“Listen, asshole,” Detective Izir growled to the frightened man on the other side of the interrogation room table. “I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with your brain, but you better jumpstart it quick because you’re completely fucking boned.”
“I…I don’t kn—” George stuttered, his voice cracking as if he were going through puberty a second time.
“Bullshit!” Izir thundered, slamming both palms down on the table hard enough to make both the suspect and his partner jump in fright. “We’ve got you on fucking camera and so much DNA evidence you must have bled, shit, jizzed, and fucking spit all over her!”
George Krotus began to cry. Detective Franklin took a step toward the table but her partner held up a hand to keep her on the periphery. Izir rose from his chair, eyes bloodshot with rage, his breath coming in raspy gasps as he fought to control his temper.
“I’m going to ask you one more fucking time,” he said, keeping his voice as steady as he could. “Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t do anything!” George screamed. “I was at home! I swear it on Heavenly Father!”
Detective Izir opened his mouth to lay out a number of threats he planned to turn into promises but his partner grabbed him by the bicep. He looked back at Franklin with just enough sanity to keep from lashing out at her. She shook her head then gestured with a hand to step away and let her work on the suspect. Izir closed his eyes, counted silently to five, then stepped away from the table and took up a position near the two-way glass.
“Mr. Krotus?” Franklin asked, her tone as gentle as a mother’s when comforting a child after a nightmare. “I’m Detective Dakota Franklin, the co-investigator on this case. I apologize for Detective Izir’s outbursts, but you have to understand that he’s extremely upset.”
Franklin slid a manila folder from the edge of the table to the middle. She opened the cover and spun the folder around so George could see the crime scene photographs. She did her best to keep her eyes on the suspect. The glossy 8×10 photos were too disturbing, too inhumane for even the most jaded, desensitized investigators to look at without feeling sick to their stomachs.
“Look at the photos, Mr. Krotus,” she said gently, separating four of them from the stack then spreading them out on the table.
“I-I-I-c-c-caaan’t!” George wailed, closing his eyes tightly before turning his head away.
“You can,” Franklin said with the same sweet gentleness. “Your time on Death Row is already predicted to be the shortest since the days of frontier justice. If you didn’t do it, then you don’t want to die for someone else’s crime, do you?”
“But I didn’t do th-th-that!”
“Then why can we watch you commit this horrible crime and why was our forensic team able to pull enough of your DNA from the victim to have an undeniable match?”
“I don’t know!” George shrieked.
“Watch the fucking video again!” Izir shouted, rushing to the table.
He turned the laptop around and hit play then went around to stand behind the suspect. Franklin watched her partner, worried he was about to go too far—to the point Krotus’ case might get tossed on a technicality. Izir palmed George’s head with one hand and used his finger and thumb to force the man’s eyes open.
“That’s you,” Izir growled as a man in the video knocked on the door of an apartment. “Don’t even tell me that’s not you. You’re wearing the same fuckin’ clothes!”
George shook violently, unable to close his eyes or turn his head away from the video. He began to moan when the scene switched to another camera and he watched himself lead an attractive woman to a bed. His moans became howls of pain when Franklin fast-forwarded the video. Izir watched his partner while she watched the suspect’s face.
“You tied her up, beat and raped her, then slit her throat,” Izir said calmly, keeping his eyes locked on his partner so he wouldn’t have to watch the horror show for the tenth time.
He let go of George’s head when the video stopped. Izir’s years as a detective in the Violent Crimes Division had hardened him to both the grisly aftermath of vicious attacks as well as the protestations of the perpetrators accused of them. His only sympathy for George Krotus stemmed from the fact the man had probably realized just how evil his crime had been and refused to believe he’d done it.
George Krotus, 34, male white, owner of Krotus Logistics, seemed as unlikely a rapist-murderer as could possibly be. Izir knew that if he hadn’t watched the man commit the crime on high definition security footage, there was no way he would believe he had the correct suspect sweating bullets in the precinct’s interrogation room. The forensic techs assured him and Detective Franklin that the victim had more than enough DNA from the perp to make it a slam dunk case. But something chewed away at the back of his mind.
“Listen, George,” Izir said after taking a deep breath. “Just confess to the crime and save the state of Utah a big chunk of taxpayer money. You’re going to get the death penalty no matter what you say, but come on… we all know you did it.”
“I didn’t,” George croaked after getting his own storm of emotions under control.
“Yes, George, you did,” Franklin said. “Or do you want to watch the video again?”
“I didn’t do that! I would never do that!”
“Then who did?” Izir asked. He hoped George wouldn’t launch into a fantastical story that would convince a jury he wasn’t mentally fit to stand trial.
“I can’t tell you,” George whispered.
“What?” Izir asked.
“I can’t tell you,” George repeated, his eyes nervously roaming back and forth between the two detective’s faces.
“Sure you can, Mr. Krotus,” Franklin said as if encouraging an infant to take his first steps. “Just tell us who did it so we can clear your name.”
Izir leaned over the table, his nose only inches from George’s. The two stared at each other for ten seconds before the suspect blinked. Izir knew real fear when he saw it, and George Krotus was so full of it he looked ready to burst into a bloody explosion.
“I swear to fucking god if you don’t tell me who the man in that video is, if it isn’t you, then I’m going to put my fucking finger in your fucking eye until it bursts,” Izir said in a low, dangerous voice.
“It…” George said then clamped his mouth shut. His eyes bulged as if someone had pumped his skull full of air. “It’s J—”
George’s eyes burst, spraying Izir with a mixture of blood, brains, and clear fluids. The scream that erupted from George’s mouth was cut off by a jet of blood that erupted from his throat. The sticky, almost black liquid coated the table, pictures, and the laptop as if someone had thrown a can of paint on them. Izir stumbled back, a shriek of surprise escaping his own throat.
“What the fuck?” he screamed.
“Jesus Christ,” Franklin whispered, her body unable to respond to the commands to move that her brain desperately repeated over and over. “Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ Jesus Jesus Jesus fucking Christ.”
“We need an ambulance!” Izir shouted into the intercom near the door. He pounded on the two-way glass with both fists, leaving bloody splotches and streaks. “Now, goddammit!”
He looked back at George Krotus. George remained upright, a small trickle of blood leaking from his left eye socket. A bloody burp escaped the suspect’s mouth then his head hit the table with a solid thump. Izir finally broke his own paralysis and grabbed Franklin by the shoulders.
“Dakota!” he said forcefully while shaking her. “Detective!”
“Oh my god,” she said then looked at her partner’s face. “Oh my god, Hamad, what just happened?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted then glanced toward the table. “I don’t know,” he repeated again.
The door flew open and half a dozen uniformed officers rushed in followed by Detective Sergeant Casey and Lt. Hammond.
“Ambulance is on the way,” Sgt. Casey said, his eyes locked to the table. “What the fuck happened in here?”
“I do—” Izir began before Lt. Hammond cut him off.
“Don’t say a word, Detective,” she advised. “Don’t say a word until your reps get here.”
“Lieutenant…” Franklin said. “You can’t honestly think we—”
“Shut your goddamn mouth, Detective!” Hammond shouted. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but you need to just zip it, both of you, until your reps are here.” She looked away from the grisly scene at the table to the two detectives covered in blood. “Just shut up, okay?”
“Detective Izir, we’ve reviewed the footage from Interview Room Two,” Detective Pena said to the man across the desk from him. “While your interview techniques are… a bit beyond the department’s standards, I assure you that after going over the initial criminal report and video evidence against George Krotus, I’m sympathetic to your momentary lapse into unprofessionalism.”
“Fuck you,” Izir growled. “I didn’t kill him.”
“Careful, Detective,” James Hightower said, touching Izir on the arm. “Remember where we are.”
“I don’t give a shit!” Izir exclaimed. “And yeah, Krotus fuckin’ murdered that girl after raping her, but it didn’t cause me to make his goddamn head explode!”
“Calm down, Detective,” Pena said, holding up a hand. “I’m just saying that it’s probably the most horrific thing I’ve ever had to watch, so I can understand why you went overboard. But I also watched the video of what happened in Two, and I agree, neither you nor Detective Franklin are responsible for what happened to Krotus.”
“Then why the hell am I still here?” Izir asked.
“Procedure,” Pena answered. “Krotus’ family is going to have a lot of questions.”
“Fuck them,” Izir growled.
“No, not ‘fuck them.’ They’re damn sure going to blame you and Detective Franklin for this, so how about we worry what kind of shitstorm they are going to cause? Tell me again what happened.”
“I already told you five times! I’m sure Dakota has told you the same exact thing the same amount of times I already have!”
Pena sighed. “She has, and you have as well. I’m not questioning you because I think you’re guilty. I’m questioning you because this shit has the entire department spooked. And now this asshole Reverend Ryerson is posting all over the internet how he used his divine power to punish a sinner.”
“Who the fuck is Reverend Ryerson?” Izir asked in confusion.
“Jesus, Izir, don’t you pay attention to the news?” Hightower asked.
“I’m sorry if I’m too busy trying to solve homicides and sexual assaults,” Izir countered.
“Reverend Ryerson of The Church of the Holy Ascent,” Pena said. When Izir gave him a blank look, he shook his head. “The cult leader down near Nephi who has the compound built into the hillside? Ran into trouble with the FBI and the Juab County Sheriff’s Department a year ago?”
“Maybe,” Izir said. “What the hell does he have to do with this?”
“Reverend Ryerson seems to know too many details of exactly what happened in Two,” Pena said. “Exact details that could only come from him watching the same footage I did—unless you or Detective Franklin called him up and gave him a detailed report of the incident?”
“I don’t get it,” Izir said, turning his head toward his union rep. “What the hell is he talking about? Did someone leak the tape?”
“No,” Hightower said. “But he’s posting all over social media about it as if he were in the room with you.”
“Is he some kind of hacker or something?” Izir asked, still puzzled as to how anyone else could know the details of George Krotus’ eyes exploding.
Pena chuckled. “No, and while The Church of the Holy Ascent is a modern cult and likely has a hacker or two as a disciple, IT has checked all of the IP addresses coming in and there isn’t a single byte of evidence that the station’s systems were compromised. It would actually be a pretty impressive hack since the internal CCTV cameras are not connected to any computer with a network connection. It’s a true closed loop, the best kind of security. Which leaves us with a leaker.”
“And you think I or Franklin leaked a copy of the video we’ve seen once and never had access to other than when Internal Affairs showed it to us?” Izir asked.
“No,” Pena admitted. “Which makes the mystery even greater. Ryerson claims to have Heavenly Father on his side, and those claims have grown bolder over the last two years. First it was just God’s voice telling him how to build up his flock. Then it was the healing touch. It’s morphed to divine power these days.”
“So… you believe this Ryerson has godly powers? Enough to somehow scry or hack or whatever to see the footage?”
“Good lord, no,” Pena said. Hightower shook his head as well. “The man is a joke, as is his cult. I can’t believe you haven’t heard about these assholes. He runs around preaching to anyone who will listen and uses the internet as a recruiting tool to scam idiots into joining up. Free love, free legal weed, polygamy, who knows what they’re promised.”
“Okay… I still don’t get it,” Izir said.
“He’s a doomsday type,” Hightower said. “Says the world is coming to an end, Armageddon, all that good stuff. FBI and Juab County tried to nab him on weapons charges as they’re sure he’s got enough weapons and gear in that mountain complex to equip a small army. They didn’t find shit other than five or six dumbasses wanted on outstanding warrants.”
“I’m sure that made the Feds happy,” Izir said. He knew the FBI hated to look like inept fools.
“Don’t worry. Ryerson and his cult are likely number one or two on their shit list,” Hightower said with a laugh.
“No doubt,” Izir said. He looked at Pena. “What does this have to do with what actually happened to George Krotus?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Pena said. “I know you and Franklin and every other cop in the world hates Internal Affairs, but I can honestly tell you this is the one time we’re actually on your side and not trying to fuck you.”
“Sure,” Izir said with a grin. “And I’m gonna rush to the bank and take a loan out for that bridge you’re selling.”
“I’m deadly serious, Detective,” Pena said. “A man’s eyes exploded then he vomited blood like a firehose. Don’t you think that’s a bit strange?”
“Strange doesn’t even begin to cover it.”
“What do you think happened?”
“Like I said, I made him watch the video, but he just kept going on and on about how it wasn’t him—like he knew for sure it wasn’t him but couldn’t tell us who the real perp was. We decided to humor him just to see if he would talk but he suddenly acted like he couldn’t tell us. When we kept at him—after I threatened to pop one of his eyeballs with my thumb—he just… I don’t know. One second he was scared to death, the next I was blind from his eyes popping a few inches from my face. Then he just blew an artery or something and puked up all that blood.”
“It’s the same statement he’s given you six times now, Detective Pena,” Hightower said.
“I’m aware of that,” Pena said curtly.
“Well, it isn’t going to change, so stop asking like you’re going to trip me up,” Izir said.
“I’m not trying to trip you up, Detective Izir. I’m trying to figure out just how the hell this happened.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“So, I got a call-back from Weber County Sheriff,” Franklin said after sitting down across from her partner. “It’s a bit interesting, to say the least.”
“Yeah?” Izir asked, looking up from a report he was working on. “Did they solve our case for us?”
Franklin chuckled, then her face became serious. “No, but there’s a definite link between Krotus and Reverend James Wesley Ryerson of the Church of the Holy Ascent.”
Izir dropped his pen and focused his attention on her. The trauma of George Krotus’ eyes and carotid artery bursting within seconds of each other hadn’t dissipated yet. In fact, it had only grown more traumatic over the last three days, culminating in Izir being shaken awake by his wife after he sat bolt upright in bed and began screaming as if his leg had been caught in an industrial gear wheel.
“Do tell,” Izir said, trying his best to once more figure out how the two were connected.
“Krotus Logistics is the company who initially designed and built the Church’s website,” Franklin said.
“Okay…” Izir said, his brow furrowing in puzzlement.
“The Church and Krotus had some sort of falling out,” Franklin continued. “Three civil lawsuits were filed. One by the Church, one by Ryerson, and a countersuit by George Krotus himself.”
“Not the company?” Izir asked.
“Nope,” Franklin said, leaning back in her chair. “It was personal, according to David over at the courthouse. He gave me a the gist of it and I’m waiting on the paperwork to arrive. Short story is that Ryerson and the Church first refused to pay for the work done, then when Krotus filed a lien, Ryerson himself visited Krotus’ home in Ogden. Apparently Ryerson convinced Krotus’ wife, DeAnna, to pack a bag for her and their two children and ride back to Nephi with him.”
“What?” Izir asked in surprise. The story hadn’t gone anywhere near where he had guessed it would. “She just up and left with the kids, climbed in the cult van or whatever, and took off with him? Did Ryerson drug her? Threaten her?”
“Not that anyone could tell. Krotus has a security camera on the porch, and while it doesn’t record sound, the footage of the event is pretty clear that Ryerson simply talked to her after she came to the door to see what her husband was arguing about. I’ll get the footage along with the court filings, but David spoke to one of the responding officers who arrived just after Ryerson, DeAnna, and the kids drove off. Deputy says that Krotus kept going on and on about how Ryerson ‘bewitched’ his wife with words, maybe with his eyes.”
“Christ,” Izir grumbled. “So a nutty cult leader somehow bamboozled a web design geek into thinking he had magic powers? Or was infused with the power of Jesus?”
Franklin shrugged and frowned. “Like I said, I’ll have all the details soon, but David said it was like watching a car wreck into a fuel tanker, then a tank rolled over the flaming wreckage only to be annihilated by a 747 slamming into the whole mess.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t any violence? That Cult-y used sorcery on Krotus’ wife?”
“Yeah, I just mean that the level of hatred between the two parties went from World War Three to World War Four, then Five, then went off the charts. I mean, you can imagine how you’d feel if a smug-sounding, ultra-righteous asshole stood on your porch and somehow convinced Myra to pack a bag and run off to his compound.”
“Fucker would have been driving to the nearest hospital with a dozen bullets in him,” Izir growled. “So how does this tie into what happened in Two?” Izir shuddered at the sudden mental replay of events in Interview Room Two.
“That’s still a mystery,” Franklin said with a sigh. “David only gave me the quick run-down from dealing with the court filings, and from running into the Weber County deputy who was on-scene when the deputy was in the courthouse for another case.”
“Think Sarge will give us the okay to head down to Nephi and talk to Ryerson?” Izir asked.
“I don’t know,” Franklin answered. “Everyone is pretty freaked out by what happened. Whispers about how you and I murdered Krotus have morphed into a dozen different versions of events, and Sergeant Casey kept backing away from me when I tried to talk to him yesterday, like I was gonna burst his eyes with my mind.”
Izir barked laughter, but inside he burned with anger. He had noticed the same treatment from his colleagues over the last day or so. The only ones who didn’t seem to think he and Franklin were spooky or vengeful were the shitheads from Internal Affairs, which made the situation even worse since no one had a single ounce of love for IA.
“What about Krotus’ neighbors?” Izir asked.
“I doubt we’ll get anything new or interesting from them,” Franklin answered. “Most didn’t see what happened, and I imagine any other security footage from neighbors would show the same thing.”
“So… how the fuck did Ryerson entice the wife and kids to leave with him? Is there some kind of connection there, like they went to school together, dated once, anything like that?”
“Doesn’t seem to be a single connection other than the Church of the Holy Ascent hired Krotus Logistics to build their website, then refused to pay, which led to a lien, which led to the encounter on Krotus’ porch, which then led to three lawsuits.”
“Which then led to Krotus murdering an innocent college student in the most horrific way possible,” Izir said, scratching his neck. “Which doesn’t make any sense at all. Unless, and this is waaaay out in left field, unless Ryerson told George Krotus he could have his wife and kids back if he bound, raped, then murdered Alicia Donnington.”
“That’s not even in left field,” Franklin said. “Then again, we’ve seen some shit in our time, right?”
Izir nodded, thinking of a few cases that were bizarre but not actually surprising for the fact that love or lust had been involved. Both detectives knew the heart was a fragile thing, and when broken, fueled the most extreme emotions, including rage and jealousy.
“But you don’t buy it,” Izir said, not framing it as a question.
“Maybe. Mostly no, Krotus seemed like a man who avoided violence his entire life, choosing to bury himself in computer code instead of interacting with the seedier side of the Wasatch Valley. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t capable of some truly horrific shit, but I didn’t get that vibe at all. The man was scared. More scared than anyone I’ve ever encountered before, especially at the end…”
“Agreed,” Izir said, shuddering once again as Krotus’ eyes burst inches from his within his mind. He shook his head. “What about Alicia Donnington? Is there a connection with Krotus?”
“Fremont and Gonzales aren’t supposed to say shit to us,” Franklin said. “Gonzales pretends he’s not freaked out by me, by us, by what happened, but it’s plain as day on his face. Alexis… She and I went to Arizona State together, and though she’s a bit standoffish suddenly, she, like Gonzales, knows this should be our case. They’ve checked Alicia’s social media accounts, emails, and interviewed her dorm mates as well as her family. Nothing with Krotus, none have ever heard of him or his company, but interestingly enough, it appears Alicia joined up with the Church of the Holy Ascent last year.”
“Interesting,” Izir said, more to himself than to his partner.
“She skipped a semester at U of U and lived at a boarding house in Nephi, but came back to Salt Lake within two months. It’s doubtful anyone from the Church or the residents of Nephi will tell us anything, and according to her friends at college, she never talked about what happened. Never posted anything negative about the Church on her social media timelines either. The only hint she gave was a Facebook post saying she was glad to be home and was ready to begin the next semester.”
“Her family?” Izir asked.
“Fremont says they didn’t even know she’d skipped a semester until they were interviewed. Looks like Alicia blocked them from either seeing her social media at all, or specifically blocked the post about being glad to be home.”
“Jesus, it’s like a spiral that never leads to the center, it just keeps spiraling.”
Franklin opened her mouth to agree but was interrupted by the phone on her desk. She answered it, gave two short replies, then hung up.
“Looks like the verdict is in,” she said, standing up. “Come on, the executioner awaits.”
“Have a seat, detectives,” Lieutenant Hammond said, her voice devoid of any hints as to what she would say next. “You know Detective Pena and Detective Anderson from IA,” she said, gesturing toward the two IA officers seated near the end of the conference table.
Izir and Franklin nodded to them after taking their chairs at the opposite end of the table. Izir was thankful that Sergeant Casey was present and had given him a stealthy wink, but he was apprehensive that Captain Childress seemed to be giving him a stare that promised a slow, agonizing death. He felt a light squeeze on his elbow from his partner that was supposed to reassure him that their punishment would be less severe than what either of them had feared would be handed down.
“Detectives Franklin, Izir,” Pena said after standing up. “You can both wipe those looks off your faces.” He grinned as both detectives blinked a few times in surprise. “The Department is clearing you of all suspicion concerning George Krotus’ death.”
Izir closed his eyes and expelled the breath he’d been holding. Franklin squeezed his elbow again but didn’t let go.
“Detectives,” Captain Childress said after Pena sat down, “I don’t know any more than you or anyone else who watched the video of what happened in Two. While I can’t say I approve of Detective Izir’s handling of Mr. Krotus during the interview, I am more than satisfied that neither of you caused his death.” He frowned at Izir first, then Franklin. “Unless either of you wish to take this moment to admit that one or both of you are wizards or have been possessed by demons?”
“Sir…” Franklin started, but was cut off by a wave of the captain’s hand.
“It was supposed to be a joke,” Childress said. “A joke in poor taste, I suppose, but dammit, that seems to be the only other explanation.”
“Maybe it’s Reverend Ryerson who is a wizard,” Izir said without a hint of humor.
“Or a demon,” Pena added, surprising everyone.
“You’re not buying into this shit too, are you?” Lt. Hammond asked. Her expression explicitly spelled out her feelings on the rumors that had been spreading like wildfire throughout the Violent Crimes Division over the last three days, and had likely found their way into every corner of the Salt Lake City Police Department.
“No, ma’am,” Pena said respectfully. “I’m as baffled as everyone else. But at this point, there’s nothing else to go on.”
“Should we put out an APB for a wizard-demon?” Hammond asked.
The room was silent for an uncomfortable length of time as the others tried to determine if Lt. Hammond was joking or not. She finally cracked a small smile, but it was immediately replaced by her signature frown.
“At this moment, no,” Pena answered, just in case she had been serious. “But I do recommend that Detectives Franklin and Izir work this case with Detectives Fremont and Gonzales. They’re intimately familiar with the Krotus aspect, and Fremont and Gonzales have been working the Ryerson angle, along with interviewing the victim’s family and classmates.”
“Do we really need four VCD detectives working on this?” Sergeant Casey asked, unhappy that it might put a severe strain on the rest of his personnel’s caseload.
“Honestly,” Pena said with a shrug, “I don’t know. I think it’s a good idea. Something doesn’t sit right with me, and I can tell by looking at Hamid and Dakota that it most definitely doesn’t sit right with them.”
“Me either, Detective Pena, but what you’re asking means I’ll be out four detectives, and we’re already backed up as it is.”
“I understand, Sergeant,” Pena answered. “At least for a few days, let them see what they can find out. None of us believe in magic or that Jesus has imbued Ryerson with supernatural abilities, which means there has to be a mundane explanation for what happened in Two. More importantly, the Donnington family needs some kind of closure, if possible, as to why their daughter was murdered in such a fashion. Krotus, like any man, was capable of it, but I’m with Izir and Franklin that he was more scared of naming the hand pushing the pieces around the board than he was of facing a jury and an execution date.”
“Special Agent Myers has offered to let Fremont and Gonzales see what they’ve picked up on wiretaps and surveillance,” Captain Childress said. “The FBI have been after Ryerson for a couple of years, and their hackles are raised even further because of what happened to Donnington and Krotus. He’d especially like to interview the two of you,” he said, nodding toward Izir and Franklin.
“Another interrogation?” Franklin asked. “Pena and his crew already wrung us out like a wet rag.”
“Well then, the FBI wants to get the last few drops from you,” Childress countered. “You’ll do it, both because I told you you’ll do it, and because playing nice with the Feds will help Fremont and Gonzales—and thereby yourselves.”
“Yes, sir,” Izir said. Unlike a lot of other cops, he had nothing against the Feds, having taken the interview to become one himself before being hired by the Salt Lake City Police Department.
“Keep us informed,” Lt. Hammond commanded. “Everyone is spooked. Whatever happened in Two and whatever Krotus did to Alicia Donnington is only half of it now. Reverend Ryerson has ramped up his rhetoric and threats, especially since he believes he’s untouchable.”
“Is he?” Franklin asked. “Hamad and I want to go down to Nephi and see if we can get anyone to talk.”
“Make a wide berth around Ryerson for now,” Captain Childress ordered. “The Feds are so far up Ryerson’s ass that they can smell what he’s about to eat. They’ll not take kindly to a couple of SLCPD hicks stomping around inside their territory. Stick to the Valley and work on Krotus, Donnington, and anything else that’s local. Fremont and Gonzales will work the Nephi parts while dealing with the FBI.”
“Apologies, sir,” Franklin said defensively, “but what the fuck?”
“Stuff it,” Sergeant Casey said, the warning in his voice a clear message to Detective Franklin to drop it. “Do as you’re told. But since you’ll keep that look on your face until I give you a better reason than ‘because we told you so,’ the reason we want to keep you as far away from Ryerson and his cult as possible is because you’re likely a target for them if you go poking your nose around down there.”
“A target?” Franklin asked.
“Ryerson knows too much about what happened to Krotus, which means he knows exactly who you two are. Whatever feud happened between Krotus and Ryerson caused a girl’s murder. And even though none of us believe in supernatural shit, it’s too risky to kick a hornet’s nest at this moment.”
“You don’t seriously believe he’ll try to use some voodoo shit on us and make our eyes explode, do you?” Izir asked, doing his best to keep both disbelief and rising annoyance out of his tone.
“I don’t know what he or his cult will do,” Casey replied. “Neither do you. They’ve got over a thousand faithful, according to the FBI. And that’s just down in Juab County. They could have ten thousand more acolytes on the internet, and it’s not a stretch to think Ryerson or his goons wouldn’t dox you to them anonymously.” He held up his hand to forestall Izir’s protest. “Yeah, you two aren’t afraid, and all of that. But cult crazies are unpredictable, and you both know it. There’s no direct threat against either of you, or anyone within the department that we know of, but let’s not give them a reason to put a bullseye on any of us. We’re already in the middle of a shitstorm over Alicia Donnington and George Krotus. Too many Utahns believe you two killed him in revenge, and thanks to the internet, too many Americans believe it. It’s not like we’re going to release the video of what actually happened, and we’ve already filed a writ with Judge Stevens to block any Freedom of Information bullshit.”
“Of which the ACLU has already filed two motions,” Lt. Hammond grunted.
“We’re in the middle of a shit sandwich, Detectives,” Captain Childress said, standing up to let everyone know the meeting was over. “Try your best to keep it from spilling out of the bread, and we’ll do our best to keep any of us from having to eat it.”
Izir and Franklin stood outside of the modest middle class family home on Northmont Way, in the Greater Avenues section of northeast Salt Lake City. The dozen police cruisers and three unmarked sedans stood out in the fading sunlight, along with two firetrucks, an ambulance, the Coroner’s van, and two white utility vans that the forensic teams drove. He glanced down the street to take in the growing number of residents who had come outside to see what the commotion was. As far as he could tell, all of the adults were Mormons, based on their facial features. Dakota had given him hell many times over the years they had worked together when it came to his ability to guess whether or not someone was LDS simply by looking at their faces. More often than not he had been right, which annoyed his partner greatly, though both had laughed about it enough that he now gave her his predictions just to aggravate her.
“Super Momo neighborhood,” he said quietly after turning back to his partner.
“God, Hamad,” she said with an exasperated sigh. “Not now.”
“I’m just saying,” he answered without a hint of humor. “Greater Avenues, nice houses, tons of kids, names like Young, Smith, Hatch, Heider—” he pointed to the custom-crafted mailbox in front of the victim’s house, “—and the name of our victim: Enos Isaiah Mecham.”
“Okay, so what?” she asked as they were handed coverings for their shoes.
“Pretty nice neighborhood is all I’m saying. Nice, quiet, friendly, Mormon neighborhood in a nice part of town. How many murders have we worked out here?”
“None that I know of,” she answered. “Maybe two that I can remember in the department over the last decade or two?”
“The victim owns two used car dealerships in the city, wife, five kids, faithful church attendee…”
“Okay, so the victim is a good Mormon who lives in a nice house and has the typical million kids,” she said, taking the lead toward the front door. “What’s your point? Good Mormons get murdered once in a while. Maybe not in this area, but it happens. Same as jack Mormons, Catholics, atheists, and even Muslims like yourself.”
“Fuck you,” he grumbled, though couldn’t help the grin that found its way to his lips. “I’m more atheist than you.”
“Allah is going to punish you for that,” she said, then ducked under the police tape before he could do more than growl at her.
Both immediately came to a halt just inside the doorway. The white ceramic tile foyer was covered in blood, along with two wide streaks on the wall to their right. Franklin shook her head then nodded toward the kitchen, where they could see more blood covering the countertops, the refridgerator, and the small section of the gas range that wasn’t blocked from their view by a wall. They tiptoed their way forward, stopping just outside the kitchen. Izir felt the contents of his stomach shift. The kitchen had even more blood than the hallway, enough that he wondered if multiple victims had been murdered.
“Can a body have that much blood in it?” Franklin asked, as if reading his mind.
“Was just thinking the same thing,” he whispered, unsure of why he felt the need to keep his voice low. “Danny said there was only one victim, but this looks like an entire family was whacked.”
“Mrs. Mecham and the kids are up in Idaho Falls for the weekend,” Detective Gonzales said from the living room, having overheard their conversation. “We’ve got ISP at her mother’s house right now, and everyone but Enos is accounted for.”
“Alibi?” Izir asked, already knowing the answer.
“They’ve been there since Thursday night,” Detective Fremont said, appearing from a bedroom behind her partner. “ISP troopers have confirmed it from the wife’s phone and the eldest teenage daughter’s. Kid has been posting on Facebook and Instagram since they left the house Thursday about how bored she is, how ugly eastern Idaho is, typical teenage whining. But it all checks out.”
“More interesting than that,” Gonzales said, “is that there’s a camera in the bedroom that caught the final act of this tragedy.”
“Really?” Franklin asked. She knew most Mormons had security cameras that pointed at their porches and driveways, but almost none wanted them inside their houses.
“Funny thing, that,” Fremont said with a wry grin. “There was one in the living room as well.” She pointed to the evidence bag on the floor near her partner’s feet. “Whoever did this, they used the wireless cam to follow the victim room to room, then shot the actual… murder from two different angles in the bedroom.”
“Why the pause?” Izir asked, unable to pry his gaze from what had to be gallons of blood splashed about the floors and walls.
“You two will appreciate the answer to that more than anyone else,” Gonzales said with a grin. He, along with Fremont, had warmed back up to Izir and Franklin over the last two weeks as they worked together to unravel the mystery of George Krotus, Alicia Donnington, and the Church of the Holy Ascent. “Or maybe not.”
“Don’t be cryptic, goddammit,” Izir said.
“It’s like George Krotus: Part Two,” Fremont said, her face dark with a mix of horror, fear, and anger.
“No fucking way,” Franklin said. “Mecham’s eyes burst then he ran around spraying blood from his mouth everywhere?”
“Not quite exactly like Krotus, but also much, much worse. We’ll give you from now until we get back to the station to prepare yourselves for what you’re going to see on the camera’s memory card.”
“Let me guess,” Izir said. “The perp didn’t hide his or her face at all, right? Just like Krotus? As if they wanted us to see exactly who did the killing?”
“He even smiled for the camera before holding up his driver’s license,” Gonzales said, as if he couldn’t believe it either.
“You’re fucking kidding, right?” Franklin asked. “Right?” she asked again when neither detective answered.
“Come see the results,” Fremont said. “Careful, step over there and come along the wall unless you want blood to soak right through those slips.”
Izir and Franklin carefully picked their way across the carpet, stepping along the wall to keep the covers on their shoes from becoming bloody rags. Franklin peeked around the corner when she arrived at the bedroom door, then stepped back so quickly that Izir had to grab her arm with both hands before she fell into the mostly dried pool of blood soaking the living room carpet. He could feel her entire body shaking, as if she were freezing in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.
“What?” he asked, but she couldn’t answer, could only shake her head and blink her eyes quickly to stem the flow of tears that threatened to burst forth. “What the hell, Dakota? What’s in there?”
She refused to answer, instead pointing toward the bedroom then stepping around him to let him take the lead. Izir looked back to Fremont and Gonzales, who stood still watching them, but neither said a word, their expressions as blank as any veteran homicide detective could muster. He grunted and stepped to the doorway, slowly leaning his head in just in case whatever had shocked his partner would give him a horror movie jump-scare.
Izir’s stomach almost let loose this time. His left eye twitched furiously as he took in the scene. After a few seconds, he remembered to breathe, but once again he was unable to look away from the absolute carnage that had once been Enos Isaiah Mecham. In the middle of the queen-sized bed lay Enos Mecham, feet near the headboard pillows, headless torso near the opposite end. Izir squinted to get a better look without stepping into the house of horrors. Mecham’s head hadn’t been cleanly severed. To Izir, it looked as if someone had stuffed a grenade in Mecham’s mouth and pulled the pin. The jagged edges of neck skin contrasted the white bones of Mecham’s spine.
Izir stepped back into the living room, not caring if he stepped through an entire lake of blood to get away from the shocking brutality of Enos Mecham’s murder. Franklin caught him, repaying the favor from a few seconds earlier. The urge both of them felt to hug each other, to hold each other for as long as it took to rid their minds of the terrible scene was strong, but neither wanted to be the butt of even more jokes and rumors, nor did they want to listen to their colleagues catcall them with joking insults for the next few months for being weak and squeamish.
“It’s all on camera?” Izir asked after regaining control of his sanity, his ability to think clearly.
“Unfortunately, yes,” Gonzales said softly. He and Fremont had suffered their own moment of insanity after peeking into the bedroom, then again after checking the memory card on one of the portable, wireless cameras. “High definition, 4k resolution.”
“Jesus Christ,” Izir said, feeling faint once more. “I assume there’s an APB for the perp?”
“County deputies picked him up at home just as you two arrived,” Gonzales said. “Wasn’t too hard, since the dumbass held his ID up to the camera.”
“Anyone we know?” Franklin asked.
“Gavin Long, 1288 West 900 South,” Gonzales answered. “Male, white, age twenty-eight.”
“Toss-up, but honestly, I don’t think that’s the important factor here.”
“True,” Izir said. “But it might be. It’s better than thinking the guy is a wizard-demon.”
“Why can’t it just be homicidal rage over wife-swapping or infidelity or embezzlement?” Franklin asked, her face finally regaining its color.
“We’ll hopefully find out soon enough,” Fremont said. “Gonzo and I want you two to do the interview.”
“Why us?” Izir asked.
“Just in case Mr. Gavin Long is a wizard-demon,” Gonzales said with a smile, but Izir sensed a nervousness that his colleague tried to hide.
“Gavin David Long,” Izir said to the young man sitting across from him.
“Yes,” Gavin said, glancing nervously from Izir to Franklin.
“Age twenty-eight? 1288 West 900 South, Salt Lake City?” Franklin asked.
“Gavin, tell me what happened today.”
“What happened?” Gavin asked, visibly trembling in his seat. “What do you mean?”
“You know what we mean, Gavin,” Izir said, deciding to hold his rage in check this time in hopes of avoiding a repeat of George Krotus.
“I—I… I was at work until four, then I went home. You can check with Mr. Sanders at the site. We was putting drywall up in the new strip mall at East 4500 and State. Across from the tire shop, next to the E-Z Pawn.”
“Sure,” Izir said, as if the two were old friends catching up. “Then what happened?”
“You keep asking ‘what happened’ as if aliens or government agents got me,” Gavin said nervously.
“Did aliens or government agents swoop in and scoop you up?” Izir asked. Gavin shook his head. “Okay, then what did you do after getting home from work?”
“Nothing! I cracked a beer and played some Call of Duty on the Xbox.”
“Are you sure about that, Gavin?” Franklin asked.
“You mean did I get drunk and forget what I did after coming home?”
“Gavin, what were you doing up in Greater Avenues?” she asked, ignoring his question.
“Greater what? I wasn’t nowhere near those Momo snobs. I told you, I was playing Call of Duty, having a beer.”
“Gavin, just stop, okay?” Izir said, failing to keep the anger out of his voice. “We know you were up on Northmont Way at 6:30 P.M.”
“What? Bullshit! I was home!”
“Don’t fucking lie to me!” Izir thundered, making the young man nearly jump out of his chair. “We have you on video at Enos Mecham’s house on Northmont Way.”
“No…” Gavin said, his voice trailing off. His face was a mask of confusion and terror, as if he had suddenly remembered the unspeakable violence he had committed.
“Yes!” Izir yelled. “Would you like to see it? See what you did?”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Gavin said in a small, distant voice.
“You know you did, Gavin,” Franklin said, nodding to her partner to let her take the lead for a moment. “But let’s go ahead and refresh your memory, okay?”
“I don’t think I want to,” Gavin said, his voice sounding as if it came from the bottom of a deep well. “I think I need a lawyer.”
“You’re going to need one that specializes in death penalty cases,” Franklin said gently. “But you already know this, don’t you?”
“I want a lawyer!” Gavin shouted.
“Sure, we’ll get one headed this way,” Izir said. “But first, you’re going to watch yourself in action. If you still think a lawyer will be of any help after that, then we’ll let you stew in this room all by yourself until he or she gets here.”
Gavin let out a strangled moan when Franklin turned the laptop toward him and clicked the Play button. The young man’s eyes bulged with horror as he watched himself enter Mecham’s house without knocking, turn the wireless camera he had been carrying toward the living room, then enter the victim’s bedroom with the second camera in hand. Neither detective wanted to watch the video again, having suffered through three viewings of it already. Gavin looked like he might not make it through an initial screening based on how ashen his skin had become.
He let out a pained wail as he watched himself yank Enos Mecham from the bed then sliced Mecham’s nose off with a razor knife. Mecham’s ears were next, followed by dozens of cuts as Gavin chased him through the living room and kitchen. Blood spurted from a dozen wounds as Mecham ran toward the front door. The forensic techs were as confused as the detectives had been as to how Gavin had made Mecham’s blood erupt like a volcano blowing its top. Gavin nearly fell from his chair when Mecham slipped in a pool of blood near the front door.
The spray of blood from Mecham’s forehead after slamming into a small table in the hallway was straight out of a low budget horror movie. When video Gavin reached down and yanked his victim from the floor as effortlessly as picking up a stuffed animal, both detectives watched in fascination as the Gavin in the chair across from them mimicked the motion with his own hand. Gavin realized what he was doing and began to cry. Izir banged his palm on the table and pointed to the laptop to make sure Gavin continued to watch himself on the screen.
“No… NO!” Gavin screamed when the video of him shifted back to the bedroom and he arranged a barely conscious Enos Mecham on the bed.
He watched himself lean down and speak to Mecham, then step back and clap his hands together once. The instant his palms connected, Mecham’s head exploded into a million shards of blood, bone, and brains.
“Nooooooo!” he screamed.
He shoved the laptop off the table, then tried to jam his fingers into his eyes. Izir had been watching closely, and caught the young man’s hands before they could do more than scratch one of his cheeks.
“No! No! Fuck you!” he screamed as he struggled to break free of the detective’s grip. “Fuck you! You sinner! You fucking chud! You’ll pay! Gafalta will—”
His words were interrupted by a deep growl that came from nowhere and everywhere at once. Izir could feel himself being overpowered as Gavin tried to force his own hands toward his neck. Franklin had already rounded the table and pulled on the man’s arms, but she too felt as if she were wrestling a giant alligator. Neither looked back when the door opened behind them, Gonzales and Fremont rushing in to help their colleagues.
“Blaaaasphemmmmy!” screeched the crazed man now being held by the four detectives.
A soft pop was followed by the four detectives being drenched in hot, sticky fluids. Gavin Long instantly went limp, his now-headless body quivering as his heart continued to pump blood in gouting jets from its neck. All four detectives let go at once and stumbled backward. Fremont was caught from behind by Sergeant Casey, who had rushed into the room to try and help, while the other three smashed back-first into the walls then slipped in the pooling blood, their bodies crashing to the floor.
Interview Room 3 became total bedlam as six more officers crammed themselves into the small space to try and help their fellow detectives. Within ten seconds, Fremont, Gonzales, Izir, and Franklin were in the hallway, voices shouting at them, asking if they were hurt, did they need medical attention? The four detectives sat against the walls, shivering, the shock of the sudden, unexpected explosion of Gavin Long’s head forever seared into their minds.