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Say what you will about insomnia; it's much kinder than sleep.
"Christ almighty," murmured Detective George Brandt as he drew the sign of the cross over his barrel chest. He studied with a contracted brow the crimson splattered walls, the twelve battered bodies strewn haphazardly about the room, the nearly severed head of some unfortunate individual who had been thrust clear through a computer monitor. The seasoned detective grimaced, and then crossed himself once more.
Brandt was 6'3, not slender by anyone's definition; the extra thirty pounds, however, in no way diminished his vigor or his role, or his ability to fill that role. His features and mind remained sharp; he carried the pounds so well, in fact, that it was a bit difficult to label him as even moderately obese.
He had broad shoulders, chestnut hair, a square face that was generally pleasant, composed and recently-shaved. He frequently wore a friendly smile above his cleft chin and possessed an endearing teddy-bear charm in the presence of small children that neatly complemented the grizzly bear aggression, muscle and control he wielded over hardened criminals—the sort of criminals, for instance, that had senselessly murdered twelve individuals inside the quaint little antique shoppe on first and Main.
"The village's first homicide," observed an aghast Officer McGraff from the whimsical threshold whose entrance was festooned, and tastefully so, with Mardi Gras banners, beads, ribbons. It was a cheerful explosion of green, gold and purple that reminded Gloria Yates of home.
A New Orleans native, she'd moved to Jupiter Bay and opened the shoppe ten years earlier. She enjoyed sharing her roots with Jupiter Bay, wanted to infuse the village with a bit of the soul and spirit of the Big Easy.
The very definition of lagniappe, she baked King Cakes each year, donated the proceeds to Children's Hospitals, organized soup kitchens and eventually developing housing and employment opportunities for the less fortunate.
Her own home, a small bungalow with chipped paint, was falling apart (literally; steps were missing from the porch and the railing around it had long collapsed), which made it quite clear that her deeds were not motivated by a sense of noblesse oblige (or liberal guilt), but rather, because she was a kind person.
She was quiet, unmarried, and distant. Even when she was in the center of a large crowd, one would get the feeling that her mind was somewhere else entirely, that she was present and accounted for, but not actually there.
No one would remember those things. How could they? Gloria advocated for Veterans, raised funds for a pediatrics clinic and a trauma centre. She served beignets and coffee (blended with chicory), gratis, to her lovelies (and warm milk for the little lovelies).
Gloria Yates presently lay twisted and broken, an alabaster doll with purple bruises at her neck, a razor thin rivulet of deep red on her cheek, and a surprised expression marring her otherwise flawless countenance.
Her wavy scarlet locks were straggly now, muted and dull and matted with blood that had traveled the sloping polished walnut floor boards from Mitch Lawrence's body.
Mitch had been Gloria's first hire. He was ninety, tall, stooped in the shoulders and completely bald. And his dimpled, lumpy nose, Officer McGraff observed, wasn't where it had once been. In fact, it was nearly detached from his face.
McGraff averted his gaze, and gulped, audibly. His stomach gave a lurch of unrest, his chest felt hot, his heart ached. When his eyes filled with tears he blinked them back, shook his head, said, "I never thought this could happen here."
"First crime scene, rookie?" Brandt asked in a tone that was no in way condescending. 'Rookie' sounded as if it were a term of endearment, and truth be known, he was rather impressed that McGraff wasn't hacking up his flapjacks, that, despite the soft blue eyes and the awkward gait of a child trying his damnedest to operate a man's cumbersome body, he'd retained his sangfroid. Brandt had had his doubts: the poor sprout's still wet behind the ears.
That poor sprout had just aged five years.
"Yeah. I-I've never even seen a dead person," confessed the fair-haired young man. Barely out of high school, Warren McGraff was the youngest of four officers who served the unincorporated village of Jupiter Bay; Brandt, incidentally, was the only Detective within a hundred miles of the village and served multiple municipalities. "I bet you have," McGraff added in a small, brittle voice. "Haven't you?"
"I have," answered Brandt. His voice was guttural and tight as he rose from his haunches. "Some shot through the head, some shot in the back, some stabbed straight through the aorta even, but nothing quite like this."
"There are no spent rounds, few knife wounds," agreed Warren, bemused. "Whoever killed these people did so with their bare hands. You- you don't think this was a mob hit or that—"
"I don't know what to think," Brandt interrupted the younger man's romanticizing, dragged a hand over his face. "Yet."
"What do you want me to do?" inquired the rookie with hopeless desperation. He needed to do something, and preferably somewhere else. Anywhere else. He didn't like the way the slash of light beneath the door threw shadows across the room and multiplied the casualties. He feared it presaged continue woe, mass casualties.
"Radio PD and tell Zina to call the coroner in Berryhilll and Sheriff Drake over in Halifax. I need officers here A.S.A.P. Do that and then grab the crime scene tape and camera from my car. We do this by the book."