Detective Ray Peters sat in his office, his size ten sneaker-clad feet on his desk, reading The Canterbury Tales, when the chubby young officer with the bad complexion raced in to fetch him.
“Detective Peters! Oswald needs you, now. He said that your technique could probably break this guy we’ve got in the interrogation room.”
Peters scowled and put down his book, marking his place with an empty gum wrapper. He was a handsome man, though with a worn look, and eyes like the pure springs from which they claim bottled water comes. He ran a callused hand through his black curly hair and said, “Okay. Take me to him.”
The officer nodded towards the bookshelf beneath the window and said, “Don’t you need your book?”
The detective swatted at the air. “Nah. I’ve done this so many times, I’ve got it committed to memory.”
The younger of the two smiled and said,“Yeah, but it looks more intimidating with the book. You know, like a prop.”
Ray smirked. “You’ve seen me do this before, huh?”
“Oh, yes, sir. I’ve followed your work closely ever since I joined up. Your knowledge about the psychology of the criminal mind is very inspirational.”
Peters laughed as he reached for The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe from his bookshelf. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Ben Rogers, sir.”
“Well, Ben, I know absolutely nothing about the psychology of the criminal mind. I think Freud and all those other guys were full of it, just trying to get their names printed in a book. I do know this, however: the pen is mightier than the sword. Brilliant words from brilliant works of literature terrify people, especially the guilty. You’ve seen me do this before, so you know it’s true. In fact, I don’t see why they call on me every time they need to crack some stoolpigeon. If they’d read this stuff themselves, they’d be armed with the most powerful weapon there is. Oh, well. Best not keep the lieutenant waiting. Let’s go, Ben.”
His eyes cast down to the floor as he was obviously ashamed to have gotten a lecture instead of thanks for his compliment, Ben Rogers replied, “Yes, sir. This way, sir,” and they exited the detective’s office and started down the hall to the interrogation room.
Rogers walked across the room and sat down with the other spectators, as the practice of viewing from behind a piece of one-way glass had not yet come into being. Peters stood in front of the table where sat the detainee, a small boy of nineteen years, with sharp features like those of a rodent. He wore jeans and a white shirt, with a heavy army coat much too big for him. The coat was littered with military metals from the World War.
Ray Peters smirked and said, “Look at all that metal on the guy. We’ve got ourselves a regular magnet grabber here.”
The boy said nothing, but gave the detective a dirty look.
Standing in front of the suspect on the opposite end of the table and sweating profusely was Detective Lieutenant Lewis Oswald. He was an obese man with thick black eyebrows and thinning hair on top. Ray asked him, “What have we got here?”
Oswald replied in his gruff, booming voice, “Christopher Cummings. His friends call him Hero Junior. We picked him up for gambling in the alley this afternoon. The other guys got away with a ticket, but Junior here had five gallons of homemade whiskey in the trunk of his car. That’s a lot of bootleg. That means he’s up for a lot of time. But he can make it easy on himself, if he tells us who he’s working for.”
The war hero’s son shifted in his chair. “Ya’ll can go to Hell, I’m not sayin’ a word.”
Ray lifted an eyebrow at Oswald and tapped the spine of his book, which he held under his folded arms. Lewis smiled and said under his breath, “Give him the treatment.”
Ray sat on the right corner of the table and Cummings turned away from him, facing the wall. The detective smirked and said, “So you consider yourself a criminal, Christopher? Or, may I call you Hero?”
The boy rolled his eyes. “I don’t give a damn whatchoo call me, you ain’t my friend, you’re just a cop. If you’re tryin’to butter me up to make me talk, it ain’t gonna work. I want my lawyer.”
Ray raised his eyebrows and looked at Lewis, who said, “Your lawyer has been contacted and is on the way. But in the meantime, you can listen to what Detective Peters has to say without saying a word in reply.”
Peters smiled and said, “As I was saying, if you consider yourself a criminal, I have a story here I’d like to share with you, just the first paragraph really. Edgar Allan Poe describes the essence of all crime.” He leaned forward and asked, “Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective story? Sure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made it famous, but it was a man pegged a horror writer that created it. Didn’t know that, did you? After all, crime is horror. Want to hear that story, Hero?”
Scowling, Cummings said, “I don’t give a damn about your storytime crap, I just want my lawyer!”
Lieutenant Oswald said, “He’s on his way. You can stand to educate yourself with a little classical literature, Junior. Listen to the detective’s story. I’m gonna step out into the hall. I want you to hang on every syllable that he’s about to read.” He then smiled and opened the door as Peters opened his book the marked page.
As Lewis Oswald walked out into the hall, Ben Rogers followed him. “Lieutenant, aren’t you going to listen in?” he asked.
The detective shook his round head. “I’ve heard that thing too many times to count. All that stuff about secrets that won’t allow themselves to be told and being carried to the grave, choking in bed with a heavy heart... That shit gives me the creeps. Makes me lose sleep at night. And it makes me wonder: if we use it to crack the criminals, and it makes me uneasy, am I any more innocent than they are? Or are we all criminals in our own way?”
Rogers looked perplexed. “Sir, I’m sure you’re reading too much into it. It’s just a frightening passage by a man that was obviously depraved.”
Lewis laughed. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
The young officer pointed at the door of the interrogation room, gesturing towards Ray Peters, and said, “He sure knows what stories makes those crooks crack. I bet when he became a cop, he didn’t imagine he’d spend most of his time reading to people in the interrogation chambers.”
Oswald smirked. “You’ve got it backwards. He never intended on becoming a cop in the first place. He was an English major, on his way to becoming a professor of American Lit. Then someone murdered his father, and he figured that he knew enough about crime from Doyle and Poe to solve crimes himself. Switched majors, from English to criminology, but he never imagined that he’d be using that old lit in this profession. He gripes when we ask him to do it, and that’s just the bitterness over his old man talking, but deep down, he’s doing what he loves best.”
Rogers nodded. “He doesn’t seem to like police work that much. Or the other policemen.”
“He takes some getting used to. I’ve got no problem with the man, except the way he dresses! No tie, no dress slacks, no loafers. Sneakers!”
Ben shrugged with a smile. “I like sneakers.”
Lewis let out a flustered breath. “You people have no sense of police style. I’m heading back in. That Hero character should be begging for protection before spilling a name by now.”
“Yes, sir.” The lieutenant opened the door to the interrogation chamber and they stepped back inside.
Just as Oswald had predicted, Hero Junior was pleading with Detective Peters. “I don’t wanna end up like those guys in the story, Detective, I don’t! I don’t wanna carry this to the grave! But don’tcha see, I ain’t got no other choice! This guy’s a killer!”
Ray arched his eyebrows. “Have you seen him kill anyone?”
“Someone whose body has been recovered and whose murder case is still open but unsolved?”
Peters looked at Lewis incredulously, then back to Cummings. “If you have eyewitness testimony that can put this guy away for murder and bootlegging, you don’t have to worry about him getting to you! You’ll be protected, and there’s no way we’ll let him get to you if he gets out on bail. You’ll be tucked away safely until they slam the bars on this guy forever, then you’ll be in the clear.”
Cummings sniffled. “I wanna go home to Georgia and stay with my folks ’til the trial.”
Peters tilted his head. “I don’t think we can allow you to leave Illinois, but we can bring them here and put the three of you in a safe house somewhere remote. This is a big state, lots of places to choose from. Even if we don’t get clearance to let you out of the county, there are forests... You’d be secluded. Safe. What do you say, Hero?”
He sniffed again. “Okay. But I wantchoo to get on the phone with the cops in Toombs County now and tell ’em to get my parents ready to come here tonight. I’ll sign whatever you want me to, and then I want the three of us someplace safe before the sun comes up tomorrow mornin’.”
Peters grimaced and looked at Lieutenant Oswald, who teetered his hand back and forth in the air. Ray then sighed and said, “We can put you in a hotel for the night, that’s the best we can do until we can get this worked out with the bigwigs. But before we spend any money on lodgings for you, we need a collar. Give us the name so we can go make the arrest and then put it in writing. Who’s our bad guy here, Hero?”
Cummings took a deep breath and said, “His name’s Bobby Oldman.”
Ray’s eyes widened. “Bobby Oldman?” He looked at Lewis. “We’ve been after that murdering asshole for a long time. Now we’ve got something to go on, we can finally put him away.” He looked back at the sniffling boy and said, “Don’t worry, Hero, we are definitely going to take care of you. Lieutenant Oswald will get you to fill out the proper paperwork, I’m going to go get a squad together to go to Oldman’s house and make an arrest. Okay?”
Junior nodded. “Okay.”
Oswald looked at Peters with a smirk and said, “I’m the one that’s in charge here. Why do I have to do the paperwork and let you make the arrest?”
“Because I got him to talk, and you know I’m right. I’ve worked on a lot of dead-end Bobby Oldman cases before, I want to be there to bust him. I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah, sure. This time don’t take so damn long putting a team together. You’re so picky.”
Ray smiled. “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. Gotta have a team that reflects perfection to contrast the corruption represented by the people we’re going up against.”
Oswald laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, whatever. Get out of here.”
Across town, the rain drummed its calypso sound on the tin roof of Bobby Oldman’s large storage shed. Inside, Ralph Turner was on his knees, bruised, battered, and bloody, before Bobby Oldman himself.
Oldman was large, at least six feet and four inches tall, and muscular throughout. He wore a white tank top to show off his muscles as well as his battle scars. He had claw marks across his chest from where a woman he had been strangling had scratched at him frantically. He had a jagged line down his shoulder where he had been stabbed with a broken beer bottle in a barroom brawl. And he had a hole in his side from where he had been shot while running from the police during a heist. But his face was flawless. He peered down at Ralph with his piercing eyes glimmering under the fluorescent lights, grinding his teeth so that the veins in his temples would shift.
Turner, a balding man of average build (well, average except for those lovehandles on the sides) with thick black glasses, was a forty-three-year-old insurance salesman with a penchant for cocaine. He borrowed a grand from Oldman to get his fix, but never paid it back. And now it was time to pay the piper. He begged, “Bobby, please, don’t kill me. I’ll get you the money. I’ll mortgage my house first thing in the morning! I’ll get you your money by the end of the week, I promise, just give me a chance to go to the bank, and-”
Bobby reached down and grabbed Ralph just above his mandible, shutting him up. He picked him up and backed him against the wall. He then reached into his back pocket and retrieved what he had stashed there: an icepick. He let out a deep exasperated breath and said in his deep Midwest drawl, “You know what fascinates me most about the human skull, Ralphie?” Still squeezing his debtor’s jaw so that speaking would be impossible, Oldman answered the question automatically. “The eye sockets. The entire skull is hard, as to protect the brain... except for the eyes. Why would God give us two perfectly round vulnerable spots in front of the brain? Do you know, Ralphie?”
Ralph made a gurgling sound in response.
Bobby rolled his eyes and said, “Shake your head or nod.”
Ralph shook his head, indicating no.
“Well, whatever the case, the eye sockets are soft. Soft enough to slide a sharp object into them, just past the eye, or through the eye if you want to be messy.” He tightened his grip on Ralph’s head and used his forearm to press his body against the wall.
Ralph squealed in protest, but Oldman said, “Now Ralph, come on! You know that if you were gonna mortgage your house, you would’ve done it a month ago when I first warned you. I don’t know why people get so uptight when you threaten to kill them anyway. All I’m doing is subtracting years. That’s all life is, maybe eighty max. You’ve lived forty-three. That’s more than half! And being a drug addict, it’s a surprise you’ve lasted this long. So, you’ve taken a thousand dollars from me, and I’m taking thirty-six years from you. I don’t think it’s such a bad exchange, really.”
Ralph squealed once more as Oldman drove the icepick through his eye socket, just to the left of his right eye, causing his body to convulse twice before falling still. Bobby pulled his hand away from Turner’s mouth, it now covered in blood and foam. He grimaced and tried to shake the putrescence off of his fingers as the body fell to the floor.
He called out, “Boys! Come get Ralph! Put him in one of those couches you hollowed out, put the cushions back over him, and take the thing to the dump! Do it in a stolen truck, then ditch it! Wear gloves!”
Three guys ran towards Ralph Turner’s body and two of them wrapped it in plastic and carried it away as the third cleaned up the blood where he had fallen.
Bobby pulled out a handkerchief and was cleaning his hand as a young man who looked a lot like a thin version of Ben Rogers with a clear complexion ran up to him and said, “Bobby! I just got off the phone with my cousin. The cop? Hero Junior got busted with some of our product. He sang like a canary, man. This ace English major cop made him talk. They’re coming for you, man.”
Oldman ground his teeth again, the veins in his temples shifting. “Find out what hotel they’re putting Junior in, I want his room riddled with bullets. And find out who that cop is. I want to pay him a visit when I get out on bail.”
“According to Ben, his name’s Ray Peters.”
“Ray Peters, huh? How’d he get Junior to talk? A threat to his family, some shit like that?”
“Nope. Get this: he scared him by reading him a paragraph from an Edgar Allan Poe story.”
Bobby Oldman stared blankly at Officer Rogers’s cousin for a second, then he smirked. Then he threw back his head and laughed. “Poe? He got my name using a Poe story? Oh, I can’t wait to meet this cop. I’ve got plans for him. Do me a favor, while my lawyer’s going through the legal shit trying to get me out of jail, I want you to go to a bookstore. Pick up a copy of a book of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe. I feel like I could stand to do some reading while waiting on my hearing.”
Rogers smiled. “I hear ya. I’ll get it done.”
Bobby smiled back. “Good boy.” He then looked out the open door at the approaching police cars, comfortable in knowing that Ralph Turner’s body was on the way to the city landfill, and mused, “Edgar Allan Poe. Knock me right over.”
Two days later, Hero Junior was dead, a victim of a violent Tommy gun attack, and Bobby Oldman was released on one hundred thousand dollars bail. It angered Ray Peters to a serious degree, knowing that Oldman was getting away with murder yet again, but there was nothing he could do about it but wait until the trial date and present the record of Junior’s arrest for the bootleg whiskey, and enter the testimony of all of the police officers that saw and heard Christopher Cummings say that Bobby Oldman was the man that he had received the booze from. With the whiskey in evidence, they just might be able to make that charge stick, but without Cummings to testify against Oldman, there would be no way to condemn him for murder, and that was what really burned Peters. Convicting a criminal is fine, but as far as he was concerned, you should at least convict and punish the criminal for the worst crime that he committed! Sentencing a murderer for bootlegging just wasn’t right.
Peters walked through the station’s parking garage to his car and was juggling through his keys to unlock the door when suddenly a baseball bat swished through the air and greeted him directly in the windpipe. Ray wheezed and stumbled backwards, one arm flailing and the other clutching his chest. The man with the bat raised it into the readied position and stepped towards the detective as he fell onto one knee.
A low chuckle came from the shadows. Bobby Oldman walked towards the two men, saying, “Detective Ray Peters. I saw you at the bust and again at the hearing, but we’ve never officially met. Bobby Oldman, pleased to meet you.” That being said, he kicked the detective in the kidneys. Peters gasped all that he could, still reeling from the bump he had taken from the bat, and fell to both knees. Oldman grinned and reached out to the other man for the bat. Once it was in his hands, he said, “I hear you like Poe, Ray. You used a Poe story to get the warrant for my arrest. And with the booze in police evidence, I’m looking at about twenty years in the big house. That’s real nice. I guess we’ll have to use my boy Joey Rogers’s cousin, Officer Ben, to, uh, ‘lose’ that evidence, the way he made the call to let me know about you and Junior.” He grinned again. “It’s good that you like Poe, Ray, ’cause I did some reading during my stay in your cell and I found a story of his that I really liked. I think you’re gonna like it, too.” And with that, he raised the bat over his head like the sword of a samurai warrior and brought it down on the detective’s bare skull, knocking him unconscious.
Ray was brought out of unconsciousness by a sudden difficulty in breathing, and so he opened his eyes. The first thing that he noticed was that his arms were bound behind his back so that he couldn’t move his hands. The second thing he noticed was that he couldn’t move his feet; they were bound together and his legs were somehow strapped to the bottom of whatever surface he was lying upon. Finally, there was a piece of duct tape over his mouth, but that wasn’t the only thing that complicated his breathing.
He was enclosed in a small box with a glass window above his face so that he could see what was going on outside. And when he saw what Bobby Oldman was holding in front of his face, a copy of The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, he knew that this was no ordinary box. It was a coffin.
Oldman said loud enough for Ray to hear him through the glass, “You liked ‘The Man of The Crowd,’ huh? That one didn’t have enough action for my taste, not enough peril. I liked the torture stories the best. The ones where the narrator just did escape some gruesome nail-biting torture. ‘The Pit And The Pendulum’ was good. But I think the one I liked best was ‘The Premature Burial.’ How about it, Ray? Did you like that one?”
Peters squirmed in his coffin, trying to fight his way out of it.
“Save your breath, Ray,” Oldman said. “There’s not much left in there anyway. Houdini couldn’t get out of that coffin. We duct-taped your hands behind your back, taped your feet together, andstaple-gunned your pants’ legs to the floor! I had this coffin specially designed so that you could see the dirt come in on top of you. Wasn’t that nice of me?” He cackled, then nodded to two of his men, Joey Rogers and the man that had swung the baseball bat, who bent down, picked the coffin up, and started carrying it out of Bobby’s shed and into the empty gravel pit behind it.
“Tie these ropes around the ends so we can lower him down slow,” Oldman barked. “I don’t want to break that precious casket. Not when our dear detective is going to be spending the rest of his eternity in there.”
Ray saw a frayed rope tighten over his window as it was tied around the top end of the casket. Moments later, he saw the man that had held the bat using that rope to lower him into a hole in the gravel pit. Exactly how deep that hole was, Ray didn’t know, but as he was interred into it, it felt and looked from the inside like a lot more than six feet deep.
Once the coffin touched the ground, the ropes dropped down on top of it with a thud much louder than you would expect to hear from simple rope; Peters suspected that every sound was magnified from the inside of a coffin. Oldman peered down into the hole at Ray, blocking the moonlight, making everything dark. He called out, barely audible, “Is that hole deep enough, Ray? I trust that it is. Well, I hate goodbyes, but it looks like this is it. It’s funny, isn’t it? Edgar Allan Poe brought us together, and he tore us apart. When you get to the other side, you’ll have to tell him all about how he influenced us, won’t you? Or will you just kick his ass?” He laughed again, then he held up a shovel. “Okay, enough talk. Goodbye, Ray.” And with that said, he and his two men began to shovel gravel onto Ray Peters’s coffin.
No sound came out of the casket itself, but on the inside, a loud murmuring came from beneath the duct tape over the detective’s mouth. Though, it wasn’t quite a scream. It had a regular pattern to it, so it very well could have been a sobbing . . . but it wasn’t. Detective Ray Peters was laughing. He was laughing at the top of his lungs, because in his head he kept repeating over and over again, “In ‘The Premature Burial,’ the guy gets out of the coffin at the end... In ‘The Premature Burial,’ the guy gets out of the coffin at the end...”
The Oldman case got pushed around the D.A.’s office for the next eleven months. Sure enough, the bootleg whiskey in the evidence locker was lost, causing the prosecution to ask for more time. The trial date eventually arrived, but the eyewitness testimony of several officers including Lieutenant Lewis Oswald wasn’t good enough. They didn’t have the witness who had been caught with the booze in the first place, they didn’t have the booze itself, and to make matters even worse, they didn’t have the superior officer that organized Oldman’s arrest, who also drew the confession from said witness, Ray Peters. The judge had no choice but to dismiss the case in favor of the defendant, claiming there was just too much room for reasonable doubt as there wasn’t enough evidence. Bobby Oldman was all smiles as the gavel clacked.
About three weeks after the courtroom mockery they called the trial of Bobby Oldman, Lewis Oswald sat at his desk looking through his personal file folder. Newspaper clippings from the year before about his missing friend, Ray Peters, feared dead. He sighed and said,“I wish you were here, Ray. You’d use that library in your head to pick out a passage that would make Bobby Oldman drop to his knees and confess to everything he did. Or, maybe you’d put those horror stories to use and torture Oldman, Poe-style. It’d be what he deserved.” He sighed again. “It’d be the only kind of justice to suit his kind.” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, drifting off to sleep.
About twenty minutes later, the lieutenant was suddenly awakened by a hand grasping his shoulder. He shrieked and looked up, startled.
Sergeant Ted Abernathy smirked down at him and said, “Easy, big fella. But I’m afraid we’ve got trouble.”
Wiping the lingering traces of sleep from his eyes, Lewis asked, “What kind of trouble?”
“You know Officer Rogers? Ben Rogers? His partner, McDonald, stopped by his apartment to pick him up. Said he hadn’t called and that wasn’t like him. When he went upstairs, he found him dead in his bed.”
Oswald stood up. “Let’s go.”
Lieutenant Oswald looked at the dead officer in his bed with a grimace. “That’s the most horrified expression I’ve ever seen on a person’s face. It looked like he couldn’t wait to die, just to get away from whoever was killing him, because they were scaring him so bad.”
Abernathy pointed at Rogers’s bare chest.“What’s that bruise there? Looks like whoever killed him was trying to crush his heart.”
Oswald shrugged. “Could be.” He leaned in for a closer examination. He noticed a gray, sticky substance on Rogers’s neck and the palms of his hands, from where he had tried to fight off his attacker.“Hmmm. Looks like duct tape,” he said. “Get somebody in here with a plastic baggie and some tweezers. This is evidence. Whoever strangled him had duct tape on his hands.”
Abernathy gave him a vacuous stare. “Why would anyone have duct tape on their hands?”
“I don’t know. But our guy did.”
“What makes you think it was a guy?”
Oswald laughed and began to pace the room.“This guy’s neck is crushed! You show me a dame that can do that with her bare hands! Rogers had police training, he was in good physical shape despite his weight problem. He would have been able to defend himself. The person that killed him is in superb athletic condition. I’m talking superhuman strength. It may have been hired muscle, which means Rogers may have gotten involved in something he shouldn’t have. Don’t we have a file on another Rogers downtown? Yes! A Joey Rogers, he runs with Bobby Oldman. Huh, that’s interest-”
Abernathy held up his hand and yelled, “Stop!”
The lieutenant, in mid-pace, froze.“What?”
Oswald did, and what he saw made his heart ache. A muddy sneaker print. It looked to be size ten.
He looked up at the fluorescent lightbulb and puzzled over this. “No. It can’t be! It’s been a year to the day since he disappeared! He can’t be alive! And... why like this? Just because this boy is related to an Oldman stooge? No, that’s not like him.” He strained for more answers. “Ben didn’t like him. He said he didn’t seem to like the other officers. And then when Ray went to assemble a squad, Rogers made a phone call. The prick was squealing about Hero Junior! He was warning Oldman!” He looked back at the corpse in the bed. “Some secrets you carry to the grave, with them crushing your heart and choking you in your throat. That’s what he did to you.”
By this time, Abernathy was looking thoroughly perplexed. “Lew? What the hell are you talking about? It sounds like you’re talking about Peters. But... that’s crazy. We both know the guy’s gotta be dead by now. Bobby Oldman iced him.”
His eyes aflame, Lewis said, “So? In horror stories, people return from the dead for vengeance all the time, right? Well, we deal in crime, and Ray used to always say that crime is horror, that’s why a horror writer invented the detective story. Come on, we gotta get to Bobby Oldman’s place.”
“Why? You think Peters is back from the dead and is gonna kill Oldman unless we stop him?”
“No!” he shouted over his shoulder as they started down the stairs.
“Then why are we going over there?”
“I don’t want to stop him, I just want to see him one last time, and I
want to make sure that bastard Oldman gets what he deserves!”
Sergeant Abernathy stopped. “Wait a minute. You’re condoning murder. If we get there and Peters is actually killing Oldman . . . My God, I’m actually indulging in this fantasy!” He sighed.“Anyway, if we get there and Peters is actually killing Oldman, if we don’t carry out our duty as policemen and stop him, that makes us accessories to murder!”
Lewis rolled his eyes, then started walking towards the parking lot. “How do you arrest a dead man? If he’s found guilty of murder, do they give him life, or the death penalty? Can he get off on self-defense, seeing how, technically, Oldman did try to kill him? Sure, he succeeded and now Ray’s a living corpse killing him for revenge, but that’s beside the point.”
“This is insane!” Abernathy squealed.
“Then don’t ride with me,” Oswald replied.
Bobby Oldman was looking at his little black book, at his list of deadlines of debtors to see whose turn it was to die, when suddenly he heard a small thump. He looked up, startled. “Who’s there?” He stood up and looked around. Then he heard it again. Thump-thump. And again. It repeated over and over, a regular pattern. He then realized that it sounded like a heartbeat. But that was ridiculous. Why would he be hearing a heartbeat?
He followed the sound until he came to the bathroom. He peered inside nervously before he entered to make sure no one was there. Shower curtain open, no one in the tub. Washing machine door open, the machine pushed all the way into the corner, so no one could hide behind it. Window locked so no one could get in. He stepped inside and looked down. That thumping was coming from beneath the floor.
Suddenly a knock came at the door, causing him to jump, startled. Though he still heard the thumping from beneath the floor, he closed the bathroom door in the hopes that his guests would not. However, it would not desist. It was as if it was inside his very head! Nervously looking over his shoulder back to the bathroom, he walked to his apartment door and opened it to see Lieutenant Oswald and Sergeant Abernathy staring at him in surprise.
Breaking the awkward silence, Oldman asked, “What? You did know I live here, right? So why are you surprised to see me?”
Oswald looked down at his feet and cleared his throat. “Um, yes, well, we didn’t expect you to be home.”
Thump-thump. He looked back over his shoulder at the bathroom door, then back at the lieutenant. “And why’s that?”
Oswald obviously didn’t know how to answer him, so Abernathy took the reins. “There’s been a murder. A police officer with connections to your gang. Fellow by the name of Ben Rogers. Name ring a bell?”
Thump-thump. Bobby ground his teeth, looking at the policemen, fearing that they must have heard it that time, but neither of them showed any sign that indicated that they had. Loudly, as to overshadow the sound if it were to repeat, Oldman said, “Rogers? Nope, sorry, can’t say that I know a Rogers. Wish I could help you out, but I can’t. Can you guys be on your way, I’m not feeling too well right now?”
Oswald lifted an eyebrow. “Guilty conscience turning your stomach, Oldman?”
Thump-thump. He shouted, “No! That is, um, I just have a touch of fever.”
“Chills, huh?” the big detective asked.“I’ve been getting those myself lately. Especially with this being the one year anniversary of Ray Peters’s disappearance. And it’s funny that you should mention that you didn’t know any Rogers, because we have a record on a Joey Rogers back at the station. We busted him for possession of narcotics in a car registered in your name.”
Thump-thump. Bobby gulped. “I wonder how he got my car.”
“You bailed him out, saying he was your friend and that you would never know him to be in possession of drugs. Anyway, Joey was Ben’s cousin. Wanna know something else?”
Thump-thump. Sweat poured down his forehead. “What’s that?”
“Ben didn’t like Ray Peters. Thought he was stuck-up. Ya know what I think? I think Ben called his cousin on the day Christopher Cummings was arrested. Told Joey all about how Junior squealed about you, and how he squealed to Ray. And now . . . they’re both gone. And funny thing, a year after Ray’s disappearance, a year to the day in fact, Ben’s found dead in his bed, strangled to death with his heart crushed. Sounds like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story, doesn’t it, Bobby? The very Poe story that Ray used to get Junior to talk.”
Thump-thump, thump-thump,thump-thump . . . Bobby couldn’t take it any more. He had to make it stop.“Excuse me, Detective, I’ve got to go to the bathroom. I’m gonna be sick.” He ran into the bathroom, shut the door behind him, locked it, and looked down at the floor where the beating was coming from.
Oswald looked at Abernathy in the hallway and asked, “Did that sound like a confession of guilt to you?”
Abernathy nodded. “It sure as hell did. You found out the truth about him and the Rogers kid and he didn’t like it. And now that he knows someone iced the kid for it, it got him feeling queasy. He may as well have signed a confession.”
Lewis sighed and looked down the hall. “He didn’t invite us in. What should we do?”
Ted shrugged. “He left the door open. That’s an open invitation to anybody. We may as well step in and sit down. And close the door for him to keep the criminal element out.”
Oswald laughed. “The criminal element lives here! They’re probably all his best friends!”
Abernathy smiled. “Yeah, that’s true.”
Back in the bathroom, Bobby Oldman was using a pair of scissors that he kept in there for cutting hair to peel up the tile. The wooden planks exposed, Bobby greedily wedged the scissors between the boards and pried them up. But what he saw beneath those boards . . . was nothing. That’s when he felt the wind blowing in on him and knew that something was terribly wrong.
There were two things that were wrong, as a matter of fact. The first was that he could feel the wind on him. The window was open. He looked at it and saw a hole the size of a human fist in the glass just above the lock.
Oldman swallowed a lump in his throat and looked to his left at the other thing that was so very wrong. The yellow plastic shower curtain was now pulled to. Suddenly a gnarled hand with the flesh gnarled away to the bone, probably from scratching at the inside of a coffin, clutched the curtain and snatched it back. Standing there, in the tub, his skin blue and bloated from lack of circulation, was Ray Peters. His body was well-preserved as a result of how inpenetrable the coffin had been made. His hair had grown post-mortem, shoulder-length now. His eyes had long since become rotten, but he could still see Bobby, cowering in fear.
Peters laughed a grating rasp, the sound of someone laughing through an artificial voicebox after losing a bout with throat cancer. He held up up for Oldman to see a copy of The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
Bobby was crying now, whining, “Please go away. Just go away.”
Ray’s corpse said in its carcinogenic voice, “So you liked ‘The Premature Burial,’ huh, Bobby? Not enough flat-out horror for me. I found one that I think you’ll like, I think you know which one it is. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart.’ But as you see from prying up those boards, there’s no heart there! We’ll have to fix that right away.” He grabbed Bobby by the mandible so that any sound he might make would be a barely audible gargle.
Outside in the den, Lewis and Ted heard the gurgling screams, but thought nothing of it, thinking that Oldman was vomiting. Oswald said, “Sounds pretty nasty, doesn’t it?”
Abernathy nodded. “Yeah. He’s been in there a while, too. Should we go check on him?”
“Nah. You know how it is when you puke. Besides, if the guilt’s eating the asshole alive, it’s what he deserves.”
Back in the bathroom, Peters hissed at his one-time tormentor, “It’s funny, isn’t it, Bobby? Poe brought us together, and now he’s tearing us apart. Again. You’ll have to tell him all about his influence on us in the afterlife. Or maybe you’ll just kick his ass. Yeah, that’s probably what you’ll do, since you’re nothing but a two-bit bully. Okay, enough talk. Goodbye, Bobby.” And with that said, Ray’s animated corpse punched its right hand through Oldman’s chest, just beneath his ribcage. Bobby let out an ear-splitting whine, grabbing the attention of the policemen outside. Peters pulled his hand out of Bobby’s chest and held up the heart for his victim to see. Then, with a smile, he dropped it into the hole beneath the floorboards that Oldman had made with his scissors. Bobby clutched the yellow shower curtain and collapsed dead to the floor, the curtain still clinging by one ring to the shower pole.
Oswald said, “Stand back,” and kicked the door with all of his might. He looked in and cringed. He then noticed a bloody footprint next to the corpse, marked in a size ten sneaker. “Oh well,” he said, looking back down at Oldman’s body, “it’s what you deserved.” He then examined the scene more intently. The shower curtain hung over the body from the shower pole to Bobby’s dead hand, in front of the light bulb, creating a shadow that engulfed all of the victim’s body. Oswald sighed and said, “And from this shadow your spirit shall be lifter never-”
A hand seized his shoulder, causing him to jump and give out a little yell.
Abernathy said, “Jeez, Lieutenant, take it easy. I’m gonna go out to the car and call this in, okay? And I hope your sense of justice is satisfied, seeing how we were here when it happened and didn’t do anything to stop it.”
The lieutenant nodded, and Ted left the room. Not seeing anything more that he could do here, Oswald went back into the den to sit down. Outside the bathroom window, a rasping voice laughed and said softly, “We’ll turn you into a Poe lover yet, Lieutenant.” It then turned and trod on sneaker-clad feet back towards its secret grave.