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Author's Notes: All credit to the characters of Jeff, Liu, Randy, Keith, Troy, Nina and Jane go to the original authors of their respective stories. This is the fourth installment in my series detailing horrific events that go on to haunt the small town of Mandeville, LA several years after the incidents of my contest winning story, Jeff the Killer 2015. I would like to give a special thanks to Kevin Tierney, whose adaptation of Jane the Killer inspired me to continue this story. I would also like to thank Kevin, along with Mike Rucker and Travis Kuhlman for their assistance in providing feedback and pointing out those pesky typos.

Enjoy!



JtK Nina

Forced Out

Four days before Liu Woods’ interview airs...

From WDSU New Orleans Evening News:

In more grizzly and chilling news involving the violence and bizarre incidents happening in Mandeville, two bodies were discovered by filmmaker and television personality Derrick Reynolds in his apartment last night.Reynolds, who’d been filming a segment for his popular cable network program Cult Hunters in Mandeville, had just returned to his C.B.D. apartment sometime after midnight. Upon entry to his home, he was greeted by the desecrated remains of two colleagues, identified as Morgan Anders of Columbus Ohio and Jeremy Parsons of Jackson Mississippi; both who’d been working as actors on Reynolds’ program. At this time police are not commenting on the possible connection between the double homicide and the events that recently rocked the small North Shore community, allegedly all centered around the notorious acts of 2015 involving Jeff Woods, a teenage boy who’d go on to murder both of his parents along with several other victims, two of which were also teens, before vanishing without a trace. It’s interesting to note that Reynolds was actually interviewing Jane Arkansaw, a young Mandeville woman who also was victimized by home intruders dressed as the iconic Jeff the Killer. New Orleans Police have asked anyone with information related to the murders of Anders and Parsons to please call the Crime Stoppers Hotline located on your screen. WDSU will continue to investigate and report the latest developments in this strange and terrifying case as it develops.

Dalton Bradshaw, formerly of the Mandeville Police Department sat up in the small bed he was sharing with his bartender Sherri Willis and lit a cigarette. She reached over and grabbed the pack of Pall Mall Reds, taking one for her self as well. Dalton chuckled, trying not to sound too jaded to the world around him before spilling the contents of his mind to his recently found lover.

“So, that shit leaked right on out of Mandeville and is spilling into New Orleans now. Funny, most of those lily-white commuters living over there were always terrified of New Orleans crime spilling into their backyards. Funny little world isn’t it?”

“Too funny,” she replied, taking a drag and watching the smoke drift up to her ceiling.

Since Dalton had been terminated from his position as a detective with the M.P.D., she’d been falling asleep and waking up with him almost every night. Apparently what she’d thought would at first be a one-night stand fueled mostly by pity with a dash of attraction tossed in was becoming something totally different. She wasn’t falling for him exactly; Sherri wasn’t the type of young woman to do such things. She made it to 26 years of age without ever having an official boyfriend; therefore she’d never had an official break-up. She liked it that way, and regardless of the strange “Dick Tracy” like charm and excitement that Dalton was bringing into her life, she had no intentions of changing her late night habits to conform to any traditional social rules of these great United States. He seemed just fine with that, which both pleased and annoyed Sherri at the same time. She didn’t want a relationship, but Dalton’s pragmatic views of the emotional and intellectual connection that she did feel for him scared her a bit. He was almost twice her age, had been married at least twice that she knew of and likely had children walking the planet that he either didn’t claim or didn’t know existed. Regardless of the pride that Sherri Willis took in her impulsive and often reckless lifestyle, she knew that Dalton could hurt her. She wasn’t concerned about any physical hurt; she knew he was at the very least the sort of honorable man that wouldn’t strike a woman. What she feared was that he was, in her own term, “Sherri Proof.” Working as a French Quarter bartender gave her the eyes and ears of countless patrons that wandered (or staggered) into her establishment. Her countless tattoos (she honestly had to guess at the real number now) and carefree lifestyle made her a big draw for the young men (and a few women) that became lost in her enigmatic nature. It wasn’t that she delighted in, or even enjoyed being able to play the ‘puppet master’ role with those that fancied her unique flavors, but rather it was the safety in being the one in control that brought her comfort. With Dalton Bradshaw, she knew that she couldn’t hurt him, and in that strange twist of irony, that meant that he could hurt her. She admitted, only to herself when she was alone, that she needed to be needed. Whether it was some tourist that wanted to take home the “freaky” girl, or some snooty artist from the Quarter that wanted to get her naked under the guise of sketching her, she liked the wanting look in their eyes. With him, the only want was a fierce desire to savor the moment he was in. She had been quite wrong about his physical prowess in the bedroom. At first she believed that he’d be huffing and puffing before he was even halfway done, but he carried a strength, quiet but intense, and when he laid her down, she could do nothing to escape his powerful aura. She was enthralled by the physical rollercoaster ride of endorphins that he could bring her on, but when he was done, when he would roll over and light a cigarette, she could tell that if she should cease to exist at that very moment, the steam engine that is Dalton would simply chug along as though it never stopped.

“So, this Derrick guy, I remember him, you know? I had transferred to Mandeville when he started making all these crazy reports about being kidnapped by a cult, but I still had a lot of friends on the NOPD and they told me all about him. Now the kid is famous, good on him,” Dalton explained.

“Are you spending the night?” Sherri asked.

“If you’ll have me darling.”

She would. The night he’d come home with her, he’d been fired from his job with the police. Another set up. Dalton had kept a little baggie of Adderall in his glove compartment for late night work or early morning shifts. He’d never have believed that Chief Hardy would have the balls to go into his personal vehicle. He’d told Sherri about the incident time and time again, and as he lit a second Pall Mall, she could tell just by his agitated inhale that she was going to hear about it once more.

“I was a fucking idiot,” he began. “I never should have kept that dope in my car. I mean, it was my car, but since it was used for official business now and then, I essentially gave my boss permission to search it anytime he wanted to. Christ though Sherri, had I known he was after my badge like that…”

Hardy had called Dalton into his office following the death of Simon Lymon at the hands of a very mentally disturbed fellow officer. The bag of amphetamines was sitting on his desk. Dalton knew he was in a tight spot, but believed he could explain it away without losing his shield.

“Why was this in your glove box?” Hardy asked.

“Why were you in my car?”

“Shut up Bradshaw! I am on a very thin line of decision making regarding you right now, so don’t be the dumb asshole that talks himself out of what little favor I might be willing to do for you!”

Bradshaw shut his mouth. Hardy continued, “This is a controlled substance Detective. Now, I checked your file and I don’t see anything on record that indicates you’re legally prescribed this medication. Can you call your doctor right now and verify this?”

“No, it’s not prescribed for me,” Dalton answered in a quiet tone, choosing his words carefully.

“And Detective, what is the department policy on officers possessing narcotics that don’t belong to them?”

“It’s a violation sir.”

“What does the law say about people possessing drugs that don’t belong to them?”

“It’s illegal sir.”

“No shit, it’s illegal. A police detective breaking the law during a time when more and more people out there are losing faith in the cops. And here in Mandeville, where people have lots of good reasons not to trust public officials at the moment; what in the blue hell were you thinking having this shit in your car?”

“Someone gave it to me, I was going to…”

Hardy had cut him off, “You were going to what?” he asked, as he produced a small plastic cup and sat it next to the bag of pills. Dalton knew what that little cup was for, with its measured lines and clinical instructions. “If I were to have you piss in this right now and dip a little testing strip in there, do you think there would be anything of concern for you?”

“Sir, I was out of line earlier okay! I shouldn’t have stood here and let Lymon disrespect you like he did. I just… I just want to close this case. The pills helped from time to time, that’s all. I’m not a fucking junkie, you know me better than that!”

“Bradshaw, the case is closed on this Jeff Woods bullshit. Done and over with. And so is your career here in Mandeville.”

“Wait, you’re going to shit-can me over a few pep pills?”

“Dalton, listen carefully. If I piss test you, you’re out the door and out of police work. At your age no police department is going to want to take you in and have to train all of your bad habits out of you. Police work is for the young and impressionable now. Old dogs like us, well, unless you make it to the big office like I did, you’re hanging by a thread. But I will do you a favor. I’ll let you resign effective immediately. You can say that watching your buddy Agent Lymon get shot was too much for you, that you had to take a break and then decided you didn’t want to come back. You can still draw your pension and without the black mark of a termination for pissing hot on your personnel file, you’ll land on your feet in time. Now, that deal hinges on you leaving without a big fuss. I don’t want to see you rabble rousing out there. Just leave your badge and your gun on my desk and go home. I’ll have someone on the night shift clean out your desk and locker and we’ll get any personal possessions back to you nice and quiet. That way you don’t have to take the walk of shame from here to your car. You go quietly into the night, and I’ll make sure to write a glowing recommendation for you.”

Bradshaw stood in shock. He felt as though a sledgehammer had been taken to his stomach. His face was flushed with the heat of embarrassment and anger. He wanted to reach over Hardy’s desk and pummel the little corrupt fucker. However, his soon-to-be former employer was correct about the limitations of age. Should he be terminated for violating a drug policy in addition to the handful of other acts of malfeasance he’d gotten written up for during his time as a detective, he could likely end up lucky to work as a mall security guard. With a good letter of recommendation though, he could probably return to the NOPD, maybe even retain his detective position instead of having to go back to wearing a uniform. He’d also run the risk of losing his pension should he be terminated in this fashion. He hated Hardy with a passion, but he couldn’t turn down the man’s sadistic offer of mercy.

“I still think you should have slapped the shit out of him,” Sherri told him as she lit a second smoke of her own.

“Sure, yeah, then I could be unemployed and sitting in lock-up on battery charges. No, he fucked me over Sherri, he knew what he was doing and he did it by the numbers. Sometimes it goes that way, sometimes you just lose.”

Sherri released a sigh. She accepted that he was close to two decades her senior, but Dalton’s habit of speaking as though he were explaining some life lesson to a wayward child annoyed her to no end. This coupled with her other concerns over her unlikely connection with the man finally caused her annoyance to show.

“Dalton, what am I in your eyes?”

“Huh? The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

“I don’t know, am I just some wet behind the ears 'twenty-something' to you? Am I just some chick with a body that hasn’t started to droop in the wrong places yet? I’ve come to terms with the fact that you don’t see me as an equal, but do you at least see me as an adult?”

Dalton let out a sarcastic laugh as he picked up an empty condom wrapper from her nightstand and held it up. “I don’t know where all of this is coming from Sherri, but I’m pretty damned sure I see you as an adult.”

“I don’t mean an adult in the sense that you can legally fuck me, I mean mentally, intellectually… do you see me as a woman or just some dumb girl?”

“Sherri, the last few weeks have been hell on earth for me. My partner got his brains blow out right in front of me, I was screwed out of my job and my so-called “brothers of the badge” in Mandeville won’t even return a damn call. Hardy probably told them to stay away from me, and those limp dicks are too worried about their paychecks to see what’s right in front of them. And guess what, through all of that, you’re the person that has given me comfort and kept my ass sane. You’re the person that I look forward to seeing because you remind me that it’s not the whole damn world that’s crazy. So yeah, I see you as an adult okay. I need you right now, you’re something actually good in this pool of shit I find myself drowning in.”

She’d honestly not expected him to open up so quickly and easily and had been far more prepared to lambast him further than to process a real human response. Instead she simply allowed herself to smile a bit, taking in whatever good vibes his midnight confession brought out in her.

“Dalton, if you’re in a tight spot let me know, maybe I can help.”

“That’s the problem, this shit in Mandeville isn’t done yet, and it ain’t gonna be done until something big happens, that’s what I think anyway. Me and Lymon, we did a lot of investigating between the time that asshole Trent Vickers was pulled down from the wall on Shortcut Road to the time that other asshole Hardy fired me. I have information, but I can’t take it to Hardy and I can’t take what I have to the state or the feds until I get something conclusive.”

“I know you told me Hardy was corrupt, but why wouldn’t he want facts that could help solve the murders in his own town?”

“Like I told you before, as far as the chief is concerned, the matter is closed. Why do you really think he pushed me out Sherri? It wasn’t because Lymon mouthed off to him and it sure as shit wasn’t over a few uppers. The moment he realized that I was actually doing real police work and not just rubber-stamping the investigation, he knew I had to be contained. I’m not sure what he was hoping he’d find in my car, hell, maybe someone told him about the drugs, but either way, he had me by the balls at that point. He knows that I’m actually a real cop, not just some clown in a costume that will do the town’s bidding, so ordering me off the case wasn’t going to fix the issue. Instead he found a way to hold me hostage; or hold my ability to feed and clothe myself hostage anyway. Now I’m stuck here with cold hard evidence and if I try to make a move he’ll see that I’m blackballed right out of the only profession that I could ever achieve marginal success at.”

“You’re not a coward Dalton. You wouldn’t have made it inside of my front door if I detected a coward vibe from you. You’re a balls out motherfucker and until you do what you do best, you’re not going to get over this.”

“Sure, yeah, let’s go balls to the walls kiddo! And when I’m knocking on your door with a suitcase in each hand, are you going to take me in?”

“Stop with the victim noises! Shit man, just because you don’t have a badge anymore doesn’t mean you can’t keep looking into this!”

“That’s kind of exactly what it means Sherri. To do police work, you have to be a police officer.”

“Yeah, so are all those journalists out there cops?”

Dalton sat up but didn’t speak. He reached for another cigarette but only let it sit unlit between his fingers. Sherri had spoken a truth that he’d rattled around in his own head quite a few times over the last few weeks. He’d been thinking like a cop for so long that he’d forgotten there were other avenues. As much as he hated the press, he couldn’t deny their success in uncovering crimes, often times faster and in better fashion than the police. He had a concealed carry permit and a personal firearm. He had almost 20 years of experience working some of the meanest beats in New Orleans, and most of all, the hard work was already done.

“What are you thinking Dalton?” Sherri asked, bringing the former detective out of his mental retreat and back into reality.

“I’m thinking we’re going to need coffee and lots of it. If you’re going to be of any use to me in this you’re going to have to be up to speed on the facts of the case.”

She smiled, trying to maintain her excitement under the veil of her apathetic exterior. “Okay, I’ll brew coffee. Just how late are we going to be up?”

“Be glad you work nights darling, cuz we’re going to burn some midnight oil.”

Into the Land of the Mad

The day after the body of Trent Vickers was found nailed to a wall on Shortcut Road, Dalton and Simon sat parked on the shoulder of Hwy 190, looking at the sad and neglected sign.

SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL

“This place has gone down hill over the years, and it was already at the bottom of the hill and halfway buried in a hole,” Dalton mumbled to his partner.

“Oh come on now Dalton, I’m sure this is a great place to come and have your brains scrambled. Come for the Thorazine, stay for the basket weaving!”

“Can the jokes, this is serious. This hospital is the damned lynch pin. Both Trent Vickers and Brian Antoines spent time here. My guess is that they got to know each other behind these very walls, maybe even drew up the plans for Jeff’s Killers in there.”

“But both of them are dead now and someone is still out there doing this shit. I mean, Vickers didn’t nail himself to that wall.”

“No he didn’t Simon, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to turn over this rock and look to see what kind of vermin come scurrying out. Someone here might remember something. Maybe Vickers and Antoines had a little group of like-minded freaks. Maybe they had a leader. It’s worth a look if nothing else.”

“Yeah, but without a warrant those doctors aren’t going to just turn over privileged information about their patients. Which reminds me, why aren’t we getting a warrant first?”

“Simon, I’m not sure if you’re aware, but my boss wants this done a certain way. That way is, as I like to call it, the bullshit way. Mandeville is more concerned about sweeping this under the rug than they are actually solving a case. If we try for a warrant, it’ll be denied. Right after the judge shuts us down, I promise you his first call will be to Chief Hardy who will then promptly order us to back down, No, if we want to get this done, we have to fly under the radar a bit.”

“Fair enough, but that doesn’t help us convince a doctor to just up and violate Hippa Laws, now does it?”

Dalton chuckled, “Right you are, but we aren’t going to count on any shrinks to help us out. Doctors are tough to crack in these situations anyway. They’re too rich for a slob like me to try and bribe and if I try any old school cop tricks to pressure them into talking they can easily report me for harassment. After all, it’s not like we’re trying to get some crack head to rat on his supplier or something. No, trying to convince a guy who brings home more cash in a month than I do in a year to break the law is not an easy mountain to climb. But doctors aren’t the only ones with information you know.”

Dalton pulled his car into the long and narrow street that led from Hwy 190 into the hospital grounds. About 100 meters ahead of them was a security building. As they slowly approached, Dalton continued his lecture.

“No, the guy we’re looking for is most likely going to be an orderly. Some hospitals call them techs, but they’re essentially the big guys in white coats that come in and hold the loony down until the nurse can inject them full of ‘calm the fuck down’ juice. My cousin used to do that over at Charity Hospital. The job pays shit, usually just a hair above minimum wage and it’s dangerous as all hell. The doctors and nurses tend to look down on the techs too, at least according to my cousin. However, the orderlies are privy to a lot of information about patients.”

“Really Dalton? We’re going to lean on some dude making barely enough to live on? Seems kind of shitty.”

“Not at all. The trick is finding the right one. I’ll know him when I see him. We want the guy that hates the job and feels underappreciated. Those types are always in a big hurry to fuck over their employers. If we do this right, he’ll practically be leaning on us!”

Dalton slowed his car to a stop once they reached the security booth. A quick flash of badges followed, with the security officer paying extra attention (and perhaps a bit of awe) at Simon’s State Police shield.

“Anything I need to be aware of?” the guard asked.

“Naw, we’re just here to follow up on an investigation from in town. We need to talk to a few faculty members,” Dalton answered.

“Okay, just make sure you’re wearing these at all times on hospital grounds,” the guard stated as he handed Simon and Dalton plastic laminated cards marked “OFFICIAL.”

“Hey look Dalt, I’m official!” Simon announced with bogus enthusiasm as they drove further into the hospital grounds.

“You’re an official pain in the ass is what you are, now keep your eyes peeled, we need to find the juvenile ward.”

The sprawling grounds that made up Southeast Louisiana Psych were clearly in disrepair. The hospital was state funded, which meant that funds were short most years. Many of the buildings appeared run down and very much out of date. Dalton followed the posted signs until he felt confident that he’d found the right place.

New Hope was the name of the building designated for juvenile patients. Both men observed that at some point in time someone had spray painted a line over the word ‘new’ and altered the sign to state ‘No Hope.’ From the looks of the structure, a two story brown brick building surrounded by dying trees and high grass, Dalton felt the rebellious little graffiti was at least partially apt.

“So now what? Are we just going to sit here until some employee walks out and announces to us that they hate their job and can’t wait to spill the beans?” Simon asked.

“Let’s go bait the trap.”

Simon and Dalton entered the New Hope building’s lobby, which, much like the exterior of the structure, was dreary and depressing. The lobby contained two rows of those old plastic seats that started off uncomfortable and eventually led to symptoms of a broken tailbone. Mounted to the wall was an old television that was playing only static. It had two rabbit ear antennas mounted to the top, and Simon speculated that even when it was new, that television likely played one channel with a heavy coating of static fuzz. The walls were painted a color that Dalton could only describe as ‘battleship grey’ and the tiled floor looked as though it had a long-standing grudge with the local mop.

“Christ Dalt, they really expect kids to get mentally healthy in a place like this? We’ve been here for less than two minutes and I already want to call my mom…”

“Relax cowboy, we won’t be here long. I’ll admit though, if this is the part of the building that they’re willing to show the public, I wouldn’t want to see what the off-limits area looks like.”

A few moments later, they heard movement from behind the frosted glass wall that surrounded what both men assumed to be a receptionist’s desk. As they approached, the small window slid to the side revealing a haggard looking woman of roughly 50 years of age. She was wearing a set of nursing scrubs.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” she asked. Her voice shocked them, as it was in stark contrast to her appearance. She sounded warm and approachable. They took this as a good sign.

“Yes ma’am, my name is Detective Dalton Bradshaw with the Mandeville Police, and this is Agent Simon Lymon with the State Police. We’re following up on an ongoing case and we’re hoping to speak with Dr. Joseph Sawyer.”

Sawyer, according to the notes given to the investigators by Medical Examiner Marla Darrow, had been the psychiatrist in charge of Brian Antoines’ treatment during his extensive time under the care of the Department of Health and Hospitals.

“I’m sorry Detective, but Dr. Sawyer doesn’t work here anymore.”

Dalton feigned disappointment, knowing full well that he wasn’t going to get a sit-down with the good doctor. Even if Sawyer was at work, the chances of him just sitting down and discussing a patient with two bonehead cops was about as likely as Marla Darrow going on a date with Simon. However, as the seasoned gumshoe looked past the nurse and into the small office behind her station, he knew he was on the right track. Dalton eyed two men sitting at a small table in what was most likely the staff break room. Both wore white scrubs. A blonde man looked over his shoulder at the mention of Sawyer, and Dalton even caught a glimpse of him tapping his buddy, a much older guy, on the shoulder.

They were listening.

The blonde looked too young to be a doctor or even an intern. The other guy, as far as Dalton could tell, looked too dumb to pass high school life science, let alone go to medical school. They were orderlies, and Bradshaw could only hope that one of them was disgruntled.

Dalton completed setting the trap with his parting words to the nurse. “Yeah, it’s just too bad you know, we were hoping to chat with him.” Then, turning his attention to Simon, but raising his voice intentionally, Dalton finished with, “Okay, let’s head back out to Shortcut Road before it gets dark.”

Both men heard the nurse draw in a quick breath. Word had spread overnight that a man was found nailed to the wall out there.

Bradshaw exited the building with Simon following behind.

“Ummm, Dalt… I might not have all of your years of expert police experience, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how you gather information…”

“Sit and wait my dear dummy, and watch as the case investigates itself.” A smug grin appeared on Dalton’s face as he led his partner over to a wooden gazebo situated in front of the New Hope building. A sign announcing ‘SMOKING AREA’ was nailed to one of the wooden support posts. Dalton sat down on one of the wooden benches and lit a cigarette.

“Two guys were listening in behind the nurses’ station. Their ears perked up as soon as I mentioned Sawyer’s name, and I’d bet you that their heads nearly exploded when I tossed out Shortcut Road. I bet you they’ll be out here any minute now with something to say on the matter.”

After almost an hour of no activity, Dalton felt his confidence begin to drop off.

“Any minute now, huh?” Simon asked.

“Shit, leave it to my ass to come on the one day where the assholes that actually like their jobs are on duty.”

“Go easy on yourself, it was a good try. Maybe I can make some calls back to Baton Rouge and get us that warrant without Hardy having to know. If that doesn’t work, I’ll come and commit myself tomorrow to get the inside scoop. I think chronic masturbation to Animal Planet shows is technically a mental disorder.”

Dalton smiled in spite of their setbacks. Simon was strange and unorthodox, but he was trying to find solutions and the grizzled veteran cop appreciated that, although he’d never tell his young partner this.

“Okay, let’s go. I need some lunch anyway.”

“Really? The Animal Planet masturbation comment gets nothing? You know, I have to think this shit up Dalton, it’s not like some jackass is sitting around writing my shit one-liners for me you know!”

As they prepared to climb into Dalton’s car, an unexpected stroke of luck fell upon them.

“Gentlemen… ummm, officers?” beckoned a female voice from behind them.

Simon Makes a Friend

Approaching them was a young woman of perhaps her mid-twenties. A mountain of red, curly hair bounced about her head as she trotted eagerly towards Bradshaw’s car. She’d tied those locks into a ponytail that also did little to control the mop top. Her face was freckled, but nothing about her was unattractive. Dalton gazed over at Simon and was not surprised to see his partner giving her his full attention. She too was wearing scrubs, but they were a hot pink as opposed to the sterile white worn by the two men Dalton had seen earlier.

“Hi!” she announced when she finally arrived. After that, she simply stood and stared, a smile plastered across her face. Dalton began to wonder if she was an employee or a patient.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I must look like a crazy person…” she stated, before immediately clamping both hands over her mouth. From behind her locked palms she squeaked, “We’re not supposed to say ‘crazy’ around here… you know, the patients and all…”

“Yeah… ummm, can we help you?” Dalton asked.

“I think maybe I can help you! See, I work here. I knew Dr. Sawyer pretty well, and… well, with this Jeff Woods stuff coming back up… crap…”

“What’s your name?” Dalton barked. He didn’t want to sound harsh or overly commanding, but with a possible lead standing just feet before him it was hard to stay mellow.

“Oh… ummm, if I give you my name does that mean this is going public, because I don’t want to lose my job…”

Dalton felt his face grow hot. “You approached me lady! You told me that you might have information on an ongoing murder investigation. That sort of thing requires some information!”

The young woman began to look scared, as though she’d stepped into something that she though was just a small pothole but had suddenly found it to be a much deeper pit.

“My name is Penny Lux, but everyone around here calls me Pinkie Pie… know, like the cartoon. The kids here came up with it and…”

“What in the living hell is a Pinkie Pie?” Dalton mumbled. Penny was fidgeting, preparing no doubt to recant her original statement and likely retreat back into the building. Luckily Simon stepped forward and relieved Bradshaw of this daunting task.

“Well how about a hoof-bump?” Simon announced as he approached Penny.

“Oh yeah…” she giggled as the two bumped their closed fists.

“My name is Simon Lymon, nice to meet a fellow lover of all things Equestria.”

“What the fuck am I watching?” Dalton mumbled as he lit another cigarette.

“Ignore him, he’s a drag,” Simon replied with a wink and a smile. Paying no mind to the annoyed grumble from his aging sidekick, Lymon continued. “So, let me guess, deep web?”

Penny’s eyes went momentarily wide as though she were a small child who’d been caught in the act of sneaking out of bed and raiding the fridge at 4AM.

“Relax Penny, nothing illegal about it. It’s just that I have a sinking feeling that you’re about to spill a lot of information that most folks shouldn’t be privy too. Information perhaps about Jeff’s Killers, information about how Dr. Sawyer might be connected in some way; you know, the kind of info you don’t find on the bright web.”

“It’s more than that… I mean, yeah, I found out about Brian Antoines on some boards. That picture of him… the one taken by that kid after his mom killed him… it’s floating around a few boards. Lots of people talking about it.”

“So, let’s talk about it. We already know that Dr. Sawyer was treating him here. Did you know Brian personally?”

“Yes… do you mind if we go somewhere private?”

“Let’s do it Pinkie Pie!”

“The world has gone fucking nuts…” Dalton grumbled once again, and the three loaded up into his car and drove off of the hospital campus. 15 minutes later they were all seated in a cozy little corner at a coffee shop in Mandeville’s small historic downtown area.

On the way there, Penny had informed them that she was the Assistant Activities Director for the New Hope program. She didn’t hate her job nor was she out to defame the hospital. She did however, have a suspicious view of Dr. Joseph Sawyer.

“Brian was a nice kid. When he first showed up I for in-patient treatment, I had hopes for him. He was a foster kid, as I’m sure you know and had been in and out for treatment for a while. He really wanted to get better, I always believed that.”

Simon, who clearly was better suited to take lead on this, continued the soft interview. Dalton simply sat back and took notes, partially impressed and disgusted at the same time. He couldn’t deny though that in a short period of time, Simon had gotten this girl wrapped around his finger.

“What do you think changed that?” he asked.

“Sawyer… it had to be. He had this strange approach. Obviously I wasn’t sitting in there with them during his sessions, but I spent enough time playing checkers or UNO with these kids to usually know all the details of their time on the shrink’s couch.”

“What was so unusual about his approach?”

“Well, two things really. The first was that he treated some of the kids very differently than others. Most of his patients got the standard routine. He would spend maybe 20 minutes with each of them a week, he’d tweak their medications here and there and left most of the heavy lifting to his interns or the nursing staff. But then he had this other group, the group that Brian was in. He would spend much more time with them. I’m not sure exactly what he was doing in there, but as time went on, I noticed that the ones in his special group were becoming… morbid.”

“Morbid? How so?”

“The stuff they’d talk to me about when we’d play cards or whatever, it was always about serial killers or something. When Brian first showed up, he didn’t care about any of that kind of stuff. He liked to draw; he wanted to be a cartoonist. He had ambitions. A few months with Sawyer though and he started focusing on murderers… one murderer in particular.”

“Jeffrey Woods?”

“Yes. He’d go on and on about it. He told me that Jeff Woods was what happened when the pot boiled over. He said that Jeff the Killer was a product of neglect and hate. And I get that; I mean most people agree that his parents fucked him royally in that department. Brian would never give me any details about his time in Sawyer’s office, but he didn’t really have to. His sudden fascination did all the telling for him.”

“But he could have gotten that information from anywhere, couldn’t he? From listening to the news maybe or hearing other staff talking, what makes you think it came from Sawyer alone?”

“Had it just been Brian, I would likely have thought the same way Simon. But he had two other patients that stuck out. One I’m sure you know all about, Trent Vickers.”

“No shit… Vickers was being treated by Sawyer?” Dalton asked, speaking for the first time since they’d sat down.

“Yeah, mostly out-patient from what I could tell. This was back in late 2015. I’d only been at the hospital for a little while and hadn’t really gotten the feel for the place yet. I remember seeing Vickers there though. He’d come in and go straight to Sawyer’s office. It wasn’t too long before he started up the Jeff’s Killers group. I’m not saying that Sawyer is behind it all… hell; he might have nothing to do with any of it. All I know is that both Vickers and Antoines went bat shit overboard for Jeff the Killer while under the care of Sawyer.”

“You said there was another patient that stuck out?”

“Yes, she’s the one I’m most worried about. Vickers and Brian were creepy, sure, but this other one… she was scary.”

“Who is this other girl?”

“Do you promise to try and help her?”

“Yes, but we can’t help her if you don’t tell us who she is. Is she a patient at the hospital?”

“She was, but after Sawyer retired she was released. Rumor has it that on his last day he wrote a lengthy recommendation for her transfer to a teen group home. None of us could believe it, but there it was.”

“Do you believe that Sawyer was coaching her into this fascination with Jeff Woods as well?”

“Oh no… she came into the hospital with a disturbing obsession for Jeff the Killer. I honestly think she was Sawyer’s dream patient. If he was programming some sort of disturbed impulse into the patients, she came batteries included.”

“Can you give us her name and what group home she was moved to?”

Penny removed a pen and notepad from her purse and began to jot down the information.

Dalton and Simon drove Penny back to her car parked at the hospital. They thanked her for the information and promised to be in touch soon. As they turned to leave, she stopped them one last time.

“Simon, Detective Bradshaw… don’t let your guard down around her, okay? She looks sweet and innocent, but there is something very dark about this little girl.”

Penny completed this thought by raising up the left side of her pink scrub top and displaying a nasty scar.

“That’s because I told her once that Jeff Woods wasn’t someone to idolize. She didn’t hesitate to attack me with the scissors on my desk. She didn’t get angry; she didn’t build up to anything, she didn’t warn me not to talk badly about her hero. I said Jeff wasn’t someone to inspire towards and the next thing I know I’m bleeding from my abdomen. She showed no emotion during or after the incident. She just told me, ‘Now you know better’ and placed the scissors back on my desk.”

Dalton and Simon shared a quick glance before climbing back into their car and driving away from Southeast Louisiana Psych for the second time that day.

“So yeah, is that what you kid call flirting now days?” Dalton asked, as they turned right onto Hwy 190, pointed in the direction of Mandeville proper.

“Oh yeah, me and Pinkie Pie are going to connect on Facebook tonight, gonna make some cupcakes of our own!” Simon replied.

“She’s a witness dumbass, don’t ruin this case by…”

“Calm down gramps, I’m joking. I mean, if she weren’t involved in an open investigation… who knows, right?”

“Okay, let’s get back on track. This halfway house, Youth Healing, is going to be coming up on your left here in a minute. It’s an old plantation home believe it or not.”

“Are we going to have to pull another one of your ‘bait the trap and chain smoke for an hour’ ploys here too?”

“Not this time Ace, I happen to know one of the ladies that runs the joint.”

Simon observed the smug expression form on Dalton’s face and asked, “Know her… how?”

“Let’s just say we’ve made a few cupcakes together.”

“Oh, sick man, you just ruined that line forever!”

“…With extra frosting!” Dalton added.

Simon refused to comment further on the matter.

The Group Home

A short time later they were exiting their vehicle and walking up the steps to enter the Youth Healing group home.The building was old but well kept. It in fact was a plantation style home, really more of a mansion. The place had been converted some time back though, and regardless of Penny’s many warnings about the resident they were here to see, it was still a relief to be away from the drab and depressing halls of the state run mental hospital.

Dalton led the way down the first story hallway towards a closed door marked “STAFF ONLY.” A few young girls peered down from the second story banister at the two men entering their place of lodging. Simon waved but they made no reply. They looked scared and apprehensive.

Dalton knocked on the office door and entered before waiting for a reply.

A woman who was sitting behind a desk stacked high with papers. She appeared to be concluding a phone call. She looked stressed and tired. However, when she looked up and made eye contact with Bradshaw, her mood seemed to improve a bit.

“Dalton Bradshaw! What brings you to my little slice of hell?”

“Latoya Hayes, how the fuck you been?”

Latoya removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. She glanced at Simon and stood to greet him.

“I’m Miss Hayes, shit… I mean, just call me Latoya. I’m so used to correcting these girls here that want to be on first name basis with me.”

“I’m Simon, I’m working with Dalton on an investigation here, nice to meet you though.”

“No reason to be coy Simon, Latoya here likely knows more about it than we do. The Nancy Dermott situation is what we’re investigating.”

“Great, more Jeff Woods bullshit. Well, I’m dealing with that too right now. Our own little resident ‘Killer’ ran away again. I swear I have no idea how that doctor of hers figured she was fit to come here.”

“Ran away? Fuck it Latoya we came here hoping to talk to her. Did you call it in to MPD yet? I can make a couple calls to speed things up.”

“No need Dalton; I already know where she went. I see no reason to bother the cops with this. She’s run away twice since coming here a few months ago. I was going to have our security guy ride out there with me, but since you’re here, would you like to provide some backup?”

“Sure, and you can tell us about this girl that has you all worked up while we’re at it.”

They drove towards Fairmont Drive, former neighborhood of both Jeffrey Woods and Jane Arkansaw.

“This little girl is truly disturbed, so when we get out there, handle this softly,” Latoya instructed.

“Tell us about her,” Dalton requested.

“She came to us not too long ago, like I said, on doctor recommendations. She is utterly obsessed with Jeffrey Woods. Actually, let me correct myself; she is obsessed with Jeff the Killer. I firmly believe that she is going to kill someone Dalton. I’ve been in contact with the hospital, practically begged them to come and take her back in. The other girls are terrified of her. Problem is, her doctor retired and it’s a pain in the ass to get them to come out here and evaluate her.”

“Why are they afraid of her?” Simon asked.

“On her first night at Youth Healing, she sent one of our residents to the emergency room. It started off as it typically does for a new face. She shows up and Danielle Austin, the girl she sent to the hospital, started verbally hazing her a bit. We try to discourage it, but kids will be kids no matter what. Anyway, nothing happens at first, all the girls go to bed and I start thinking it was all business as usual. Then I get a call from the night shift. Turns out they start hearing screaming in the middle of the night. The security guards go up and find our new resident has Danielle tied down to her bed. At first it looks like that was the extent of it, but then they turn on the lights. I’ve seen a grown man look so shaken up in my life. Our new girl had broken into our activities room at some point after lights out and gotten ahold of two knitting needles. Knitting is… well it used to be one of our therapeutic techniques. The guard sees one of the needles buried halfway into Danielle’s side. The girl was in the process of driving the second one in when the guards pulled her away.”

“Christ, knitting needles?”

“Yeah, she stuck that girl in such a way that missed all the vital organs. People kept telling Danielle that she got lucky, but I don’t think luck had a damned thing to do with it. I think that little psycho knew what she was doing.”

Dalton made a quick sign of the cross without realizing he was even doing so. Latoya continued, “What was really scary about it though, she showed no emotion at all. According to the guard she was just as calm and collected as you could want. She kept telling Danielle ‘And now you know better’ as she was torturing her, like some teacher correcting a kid in class.”

“What happened after that?”

“Well, little psycho got her own room, but I don’t believe that was what she was after. I think she just liked watching someone suffer. It gets worse though. There used to be this big alley cat that would come around the back of the house in the evenings. It usually ran away if any of the girls tried to approach it. However, little psycho managed to befriend the thing. For a couple days we thought she was turning over a new leaf. She would feed this cat every night and sit out there and pet it. You want to guess what I found out a few days later?”

Simon spoke up, “I’m not sure I want to at this point.”

“Tell us,” Dalton answered.

“She was grinding up glass and putting it in the cat’s food. I personally caught her in the act. She’d break a bottle and roll over the glass with a rolling pin from the kitchen until it was practically dust. Then she’d sprinkle a little bit into the food. I mean; if she wanted to kill that cat, she could have whenever she wanted. She could have just poured rat poison into the food for that matter and watch the poor animal spasm to death in front of her. But instead she chose a slow and nasty way. She told me later, when I sat her down and asked why she’d do such a thing, that she wanted to watch it transform. I thought that was a strange choice of words, and when I pushed for more, she told me that she wanted to watch it go from healthy to sick to dead. That gave me the chills, and Dalton, you know I don’t get the chills easily.”

Latoya pulled her car over to the shoulder, across the street from the burnt out remains of Jeffrey Woods’ former home. “I went out and caught that cat and took it to a vet. I never had the heart to call and find out if it survived or not. Little psycho told me that they’d just put it to sleep anyway. What kind of little girl thinks that way?”

“Okay, I must be missing something. If she stabbed a girl, how the hell is she not in jail… or back at the mental hospital?” Simon demanded.

“Like I said, her doctor is retired so all she has right now is me, her case worker. In order to have her committed back into Southeast Louisiana Psych I’d have to get a judge to bless off on the recommendation. So far they keep giving me the run around. We keep her as separated from the other kids as possible, we have her pretty much under constant watch, but as you can see, it doesn’t always work.”

As they continued to talk, Latoya led the men past the vacant lot where the Woods’ family home once stood and into the wooded lot behind the property.

“There’s a little shack out here. If you listened to Monica Davenport’s audio release of Jeff’s interview you might remember him mentioning the place. A little hunter’s shack or something from way back when.”

“Oh yeah, Jeff mentions that he and his brother found it on the day they encountered Randy Hayden and his friends for the first time.” Simon replied, his voice sounding distant and wandering.

“So what’s this little girl’s story Latoya? Besides her being a psychopath for stabs her room mates and poisons stray cats?”

“Oh yeah, well, if you’re expecting some long drawn out story where she gets a tragic beginning based around events out of her control forcing her to forge her mind into new places in order to accommodate her chaotic surroundings… then you’re in the wrong chapter. No, she has no such sad past. She’s just sick and sadistic. She displays all the typical sociopathic behavior, almost textbook really. According to her father, she was initially sent to see a psychiatrist due to violent outbursts towards her brother. She would stab his hand with her fork during meals, trip him when he was walking down steps and even once dumped hot grease from her kitchen over the top of the shower curtain while he was washing. Luckily most of it missed him, but he got some nasty burns on his ankles from the splash. This concerned her parents but didn’t but didn’t cause them to lose all hope. When they’d ask her why she did these things, she’d tell them that it was just a joke or something. They didn’t become scared until she raised the stakes. Turns out she was caught mixing Draino into his drink one day. Apparently he liked a certain brand of soda so no one else really touched it. She put in just enough of the chemicals to make him sick. By the end of it, when she was finally taken over to New Hope, they’d sent the brother away for his own protection. They couldn’t keep pets because she would either torture or kill them and they had to put locks on all of their cabinets to keep her from getting into more chemicals. Her dad painted a picture of a girl who had no idea where the lines fell between right and wrong. She seemed incapable of guilt or remorse. Even through all of that though, her parents tried to keep her from being committed. They’d hoped that her weekly visits with her shrink could do the trick, but you know what they say, hope in one hand, shit in the other and tell me which one weighs more. In late 2015 she apparently fell into some sort of obsession with Jeffrey Woods… well, his crimes at least. It became too much for her family to handle when she attempted to carve a scar up the left side of her brother’s face.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph…” Dalton mumbled absently, likely unaware he’d even done so.

“Did you ever meet her doctor?” Simon asked.

“Sawyer? No, only read his notes. From the files we received on little psycho, she should have been an ideal resident. Sawyer gave her a great review. Maybe he was just trying to pad his resume though, since one of his patients did commit suicide in the Mandeville Police Station just a few years back.”

“Oh, I remember that! He attacked Drake Arkansaw’s daughter out on Shortcut Road. So he was under the care of Sawyer as well. Another loony tunes kid dressing up as Jeff Woods, also a patient of Sawyer’s. Shit Simon, I believe we’ve got probable cause. Maybe after this we go and pay the good doctor a visit at home and…”

Latoya Hayes cut him off.

“There’s the place,” she informed them, pointing at an ancient looking wooded structure that had was long past its expiration date. “Listen guys, this little girl is dangerous okay. Don’t let the fact that she’s only 13 years old trick you into thinking she’s harmless. Remember when I said she has sociopathic tendencies? One of those is that she can be very convincing when she wants someone to trust her. She can be just as sweet as you want until you say something that upsets her.”

All three adults could hear a soft female voice echoing from the small shack. It sounded as though she were having a tea party with some imaginary friends or something. As they closed in, Latoya lowered her voice to a whisper.

“She knows me, let me go in first and open the conversation. Last time we had to come out and get her, she tried to take one of the security guard’s eyes out. Hopefully what little rapport I have been able to build with her will be enough.”

Simon and Dalton nodded as Latoya called out to the occupant of the shack.

“Nina! This is Miss Hayes; I’ve come to pick you up. I’m coming in; okay?”

The little voice from within the shack suddenly stopped and everything went silent as they prepared to enter the building.

The Strange Little Nina Hopkins

Nina Hopkins stood inside the small shack and smiled warmly as Latoya and her companions entered.

“Hello Miss Hayes,” she spoke as the caseworker walked in.

“Hello Nina. Why did you run away again? Didn’t we talk this through last time?”

“He used to come here, did you know that?” Nina asked.

“Who?”

“Jeff.”

“Okay then, well, it’s time for us to go back to the house.” As Latoya spoke, Dalton and Simon slowly stepped around the woman and fully entered the shack. They were careful to try and appear nonthreatening.

“Who are these people Miss Hayes?”

“Two really good friends of mine, this is Mr. Dalton and this is Mr. Lymon. They wanted to come out and help me search for you, like a fun game of hide and seek?”

“Fun game Miss Hayes? Don’t lie to me. You brought them because you’re afraid I’ll hurt you. I don’t blame you.”

“Now why would you want to hurt anyone Nina?”

“I don’t know Miss Hayes, maybe because it gets the hate out of me. That’s what Jeff used it for. He was just so filled with hate, but he shared it with others. I can share mine with you too. Come over here and maybe I’ll share it with you right now?”

Hayes was at a momentary loss for words. Nina hadn’t threatened her directly until now, and she wasn’t sure how to respond. During her tenure in counseling wayward youths, she’d been threatened many times. However, those threats always came from a vacant place of false bravado; all bang and no substance. With Nina she feared the threats could easily become actionable.

Simon stepped forward slowly, his hands held out in a gesture of good will, and took the responsibility of dealing with the disturbed young girl momentarily off of Latoya’s shoulders.

“So you’re a big Jeff the Killer fan?” He began, being careful to refer to the serial killer by his media name as opposed to his actual. “So am I. I study Jeff the Killer, in fact, that’s why I’m down here in Mandeville.”

“Yeah right…” she replied flatly.

“Seriously. Check it out. This shack, the reason why you’re here; this is where Jeff and Liu came on the day of the fight in front of Friendly Video, that’s why you like this place, am I right?”

“Stupid, Jeff the Killer never came to this place on the day of the fight. Jeff Woods did. No, Jeff the Killer came here after he transformed.”

Dalton raised an eyebrow at this. The girl could be crazy, sure, but at the same time if she had some sort of knowledge of where Jeff Woods went to hide after his final murders, then this could be the first major lead in a long time. He had to fight the urge to remain silent and let Simon continue with his soft ‘Officer Friendly’ approach.

Simon also took note of this interesting tidbit of information, but decided it was best to stay on track. “Fair enough Nina. I may not be on your level of knowledge, but I’d sure like you’re help in getting there.”

“Bonding… very cute Mr. Lymon. Using my first name in an attempt to humanize yourself to me, expressing a shared interest in an attempt to connect with me, my doctor told me all about these tricks.”

“Listen, I understand where you’re coming from. I share an interest in these types of things too and I understand that it can sometimes make people afraid of you. Nina, I don’t think you’re someone to be afraid of though. What I see is a very intelligent young woman who just needs to find someone to talk to about the things that she likes. We can talk about Jeff the Killer all day if you want to, it’s one of my favorite topics.”

Nina Hopkins smiled, and for just a moment, the child standing before Simon looked like any other young teenage girl from the suburbs. She was a small child, even for her age and her face had the sharp features of high intellect. In that moment she could have just been some 9th grade honors kid with a purple streak in her hair because of her love of art.

“Ok Mr. Lymon, maybe I was being mean for no reason, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, and you can call me Simon if you’d like, or I can call you Miss Hopkins if you’d like.”

Nina shuffled her feet for a moment, and Dalton thought for a moment that she was bluffing. He thought to himself, “Simon’s actually pulling this off… my God he must be the fucking whacko-whisperer.”

“Nina is fine. You know, my parents kicked me out and had me locked up in a psych ward… they said I’m a monster. The people at the hospital were all mean to me, except for my doctor, he was nice… like you Simon. Miss Hayes tries, but I think she hates me too. She wants to send me back to the hospital… and with my doctor gone, I’ll be all alone there with the mean people.”

Nina began to tear up. Simon knelt down and carefully edged a bit closer. “It’s alright. No one here thinks you’re a monster. We want to help you, and we really want you to help us. Do you think we can work together?”

“Can we really talk about Jeff the Killer? Only my doctor used to talk to me about him, and he knew a lot!”

“Of course we can! Like I said, I’m a regular ol’ fan boy when it comes to Jeff.”

Nina held her hand out to Simon. The investigator, intent on maintaining and hopefully improving his connection with her gave his hand without hesitation. He didn’t want to spoil the rapport by appearing apprehensive.

“Can I show you something? It has to do with Jeff! I made these myself when I came out here.”

“Absolutely.”

Nina reached down with her free hand and produced a small flashlight. The back half of the shack had been shrouded in darkness and the only source of light to enter was through the open door. She clicked on the light and aimed it towards the rear wall. In that moment Simon, Dalton and Latoya had to fight the urge to not turn their heads from what the darkness had been hiding.

“Just like real life!” Nina shouted with glee as the light exposed three dead cats nailed to the inner wall of the building. “I found them in the shack when I came out here today and I just knew they’d be perfect. Maybe Jeff the Killer left them in here for me! They were in a box and by the time they realized I was here and tried to run, I already shut the door! Look, one is like and Keith and the other one is like Troy!”

Simon attempted to back up but Nina held firmly on to his hand. He was trying to fight the urge to turn and run, as he didn’t want to upset any potential balance, but the gore scene on the wall was hard to stand near. Nina continued to smile and brag about her work.

“The third cat though… I don’t know Simon… maybe that one could be YOU!”

Three things happened very quickly in the next second. Nina Hopkins released the flashlight and produced a knife from behind her back, likely tucked into her belt or perhaps her back pocket. Nina raised the knife, taking aim at Simon. Then Nina dropped the knife and was suddenly crashing into the wall behind her.

Simon looked up and saw Dalton standing over him. Dalton had wasted no time, moving faster than one would think he possibly could when he saw the shift in Nina’s demeanor. He knew the game; she’d played to Simon’s humanity and lured him in. When he saw her hand reaching around her back he’d sprung into action. He’d turned and driven shoulder into Nina, a move that would do minimal damage to the child but would strike with enough mass to ensure someone of her height and weight would be taken off her feet. The knife fell to the floor and Simon quickly grabbed it up before standing. Nina carefully rose to her feet and her face displayed a look of shock mixed with rage.

“Good shit Dalton, that was close,” Simon stated.

“Close? She’s fucking 13 and can’t weigh more than 85 pounds! Is there some pocket of the universe where she’s a threat to two fucking adults… cops for that matter?”

“Well… I mean, she had the element of surprise on me you see… and…?”

“Save it, I’ve had enough of this shit today!” Dalton snarled.

Nina was staring him down, the look on her face no longer contained any traces of the shock or surprise, nor did she resemble that innocent smiling girl that had fooled Simon. What Dalton was staring at now was a psychotic child who’d just been bested. She was furious and wanted to lash out. Dalton decided that it was time to fight fire with fire. Dalton had tried to fight her fire with water, using a friendly approach to combat her hatred. Dalton had no interest in being Officer Friendly. When the little girl attempted to step forward, he quickly advanced one step forward and began speaking directly to her.

“I think in all fairness Nina, I should explain to you exactly what it is that I do. For instance, if you try to grab that knife again, or if you try any other bullshit with us or ever threaten Miss Hayes again, well, I’ll take a walk over to your little group home… and I’ll crack your fucking head wide-open in front of everybody. And just about the time that I’m coming out of jail, hopefully, you’ll be coming out of your coma. And guess what? I’ll split your fucking head open again. ‘Cause I’m fucking stupid; I don’t give a fuck about jail. That’s my business. That’s what I do.”

Nina stood in momentary silence, the look of shock and awe now returning, taking over and replacing the rage. Dalton Bradshaw happened to be a Martin Scorsese fanatic. He’d probably watched Goodfellas and Casino two dozen times over. He could quote every line and had found that the Joe Pesci lines worked wonders, so long as the perp on the receiving end didn’t realize that the tough guy cop was simply quoting gangster movies. Now he just had to wait and see if Nina Hopkins was a fan of 90’s crime drama. After several long and intense moments, she spoke.

“You’re the coolest adult I’ve ever met,” was all she said.

“I want you to tell me all about Dr. Sawyer.”

“Okay… but only you.”

“Deal. If you give me some useful information I’ll ignore the three animals you mutilated out here today, and I’m pretty sure Simon can forgive and forget the fact that you tried to stab him.”

“I wasn’t really going to stab him… I just wanted to scare him. My doctor said scaring can do more damage than killing, because it infects the mind…”

The three adults escorted Nina back to their vehicle. She climbed into the back seat and Dalton shut the door, giving him time to talk privately with Simon and Latoya.

“Well Dalton, I see you’re still using the Casino line… one day someone is going to catch on to that,” Latoya taunted. Her voice was still a little shaky, but she was coming back to reality.

“Well, if that ever happens, hopefully they’ll appreciate my fine taste in movies.”

Simon asked, “What about Nina, I mean, we can’t let her go back to the youth home, she’s going to eventually kill someone, we all know it. She needs to be locked up.”

“Like I said, the judge is playing games with that. I don’t know why but it’s almost like… he wants her out of the hospital. You don’t think…?”

“That this judge and Sawyer might be connected? I do think that, but that is neither here nor there at the moment. I’m going to make some calls and get Nina taken in to unofficial custody for a few nights. You need a break from her. I’ve got some friends over at the St. Tammany Juvenile Detention Center. They have a psych unit there. Nina can have a few days to cool down while we try and get some paperwork pushed to get her out of your program and back where she belongs.”

“If you end up building a case against Sawyer, do you think Nina will actually testify against him?” Hayes asked.

“If she sees him, I doubt it. From everything we’ve learned today, it seems as though Sawyer had some sort of… manipulative technique, if he’s even involved that is. If it is that though, she likely won’t speak against him face to face. Any usable testimony would likely have to be gathered on video and presented as such in court.”

Suddenly the car horn blared directly behind them, causing all three to jump a bit. Dalton looked over and saw Nina laughing as she leaned back into the rear seat. “Come on Dalton! If you want to talk let’s go, I’m hungry!” she shouted.

So Dalton took Nina to her restaurant of choice, which happened to CiCi’s Pizza. Simon and Latoya waited in the car outside. Dalton spent over an hour chatting with her. As he watched her consume slice after slice of pizza, laughing and joking and acting like any normal child, he realized just how dangerous this situation had become. This girl could be his niece or some Girl Scout selling cookies. She could walk among people and be seen as the least threatening human being in the world. She could be polite and charming, she spoke well and had good table manners. He couldn’t even fault Simon for falling into her trap back in the shed. Yet he also knew that she was completely maniacal, had witnessed it with his own eyes. If she was the product of this Dr. Sawyer, if Sawyer, and had this same doctor produced Brian Antoines and Trent Vickers, he shuddered at the thought of how many others could be walking about, ticking away towards madness and violence.

His heart also broke just a little for Nina Hopkins. Between chilling examples of what she recalled from her time with Sawyer, a normal girl would appear. She’d notice some other girl’s shoes or hairstyle and make some completely average comment. Then it was right back to her strange retellings of her times in Sawyer’s office.

When he and Nina finally returned to the car he’d honestly gotten very little real information out of her. There were a few cryptic tidbits that he’d need to explore more, but in reality he wasn’t sure if her information was even worth the price of the pizza. Dalton received a call from one of his friends out at the Juvenile Detention Center, and they agreed to keep Nina in segregation ‘off the books’ for a few days.

Dalton’s friend on the phone explained, “Look Bradshaw, we can’t keep her here for more than a few days. We’ll have to fudge the reports, list her as a runaway that we found and brought in. We’ll have to go with the Jane Doe approach, but you better make sure your friend from the Youth Healing place comes to pick her up. Three days, got it? We’re cops after all Dalton, it’s not like we can just look at a kid and sentence them to prison. If you really want her locked up, you’re going to have to go through the right channels.”

“Got it, thanks!” Dalton answered, and hung up.

“Did you arrange the thing…?” Latoya asked, deliberately avoiding spilling the beans. However, Nina spoke up for him,

“It’s okay Miss Hayes, Dalton already told me that I have to take a few days away from Youth Healing.”

“Christ Dalton, you are something when you put your mind to it,” she commended.

Several hours later, as the sun began to set on Mandeville once again, Dalton, Simon and Latoya stood outside of the Youth Healing building. Nina had been safely deposited into the custody of the parish psych ward and the relief on Hayes’ face was palpable.

“I really want to just leave her out there…” Latoya stated.

“Don’t. I need all the favors I can get and if we fuck the parish on this then a lot of people will get in trouble. We had to falsify some official paperwork to get her out there, so enjoy your long weekend but do not screw me on this, please!”

“Look,” Simon said, “I’ll put on some calls to the State. Hopefully in the next few days we can get her transferred… somewhere.”

Latoya Hayes stepped back and held her hands out to both men who all joined up forming a triangle of humanity. “Both of you… thank you for everything today. This Dr. Sawyer… shit, could he really be involved with these crazy kids?”

“I hope not. Nina is the only one still alive that we know of though, so really Latoya, thank you. She might be the linchpin in building a case here.”

“What all did she tell you in there Dalton?”

“Honestly it was a lot of gibberish. She might still be playing games with us. I mean, she went from homicidal kid with cats nailed to the wall to wanting to be my best friend all because of a damned movie quote. This whole thing could be a set-up, but we’re going to keep digging and we’ll let you know, okay?”

Latoya gave Simon a hug goodbye. The hug she gave Dalton came with a soft kiss to the corner of his mouth.

The two officers loaded up into Dalton’s car and backed out onto the street.

“Okay Dalton, no more waiting, I can’t take it. What did she reveal about Sawyer?”

“I got it all right here!” Dalton exclaimed, holding up his tape recorder.

“Well then, you’re place or mine handsome?”

“You got liquor?”

“No, I’m in a tiny motel room.”

“Then I guess it’s my place.”

The Nina Show

From the audio recorded interview conducted by Mandeville Police Department Detective Dalton Bradshaw with Nina Hopkins.

Dalton: Okay Nina, let’s just start by… (the sounds of struggling as the recorder is snatched from Dalton.)

Nina: Sorry ladies and gentlemen, we had some technical difficulties… Mr. Dalton had to scratch his butt!

Dalton: Give me back the recorder…

Nina: No way! This is the Nina Show and it’s all Nina all the time!

Dalton: Fuck it… okay Nina, briefly tell me a bit about yourself.

Nina: Well, I’m a 13, a Sagittarius and my favorite movie is that great comedy staring Marlon Wayans where really funny stuff happens to all these people and they all have hilarious endings.

Dalton: That describes just about all the Marlon Wayans movies. Which one is your favorite?

Nina: Duh, the funniest one, Requiem for a Dream.

Dalton: Moving on, we already know how you ended up under the care of Dr. Sawyer, but how did he… condition you into one of his…

Nina: Oh no, you’ve got that part all wrong. If you’re comparing me to Trent Vickers or Brian Antoines, you’re looking at this all wrong. I was already obsessed with Jeff the Killer before I even met Dr. Sawyer. He just told me to run with it.

Dalton: And the others, Vickers and Antoines, we’re they already fans of Jeff?

Nina: Not that I know of… I think with them Sawyer helped them along a bit. I know he gave Vickers the idea for Jeff’s Killers.

Dalton: Do you consider yourself one of Jeff’s Killers?

Nina: Nope, not me. They’re lame. (Nina’s voice becomes a mocking tone)

‘Ohhh, look at us, everyone makes fun of me so I like Jeff…’

‘Ohhh look at me, Jeff is like my angel because he said screw the bullies…’

Dalton: So, what is the basis for your appreciation of Jeff?

Nina: He stabbed up some fools because he got tired of fighting the hate, that’s why.

Dalton: That’s really it, that’s why you admire him?

Nina: Yeah. Look, I don’t know why I’m like the way I am. I get that I’m messed up. Trying to poison my brother, killing those cats, sticking that Danielle girl with sewing needles… I know all that stuff is really messed up.

Dalton: Then why do it?

Nina: It’s don’t know. No one ever knows. All the doctors, the ones before Sawyer, would always tell me to fight it. My parents told me to fight it, my teachers told me… everyone. I would fight it and it would hurt so bad, like weird hunger pangs I guess. I would sit there and watch my brother chew his food with his mouth open, or listen to some kid in my class laugh at stupid jokes or watch some idiot do something idiotic and I would just want to hurt them so bad that they’d never do it again. Finally I just couldn’t take it anymore.

Dalton: And Sawyer… he knew all of this and told you to go with it?

Nina: Yep. He said that I’d be no good hanging out with Vickers and his gang of Jeff fan girls out on Shortcut Road. He said I’d likely lose my control if I were around them for too long.

Dalton: Do you still have something to do? I mean, is there something coming that you’re supposed to be a part of?

Nina: Not that I’m aware. Before he retired he promised he’d get me out of the psych ward and into the group home. He told me that after that I should follow my heart. Honestly, I think he got mad because his ‘Red, Green, Blue’ game didn’t work on me.

Dalton: What is that? What is ‘Red, Blue, Green?’

Nina: He had me in his office and told me that he was going to hypnotize me. I never fell asleep though, couldn’t focus enough. While I was trying though, I’d hear him repeat ‘Red, Green, Blue’ over and over again. I know he did the same thing with Vickers and Antoines, but I guess since they’re both dead, we’ll never know.

Dalton: He didn’t give you any other information that would explain the colors or what they meant?

Nina: Nope.

Dalton: Do you know why he retired?

Nina: I think he was getting sick. I’m not really sure, but he seemed to be getting skinnier and on some days he looked really sleepy.

Dalton: So, Sawyer is retired and Vickers and Antoines are both dead. Is this all really over Nina, or is there more to come?

Nina: (Slight giggle) Oh, there’s a lot more to come. Vickers and Antoines were not the only ones. I don’t know how many more for sure, but I know there are more. The ones out on Shortcut Road, most of them are not really involved. Nope, some of the most important ones are walking among you everyday.

Dalton: (Voice raising) What are they planning Nina! Please tell me!

Nina: I don’t know. Really, once Sawyer realized he couldn’t do the ‘Red, Green, Blue’ trick on me, he sort of stopped focusing on me. He helped me get out of the psych ward because I promised to keep his secret, but then he lied to me anyway.

Dalton: What did he lie to you about?

Nina: He promised me that if I were to help that he’d let me meet… him!

Dalton: Who?

Nina: Who else… Jeff the Killer.

Dalton: Jeff the Killer, as in… the real Jeffrey Woods. That’s impossible you know Nina. I mean, the real Jeff has been missing for four years, there’s a good chance that he’s long gone… you know, dead. And if he is alive, I’m sure he’s long gone from Mandeville, Louisiana, hell, likely the south in general.

Nina: Wrong Mr. Dalton! Think about it, the night that Jeff left home, he had no money, he had no car and he had no friends to reach out to. The last we know of him is that he killed Keith and Troy. He didn’t steal anything from their home, didn’t run off in their car with enough cash to buy a plane ticket out of the country. He was alone.

Dalton: You mentioned before that he had visited that shack in the woods after his transformation.

Nina: He did! It had running water and shelter from the weather. It’d make sense that he’d go there, don’t you think?

Dalton: Okay, assuming that he is alive… are you saying that Sawyer has him?

Nina: Nope! That’s part of the reason he had to break his promise.

Dalton: Who has him then?

Nina: Dr. Sawyer.

Dalton: You just told me that Dr. Sawyer doesn’t have him.

Nina: He doesn’t. That’s why he broke the promise!

Dalton: Then who has him!

Nina: Dr. Sawyer!

Dalton: (Raising voice) That doesn’t make sense!

Nina: (Screaming) You don’t make sense!

Strange Sounds in the Dark

Back at Dalton’s apartment, Simon rewound and replayed the final lines of the interview several times.

“Dalt, I’m going to auto-tune that last part and put it on YouTube. A middle-aged cop arguing back and forth in a chain restaurant with a 13-year-old girl! Too damn funny!”

“She just started screeching at the end there. I guess she got frustrated with the questions or something and just broke down. We had to end it, people were staring.”

“So, we definitely have enough to get a warrant for Sawyer. I’m going to put that call into Baton Rouge tomorrow and get the ball rolling. Since we’re going after a doctor I want to make sure I get an all inclusive warrant so we can dig into everything.”

“Good man. What are your thoughts on Nina’s belief that Jeffrey Woods is still alive?”

Simon scratched his chin for a moment and thought it over.

“Well, it’s not technically impossible that he could be alive, true. However, we’ve been going at this case from the State level pretty hard for several years, and if there is any evidence that Jeff is alive, it sure as hell hasn’t found its way onto my desk. Truthfully, I think Sawyer just told Nina what she wanted to know in that regard. Think about it, the girl is obsessive about Jeffrey Woods and Sawyer wants to tap into that obsession. So of course he’s going to tell her that Woods is not only alive, but also available for an autograph signing. It’s classic manipulation.”

“I don’t know… you’re probably right, but…”

Simon interrupted, “ But YES, we are going to look into her statement! I mean, I am the agency’s leading expert on Jeff. We’re going to follow up. I just want to handle this nice and linear Dalt. Let’s focus on Sawyer first, then we can worry about the next leg of the journey.”

Dalton took a thirsty gulp of beer and a long drag on his cigarette and smiled. “Agreed. We’ve earned out pay for today anyway!”

“Yeah, I think you’re right. I’m going to head back to Baton Rouge for a couple of days I think. I want to go and request that warrant in person instead of over the phone. Plus you look like you could use a day or two off yourself.”

“Well you just are full of good ideas tonight, aren’t you? I suppose there isn’t much to be done between now and then. Seems like the best time to get some rest. Once that warrant comes down, we’re going to be busy anyway.”

“Hey Dalton, you never did tell me why you left the NOPD. Remember, you said that you’d tell me if we ended up working together for a while. Well, it’s been officially one “while” and I think I’d like to cash in that promise.”

Dalton’s hand fell instinctively to his side. His hand traced upward along the left side of his torso. Simon didn’t notice or chose not to ask.

“Tell you what… after we bust Sawyer, I’ll take you out for a few beers and tell you all about it, okay?”

“K.”

The two men shook hands and Simon left, pointing his car towards Baton Rouge. Dalton would see him in two days, hopefully with the warrant in hand. He was excited about this case, excited in a way that the old cop hadn’t been about his work in a long time. Not since his early days as a patrol officer in the French Quarter had he felt so alive to be conducting actual police work. So much of his professional life since coming to Mandeville had been simple paper pushing and small town nonsense that he’d forgotten what cracking a real case actually felt like. He reached for a third beer, held the unopened bottle in his hand for a moment, and then decided to put it away. Dalton decided that he would rather spend the evening studying up on their evidence and leads instead of getting drunk. He still couldn’t decide if Nina Hopkins was a reliable witness or just a little girl playing stupid games. He’d learn more, he was confident of that, but in the mean time he wanted to stay sharp and focused on the situation before him.

That night Dalton slept well for the first time in months. The next morning he awoke and was amazed at how refreshing it felt to not be greeted by a hangover first thing. He spent his day inside, studying over his notes and drawing up a plan for his next move. He did what limited research he could from home. The MPD database had noting of interest on Dr. Sawyer, however, Google had a bit more to say.

From the Sam Houston University official news publication: The Houstonian. June 10th, 1978

Controversial professor of Psychiatry Dr. Joseph Sawyer has lost a promising grant for his eyebrow raising ‘white room’ study that he proposed last year. Details about his study are still vague as the project failed to gain headway once the grant was denied. However, sources close to the professor tell us that Sawyer was seeking money to experiment on the effects of what he calls ‘Deep Human Submergence.’

While little information is available, it is noteworthy, and a bit hair raising to note that Sawyer was apparently fascinated by the effects of leaving a human child without direct interaction or stimulus to study possible personality outcomes and over all psychological development. Others close to Sawyer have indicated that the doctor has long expressed fascination in how a human child would develop if deprived all interaction with outside stimuli until the age of reason.

Further rumors abound that Sawyer was in fact seeking volunteers, potentially parents in need of money to allow their children to partake in his study. At this time Sawyer has stated his intention to resign from teaching at Sam Houston and expressed that he will likely return to practicing psychiatric medicine.

“Fucking guy was trying to MK Ultra people out there…” Dalton mumbled to himself.

That evening Bradshaw skipped drinking and decided to go to bed early. Tomorrow would be his last day off before Simon returned and they got back to work, and he hoped to make the most out of his free time. He watched some television until around 11PM before retiring to the tiny back bedroom of his apartment.

Several hours later he was awoken.

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

He heard the soft rapping on his wall but chose to ignore it.

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

He cracked his eyes slightly. The small room was very dark. The window above his bed let in a small amount of dull white light from the streetlight outside. He closed his eyes, determined that the annoyance was simply the pipes or the walls or any other thing that was of no concern to a tired police officer.

Tap, tap, tap, tap…

This time the knocking was louder. It was far too deliberate and in rhythm to be anything other than the product of a human fist. He opened his eyes and sit up on his elbows. The tapping returned again, and this time Dalton could trace the source.

The noise was coming from the neighboring apartment, which shared a bedroom wall with Dalton. The sounds were coming from within the closet, which gave him a quick case of the shivers. The noise didn’t unnerve him so much because they were coming from his closet. That little nook was far too small to house any intruder, and even in the dim light, he could see that his open closet was vacant. No, what spooked the detective was the fact that someone was on the other side, sitting in their closet, in the dark, tapping on the wall and possibly waiting for a reaction. This realization became a bit creepier when Dalton’s tired mind factored in that the neighboring apartment was vacant, had been for months. Once his brain added this in with all the crazy shit he’d been dealing with ever since being dispatched out to Nancy Dermott’s home to inspect a corpse on her sofa, and suddenly Dalton was no longer interested in rolling over and going to back to sleep.

The tapping came again.

He slowly began to sit up, and observed with a growing apprehension that each time he would move, the tapping would pop in rhythm to his motion. If he stretched his arm, a tap would come at the end. To test this, Dalton pulled removed the blanket from over his body and was further freaked out as the tapping grew faster if he peeled back the cover quickly, and would dramatically slow down if he reduced the speed of his arm. Once he let the blanket drop from his hand at the end of the bed, a quick tap accompanied the bedding as it fell to the mattress.

“Fuck this…” he groaned and reached for his lamp. The knocking from within his closet followed his arm and gave a final rap as he turned the small switch within the lampshade.

Nothing. No light, no relief from the darkness.

Dalton wasted no further time reaching into the small space between his headboard and wall. As his hand plunged into the darkness he fathomed some phantom hand grasping his wrist and felt the urge to move faster.

“Don’t let this fuck with your head,” he thought as slight relief washed over him. His hand landed on what he was looking for, the spare pistol that he hid in easy grabbing range at night.

The tapping continued to accompany the man as he carefully climbed out of bed and stood. Reaching into his nightstand he retrieved his cigarette lighter and struck up the flame. A dim glow surrounded Dalton as he peered into his open closet. Whatever was on the other side had resumed the steady taping.

Dalton crouched down and peered into the closet. No sign of feet poking out from below the row of clothing. He turned and looked about the tiny bedroom and could tell immediately that he was at least alone on his side of the wall. Perhaps giving in to childhood fears that no one can ever outgrow, he checked under his bed as well. Nothing down there but dust bunnies.

“Maybe I’m letting this shit get to my head,” he thought. The tapping came again, and Dalton began to allow him self to believe that perhaps a burnt out light bulb and an annoying asshole on the other side of the wall wasn’t anything to fire bullets over.

The tapping repeated again, and this time Dalton reached into the closet and tapped back.

The mystery person on the other side of the wall replied by mimicking Dalton’s two knocks, only much softer. He reached in and tapped three times, and received three very faint taps in reply. Releasing a slight chuckle, Dalton gave one very slight tap once more, and waited for a response.

Nothing.

He leaned in, intending to perhaps voice an actual greeting, hoping that maybe he got some new neighbors and just didn’t know it yet. He moved his head slowly to the wall when…

POW, POW, POW!!! The tapping had been replaced by aggressive slamming, as if the person on the other side was kicking the wall now. Dalton jumped back from the closet and standing up, furious and shaken as his heart raced inside of his chest.

“Hey fuck you pal!” he shouted, when suddenly the slamming was no longer in his closet, but at his bedroom door.

“Shit!” Dalton gasped between closed teeth. Someone was inside of his apartment, separated from him only by the cheap hallow pressboard door of his bedroom. Without hesitation, he reached up and ripped the blinds down from his bedroom window, increasing the light in the room. He knew he had to try for the light switch on his wall, but the switch was by the door, and the pounding was continuing. Dalton felt his legs freezing in place, ignoring his commands to move. He dug deep and forced his feet forward. With each step it seemed as though the banging from the other side of the door grew louder, as if whatever was over there knew he was creeping inch by inch closer to the door.

“Almost…” he whispered, and when his fingers finally touched the light switch and gave an upward flip, he felt his heart sink further as no lights came on.

Dalton’s mind tried to focus. This scenario reminded him of being a child far too much to bring anything other than shame to the man. He felt like a scared child sitting in his dark bedroom because some monster was trying to get him. He hated that feeling. Remembering back, Dalton recalled the little Irish song his mother had taught him when he was a child. She told him it was a song to bring on courage and that he could find strength within its words. She’d told him that if he were to focus on the words he would be too busy to think about whatever was frightening him at the time. With no better options on the table, he began to silently lip the lyrics that had stuck with him since his youth.

“Let Bacchus’ sons be not dismayed,

But with me each jovial blade,

Come booze and sing and lend your aid,

To help me with the chorus…”

He was much closer now, his hand almost on the doorknob. His pistol was ready, his heart was hammering and his nerves were on fire!

“Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale,

And pay the reckoning on the nail,

For debt no man shall go to jail,

From Garryowen in glory…”

Dalton gripped the knob and gently began to turn. The knocking had ceased but the man could still feel the presence on the other side, like a vile heat.

“We are the boys who take delight in,

Smashing the Limerick lamps when lighting,

Through the streets like sportsters fighting,

And tearing all before us…”

Almost there; he turned the knob and simply had to pull the door open.

“Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale,

And pay the reckoning on the nail,

For debt no man shall go to jail,

From Garryowen…”

One final deep breath…

Dalton shouted… “IN GLORY!” threw the door open.

No one was there. Riding the adrenaline, he charged into the hallway, gun aimed into the dim chasm before him. The hallway connected to the living room, which featured large window. The light from the parking lot outside gave him all he needed to see, and standing at the end of the hall was the undeniable shape of a man. It appeared to be tall, shoulders squared and ready to charge.

“Get down on the fucking ground asshole!” Dalton screamed, his gun squarely aimed at the intruder’s chest. No reaction.

“Last warning motherfuck! Get DOWN!”

When the figure ignored the officer’s commands a second time, Dalton allowed his trigger finger to do its job. The gun discharged twice. The invader dropped to the floor. Wasting no motion, Dalton moved forward into the living room. A quick flip of a light switch and he was relieved to find the lights worked fine out there. The small living room provided no real place for another intruder to hide, as the kitchen shared the space and Dalton’s bathroom was connected to the bedroom. Unless someone else in here was invisible, Dalton felt confident that he was alone with whoever was lying down on tile floor of his short hallway.

“Okay you shit, let’s see who you are!” Dalton trotted over to the body on his floor and let out a shocked gasp when he realized just what he’d shot.

“What the fuck…” The fallen intruder before him was not an intruder at all, but rather a dummy. A mannequin head attached to clothing set up a coat rack. The clothing was stuffed with pillows to fill out the shape of a body. The head, not surprising, was adorned with the zigzag line along the left side, no doubt intended to resemble a scar.

Suddenly Dalton recalled the knocking from the neighboring apartment. Whoever was behind all of this could still be in there. Slowly he stood, looking cautiously at his front door. He once again began the slow creep towards the exit when he heard the door from the next apartment burst open followed by the unmistakable sound of running feet. Moving quickly now, Dalton charged into the parking lot of his apartment just in time to see a familiar vehicle peel out and make a breakneck turn onto the connecting street. The Jimmy 4x4 that tried to run him off the road on the first night of this investigation was still on the loose it would seem. Dalton quickly moved towards his own car, fully intending to give chase and call for backup in the process. However as he ran towards his vehicle, he immediately realized that would be impossible. Whoever did this had taken the liberty of deflating all four of his tires.

Dalton returned to his apartment and grabbed his cell phone. He always left it in the pocket of his blazer. After tonight he told himself he’d have to make a point to plug it in by his bed each night. He began to dial the police station when his fingers froze. He heard a faint whispering coming from his hallway floor. As he turned his head to investigate, it occurred to him that the stuffed decoy on the floor was talking; only the words were not coming from its mouth but rather from within its chest.

Dalton carefully pulled away the clothing and found a small recorder hidden within the pillow that served as the dummy’s chest. Listening very closely, he heard a message repeated over and over again, the voice warped into a demonic deep tone.

“The red is hate. The red is hate. The red is hate. The red is hate. The red is hate.”

He listened to the entire tape, front and back, and this four word litany was all that played. Dalton held his phone in his hand for several minutes, debating whether to call this in to his colleagues at the MPD. He and Simon had decided to keep their end of this investigation private until they had real evidence, but Dalton wasn’t sure if this was something to keep secret or not. His home had been broken into in the middle of the night after all. In the end he chose to call Simon, hoping his partner would be awake.

They talked for over an hour.

“So you say someone broke into your apartment and left a decoy… creepy,” Simon asked over the phone.

“Yeah, and that stuff on the recorder… it makes me think of what Nina told me, about some weird color mantra that Sawyer was using, do you think it’s related?”

“I think all of this ties together, yeah. Look, I think you made the right choice in keeping this from your superiors at the MPD. That Jimmy 4x4 is still running around… tell me, how in a town so small has it not been spotted? Especially if an APB is out for it.”

“You think there might be some cover up?”

“I’m just about 100% positive. When I got back to my office in Baton Rouge, my watch commander informed me that special instruction had been sent before I was dispatched down there. Apparently the powers that be in Mandeville wanted me to make sure I blessed off on all this at the end that nothing at all was out of whack in that little town. He thinks I was sent down there just to put a nice coat of white wash on the whole case at the end.”

“Sounds about like Mandeville, especially with Hardy behind the wheel. Okay then, since no one was hurt I guess we’ll just keep this little incident between ourselves for the time being. I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Take care partner, be safe,” Simon announced before hanging up.

The next morning Dalton went into the apartment next door to his and looked around. He found nothing of interest, just an empty place. He stared into the vacant closet that bordered his own on the other side. He tried to imagine someone sitting there in the dark, knocking on his walls. Even with the bright sunlight pouring in from the windows he still felt chills run up his spine.

The following day Simon returned from Baton Rouge and met up Dalton. They went to breakfast and shared some more details of the case. Simon informed his partner that the warrant was in the works and he believed he’d have it in hand in a day or so. Dalton was pleased, as he was eager to go and dig into whatever Dr. Sawyer was hiding.

Shortly after both men received texts informing them that Chief Hardy wanted to see them in his office immediately.

“Let’s go see what the asshole wants,” Dalton grumbled.

“Glad to be back in the fryer with you partner.”

Dalton smiled and shook Simon’s hand firmly. “You’re alright man, just in case you think all the times I’ve insulted you means I don’t like you, I just wanted to tell you that. You’re a squared away partner.”

“And you’re a true pro Dalt, glad I could learn from you.”

Less than an hour later, Dalton was kneeling on the floor of the police station, holding the corpse of Simon Lymon in his arms. Later that day he’d find himself released from his career in police work.

The Red Makes You Hate

By the time Dalton sat up from Sherri Willis’ bed to stretch his legs, the sun was starting to peek over the old buildings that made up the French Quarter. Their ashtray was full and Bradshaw’s throat hurt from the long story and the chain smoking that had fueled it.

“Shit Dalton, I had no idea you were holding all of that in. I know you lost your partner and all, but shit… I can see why you never want to go back to your apartment these days.”

Dalton was staring forward, his eyes not locking on any one thing. His spoke in a distracted, dreamy manner. “I never did tell him the story about why I left the NOPD. I had planned to have a few beers with him that night and tell him all the details… He was a pain in the ass Sherri, but he was my friend… and he deserved better than to be shot in the head by some fuck-up cop.”

“I bet if we dig into things deeper we’ll find that the cop that shot Simon was one of Sawyer’s patients too. You said that tape recorder mentioned that red is for hate, right, and the screen on the computer went solid red before the cop shot him. Can’t ignore that connection.”

“The problem we have now is getting to Sawyer. I’d be willing to bet a million dollars that after Simon was killed, that warrant wound up in Hardy’s hands. I’d bet that same million a second time that Hardy made that warrant vanish. If the truth lies with Sawyer, the brass in Mandeville is not going to help us get to him legally.”

“Then we get to him some other way. It’s not like the guy is in hiding.”

“Yeah, but unless we do this by the book, anything we could get might be worthless in court. I’ve seen many a scumbag walk free because the dumbass cop investigating the crime fucked around with the due process.”

“I don’t know… but I do know that I’m exhausted Dalton. Let’s get some sleep and look into this tonight. I’m sure we can do something.”

“Sure thing darling, I’m fighting to keep these old eyes open right now too.”

Dalton leaned over and kissed Sherri on the mouth. She smiled. “Thank you for sharing that story with me, really. I know it sucks, what happened to your partner and all, but think of me as your partner now… a partner with benefits!”

“Hey Sherri, just so you know, I do… value you. I don’t want you to think otherwise. I don’t think I would be doing as well as I am right now without you.”

“Okay lover boy, don’t get all sappy on me. Let’s go to sleep and we can fight some crime after we recharge out batteries.”

“Goodnight… or morning or whatever,” Dalton said as his mind struggled more to remain focused.

Sherri rolled over and within less than a minute, Dalton fell into a restful slumber. In his sleep, he dreamed.

Dalton walked down a deserted street. He recognized it right away though. He was walking down Chartres Street in the French Quarter; his old beat from his days with the NOPD. It was nighttime in his dream, and music could still be heard coming from the direction of Bourbon Street, yet there was no one to be seen in any direction. His dreaming mind began to find this odd as he continued walking towards Jackson Square.

“Red, green, blue,” he heard a voice whisper from somewhere ahead of him.

“The red makes you hate, the green makes you fake and the blue makes you… you,” the voice repeated once more.

“Hello?” Dalton called to the vacant streets before him. Somewhere, roughly two blocks ahead of him, something moved. A vague human shape perhaps. It moved quickly, almost appearing to float above the ground.

“Red, green, blue,” it repeated again. “The red makes you hate, the green makes you fake and the blue makes you… you!”

Dalton began to trot faster down the empty sidewalk. His slumbering mind fell into the logic that the dreamscape demanded. He’d walk past stoops of sally ports and observe the lights would either be red, green or blue. He didn’t question this as odd.

Jackson Square was getting closer. Dalton walked past a window and stopped to observe two human silhouettes. They appeared to be two adults talking. As he continued to watch, his eyes went wide as the entire window suddenly went red.

“No… look out!” Dalton screamed, but the dream did not respond to the pleas. Instead the man watched as one of the silhouettes brandished a knife and stabbed the other over and over again in the chest. Then the window went black.

Dalton continued walking and once again heard the familiar chant. “Red, green, blue. Red makes you hate, green makes you fake and blue makes you… you.”

Dalton finally arrived. Sitting in the center of the Square was one single booth, similar to the tarot card readers that frequently set up shop there. On the table was a single burning. A figure was behind the table, its head down, its identity unclear.

Dalton raced over and froze in terror. The figure looked up. It was Simon. His face demolished on one side, a huge gaping hole oozing blood was on the back of his head. It was as if someone had taken him from the scene of his murder and propped him up in a chair. Only he was alive.

“Dalton, how are you, partner?”

“Simon… I’m… so sorry…”

“Oh, you mean this?” the ghoul responded, and began to dig his fingers into the exit hole on his face. “It’s not so bad being dead Dalton, not so bad at all. I just wish you didn’t have to feel the pain all the time. I always imagined being dead would be painless, but shit man, my head hurts!”

“Simon…”

“Dalton, this isn’t like you! Now, sit down and let me read your fortune!”

“I… I don’t want to…”

“SIT!” the wasted monster screamed, and Dalton looked down to see a chair was now available for him.

“Ok… sorry, I just… I hate to see you this way!”

“Awww, Dalt, you’re breaking my heart. I mean, here I am with half of my face sliding off and you’re bothered by it. I’m so sorry that my pain is causing you to have a bad day. Now, let’s see what the future holds for Detective… oops, I mean, Citizen Dalton Bradshaw!”

Simon dealt out three cards. As Dalton predicted, one was solid red, one solid green and the last one solid blue.

“Now Dalton, what does the red mean?”

“The red makes you hate….”

“Very good! And what does the green mean?”

“The green makes you fake….”

“Almost done! What does the blue mean?”

“The blue makes you… you.”

“By George I think he’s got it!”

“Simon… what does any of this mean? Help me!”

“Dalton, I’m a figment of your mind! I can’t tell you anything that you don’t already know!”

“But I don’t know any of this color stuff, I only know that the little girl told me that Sawyer played some sort of color game… but I don’t know what they mean!”

“Clearly you do! If this is new information for you, you’d best wake up and find out how you got it!”

The dream began to collapse around Bradshaw, and he felt the sensation of his senses gathering, becoming real once again. As the nightmare scene of Jackson Square began to fade, Simon returned to chanting the colors, and continued to do so as Dalton returned to the world of the waking.

He sat up in the bed that he’d shared with Sherri for the last few weeks. His face was sweaty and he was breathing hard. He looked over to his left and saw that his bedroom companion was not in her normal spot. As he continued to come back to the waking world, he realized something else as well, the chanting that had accompanied his dream was still repeating.

“Red, green, blue… The red makes you hate, the green makes you fake and the blue makes you… you.”

Dalton rolled off of the bed and stood up. Something was going on. The voice was repeating from somewhere out in Sherri’s hallway. He didn’t have his gun here, and as far as he could tell there was nothing too useful in this room. He’d have to rely on his wits and fists in this situation.

Slowly Dalton crept towards the bedroom door. This scenario reminded him too much of the situation in his apartment two days before Simon would be shot and he’d be fired. Only this time the intruder wasn’t hiding. He wanted to call out for Sherri, but if there was something dangerous, he didn’t want tip the apple cart by startling anything. Dalton was relieved that the door connecting the bedroom and hallway were wide open, so at least he wouldn’t have to go through the obstacle of opening it. Slowly he peered into the hallway. There was enough light from the city streets that he could make out yet another similar scene. Standing in the hallway was a human shaped figure. Much like the one from his apartment, this one too seemed to stand too far off the ground.

“Another dummy on a coat rack…?” He asked himself.

The recorded voice continued to spill out, seeming to come more from the center of the figure than the where the mouth should be.

“Another game? Another attempt to freak me out?” his mind asked.

The street lights from outside cast enough light for Dalton to see the light switch on the wall of the hallway. He pondered as to whether or not they’d come in and fooled around with the lights as they did in his apartment. He didn’t want to sit here in the dark all night and figure it out.

In one quick move Dalton lunged forward and flipped the switch. The lights came on this time, and what Dalton found standing before him was not a mannequin, but rather the remains of a young woman with sea life tattoos covering her arms and a tape recorder hanging around her neck. From the recorder played the same message over and over again…

“Red, green blue…”

Dalton’s eyes grew wide as he raced forward, grasping the body hanging from the coat rack. Her arms had been twisted and bound in such a way that she propped upon the fixture like any other piece of clothing.

“Sherri!” he screamed as he pulled her down from the rack. Her body was limp and lifeless.

“Baby… please, please be alright! You’re going to be fine, come on baby, open your eyes, please!”

However, despite all of his pleading, the young vibrant woman he’d known from before, the same woman who’d helped him cope with the last few chaotic weeks of his life, was now just a corpse.

“Who did this… who did this to you?” he cried as he grasped her body, face buried in her hair. The recorder continued to play its apathetic eulogy as the man crumbled into an abyss of grief.

The police were called and reports were filed. Questions were asked over and over. Crime Scene Investigators did their thing within the small apartment. As this took place, Dalton sat in the office of Francis Lombardi, current Watch Commander for the 8th District New Orleans Police. Dalton knew Lombardi well, had worked with him for years before leaving the NOPD.

“If you’re worried that you’re a suspect, don’t be,” he told Dalton.

“Wouldn’t care, fucking fry me at this point… I’m tired Francis.”

“I heard that you lost your position out there in Mandeville. That whole mess over there, makes me actually glad to be working in the city and not the suburbs for once.”

“It’s connected.”

“So you’ve told me. You think that mess out on River Road with the two actors is connected too, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Makes me wish you were still one of my cops Dalton, you’d be doing a lot more here than you were over there.”

“Well, I think I’m done with police work. Two people that I care about have been killed in the last month. I’m fucking toxic.”

“I would say you’re lucky. Lot of good people are dead in connection to this mess. You’re still walking, that says a lot.”

“Mandeville is turning a blind eye to all of this, Hardy… the bastard, he knows what’s going on and just… gives his little press releases and hides behind his desk… and this is what we get for it, good people dead.”

“Well, we’re not turning a blind eye. The two actors, they died in Jefferson Parish, so that falls on those guys to investigate. But your girl, Miss Willis, she was murdered on my watch. We’re not going to shovel snow on this Dalton. If there is a way to solve it, we’ll do it.”

Dalton smiled weakly. “Too bad Drexler isn’t still on the job, he’d have dug into this… I miss that guy.”

“Makes two of us. Either way, we’ve got CSI going through every thread in her apartment. We’re looking at all the city surveillance cameras to see who came and went from that apartment during the time you fell asleep and the time you woke and found her. I’m also going to reach out to the State Attorney General’s Office tomorrow and see what I can get done about this other stuff you’ve told me. This Dr. Sawyer for example. If Mandeville is going to cover this all up, I’ll just have to shine some light on it myself.”

“Good luck with that. Look, I appreciate everything you’re doing, and I’ll cooperate with anything you want, but I’ve got no faith in the system anymore. They seem to have every angle covered out there.”

“Dalton, we’ve got a spare bedroom at my place and I know Denise would love to see you again, if you want to, you’re welcome to stay at my place for a few nights. I can’t pretend to understand the darkness you’re in right now, but I know it helps to be around other people. You haven’t seen my kids since they were staring middle school, Janice is going into her senior year of high school and…”

Dalton interrupted. “Francis, thank you, really. But I just want to get home. I haven’t been back to my place in Mandeville in almost a week.”

“Are you sure?”

“I know what I need right now, and it’s some quality alone time. If you need me for anything, call. If you decide I’m the prime suspect, just send some guys over to blow my fucking brains out. Save me the trouble of doing it myself. Plus I’m Catholic, so you know, if I do it myself I’ll go to hell.”

“Dalton…”

“Shake my hand Francis,” Bradshaw stated as he stood to his feet. Francis Lombardi did as he was asked and watched as a very broken man exited his office.

Unexpected Alliances

About an hour later he pulled into the small parking lot of his apartment complex. He saw that the adjoining apartment was still apparently vacant, given the lack of blinds in the windows and the clearly empty rooms within. Given his current mood, if killers showed up to take him out tonight, he would likely lie down and tell them where to start cutting.

Dalton unlocked the door to his apartment and stepped inside. He immediately realized that something was very wrong. His television was turned on and it seemed that every light in the place was going. He shifted his gaze from left to right. To the left was the short hallway containing his bedroom. To the right was the kitchen. He could see most of it, but there was a narrow blind spot at the counter and stovetop area. The volume of the television was turned up very high, and the man struggled to try and hear any movement to indicate where the intruders may be.

Dalton’s gun was still stashed in the bedroom behind the bed, essentially useless to him in this current situation. Instead, Dalton positioned the longest key on his key ring between the knuckles of his pointer and middle finger, and began to move slowly though the apartment. His eyes were mainly on the bedroom, as that would be the prime hiding spot. Suddenly his ears detected a metallic sound from the kitchen’s blind spot. He froze. The noise came again, the sound of metal being dragged across the ceramic counter top. His mind imagined a knife, long and sharp, picked from his own kitchen and aiming right at his back. He glanced at the television, and with the luck of the devil caught the screen just as one commercial transitioned into another, causing the screen to momentarily go black, providing a perfect mirror. In that moment he saw the knife, he saw the outline of the intruder. They were right behind him. He knew he was a goner but would be damned if he’d allow someone to take him blindly like that without some sort of fight. Clutching the keys he’d crafted into a makeshift weapon, Dalton turned on his heels in one quick motion, raising his hand and ready to strike.

“Mr. Dalton! It’s about time you came home. You know it’s really irresponsible to leave a child unattended like this!”

Dalton let the keys drop to the floor, feeling a mixed sense of relief and rage. Standing before him, holding a butter knife in one hand and what appeared to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the other; was Nina Hopkins.

She walked around him and dropped onto the couch as though nothing out of the ordinary was going on at all.

The relief broke and Dalton felt the rage flow uncontrolled. He went with it.

“What the fuck are you doing in my house!” he screamed at the girl.

“Well, eating a sandwich and watching Hell’s Kitchen at the moment. Gordon Ramsay is sort of my crush.”

Dalton ran over to the wall and pulled the power cable for the television, bringing on a silence that was soothing but doing little to dissipate the anger he was feeling.

“Okay… WHY… WHY the fuck are you in my house!”

“First of all, I was in the middle of watching that. Now I’m going to miss who wins the ‘taste it, now make it’ challenge. Second, the word you’re searching for is ‘please.’ As in, Nina, please tell me why you’re in my house.”

“You listen to me, I don’t have to say please to some little fucking kid that breaks into my place while I’m away and…”

“I don’t have anywhere to go, alright Mr. Dalton…”

For a moment he looked at her face, looked into her eyes and saw a very human element of distress there. Regardless of the stories he’d heard about her, she was a child. He wanted to remain enraged, he wanted to drag her out of his apartment and deposit her at the nearest police station. And perhaps he would have, but he was so damned tired. He had no energy to deal with anything beyond yelling, and he was starting to believe that yelling was not the solution here. Instead, he sat down across from her.

“What do you mean you don’t have anywhere to go? What about the youth center, Miss Hayes…?”

“They hate me there, they think I’m a monster. I heard Miss Hayes on the phone when she was talking about me. She kept calling me ‘little psycho.’ She exaggerated that story about Danielle too. Yeah, I stuck her with needles… but they were just little safety pins, not knitting needles. You gotta admit Mr. Dalton, knitting needles would have likely killed someone.”

“Yeah… I… just thought that was bad writing at first.”

“I can’t go back to my parents, I can’t go back to Miss Hayes… so… so I came here.”

“How did you know where I live?”

“Miss Hayes had your information in her office. I’m sorry for breaking into your house… I just, I don’t have anywhere to go.”

Dalton thought, “She’s fucking playing you idiot. Putting on a little sympathy routine to get her way. You can’t let her stay here. Not just because she’s a run away, but also because she’s a manipulator. She wants something and you know she’s playing you for it.”

“Please…” she asked. “I can cook, I make great sandwiches and I was allowed to help in the kitchen so I can make other stuff. I’ll clean and take out the trash and…”

“Nina, I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t work this way. I’ve got to call Miss Hayes and let her know where you are. I know you don’t want to go back to the group home, but it’s where you belong.”

Dalton watched as Nina’s facial expression changed almost instantly. The sad little girl vanished, and what remained warped quickly into a face of sly knowing and controlled spite. He was taken aback for a moment by the sheer raw emotion on such a young child. Her eyes though, her eyes never changed. They remained focused and determined.

“Okay fine, call Miss Hayes, send me back. But you didn’t let me finish. Maybe you don’t care about me cooking or cleaning, but if you let me stay here I can lead you straight to Dr. Sawyer.”

“Sawyer is not in hiding, I can go to him anytime I want. The only hold up has been in getting the right paperwork…”

“Boring!” Nina interrupted. “Sawyer doesn’t care if you arrest him Mr. Dalton. He’s dying. I know that. That’s why he retired. I asked him once, right before he helped me get out of the hospital, what would he do if he ever got in trouble for something that Vickers or Antoines might do? He told me that he’d be long dead before he ever served the first day of his prison sentence.”

Dalton scanned her face for signs of a lie but so far couldn’t tell. She continued, “But I can get you to him. He’ll still talk to me if I ask him. I won’t need any fancy warrant to get him to talk. I can show you where he does other stuff too. I know where the real Jeff’s Killers hang out, and it isn’t Shortcut Road.”

In many ways Dalton was relieved at the sense of excitement he felt over the possibilities of a new lead in this. Before he’d opened his front door and fount this girl hiding in his apartment, he was ready to lie down and die. He felt that the deaths of Simon and then Sherri had taken it all out of him. But here he was, feeling like a cop again. Maybe there was a way to make this work…

“Nina, if you know these things, you have to tell me, please!”

“I’ll be happy to Mr. Dalton, but only if you let me stay here with you.”

Dalton stared forward for a moment, looking beyond Nina, allowing his exhausted mind to cycle through options.

“Okay, I’ll have to talk to Miss Hayes. She has to at least know where you are. If she’s okay with this, I’ll think about it. But you have to help me get Sawyer! No riddles, no crap, do what I tell you and help me get the bastard! And this isn’t permanent! You can stay here a few days, but you will have to go back to the youth home soon! Deal?”

Nina’s face suddenly became joyful in such a way that no one would believe she could possess the ability to commit any act of violence. “Deal! Yes! Oh thank you Mr. Dalton! I promise you won’t regret this! I’ll help you and you’ll be a great cop again!”

Before Dalton could speak further, Nina walked around him and plugged the television back in. The booming voice of Gordon Ramsay filled the room.

The British chef screamed at some contestant or another, “What are you, a fucking idiot?”

Dalton looked over at Nina, sitting on his couch eating his food and laughing with glee and answered Ramsay’s question… “Yep… I am one fucking idiot!”



Written by K. Banning Kellum
Content is available under CC-BY-SA
Published January 13th, 2018

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