Serial and Milk: Available Darkness – Chapter Four
(Serial and Milk: Available Darkness is a serialized horror story co-written by David Wright and Sean Platt. A new chapter appears here each Friday. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them here.)
Commander Jack Baldwin narrowed his eyes at the charred bodies as his team processed the crime scene. While the bodies were burned through, the clothes remained completely untouched by flames.
“You ever seen anything like this?” Cherry Heights Police Chief Arnie Williams asked.
“Obviously,” Baldwin said in a voice both tired and strong, eyes still fastened to the withered husks, “you’re the one who responded to the memo that we’re working these murders.”
The chief looked down at his shoes, chagrined.
Baldwin was maybe twenty years younger than the town’s police chief, who was on the wrong side of 60. However, it was Baldwin who carried the jaded look of a man who’d seen five lifetimes of action. He also wore the look of a man who was used to calling the shots and waiting for the yes sirs! Which is exactly what he got when he and his 10-member team arrived on the scene and brushed the locals aside and put a clamp down on the media.
“So, do you guys have a profile of the unsub?” the chief asked, a nervous half-smile flirting with his lips.
For the first time, the agent turned his head to meet the chief in the eyes.
Williams was no different than the other cops Baldwin usually met when he arrived in small towns like this. Eager police looking to show their little knowledge of serial crimes to the FBI agent. Baldwin wasn’t sure which he liked least, the small town lapdogs or the asshole city cops, who wouldn’t cooperate until Baldwin put the fear of God into them. Since the lapdogs were easier to control, he decided that he liked them more, but just barely.
Besides, this case was still fresh and he might need the chief’s cooperation if another body popped up soon. So he swallowed hard and responded.
“We’re still working on the profile,” Baldwin lied, holding the chief’s stare for a long moment until the old man retreated and found something else to occupy his time.
According to the chief, the two bodies were Randy Webster, a local bar owner with a penchant for hard drugs and violence. The woman was his live-in girlfriend, Stacy Harrison. Their next door neighbor heard screaming, though saw nothing, and called 911. Three hours later, just before dawn, Baldwin’s Special Investigative Team was on the case.
Baldwin leaned in to look closer at the ashen bodies being examined by Agent Leslie Chang.
“Are the burns the same?” Baldwin asked the pathologist.
“Yes,” Chang answered. “they seem to be.”
It had been three months since his unit had been called to one of these familiar scenes, two states away.
Baldwin’s team was one of several working under the Escalated Threat Division of the Bureau, which handled unexplained phenomena that posed a threat to society. The team served the dual function of not only solving crimes but also removing threats, a job they performed exceedingly well.
This particular case was proving a bit more difficult.
Seventy three murders in the course of six years. All the victims had been found in the same condition. They weren’t just burned completely through, they were burned without any accelerant. No gas, no chemicals, nothing. And the point of origin for each fire was inside the body, not outside.
Usually when a body is on fire, it stops burning as soon as whatever fuel was used to ignite the fire was depleted. That wasn’t the case with these victims. They continued burning at an elevated temperature, the body using fat as its fuel, until there was nothing left but cinders. Unlike most fires, the fire in these cases was limited to the victims alone and never spread to surrounding areas nor even consumed the victims’ clothing.
The deaths were most similar to cases of spontaneous human combustion, except for the fact that these cases had signs of foul play.
Unfortunately, beyond the method of the murders, there was nothing else tying the crimes to a suspect. They seemed completely random and spread throughout the country. The past two years, the murders had been occurring mostly on the east coast. Tonight, found Baldwin’s team in the mountainous region of North Carolina.
Baldwin turned the wedding band on his finger, one of his few nervous tics. He thought of his former wife, Julia, Victim number 43.
Suddenly, an excited voice erupted from the basement, “Jackpot!”
Baldwin shouldered his way past the locals and down to the basement where Agent Harris was standing beside Agent Roberts in front of a closed circuit TV monitor. The screen was frozen on the image of a shirtless young man with dark hair swinging a chair at a giant bald man, one of the two victims upstairs.
“This is our guy,” Harris almost whistled, pointing at the screen, “We’ve got him.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
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