A Sleepier Hollow – Part Four (Conclusion)

“Well,” Smoke began with a defeated sigh of irritation, “for starters, he was the reason I ended up resigning from the bureau. Long story short, the bureau had just assigned him as my partner. The little prick was fresh out of the academy. No field time at all. I reviewed his transcripts and all I can say is someone’s palms had to have been greased somewhere along the way for him to make it out of the academy. It took one day of working with Agent Flemming for me to realize he was dumber than a box of rocks and lazier than a pile of sticks. I asked the upper echelons of the bureau to reassign him but they felt working with a good agent would help him improve. I tried playing nice with the kid but he thought he knew it all. We were assigned to a high-profile case that required a bit of finesse both publically and privately. He, of course, wanted to be a cowboy and go in guns blazing. We were on a stakeout one night in front of the suspect’s house. Ha, this still boils my blood. There was no reason to even approach this person’s house. We were sent to watch for any ‘unusual traffic’ then report it. As I said, finesse. Well, Flemming gets all worked up and impatient and decides he’s going to go question some people. I tell him to sit still but he bolts from the car. He wanted to be a hero or something, hell I don’t know. I end up following him out of duty more so than want. Personally, I was going to cuff his ass and put him in the trunk of the car. Before I could get to the front door, I hear a gunshot. Goes without saying, I pulled my gun and when I get up to the house, I find out that Agent Flemming has shot our suspect’s prize Siamese cat. He said he thought it was a weapon.”

“You’re yanking my chain,” Captain Hitchcock interjected disbelievingly.

“Hand on the bible, it’s true. Anyway, he is in shambles about it, afraid he’s going to lose his job and all that. So, I covered for him. Said I was the one that shot the cat. Next thing I know, that little poof is telling our boss that it was my idea to breech protocol and approach the house. Then, to compound matters further, I find out Flemming stole all of my files on the investigation and went to our boss’s boss complaining that he was doing all the work on the case and I was just shooting cats. I guess he got scared I was going to snitch on him. I got reassigned to what amounted to filing papers while wonderboy went on riding people’s coattails. The rest is history.”

“Seems history is repeating itself,” Captain Hitchcock chuckled.

“I found this in my mailbox this morning,” Smoke said as he pulled the note from his pocket and presented it to Captain Hitchcock.

“’Two is a couple, three is a crowd,’” Captain Hitchcock read aloud. “Well, whatever it means, it’s the feds problem now. I’ll be sure Agent wonderboy gets it. Now, c’mon, let’s forget this business and have a drink.”

“It’s only ten o’clock in the morning.”

“Well, you’re on leave and I’m taking a personal holiday because all of this excitement has left me,” Captain Hitchcock paused then sighed dramatically, “emotionally compromised.”

“I think I’ll pass. I’m just going to go home and get some sleep.”

Captain Hitchcock shrugged, “Suit yourself,” he said. “If you need me, you’ll know where to find me.”

Smoke had no intention of going to bed. He still needed to examine the analysis Agent Soren emailed him. Agent Flemming may have confiscated Smoke’s work computer but it would take time for him to seize the station’s email server which Smoke had access to from his apartment. Since he had yet to view the email, Smoke knew it was still neatly packed away on the email server. When he arrived at his apartment, his beliefs were confirmed and he breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of INBOX (1 unread message) winking approvingly on his computer screen. At first glance, the analysis was as Agent Soren had said: Ordinary. A closer examination revealed something peculiar to Smoke. On both bodies, there were increased levels of water in the bone fragments at the top of the neck bone. Smoke recalled his rude awakening from that morning then flipped open his phone and speed dialed Captain Hitchcock.

Before Captain Hitchcock could manage to say hello Smoke was already talking, “I know we’re off the case but hear me out,” he began. “The killer is using water to cut off the heads.”

“Come again?”

“Water. The killer is using water to cut off the heads of the victims.” Smoke said hurriedly. “It was something that went unnoticed on the analysis but it fits.”

There was a long pause before Captain Hitchcock spoke again, “Agent wonderboy is dead,” he said quietly. “Found him in his car, same M.O. as the others. Head cut off, chess piece placed on the stump, and no sign of the head anywhere. This time the killer left a note.”

Smoke was taken aback momentarily by the news. It had been less than two hours since he had left the station. The killer was a fast and efficient worker which is what scared Smoke the most. “It wasn’t me,” he said sporadically.

“What? I know that. Feeling guilty for punching him in the face or something?”

“Not really.”

“Ok, listen, the note says ‘THE PALE JOCKEY RIDES AGAIN WITH NO END TO HIS VENGEANCE. YOUR EVIDENCE IS A CAROSUEL THAT GOES AROUND AND AROUND BUT NEVER GETS YOU ANY CLOSER TO ME,’” Captain Hitchcock said with the static buzz of bad reception. “Does that mean anything to you?”

“Other than being really bad poetry?”

“Come on, Smoke. I need your input on this.”

“Okay,” Smoke thought for a moment then resumed. “Have forensics check for fingerprints on the chess piece and the note. I’d put money on it that Mr. Ken Yokohama’s fingerprints are on both. In the meantime, I need to make a trip to the hardware store.”

“You’re on leave Smoke. You can’t be working on this case.”

“That’s kind of a double standard statement, don’t you think Captain? Don’t worry, I just need some nails for a picture,” Smoke replied then closed his phone before any rebuttal could be voiced.

Smoke drove to the local hardware store where he previously commandeered a ladder. This time, the scraggly old store manager was more than happy to offer any assistance he could. Smoke did some internet research beforehand on building portable, high-pressured water systems that could pressurize water to such an extent that it was capable of cutting metals up to two and a half centimeters thick; Mr. Yokohama’s comment about the man with the backpack full of hoses and gauges had been a vague yet accurate description of such a device Smoke found in his research.

Smoke made a list of materials needed to build the device and asked the hardware store manager if he remembered any customers purchasing similar materials recently, to which the store manager replied, “son, this is a hardware store. Stuff like this is sold regularly.”

“Yes, I know,” Smoke replied. “but all at once? The man I’m looking for is a bald, white man. He’s tall, probably a fit or athletic build.”

“Now that you mention it,” the scraggly old man said, “nope, nothing.”

Smoke sighed with a frustrated huff then a light popped on in his head, “What about rock carving tools? Those aren’t commonly sold items here, is it?”

“Nope,” the old man replied. “Just one guy I know of that buys that crap.”

“You got an address for him?”

“You got a way of making a couple more of my parking tickets disappear?”

“How many tickets do you have?” Smoke asked curiously.


With a little more haggling, Smoke obtained the address then called Captain Hitchcock again to inform him of the new light that had just been shed on the investigation. After a few scolding words, Captain Hitchcock agreed to have the address checked out. Smoke sat in his car and switched on his scanner to listen to the police chatter. It was a matter of waiting at this point. Smoke was either spot on or completely off with his theories. The scanner squelched out that a squad car was on its way to the address Smoke had obtained. Minutes later, there was a call for backup to the same address, officer down. Smoke flipped on his car’s built in siren, put his churning red emergency light on the roof, and sped off.

By the time Smoke had reached the address, the area was swarming with emergency crews and police cruisers. He got out of his car and watched as three, Rorschach blotted canvas bags were carried out of the dilapidated trailer the officers were buzzing around. A small smile spread across Smoke’s face. He glanced over at one of the police cruisers and saw a bald man smiling through the back window at him. Captain Hitchcock spotted Smoke and trotted over to his car.

“I don’t know how,” he said with a confused awe, “but you found the bastard.”

“Does this mean I can come back to work?” Smoke said.

“You haven’t even been on leave 12 hours,” Captain Hitchcock thought for a moment. “Hell, why not.”

“Good, I want to interrogate him.”

Smoke found out later that the killer, who called himself The Pale Jockey, had gotten spooked by the officers that were sent to check out the address and used his pressurized water device to cut off one of their hands. Forensics confirmed Smoke’s prediction of the chess piece and note found on Ronald Flemming as having Mr. Ken Yokohama’s fingerprints on it. He called it a lucky guess. Additionally, the three canvas bags retrieved from The Pale Jockey’s trailer contained the heads of Brutus Ackerman, Mr. Ken Yokohama, and Agent Ronald Flemming. As of now, the case was cut and dry. Smoke was allowed to interrogate The Pale Jockey but with little results. The Pale Jockey refused to say a word and sat silently for over four hours. Legal counsel was also refused and a confession was signed without any dispute. Before The Pale Jockey was hauled off to his holding cell to await trial, he slipped Smoke a small piece of paper with a sloppily scrawled message on it: THE PALE JOCKEY RIDES NO MORE. HIS SHANK REACHES FAR AND WIDE, it read. The Pale Jockey smiled at Smoke one last time, baring his perfect white teeth, before the two officers escorted him out of the interrogation room.

“Seems a little too easy, don’t you think?” Smoke asked Captain Hitchcock. His gut was telling him there was something more; something he was still missing.

“It’s not enough to catch the bad guy?” Captain Hitchcock said incredulously. “What more do you want?”

Smoke shook his head then checked out for the night and went home. The paperwork could wait until morning. For the first time in nearly a week, he was able lay in his bed and drift off to sleep. His dream was peaceful enough. It was of a conversation he had with the local heroin kingpin over two years ago at Brutus’ bar.

May 29th, 2008

4:00 P.M.

“John Doyle,” Smoke said as he sat across from a clean shaven, well-dressed Mexican with slicked back, wavy black hair. “I’m on to you.”

“Is that so?” Doyle replied. “Let me ask you a question Detective Smoke.”

“That’s usually my job but I’ll play ball. Go for it.”

“Have you ever heard the story of the way I got my nickname?” Doyle asked while sipping his steaming latte. “While I was in jail, of course.”

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Well, there was this man. We’ll just call him Jack because I honestly can’t remember his name. Jack, you see, he wanted to go off and run his mouth to the guards about my little financial enterprise, we’ll call it, that I was running on the inside. I offered him a cut in my business but, Jack, he had some twisted sense of morality and unwisely refused my offer. Later that night, moral Jack was brutally killed with a shank to the neck. Of course, they immediately tried blaming his death on me but, as poor old Jack was being shanked, I was fast asleep in my bunk. The vatos on my block would joke that ‘John Doyle has a shank that reaches far and wide,’ and they weren’t talking about the one between my legs although the description fits. I, therefore, became John ‘Farshanks’ Doyle.”

Smoke opened his eyes and said to the darkened room, “Farshanks.”

Hours later, The Pale Jockey was found dead in his cell with a shank in his neck.

A Sleepier Hollow – Part Three

“One thing I could never do,” Agent Soren said with a wince, “is lie to you. Ronald Flemming will be the lead investigator on this case. So, if there is anything you need analyzed, tested, or scrutinized, now would be the time to give it to me.”

Captain Hitchcock bit back an inappropriate comment as Smoke shot him a ‘keep it to yourself’ look in anticipation of the comment.

“I need some tissue samples analyzed as well as a piece of brick from that wall,” Smoke instructed as he pointed to the area where he found the note lodged. “How soon can you get back to me and when can we be expecting Agent Flemming?”

“Well,” Agent Soren thought momentarily, “Flemming will probably be here early to mid afternoon tomorrow. I can have the analysis results back to you before then. What are you hoping to find?”

“Not sure yet,” Smoke replied. “I’ll know when I see it.”

Smoke retrieved the samples he needed analyzed and gave them to Agent Soren then sent her on her way. There was no time to waste especially on the age old ‘catching up over drinks’ then ending up in bed together. She was right. He had married his job instead of her, but what was done, was done, and as much as he would have liked to change the past or give their relationship a second chance, he knew it was not possible. There was always going to be a bad guy to chase. He made his decision seem as selfish as possible, those many years ago, to try to make her hate him. It was less complicated that way. The truth was he did not want to put her in danger. Not that any of it mattered now. At this point it was a fog of confusion on an ocean of doubt which Smoke was trying to avoid. Right now, he needed clarity which he found inside a foil wrapped piece of chocolate candy: DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD.YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO THINK IF YOU DO, the message on the wrinkled foil read. The chocolate candies were fortune cookie knock-offs that contained less interesting messages with more tasty treats. The message in Smoke’s piece of chocolate made him chuckle. What were the odds?

Smoke took the foil wrapper and pinned it to the cork board in his office. He was sure it would serve as a healthy reminder later on in life. It had been four hours since he found Mr. Ken Yokohama’s headless body and over 48 hours since he slept. The sleeplessness was taking its toll and causing him to nod off while he sat at his desk waiting for a call from forensics. If the killer was watching him, as Agent Soren suggested, then Smoke was better off behind his desk than out on the street, according to Captain Hitchcock who ordered him to stay in his office for the time being. Smoke was not usually one to challenge authority but he disagreed completely with Captain Hitchcock’s order which was the how and why of the matter of the two guards posted outside of Smoke’s office. Captain Hitchcock knew Smoke well enough to know that he would not stay put for very long unless forced to do so. Of course, the ever transparent ‘they are there for your protection’ line was used to try to assure Smoke that the guards were there more so for his protection than his detainment.

What bothered Smoke the most, more so than the detaining guards posted outside of his office, was the lack of connection, thus far, between the two murders. From what he could tell, according to witness statements, intuition, and a little common sense, Brutus Ackerman and Mr. Ken Yokohama knew nothing of each other. In fact, the only thing they commonly shared was the cobblestone alleyway behind Brutus’ bar. Smoke’s desk phone jangled to life with a quick two tone ring.

“Detective Smoke,” he answered.

“This is Trudy from the forensics lab,” a deep female voice replied. “We’ve found something, well, out of the ordinary to say the least.”

“Go on.”

“We were able to lift a set of finger prints from the note you found and the chess piece that was on Mr. Yokohama.”

“Why is that out of the ordinary? That’s a good thing.” Smoke said listlessly as he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.

“They both have Brutus Ackerman’s fingerprints on them.”

As Smoke quickly leaned forward, the unintended jolt from his chair stopping nearly knocked the receiver to the phone out of his hand. “Really?” he said in awe.

“Yes, really.”

“That is,” Smoke pondered a suitable word, “odd.”

“I’ll send the reports up to you ASAP.”

“Thank you,” Smoke said as he began to hang up the phone then remembered his manners. “Good work, by the way. Didn’t mean to seem rude, it’s just I haven’t slept in two days and…” the phone line chirped three times followed by the dead hum of the dial tone. “So much for clarity,” he said to himself as he hung up the phone and pondered the possibilities of the newly discovered evidence.

Minutes later, Captain Hitchcock arrived in Smoke’s office followed by a lab technician with the reports promised by Trudy from forensics.

“The wife brought over some pot roast,” Captain Hitchcock said as he plopped down a steaming Tupperware bowl on Smoke’s desk. “Said she was sad that you couldn’t make it to the house for dinner then yelled at me for not being there.”

“You made it kind of hard for me to take a piss without one of those uniforms at the door knowing about it,” Smoke replied. “Tell Bertle thanks for the roast though.”

“Come on, Smoke. I did that for your own good. I can’t have you out gallivanting around the city if this murderer is following you.”

Smoke chose his words carefully then spoke, “we don’t know for sure that the killer is following me. It could have been just coincidence which is wishful thinking, I know, but it is also called keeping an open mind. This roast is delicious.” He said as he chewed between words, “Kudos to your wife. Anyway, forensics found something rather interesting.” Smoke opened the file the lab tech had left and flipped to the correct page, “see here, Brutus Ackerman’s fingerprints found on both the chess piece and the note I found in the wall.”

“How is that possible? He couldn’t have killed Mr. Yokohama.”

“Never said he could have,” Smoke smiled, closed lipped, as he chewed more of Bertle Hitchcock’s delectable roast.

“So?” Captain Hitchcock said impatiently.

“So, what?”

“So, what do you know that you aren’t telling?”

Smoke’s cell phone lit up and began to ring, “Talk about timing,” he said. The caller ID displayed Agent Soren’s name across the face of the cell phone. “Hello?”

“So you do answer your phone differently,” Captain Hitchcock grunted.

“I’ve got those results for you, Cillian,” Agent Soren’s silky voice melted through the phone. “But you’re going to be sorely disappointed.”

“Why’s that?”

“They turned up nothing unusual. The tissue samples had no traces of anything out of the ordinary; same with the sample of brick.”

“Can you email me the results?” Smoke asked.

“What for? I just told you there was nothing out of the ordinary.”

“And I told you when you asked what I was looking for that I would know when I see it. Since I have yet to see the results of the analysis…” Smoke trailed off feeling that he had adequately made his point.

“Fine,” Agent Soren said sorely. “They should be to you in a few minutes.”

“Thank you,” Smoke replied kindly. “We’ll talk later. Catch up over drinks or something.” A proposition Smoke knew he could not keep.

“Sure, sure,” Agent Soren grumbled. “Take care of yourself, Cillian.”

With that, Smoke closed his phone and stared at it for a moment then realized Captain Hitchcock was still in the room and staring at him. “Sorry,” he said, “I’m zoning out. Really tired is all.”

“Alright,” Captain Hitchcock said with an exaggerated huff, “time to clock out and call it a night. You look like something I did in the men’s bathroom earlier and that’s not a compliment m’boy. This city is going to need you well rested and at your best tomorrow when Agent Flemming arrives. Go home and get some sleep.”

“Please tell me you’re not going to send a uniformed officer with me?” Smoke groaned. “I won’t be able to sleep if I know someone is watching me.”

“Fine, fine. Now scram.”

Smoke went straight home and was asleep before his head could make it to his pillow which is why he ended up with a neck cramp the next morning. He fell asleep while taking off his boots and his head lolled over the edge of the couch, staying that way for most of the night. A nuclear bomb with a megaphone could not have woken Smoke up. A stream of water to the face, however, could and did wake him out of a graveyard sleep. Smoke sat up while wiping the water from his face wildly. It was a brisk, cool morning which was evident from his front door standing wide open. Smoke tried to look around but his stiff neck only allowed for a robotic shoulder turn of his upper torso. He got up and crept around his apartment, going from room to room in a methodical manner and finding only emptiness. As he returned to the entrance way, he noticed a small trail of water that lead from his couch to his front door and beyond. It was then that Smoke irrationalized that someone had broken into his apartment, seemingly, just to spray his face with water. He followed the trail of water which ended at his weather-worn metal mailbox. The sun was just making its climb over the horizon and provided enough light to see clearly but all Smoke saw was the ordinary sights of his apartment complex’s parking lot which was a huddled mass of cars and two industrial dumpsters. Beyond the lot was the main road that led straight into town and was already bustling with commercial vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Smoke took a breath then turned back to his mailbox. Out of curiosity and habit, he opened the mailbox and found a note sitting loosely inside.

He opened the note and read it quietly, “Two is a couple, three is a crowd.”

Without hesitation, he threw on his clothes and headed to the station. Another head was sure to be missing somewhere in Bethlehem.


            Smoke’s foot did not let off the accelerator as he wove his unmarked cruiser in and out of the commuting morning traffic like a possessed crochet needle to a ball of yarn; horns and flying fingers were left in the wake of his motoring indecencies. He reached for his cell phone to add mayhem to the traffic fiasco he was already creating and swerved to miss a construction barrel unsuccessfully. The barrel popped into the air and caught some hang time on the car behind Smoke, then rolled into the ditch. He was in a rush, not because he knew whose head was next on the chopping block but, because he had clumsily forgotten to check the analysis Agent Soren had sent him the previous night. His intuition was telling him there was something on the analysis that would only make sense to him. It was that gut feeling he had learned to trust over these many years and for good reason: it was never wrong…so far.

Smoke burst into his office and found a welcoming committee of five federal agents, headed by none other than Agent Ronald Flemming.

“Detective Cillian Smoke,” Agent Flemming said with a tone of unimpressed snootiness as he seated himself behind Smoke’s desk. “You’re late.”

“Fashionably,” Smoke retorted with a half-cocked smile.

Agent Ronald Flemming was a short, balding man that thought there was sex appeal in his badly formed comb-over and polyester, pin-striped suit. He stood apart from the other five agents in the room by looks alone. He also had a bad habit of not trimming his nose hairs which could be seen hanging out of his hooked-beak nose without even standing near him. For this reason, many people dared not get close enough to be caught staring. He also had the bad habit of stealing other people’s work and claiming it as his own.

“Where’s my computer?” Smoke said as he looked around his office with an unbreakable scowl. “And the files that were on my desk? What happened to those?” He knew the answer without having to ask the question but he wanted to hear it from Agent Flemming.

“The bureau has taken over this case,” Agent Flemming replied as he leaned back in Smoke’s chair and waved his hand around like a listless magic wand that made all of Smoke’s notes on the murder cases disappear. “Poof! I have confiscated all of your investigative information on this case and made it mine.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” Smoke growled. “A poof like you is pretty good at stealing other people’s work and claiming it as his own.”

“Come now, you’re not still angry about that are you? That was over four years ago.”

“I’m not going to make the mistake of threatening to punch you in the face,” Smoke said as he approached his desk. “I’m just going to do it.”

Before the other four agents could stop him, Smoke jumped on his desk, grabbed Agent Flemming by the tie, and punched him hard enough to dislodge his gelled comb-over from his forehead. Captain Hitchcock had come into Smoke’s office just in time to see the comb-over dislodging first punch and pulled Smoke off the desk before he could connect with a second devastating blow. Despite his age, Captain Hitchcock was still as strong as a young ox and managed to life Smoke into the air then plop him on the ground like a satchel of potatoes.

“What’s going on here?!” Captain Hitchcock exclaimed while looking around at the room for an explanation.

“I’ll knock the pin-stripes off that silly fucking suit of yours you little prick,” Smoke said as he scrambled to his feet and tried to get at Agent Flemming again.

Captain Hitchcock pinned Smoke to the opposing wall with a forearm to the throat, “You need to calm down, son,” he said with a quiet but aggressive tone then looked back at Agent Flemming.

The four other agents huddled around Agent Flemming and were offering their handkerchiefs to help stop his nose from spraying blood. He forcefully declined all of their attempts to help him, letting the blood drip through his hand and onto Smoke’s desk.. “‘ju better get ‘cuntroll of ‘jur boy ‘Capin ‘Hisscoch. He’s lucky I ‘dunt ‘pwess ‘sharges,” he said with a pinched nasally whine.

“That would be a little hard to do seeing as how you would have to press charges through this city’s police department. We protect our own, Agent Flemming. Just a word to the wise.” Captain Hitchcock replied.

“City?” Agent Flemming laughed. “This is a TOWN ‘Capin  Hissoch. You ‘backwuss ‘hwillbillies are ‘awhl the same. ‘Inbed and dumb as ‘sheit.”

Captain Hitchcock began to walk toward Agent Flemming with a wild look in his eye but was stopped by Smoke grabbing his elbow.

“Are you going to confiscate my chair too?” Smoke said.

“What? No?” Agent Flemming replied.

“Good. Then get out of my chair and stop bleeding on my desk.”

Agent Flemming smiled maliciously then wiped his hand across Smoke’s desk and chair as he stood up. His entourage followed him like ducks in a row as he walked to the door and paused by Smoke. “Have fun ‘inbestigating missing cats for the rest of ‘jur life, ‘Depective ‘Ssmopke,” he said as he walked out still pinching off his bleeding beaked nose.

Captain Hitchcock turned to Smoke, “You want to tell me what in the name of hellfire that was all about?” he said angrily.

“A lot of things.”

“Well, we’ve got plenty of time to talk since you’re off the case and taking a two week leave of absence.”

“A what!” Smoke yelled. “What the hell for?”

“I just witnessed you assault a federal agent, Smoke. You expect me just to pat you on the shoulder and say good job? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to but I can’t. So, why don’t you tell me what that was all about and I’ll see if I can’t shorten that leave to a week.”

A Sleepier Hollow – Part Two

“Fair enough,” Captain Hitchcock replied, typically, as he sat his coke down on Smoke’s desk and looked at him with an expression of concern. “Look, I know this is a sore subject for you, but unfortunately we’re all out of vasoline so I’ll just get right to the ass-fucking. As much as I don’t want to get the Feds involved with this, we don’t have the equipment necessary to handle this sort of case. Hell, we had a hard enough time getting a fingerprint match let alone trying to do any sort of blood analysis or any of that jazz. Most of its being sent out to labs in other jurisdictions which means they’ll put the ‘let’s move slower than molasses’ sticker on it and get back to us in a week.”

“Give me 24 hours,” Smoke replied. “I still have a reliable source in the bureau that could help us out. She owes me a few favors anyway.”

“Sounds kinky,” Captain Hitchcock burped as he raised his bushy grey eyebrows in conformation of it being a good out. “You’ve got 18 hours. I don’t need another one of this city’s residents or, God forbid, a vacationing tourist dying at the hands of this psychopath because you want to play Sherlock Holmes.”

“This is a town,” Smoke corrected while wondering who in their right mind would want to vacation in Bethlehem let alone in the month of October. “And it shouldn’t take me more than eight hours to get what I need. I said 24 hours originally in case I needed to butter my source up first, grease her palms if needed, but, as you said, we’re all out of vasoline.”

“I trust you, Smoke. Don’t make me question that. Better yet, don’t make this city question its trust in us, the BCPD. When was the last time you slept? You look horrific.”

“I can’t remember, doesn’t matter. I’ve got work to do.” Smoke said as he closed the manila folder, tucked it under his arm, and headed for the door.

“Hey, the wife is cooking a pot roast tonight. She would really like it if you stopped by. Hell, I guess I would too. I know it’s hard to get sleep with everything that’s going on but a man shouldn’t go hungry too.”

Smoke stopped in the doorway. Captain Hitchcock and his wife, Bertle, had been like parents to him the past three years. They never had children of their own and Smoke had lost his parents sixteen years ago. They weren’t dead. He had literally lost them. Or so they thought. He knew exactly where they were but they wanted nothing to do with him, which they made abundantly clear by packing up, moving, and leaving no forwarding address on his 18th birthday. They had never wanted children but did not believe in abortion or adoption. So, they raised him and on the day that the law said their obligation as parents had been fulfilled, they disappeared, leaving only a letter that said ‘Our obligation is fulfilled. Good luck son.’ Smoke would later discover after joining the bureau that they had moved to Arizona and had opened a pet shop. It went bankrupt within a few years because they couldn’t seem to keep the animals alive. Smoke would send them money now and again to help cushion the blow from their pet shop failure. Part of him thought he did it to show them that at least he was not a failure while the other part of him just felt obligated.

“As much as I’d like to Captain,” Smoke said regretfully, “I doubt I’ll have the time. But I appreciate the thought.”

“Bertle said you’d say that and she told me to tell you dinner is at seven.”

Smoke smiled, “Seven it is then.”

Smoke had called his contact in the bureau almost immediately after leaving his office. As luck would have it, she transferred to the Cleveland field office and was available for lunch. Smoke was ready to drive the 201 km to Cleveland, however after his contact heard that he had been awake for more than 43 hours she told him she would come there instead. Either way, Smoke was not going to able to sleep. He revisited the crime scene to check for any missed evidence while he waited for his contact to arrive. The rain had been turned down to a light drizzle but the sun was playing hide and seek behind the clouds which made the inevitability of the cool fall temperatures that much more apparent. As Smoke had expected, the preliminary forensics report indicated no fingerprints or any other discernable evidence on Brutus Ackerman’s body or the chess piece.

The killer watched from afar as Smoke poured over the crime scene. He had not returned to do as Smoke was doing and recover evidence. He was there to ensure Smoke would find the evidence he put there for him. The killer was not a fanatic fan of Smoke’s and did not collect newspaper clippings of all of his cases nor did he idolize Smoke in any way. The funny part was, he did not hate him either. The killer recognized that the only difference between him and Smoke was the blurred line of the law. Sure, they had differing moral aptitudes, but they were both doing a job that had to be done. If the killer felt anything at all for Smoke, it would have been respect.

“Wha’ ‘chu looking at wit does binoculars meesta?” A voice said from behind the killer.

The killer immediately tucked away his binoculars and turned to face a short, smiling oriental man with a flat billed baseball cap that had the word ‘SMILE’ embroidered on it. The killer walked off briskly and left the little oriental man standing with a look of stunned glee.

“Hey! Where you going?” The oriental man called out then looked in the direction the killer had been looking with a strained squint. “I know that man! That meesta Smoke. HEY MEESTA SMOKE!” he said while waving his arms wildly.

Smoke recognized the voice instantly. It was Mr. Ken Yokohama, Bethlehem’s only Japanese resident and an invaluable confidential informant as Smoke had found out two years earlier during an investigation into the local heroin ring. Due to Mr. Yokohama’s broken English, most people make the mistake of assuming he cannot understand English when, in fact, he understands it perfectly; it was the speaking part that gave him trouble. Such was the mistake of a couple of heroin dealers who tried to get Mr. Yokohama to be their mule which he gladly agreed to then delivered the goods straight to the BCPD. Smoke was able to convince Mr. Yokohama to wear a wire and do a couple more jobs as a mule after every other cop in the BCPD had failed in doing so. This was, in part, due to the fact that Smoke had taken a few Japanese classes in college, but was in the same boat as Mr. Yokohama when it came to the language: He understood it, but had trouble speaking it. Mr. Yokohama found Smoke’s attempts at Japanese to be very admirable and agreed to work solely with him. The investigation as a whole only turned up small fish, but one name was given which Smoke believed was the big fish in the heroin ring: John “Far-shanks” Doyle. The investigation is ongoing and few arrests have been made.

“What you doing here meesta Smoke. No see, long time!” Mr. Yokohama called from the second story fire escape, two buildings away from the alley behind Brutus’.

Smoke waved, but waited until he was under the fire escape to engage in conversation. Yelling that far seemed unnecessary given the circumstances. “How are you doing Mr. Yokohama,” he asked once he was under the fire escape.

“Oh, me? I just fine.” Mr. Yokohama replied with a wide grin and a brush-off hand wave. “Like my cap say, SMILE! That what I do. I hear there is murder! But I still smile.”

“Have you heard anything else?” Smoke asked as a shot in the dark.

“No. But I see. There was tall man standing here watchinga you wit hees binoculars. I saya to him ‘HEY! Wha’ ‘chu looking at wit does binoculars?’ But then he run off.”

Without moving, Smoke looked around from building to building trying to sense which way the man might have run. “Are you sure he was watching me?” he asked, considering the possibility of Mr. Yokohama overreacting. “He could have been bird watching and maybe you startled him.”

“Ha, Ha. Thata funny one meesta Smoke. Maybe you a bird, because he wasa watchinga you! You come up here and see.”

Smoke climbed up the rickety, tetanus-waiting-to-happen fire escape and stood beside Mr. Yokohama. The only thing that was visible from where they stood was the taped off crime scene behind Brutus’ bar and the backsides of brick buildings with no windows. At that point, there was no doubt in Smoke’s mind that he was being watched. He stood there for a moment, beside Mr. Yokohama who was still smiling as though he had won the lottery, and stared at the narrow cobblestone alley behind Brutus’. He had that nagging feeling of forgetting or missing something important, kind of like when coffee drinkers forget to turn off their coffee makers and remember after having already left their house. Since he knew his troublesome feeling had nothing to do with a coffee maker, due to the lack of owning such a machine, he could confidently narrow it down to something about the crime scene. As he continued to survey the scene from above, he noticed something out of place: A pristine area of brick wall above the horizontally running, steaming air ducts of Brutus’ bar which was only evident from an elevated position.

“Wha’ ‘chu looking at meesta Smoke?” Mr. Yokohama asked while trying to peek over Smoke’s shoulder.

“I’m not sure yet,” Smoke replied as he began to descend the shoddy fire escape ladder then stopped. “What are you doing up here?” he asked realizing it had not occurred to him to do so earlier.

“Me? Oh, I live righta up there. I move in two weeks ago,” Mr. Yokohama indicated one story above with his pudgy finger. “It’sa how you say…Jeep. ‘avery jeep place to live.”


“Yes, thatsa what I say. A jeep place to live. ‘Avery jeep.”

Smoke smiled then began to descend again and stopped again, “You didn’t happen to see what this man that was watching me looked like by chance?”

Mr. Yokohama stroked his well-groomed beard and thought, “He wasa tall. Asa tall asa you. But he have no hair. He wasa white. That’sa all I see before he banish like a magician. But he have a strange thing with him. On hees back.”

“A backpack?” Smoke offered.

“No, no, no. Kinda yes. But eet have lots of hoses and switches and gauges on eet. Bery strange.”

“Well, D?mo Arigat?, Mr. Yokohama,” Smoke said with a smirk and a clumsy bow. “If I need anything else I’ll give you a call.”

“You a funny man meesta Smoke,” Mr. Yokohama replied with a big grin. “Don’t forget,” then, without finishing his sentence, he pointed to the single word on his hat: SMILE.

Smoke clambered down the fire escape ladder and walked back over to the taped off crime scene. The pristine spot on the wall was nearly four meters off the ground which was one meter too high for him to reach without a stool or utility ladder. Although Brutus’ almost certainly had a ladder he could use, the bar was locked up tighter than a church’s offertory  on account of the owner’s untimely decapitation and Smoke did not feel the use of a ladder merited breaking into a dead man’s bar. It was a matter of respect at that point. The local hardware store was less than a block away which Smoke was more than willing to walk in spite of the rain; the light drizzling mist was refreshing to his tired eyes and helped keep him on an even keel, or at the very least helped him from keeling over.

Smoke was able to borrow what he needed after a brief haggling debate with the scraggly old hardware store manager about commandeering a ladder for police business which ended with the promise of losing a couple of parking tickets for the manager. He quickly made his way back to the alley and set up the ladder under the steaming air ducts. He climbed to the top and examined the pristine area of bricks that he had spied earlier. Smoke removed a digital camera from his jacket pocket and snapped a few pictures of the area. The bricks looked as though they had been recently pressure washed, thus restoring them to their original fire engine red tint as opposed to rusty fire engine red of their surrounding counterparts. Upon closer examination, Smoke noticed a folded piece of paper wedged between a crack in the mortar of the restored bricks. He removed a pair of tweezers and slipped on a latex glove from his ‘just-in-case’ case (which contained one pair of tweezers, one pair of latex gloves, and one evidence baggie, all neatly packaged in what was originally a plastic on-the-go wet wipe container) then carefully removed the piece of paper from the crack.

Smoke unfolded the piece of paper which had a curious message typed in 12 point font, all capitals, and centered perfectly on the page:


            Smoke did as the note said and first scanned the ground below him; there was nothing but rain soaked cobblestone. His eyes rose to an even, horizontal line of sight and he saw what the note had wanted him to see. There, on the second story fire escape two buildings away from Brutus’ bar, was Mr. Yokohama on his knees and slumped over. Smoke jumped most of the way down the ladder and raced over to the fire escape.

“Mr. Yokohama!” He called up but received no answer. A knot tightened in his stomach as he noticed a thick pool of blood collecting on the asphalt below the fire escape. He climbed up to the second story and pulled out his .38 revolver. He checked all of his corners, in all directions and saw not a soul. Smoke slowly approached Mr. Yokohama and knelt down beside him. It was then that he realized Mr. Ken Yokohama’s hat which simply said ‘SMILE’ was sitting, not on his head, but on the bloody stump where his head once sat. Smoke removed the hat and choked back a gag at the sight of the headless body. As with Brutus, an alabaster horseman from a chessboard was lodged in the grotesque wound.

Smoke flipped open his cell phone and called 911 then called Captain Hitchcock.

“Captain Hitchcock,” the old man’s voice rattled.

“You might want to call your wife and tell her we’ll be late for that dinner.”


October 1st, 2010

3:00 P.M.

Smoke had barely moved by the time the medics had arrived. Not that they were needed. There was no one there that could be saved. When the cavalry finally showed up, (i.e. forensics, other detectives from Smoke’s unit, and wild Bill himself) a media flashbulb feeding frenzy had broken out. They were like hungry sharks that smelled the freshly spilled blood. Reporters from as far away as Columbus had travelled to Bethlehem in hopes of getting an exclusive interview or privileged information on the homicides. It was, as Captain Hitchcock would eloquently describe, a Colonel Custer cluster fuck.

“This is a Colonel Custer cluster fuck, you know that Smoke?” Captain Hitchcock said as he watched the forensics team set up shop around Mr. Yokohama’s corpse. “Let me guess, no sign of Mr. Yokohama’s head?”

“Nope,” Smoke replied dryly.

“Two murders in less than 24 hours? I don’t see how we have any other choice BUT to get the feds involved. Man oh man, this city’s gone to hell in a harrier.”

“You’re overreacting,” Smoke said calmly while trying to ignore Captain Hitchcock’s incessant misrepresentation of Bethlehem as a city, “and isn’t it ‘gone to hell in a hand basket?’”

“Usually, but a harrier is a lot faster. It’s a jet for christsake! And that’s my point! This city has gone to hell in less than a night! Overreacting, my ass! I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation.”

“No disrespect intended sir,” Smoke replied with a tinge of irritation, “but I don’t think you understand the implication of the situation.”

“Are you a poet all of a sudden?” Captain Hitchcock asked with a recoiled look of disbelief. “Speak plainly.”

“What he means,” said a silky female voice from one story above Smoke and Captain Hitchcock, “is that the killer has been and, more likely than not, still is watching your every move.”

Smoke and Captain Hitchcock looked up with synchronized gazes of startled incredulity. A light-framed, light-skinned, light-haired woman in a professionally tailored suit hung out over the third story fire escape that was connected to Mr. Ken Yokohama’s apartment.

“Agent Soren,” Smoke said while trying not to stare at the female’s erupting cleavage that was also hanging out over the fire escape railing. “Just in time.”

“You never were very good at keeping things simple,” Agent Soren retorted playfully. “Looks like you’ve got your hands full.”

“Holy mackerel! I’d say so,” Captain Hitchcock exclaimed while staring directly at Agent Soren’s bosoms then non-discreetly whispered to Smoke, “YOU know that pair of beautiful, bouncing,” Smoke elbowed Captain Hitchcock in the ribs before he could finish. “Blue eyes,” he said with a muffled groan.

“Captain Bill Hitchcock,” Smoke said with a cordial introductory tone, “meet Agent Marin Soren, my reliable contact in the bureau.”

“The pleasure is all his, I’m sure,” Captain Hitchcock retorted with a nod toward Smoke. “I’m married.”

Agent Soren giggled then replied, “The pleasure WAS all his, many years ago, but he married his job instead of me.”

Captain Hitchcock returned the rib jab to Smoke, “Idiot,” he murmured.

“Well, Cillian,” Agent Soren said as she descended to the second story of the fire escape, “I won’t be your reliable contact for very long. The bureau has already caught wind of this and will be sending down their top agent to assist in the investigation.”

Another knot tightened in Smoke’s stomach, “Their top agent?” he said inquiringly.

“I refuse to believe that YOU are not their top agent,” Captain Hitchcock interjected with a broad smile and a wink directed at Agent Soren.

“Cillian here WAS the best of the best,” Agent Soren said.

“And that’s all ancient history now,” Smoke growled as he began to walk away then stopped and turned to Agent Soren, “Just tell me it’s not Flemming.”

A Sleepier Hollow – Part one

October 1st, 2010

2:00 A.M.


The clouds gathered into shelves of grey marshmallows that looked as sickly and bloated as the headless corpse that was propped up in the alley behind the local sports bar in Bethlehem, Ohio. The bar was located on a short landing strip of street in the center of town surrounded by residential buildings that resembled crooked teeth jetting out of a diseased set of gums and was aptly named ‘Brutus’ after both its owner and the college mascot who was a dancing nut. The owner of Brutus’ never danced a day in his life nor was he all that nuts about dancing. Not that it mattered now. He had bigger things to worry about. The shadowy figure of a man knelt down in front of the headless corpse, his vinyl poncho sounding like crunching potato chips as he did so. From under the bloody blue poncho, he pulled out a chess piece and gently placed it on the gaping wound that once had a head attached to it. As he began to rise, he noticed a name tag still pinned to the headless corpse’s shirt. BRUTUS it read. The rain began to pat the man’s head with a patronizing rhythm then progressed to an antagonistic tap as the sky’s floodgates burst forth a torrential downpour and diluted the arterial spatters of blood on the man’s poncho into long purple streaks. He plucked off the name tag, sticking it in his pocket as he picked up a canvas bag Rorschach blotted with the corpse’s blood. The bag contained Brutus’ head and the man carrying the bag never knew that Brutus never danced a day in his life nor was all that nuts about dancing. A flash of lightning popped off and before the thunder rolled, the man had disappeared with Brutus’ head.


October 1st, 2010

4:00 A.M


The LED light on Detective Cillian Smoke’s cell phone flashed, momentarily followed by the electronic wail of the ringer. The phone flashed again, followed by another wail. Cillian Smoke, or Smoke as most people liked to call him even though he preferred Cillian, snatched the phone from his bedside table with the speed and precision of a striking snake. He had not been asleep though his mind and body craved it. He was finishing up a report for a previous case when the call came in. Without looking at the phone, Smoke flipped it open.

“Detective Smoke,” Smoke said in his deep, lulling voice.

“You always answer your phone like that?” A raspy voice on the other end asked.

“Not always. But who else would call at four in the morning besides work?”

“I guess that’s why you’re a detective.”

The voice on the other end was Captain Bill Hitchcock of the Bethlehem City Police Department. Bethlehem, in all technicalities, was not a city. Based on its population and zoned areas, legally, it was considered a township, however the town folk (or city folk if you lived in the town) took to calling Bethlehem a city due to its religious connotation. No one has ever corrected this oversight for fear of stirring up a holy wrath. Or so the local folklore goes. Travelers from other cities have a phrase they use for places like Bethlehem: ‘Blink-of-an-eye town.’ The theory was that if the traveler blinked while driving through, they would miss the town completely. A lot of things seemed to blink and miss Bethlehem including reliable internet services, cell phone towers, and almost anything developed in the past 20 years. For that reason,  the BCPD was often times referred to as the ‘Before Christ Police Department’ because of the ancient equipment they still had in use; even though the equipment was, functionality wise, more useful than the ever popular iPhone when within the city limits. Or town limits depending on the person’s outlook on population and zoning versus unholy wraths.

“We’ve got a problem,” Captain Hitchcock said with the static hiss of bad reception. “Need you down at Brutus’ bar…..fucking….a turtle with no head….with a chess piece….”

“Captain, you’re breaking up,” Smoke interjected. “Bad reception. All I caught is you’re fucking a turtle with no head with a chess piece at Brutus’ bar.”

“…that’s right…hello? Hello? Damn…”

A polite notifying beep indicated that Smoke’s received call had been lost. He always joked that if there was a virtual lost and found box for lost calls, it would be filled with calls made from cell phones in Bethlehem, Ohio.

Smoke’s phone rang again after he was already outside of his apartment and walking toward his unmarked Ford Crown Victoria cruiser.

“I’m on my way,” Smoke said as he answered the call while climbing into the car.

“Oh, you got all that?” Captain Hitchcock’s ruffled feathered voice asked. “Damn cell phones, I hate these things. When are they going to make this technology more reliable?”

“If you were in a city, you wouldn’t have reception problems.”

“What are you scratchin’ at Smoke? We are in a city.”

Captain Bill Hitchcock earned the title of ‘local bad boy’ at age five for being the youngest boy in Bethlehem to spend a night in the slammer after assaulting a clerk at the local grocer with multiple cans of creamed corn. The clerk had asked little Bill what his favorite game was to which little Bill delightfully responded, “WAR!” and without warning lobbed several unopened creamed corn grenades from a fortified position behind a stack of paper towels. The clerk ended up with a minor concussion and a couple of bruises. The police were called on account of little Bill’s father being the sheriff at the time. As a punishment and a lesson, he was made to stay in a jail cell overnight so he would be painfully aware of what happens to bad boys that play war with cans of creamed corn. The news of his incarceration was made public and an article ran in the Bethlehem Globe with the headline: WILD BILL HITCHCOCK RIDES AGAIN!

After a night in jail, little Bill Hitchcock was done having war as his favorite game and upgraded to cops and robbers which, to this day, he has not stopped playing. When Captain Hitchcock first told that story to Smoke three years ago, Smoke was confused as to why it was so funny. “Aw, come on, you know, Wild Bill Hitchcock? The outlaw from the Wild West?” he said expectantly.

“I’ve heard of Wild Bill Hickok but he was a lawman and a gambler,” Smoke responded then realized the humorous part was not in the story itself but the fact that for nearly 60 years Captain Bill Hitchcock of the Bethlehem City Police Department has been misinformed.

Smoke lived on the outskirts of Bethlehem which was less than five minutes away from his intended destination. Next month, it would be four years since he moved to the small city town and left the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was recruited into the F.B.I. straight out of college and was a lucrative field agent by the time he was 22. At 28, the agency considered his investigative intuitions to be an invaluable service to both his country and fellow man…at least, that’s what his honorary plaque said. On his 30th birthday, May 26th, 2006 to be precise, Cillian Smoke decided he was done with the bureau. Smoke was six foot and some change with orange hair, algae green eyes, and as slender as a pod of beans. With his hair and his build, he was a walking sore thumb that was forever made to stick out in a crowd which is why he never did any undercover work for the bureau. Not that he wanted to. Smoke was perfectly content analyzing the aftermath of a situation, piecing together possible scenarios, and finding the bad guy(s). What he was not content with was the partner his superiors assigned to him six months before he decided to quit and who, as it happened, was part of the reason Smoke decided to do so.

Smoke pulled up in front of Brutus’ bar and shut off the Crown Vic’s engine. A stream of yellow and black police ticker tape lightly fluttered from somewhere out of the darkness of the alley situated on the right side of Brutus’. As he got out and walked over to the mouth of the darkened alley, Smoke noticed several more pieces of yellow and black police tape littering the cracked cobblestone alleyway. “Follow the yellow and black brick road,” he mumbled to himself and did just that as he waved at the officer stationed at the front of the alley.  Beyond the ticker tape was a swarm of frantic flashlights buzzing around what Smoke already knew was a dead body. It was in the timid way the BCPD forensics team was moving around the crime scene that suggested something horrible had happened and the pungent aroma of evacuated bowels drove the nail home, so to speak. The BCPD was used to handling corpses; drug overdoses, gun shots, hit and runs, old age, but something was different about this one. The officers looked equally confused and frightened which was a perfect mixture to breed panic. Smoke spotted Captain Hitchcock among the buzzing swarm of flashlights right as one of the forensics technicians switched on two halogen floodlights, bathing the scene in a marigold color comparable only to the sun and vitamin enriched urine. Smoke stopped short of Captain Hitchcock and stared at the unorthodox victim in wonderment.

“He aint gonna be whistling Dixie,” Captain Hitchcock said as he noticed Smoke standing there. “That’s for damn sure.”

“Mm,” Smoke grunted as he moved closer to the body and knelt down in front of it. The chess piece sat there, amidst a host of coagulated blood, skin, and bone fragments, watching Smoke with a stone gaze as the piece itself was roughly hand-carved from a virgin white stone. The base of the piece was stained with blood; Small veins of red seeped and crawled upward into the virgin white territory of the piece, making it look even more menacing. He took a pair of gloves and an evidence baggie from a nearby kit then scratched a small indent into the side of the piece as he bagged it. “Alabaster,” he said as he handed the baggie up to Captain Hitchcock.

“Hot damn,” Captain Hitchcock said then chuckled and nudged Smoke while jiggling the evidence baggie, “brings a whole new meaning to giving/getting head. What do you think? Calling card? This is the knight, right? So, what, this guy thinks he’s some sort of vigilante knight or something?”

“Maybe,” Smoke said as he thought briefly, “but I would say, if that were the case, he would have chosen the black knight from the chessboard instead of the white.”

“Why’s that?”

“A dark knight signifies vigilantism, the ability and willingness to do something for the supposed ‘greater good’ no matter what the cost. Didn’t you ever watch Batman?” Smoke replied.

“Well, hell yes, I watched Batman,” Captain Hitchcock said with a wild look in his eye. “But I don’t remember him cutting off people’s heads.”

Smoke was pushing and prodding around the neck wound while listening to Captain Hitchcock ramble and responded with a series of “Uh-huh’s and Mm-Hm’s”

“This has the signs of being more personal,” he began. “Aside from the obvious condition of the victim’s body, he also has several fingernails that have been pulled out,” Smoke pointed to the corpse’s left hand which had mutilated fingertips where there used to be fingernails. “Have we identified him yet?”

“Still waiting on a positive ID,” Captain Hitchcock said. “The killer saw fit to take all forms of identification out of the victim’s wallet but left the money. At least we can rule out robbery.”

“Not necessarily,” Smoke said. “There is always identity theft. Has anyone found the head?”

“Not yet. Still looking.”

“This is not a one hit wonder, so to speak, you know that right?” Smoke gravely told Captain Hitchcock.

“I was afraid you’d say that. If that’s the case I’m going to have no choice but to get your old friends involved.”

“I was afraid you’d say THAT,” Smoke said as he shook his head. “Unless you need me for something else, I’m going to head over to the station and draw up some preliminary paperwork. If the bureau gets involved, it’s best to have a long paper trail in case they try to lose something.”

“Fair enough,” Captain Hitchcock replied as he watched Smoke turn to leave. “Oh, what about this?” he said as he waved the evidence baggie with the chess piece in Smoke’s direction.

“It looks like it could have been carved by the killer and I don’t think the calling card is meant to be read as ‘the white knight.’” Smoke said over his shoulder.

“What then?”

“’And behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him.’ Revelation 6:8” Smoke replied with a funny little grin then followed the yellow and black ticker tape brick road back out of the darkened alley and into an even darker world.


            Smoke spent the next few hours in his office typing up notes on his preliminary observations of the crime scene; Brain storming as people liked to call it. He had to wonder, only briefly, if his brain storming had caused the storm outside to reappear. It was early morning by now and the rest of the station began to slowly filter and eventually pour in like someone had pressed the brew button on a cosmic coffee pot with humans as the coffee grounds. Smoke never acquired a taste for coffee. He preferred Coke; the cola, not the drug. His office had a recycling bin that was full of coke cans, six of which were pitched in within the past two hours.

It had been 43 hours since Smoke had closed his eyes longer than the time it took to rub them in order to keep himself awake. As he rubbed his eyes vigorously, for the 156th time by his count, a violent knock rattled the plate glass in his office door and caused him to poke his left eye a little too hard with his thumb and bring unwarranted tears.

“Come in,” he said weakly.

Captain Hitchcock’s bald head poked through the door, looking like it had been freshly polished given its sheen and reflective prowess. Captain Hitchcock did not like people to know that he polished his head which is why everyone knew. No one ever said anything about it out of respect for the man’s privacy and fear for their jobs but they all chuckled about it around the donut table. Captain Hitchcock, for being 65 years old, was by no means an ugly man but he was not exactly material for a geriatric model either. ‘Handsome’ was the word that most people used to describe him. It was probably the grey, well-groomed mustache that earned him that title. He had a nose straight from Rome and a chin that could win a duel with Jay Leno’s chin if the prospect ever arose. His eyes were paper bag brown and his eyelids drooped so heavily that half the time it looked like he was asleep on his feet.

“We need to talk,” he said to Smoke as he sat in the rolling computer chair beside Smoke’s desk. “Are you crying? What happened? Did someone die? That was a little joke for you, to cheer you up. Seriously though, why are you crying?”

“I poked my eye,” Smoke replied as he wiped away the last of his tears. “Probably because you banged on my door like you were the police.”


“I thought so too,” Smoke said with a quick smile. “What do we need to talk about?”

“We got an ID on that body,” Captain Hitchcock said as he opened Smoke’s small refrigerator and grabbed a coke. “You mind?”

“Help yourself.”

“You’re going to turn yourself into a diabetic, you keep drinking these the way you do,” Captain Hitchcock pulled the tab on the top of the can, releasing the carbonation with a quick ‘fsssed’ sound then pulled the tab completely off and threw it in the trash. “So I know which one is mine,” he said pointing to the top of his can. “Anyway, the victim’s name was Brutus.”

“The dancing nut?” Smoke asked playfully.

“Ha! I wish. I hate that damn nut. No, this was a one, Brutus Ackerman.” Captain Hitchcock said as he slapped a manila folder down on Smoke’s desk. “He owned Brutus’ bar, conveniently enough, and was no stranger to the inside of our lovely prison’s walls. Four counts of assault, three domestic disputes, firearm possession, drug trafficking, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“In other words he probably has a few enemies,”

“More than likely. I’ve met the guy a couple of times before. Can’t say I knew him but didn’t much care for him either. Nonetheless, I don’t think he deserved decapitation. But hey, at least he died doing what he loved, right?”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Smoke said as he flipped through the folder. “He could have hated his job.”