Chapter 1 Two Years Later
There! That was him! Tom smiled triumphantly as his target, a greasy man with shifty eyes and twitchy hands, glanced over his shoulder nervously. It had been a long chase, but the game ended here. He was the final piece to the puzzle, the last thread to pull before the case unraveled.
The conniving criminal was no match for the great, Detective Thomas Wayword.
Tom realized a moment too late that his victorious grin was a premature celebration, as it gave away his perceived upper hand. The criminal identified him, realized his danger, and took the only desperate move that would provide him with some safety, a small chance of stalemate.
He broke into a clumsy sprint, broken by the bustling crowd ahead.
Tom took off after him like bullet from a gun, unwilling to forfeit his win. It was moments like this he lived for, the risk, the chase, the glance of smoldering hatred from his failing foe as he crushed their schemes. He was their fear, their flaw, the unexpected hero who never lost.
Without warning, the dream turned into a nightmare. Though the crowd had thinned and nothing but a clear path was in front of him, he felt as if he was suffocating in an airtight room. Hot air smothered his lungs and sticky sweat dripped down his face. He couldn’t breathe.
Afraid, he looked to his side to see if anybody else realized his sudden peril. To his utter shock, his boss and mentor, Sergeant Stanley O’Neal, was watching him in amusement. “Too frightening for you, eh Tom?”
Tom opened his mouth angrily, only to find he could breathe again. Without a second thought, he took off in a sprint. He could still see the culprit in front of him, but just like before, the unexplainable, invisible gag snuffed his air supply. His lungs burned like fire and screamed for oxygen, but he growled and continued the pursuit anyhow. He would catch the criminal if it was the last thing he...
“PAIN! You made me a...you made me a….BELIEVER!” Tom jerked awake as his favorite song blared through his speakers. He lifted his face out of his pillow and took in a much needed gulp of air. No wonder he couldn’t breathe in that ridiculous dream. He groggily reached for his cell phone, which was the source of his musical alarm, and tried to slide it off. The stupid thing slipped off the table and fell to the floor, but the music ceased.
He groaned as he pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes. A handsome man with cropped brown hair, broad forehead, light hazel eyes, and prominent chin, he was currently feeling like a miserable lump of flesh. Today marked his month anniversary of being jobless.
Yes, it was a month ago today when the homicide detective supervisor, Sergeant Stanley O'Neil, paid him a visit. Tom had been on probation for a week for using illegal means to complete his work, though he failed to see the misdeed in his actions. Wiretapping and hacking were useful tools in crime-fighting, and he didn’t need permission to use them.
Stanley wasted a little too much breath naming all the other 'unnecessary' deeds Tom had done. The list included threatening suspects, kidnapping clients, breaking into private property, and blackmailing to keep things quiet.
An argument ensued between them, and it ended when Stanley said, "If you can't abide by the law, then you have no interest protecting it. Don't bother coming back. From now on, you’re on your own." He walked out without another word.
Here Tom was now, one month later, no job, and no life. He wasn't worried about his finances, since he had plenty in his savings, but he was bored. There was nothing else he wanted to do but fight crime. To him, the crime game was stronger than a drug addiction.
Muttering to himself, he forced himself out of his bed and began his morning ritual, which including brushing his teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed (blue jeans and button down shirt), switching on his TV for the morning news, making breakfast, pretending to clean and organize his always messy apartment, checking his unexplainably healthy bank account, and maybe writing on his blog, if there was anything to write about. That was his life.
“The American Disease Association have been releasing a number of reports concerning the safety of cleaners sold in the market.” The young news anchor reported. Tom paused for a moment to listen. “According to their research, there is an exponential increase of consumer complaints of symptoms caused by their ‘environmentally safe’ cleaners. Symptoms range from mild coughs, painful migraines, and possibly even death.”
Tom snickered slightly at their claim. Just about anything could cause a death in one way or another, from a sliver in a finger to a peanut in someone’s food. That was one of the things that made being a homicide detective interesting, the creativity of a cool criminal.
How he missed it.
About ten o'clock, he grabbed his black, leather coat and walked out into the chilly, March morning. For a small thrill, he leaned his weight against the handrail and stared straight down into the parking lot. He was five stories up, high enough for unobservant pedestrians and rushing cars to look like toys. He looked towards Downtown where he knew thousands of busy people were living the rat race. Most were probably sitting at a desk and reading some important document while they waited for the day to fly by. On one hand he wanted to be one of them, busy with little time to spare. On the other, he didn't want to be invisible, another lifeless stone in a wild river.
Despite his troublesome thoughts, he straightened up and descended down the stairs to the parking lot. His bright red, Chevrolet truck beeped its greeting as he approached. Without really knowing where he was going, he climbed in and drove out into the city.
Riverton was not the largest of places, but it was undoubtedly one of the focal points of the Unified Counties. It was famous for its weekly markets, seasonal festivals, and historical brick buildings found in the center of Downtown, but the true distinction was the strange river formation upon which the city was built. Instead of flowing as a whole river, it split into three and ran through and around the city like an unwinding thread. At the city limits, the rivers rejoined before disappearing into Pyke’s Lake. As a result, Riverton was industrious, overpopulated, and the perfect place to find trouble.
That was exactly what Tom wanted now, trouble. The problem was it seemed to be taking care to avoid him.
At exactly ten twenty-two, he parked his truck in the oversized lot of River Bear Mall and hopped out. In front of him, beyond the sea of cars, was the popular Regal Movie Theater. He was vaguely aware that it was showing the new horror movie, Ice Crystals. Though he heard of it, he had no interest in seeing it as it sounded cheesy and ridiculously gruesome. He avoided the theater and entered the bookstore next door.
He only intended to walk through, but a book title caught his eye, Ice Crystals. He hadn't known the movie was based off of a book. Curious, he took it off the shelf and studied it. A white, delicate snowflake graced the midnight blue cover. He flipped through the pages, and found it wasn't a novel, but a documentary of an experiment. "Water is more than a physical substance. Emoto claims that positive changes can be made to water crystals by the use of prayers and nice words." To prove his point, the scientist had taken pictures of ice crystals after they were exposed to certain words. As could be expected, with every good word, such as ‘love’ and ‘beautiful’, floral designs met the eye. With words like ‘hate’, only odd droplets were revealed. Though the theory was intriguing, Tom flipped forward a few chapters, and found that the conclusions were more psychological than scientific.
"Are you wanting to buy that?" A young woman with dyed, blue hair and a pierced lip approached him with a friendly smile. She had a pretty face, but the tattooed name of Blake on her right wrist and cheap ring on her left ring finger held suggestions of a failed romance.
He shrugged. "I was a little curious, but I don't think so."
"They've based a horror movie off of it."
"So it seems.”
"Book is probably better."
"I doubt it. Movies tend to draw people in quicker than philosophical books."
"Oh." She frowned. "I didn’t know it was...that kind. Well, is there any other book you're interested in? I might be able to find it for you."
"Nah." He shook his head as he closed it and put it back on the shelf.
"You can just buy it for your bookshelf. People might think you're pretty smart if you have it."
He paused and looked at her, his hand still on the book. He knew he was smart. He graduated from high school when he was fifteen and Benton University when he was twenty. He didn't need a philosophical book to appear as what he already was. He smirked. "Business that bad, eh?"
"Well, you might say that. With all the digital books and movies out these days..."
"You don't need to say more."
"I'm glad you dropped by, at least." She looked down with the saddest, downcast look he had ever seen.
It was rather pathetic sales tactic, but effective, as he felt a little sorry for her. He removed the book and pretended to study it with interest. "It might be worth looking smart. How much is it?"
His inner critique reminded him that he didn't have a job, and shouldn't be spending money on trifles. That being said, his bank account was healthy, healthier than it should be. The truth of the matter was that most of it wasn't his money, or at least not earned by him. He didn't even steal it. For reasons unknown to him, he had a mysterious sponsor who continually gave him extraneous amounts of dough from foreign accounts directly into his savings. More than once he tried to find out who, why, and where, but his sponsor remained unidentifiable. Tom finally decided he wasn't going to complain. "Well," he said, "I think I can spare ten dollars. Where do I buy?"
She led him to a cash register and they completed the transaction. To his surprise, she took the book, turned away from him, and spent a little longer time bagging it than necessary. As she handed it to him, she gave him a sweet smile. "Come back again soon."
"Thank you." He left the store, and as soon as he was out of sight, he took out the book and lifted the cover. She had hastily written her phone number with a little note. ‘Call me. Love, Cassie.’ Poor girl. Too bad he wasn't interested. It was a case he wanted, a homicide if possible.
He wandered the assortment of stores for about an hour, and made a game out of studying the different customers and employees. The man behind the counter of the Rocky Road Music Store, who had earphones stuck in his ear and was whipping his long, black dreadlocks like a wet mop, stimulated the persona of a carefree, live high junky. However, he would meet the eyes of any curious customer with an almost pleading expression, which ruined his sale tactic. Though his clothes were brightly colored and expressive, his shoes were plain and well-worn, reflecting constant use. He walked to work, he walked back, probably walked wherever he went because he couldn’t afford to buy a car.
Tom figured he probably lived about ten blocks away at the Cedar Village where they had cheap apartments. To test his theory, he quickly chose a music CD of a familiar band and approached the counter. He took a quick glance at his name tag, Xander, who tugged off his earphone. “That it for you?”
“Yep.” Tom gave a curt nod. “Say, do you know anything about the Lucky Fortune Restaurant? I think it’s on forty...eighth street...?”
“Forty-fifth, I never been there but I know which one you’re talking about.”
Course you do. Tom responded silently. “Friend of mine said they were having a cheap special...”
“Not anymore.” He interrupted as he bagged the CD. “I think business is going too well, if you ask me. They always have a full parking lot. Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Tom took the bag. “You live in Cedar Village, west side?”
Xander gaped. “How’d you know that?”
“Lucky guess. Have a great day.” Tom walked out, feeling slightly proud of himself. The Lucky Fortune Restaurant was right across from Cedar Village, and since the salesclerk knew that they had just ended the sale and that business was good, meant he was in the habit of observing them, possibly from his window.
The next person he crossed was an overweight woman in her mid-thirties, carrying a large number of bags. A sweet smile was plastered on her stout face, but her shifty eyes spoke of some mischief. Tom caught a glimpse of the inside of her shopping bag and saw scads of crumpled newspaper. Not ten feet behind her, a security guard followed. Shoplifter. Tom smirked. Sadly, that was all he was able to deduce before she disappeared around the corner.
There were so many different people with a variety of stories to tell, some good, some bad, some plain stupid. But each played a part in the theater of life. It just depended on what part they chose to play.
What about him? What kind of person did he want to be now?
He glanced at the new book, and thought of the number. He could be a boyfriend, but that really didn't appeal to him. He wasn’t interested in romance. He could go back to school and find some other subject within the crime and punishment field. Maybe he could go medical and become a forensic pathologist, deal with dead bodies all day. He grimaced at the thought.
No, detective was his title. It was what he loved. But who on Earth would want him when he was obviously too good at his job to the point that it was illegal?
He needed to think of something. He would waste away if he kept this up.
Finally tired of the game, he turned around and headed back towards the bookstore. He would have to give Cassie a quick hint that he wasn't interested. No point in having her sit by her phone waiting for him to call.
He entered the bookstore for the second time, vaguely noticing a janitor walk out. He scanned the store for Cassie. Not finding her at the cash register, he glanced down the rows of shelves, thinking maybe she was selling a book to another customer.
Not a living soul met his eyes. A cold, eerie feeling crept up his spine, but he pushed it aside. It was possible that she was on a break. Not wanting to waste more time, he walked out the door and into the parking lot.
To his surprise and disgust, he discovered somebody had left a large black trash bag in the back of his truck. What did they think this was? A dump truck? He opened it up to check what was inside, expecting to see somebody’s garbage.
He nearly cried out in horror when he was greeted with Cassies’ blank, empty stare.
She was dead.
Still developing. Tom is not exactly a ‘good’ character, but I’m trying to keep him from being ‘too bad’. He’s somewhat on the brink. Fun fact, the dream was inspired by an actual dream my brother experienced.