Serial and Milk: Available Darkness – Chapter Nine
(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.)
Baldwin slipped back in the seat aboard his team’s mobile command unit, a 40-foot vehicle stationed two blocks from the crime scene. His right leg was needles and nerves, his left, the beneficiary of a bouncing pencil.
He sat stone faced, staring at the bank of monitors flickering with more than a dozen local and national reporters updating viewers with wafers of information on the murders and the missing child.
For all the news coverage, there had been precious little news since that morning. The case was already cold, and well on its way to ice.
After darting his eyes around the cabin to make sure no one was watching, Baldwin slipped his hand into his jacket, retrieved a bottle of Percocets, popped three in his mouth, and peered inside the bottle.
Five left. Fuck.
Baldwin perked his ears toward the back of the truck, trying to untangle the snare of sounds, separating the various agents each on the phone with their sources, trying to mine any bit of information from a barren shaft. He’d already spent five hours on the phone blistering the ears of every local agency in a vain attempt to light a fire under their asses.
The murderer’s face shot across the network feeds on the monitors like some kind of America’s Most Wanted version of dominos. Baldwin squeezed his eyes and fished in his other pocket for his personal cell phone. Eyes still closed, his digits danced across the keys in a well rehearsed routine they’d performed several times a day for the past three years.
He held the phone at his ear, waited for the mechanized direction, then hit ‘one’ and then ‘one’ again and waited.
Same as always, the first note of her voice sent an ice slick sliding down his spine.
“Hi, honey, I’m running late. Carol and I stopped for coffee. Let me know if you want me to bring you anything. Oh, who am I kidding, you’re probably still at work. I love you. See you around eight — if you’re home. Bye.”
His heart shattered at the tiny laugh right before she added, “if you’re home,” just like it always did. Such a routine message, one of hundreds over the movement of their marriage which were routinely listened to, sometimes fast forwarded through, then deleted. As hard as it was for Baldwin to believe, this solitary message was the only survivor; the only recording he had of a voice that would never vibrate again.
He’d never thought to shoot video of her, or even the two of them together, despite having two video cameras and a drawer of unwrapped cassettes. This, and the countless copies he’d since made, were all that he had left to remind him of her beautiful voice.
With the bottomless sorrow that follows regret, Baldwin thought of the countless messages, vanished to vapor like the call of a bird who has flown to another sky. He would gladly swap his soul for a scattering of messages to aimlessly meander through again; something that went beyond the endless loop of her final dispatch.
He had seen her the night of those final words, but he had come home too late. She was already asleep. His mind burned at the memory of the sins he committed that night. How he wish he could wash them away, undo them, and go home to spend just a few more hours with her.
Two days later, she would be dead.
His heavy eyelids still draped the pupils that would have been wet if the ducts hadn’t dried to desert so long before.
He turned his phone off, put it back in his pocket and was about to reach for the Percocets again when he heard someone coming — Agent Luis Alvarez.
“Cops in Westchester found the car,” Alvarez said.
Baldwin shot to attention, and instantly saw that Alvarez had the look of a man about to bear bad news.
“What?” Baldwin asked.
“Cop on the scene broke protocol,” he said. “He approached the car on his own.”
Baldwin’s eyes narrowed to two even slits, his voice a harsh whisper, “What the fuck?!”
a half hour earlier…
John rose to the smell of soap and the bottled sound of television. On the bed across from him, Abigail sat, knees folded to her chest, hair wet, wearing one of the dead woman’s black long sleeve shirts.
Silent, she pointed to the television.
His image was plastered on the screen over the word SUSPECT. Beside it, a photograph of the girl with the word MISSING in bold letters, sheet white.
“They think you took me,” she said.
He could only stare.
The inevitable was now unfolding and his thoughts needed to sprint. His eyes followed the reporter, running his hand through his hair as he broadcast the make and model of their vehicle, with the license plate number as the cherry on the top. “… requesting that anyone with information call 1-800-93…”
John leaped from bed and ran to the drawn curtains before stopping himself.
“Is it still light out?” he asked the girl.
“Yeah,” she said, “I just looked.”
He glanced at the clock on the TV’s cable box — 6:42 p.m. He wasn’t certain how he knew, but he figured he probably had another 20 minutes before nightfall.
“Can you drive?” he asked the girl.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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