It's my honour to kick off the first installment of what will be a weekly serial story. Week by week, you'll not only be along for the ride- you'll be able to take the wheel. At the end of each week, we'll ask our readers to vote between three directions for the next installment, and we'll follow whichever one wins.
For week one, however, we have a different challenge- we want you to find us a title. Have a read through part 1, and leave your idea for a title in the comments. The winner gets... well, we're all out of books, so the winner gets pride, fame, and warm fuzzy feelings beamed from two sides of the globe.
Pretty good deal, I think.
A little about the story so far- we're meeting Detective Frank Townsend, who is investigating a series of gruesome murders of prostitutes by a deranged killer dubbed the Rochester Ripper. He's about to discover something shocking about the evidence- and where we go from there is anyone's guess.
Mwa ha ha...
c. 2009 All the World's Our Page
The witching hour was his favourite time to be alone in the office.
Most of the other cops cleared out by ten at the latest, and by midnight the whole station was dark and still, lit only by the glow of his lone desk lamp. He could hear clocks ticking, and the gurgle of the water cooler. And If he listened carefully enough, the dead began to rustle in the pages of his files. They stretched, the yawned, they sat up. They whispered in his ear.
There were more of them sitting on his desk now than ever before.
He pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. The latest file sat open in front of him, splashes of blood arcing across the crime-scene photographs, more like paintings in an overpriced gallery than the mortal remains of the latest Ripper victim. He flipped a couple of pages until he found her graduation photograph beaming up at him. Annaliese Rogers. Young, bright and beautiful.
He flipped a couple more pages until he got to her last mugshot. Arrested for solicitation. Hollow eyes stared back at him. It only took two years for her to get from fresh-faced kid to haggard meth addict and street-walker.
And now murder victim.
Talk to me.
Her eyes were more dead in the mugshot than in her crime scene photo, by simple virtue of the fact that the killer had taken her eyeballs with him. That wasn't all he'd taken, either. This was the fifth Ripper victim, and they'd all been missing organs- hearts, kidneys. Sex organs. The kind of thing that made even the most experienced medical examiner turn away from the body and hurl.
Not Detective Frank Townsend, though. Not since the first one. Now he allowed himself only a moment of horror that struck him to the core, and then he forced himself to channel his rage into cold determination. He was going to catch this sonovabitch if it was the last thing he did.
He stared down into the drug-hungry eyes of Annaliese Rogers. Blue. She'd had blue eyes. Talk to me.
"Hello, Moto." Brrp, brrp.
Despite himself, he jumped as the cell phone kicked into life, robotic music tinkling out from somewhere beneath his piles of paperwork. "Godammit!" He scrabbled through the chaos until he found the thing and flipped it open.
A girlish laugh rang out on the other end. "I thought you'd fallen asleep on the job for a minute."
He sighed and leaned back in his creaky chair. "Samantha. No, I was just... thinking."
"You're stuck, huh?"
He nodded. "Like a truck in a ditch. I can't figure out where to look next." It felt good to admit that to himself, somehow. His eyes strayed to the big clock on the far wall. Ten past two. "You still at work?"
"Of course. I'm your little night owl."
He could picture her sitting in her lab, her face washed in blue from her bank of computer screens, glasses perched on the tip of her perfect nose. Thank God they followed the same circadian rhythms. Impossible to think how their relationship could survive if they didn't. "Find anything interesting?" he asked.
"Now that you mention it..."
For the first time he noticed the pitch of excitement in her voice. "Oh yeah?"
"Remember that fingerprint you sent me? The one from the..."
"Yeah, yeah. Don't say it on the phone." He shuffled files until he got to Rosemary Sweeton. The Ripper's second victim. He'd sent it to Sam after she'd bet him a six-pack that she could find something outside the usual fingerprint databases, and against all regulations he'd decided he liked the odds. He pulled out the original print film and held it up to the desk lamp. A bold whorl filled the centre. They'd found it on the light switch in Sweeton's apartment. So obvious that it must have been deliberate. So far they'd seen no matches in any of the conventional databases. The Ripper was not on the record.
"Well, hold onto your hat, honey. You owe me beer."
He felt his mouth fall open. "You got a name? Holy shit. That's... that's..."
"I told you to hold onto your hat, Frank." There was a pause, and a lot of rustling down the line. "I hope you're sitting down."
His pulse was up to about three hundred beats a minute. "Name?"
"Francis Tumblety," she said.
The name set a little bell ringing in the back of his mind. "Who the hell is this freak?" By instinct he reached for the mouse and clicked open a search engine. As soon as he typed the name it tumbled down in a list- 23,000 results. He hit return.
"Wait, there's more," Sam was saying. "I matched the fingerprint to one on file with the NYPD."
He clicked through the screens, not seeing anything but history sites. "But we've searched the databases. We didn't get any hits."
"Not until I ha... I mean, opened up an experimental database being developed by the history department of NYU. They've been cataloguing forensic evidence from unsolved historic cases- blood samples, weapon impressions, fingerprints..."
"So our guy has offended before? When, in the 70s? 80s?"
She laughed. "Yeah, the eighties."
He opened up another couple of search windows and typed the name into the offenders registry. No results.
"What's funny about that?"
"It's an historical database, Frank. Your guy? This Francis Tumblety? His prints were taken by the NYPD at a time when they hardly knew what to do with that kind of evidence. The nineteenth century."
"What, like 1980? They knew fingerprints in..."
"The nineteenth century, Frank. This fingerprint was taken in 1892. He was under investigation for the Whitechapel Murders in London in 1888." She blew out a breath. "Jack the Ripper, Frank. They thought he was Jack the Ripper."
He sat for a long time listening to the quiet. He thought he could do with a bourbon, or maybe three. "What in the living hell does that mean?"
"It could mean this guy is taking you for a ride. It could be someone who has access to this information, who maybe planted that print for you to find so you'd have proof that this Ripper is trying to be like the original."
"Like Jack the Ripper?" He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. "That's crazy talk. Crazy!"
"Not as crazy as the alternatives."
"What, that this Tumblety guy is doing some kind of time-travel voodoo? Or that he's still kicking around, only he's 150 years old? Maybe he's a frigging vampire."
She snorted. "Crazy. Like I said."
He sighed. "Sorry. Thank you. You're amazing. And you're right, I owe you beer."
"I'll swing by the station and pick you up, okay? It's about time we both went home to bed."
"Okay. See you soon."
He shut the cell and tossed it back on the desk. What a mindfuck. He reached out, snatched a pencil, and snapped it in half, then sent the two pieces clattering to the table. The bastard was teasing him. Toying with him. And the worst part was, he didn't get the joke. Didn't have the first clue what he was supposed to be looking for. It made him feel stupid as hell.
He took one last look at the information on his computer screen, then shut it down. Too much to absorb right now. He'd pick it back up again in the morning.
He scrawled the name across a scrap of paper and tossed it on the growing pile of evidence. Tumblety.
Somewhere on his floor, he heard a door squeak open and shut.
"Sam?" he called. "I'll be right there."
He took one long last look at Annaliese Rogers before he shut her back in her manila prison- not the living corpse, and not the dead one, but the fresh young student.
"Talk to me," he murmured. "Tell me something."
"That's not my name."
He only had an instant to register the reflection of a man in his blank computer screen before a thick arm locked around his windpipe and yanked him off his feet. He struggled wildly, feet scrabbling for purchase on the linoleum, as a burning sensation ripped across his neck.
As stars exploded behind his eyes and the sound of chuckling in his ear began to fade, he only had one thought.
If that sonofabitch laid a finger on Samantha, he'd hunt the guy down, from hell or beyond.