“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.”
“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?”
“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
“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.