Chapter 7 Stanley's Theory
Tom had spent the rest of the afternoon in his apartment, studying. When was the sun was beginning to set, he knew almost everything about both Cassie and Blake, from when they first met on a blind date to their breakup because he bought a car without her knowledge. It appeared that they had every reason to hate each other, but they were both dead, and it seemed they had no enemies to speak of.
In his mind, he compared their deaths. They were both found in his truck. They died in public places, and in broad daylight. The difference rested in the time they were murdered, how long it was till they were found, and what was in their mouths. Cassie had been dead for a little while; she was already cold, and had coins in her mouth. Blake was freshly dead, and his mouth was full of food.
As twilight bade the sun goodnight, Tom hid the evidence of his study, grabbed a couple glasses and a bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey, Stanley's favorite, and placed them on the table. He wasn't planning on offering any, but knowing Stanley, just the presence of liquor was invitation enough.
A loud squeak from his door announced his employer’s arrival. "Evening, Tom."
“Evening, you look a little stressed.”
Stanley’s face was more haggard than usual. He sighed. “There were two more murders today.”
“One this morning at the Cedar Village, and the other this afternoon at Barty’s Cafe. They’ve both been connected to Cassie Belvue.”
Cedar Village? “How are they connected?”
“Broad daylight, lack of a struggle, and a completely unheard of method.” He leaned forward. “They found cash shoved in Cassie’s throat.”
“Cash?” Tom pretended to be surprised.
“Coins...dollar bills...made her a human slot machine. Then there was the fellow at Cedar Village. He was strangled with his own dreadlocks.” Tom let out a loud guffaw, earning a reproachful scowl from Stanley. “Then a waiter,” he continued, “stuffed with food. We are pretty certain we have a serial killer on our hands. I hate those!”
“I love them. Can I help?”
“No.” He spotted the alcohol and didn't hesitate to pour himself a drink. "What did you think of her?”
“What do you mean ‘who’?”
Stanley gaped at him for a moment before shaking his head. “Don’t play stupid with me, Tom. Alathea Winters! What did you find out?”
“Oh that! Not much to say. I didn’t get her story. She wasn’t as trusting at you made her out to be.”
“But what did you think of her?”
“What kind of question is that?” Tom scoffed. “What are you trying to do, Stan? Set me up?”
“Of course not. She didn’t figure you out, did she?” He tried and failed to keep a poker face. Hope filtered his voice, which confirmed Tom’s suspicions.
“I think I just figured you out. That was a set up.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Tom adopted Stanley’s nasally voice. “‘Use whatever means necessary to keep her from finding out the truth.’”
“I meant it.”
“Yet you know her well enough to realize she knows a lie when she hears one.”
“So she did figure you out.”
“She wasn’t too happy to hear you were looking into her case.”
“I didn’t mean for her to know that. How...?”
“I told her.”
Stanley gaped at him. “You weren’t supposed to do that.”
“Right, she was supposed to figure it out.”
“Give it to me straight, Stan. What are you wanting from her?”
Stanley shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I’m not really looking into that Tuscan case. You were right when you said that’s not my division. I just thought it would be a...good reason...”
“For me to meet her.”
“I’m not trying to set you up. I just wanted your perspective on her.”
“I thought that would be obvious.”
Tom shook his head. “She’s mysterious, but I don’t see why that called for breaking your beloved ethics code.”
Stanley cringed. “I guess for once you’re right.”
“Unless she’s got some sort of hold over you, I wouldn’t bother with her.”
“Not exactly. I thought we were becoming friends, but then one day she confronted me about some past issues...things she would have absolutely no way of knowing.”
“Like I would tell you. That’s my business...and it was a long time ago anyway.” He took a swig and shuddered. Tom tapped his fingers as he waited.. “I took a bribe a couple times in my career. It was harmless.”
An unexpected snicker escaped Tom’s lips. “A bribe? I’m surprised. ‘No business protecting the law if you can’t abide by it.’ How much are you hiding?”
“Quit mocking me. It was a long time ago, and that was a completely different situation. It was harmless enough, and it wouldn’t put me in prison. I would have to pay a fine, and would probably be fired.”
“Do you know how she found out?”
“That is why I contacted you. I figured she would find out what you were up to, but you would have the brains to see how. Come on, Tom. Out with it. She knew you were lying.”
“Could you see how?”
Tom shrugged. “It’s the same thing we do when we interrogate suspects. We research, we make accusations, and we read their body language. She might be stupid, but she has a sharp eye.”
“Don’t you dare call her stupid!” Stanley’s voice cracked like a whip.
“Academically.” Tom clarified. “You should’ve seen her SAT scores.”
“I don’t care if she flunked an entire college course. Don’t you ever call her stupid! She has more guts and brains then the entire department!”
“That’s a lot of guts and brains.” Tom smirked.
“I don’t think she realizes her full potential.”
“Amazing, Stan, I think you’re infatuated.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You’re right though. I shouldn’t have done that. I’ve got more important things on my plate.”
“You’re not worried about her knowing about the bribes.”
“Not at the moment. If she didn’t tell you about it, I doubt she’ll tell anyone. Even if she did, I don’t think I’ll be fired.” He stood. “I’ll pay you for your trouble...and to keep you quiet.”
“Don’t bother. I consider it a favor.”
Tom shrugged. “Pulled me out of my boredom for a little.”
Stanley rolled his eyes. “Get a job, Tom. I don’t care what. Just do something. If you have to become a private eye, do it.”
“I thought you said I was on my own.”
“You are.” He turned to leave, but froze abruptly.
“What?” Tom asked.
“Where’d you get that?” Stanley pointed to the Rocky Road Music Store shopping bag which had been carelessly tossed on the desk. Tom hadn’t even pulled out the CD.
“The clerk...what was his name?”
“The victim from this morning was the salesclerk from that store.” Stanley turned to look at him, his eyes narrowed. “You were there when Cassie Belvue was murdered. Now there’s this. You weren’t anywhere near Barty’s Cafe, were you?” Before he could respond, Stanley cut him off. “Never mind. Knowing you, you’ll lie. I have to find out some other way.”
Tom’s frown became slightly more pronounced. In his mind, he listed the different ways Stanley could discover the truth. Alathea would be the easiest. However, there was the possibility he wanted to avoid her.
The same thoughts seemed to be going through Stanley’s mind. “It would be easier if you just told me. Were you at Barty’s Cafe today?”
“No, and that’s the truth.”
“Would you place your life on it?”
“Why don’t you ask Alathea? She’ll tell you where we were.”
Stanley shrugged. “That’s the only answer I need. You had me worried there for a minute.”
“You met Xander Mickel, and he’s dead. You knew about Cassie Belvue, who is also dead. If you knew the waiter at the cafe...”
“You would be convinced that I’m the murderer.”
“No, but it connects you with the serial killer in someway.”
Tom’s heart increased in rhythm, but he placed a smirk on his face. “Very interesting. You’re wrong, but let’s play with this a little. How would I be connected to this serial killer?”
Stanley retook his seat. “I have this idea, but it’s going to sound crazy.”
“Ten years ago I was called to help investigate a suicide, and it led to the discovery of multiple murders. Most of the victims were murdered either within a few minutes or a few hours of meeting one person, the suicide victim. It was believed that she was a serial killer, and had developed a conscience along the line, but I was never completely convinced. She didn’t have the personality for a killer. If you were to ask me, I would have said she was the murderer’s mask.”
“It’s a stretch, but it made perfect sense to me. Never heard of it done though.”
“I don’t know if I follow you.”
“Picture this.” Stanley shifted forward. “You’re minding your own business, when out of nowhere, you have the death touch. People you meet are killed just because they spoke to you for a few moments.”
“Because you have a serial killer following you.” Tome assumed. “In essence, he’s chosen you to be his face.”
“And this woman...what was her name?”
“Nellie Callahan, she seemed like a sweet lady.” He leaned back thoughtfully. “The killer had to have studied her and constantly followed her, searching for the perfect opportunities. It’s a challenge, a game of keeping up appearances.” He shook his head. “I have absolutely no proof that is what happened.”
“It’s intriguing.” Tom mused.
“Do you think it’s possible? Could you pull a stunt like that?”
Understanding his meaning, Tom rested his chin on his fist as he thought it over. If he, as a serial killer, chose a living person to be his mask, what would he do? Hypothetically, he chose Alathea. He would need to know her inside and out. He pictured himself hacking into whatever electronic she had at home, watching her every move and discovering her habits. He would wiretap her phone and listen to her conversations, find out who she interacted with and when. He would search for triggers that made her upset and vulnerable, and find what possible motives she would have for murder. He would track her, possibly set up scenarios in which she would undoubtedly be the number one suspect.
Such a heist would take time and constant study. The murderer would have to be completely obsessive, always searching for the perfect opportunities. Not to mention he would need to be close to his mask as often as possible, never missing a moment.
Is that what was happening to him? He met all three of the other victims, two of them were found in his truck. Was it possible?
Tom nodded slowly. “It would be difficult, but I think it could be done. Is that what this serial killer is doing?”
Stanley released a puff of air. “Well, it would be one possibility if you met all the victims.” He added quietly. “It’s better than thinking you’re the murderer.” He paused as if he expected Tom to comment, which he did not. Stanley sighed and stood. “I’ll see you later.” He walked out the door.
Tom poured himself a glass of whiskey, his thoughts churning like butter. Three victims, a trail of blood left behind him though he spilled not one drop, it was the storyline for a horror film. It intrigued him more than it should have. Anybody he came close to him could possibly be killed, anybody. He was a murderer, though he would not touch a single soul. What a game!
Suddenly, his mind snapped back into reality. He had to tell Stanley the truth. Though he wanted to play the game badly, it was not worth more lives. This murderer had to be caught.
Hoping his former employer hadn't left, he ran out the door. "Stanley!" He called as he looked down into the parking lot. A light drizzle of rain obscured his vision, but he could still see the black Charger car. He raced along the balcony and descended down the stairs. "Stan!" The irritatingly bright light bulbs flickered as he passed. He had just reached the bottom when he stopped in shock. Stanley was collapsed on the ground, unmoving.
"Stan?" Tom nearly stumbled to him. He touched his neck and found his pulse. “Stan.” He shook his shoulder. Stanley did not respond, though his eyes were open.
Tom wasted no time in calling an ambulance. Just as he hung up his phone, the light above them flashed. Stanley’s body jerked as if he was shocked by an electric current. “Light!” He cried out in a gurgled voice. He choked and spit out a clear liquid from his mouth.
Tom rolled him over on his side. “Come on Stan!”
Without warning, he grabbed Tom’s arm and clenched it till it hurt. “El..Thea...!" He sputtered. “Al...” His eyes closed. His mouth became slack, and his hand flopped to the ground.
Tom warily touched his neck again, but his pulse was gone. He lowered his ear to Stan's mouth and listened for breathing. Hearing none, he cursed and began applying CPR. Thirty compressions, two breaths, thirty compressions, two breaths. "Come on, Stan!" He yelled. “Breathe!”
It was like a breath of fresh air when he heard the ambulance sirens, but he did not stop. When they finally arrived and relieved him of his attempts, he was exhausted. He watched them surround his old friend and hook him up to their machines like a dying computer to a battery.
“No pulse...pupils are fixed...clear for CPR.” They were a well-oiled machine as one applied the chest compressions, another used a mask to drive air into the dead man’s lungs, and another ran the AED and watched the EKG as it monitored his heart. Tom cringed as Stanley’s body jerked as it was charged with a jolt of electricity.
“I have a pulse!” One of the medics cried out. Tom released a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.
“Keep applying the oxygen.”
“Heart is stabilizing.”
At some point, Tom was not sure when, they placed Stanley on the stretcher and took him into the ambulance. He watched them drive away, sickened.
A flame of anger and hate was ignited within him. He wanted the killer there, now and visible, so he could quench his sudden thirst for revenge. His eyes roved his surroundings, looking for any sign of a shadowy figure. He could almost feel the murderous eyes watching him. “I’ll kill you!” Tom shouted. “I will kill you!”
To his utter shock, a ghostly chuckle reverberated through the air. His blood ran cold in his veins, but he yelled. “Come out! Show yourself!” No response.
Tom was not sure how long he stood out there, but he finally stepped back up to his apartment. On the way, he found Stanley’s phone, which he figured must have slipped out of his mentor’s pocket. He slipped it in his own as he reached his floor, but stopped short when he saw a black container with the label DIAMOND POLISH near his door. Taped on the bottom was a typed note, A gift.
There was no doubt in Tom’s mind. He was the murderer’s mask.
Chapter 7 Stanley's Theory