Thanks for all of your messages! Here is Episode Two of Seeing Red. For those new to this story, if you’re into humorous thrillers about serial killers and psychopaths, and are an all-round neuroscience/psychology nerd, then this story is for you. If enjoyed, please feel free to comment and share!

Happy Reading,

Jack

 

DOUGLAS LAKE, KANSAS, JULY 2007

Moloch led the prisoner back into the woods, away from the lake. The truck owner dangled limp over the prisoner’s right shoulder and repeatedly knocked into the duffle bag, which was hanging down from the other shoulder.

They walked on for maybe five minutes, the snaps and cracks of many small dried twigs resounding up from the woodland floor, unseen in the darkness. Narrow and resilient branches slapped passed their bodies and scratched their legs as they pressed on into a deeper and darker region of the woods. The prisoner kept a watchful eye on Moloch, but also continued to squint around in the dark, unsure if they were heading in the right direction. Moloch masterfully masked his features, keeping them veiled in the fabric of the night.

“I assure you that you’re very safe,” said Moloch, out in front.

The prisoner tripped, but quickly re-found their feet. “What?”

“We are nearly there. I can smell the uncertainty on you.”

“I’m not afraid,” said the prisoner, taking an exaggerated step over the shadow of a branch.

“I never said you were afraid,” Moloch replied, in his calm but powerful voice. “People like us don’t get afraid, do we?”

“Can I take his clothes off?” asked the prisoner. “The smell of the gasoline is making me light-headed.”

Moloch stopped and re-focused his flashlight, assessing the prisoner with the dancing circle of light. “I would not recommend it. You have nowhere to put his clothes, unless you can stuff them all into your bag?”

“Are we nearly at your cabin?”

“I said that we were.”

“Okay, let’s keep moving.”

After another minute of stumbling in the dark, a light came on through the trees. Moloch had turned on his garage light.

The cabin was bigger than the prisoner had expected. It was more like a large two story house with a wooden exterior. A dirt road circled around an old well in front of the garage and then wound out and around into the deserted woodland.

Moloch stood underneath the light and the prisoner could see him clearly for the first time. He was perhaps in his mid-to-late fifties, just less than six feet tall, and was still powerfully built. He had shoulder-length gray hair and was dressed in hunting apparel.

Moloch slid his hand into one of the many pockets and pulled out some keys. “Bring him in here,” said Moloch, and waved the prisoner into the garage.

The prisoner followed him inside and passed a shiny black Humvee. Moloch unlocked a heavy wooden door at the back and passed through. This door, which was covered in white flecks of paint, led to a narrow staircase that descended into a basement.

Moloch turned on more lights to show the way.

The wooden steps creaked, cracked, and squeaked, and the air became damp and heavy. At the bottom of the staircase the prisoner found the muddy ground and passed through a thick metal door into a concrete bunker. The walls were painted white, but the paint was old and cracked. There were also rusty hooks and shackles bolted to the wall.

Over to the right was a wooden table with a number of knives and saws. To the left was a small pile of deer carcasses. Their necks had been mostly cut through with the exception of a small flap of skin that kept the head attached to the body. A single bright light bulb dangled and buzzed from a foot of electrical wire coming out from the ceiling.

Metal pales of viscous, putrid blood sat next to the deer pile.

“Okay, you can put him down,” instructed Moloch, pointing to the basement floor.

The prisoner bent over and the truck owner rolled off and hit the concrete, limp and heavy. Moloch crouched down next to him and checked his pulse. “He’s still alive. You didn’t beat him too badly.”

“I just wanted him to shut up.”

Moloch chuckled and used his dirty finger nails to pick at some flecks of meat still stuck in his teeth. When he finished, he reached out to the truck driver’s shirt and began to unbutton it.

“Give me a hand,” he said, pulling open the shirt.

“Sure.” The prisoner bent down to untie the man’s boots.

In a couple of minutes, they had him entirely stripped down, and he remained unconscious on the dirty concrete floor. Moloch gathered up the man’s clothes, pushed his face deep inside to smell them, and then stuffed them into an empty sack. He then looked over to the wall on his left. “Ah yes,” he said. “Let’s pull him over here and chain him to the wall.”

The prisoner nodded and helped drag the man’s body over to the iron shackles and clicked them into place around the man’s wrists. The rest of the man’s body remained limp on the floor.

Moloch stood up and his knees cracked. Digging his hands into his lower back, he surveyed the man’s shape and contours of his new plaything. A toothy grin appeared on his aging leathery face, a look of pure delight. “Hand me that pale,” said Moloch, pointing to one of the metal buckets by the pile of deer carcasses.

The prisoner picked it up and passed it over.

Moloch dumped the entire pale over the naked man, covering him in blood and viscera. In spite of this, the man still didn’t wake up.

“Come,” said Moloch. “I will return to him later. We have much to discuss.”

The prisoner headed back through the door and Moloch followed behind. They climbed up the first few stairs, but stopped when the sound of confused moans followed them out of the basement.

The prisoner turned to Moloch, wondering what he wanted to do.

The muscles around Moloch’s mouth had twisted into a demonic grin. The prisoner saw a fire in Moloch’s eyes, one which seemed very familiar. “Go upstairs and make yourself comfortable,” said Moloch. “I’m going to be a while.”

 

 

HUNTINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT

Michael sat back in his chair with his arms folded tight across his body, which he had angled towards the door to the hallway. This interview was not going as he’d imagined. He noticed the parallel grooves indented on the dirty linoleum where his chair legs rested, and he wondered just how many people had been interrogated where he sat. A gray ceiling tile in the corner had a large yellow stain, ebbing outwards from the wall.

Connors, rested her elbows on the table and poked her fingers underneath her hair into the sides of her head. “Michael,” she said again. “I know you’re hiding something. You can’t be this lucky.”

He pulled his gaze from the door and found her strained expression. “You’re absolutely right. I can’t be lucky at all, stuck in here with you right now.”

“Michael!” Connors externalized her frustration for the first time and thumped the table. “With a high degree of accuracy, you are identifying very serious offenders! Do you know how this looks to the police?”

“Johnny, with the hospital police, doesn’t seem to care.”

“But I do!” she fired back, standing up and pushing the chair back with the back of her knees. She raised her hand to her head and paced towards the door. “Four times now you have taken action that has involved the police. And that’s fine, but don’t forget the increased responsibility of what you’re doing.”

Sensing the heat from Connors’ anger, Michael was surprised to feel the taste of cherry intensify and usurp his tongue in a coordinated display of sensual prickly ecstasy. He relaxed his arms, feeling mellow, and raised his hands to the desk and rolled them over. “What do you mean?” he asked. “I’ve been helping.”

Connors stopped pacing at the desk and leant down on her hands, bearing down on him. “No, you’ve actually overstepped your mark.”

Michael screwed up his face in protest, but confusion undermined his drive for a response.

A smug satisfaction flashed around her perfect jawline. “Now that I have your attention,” she said, stepping back and folding her arms, “How is it that Charlie Hanes just happened to appear in the garden as I was questioning Meek? How is it that almost at the same time, his mom showed up?”

“I freed him!” Michael protested. “When you went to question Meek, I used that as a distraction to sneak Charlie out from the back of Meek’s house. He was being kept in a child’s bedroom with a simple barrel lock on the outside of the door.”

Connors unfolded her arms and slid her hands into her pockets. “Listen to what you’ve just said. Yes, you rescued him, which I freely admit was courageous and you got him out of there. But you just said, basically, you used me, a police officer, to distract Meek.”

Michael’s face blanched and he dropped his shoulders. “Ah,” he bleated.

“Yes, ‘ah’,” said Connors, retaking her seat. “And,” she continued, “Even though I am very happy that Charlie is now back with his mom, you invited her, seemingly without any recourse, to a crime scene.”

Needles flowed through Michael’s blood and pinned him to the seat. He could feel his neck retracting into his shell.

“And,” she said, “Charlie’s mom seemed to think you were a police officer.”

Michael picked up his head. “I didn’t tell her that.”

Connors folded her arms and leant back. “Did you fully introduce yourself to her? Of course, she was desperate to hear anything about her missing boy, making her highly impressionable.”

Michael frowned and dropped his gaze into his lap.

“And to add to it, Michael,” she continued. “I watched you break his car window, drag him out onto the driveway, and give him the beating of a lifetime.” Their respective gazes met over his bandaged hands. He smiled, defeated, and nodded.

“Can you see where I’m going with this?” she pressed.

“Am I in trouble?”

“I don’t think so, but because of your escalated activities in this last case, you will be called in for a formal statement, and possibly even to testify in court when this goes to trial.”

He met her hazel eyes for a protracted second. “You know, I am fine with that. I want justice. Like we all do.” It felt weird to Michael to feel a chasm between his conscience and his fists, but he knew there was a bridge somewhere.

Connors nodded and pinched at the side of her lower lip with her teeth. Michael frowned, but managed to turn it into a half-smile. He watched her go to sit back, but she halted, as if she needed a few extra seconds to study his face. She breathed and opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out, and she smiled, embarrassed.

“Okay,” she said. “Now, to revisit the first part of our discussion. How are you being so lucky? And I want something better that observation, public records, and social media.”

Michael held her gaze, watching the diamonds twinkle around her body, alluring and magnetic. He heaved a breath and picked up the secret from deep within his soul. “I’ve never shared this with just anyone, before,” he said. But I see red. Around people’s bodies.”

Michael watched his answer roll around her forehead, twice.

“I’m sorry, what?” She studied him, intrigued.

His arrogance had alluringly transitioned into innocence. He held up his hand, “Don’t worry. I’m not crazy.”

She folded her arms and smiled, “Yeah, I’m not quite there yet. Convince me.”

“I have a neurological condition; synesthesia. Some synesthetes see colors around certain characters, like numbers, or hearing various sounds will introduce hues to their visual perception. The brain breaks down all stimuli coming at us from the outside world into its base units and then reassembles them and throws it back out there as our experience. Synesthesia seems to be the result of communication between unrelated base units, which results in the synesthete experiencing a slightly different sensory experience than those who don’t have it. I don’t see colors around numbers,” Michael slowly traced his fingers, like a priest giving a blessing, around her body. “I see them around people, as a kind of haze around their frame.”

Connors shivered, carefully watching his fingers. She pulled her phone out from the inside pocket of her jacket and began tapping buttons. She stopped, read the screen, looked at Michael, and then returned her phone to her pocket. “Okay, Google corroborates your condition. Go on.”

“Since I was a child, I always saw the same color around people, as distinguishable to me as the shape of their nose or the color of their eyes. I got used to this, and nothing changed; until six months ago when I started tasting people.”

Connors mouth dropped open. “Tasting people?”

“Yep.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “Go on.”

“It’s as unique as the colored aura around a person’s body, always the same taste; it’s like my brain is telling my tongue that there is a certain flavor in my mouth. The first time it happened I felt an overbearing salty taste seize my tongue, and it was such a powerful sensation that it stopped me in my tracks. I thought at first that I’d just smelled something extraordinarily pungent, as is common in the E.R., and it had somehow tricked me into sensing a strong taste. Or maybe something salty had been sitting on my tongue the whole time, but had somehow failed to connect with my taste buds? This just all seemed crazy, and when I took a few steps more down the hallway the salty taste vanished.

“Unfortunately, the next day, there were more and more strange tastes. Not just salt, but a whole range of flavors, from licorice to what can only be described as moldy ramen noodles. It wasn’t until I tasted peanut butter for the third time while talking to one of the hospital janitors that I realized the tastes were all associated with certain people, just like their colored outlines.

“This rapidly became a nightmare. The sight of busy corridors became an unwelcome intrusion on my tongue. It took all of my strength and resolve to fight through the day, and I found myself constantly running my tongue over the back of my teeth, or poking it into the side of my cheek.

“I didn’t think I could be around another human being again. I felt sick, but I wasn’t; it was all in my head, and I had no control over it. I nearly got fired because I refused to go into work, and I stopped training at my Kung Fu school, which totally crushed me. I just wanted to curl up and die in my apartment.”

Connors reached out and closed her hand gingerly around Michael’s bandaged fingers. She smiled, meek, and her hand relaxed when Michael reciprocated.

“I eventually had to drag myself to a psychiatrist to reclaim my life.”

Connors withdrew her hand. “So, let me just make sure I’m getting this. When you look at people, you see a colored outline around their body, and you get a certain taste in your mouth?”

He nodded, “Yes.”

“What color do I have around me?”

“Yours is kind of unique. It’s like diamonds; blues and whites, sparkling in a narrow band around you.”

She grimaced, “And dare I ask. What do I taste like?”

“Black cherries.”

Her mouth unfurled and she nodded, surprised. “Oh, okay. But you said you saw red. What does that mean?”

“I never saw red around a person’s body until the taste sensations started to happen. You see, most colors just appear as an innocuous narrow blur around a person’s body, but when I see red, it roars like fire in my ears and I sometimes have trouble breathing. I don’t see it often, but the times I have seen it, the person turned out to be dangerous.

“I witnessed a number of people in the E.R., where I work, with red auras, either being brought in by police to be treated after an animated arrest, by prison guards if a fight inside went badly, and from domestic abusers who came in with their female victims, wanting to make sure they didn’t speak.

“I thought it was a coincidence, but every single time I saw red there turned out to be something really wrong with the guy. This is why I started tipping off Johnny with the Huntington General police, so he could keep an eye on them.”

“What is Johnny’s last name?” she asked, poised to enter it into her phone.

“Osbourne.”

She tapped this into her notes. “And Johnny never questioned your judgement?”

Michael shook his head, “No. Just telling him a character seemed suspicious was enough for him to put them on his radar.”

“Does he know about your synesthesia?”

“No. Just my parents, my psychiatrist,” he paused to look her in the eye, “and now you.”

Connors blushed and slid her phone away. “Okay,” she sighed, looking him over and then glancing around the room. She gnawed on the side of her bottom lip and then covered her mouth with her hand.

Michael straightened his back and stretched his arms in wide circles. “So, now what?” he asked, after what seemed like a minute.

She met his eyes, but her face immediately glazed over, stony and cold. “Stay out of police investigations, Michael.”

His heart dropped into his stomach. “What? After all I’ve done?” he protested.

“I don’t deny you’ve helped out a lot. But when we go after dangerous criminals, we need evidence. As much as your condition seems to help, no judge, or even senior police officer would take it seriously. And you run the risk of interfering with police investigations, which can carry heavy penalties.”

Michael breathed deep through his nose. A wave of indignation rippled along his diaphragm. “Even after leading you to Meek?”

“Even after Meek crashed into my car, yes.”

Michael’s mouth dropped open in shock and was followed by a low guttural laugh. “So, this is personal?”

Connors slid her hands back to the edge of the table as if to push it. “Michael, if you want to be a police officer, then join the academy.” She stood up, walked to the door and opened it.

“Wow,” said Michael, getting to his feet. “All I’ve ever wanted to do was help. I came here to help. Thanks for the gratitude.” He walked passed her into the hallway, refusing to make eye contact.

She called after him, “Stay out of police business, Michael.”

A heavyset balding man in a cheap gray suit and red tie ran to her from the other end of the hallway. “Oh, there you are,” he said, breathing and perspiring heavily. He had a brown brush mustache, and despite the running, still had hold of his Batman coffee mug.

“Hey, Whitman. What’s up?”

“You need to see this. They’ve just found a body on the Wea Trace. Bring your existential crisis with you. You’ll need it to deal with this.”

“A body? Are we talking accident or intent?”

Whitman nodded and the rest of his body shook with the excitement. “Oh, definitely intent. Come on.”

 

 

Connors gazed over her shoulder, and watched with remorse as Michael’s back fell out of sight through the exit. There was a dull ache in her heart that seemed to suggest she had kicked a puppy.

She frowned and resolved to move forward; there was no time to enter into conversation with her conscience. She shook her head and followed Whitman back to homicide.

 

 

 

WEA TRACE, OUTSIDE OF HUNTINGTON

The Wea Trace was a naturally dense wooded area to the west of Huntington, and its hilly landscape and numerous trails were popular with nature lovers, hikers, runners, and all kinds of fitness fanatics. When Whitman and Connors arrived in the late afternoon, the entrance to the Trace was packed with cars and yellow police tape had been tied across two opposing trees that marked the beginning of the trail; two officers guarded the entrance. A small crowd of people, some holding back dogs on leashes, hovered in front of the line and were chatting on their cell phones.

Whitman pulled the white squad car up next to another police car and they both jumped out. The crowd turned their attention on them and watched Connors and Whitman flash their badges to the police guards and cross underneath the tape. Connors clicked the small black radio that was clipped to the lapel of her long seaweed green coat. “This is Detective Connors. Whitman and I have just arrived at the Trace. How far down the trail are we talking?”

“Ten minutes,” crackled a response. “Follow the bend up and around the hill. The trees will fall away to your left and you’ll see a white chalky cliff face. From there you’ll find us. The forensics bus came up here, so you can follow the tracks, too.”

Connors and Whitman paced steadily up the crumbly muddy path and soon saw a small group of officers in blue coats with yellow lettering on the back for the Huntington PD. There were also four forensic technicians in their white polyethylene suits and blue gloves and shoe covers.  The team stood around a large patch of white and black soil near the cliff face. Opposite them was dark thick woodland, mainly pine trees and briar patches.

An officer with short blond hair, blue eyes, and chiseled good looks broke off from the group and greeted the detectives. “Connors,” said the man, firm and with confidence, “Brace yourself, they’re about to exhume the body.”

The technicians had dispersed evenly around a rectangular hole in the ground.

“Jamie, who called it in?” Connors asked, sliding her hands into her pockets.

“A David McIntyre. He was walking his dog, as per usual in the afternoon, and found him digging in the loose soil. He tried to call the dog away, but the dog persisted. When McIntyre came over to retrieve the dog, he saw the victim’s face, buried in the ground.”

“Is it true?” Connors asked, softly. “You know with the…” she trailed off and waved her hand in front of her eyes and mouth.

Jamie dropped his head and frowned, and simply indicated with his hand for them to go and take a look.

The forensic technicians bent down together and lifted the body out in sync onto a plastic sheet next to the hole. Connors cautiously approached, wondering if what she was about to see matched with how she was picturing it. The technicians stepped aside to let the detectives take a look.

Connors sharply inhaled and drew her hand to her mouth. A young woman with shoulder length blonde hair lied fully clothed in a long dress with no shoes. She had a zip sewn over her mouth and her eyes bulged, still saturated with terror, in the absence of eyelids, which had been cut from her face. Her ankles were bound together with dull gray duct tape, and her arms were pulled tight behind her back in the grave.

Whitman swallowed. “Hey, Jamie, do we have an I.D.?”

Jamie joined the group, all looking down at the unfortunate victim. He slid his hands into his opposing sleeves like a monk. “No, there was nothing on her.”

“Time of death?” asked Connors.

Jamie shook his head. “Not yet, but looks new. No obvious signs of sexual assault or defensive wounds.”

Connors frowned, “I bet he had total compliance from her until the bitter end. Sick fuck.” She flicked her head, “Did they find the eyelids?”

“I don’t know,” Jamie replied, looking at a nearby technician. They shook their head.

“Trophy?” said Whitman.

Connors shrugged, “Maybe.”

One of the technicians crouched down next to the victim’s head and pulled a small plastic bag from their pocket. They then reached out with their gloved fingers into the victim’s dirty hair and pulled free a small strand of blue thread and slipped it into the bag.  Whitman folded his arms, “Has anyone given a statement to the press?”

Jamie shook his head, “No. Lieutenant Carter wanted to keep it quiet until we knew more. Although,” he shifted on his feet, scratched his chin, and then slid his hands into his pockets.

“Although what?” asked Connors.

“Carter was agitated. He wanted to go and talk to the police shrink, Dr. Lockwood, to consult about the state of the body, but Lockwood had left the station in a hurry.”

 

Tune in next week for more Seeing Red 🙂

Seeing Red is copyright of Jack Pemment, 2018

Moloch

Seeing Red artwork by Katie Kelleher