Detective Sato sat at his desk, pensively sipping his lukewarm cup of coffee while staring at all of the crime scene photos taken from the five attacks, trying to find a way to piece together how they were related. From the group of African American men coming home from a night out and the Mormon family in their van to the homeless man found stuffed in a dumpster without a heart or lungs, none of the people seemed to have any sort of connection at all.
That Takeshi could tell, at the very least.
His office was quiet and dark, his lone desk lamp and computer screen lighting the two desk quarters; Takeshi’s partner Henry Sloan was at a wedding tonight and couldn’t be bothered to look at his stack of missing person reports that had been piling up on his desk. While he’d been tied up in finding a missing girl, a teenager Lindsay Fuentes, he’d been distracted as of late. His father was growing sicker by the day, and Henry had mentioned the cancer was inoperable. Takeshi wished Sloan could focus on his work, maybe even help him find the link between all of the victims, but he didn’t want to press the older man too much, especially when he couldn’t even handle his own missing persons.
On the wall was pinned up a whole map of New York city, red thumbtacks marking where each of the crime scenes were. All of the victims had had their phone records pulled, as well as a background check to see if there was the slightest chance they somehow knew each other before their deaths. So far nothing had come up.
Just like his request for a search for two more murder sites. The Chief, while impressed that Takeshi had seen that pattern whereas everyone else had missed it, wasn’t willing to spare any officers for a city-wide search of month old bodies.
“He probably threw them in the river; lord knows how many other people do that!” The Chief had said with a grim smile before shooing him from his office.
“No…” Takeshi muttered in the dark. “No, this one is different. He isn’t killing them at random, and he isn’t killing them for revenge or money… hell, he barely even hides the bodies once he’s done with them. He’s not like other murderers.”
I smile as I watch the newlyweds dance the first dance of the night, sitting between Rabbi Sloan and a very talkative day-trader that was related to the daughter through some myriad ties. Like I said, these kinds of weddings always bring the cousins out of the wood works. I lean on the table, ignoring the sniff of derision from one of the older women down the table for my lack of manners, resting my chin on my hands as I watch the two dance, love just radiating off of them in palpable waves.
As the song ends, we all stand and applaud them once again, congratulating them on their new lives together. I help Rabbi Sloan stand, wincing as I can hear the popping of bones in his crooked frame. Despite the grimace on his face and the embarrassment at having to be helped, he grips my bicep tightly, patting me in thanks as I help him back into his seat.
“So Shylock,” The day-trader says to me once the applause has died down and the music is playing once more, “I hear you’re a business man as well. What line of work are you in?”
“A jeweler and tradesmen, for the most part,” I say with a careless shrug, not really paying attention to him. This was precisely what I loathe about coming to these weddings… the people trying to network.
“Well then you must pay attention to the price of gold and silver, am I right?” He blathered on, adjusting his fitted glasses over his beak of a nose. “See any patterns in how the prices have been fluctuating that you wouldn’t mind sharing?”
“Not particularly,” I reply, watching the dance floor slowly fill up, men in expensive suits and women in lovely gowns… just like the balls held in the old country of yore. The newlyweds are young, and as all the young do they only pay lip service to tradition. Instead of live musicians being brought in to play proper music, there’s but one gentlemen behind a pair of great speakers, a table of buttons and dials sitting before him that he continuously fiddles with as songs pour forth from the crackling amplifiers.
“If you’ll excuse me,” I say to the day trader, interrupting him mid-sentence as I stand up and walk down from the dais. “I must see the bride and groom, to offer my blessings and to impart a bit of wisdom.”
Rabbi Sloan smiles at me as I pat his shoulders while passing him, but I can hear the grinding of the day trader’s teeth as I turn my back on him, even over the sound of this infernal rabble that the crowd is undulating to. It’s a shame I didn’t pick up the scent of anything I need from the man, save for the acrid stench of smoke on his slightly yellowed teeth.
Moving through the hall now that the lights have darkened is now far easier for me, allowing me to use the shadows to pull me to and fro, away from the writhing crowd and past it, towards the musician. A younger man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, my blood boils when I see he still wears a cap within God’s house. The lanky youth is busy with a laptop and, thanks to the pounding music, completely deaf to my approach.
Reaching out, I grasp his shoulder, repressing a smile as he jumps at the contact and spin him around to face me.
“What you want old man?” He shouts over the blaring noise, looking me up and down as if I were the offensive one here.
“Many things, some of which I think you can provide me,” I say distractedly, releasing my hold on him while pushing my way into his mind for the briefest of moments, creating an urge for him to remove his hat. “I’d like you to turn down the music and allow me the use of your microphone after this song, as I have a special gift for the lovely young couple. Then, I’d like to make a request.”
“Yeah? Well, requests cost money man, what’ch you want?” He asks me flippantly, his eyes flicking to the rings on my fingers, his inner thoughts full of greed and desire.
I pull a crisp twenty dollar bill from my pocket, deftly slipping it from my money clip so as not to show this cretin how much I actually possess. “The song I want is called The Son of A Preacher Man. Play it when I get to dance with the bride, and I’ll give you four more of these.”
“Shit man, you got it!” He says as he snatches the bill from my hand in an instant before leaning over his button-covered table, pushing a blinking red one down for a moment.
The music’s volume lowers as the songs begin to wind down. “Listen up folks, we have here a man who has a very special present for the happy couple, so why don’t you two come on up here while I pass my main man the mic real fast.”
I shudder at the thought of whatever it would entail being his main man, but he removes an earpiece and adjustable microphone from his head, passing them to me. I smile as he removes his hat, slicking back his hair with one hand as he tosses it behind him without a thought onto his bags, moving to help fit me with the headset. By the time I have it all setup, I see the two young lovers standing before me, the button-bound board separating us as the musician steps away to allow me a place to stand where all can see.
The lights go up to where the hall is now merely dim to the human eye rather than dark, allowing me to take a good look at the two standing before me. Both are breathing heavily from their bout of dancing, the strapping buck of a lad having removed his jacket now clad in only a gold-trimmed vest and white button down shirt.
His bride, the newest edition to our fair flock, is an Italian beauty with a waterfall of silky black curls and a thin frame, her strapless gown revealing a gothic style tattoo over her right bicep, which is quite toned for a woman if I do say so myself. With deep soulful eyes and luscious lips, I can see how my adopted grandchild fell for her.
“For those of you who don’t know me,” I begin, my voice echoing across the hall to a round of amused chuckles, “My name is Shylock J. Salinger. Many of you call me Zayde, which to you my dear,” I say, looking directly at the blushing bride, “means grandfather. And I want you to think of me that way.”
“As long as I have been with this Temple, I’ve sought to bless every union that occurs here,” I continue on, a murmur of agreement rumbling through the parishioners, “not in a spiritual sense, as I am in no way a holy man. But in a fiscal sense.”
“Young Micah here,” I say, motioning to the groom with a smile, “has known me all of his life. He knows what I am about to ask, but I must wonder… did he warn the bride of me?”
A rise of laughter comes from the crowd as he shakes his head, smiling. The bride is merely smiling, looking between her husband and me, her thoughts screaming for her to be let in on the joke already.
“Milady,” I say after the laughter dies down, “do you pledge to always stand by your husband, in sickness, and in health, and to bear him the continued line of Abraham?”
She looks at me a tad shocked before clearing her throat. “Um, yes? Not right now, the children thing, but yeah… I love Micah.”
I smile at her eloquence before reaching into my coat, my fingers dancing over the numerous pieces of jewelry I have stored within. Probing into her mind, I find her favorite stone is the emerald, and she prefers silver over gold. An easy enough selection.
“Than for my new granddaughter, a gift.” I say, pulling my hand from my coat with a flourish, dropping a dangling silver-wrought claw holding a marquise cut emerald roughly a karat in weight. “Wear it proudly, for upon the stone is an etching of our faith… of your faith.”
“And for Micah, I must say I am lost as to what I can give you,” I say as I turn to look into the young man’s eyes, probing them for any thoughts of greed or jealousy. All I find is love for his wife, for this day… and for me. “But let it never be said that Zayde comes to a wedding empty handed.”
“You don’t need to… the necklace is beautiful enough…” He begins to protest, his new wife still speechless as she studies the necklace I’d placed in her hands.
“Oh, but I do. On Monday, after work, of course, go to your bank and check your savings account. I’m sure you’ll be happily surprised.” I end with a semi-sinister smile, a round of applause filling the room as I pull the headset away and move around the table to shake Micah’s hand. “I know you want to start your own business, and what kind of man would I be if I didn’t help you just a little? I believe twenty thousand dollars should help you secure that prime piece of real estate you want to set up shop in.”
I merely turn away from his look of shock and lean down to hug his beautiful wife, moving to help put her necklace on her with my own spidery fingers. “The cost of this necklace also includes a dance with me, you know.”
She laughs as I take her hand and lead her out in the dance floor, the amplifiers flickering back to life as the musician starts the song, Dusty once again filling my ears with her song of sin and vice, of faith and love… of how fruit coming from a healthy tree is not always safe to eat.
I’ve long since retreated back to the safety of the darkness, as I always do at these events. Standing in the shadowed corner, wrapping the very void around myself as I plug my ear buds into my mp3 player; I set to doing my work guarding my flock. The wedding party is in full swing, the open bar which had so offended me from the very beginning of the reception playing a large part in allowing me to slip away.
Flipping from Dusty’s song, I click past several songs until I come to the one that I listen to while selecting my targets. I heave a relaxed sigh as the crackle of the old microphone carried Johnny Cash’s southern drawl into my ears, singing of the equality of death. I savor the irony of how he believes the teachings of Jesus will be the saving grace for humanity, the saving grace of this sickened race of cannibals and monsters.
“There's a man going around taking names…” I sing softly to myself as my eyes scan the room watching the dancing figures in their finery, my eyes lingering over the guests. “And he decides who to free and who to blame… everybody won't be treated all the same.”
The musician, one Ronald Martinez, has already been selected. I lifted his wallet from him as he helped me with the headset, his heady scent of B positive blood reminding me of the left eye I so desperately needed.
Rabbi Sloan’s son is here as well, a man I have no desire to be around.
I’d gleaned from his mind the numerous horrors with which he was struggling, and smelled the gin oozing from his pores long before he even began drinking. He was with his father at the dais, chatting with him amicably, but oh how he looked tired. A policeman in New York City never rests, I imagine.
“Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still,” I hum along, eyes drifting back to the crowd. I see a young couple both drinking cans of Pop instead of liquor… possible, very possible. I make a mental note to speak with them before the night ends.
“Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still,” I continue as I smile at a pair of Alexandria, the bride’s, coworkers. Both are proudly wearing crucifixes around their necks and have been happily talking down to anyone bold enough to approach the pair of from the land of Eire.
Moving from the shadows, I let them cling to me like a second skin as I move through the swaying crowd, bonelessly weaving to and fro until I pass by the young couple. I allow the shadows to melt away from me as I bump into the woman from behind, my lean frame a good foot taller than her minute one. She stumbles, spilling her drink onto her partner, who I can only assume is her husband. I have just enough time to pause Johnny Cash mid-chorus as the diminutive woman turns to face me, her plump face one of confusion before she recognizes me from earlier.
“Oh my dear, I am so sorry!” I say with false sincerity, leaning down to act as if I were checking her over while I subtly lift the wallet from her husband’s back pocket.
“Oh, no harm Mr. Salinger,” She says, waving it off and snatching her husband’s drink with a smile, one that seems infectious as he laughs at her devious little move, “I have been hoping to bump into you to ask where you got that beautiful necklace from?”
“Oh please don’t tell her,” her husband quips, grunting as she elbows him playfully in the ribs, “If she knows I’ll be out looking for that shop by nights end!”
I laugh before sticking my hand out to the statuesque man, smiling a tight smile at his slightly Aryan features. What can I say, old habits… “Shylock Salinger, Jeweler.” I greet him, shaking his hand. “And I custom made that piece myself.”
“Oh my god, are you serious?” The mousy wife gasps before blushing at her outburst. “I’m so sorry; we’re the Carmichaels, Glenda, and Howard.”
“Charmed,” I say with a casual sniff, savoring the salty stench of their blood pumping through the blue veins visible on Howard’s wrists and neck. O positive from Howard, an excellent flavor… Glenda, on the other hand, is a true treasure, a diamond in the rough.
She stank of AB negative.
Allowing myself a glance into her mind, I see flitting images of children flutter the past, of a teenage girl throwing a tantrum over not being allowed to date, of a teenage boy playing video games with his two younger brothers.
A veritable treasure trove for me, possibly every organ I will need in one fell swoop. I smile and laugh at the joke that Howard told, pretending to enjoy their company while I scan the crowd for any other possible organ donors. Beyond the pushy Catholic couple, I think the Carmichaels will be my best bet for the time being.
“I’ll tell you what Glenda,” I say after Howard finishes a story about a particularly funny incident at his car lot, “I’ll stop by your husband’s lot sometime in the coming weeks with a little gift. I’ll, of course, call ahead to let you know I’m coming to Howard,” I say, nodding to the cheerful man, “and perhaps we could trade one of my pieces for a home cooked meal? I’m an older man with no wife, so I rarely get the pleasure of company while dining.”
“Well, that sounds lovely!” Glenda positively gushes, shaking her husband by the bicep with giddiness. “I’ll make sure to make a big dinner for us all that night, especially if you’re thinking about making something so beautiful for me. We can discuss payment for it over dinner!”
“Or you could always charge us a pound of flesh, eh Shylock?” Howard chuckles, playfully punching me in the shoulder.
I merely smile as I chuckle along with him. “Always nice to have a fan of the Bard connects me to one of the classics, but no. My prices are actually quite affordable.”
I bid them adieu and move further into the undulating mass of bodies that are now in the midst of their drunken revelry. I press the play button once more on my mp3 player, allowing Johnny Cash to continue his lyrical warnings of the end of the world as we know it.
Surprisingly, I do feel fine.
I choke back a laugh as I pull the shadows up and around me, swathing me once more on the peripheral of everyone’s senses, just below their radar. While some would think an older paunchy Jew flickering in and out of a crowd would be something that would draw attention, you’ve never truly watched a crowd of people with interest; in fact, nobody outside of someone carrying a badge has. And in a room full of liquored up the temporary followers of Dionysus, not many people keeping an eye on a man that looks like a dozen others within the immediate area.
Sidling up alongside the Irish couple, I happily take the paunchy husbands wallets while listening to their hushed conversation. The wife, Martha, seems just as displeased as I am about the whole “liqueur on holy ground” thing, but doesn’t seem surprised, seeing as we’re a bunch of heathens. The husband is merely grunting out slurs and insults as the rest of the guests give the couple a wide berth. Fading from the darkness behind them, I clear my throat loud enough to cause them both to jump in surprise.
“Hello, there!” I greet them happily, shoving my hand into the meaty paw of the husband, pumping it vigorously. “My name is Shylock Salinger, an Elder here at the Temple, and I’ve been touring the party, greeting the guests. Friends of the bride, am I right?”
Martha sniffs at me before plastering on a simpering smile, her thoughts practically screaming about how rich I am. “Yes, I work with Alexandria at the office,” She answers me, nudging her husband in the side, “This is my husband Bill, and my name is Martha. Martha O’Donahue.”
“Ah…” I say with a tone of wisdom, despite any true meaning behind the noise. Busily tearing through the torrent of memories and thoughts between the two, I dig looking for a past sin worthy of what I will do to them, any sin at all… I find it ironic to harvest from both the innocent and the guilty, telling the guilty their list of crimes as I slowly extinguish their lives. The innocent I merely try and finish as quickly as possible.
Sure enough, I don’t have to go too far when digging. While Martha is only guilty of a few minor sins, petty theft, and lust, her husband is a man of both God and of the Devil, so to speak. An affluent hotel operator and devout Catholic, Mr. Donahue has apparently been campaigning against allowing homosexuals the right to marry in the state of New York, a campaign that has been steadily growing weaker as the days drag on.
Funny thing is, dear Billy boy is cheating on his wife with his assistant manager at his hotel, a man by the name of Arthur Lincoln. I smile at one of the empty compliments Martha gives me about my gift as I fight the urge to laugh at the irony. Sadly, poor Mr. Donahue would be a sad choice to harvest from. While not a smoker, he is a heavy drinker… perhaps a kidney or two?
He’s O positive, a universal donor…
“So what is it you do Mr. Salinger? Law? Accounting?” Bill asks me, adjusting his glasses on his nose, folding his arms across his chest.
“How utterly droll that would be! No, I’m but a humble jeweler that’s been blessed by Jehovah in regards to some investments I made early in life,” I reply, masking my slight twinge of annoyance at hearing this bigots thought. I sever the connection summarily, “Now I merely spend my days donating to charities and spending my spare time with various hobbies.”
“Well if you’re looking for a charity to donate to, I happen to be a part of a few that could always use some help…” Bill begins before I hold a hand up.
“I actually only donate to Jewish charities. Or Secular ones, if the mood strikes me.” I interrupt, smiling as his eyes bulge at my statement. “No offense, but I just don’t like donating to any Catholic organizations since all of those terrible cases of molestation have come to light.”
“How did you know we were Catho-” Martha begins before her blustering husband talks over her, waving a finger in my face.
“I am sick of hearing you people slandering the Catholic Church for things we’ve never done!” He seethes at me, his voice steadily growing louder. “Those were not cases of molestation, but homosexuality! Molestation and pedophilia can only be performed on prepubescent while most of the supposed victims were too old to be called that. These cases aren’t about pedophilic priests, but homosexuals.”
“Ah, like you?” I say with a slightly raised eyebrow.
Now his face is positively red as he moves even closer to me. “What did you say?”
“How is dear Arthur doing?” I ask, low and steady so that his wife cannot hear us over the beating music, a smile slowly spreading across my face as his face goes from beet red to ashen in mere moments. “If I recall you two were going to work ‘late’ again, but he was feeling a tad under the weather.”
“You… how…” Bill stutters, grasping at straws to try and come up with something to say to me, but in a room of drunken revelers and with his wife standing by his side, he has no ground with which to argue upon, let alone the safety net of like-minded individuals to back him up. Instead, he takes his wife’s hand and drags her through the crowd without a word, heading to the exit.
I merely smile as I pat the extra weight of my lifted wallets in my coat. I have almost a full month to finish our little conversation Mr, Donahue… I can wait, I think to myself as I sink back into the shadows and begin making my way to the exit myself. After what your Church supported, I think I’ll mix business with pleasure when I come calling for you.