All In A Row by Jim J. Wilsky

Homicide Detectives Dan Morrison and Hector Ramirez are speeding down a quiet tree lined street in Canyon Springs, just north of San Antonio. Big homes and well-manicured yards. Long driveways, with four car garages around back that hold luxury imports.

“So Danny, you wish you lived out here?” Ramirez slowed only slightly, then accelerated the unmarked Tahoe through a four way stop.

“Hell no. Lots are only an acre or two. Seriously, how is somebody supposed to live in a house that only has four to five thousand square feet?” Morrison looks over at his partner. “I need space son. Room to roam. These little cottages won’t do for me.”

Hector nods seriously. They had been working together for over seven years now and Ramirez didn’t even want to think about losing his retiring partner next week. He’s always liked his partner’s dry sense of humor, but loves the man more for all he’s taught him about the job.

Looking out the passenger window, Morrison didn’t want to think about it either. Hec was the best man he’d ever worked with. He was smart, a family man, had great instincts, unquestioned character and loyalty.

His biggest dread though, was not having this job anymore. Not having…this. The rush, the crime scenes and everything that goes with it. It’s who he is. There is nothing else behind the curtain but an empty condo with an empty life.

Booze, bars, cigarettes and take out dinners. There had been a young hooker for a while too, whatever that counted for. Cassy. She hadn’t been around for two months or so. Gone as quick as she arrived.

Morrison has been divorced for five years and his two grown kids that moved away long ago despise him. They won’t be home for Christmas. At home, night or day, the television is always on just for some background noise. Or maybe so he can talk to it, instead of himself. That’s it.

Morrison blinks and comes back to the here and now. Ramirez is telling Dispatch the intersection they are blowing through and that they are enroute.

Checking the mounted laptop again, Morrison motions up ahead. “Three more blocks Hec, then hang a left. One twenty, Galleria Drive.”

They swing around the last corner and see two cruisers up ahead. One is about halfway up the drive, the other almost around to the back of the house. Ramirez brings the Tahoe to a hard stop

just missing a large brick mailbox.

“Danny, you should have taken the rest of your of vacation days and just cashed the fuck out man. You could be golfing right now. You don’t need any more of this shit.” Ramirez opens the door and looks over at his partner.

“You’ve seen me golf.” Morrison says and gets out.

A young patrolman walks toward them. In fact, very young, Morrison thinks to himself. The uniform cop stops in front of them and raises the brim of his hat a little. His partner is up near the front door, slightly bent over and looking down, hands on his service belt.

“I’m Officer Noonan.” His face has no color as he sticks a hand out.

Morrison shakes his hand. “Detectives Morrison and Ramirez. What have we got here Noonan?”

“It’s like a Steven King movie in there detective. Multiple victims, I counted five deceased before we decided we better back out and leave the scene to you boys.” He pointed to the front porch, “That’s Officer Stanson. We’ve got another two officers around back.”

Ramirez, Morrison and Noonan continue up the walk. The front door is open a crack and Morrison gently toes it open. They enter the foyer slow, eyes everywhere and taking everything in. The group walks carefully around the bloody footprints on the marble floor.

Noonan clears his throat and says, “Neighbor right next door called this. Called it in, I mean. A Mrs. Carter.” He stops and points a shaky finger at the neighboring house. “Tennis date. I mean, she had one, with the lady that lives here and…” He stops talking and shakes his head, staring at Morrison with lips pressed tightly together. The young cop’s eyes are searching Morrison’s for an explanation, for help.

Morrison puts up his hand softly. “Just keep talking son, none of us ever really get used to this. There’s no reasoning or sense to it. It’s okay, take your time.”

“Yes sir. Sorry. Mrs. Carter next door came to get her friend at this residence. She came to get her, saw the bloody footprints through the entryway glass. She got scared, didn’t go inside, called 911.” Noonan’s speech was still halting and disjointed. “I told her to go home and stay put, until you guys talk to her.”

“Alright, got it. Where are the bodies?” Morrison asked, as he and Ramirez put on their gloves.

“Big main room. Just off the kitchen. All the way down this hallway, then go right.” Noonan rests a hand on the butt of his holstered gun. “We have not swept the entire house Detectives.”

“Was the door locked when you entered?”

“No sir.”

“Touch anything in the house? …And I mean any damn thing Noonan?”

“No sir, only the doorknob on the way in and didn’t touch it from the inside when we exited.”

Morrison leads the trio down the long hallway and rounds the corner slow, holding his gun pointed down but ready. He can smell the familiar stink of death that’s coming but what he sees stops him cold.

There had been plenty of bad things in his thirty odd years of doing this. Horrible things. Stuff you never forget, never get over, drink away, or wash off when you go home. He had learned to just file it away the best he could. Trouble was, that file cabinet was getting very full.

But this right here, he thinks, this is…my God.

It’s a large comfortable room with a vaulted ceiling, the kind of room where a family spends most of their time. There is a huge flat screen and entertainment system. A home video of what looks like a high school baseball game is playing, with fans cheering. There are big oversized leather chairs and two large, expensive couches.

A massive stone fireplace dominates the room. You can almost crouch down and walk into the damn thing. But the ornate fireplace mantle above it, that…that’s what is silently screaming for everyone’s attention.

There are five of them, all in a row, sitting on that hand carved mantle. Five heads, hair matted in semi dried blood. They are evenly spaced out and upright. The two adults have dull, glazed over eyes that are open and staring right back at the men. Morrison can see what looks like toothpicks holding their eyelids open.

Thick rivulets of blood had at some point dripped off the edge of the mantle, making several large pools on the white stone tile underneath. Morrison slowly scans to his right, surveying the scene. There are also some thick red slide marks on the tile floor leading into the room from a hallway. Just one hell of a lot of blood.

The headless bodies are a gory mess. Arms behind their backs, bound at the wrists and ankles with plastic ties. Three are propped up in those expensive chairs and couches, spotted around the room.

The two adult bodies are completely naked on the couch, female lying on top of male. They’re all staged and positioned, like headless mannequins. Bowls of snacks and drinks with the ice long gone, are sitting on a large glass table.

Morrison closes his eyes, only for a moment and then lets out a shallow sigh. He walks slowly toward the fireplace.

Ramirez is looking at a framed picture on the glass coffee table and quietly asks, “Officer Noonan, did this neighbor lady describe the family at all or mention anything about them? Troubles, married, divorced, how many kids?”

“Yes, yes she did. They are…they were, the Blaine family. Married couple. Family of five, three teenagers…I think she said two girls and a boy.” Noonan finally tears his stare away from the heads. “That’s about it though, that was before I even came in here.”

“Well, this would probably be them”, Ramirez says and passes the family photo over to his partner.

Morrison looks at the picture for a moment, then turns to the young patrolman. “Noonan, leave the officers out back, but drag your partner in here and do a house sweep. Gloves on. Basement, garage, attic, closets, everywhere. Don’t touch or move anything you don’t have to.”

The family video on the big screen ends, but after a short pause it begins playing the baseball game again. Casual voices in the crowd can be heard and players are taking the field.

“Hec, that isn’t dad on the mantle”, Morrison says in a low voice. He’s looking closely at the older male head, inches away from it.

Ramirez walks over to Morrison and puts a hand on the detective’s shoulder. “Look Danny, I’m calling the special crimes unit in on this one, we need the whole damn circus on this one…and…wait, what? What about the dad?”

The video noise from the game abruptly stops and all eyes go up to the big screen at the same time. There was a face now, not baseball.

“…Hello. So, as you can see there was a problem here. First, please make sure and tell Marilyn Carter next door that her wonderful Robert was screwing my Allie. Allison Blaine, my love, my wife of twenty one years. Oh, how Robert cried. How he begged and pleaded. Tried to pass blame, tried to explain. ”

The voice of the smiling man is calm. Almost serene. “My own kids knew about it too. Even my golden boy, my prep All-American, Todd. They all threw me under the bus.”

“That,” Morrison says to Ramirez “is dear old dad.” His tired eyes did not move from the screen.

The man on the screen grins even bigger now, “Todd will hit a monster homerun here in a minute, if you keep watching after I’m done. He got all of it. Crushed it. But anyway, you know, I can understand the girls. They would never betray Allie. Never, ever, side with me over their mother. About anything.”

Steven Blaine, the Senior Vice President of a major software company, pauses thoughtfully with eyes looking straight at Morrison. Smiling like he just won the lottery. “But Todd? How could he not tell me…I guess everyone loved Robert Carter.”

Blaine’s voice continues in a conversational tone. “By the way, I’m out in the garage, with a bullet in my brain. Excuse all the other blood and gore out there. Let’s see though, where do I start …Oh and before I forget, along with all the other mayhem, I also found it necessary to castrate Robert Carter. This was before I killed him of course. You’ll find it nailed, somewhat un-ceremonially, to the wall next to Allie’s garden tools.”

Ramirez starts towards the hallway where the bloody trail and swath lead, but Morrison holds a hand up.

On the screen, Blaine shook his head. “All this wasn’t easy, I can tell you that. I didn’t want them dead right away so I had to restrain them all first. As you can imagine it took some time and a fair amount of deception. It was a real tussle with Todd, and Allie she was, well…spirited.”

Almost a chuckle from Blaine at this point. “It was just much more work than I had anticipated. Finally though, I was ready and did them one by one. So they could watch, and you know…anticipate, what was coming. I saved Allie for last. It was only right.”

The face on the screen smiles easily one more time and yes, there it is. What Morrison knew that he’d see. Not blind rage, or a murderer’s smirk or even a pure evil glare. It is that certain little twinkle, that shiny glimmer of true madness in the eyes.

“So, I guess that’s it really. A condensed version of events you might say. No case to really solve. My gift to you.” Blaine gives a friendly little wave. “Goodbye.”

The screen blinks and the baseball video comes back on.

Morrison would never admit it to anyone but it was the guys like Blaine that had always got to him the most. He had no real problem with cold blooded murders, vicious killers, random killing and any other flavor of homicide you want to dream up.

But it was this, this kind of a snap that bothered him. The sudden flip of that special light switch. When people hit the breaking point, or reach the tipping point.

It’s the moment when they lose their footing on the edge of that cliff and hurdle down into the abyss. They go from sane and ordinary one minute, to complete madness the next. …and that special gleam in the eyes always comes with it. It’s the only thing that still scares Morrison.

There had been a few other cases like this down through the years but not quite like this one. He looks at the heads one more time and knows the truth. Knows he can’t hide it anymore. He’s done.

Whatever fight or strong will Morrison had left in him before rolling up on this house, is finally gone.

He walks past Hector Ramirez and Noonan without a word and heads back to the front of the house. Next week suddenly can’t come too quick. His new life is waiting.

Outside, on the pillared front porch, Morrison fishes a cigarette out and lights it.

He looks over at Noonan’s partner, who seems a little better now. In a voice that’s flat as a pancake he says, “Buck up officer. They need you in there. Don’t touch anything and don’t walk in anything.”

Without looking back, Morrison starts down the stone sidewalk that leads to the driveway. He smokes casually as he walks. He passes the cruiser, then the Tahoe and just keeps going. Turns a corner and then another.

The more he walks, the better he feels. Almost liberated. He thinks about Blaine and what he’d done. How he did it. Knows why he feared these crimes the most. Coming to an intersection, he thinks of what direction he’ll take and laughs out loud at the irony of that.

There is no snap or light switch, just a clear realization and surrender. This has always been with him. Always, in him.

He would go through the motions of retiring next week. Get drunk at the party, share old war stories with the men and women he’d worked with and then fade away.

Okay, who will be first then? He wonders to himself. His ex-wife’s face, Lauren, floats to the surface. Her new husband and his kids would be a bonus. Then his own married kids come to mind, both Scott and Meg hate him and he feels the same way about them these days.

Cassy? She didn’t really count as being first. Different kind of deal. We’d both been drunk and she wanted to be strangled. Handcuffs too. She liked kink. Totally unintentional.

Morrison isn’t aware of it but his eyes are bright, gleaming in fact and he’s grinning of course. After next week, he’s got all the time in the world to decide and plan. All the time in the world.

*

Jim Wilsky is a crime fiction writer. He is the co-author of a three book series; Blood on Blood, Queen of Diamonds and Closing the Circle. He’s finishing up a new novel that will be coming out soon, as well as searching for a publisher to take a collection of his short stories.

His short story work has appeared in some of the most respected online magazines such as Shotgun Honey, Beat To A Pulp, All Due Respect, Yellow Mama, Pulp Metal, The Big Adios, A Twist of Noir, Rose & Thorn Journal, Plots With Guns, and others. He has contributed stories in several published anthologies including; All Due Respect, Kwik Krimes and Both Barrels. Jim is supported and strengthened by a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.

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