I got an honourable mention.
Now, a healthy, emotionally sound mind would take quite a bit of pride in all of the above, right? I mean, my prompts were: ghost story, a confession, and a stalker. The ghost story thing was pretty close to the kind of stuff I usually write. The confession wasn’t necessarily going to be a challenge, and a stalker? Well, I don’t normally write thrillers at all, but I could come up with something, right?
It took me quite a few days, but I liked what I wrote. I sent it in. And an honourable mention, that’s decent!
So I should be happy.
I’ll let you decide what that means about my mental well-being on your own.
“How was the funeral?”
Bao said the words they’d want to hear. “Good. It represented.”
“It was nice the family let you attend. Thanks for standing for us.”
More words they’d want to hear. “Was my honor.”
By the time he made it to his desk, Bao could feel his neck tightening up. He’d have a wicked headache within the hour. He sat, well aware the eyes of the officers were on him, and looked at the picture.
A candid shot. They were facing each other, talking across these very desks. As usual, Bao had a black shirt on and Kwaitowski a white, their jackets over the backs of their chairs. They even had a similar stance, both holding their coffee cup mid-way to their mouths.
The photo had a punchline, a little plaque on the frame: Chess Pawns. It was apt: Bao’s dark to Kwaitowski’s light. Black hair to blond. Brown eyes to a pale blue-grey. But just for that one candid second, they’d looked so much like mirrored reflections of each other—and that jackass Cardno had snapped a picture.
They really did look like chess pieces. Cardno had wrapped it up for them for Christmas last year.
Before one drunk asshole took away a man with twenty years of experience of finding and putting away human garbage.
Bao swallowed, and pulled his eyes away from the photo.
Bao turned. Jess was going to be his new partner. No, scratch that. She was his new partner.
“What’s up?” he asked.
Jess leaned in. Bao caught the slightest scent of soap from her. She didn’t wear perfume. It had been one of the first things he’d noticed. Kwaitowski had been old-school, and stuck to his Old Spice even after a not-so-subtle memo about being considerate of others when deciding to splash on some aftershave.
“We’ve got someone confessing to Burke.” Her voice was pitched low, careful. She had a soft voice, too.
Bao’s neck flared. He rubbed it with one hand. “He on our list?”
She shook her head.
Probably a crackpot, then, Bao thought, but Jess’s expression gave him pause. She had tells. A little line formed between her eyebrows. A downward twist to her lips on the left side.
Jess believed this was real.
They’d only been partners a week, but he knew enough to trust her.
“What is it?” he asked.
“He’s asking to speak to you specifically. And…” She swallowed. “He brought the ring. Tagged and bagged. It looks legit.”
The headache erupted across Bao’s vision. He ignored it. He’d had lots of practice.
“Christ,” he said.
“He’s in interview A,” Jess said.
“Tell me,” Bao said, looking through the glass.
“Kenny Warnock. Walked in. Said he needed to give a statement to you.” Jess had a notepad open, but she wasn’t looking at it. “He lives four streets over—fits your theory about Burke’s running, though this guy isn’t a runner. Recent graduate, he repairs pin-pads, on contract. Goes to stores if their systems crash. Wasn’t on our radar at all. He’s younger than we expected: twenty-five. If I had to guess, this is his first.”
“And his last,” Bao said.
Not even on their list. That burned. Kwaitowski would have been pissed.
Kenny Warnock wasn’t much to look at. Brown hair, basic cut, hazel eyes, about twenty pounds too many on a five-nine frame. He sat and sweated in the chair. Wasn’t handsome, wasn’t ugly.
That used to throw Bao. How people could look so damn normal and do the things they did to other human beings. Now he knew tattooed freaks who broadcasted their intentions were the exception, not the rule.
Warnock jerked in his seat.
Bao frowned. “Did you see that?”
Jess looked up. She’d been writing something down. “No. What?”
“He’s a sick freak in a cop shop.”
Bao glanced at Jess. She shrugged.
Huh. Maybe he’d like working with her after all.
“Okay,” he said. “In I go.”
Warnock gave his name, address, agreed he didn’t want a lawyer present for his statement, and nearly leapt at the chance to waive his rights. Bao spoke slowly and carefully—he’d never screwed up on a technicality before, and he wasn’t about to start with Warnock.
Chad deserved better.
Kwaitowski did, too.
Warnock had started by asking for water. Bao brought him a full paper cup, and the pale man had drunk the whole in one long go, then handed him the empty cup. Bao kept it.
It was like Warnock was doing everything in his power to make this easy.
Bao’s neck ached.
“Let’s start with the ring,” Bao said. “Where did you get this?”
Between them, in a small plastic bag, already labeled and logged, was a small silver ring. There was a little silver bead—hematite—and it matched the nipple ring missing from Chad’s body.
“Missing” being a euphemism for “ripped from.”
“I pulled it off the boy.”
Warnock had a weak voice. He cleared his throat, but it didn’t really help. He sounded perpetually hoarse.
“He ran by my house. He liked to show off.”
Bao said nothing. Often, people would fill silences. Kwaitowski had been a master at these moments, in no small part due to the way he could aim his gaze at a suspect and wait them out. Before he’d met Kwaitowski, Bao didn’t know you could do so much damage to someone just by looking.
Everything was being recorded. Let Warnock dig his own grave.
“Twice a day. Every morning, every night. He would run by, and if he saw me there, he waved. He liked when I watched. He liked it. I watched him. He didn’t have a lot of friends, he always came home alone. I don’t think his parents liked him very much—they were never around.”
By all accounts, Chad was outgoing, fit, a runner, and not at all likely to crush out on the attention of a pasty-skinned man peeping at him from his window. His folks both worked hard to afford sending Chad to a private school, and they thought the sun rose and fell on their kid. And Chad had been popular, but none of his school friends lived anywhere near him. He had a boyfriend, too.
They’d cleared him first.
Bao said nothing. Who people really were never mattered to guys like Warnock. It was who Warnock wanted Chad to be that mattered.
“I started to wait for him. I’d go outside. He said hello. Why say hello unless he wanted to talk to me? He’d run to the park, stop, drink water, and then run back home. So I went to the park. I brought my computer sometimes. He said hello. He always said hello.”
Bao was starting to think he needed to redirect Warnock back on track. Just as he was about to do so, Warnock jumped again. His eyes darted left, over Bao’s shoulder. Not into the mirror, not like he was trying to any people he had to know were behind the glass. To the corner.
Bao resisted the urge to look, but it was a close thing.
“I’m sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry,” Warnock babbled. “You wanted to know about the ring.”
Warnock stared at it, sitting on the desk between them, in the little plastic bag.
“He took his shirt off when it was hot. I saw it…” Warnock swallowed. “He wanted me to see it. He was proud of his body. He wanted…” Warnock flinched again. He screwed his eyes shut tight. “I kept thinking about it. What it would feel like to…to touch it.”
How the hell had they missed this guy? Bao breathed. In. Out.
Eventually, Warnock opened his eyes again. They darted left, behind Bao, then returned to the ring in the bag.
“He did something to his foot. That day. He was limping. I offered him a ride. Told him I’d go get my car. He said he’d be okay, he could make it home, but I went anyway, and I caught up with him on the road and he got in.”
Here it came. Two dog owners had seen Chad at the park. It was early, his five a.m. run. They’d seen him limping. But they hadn’t seen him interact with anyone.
“He got in. He hadn’t put on his shirt. And I…I…asked him. About the…” Warnock nodded at the little plastic bag.
“About his nipple ring,” Bao said.
Warnock fell silent. Bao counted in his head. One. Two. Three.
“Sorry!” Warnock said again, with another twitch. “I…I touched it. And…he changed his mind. Said he was okay without the ride. Said he’d be okay. I asked him why he’d changed his mind about me, about letting me touch him, and he said things. He said awful things.”
“He told me to let him out, he told me he was going to tell.” Warnock looked down at the table. “He called me things.” Warnock took a long, deep breath. “So I let him out. At the side of the road, by that…that field.”
Bao needed Warnock to say the rest.
“I got out of the car. He didn’t like that. He tried to run away—why was he running away? Why was he saying those awful things? He’d been showing me, teasing me… He wanted it. He wanted me to…”
Warnock twisted his face away from Bao again.
“I wanted him to shut up. To stop saying those awful things. I shoved him and he fell down and I got on top of him and I made him stop talking. I covered his mouth, and I made him stop talking.”
Bao leaned forward. “You covered his mouth?”
“And his…throat. He wouldn’t stop talking. He was yelling, and he was trying to hit me and kick me, but his foot…” Warnock closed his eyes. “Fine, okay, fine!” It came out almost as a yell.
Bao leaned back.
“I strangled the faggot. He fucking deserved it,” Warnock said. His voice didn’t sound hoarse at all, not now. “He led me on and then he called me a pervert. A pervert. I wasn’t the one running around with my shirt off, showing everyone that.” He aimed his chin at the nipple ring.
“I put him in the ditch. There was a big pipe. I put him in there. And I took…I took it. The ring.”
There. That would do. They could test Warnock’s car, the ring, his clothes, if he hadn’t burned them. Jess already sent officers to Warnock’s house.
Bao grabbed the bag and rose. Warnock’s eyes tracked it.
“You’re under arrest,” Bao began, careful with every word. No mistakes. When he was done he went to the door, ready to summon the cops to take Warnock away.
“He’ll stop now. Right?”
Bao turned back to Warnock. The whites of Warnock’s eyes were showing.
“He?” Bao said.
“He hasn’t let me sleep. All week. He never stops. He’s stares at me. He moves things. Grey eyes. He—” Warnock shuddered, then his gaze snapped away from Bao again, his head ducking. Warnock bit his lip so hard his jaw was shaking. His hands curled into fists.
Bao tasted bile. Groundwork for an insanity plea? Diminished capacity?
“I don’t know,” Bao said. “Guess that’s up to Chad.”
“What?” Warnock frowned. “No, I—” His words were cut off when he jerked in his seat. He shut his eyes and turned his head away from Bao. His body language was clear. He was terrified.
Not of Bao, though.
Bao rubbed his arms. It was cold.
He left Warnock behind, closing the door behind him.
He swore he heard the bastard say “Sorry.”
He rejoined Jess on the other side of observation.
“Good job,” she said. She’d flicked off the mic.
“Thanks. But he did all the work,” Bao said, nodding at the glass.
“Think his little breakdown at the end was legit?”
“I don’t know.” Bao shrugged. “I don’t much care. I suppose it’s on the tape, so it’s up to the court.”
She exhaled. “I’ll get on the paperwork.”
He looked at her in surprise. Her rare little smile was back. “Junior partner does the paperwork, I’m told.”
Bao laughed. “Kwaitowski’s rule, not mine. Coincidentally, I was the junior partner and he hated paperwork.”
“Don’t we all.”
She left. Bao looked through the glass again.
Warnock had his head pressed down to his chest, his eyes screwed tight, and his mouth was moving.
He hit the mic.
“I did what you said.” Warnock was almost crying. “Now, please go. Please.”
The door to the interview room opened, and two officers came to lead him away. Warnock visibly relaxed just as they got him to his feet. He took a long look around the room, a slow smile spreading across his face.
“Thank God,” he said. He was openly weeping.
The cops took him away, and the door closed behind them.
Bao hit the mic. He should catch up with Jess. Get things moving. Something still felt off, but there was no doubt Kenny Warnock was their guy. The details. That ring. It was him. So what was it itching at the back of Bao’s mind?
Was it just too easy? Because fuck that noise. Easy was nice for a change.
I did what you said. Please go. He shook his head. If hallucinations of Chad were tormenting Warnock, it was fine by Bao. He thought of the kid, how he looked in the photos they’d shared with the media. Already handsome. Dark, like the kid’s father. And—
Bao stopped, hand on the door.
Chad had brown eyes. Dark. Like his father.
Bao opened the door, and went to his desk.
Cardno’s pawns photo didn’t work, so Bao had to think of something else. He went online, loaded his Facebook page, and found shots from his birthday. There was one, he was sure, where…
Kwaitowski’s arm thrown over Bao’s shoulder, both laughing. Kwaitowski looking right into the camera.
Bao closed his laptop.
He looked at Jess. She was typing, completely focused on what she was doing. Bao put his hands on his desk, trying to stop them from shaking.
There was paper beneath his hand. A file.
He picked it up. Opened it. Frowned.
“Did you put this here?” Bao said.
Jess glanced up. That little line appeared between her eyebrows. “No. What is it?”
“Old case,” Bao said. “One Kwaitowski and I never managed to clear.”
He never stops. He moves things.
Bao looked down. The drawer was open. It had been closed.
Bao took a slow, deep breath.
It was faint. Barely a trace. But it was there.
“Yeah,” he put the file down. “We got work to do, partner.”
He supposed she assumed he was talking to her.
I got some solid work done on the novel this week, and I’m happy with most of what it turned into. I’m still behind from a daily word count point of view but my target is so low right now a good few days will put me back ahead, and I’m not worried.
I’m also thinking of reaching out to a local GSA, to see if they’d be willing to chat with me about some of their day-to-day activities. I may tag my neighbours kid to find out about that. We’ll see.
I like Cole. I hope other people like Cole. He’s a bit of a nerd and a geek (huge surprise, I know, I know.)
Had a major revelation point at the gallery the other day, and I’ve figured out the order of the stories, and both how I want to begin the collection and how to end it. I’m so happy about this, as I wasn’t sure how to even approach such an ordering, and was basically going to throw myself on the mercy of my editor for their opinion. Now I have a method and madness.
Also, oddly enough, the character of Bao Nguyen from that short fiction contest? He’s going to be in a couple of the stories. So again, I should be happy. I got to flush out a character with that contest, if nothing else.
Every Wednesday I try to include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better.
March has not been my proudest submission month. January was: 6 submissions (4 reprints, 2 new), 1 acceptance; in February was bare minimum: 1 submission (1 new). March has given me 1 rejection, though I’m close to two submissions (both new). I will get it in under the wire, I swear.