A Soldier’s Crest: Variant: Issue #1
The frigid night was uncommon on the otherwise warm continent of Khroma. The chirping of crickets, only interrupted by the sound of speeding cars on 45th Avenue, set the tone as Detective Jared Grim parked his car. He took a deep breath, followed by a long drink from the flask of alcohol he kept hidden in his glove compartment. After the call he had received, he wondered how it could be possible that all he heard were the crickets. Grim wasn’t your ordinary Detective. He would often receive the toughest jobs with the most unusual circumstances. This one was no different.
As Grim got out of his car, he took a moment to study his surroundings. There was a line of stores on either side of the street with visible trees behind each building. To his right was a stop sign with a black and white sign behind it. The pole underneath was straight, but the actual sign itself was crooked. “Welcome to New Halosy,” it read. He didn’t realize this job was just outside his town. New Halosy was where he was known as the successful Detective, but elsewhere no one knew who he was. At least that’s what he thought.
“Wasn’t expecting to see a member of the Royal Guard,” Grim said as he approached the store in question. The man he spoke to was dressed in black armor with a gold outline. His helmet was tucked under his arm.
“I happened to be the closest when it happened. My lucky night, I suppose,” replied the knight. “Sir Emery,” the knight put out his hand to the Detective who welcomed the gesture. “Wasn’t sure if you would answer a call just outside of New Halosy. Not many Detectives here in Syren.”
“I didn’t realize it was outside, or I might not have,” replied Grim. “What are we looking at?”
“Multiple homicides. No connection between the victims from what I can tell, but I’m not a Detective,” Sir Emery led Detective Grim closer to the store in question. “Doesn’t seem to be any relation between the victims and the store owner either.”
“How long ago did you found the bodies?” asked Grim.
“Maybe an hour ago? How long did it take you to get here?” replied Emery.
“The man over there with the cigarette,” Grim ignored the follow-up question as he noticed the man standing just a few feet away. “Is that the store owner?”
“Yeah,” Emery adjusted the helmet under his arm, obvious to Grim it was uncomfortable for him to hold. “I tried asking him some questions, but he doesn’t seem too surprised. The crime rate keeps increasing between here and Davish City.”
“Not surprised at all,” said the store owner, closer to their conversation than they thought. “Shit like this keeps happening all over. It ain’t just between here and Davish.” He took a long drag from his cigarette before dropping it to the ground. He joined them. “You look at the bodies yet? Pretty messed up if you ask me.”
Grim had seen dead bodies before. He had also seen his fair share of “messed up” murders before too. “Let’s have a look.”
The store owner led them inside where five bodies were lined up on the floor. Black garbage bags covered the bodies and blood was all over the floor and walls of the store.
“Business was just starting to pick up too,” added the owner with a deep sigh.
“Did you cover the bodies like this?” asked Grim wondering why the bodies weren’t placed in the bags, just covered by them.
“Hell no,” the owner replied. “This is how I found them.”
“Did you look at them?” this question was for Sir Emery.
“No, I called you the moment I found out about this. Figured it was best to leave them as they were,” Emery walked over to the bodies, he got as close as he could without stepping in the pool of blood.
“I see,” Grim removed plastic gloves from his pockets and began putting them on. “I need to know what we’re up against. How did you know there was no relation between the victims?”
“Like I said, I’m no Detective, but from what I can see of the bodies, it looks like these murders were done at different times. Some have no blood around them.” It was true. Majority of the blood seemed to be coming from the body at the end of the row.
“And definitely no relation to you?” Grim asked the owner.
“None that I know of. They may have been customers, but that’s about it. I don’t have many friends or much family, I called them all as soon as this happened to make sure everyone was alright.”
Grim knelt down and pulled back one of the bags. The first victim in the row had markings carved into his face. Majority of his skin on his chest had been removed. Grim couldn’t narrow down with what, exactly, but it looked to be ripped or clawed off. The blood on this victim was dry, the first of the five no doubt.
“Male victim, late twenties, early thirties if I had to guess. Weird markings on his face and skin on his chest ripped off,” Grim was talking out loud, but mainly speaking his thoughts. This information was of little importance to Sir Emery and the store owner.
“Damn,” the store owner added as he chose to no longer look.
“Next victim is female, dark skin. Most of her teeth have been removed. Looks like they were removed violently, but not with a punch. Pulled out one by one,” Grim covered her back up and skipped ahead to the last victim. “Strange.”
“What is it?” asked Sir Emery.
“The last victim, which you were right in assuming this was the most recent, has a tattoo that is known to represent members of the Craw.”
“That crime organization that has been causing trouble in New Halosy?” Sir Emery asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yeah, convenient that you would call me here to handle this. The Craw have been a thorn in my side for ages,” Grim completely removed the bag from the last victim. “The tattoo is typically here,” he pointed at the victim’s stomach. “This person has it on their neck.”
“Does that mean something?” asked the owner, still refusing to look at the bodies.
“Yes, actually,” Grim pulled out a notepad from his pocket and a pen. He began writing notes as he spoke. “The tattoo on the normal spot, the stomach as I said, represents that you’re a true member of the gang. A tattoo on the neck means you’re a temporary member until you prove yourself. My guess is that this person didn’t prove themselves worthy, but also did something to warrant removal of a more permanent nature.”
“So you think the Craw is responsible for these murders?” Sir Emery asked, now holding the helmet with both of his hands.
“Yes… and no,” Grim folded his arms and brought the pen up to his stubble covered chin. “From my experience the Craw are criminals, but they aren’t flashy when it comes to murder. Bullet to the head then dump you in a river, they keep it simple. An exception comes along once in awhile, but something this extreme? It just doesn’t feel like something they would do.”
“What do you think is really going on here, then?” Emery walked over to the other bodies, but with the bags still on them he couldn’t see anything.
“I don’t think the victims are related and that’s my concern,” Grim explained. “If they killed someone who didn’t prove themselves, why lump them with 4 other people who weren’t even in the gang? I saw no tattoos on the others.”
“It’s just coincidence? Wrong place, wrong time for this Craw member?” Emery asked, trying to do some Detective work of his own.
“Yes, or…” Grim raised his index finger before pointing at the bodies. “These victims were all problems for the Craw, but they hired someone else to do their dirty work. The only problem with that is the Craw wasn’t expecting this third party murderer to put the bodies on display.”
“They can’t be happy about that,” added the owner, finally turning his gaze to the bodies for a moment before quickly looking away again. “This new murderer trying to draw the attention of the Craw?”
“Or just trying to make a name for himself,” added Grim. “Either way, not much more I can do here until the Syren officials run diagnostics on the bodies. Have them send the results to my office in New Halosy.”
“Will do. What’s your next step?” Sir Emery asked, mainly out of curiosity.
“I’m going to have a chat with the Craw.”
The next day, Grim found himself seated in a car just outside of a bar in New Halosy. He didn’t sleep much at all the night before, not with this new case on his hands. His white button-down shirt looked like it hadn’t been washed or ironed in months. He wouldn’t be able to tell you what happened to the tie he was wearing the day before. While he would normally wear a hat to avoid tidying up his hair, the hat was also missing in action and thus his dark brown disheveled locks were on full display. His eyes, that were also dark brown, surveyed the street until he found what he was looking for.
A young man with black baggy clothes and piercings that connected from his nose, eyebrows and ears was walking down the street at a hurried pace. Grim maneuvered himself over to the passenger side of his car and opened the door abruptly when the young man passed by.
“What the hell, old man? You almost hit me!” the Craw member impulsively got in Grim’s face, before realizing who it was. “Not you again!”
“Me again,” Grim said with a smile. The Craw member didn’t react violently, but more dejectedly and disappointed.
“Look man, you told me not to sell anymore and I stopped. You got nothing else on me and my crew. Just give it a rest already,” the Craw member put his hands into the pockets of his unzipped hooded sweatshirt.
“Why are you always so defensive, Corkscrew?” It wasn’t an insult. Corkscrew was actually his name. It was tattooed on his chest. “I was just hoping we could have a friendly chat.”
Before Corkscrew could answer, Grim grabbed him by his sweatshirt and threw him into an alley next to where they were speaking.
“Aren’t you supposed to help the law? Not break it?” yelled Corkscrew, as he tried to gather himself. Grim put his boot on Corkscrew’s chest and pinned him against a garbage can.
“Five people turned up dead in a store just outside New Halosy last night. Any connection to your boys?” Grim’s other foot hovered over Corkscrew’s hand. He slowly placed it down, crushing his fingers.
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, man!” Grim applied more pressure to his hand. “Ow, yo! Come on!”
“No new members or suspicious deals?” Grim brought his foot off Corkscrew’s hand.
“You think they tell me? I’m not even a high level in the gang, man!” The pressure went right back on. “Okay! Okay! Alright, just get off my hand!”
Grim picked up Corkscrew and slammed him into the nearest wall. “What do you got for me?”
“Boss was talking to some shady looking dude,” Corkscrew began massaging his hand. “No idea what his name is, what he wants, what he needed him for, it just all seemed really shady, man.”
“What did he look like?” Grim asked, his grip loosening.
“Average height guy, raggedy clothes. His skin was covered, even his face. Head to toe,” Corkscrew pulled away from Grim. “All I know, man.”
“What was he covered with? What do you mean by that? Covered in tattoos?” Grim kept himself ready in case Corkscrew tried to fight back, but Grim picked this Craw member for a reason. He was a known coward.
“Bandages? I think. It looked like bandages. Like his entire body was wrapped up,” Corkscrew made his way out of the alley, keeping his eyes on Grim as he did. Grim didn’t pursue any more. He could tell that was all Corkscrew knew, so he let him slip away.
When Grim got back to his office there were papers waiting for him on his desk.
“You got some gifts from the folks over in Syren,” a soft voice spoke out from behind a nearby desk. “Anything I should be concerned about?”
The voice belonged to Gemma Orion. A blonde haired young lady with glasses who had been Grim’s assistant for the last five years.
“I got called out there last night,” Grim said as he sifted through the papers.
“Wait, you went all the way to Syren last night?” Gemma replied, shocked. She had not seen Grim leave New Halosy a single time since she began working for him.
“It’s not that far and the case was literally just outside New Halosy,” he grabbed one of the papers specifically and began reading it.
“Must have been bad,” Gemma added.
“It was,” Grim was busy reading and almost forgot to finish his thought. “Five people are dead. Their bodies were left inside a random store on 45th Avenue in Syren. Didn’t see much connection to anything until I inspected the final victim.” Grim went back to reading the paper.
“… Well? What did you find?” Gemma asked, reeling him back into the conversation.
“Craw member tattoo. The neck kind.”
“Poor Corkscrew,” laughed Gemma.
“Don’t worry, I already visited him,” Grim said with a smile of his own. “He proved helpful, as always.”
“Break any of his bones this time?” Gemma took a drink from a nearby mug, her judging eyes not diverting from Grim who finally turned to face her.
“Not that I know of? I stepped on his hand with almost all of my body weight, so I guess it’s possible,” Gemma shook her head at him after her drink. “This file is interesting.”
“What’s it say?” Gemma got up from her desk and joined him.
“Emma Staves is the name of the victim according to the top of the report, but Julia White is the name that keeps popping up in all of the information,” Grim pointed it out as he explained.
“A stage name, perhaps?” suggested Gemma.
“I don’t know much about the offices in Syren, but I would hope they would have the sense to state if this was a stage name or not,” Grim handed the paper to Gemma. “Keep this somewhere secure. Look up Julia White and find out where she lives.”
“I’m not sure this murderer would be that calculating, you think this might be his next target?” Gemma put the paper down on her desk and began typing on her computer.
“We know nothing about him, it could be coincidence, it could be well calculated. He could have no reason for any of these murders or he could be carrying out a job for the Craw. We won’t know for sure until we find him,” Grim stood behind her to also view the computer screen. “I don’t want to take a chance and ignore this clue, it could be a matter of Ms. White’s life.”
“She lives here. In New Halosy.”
Grim broke several speed limit laws on his way to Julia White’s house. When he arrived the front door was cracked open. He’s here. Grim thought, he felt behind his back for a gun he had holstered in the back of his pants. He gripped the handle, but didn’t fully draw the weapon. Despite the open door, the house looked clean and untouched. Nothing was out of the ordinary, but Grim still assumed the worst.
After a full scan of the bottom floor, Grim made his way to the second story of the home. All of the doors were open, but Grim could tell no one was home. He peered inside each room, his hand still firmly on the gun handle, but still no cause for concern. Grim made his way into the final room on the second floor. Inside he found a queen sized bed, picture frames with photos of Julia and her family, and a desk with a notebook on it. He noticed another door closed nearby, but opted to check out the notebook first. Before he could examine it, he heard a car door shut just outside the closest window.
Thanks to the pictures scattered around the room, he knew it was Julia. She must have just got home from work. Had he waited a bit longer he could have knocked on the door and spoke with her directly, but in his current situation it would now look like her front door was open because he was robbing her. While trying to think of the easiest, safest and most lawful way to handle the situation, he heard a sink begin to run in the room with the closed door.
I didn’t hear anyone in there before. Grim thought, before focusing on a nearby closet. He forced his way inside and closed it as quietly as he could. The next thing he heard was Julia come inside and say some words that he couldn’t make out through the floor beneath him. Probably wondering if she left the door unlocked. Grim thought, all of his focus on the closed door. He could hear her footsteps as she made her way to the second floor. The closed door in front of him finally opened.
The man that stepped out was average height, a baseball cap covered the top of his head. Sunglasses covered his eyes. Ragged clothes and bandages covered the rest. Grim’s heart began to beat fast and he could feel the sweat begin to form on his brow. The man he was searching for, found him instead and turned his attention to the closet.
He can’t know I’m in here. That’s impossible. Grim thought to himself, one hand on the closet door and the other on the gun. He took a deep breath then went to open the closet to confront the killer, but the door wouldn’t budge. The bandage covered murderer walked over to the closet door, slowly. Each foot creating a loud thud as he walked, the silence in the rest of the house seemed to amplify it. Grim couldn’t even hear Julia’s steps anymore.
Once the killer was close enough to the closet, he slammed both palms onto the door and moved his face close. A rugged, raspy voice spoke out. “Not yet,” it said. The killer turned his head to look behind him then looked back at the closet door. “I want you to see this, Detective.”