For preview purposes only; final product may differ
Author: Mengye Mengye
The Mark of Cain 01
Everyone knew that Westland had abysmal public security.
Just three-quarters of the way into 2016, Westland’s crime rate already exceeded the previous year’s, maintaining an impressive average of ten shootings per day; ninety people had been killed in August alone, and before summer’s end, over five hundred murders had occurred throughout the city.
Anyone in Westland who dealt with murder cases on a regular basis had long gotten used to the three-shifts-a-day round-the-clock standby life, and getting woken up in the middle of the night by a phone call and rushing to a crime scene was basically an inextricable part of their humdrum daily lives. That could explain why, when Albarino Bacchus got out of his Chevy smelling of perfume, he treated it as just another ordinary crime scene survey.
It was past three o’clock in the morning. A police cordon had been set up outside a desolate dark grove, and the police car dome lights had turned the sparsely-leaved branches all sorts of strange colors. Officer Bart Hardy of the Westland Police Department stood guard in front of the police cordon like a bristling German shepherd: his demeanor was enough to show that there was something unusual going on.
As soon as Officer Hardy looked up, he spotted the Forensic Science Division’s most experienced and skilled forensic pathologist walking toward the crime scene with a broad smile on his face, a forensic pathology kit in his hands and the incongruous red sports car behind him. Albarino’s hair was a mess, as if it had been repeatedly tousled by someone’s fingers, and even his belt buckle seemed hastily fastened.
Hardy had been waiting for him outside the police cordon for some time. At the crime scene, a group of Crime Scene Investigation Unit scientists were bustling about like worker bees, but they were in no hurry to let the forensic pathologist in before they finished photographing and preserving the evidence. As soon as Albarino walked over, Hardy could smell the mix of aftershave, perfume, and alcohol on him, which made the officer involuntarily frown. “You didn’t drink, did you, Al?”
“What? Absolutely not.” The young forensic pathologist widened his eyes in an exaggerated manner, as though he wanted to show that he really was someone with a sense of professionalism. “But you did interrupt my wonderful night with two beautiful ladies: a very, very wonderful night.”
His words were half-truth and half-lie: Albarino did have a very wonderful night, but instead of flirting with the girls, he had been observing them from afar. Only when you maintain a distance would you be able to see the greater picture; he had spent several hours observing those makeup-caked girls, wrinkling his nose at the smells of those cosmetics and perfumes, but he was confident that they would be more beautiful once he skinned them.
Hardy, ignorant of Albarino’s thoughts, raised his eyebrows: it was clear the diligent officer had zero desire to know what sort of night Albarino had spent and with whom. In his mind, only this flake of a man could still indulge in a night out and flirt with girls even with a morning shift the next day. But Hardy’s criticism of the incorrigible forensic pathologist remained unspoken, as it would have definitely gone in one ear and out the other.
Albarino peered past Hardy, his tone of voice still heartlessly cheerful as he said, “Can I go in now?”
… Hardy wondered for two seconds if that was a veiled dirty joke. He hoped not.
“Once CSI comes out. The crime scene is a bit complex, so don’t go stomping around before they’re done photographing.” Hardy automatically ignored his internal conflict. “We also have to wait for Olga to get here.”
“Olga?” Albarino could not help asking. Olga Moroz was a professor of criminal psychology at Westland State University and the WPD’s consultant, and there was no need for her to get involved in run-of-the-mill cases. “You called her here too?”
Things were probably more serious than Albarino thought. Hardy had not provided much detail when he called earlier and asked Albarino to hurry to the crime location, so Albarino had assumed it was just a bog-standard murder–but of course, what “bog-standard” murder referred to was an extremely bloody and brutal murder. Such was the life of the chief forensic pathologist.
Now, this officer with massive undereye circles wearily sighed. In a self-explanatory tone, he said simply, “The Westland Pianist.”
Albarino really did need no further explanation.
The Westland Pianist was a serial killer. To be more precise, there were only two serial killers in Westland who remained uncaught. One was the Pianist Hardy spoke of, and the other was the Sunday Gardener, who enjoyed decorating corpses with flowers.
Because the Pianist’s modus operandi was brutal and his victims were all criminals, the media simply adored him. In their favorite inflammatory words, he was “the serial killer with no equal in all of Westland.”
Of course, in Albarino’s opinion, this Pianist was second place at best. Just because some killers preferred torturing the living while others preferred cutting up the dead, it did not mean you should view a killer who tortured the living as more twisted than a killer who cut up the dead, right?
Hardy could not have known that Albarino even had a secret serial killer ranking. The officer was deeply worried, his hair seeming to turn whiter every second thanks to those damned serial killers. He said to Albarino, “I was working overtime at the department until past midnight, and before clocking out, I discovered that the Pianist had stuck a letter in my mail.”
The Westland Pianist was a lunatic who liked sending letters to the police department after committing his crimes to inform them of the crime locations. It really was a baseless and inflated sense of self-confidence, but even so, he remained uncaught.
Albarino could easily picture the scene: how, after receiving that contrived handwritten letter, this respected officer had leapt up from his office chair and cussed while calling to inform everyone.
That the Westland Pianist would mail letters to the police was a fact known to all. Ever since that serial killer became active, they had also received many copycat letters or letters from people claiming to be his admirers, but because the Pianist’s handwriting had never been made public, Hardy must have instantly recognized his distinctive handwriting.
Every one of the Pianist’s letters was thoroughly reliable. They would find bodies for sure at the places he indicated, so in this regard, these police officers naturally had an ironic trust in the serial killer. As Albarino looked through the trees, he could see the occasional flicker of the trace evidence analysts’ flashlight beams and their blue protective suits.
“Any discoveries?” Albarino asked, examining the swath of darkness with great interest.
“Same old, same old. Right now, there’s a bunch of people at the department trying to figure out how he sent the letter, although I suspect the chance of success is not high,” Hardy wearily replied. Every year, the Pianist struck three to four times, and the same sequence of events played out year after year ever since Albarino started working. Anyhow, not once had they been able to find a truly useful mailing address. “And the body in there is… kinda beyond recognition. The lab is doing DNA comparisons right now, so we’ll know who he is soon.”
The Pianist was actually both sweet and considerate when it came to this: every single one of his victims had priors, so it was easy to ascertain the victim’s identity. This was unlike Westland’s other homicidal maniac, the Sunday Gardener. To this day, some of the Gardener’s victims remained unidentified.
At that thought, a trace of a mocking smile appeared at the corners of Albarino’s mouth.
Honestly, where was the fun in that? Was killing the guilty that much better than killing the innocent? Please, you’re already a homicidal maniac! Choosing to kill those criminals who had not received their just desserts was nothing more than thinking of oneself as being above law enforcement agencies and the law, viewing oneself as an omniscient and omnipotent punisher. Albarino could roughly understand the origin of such behavior, but he simply felt that it was boring arrogance.
Officer Hardy did not see the tiny, ice-cold smile at the corners of his lips. It was also time for their exchange of pleasantries to end–because with the noise of another car driving down from the main road’s shoulder and the sound of its wheels rolling over rotten soil and leaves, the police department’s consultant Olga Moroz arrived.
In fact, for major cases like the Westland Pianist’s, requesting the profilers of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit to assist the police department would have been the most proper choice. But as far as Albarino knew, the WPD never requested the FBI’s help for various extremely complicated reasons. Even though Hardy had filed similar applications with the higher-ups after taking over these cases, they had all been denied. Under these circumstances, their sole consolation was that at least they still had Olga.
Olga started serving as the police department’s consultant around three years ago. She had once been a member of the BAU but later resigned for some reason and came to teach at Westland State University. She had black hair, a smoking hot figure, and a beautiful face. From certain angles, she even bore a slight resemblance to Alicia Vikander.
The waiting had obviously worn out Hardy’s patience. Just as Olga got out of the car and stepped over the downy piles of leaves, Hardy lifted the cordon tape and signaled for them to quickly cross under it. As Olga jogged, she did not forget to smile at Albarino. “Hey, Al, how many hours of sleep did you get?”
Nobody wanted to point out how Olga seemed to be wearing silk pajamas beneath her windbreaker; she had probably been woken up by Hardy’s phone call. Albarino smiled at her in return. “None. I originally had extensive plans tonight.”
The only person who had actually been working overtime until late snorted. Hardy led them through the trees, and they could already see the busy CSI officers. Hardy clearly had no intention of continuing their exchange of pleasantries as he cut to the chase. “This grove is the orchard of a nearby farm. Although their growth is just so-so, they are bona fide fruit trees.”
Albarino examined the leaves. There were no fruits on the trees, having likely been picked already, but he could still identify them. “Apple trees?”
Hardy snorted. Right away, the others knew why Hardy had wanted to stress that it was an orchard: because they soon reached the body. Shiny yellow evidence markers littered the ground. Based on what they knew of the Pianist, however, it would be nigh impossible for CSI to collect bloodstains or footprints of value from this crime scene. The Pianist was always cautious and meticulous.
Evidence markers formed a devout circle around the Pianist’s latest work. The body was attached to a tall wooden stake, limbs spread in a cross shape. It was uncertain whether the man had been tied to the wooden stake or skewered upon it like a grasshopper, but there were now-dried bloodstains all over the lower half of the body. A straw hat sat upon the head, and the lips had been sliced open with a knife to form a grin, then sewn back together one crude stitch at a time. It looked like a scarecrow.
Or rather, it was a scarecrow.
“Jesus H. Christ,” Olga muttered. “Amazing.”
Nobody cautioned her that saying that made her seem especially sociopathic.
As Albarino looked at the “scarecrow,” he frowned slightly: the victim looked familiar, but given that his face was covered with smears of blood, Albarino momentarily could not recall where he had seen him before.
The man in charge of the CSI team, Bates Schwandner, was standing below the scarecrow, latex gloves on his hands and a camera for preserving evidence hanging from his neck. Upon hearing their footsteps, he turned and looked at Albarino. “We’re done gathering evidence. The body can be let down now.”
Bates was not surprised to see them at the scene, since it was always them who worked cases like this one. In his early years, Officer Hardy used to have great confidence in catching those rampant homicidal maniacs, and the participants in the investigations were always the various divisions’ “elites”–which was just them. Today, the old friends were gathered once again at a familiar scene. If Albarino guessed correctly, it would be yet another fruitless day.
Officer Hardy’s mouth was tense at the corners as he directed his officers to let down the body. Albarino put on gloves and approached as well. The body still needed to be transported to the Forensic Science Division for further autopsying, but they needed to first perform an on-site external examination; although scene surveys were usually done by the forensic crime scene investigators, the Pianist’s cases were quite vile, so it was necessary for a doctor with a forensic pathology certification to show up.
Albarino started by removing the raggedy straw hat from the dead man’s head. Squatting next to them, Olga stared at the hat with keen interest, maybe getting a taste of the killer’s abnormal sense of humor from it. After the dead man’s face was bared, it seemed even more hideous: apart from the stitched smile, two large buttons had been sewn onto the “scarecrow’s” eyes.
Albarino looked at the ghastly face and made a hissing sound. Like always, Bates said nothing as he placed a ruler next to the dead man’s cheek, held up the camera, and photographed the dead man’s face.
Albarino waited for Bates to finish before examining the victim’s face, focusing on the edges of the wounds and the stitches in particular. His fingers brushed over the crude stitches, which strained against the edges of the swollen wounds. He suspected that the Westland Pianist was actually capable of beautiful needlework and that he had stitched the face so crudely to mimic the rough faces of scarecrows. It really was a twisted sense of humor.
“There are vital reactions at the edges of the wounds,” Albarino pointed out. “The victim was still alive while the killer cut his face open and stitched it back together with thread, and he was also clearly alive when the buttons were sewn onto his eyelids.”
“It does seem quite like the Pianist’s style. Instead of arranging the scene after death, he prefers to torture living victims, and most of the work he does to decorate his victims is often completed while they’re still alive,” Olga remarked.
“I’m very certain the killer is the Pianist, Olga,” Officer Hardy said from behind them, his voice icy. “I’d never be mistaken about his handwriting.”
“We believe you, Bart.” Olga sweetly humored him, intending to soothe. “But the case itself still has to be handled according to procedure.”
Although Olga was not wrong in saying so, Albarino was also dead sure that the case in front of them was the Pianist’s doing. He quickly finished examining the dead man’s bloody face, as it was inconvenient to conduct an inquest outdoors. When he got back to the forensic pathology department, he would have to wash that blood off, and then they would be able to clearly see what he looked like.
“Plus, we can see that the killer sewed the stitches from right to left. Look at the order of the stitches.” Albarino pointed at one of the threads with the tweezers. “The Pianist is a lefty, correct?”
It had been determined through handwriting analysis performed on the Pianist’s letters to the police that a lefty had written them, and the knife marks on the bodies in previous cases also corroborated that fact. The Pianist was a lefty–this was indisputable.
Behind them, Hardy grumbled; it was clear that there was nothing surprising about how things were going. Meanwhile, Albarino and Bates continued examining the body. If needed, after Albarino returned to the Forensic Science Division, Bates would also participate in the autopsy and possibly even take the dead man’s clothes back to the CSI lab for testing. For many years, they had hoped the Westland Pianist would carelessly leave obtainable fingerprints and DNA on the clothes of the deceased, but unfortunately the Pianist disappointed them every time.
The dead man’s body was even more ghastly: he actually had not been tied to that wooden stake, but rather impaled upon it. The sharpened wooden stake had entered from his back and the tip protruded from his chest, a feat that would have taken much strength to accomplish. Albarino delicately lifted the clothing off of the dead man’s chest. The place where the wooden stake had pierced through his chest had bled a lot.
Plus, after loosening the shirt collar, they could see a thin, red ligature mark on the dead man’s neck.
“When the killer transfixed him with this stake, he was still alive. My preliminary speculation is that the massive blood loss from being impaled nearly took his life,” Albarino said after irreverently clicking his tongue. “But in fact, his cause of death should be mechanical asphyxiation: look at the ligature mark on his neck. The subcutaneous bleeding indicates that when the killer strangled him, he had still been showing signs of life–of course, even if the killer hadn’t strangled him, he would’ve died of hemorrhagic shock after a few minutes, so it was just a question of timing.”
“Very typical of the Pianist’s modus operandi,” Olga remarked with her chin resting in her hands, looking like she was enjoying herself. “In reality, strangulation is not a required part of the killing process, but it clearly has an important symbolic meaning to the killer: no matter what violence he inflicts upon the deceased, the victim must die by asphyxiation.”
Albarino glanced at Olga. Both of their attitudes were rather relaxed, which was something they really ought to properly reflect upon. He coughed, then turned serious. “He’s a sadist.”
“There are also some who think his choice of criminals as victims stems from an angry and vengeful mindset, but I don’t think so. We can write a paper based on this.” Olga shrugged. Because of the pins and needles in her legs, she shifted her center of gravity, fidgeting with difficulty on the ground. “But in any case, it’s true: he gets an immoral gratification from the abuse and strangulation of the victim, and it’s precisely this pursuit of gratification that has turned him into a serial killer.”
Tasteless, Albarino could not help thinking.
Officer Hardy’s cell phone rang again. Standing behind them, he spoke on the phone for a few minutes, the conversation consisting of a bunch of “mm-hms” and terse instructions. Then he put down his cell phone, teeth gritted, and said to them, “We’ve confirmed it. It’s him.”
“The victim has been identified?” Bates spoke first. If it was determined that the deceased was yet another criminal, they could basically confirm that this was the Westland Pianist’s work.
“Yes.” Officer Hardy stared at the dead man’s rough stitches-and-buttons face. “This is the older of the Norman brothers, Richard Norman–those Norman brothers.”
“Ah,” Olga said, clearly having recalled something. “The leaders of that gang in the eastern part of the city?”
When Albarino heard the name, he was also stunned.
He finally knew why the dead man looked so familiar–the globs of blood and the messy buttons and stitches on the dead man’s face had ruined his looks and the baggy, patched scarecrow outfit had altered his figure, which made Albarino momentarily unable to recognize him.
But in fact, he had been keeping tabs on Richard Norman for a very long time: over the course of three months, whenever he was free from his hectic forensic pathology work, he had tailed the man. In his mind, he had incorporated the man’s body into his new work, allowing this person who contributed nothing (except maybe druggies) to human society to at least become part of an artistic creation. If not for how there had been a truly preposterous number of shootings recently, Albarino would have made his move two weeks ago.
He once again turned toward the dead man’s smiling scarecrow face. Now, in Albarino’s eyes, he was no longer a dead body, no longer a slab of rotting meat. Now, in Albarino’s eyes–or rather, in the eyes of the Sunday Gardener, renowned homicidal maniac–he was a large glob of white paint that had been forcibly scooped from the palette, the deepest wound for any artist.
His three months of reconnaissance and the mountain of rough drafts had gone to waste. All the necessary materials he had bought were still gathering dust in the shed behind his house.
As the moment stretched out endlessly, a ridiculous thought popped into Albarino’s head. So does this count as plagiarism?