For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge, A Novice Revenges the Rhythm
She tended to pace when she was bothered by a case. This was a new record, by a good five minutes.
“You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet.”
She didn’t hear him, or wasn’t inclined to respond. David looked back down at the files spread across his coffee table. Seeing Claire at his doorstep wasn’t really a surprise, not when five young women were dead and a sixth missing.
“Look, you heard the captain this morning, Claire. The FBI is coming in tomorrow. It won’t be our case anymore. All we need to do is back them up.”
“Don’t tell me that doesn’t piss you off.”
David glanced at the bottle of Jack sitting on his kitchen counter. “It does, but what else can we do? We’ve been over every shred of evidence, and so have they. Until we put all of our heads together, we’re not going to make any actual progress.”
“I don’t believe that, and I don’t think you do either.”
David rubbed his temples. “All we know is he kidnaps them from their parking lots or driveways outside their residences, he leaves no trace of blood or hair so he’s cautious and catches them in such a way that any struggling is irrelevant, and seven days later we find the victim in their bedroom at home. No fingerprints, no follicles, no DNA. He dresses them in nightgowns and uses makeup to cover up any wounds that would be immediately visible…”
“A novice revenges the rhythm.”
David sighed. “You know that doesn’t mean anything, Claire. He left it with the first victim on common copy paper. Both our eggheads and the ones for the Feds have been over every word of that phrase. We’re getting nowhere with this. We need to wait for…”
Claire stopped pacing as if she’d been turned to stone mid-step. “Say that again.”
“We’re getting nowhere.”
“No, before that.”
Her partner blinked. “What, that we’ve been over every word of that phrase?”
“Yeah.” She turned, walked around the coffee table, and sat down beside him on the couch. “Every word… not every letter.”
David scratched his head. Claire dove through the files, the photos of autopsies and the staged bedroom scenes, until she found a pad of blank paper and a Sharpie. She wrote out the phrase – A novice revenges the rhythm – at the top of the page. After a moment of staring at it, she began writing letters beneath it, crossing them out as she used them.
“What are you doing?”
“I think it might be an anagram.”
David frowned. “Why would he give us an anagram?”
“I don’t know, but I think he left it there for a reason.”
“Sure he did, to taunt us.”
“Dave, killers like this tend to be pretty smart people. They also lean towards arrogance bordering on narcissism. He wants us to know who he is so he can gloat about being so superior to us in intellect. He’s given us a challenge he believes we’ll never beat.”
David said nothing. Claire focused on the page, crossing out her failures and starting over, one attempt after another. Eventually, Dave got up and walked to the kitchen, pouring himself some Jack. He took a swallow, waited for the burning in his throat to subside, and poured another.
“Dave! I need you to Google something for me.”
He coughed after his second swallow as his vocal chords recovered from the alcoholic bath they’d just taken. “What is it?”
“Look up ‘Vence’, Vee Ee En See Ee, tell me if it means anything.”
Puzzled, Dave pulled out his phone and consulted Google. Claire refused to get a smart phone, said that if she couldn’t ensure it was free of tracking devices, she didn’t want it on her person. Funny, considering the department low-jacked all of their cars. But nobody ever expected Claire’s eccentricities to make sense. As long as she caught murderers, the higher-ups were happy to let her be her slightly crazy self.
“Wikipedia says it’s a commune in Italy.”
“Any poets from there?”
He scrolled down the page. “Yeah, D.H. Lawrence.”
Claire was on her feet and pacing again. “That sounds familiar. Run it through locations within the city.”
“Let me get my laptop. My phone is…”
“Told you that you don’t need it.”
“It is not spying on us, Claire.”
“I’m just saying.”
Rolling his eyes, Dave fetched his laptop. In moments he was looking through locations within the city limits and suburbs.
“There’s a Lawrence’s Pub a few blocks from here.”
“Too public. Next.”
“DH Books, shut down five years ago, owner moved back to…”
Claire raised an eyebrow. David met her gaze.
“He was an immigrant. From Vence.”
“Give, then, a short Vence rhyme. That’s what I found.”
For a moment, neither of them said anything. Without a word, they moved as one, gathering up coats and sidearms as they headed out the door. David drove, lights on and siren blaring, as Claire radioed in for backup.
When they arrived at the old bookstore, the property’s exterior was burned to a blackened, cracking facade. Broken glass in the windows reflected the lights from David’s car and the SWAT van. The two detectives entered cautiously, pistols ready, flashlights piercing the dark.
It was Claire that found the trap door. Quietly, they crept down the stairs, where they heard a soft male voice reading aloud.
“I want her to touch me at last, ah, on the root and
quick of my darkness
and perish on me, as I have perished on her.”
The reading figure was bent over a bed where a young woman lay, bound and gagged. She was naked, and watched the hooded and robed reader with wide, fearful eyes.
Claire raised her weapon. “‘The Manifesto.'”
The figure turned, wearing a mask of the dramatic face of comedy. All but his eyes were inscrutable behind it; eyes that burned with ambition, anticipation, madness.
“Ah. Here you are. Now our final game can begin.”