Harrison Queens opened the door to his apartment and stepped in. He took a deep breath, holding the air in his lungs before exhaling softly. The lights in the apartment were off, and darkness enveloped the room as the door swung closed. Normally, Harrison found the black repose comforting. Shutting off one of his senses made it easier to think, feel, calm the chaos churning around him.
Tonight, it only brought memories from earlier that day, bubbling to the surface like fresh blood from a wound.
The flash of a camera.
A naked woman splayed out against black concrete. Her legs were spread obscenely, arms stretched above her body in perfect parallel lines. Two jagged cuts at the edge of each lip pulled her face into a crude, sardonic grin.
Shaking off the images, Harrison sighed and unlaced his boots, reaching an arm out blindly for the shoe rack. If he turned on the lights, Jaclyn would surely wake up—she was a light sleeper, and downright furious when she was tired. He chuckled at the thought, picturing his tiny girlfriend, peach colored hair and vanilla perfume, face scrunched in an angry pout. As an artist she worked at ungodly hours during the day and sometimes late into the night. Inspiration strikes at the strangest times, she’d said to him with a smile. Wouldn’t want to miss out on the creation of a masterpiece.
No, he would not wake her.
The flash of a camera.
Another body, only days before. The victim, a man in his late twenties, stared up at him with hollow blue eyes, stretched wide in terror. Caramel hair stained with crimson, blood dried and matting the strands. The man’s arms were bent at his sides like a puppet with its strings cut, and his legs had been turned inward so that his knees were touching. It was a different pose, but there was no doubt who did it. Two signature cuts pulled the victim’s lips into the shape of a smile frozen in place.
Harrison remembered feeling pity swirl at the bottom of his stomach. It was against protocol to contaminate the crime scene, but the detective had reached down and pressed his fingers against the man’s eyelids, closing them gently.
Using the light emitting from the screen of his smartphone, the detective treaded lightly across the living room. Halfway, his foot bumped against an object resting on the hardwood floor. Harrison bent down to pick it up and squinted his eyes in an attempt to see through the pitch dark room. Thick, textured sheets brushed against his fingertips, and when he removed his thumb a film of powder came away with it. As he brought the papers closer to his face, the detective recognized the charcoal sketch of a mannequin. Dimly, Harrison remembered Jaclyn telling him about her latest exhibition. Though he had smiled and nodded at the time, he couldn’t quite remember what she had said.
Now, looking at the barely visible drawing in his hand, Harrison couldn’t help but feel an odd sense that he had seen the sketch somewhere before. With a shake of his head, the detective felt around for the wooden dining table next to him and placed the sketchbook on top of it delicately.
When he finally entered his bedroom, a light chill from the open window brought goosebumps to his skin. Illuminated by lilliputian orbs and the shine of the moon, Jaclyn laid serenely beneath the woolen blanket, fast asleep. Harrison sat down next to her, smiling faintly, and listened to her steady breathing.
He took off his coat and slipped under the duvet. Immediately, the scent of vanilla wrapped around him like a warm embrace. He found Jaclyn’s hand among the tussle of sheets and interlaced their fingers. As the detective closed his eyes, the sketch from Jaclyn’s artbook seemed to magnify, as if his mind was trying to tell him something of importance. The disturbing familiarity of the drawing irked him, and yet he could not place a finger on where he had seen it before.
Never mind that, he thought, I’ll ask her first thing in the morning.
With his girlfriend in his arms and his worries temporarily staved off, Harrison fell into a dreamless slumber.
Across the street from the crime scene, a hooded figure weaved quickly through the crowd of onlookers, left hand fisted in the pocket of their sweater. In the distance, the sounds of police sirens grew louder.
“Oh, sorry!” A woman gasped as she bumped into the figure. Their hood slipped slightly, and underneath peach colored strands peeked out. With a grunt, they hastily pulled the hood back up.
Shoving their way through the remaining spectators, the figure disappeared into the shadows.
Unbeknownst to the detective, at the bottom of their nightstand lay a sheathed blade. Its edges glinted vermillion. In the living room, a charcoal mannequin stared up from the open pages of the sketchbook, arms parallel above its head, legs poised open.
Next to Harrison, his lover’s chest rose and fell rhythmically.
A smile played softly at her lips.