“Why’d you call me here, Jason? What’s going on?” I had been wanting to ask the question since I arrived, but one thing or another had kept preventing me from doing so. Now that I had my chance, I was eager to hear what it was that had pulled me from my bed… Eager to hear what it was that had dragged me across 300 miles of freezing wet dirt, broken only by occasional oases of neon and sin.
But I was also slightly apprehensive.
A man needs a good reason to ask that from another man, and a damn good reason to ask it from one he hasn’t seen or spoken to in ten years. The fact that Jason had been driven to that point both intrigued and terrified me, and as he spoke I was trembling from more than just the cold.
There was a long pause after my question left my lips. Without answering, Jason stood up and moved slowly across the room to the coffee machine, which rested on a stout table in the corner near the filing cabinets. He flicked the switch on top and a red light went on. A short while later I heard the dripping of liquid into the pot and the strong smell of one of Columbia’s few legal exports hit my nostrils. The fresh coffee steamed in the cold air and I longed to stand up and move near that small source of warmth. I began to notice just how wet my clothes were, how cold my face was — and all of a sudden a good cup of joe sounded like the best thing in the world.
Jason leaned heavily against the table for a few seconds and then rebounded back into a standing position. He shifted left and began rifling through his filing cabinets, eventually pulling out a blue folder about four inches thick, bound with a single piece of twine across all four quadrants. Lurching across the room, he heaved the folder onto the desk with a solid thunk and nodded his head towards it. With a short pull, I unwrapped the twine and opened the folder just as Jason began to speak.
“The day I got my transfer orders was one of the worst days of my life.” Jason’s face was locked in a frown. “Denise was excited, of course. She was always excited in those days. ‘It’ll be good for your career,’ she’d say, or ‘Think of the extra money we’d be making.'” Jason grimaced. “I couldn’t say no, not to her.” His voice dropped a few decibels. “I never could.”
As he talked, I glanced through the blue folder. It was a case file. Jason’s name popped out at me from a few reports and newspaper articles — clearly he had been in charge of the case in question.
“Even after the transfer, they still had me working homicide and I get assigned to that case: A string of murders, all strangulations, all female, some children…” His voice caught in his throat, but he swallowed it and continued.
“As with most cases, it became an obsession, you know? Each new victim renewed my desire to find this guy, to catch him, to punish him for what he’s done…” He trailed off as the coffee pot made a soft clicking noise, indicating the pot was done. He wandered over and poured two paper cups full of java.
I kept paging through the file. The thing read chronologically, like a book. Six murders, all with the same M.O., all with notes left, souvenirs taken — it was your classic serial killer story. And at the end, the killer led Jason and the Las Vegas police force on a merry chase which culminated in a showdown at a large empty warehouse. Christ, the thing didn’t read like a book — it read like a screenplay. The final, climactic gun battle between Hero Cop Jason McAllister and the suspect ended with the suspect down, in cuffs, sent off to jail, trial, and eventually prison.
The end. Roll credits.
Only the file continued, several months later. Three news articles about a copycat killer. Three more dead. All female. All Strangled. All Children.
I looked up to see Jason standing over me, carrying the two steaming cups of coffee. He offered me one and I took it and set it aside, my damp and frigid clothing forgotten for the moment as I looked into Jason’s eyes. He glanced down at the packet and turned the final page.
“I got the wrong guy.”
I stared down at the news article in the blue folder — Killer of Six Slain in Prison Riot.
“Marshal Stevens, the man I sent to prison, was guilty of nothing more than a few petty thefts, an assault when he was a kid… nothing big. I sent him to prison for life, and prison made damn sure to take it away from him. He was stabbed in the gut with a hand-made shiv six times, one for each of his ‘crimes.'”
“Your average murderers don’t have much use for rapists and child killers… it was only a matter of time.”
I closed the case file and looked up at Jason expectantly. The last news article had been dated two years ago, so I knew there had to be more. Jason was silent for a few minutes, and the pouring rain beat out my impatience on the window pane — but I waited. When he finally resumed his speech, I was completely unprepared for what he said next.
“Charlie,” Jason looked at me with fear in his eyes. Outside, lightning flashed. “I think I’m going insane.”
And it was at precisely that moment that the world exploded. Thunder rolled, the window shattered into a million pieces, and Jason fell forward, clutching his shoulder, into a heap on the ground.