him ‘cause he helped my roommate once. Nelson got a little screwed up and split his cheek open after falling down the stairs. Dawes stitched Nelson up.”
“What was your impression of Dawes?”
“Seemed like an okay guy.” Martin pictured Carlos shrugging. “He ribbed on Nelson for getting smashed. Made me laugh, in any event.”
“How did Dr. Dawes appear on the night in question?”
“He was really fidgety. Something was bothering him. He relaxed when this red-headed chick sat down near him, but I could tell something was off about the whole thing.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Carlos hesitated. “You ever watch those movies where you know the main guy’s about to walk around a corner?” he asked rhetorically. “And you know there’s some ax murderer waiting for him with an axe? Well, that’s what I kept thinking when I saw him talking to this lady. I don’t know why I kept watching them, but I did and, you know, I kept thinking to myself that he shouldn’t be talking to her. She was doing something to him.”
Carlos’ voice became soft, as though he was lost in the recollection. “She was fucking with him. Fucking with his mind. His eyes got really distant and he looked just like those people that get hypnotized on TV.”
“So, this red-headed woman was hypnotizing him?”
“That’s what it looked like to me.”
“Did you hear anything she was saying?”
Carlos hesitated. “Nah, I didn’t. But…”
“But, after they’d been talking like this for a bit, I saw her get creepy close to him. Just for a few seconds, almost like she was about to do something to him. I was staring by this point and… Man, I don’t know how she didn’t pick up on it. She might not have cared, for all I know. ‘Cause only a minute later, he got up and left. When he walked away, she just grinned like the fucking devil.” Carlos paused and began to murmur. “She was the fuckin’ devil. Fuckin’ monster, that’s what she was.”
Bill paused before issuing his next question. His voice became oddly quiet as well. “What makes you say that?”
There was an interminable pause. “I saw that bitch do something after that,” he said.
“What did you see?”
Carlos scoffed. “You won’t fuckin’ believe me.”
“I took the tip you called in seriously, Carlos. Try me.”
“No, I don’t want you to tell me to see a shrink or some shit. I’ve seen a shrink already and he nearly committed me, alright? People keep telling me I didn’t see what I saw, but I fucking saw it. I only started coming back here a month ago because I was afraid I’d see that redhead again.” He stopped. “And I’m not one of those druggies either, before you accuse me of that. Never touched the shit in my life.”
“I know you’re not. Now, what did you see her do?” There was silence. A vision entered Martin’s mind of Bill leaning forward in his seat and staring straight into the young man’s eyes. “I know you want to tell me, Carlos. You can trust me; I’m not going to call you crazy. I just want to know the truth.”
Carlos hesitated once again. Then he began to speak. “She left and I just shook my head and started packing up my books. It’s funny –” He laughed sardonically. “– ‘Cause I finished my coffee and thought to myself that the doctor sold his soul to the devil. And then I left and saw it.”
Bill remained quiet, waiting patiently for the young man to continue his story. It took a long pause and a deep breath, but Carlos found the will to keep talking. “I walked outside and turned the corner to head back to the apartment. But then I heard something weird; some people talking from behind the building. I should’ve never fucking stopped, but I did. I even looked around the building, too.
“She was with some other guy dressed in a suit. He was holding a girl and the girl was thrashing around, but the guy had his hand over her mouth so people couldn’t hear her screaming. I should’ve done something, like yelled or called the cops or some shit like that. But it happened too quickly and I was too shocked to think of that.” He took an uneasy breath. “I swear to God, I saw her bite the woman – she had these two, massively long teeth that went right into the girl’s neck – and the dude held this girl still until the girl was fucking dead.”
Carlos’ voice cracked with the final words. Martin blinked as Carlos sniffled and laughed – Martin assumed at himself. “You know, I’m not one of those Goth people and shit. I don’t fuckin’ sit in my room thinking, ‘I wish vampires were real.’ But I saw them. I saw the bitch’s teeth a-a-and there was blood on her lips and everything. They just… threw this girl in the dumpster –” Another sniffle. “– And talked about her like she was a piece of meat. She said something about her tasting good and being able to do something now, but I just ran. I ran and nearly fucking shit myself as I kept seeing the girl die in my head.” He paused. “You said this dude killed his girlfriend?” Another sniffle. “I bet that redhead made him do it. That’s probably what they were talking about in there.”
Bill didn’t know what to say. The tape ended abruptly and Martin hit the stop button when nothing but dead air followed. His first inclination drifted toward one of Carlos’s fears; he figured the kid was some sort of drug addict or not right in the head. However, Martin’s instincts knew that wasn’t right. The kid was lucid. Scared, but still he knew exactly what he was saying and said it just like any other eyewitness to any other occurrence a little less supernatural.
“So, what, do you think this Dawes guy did it?”
“Wouldn’t matter if he did. Nobody can find the bastard anyway.”
“So, you agree that this man completely fell off the map – this man who, if I remember correctly, never jaywalked prior to this case – and has been on a killing spree ever since?”
“… I kept wondering if the man he saw was related to the coffee shop. He said he was meeting someone there.”
“… I finished my coffee and thought to myself that the doctor sold his soul to the devil…”
“I swear to God, I saw her bite the woman…”
“Bill thought Dawes was a vampire?”
“People don’t completely vanish.”
“He nearly covered it up with that knife wound, but there were two fucking puncture wounds and the knife wound barely bled out.”
“Holy shit, what am I thinking?” Martin asked himself as he leaned his elbows against his knees and slid both hands up to his temples. In one hand, he still clutched the tape recorder, as though he had forgotten it, but was too stunned to let it go. All of the voices in his head kept shouting their testimonies at a volume Martin could not ignore. So, this is what it felt like to tumble down the rabbit hole. So, this is what it felt like to lose your mind.
Martin shook his head. What would make a model citizen go on a three year murder spree?
“If he became a vampire,” Martin muttered and his grip upon reality finally let go. He dropped the tape recorder. It smashed into pieces when it finally hit the ground.