There’s no amount of training that could have prepared me for my last day on the job. A time comes where you see something on a crime scene that breaks your psyche. Once that happens, there’s no coming back.
I remember walking into that dump of an apartment complex. I kicked the snow off my boots on the worn-down staircase. The meltwater must have done it some good — the crumpled caret was covered in every type of human residue you could imagine.
I thought it was another routine case — a drug or money-related murder of a lowlife living in the government-subsidized projects.
How very wrong I was.
I was grateful that another investigator had been assigned to the case alongside me. Apparently, he was one of the longest tenured guys on the force. In a tiny place like that, on the furthest outskirts of the Detroit-metro, you were lucky to get some company while you worked.
He was already working when I stepped in. He crouched next to the kitchen table, inspecting a cotton swab just short of his face. His free hand scratched between clumps of his slicked-back, golden hair.
His gaze shifted to me after one of the aging floorboards squeaked beneath my feet. His pale eyes were cold. He didn’t smile, leaving his face dull and humourless.
“Really glad you’re finally here,” he said. “This place feels extra lonely, somehow. You’re Booth, aren’t you?”
“That’s right. Sorry for being late. What’s your name again? The dispatcher told me over the phone, but I can’t remember.”
“That’s it. Well, nice to meet you. Found anything of interest yet?”
“That would be an understatement,” he said as he dropped the cotton swab into an evidence bag.
“I can only imagine. Also, why the hell are the officers hanging out in the lobby? They should be just outside the door. Some little kids gonna run in from the hall and contaminate the whole god damn place.”
“They tried sticking around for a while, but they couldn’t bear to it. A couple of them were the ones first on the scene after the neighbours reported the screaming.”
“So, they’re just gonna stay down there while we sweep the place? That’s bullshit.”
“I think you’ll understand when you see inside the bedroom,” he said while he ran his glove over the kitchen counter, “I wasn’t going to go back in there until you got here.”
He pointed across the room, where the only other door in the main area rested ajar.
The shared space between the kitchen and living room where we stood didn’t contain any striking details to catch my eye. Garbage overflowing, empty frozen food boxes on the counter, a few drawers pulled out — nothing you wouldn’t expect to see in a place like that or anywhere else.
The only thing abnormal was the temperature.
“It’s a fucking sauna in here. How long have you been withstanding this?” I asked him while I took off my parka. It must have been over a hundred. Whoever lived there must have been spending an unhealthy portion of their income hiding from the frigid February air outside.
“I’m honestly not sure. Long enough to know we’ve got our work cut out for us tonight. And sorry about the heat. I opened all the windows. Didn’t seem to do much good. Neither did fiddling with the thermostat.”
I folded my parka and set it down gently in the hall.
“Fuck. Was hoping to be back in time to catch the end of the Wings game. Where should I start?”
He stood up and briefly surveyed the room.
“Well, I’ve hung out here long enough to know there’s not much in the way of physical evidence. No blood, no weapons. The whole thing went down inside the bedroom. We may as well get on with it.”
“Alright then,” I said while I pulled my second rubber glove on. “Let’s see the carnage.”
He cut me off while I crossed the room. He placed his hands on my shoulders and stopped there blocking me. His frame towered over mine.
“Just make sure you’re ready for it. It’s a lot to take in. Someone’s put some serious work in there.”
Up until that point, I was still sure I’d seen it all. I’d been warned about the bloodlust and brutality so many times before. I’d seen the all the terrible things that people were capable of when pushed far enough.
I walked passed him and pushed the bedroom door open. It was in that moment that I discovered just how wrong I was.
Most of it was composed of blood. I suppose the parts where the blood ran dry; they merely substituted flesh to fill the gap. I turned away just as the greater shape started to register in my mind.
I wiped the sweat forming on my brow into my sleeve as I looked back at Andersen. It seemed that somehow the bedroom was even hotter than the main area.
I was utterly vulnerable.
“Tried to warn you,” he said. “Look at it again though, it’s important you see the detail put into it.”
I held my breath as I looked back. He was right, there was a lot more too it on second glance.
It was remarkable, given its size, how near of a perfect circle had been painted just next to the bed. Like someone had a giant compass they used to trace it. It looked big enough for me to lie down inside without touching any of the outer edges.
The lines of the star within the circle were razor sharp.
As for the connecting pieces, where the blood appeared to run dry, they weren’t just any pieces of flesh. They were full body parts — child-sized externalities. Three forearms, a shin, and the better part of a spine. All of them neatly severed from whatever body they originally belonged to and worked seamlessly into the horrible construction that lay before me.
In the most atrocious way, I saw its perfection. A flawless blood-pentagram displayed atop an aging wooden floor.
Andersen stepped beside me.
“You see the art in it, don’t you,” he said. “Do you need a second?”
“No. I’m alright,” I lied. “Do you know where the actual bodies are? Or, at least what’s left of them?”
“Yes. They’re the single mother’s two children. Their bodies are lying neatly on the other side of the bed. Again, if you’re going to look over there, be sure you’re ready. You won’t like it any more than this.”
I stopped short of the bed and leaned over the other side. What he said was true. I didn’t look very long.
“What’s the mother’s name?” I said while trying to steady my breaths.
“Is the father in the picture at all?”
“No. He died a few years ago. It was downhill for this little family since then.”
“Any sign of forced entry?”
“None that I saw. Did you?”
“Nope. I’m leaving all the preliminary work to you. And I’m going to guess that mom’s body is in the bathroom.”
I pointed to the door hanging on its hinges next to the dresser.
“You got it all figured out, Booth.”
I walked back passed the pentagram with my vision fixed on my feet. I saw the bloodied strokes next to my shoe as I passed. I couldn’t help but wonder how loud the screams must have been. How long did it go on before the neighbours finally dialled the police?
I paused outside the bathroom. Negativity radiated from that little space so strongly you could almost see it. I turned back to Andersen needing to buy more time than anything.
“So, what do you think we have here? A single mother down on her luck whose been worn down from raising two children on her own too long? Maybe she’s tired of getting on the bus every day to go work for minimum wage in one of the rich neighbourhoods on the other side of town.”
“So… she starts losing it. And she’s got no real free time or much of a social life outside her kids. No husband, no real friends to talk to. No one notices just how far off the deep end she’s going. She goes so far down the rabbit hole that she gets into this demonic shit.”
I gestured my hand over the pentagram. He kept staring back at me. Still, his face remained devoid of emotion.
“And she gets to the point that she sacrifices her children and uses their blood and body parts to make a perfect fucking pentagram on the floor!”
He looked away from me and at the bloody mess. He stepped just shy of it and stood there still. Like the thing had in him in some kind of trance.
“I’d say that’s a good conclusion for an investigator who just walked on the scene a few minutes ago,” he said. “There’s a little more to it than that, though. Look.”
He picked up a little black book that rested in one of the triangles in the star. I must not have noticed it in the brief time I allowed myself to survey it.
He held it out to me.
My hand trembled as I grabbed it. The covers were made of leather and held closed by a little cotton string. I flipped the book over and read the little phrase written on the front.
My Dirty Little Secrets
I reluctantly opened it, not really wanting to see what was written inside. Writing filled every line of the first few pages. I started from the beginning.
I don’t know where else to go but the written word. It seems that everything I say or think, he can always hear.
When he first came, I thought my dreams had come true. But he’s not who he made himself out to be.
“The hell am I reading?”
I looked back up at Andersen who hadn’t moved from his spot. He still stared blankly over the pentagram.
“There’s writing on the floor too,” he said. “Look on the inside edges, you can see it.”
I let my eyes creep slowly along the floor back towards the pentagram. Much to my dismay, he was correct about another detail I hadn’t seen. Words and symbols (most of which I didn’t recognize) were etched into the wood. Like someone had somehow perfectly carved them in the floor after all the chaos had taken place.
“I know you can’t read a lot of it,” he said. “But look at the penmanship of the words you recognize. You notice anything odd about it?”
I saw what he was referring to. It was a question better left to the experts back at the station, but it did certainly look different than the writing in the book. Not only was it neater, but the style looked clearly like the work of a different hand.
“So, she had an accomplice perhaps? And they started writing this shit down after they finished their little sacrifice?”
“I’d say so.”
I flipped through the pages of the book until the writing ended and read the last line.
I should have never let him in. Don’t think he’ll ever leave.
I closed the book and handed it gently back to Andersen. He set it down on the floor next to him and started following the writing etched in the floor with his finger.
“Are you going to warn me before I go into the bathroom now?”
“I haven’t actually looked in there, to be honest. Kept my business out here. She locked herself in and the officers had to kick the door down, though. They said there was as much blood in there as there is out here.”
“I’ll count that as my warning.”
I paused outside the door one last time. They must have really worked to get in there, because that door had taken a beating. It nearly fell off its hinges as I pulled it towards me.
The woman sat upright against the aging drywall. Her palms faced up and lay at her sides. Long, red lines were cut into her wrists. Blood pooled all around her lower half. It meandered through the square tiles as it thinned further out.
She looked aimlessly out ahead. Her eyes were sad, hopeless and ultimately faded.
“No demonic shit in here.”
“I’ll let you take care of that room, then,” I heard Andersen say back. “I’ll see what else I can find out here.”
Much like the common area, the bathroom looked mostly undisturbed. Save for a lipstick tube that looked like it fell and rolled against the tub, everything looked to be in order. She had taken her life without much struggle or indecision.
I tiptoed over the untouched tiles, trying to avoid disturbing the mess. Next to the woman’s right hand, I saw what she had used to do the deed. An arrow-shaped shard of glass rested just below her fingers. Bloodied prints all over it.
I looked at the mirror where a piece was missing from the lower-left corner. It looked like a match. Like you could stick that shard of glass back in there and complete the puzzle.
Something else was covered by her hand as well. I carefully reached between her body and her arm to grab it. It was a toilet paper roll that had been ripped and flattened. Almost like a little cardboard scroll. Red finger marks were all over the one side.
I turned it over and was astonished by what I saw. Writing. Exactly like the style in the notebook. It was done in lipstick. She had barely enough room to fit in all she meant to say. The last few characters were squished up at the end.
Went too far
He looks handsome
But he’s the devil
Locked me in so he can get them
Pray for my children
I started to tremble and nearly fell on top of the dead woman’s body as I got up to my feet.
“Andersen!” I yelled as I stepped outside the bathroom. “I know you think you got this whole thing figured out… but you won’t believe this.”
I froze as I looked ahead of me. An older man I didn’t recognize stood at the base of the pentagram. His eyes were lost and clouded. He looked up at me, looking like a grown man in need of a hug.
“Who are you?”
“Detective Breaston,” he said. “You must be Booth. Sorry for being late, young man. Got caught up in the rush-hour traffic. I know how much it sucks doing this yourself. Especially one… like this.”
“Where’s detective Andersen? I need to show him something.”
“No detective Andersen in the department. Dispatcher told me it was a two-man job. Just you and me.”
I shivered as a winter wind ran through the apartment. How cold the room had suddenly gotten.