Tuesday Tales: The Fortune Cookie Killer
The Fortune Cookie Killer
Two egg rolls. Shrimp fried rice. Four pork dumplings.
I’d ordered exactly that at least once a month for the better half of a decade during lunchtime. The restaurant had been as unchanging as my order, as was the way in which I devoured it in a matter of minutes.
Now, the mere image of popping so much as a single dumpling into my mouth made me to hurl.
The issue? I couldn’t escape the thought of it (Chinese food in general, really). It haunted me—the smell, especially. Three months, fifteen or more restaurants, and four bodies later haven’t added up to any amount of desensitization. Not like the latter of the three were anything new. I’d seen my fair share of corpses over the last ten years, many of which were mangled beyond recognition (accidents, manslaughter, murder—take your pick). And there’d been other serial killers in the past, too; they just weren’t nearly as disturbing as the Fortune Cookie Killer.
“I’m not calling him that,” I said, pointing to the whiteboard we’d rolled into the break room. “It hits me as a joke, like we’re making light of it. If press got wind of that, it’d bite us in the ass.”
Sergeant Gailman shrugged, popping into his mouth the rest of the coffee cake he’d been eating in between parts of his spiel. It reminded me of the dumplings again, which almost sent me running for the bathroom. He wiped his powder-covered hands on his khakis and pointed back to the board. “Call them whatever you want, detective.” He pointed at me. “But until we know the identity of this sonofabitch, do not jump to conclusions that this is a man we’re hunting down. I won’t tell you that again.”
I let the comment blow over, not wanting to get into it. Not at the midnight hour it was, and especially because it was a debate I’d never win. Gailman was a Rulebook Man, the type that lived and died by process and protocol. And you needed officers like that; they helped balance the scale. The fifty-something cueball wasn’t exactly as open-minded as me (nor were most others in this place, so it seemed), unwilling to admit there was a third ‘P’ of equal importance to take note of: people. If we were to only act on process and protocol, we might as well give a badge to the file cabinets. The people factor was and is what gives us the upper hand—especially in a case like this.
The F.C.K. (that’d have to do for now, plus I got a kick out of the pronunciation) had managed to kill four people in the span of a few months. He’d also dumped their bodies in public places without leaving a shred of evidence behind. Not a foreign hair on the victims’ clothes; no skin tissue beneath their fingernails; not a print on any of the four paper fortunes we’d discovered in their pockets. All this meant they—no, he—knew what he was doing. They had a good understanding of elementary forensics, and evidently impressive knowledge of when any given public location would be pedestrian-free.
“It’s an educated guess, is all,” I said. All right, I was pushing back a little. “We know they weren’t carved up where we found them, which means our perp had to transport the bodies, at the very least carrying them in and out of their car.”
Officer Cindy Rodriguez perked up in her chair. She’d been silent for awhile now, undoubtedly as desperate for some sleep as Gailman and me. “He does have a point. Statistically, at least, the odds of a woman moving the bodies of four grown men with ease probably isn’t something worth betting on.” She flung a lock of her frizzy brown hair back over her shoulder where it never seemed to want to be.
“We don’t bet on anything here,” Gailman added. “We don’t go off statistics, either.”
It went on this way for awhile, Gailman more so dedicated to taking us back to the academy rather than moving the case along. Even though our conversation was of little substance (that was a tall order when we were running on fumes, I was beginning to realize), the whiteboard became increasingly cluttered. It’d already been a horrid collage when we’d rolled it in here; now, photos, Post-It notes, and other papers were climbing on top of each other, each vying for our attention. Only, we had no earthly idea where to begin.
To my surprise, after another two hours at it, it was just Officer Rodriguez and me left in the break room. The same could’ve likely been said about the station in general (other than those on dispatch, of course). I would’ve sent the poor kid home if it hadn’t been for something she’d said after the ‘ole cueball left.
“Forget anesthesia,” she laughed. “He can put any and everyone to sleep.”
We stayed another hour. Having the handcuffs lifted was enough to allow us to find a little more gas in the tank. We talked about him, the F.C.K. Yes, it was a him, without a doubt. And the first thing we decided to do was to dive back into all four of the murders. One at a time, rotating between us for a fresh perspective with each retelling. It’d been unusually long since the last kill, and each day shoveled another layer of dirt over the bodies of the victims, so to speak.
Cindy began, breaking down the murder of fifty-two-year-old Thomas Moreno. She stood in front of the whiteboard that had no more white to reveal. She started pacing, back and forth with her hands clasped behind her back. She was thinking, wheels spinning, trying to remember every detail she could without having to reference the shit-show art piece Sergeant Gailman had put together over the last few days.
“Thomas Moreno was found in the tube slide at Sunnyside Park at approximately eight a.m. on a Friday. He was black, of medium build, and was wearing a long-sleeve dry-fit shirt with basketball shorts. The shorts were fine, but the dry-fit shirt was shredded, tears in more places than we could count.”
I shook my head. “Thirty-four incised wounds.”
She stopped pacing, considered it, and carried on. “Right, thirty-four. And that was only what’d been done to his stomach and chest.” She paused, pulling up a memory she didn’t care to resurface. “His neck was beyond slit, a deep cut that’d been Moreno’s primary cause of death.”
The imaged rushed back to me. Some of his blood had pooled around him, drying by the time we’d arrived. The rest had drained out of him somewhere else, assumingely wherever he’d been so savagely killed. All that left Thomas Moreno, a former high school physics teacher, looking empty. The tissue within the gash on his neck had gone the lightest shade of pink. The only thing lighter than that was the white cartilage of his Adam’s apple, a sight that wasn’t meant to see the light of day.
Cindy went on: “Time of death was determined to be around four hours before we found him, so about three a.m.” Now, she did turn to the whiteboard, searching around until she spotted the photo she was looking for. She read it verbatim, a small rectangle of paper with writing on it. A fatal fortune. “‘Find beauty in the ordinary.’ There was nothing on his person besides this.”
“And Mister Moreno’s home?” I kept feeding her information to work off of, guiding the retelling as much for her as for myself.
“Untouched,” she said. Pacing and pacing, faster than before, her hair bopping up and down with each focused step. “No sign of forced entry. Not a sign of Moreno having been in the house at the time of death, either.”
“So, he was out and about when it happened, as we’ve assumed.”
She wasted no time responding, playing off what I was sprinkling in like it was second nature. “His friends told us he’d walked home after playing basketball late at night.”
There wasn’t much else of substance to poor Thomas Moreno’s tale. Just a man seemingly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, as was the case with the other three victims, too. Like Kevin Roman. And it was my turn to tell his story. I knew it inside and out, as I did with all four cases (despite feeling as though I was losing them with each passing day), because catching the F.C.K. occupied ninety-nine per cent of my mind. The remaining one per cent was dedicated to keeping me alive, I suppose. The essentials. That, and my family, of course.
Officer Rodriguez jokingly bowed, as if expecting an applause. She grabbed her cup of stale coffee from the round break room table she’d claimed as her own and downed the rest of it, then collapsed in the discomfort of the plastic chair beneath her.
I went before the whiteboard. No pacing for me. Instead, I stood in the center of it, gently placing one hand over another in front of me, and closed my eyes. While doubtless all four victims suffered horrific deaths at the hands of this bastard (him, I reminded myself, mainly to spite Gailman), what’d happened to Kevin Roman was objectively the worst—at least post-mortem.
And the memory of his grim corpse was what singlehandedly kept me up at night.
I took a breath, heavy and filling, and let it out. “Kevin Roman, presumably the second victim of the F.C.K., was found at six thirty in the morning on a Wednesday, around two weeks after we found Moreno.”
I sent myself back to that very morning. I’d gotten the call at six forty-five. It sent me shooting up in bed upon its first ring, as if I’d been waiting for it, knowing it’d soon come. Like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, only that was the complete opposite type of anticipation here. I’d been able to sense this one was worse than the first. Much worse.
“He was found on the lakefront.” I needed to be more specific. I could be more specific. “He was found on Horizon Beach, lying on a beach towel. Sunglasses on him, a cooler carved into the sand beside him. Beside his body.” I peered out the slightest gap between my eyelids, reminding myself I wasn’t there. I was here, in the break room with Officer Rodriguez. “He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and swim-trunks. Both appeared new, as if he’d just purchased them. But it’s almost a guarantee that the F.C.K. bought them and dressed the man in them.” My mind went where my feet had gone at the time, from standing in front of Mister Roman’s body to the cooler. I peered out again to ground myself in the here and now, then let myself slip back into the memory. “Inside, floating in a pool of melted ice and a few remaining cubes, were the man’s eyes.” I didn’t add how they’d been perfectly plucked out like scoops from a cantaloupe. “His tongue was also in there, having been severed off and cauterized at the severed end. Deeper down, tucked under the ice, was his heart, almost fully intact.”
To my surprise, I managed through the entire retelling of what we’d learned and discovered about poor Kevin Roman. The only similarity to the first victim was that they were both adult males. This was the common thread throughout all four murders. That, and the very source of the serial killer’s almost laughable nickname: the small, white pieces of paper found shoved in the victims’ pockets. In the case of Mr. Roman, his had an equally unimaginative message in the form of a fortune:
Success lies in the hands of those who want it.
Painfully uninspiring. The other two victims, Charlie Myers, a thirty-something-year-old manager at a local diner, and Sam Turner, a grad student in his late twenties, had been burdened with similarly dull fortunes.
Charlie, whom a couple of teens had stumbled upon lying breathless on a bus bench, had the following fortune within a front pocket of the blood-soaked pants making up part of his diner uniform:
Your road to glory will be rocky, but fulfilling.
Sam, the most recent victim, whom a senior citizen had come across on the sidewalk in front of her home (the old woman initially thought a drunk had passed out after a night out on the town), carried the following fortune:
You don’t need strength to let go of something.
Officer Rodriguez and I powered through our exhaustion to reground ourselves in Charlie and Sam’s respective (and equally disturbing) cases. Both involved elements unique to each individual, just as Kevin and Thomas’s murders shared little in common by way of murder method, victim profile, time and place of death, and nearly every other aspect we might’ve otherwise tried to tie together to paint a better picture of the F.C.K.—or at least his modus operandi.
His, I told myself again. The F.C.K. is a him, all right.
Finding our well of insight to have gone completely dry (but at least with each victim’s story fresh in our minds), we threw in the towel and called it a night. We would pick back up first thing tomorrow, and the cueball Gailman would be back at our side, as well. Or rather, he’d be standing in front of us, holding an invisible stop sign to prevent us from taking any considerable leaps.
I was sure Officer Rodriguez had been able to fall asleep the moment she crashed onto her bed. She was young; even though she’d seen what I’d seen these past several months, this kind of stuff took awhile to wear one down. It added up over the years; not so much one’s ability to buckle up and handle a case of this magnitude, but the power to flip the switch off once home. This was why the young officer rested, and why I got home and couldn’t so much as forcibly keep my eyes shut.
I entered the pitch-black house and immediately tip-toed upstairs. I checked on my sleeping daughter, who was nestled in between two of her oversized stuffed animals, and left her with a kiss on the cheek. Then, I went to my bedroom, finding my wife to be in a seemingly similar peaceful place as our daughter. I let her know I was back, whispering in her ear, and she almost certainly didn’t hear a thing I’d said. That was all right; I’d rather the two of them be off in a dreamworld right now. Because my mind was still elsewhere, and it’d be impossible to mask that if I tried.
Sergeant Gailman could keep his precious whiteboard. I had my basement all to myself. It was half-finished, the walls having been painted and paneled with faux wood along the lower half while the ground was still gloomy, cracked, damp concrete. It made for quite the contrast, and because neither my daughter nor wife tended to come down here, it was the perfect place to get lost in my work. No distractions, just a foldable plastic table and a lawn chair a season too early to make an appearance outside.
The only addition to these items (outside of the countless brown boxes stacked on one side of the room) was the manila folder I’d slapped down in front of me. Inside, there were a mere four pieces of paper, which I proceeded to fan out on the table. Each one had a picture of one of the four fortunes on it. Two of them were more difficult to read than others (they’d gone blood-soaked before forensics could snap a picture). I didn’t mind this. I preferred the real things. Pulled out into separate text, they were just words, more meaningless than they already seemed. Their tainted state reminded me of what’d happened.
I pinched the top of my nose in between my eyes, and passed a hand through my hair. Hair that was most definitely thinning because of this job. A lasting side effect of the line of duty—and this case alone, for that matter. But that’d be the least of my concerns if this F.C.K. kept leaving bodies for us to find, especially at the rate at which he was operating. I’d lose a lot more than my hair, and a lot more than a good night’s sleep.
I’d lose myself the longer this went on.
If ever there was a chance to find this guy, the fortunes would be the catalyst in doing so. I’d felt this way since the beginning, and unlike Gailman, I tended to invest more in hunches the longer they weren’t disproven. It was common knowledge that the F.C.K. was careful, cautious enough not to leave behind a shred of D.N.A. evidence. And the places at which he’d dumped the bodies conveniently didn’t have cameras within an unusual radius. So, to go out of his way to leave these fortunes was him slipping up—even if that wasn’t his intention. They were his mark, sure, but they also represented a small sliver of his twisted mind that just had to make these experiences special. In other words, he was ritualizing his kills, always leaving us a piece of him to be found.
I pushed F.C.K. aside for a minute, focusing on the victims alone alongside their respective fortunes.
Find beauty in the ordinary, the fortune left with Thomas Moreno.
Moreno had been in between jobs. His girlfriend broke up with him a month before he was murdered. All he’d really had (according to a few of his buddies, anyway) were the two times a week they would meet at the rec club to play pick-up basketball. ‘It was the only time he really came out of his shell after getting canned and broken up with,’ one of his friends had told me. Did ‘Find beauty in the ordinary’ really apply here? Maybe, but that would’ve taken the F.C.K. an incredible amount of stalking to have put together. He would’ve had to have been in Moreno’s home, listening to every call he made and, even more astonishing, analyzing the man’s emotions and sentiment toward his life in general. It couldn’t have been a lucky guess.
Keeping the fortune top of mind, I decided to incorporate a little more fact into all of this. A little of Gailman, in other words, paired with a little of me. I pulled out my phone and placed it on the table, opening up the Maps app and tapping the Search bar. With my other hand, I reached down into my briefcase on the floor and pulled out a much stockier folder, this one worn and nearly bursting at the seams. Keeping my other hand hovered above the keyboard on my phone, I sifted through the papers in the folder until I found the one I was looking for. It was a page summarizing what’d happened to Thomas Moreno (along with some basic information about the man). The official case file, in other words.
The first thing I typed into my phone—hurriedly, for whatever reason, as if Thomas’s life still depended on it—was the rec center, the place he’d reportedly walked home from on the night of his death. Once a little red pin popped up on the screen, I typed in another address my other hand was rested on. It was the closest thing I’d ever be to a pianist, fingers multitasking to the best of their ability. With the other address typed in, I routed the first to the second, watching a zig-zagging blue line pop-up on the screen moments later.
Thomas had shot some hoops with his friends around ten o’clock at night. Afterward, around eleven-thirty, he left to walk home (as was normal for him, according to his friends, considering his place was only five blocks from the rec center). No one saw him after that—not until his body was discovered that next morning. And if my tall tale about the F.C.K. being some next-level stalker was unlikely, that meant Thomas had been picked up on his walk home. The F.C.K. had found him at the right place, at the right time, and made his move. That’d been the official position at the station, but I appreciated it more coming from my own head.
I pinched the screen, zooming into the rec center until it took up about three quarters of my phone. From there, I tried to replay his path, slowly and at what I presumed to be a walking pace. One block. Two blocks. I wasn’t really looking for anything; all I was doing was giving my brain an exercise, an attempt at a fresh perspective while the majority of my focus remained on what I knew to be the key to all of this: the fortune.
That fortune, the one that would make me never look at Chinese food the same way again (even if we did catch this bastard).
At three-and-a-half blocks, my dancing finger froze, no longer reaching ahead for another part of the screen. Every now and then, there’d been some notable locations flagged on the screen –– a park, a church, a couple of restaurants. And I’d ignored all of them, my eyes focused on that thin blue line on the map while my head remained dedicated to those fortunes. I must’ve been been repeating Thomas Moreno’s fortune, because that was what’d prompted me to go still as a rock.
Find beauty in the ordinary.
There, staring back at me on my phone, shining bright within this otherwise ill-lit basement of mine, was a familiar word. It was a visual echo of one of the words I’d been repeating: beauty.
The spot on the map was a health and wellness center, its full name being ‘Beauty Bliss Wellness Spa.’ It echoed nothing about finding beauty and certainly wasn’t championing the ordinary, per the fortune. Still, it had caught my attention. It was forcing me to do the math, to try and weigh whether this was more likely to be sheer coincidence or something of substance.
Thomas Moreno walks past a place called ‘Beauty Bliss Wellness Spa’ on the night he’s murdered. The next day, tucked into his basketball shorts, there’s a fortune that reads ‘Find beauty in the ordinary.’
I was trying to remain level-headed, but I could feel how rapid my pulse had become, and how it was now trying to beat its way out of my chest. The basement was quite chilly, yet I found my forehead beginning to perspire, as were my armpits. I felt hot, like I’d run a marathon, filled with a special kind of dancing endorphins that I’d only felt one or two times in the past.
Still, I had to put all this to the side. It didn’t matter how I felt; probability was all that mattered. The combination of Cueball Gailman’s factual approach to my often instinctual one. And there was a way to do this — goddammit it’d come to me almost immediately after I’d put one-and-one together with Moreno’s fortune and the beauty spa.
So, I spent the rest of the night building a story, putting myself in the shoes of a killer that doubtless was getting an appetite for his next kill.
The sun had risen by the time I was finished, and while I would face the day ahead without an ounce of sleep, I did spend a little time with my wife and daughter that morning. Regardless of what was consuming my attention, I owed them that much. We had breakfast, and even though they were both very much aware of Distracted Daddy (as my daughter liked to call me on such occasions), it was pleasant. Peaceful, even. A mental rest ahead of what would prove to be an exhausting day (and beyond).
Once I was at the station, the first thing I did was pull Officer Rodriguez into one of the smaller meeting rooms. The cluttered whiteboard was still in the break room from last night, and I very much planned on keeping it that way while sharing what I’d uncovered. She helped me bring out a small cork bulletin board, which we soon began pinning everything in my main, still-slim manila folder on. It was the folder with the fortunes in it, and now it had four other sheets of paper I’d printed in the painfully early hours of the morning.
As soon as Sergeant Gailman showed up (most of the station was still empty at this time, but we’d planned an early arrival last night), we didn’t so much as give him a minute to set his stuff down in his office before beckoning him over to the meeting room. He took his time, as he always did. It made me want to go over to him and push him a little faster from behind.
“You two look rather chipper this morning,” he said without breaking his stone-cold expression. “Tell me you didn’t spend the night here . . .”
“You have to see this,” the young officer said from in the doorway, just behind me. “You have to see what Detective Bailey put together.”
I was about to turn around and give her a ‘just a minute’ finger. I decided not to; her enthusiasm toward what I’d only just pieced together for her would support the validity of what I’d uncovered. So, I flashed a smile at Gailman instead, knocking my head back toward the room. He got the message loud and clear: whatever it was, it needed his attention at once.
Unlike when he’d walked into the station, I allowed him to take a seat, even giving him a moment to hang his jacket on the back of his chair. Officer Rodriguez got comfortable as well, although as soon as she sat down her right leg began vibrating up and down in anticipation. It wasn’t that she couldn’t wait to hear it all again; she simply wanted to act on it (as did I).
I approached the small cork bulletin board at the front of the room, both my partners on the F.C.K. case facing me. It was time for my lesson — my whiteboard. Only, this one was far less cluttered than Sergeant Gailman’s. I held it in front of me, its contents toward me at first before I flipped it around.
Gailman leaned in. Cindy did the same. They were staring at six pieces of paper, divided up into pairs, one on top of another. I glanced down at them myself, and began.
“Beyond all of F.C.K.’s victims having been adult males, the only element tying them all together has been the small Chinese fortunes found in their pockets.”
“Besides that they were all left on display in the most disturbing ways post-mortem,” Gailman added.
“Fair,” I agreed. “But even all of those were different, carved up and positioned in the most obscure ways, each and every one of them. That, to me, was the F.C.K. trying to throw us for a loop, to get us to look for a pattern where there wasn’t one.”
The sergeant pointed to the board. “Those print-outs of maps . . . those are the victims’ supposed routes the nights they were killed.”
He was following. That was as much as I could’ve ask for. I pointed at the first fortune, then immediately down to the map beneath it. “Thomas Moreno’s fortune read, ‘Find beauty in the ordinary.’ On his route home from the rec center, he passed by a business front called ‘Beauty Bliss Wellness Spa.’” I landed a finger on where I’d drawn a heavy red circle on the map.
“It’s a word, detective. You mean to suggest one is tied to the other?”
Officer Rodriguez clicked her cheek. “He searched for every business in the city with ‘beauty’ in its name. Only four came up, and each one was at least five miles away. More than a coincidence, if you ask me.”
Gailman fell silent. He crossed his heavy arms and nodded toward me, as if to tell me to go on. So, I did, pointing to the next two stacked pieces of paper. This was Kevin Roman’s fortune, and Kevin Roman’s route from the train station (the last camera footage there’d been of him) to his home. There was potential for variance in his route, sure, but the route I’d mapped out was decidedly the most logical.
“Kevin Roman, F.C.K.’s second victim, was found with a fortune that read, ‘Success lies in the hands of those who want it.’” Again, I landed a finger on the board, in the middle of a red circle. “Five blocks from the train station, four blocks from his house, is a sort of soup kitchen for the displaced called ‘Helping Hands.’”
“And the number of businesses with ‘hands’ in their name?” The question was directed at Officer Rodriguez this time. “I’m assuming you pulled that number, as well?”
“We did,” she said with a grin she was trying hard to fend off to no avail. “There are two, a moving company and a daycare. Both of them are on the other side of town.”
With this, and with eyes more alert than he’d been so far this morning, Sergeant Gailman pushed himself off his chair and approached the bulletin board, arms still crossed. He peered down at the third pair of papers, reading the top one aloud: “‘Your road to glory will be rocky, but fulfilling.’” He studied the paper beneath the fortune, then touched it with a fat finger. He glanced up at me. “‘The Heights’?” He raised a brow. “I don’t see a single word within Charlie Myers’s fortune there.”
It was I who smiled this time, wide enough to reveal my teeth. Uncaring of how it made me look, because I had foreseen this hesitancy from the man. “‘The Heights’ is a rock climbing gym. It’s a mere two blocks from Charlie Myers’s girlfriend’s apartment, whom he was to visit that late night.”
Gailman stood up, not bothering to analyze the fourth pair of papers. After all, the keyword in Sam Turner’s riddle was ‘strength,’ which was a word so easily tied to some sort of gym. Which, in this case, was exactly right. And while there were over a dozen businesses in the city with the word ‘strength’ in their name, the rest of the board had already revealed more than just instinct. More than a hunch.
The connections were undeniable.
The sergeant began pacing, one hand rubbing his bald head as if he were trying for a wish from a genie. Both Officer Rodriguez and I let him do this for a minute, knowing him well enough that he’d stop once his mind quit spinning. This was a good sign; he usually only did this when something big was around the corner.
Eventually, he did stop in his tracks. He turned to me and tossed his hands up in the air. “It’s great, detective. It really is. But what good does it do us? So, the Fortune Cookie Killer selects his victims based on businesses in the area that relate to the message on the fortune. Help me out here . . .”
This was the reason I’d not slept a minute last night. Making the connections between the businesses and the fortunes was easy after the first; the bigger challenge had been making all this useful to us.
I placed the board on the floor and positioned myself in front of Gailman, the smile on my face now replaced with a sternness I knew he’d take seriously. “These aren’t the fortunes of his victims. They’re his fortunes, how he decides to pick his next target. He scopes these places out ahead of time, maybe during the day, then waits somewhere nearby at night. When no one’s around and a poor sonofabitch walks by, he makes his move.” I took a breath, running a hand through my hair (it felt thinner than last night, even). “Now, that is an assumption. I have nothing to prove that’s how he operates, but if you trust me on this one, if we can bring this to the captain, then I think I might have a way to put a theory into action.”
Again, Gailman was silent. His stare was unblinking, as if he was trying to one-up me here. And then, he sighed, lifting his brows and shaking his head. “You’ve shown me this much,” he said. “Might as well go a little further.” His demeanor changed at once, standing taller, looking me in the eye, and nodding his head. “I’ll back you up with the captain.” There was a ‘but’ coming, as there always was. “But as I’ve reminded you more than once before, do not refer to the killer as ‘he’ until we can prove as much.”
And that would be the extent of his support, as it would be his level of enthusiasm toward what was to come.
That was fine.
As eager as I’d been to move forward, it ended up taking a full two weeks to put my plan into motion. It was complicated, after all, not so much the plan itself as much as the logistics of it. That was all right, though, because it seemed time was on our side. The F.C.K. hadn’t turned up any additional bodies in that time, which made me all the more confident he’d be more ready than ever to take the life of another innocent—sooner rather than later.
Another week passed, and for a day or two I was beginning to believe he’d thrown in the towel. This was now the longest he’d gone without a kill. Or maybe he’d wised up, leaving him to focus on changing his M.O. so that we wouldn’t catch him this time around.
And then, one Tuesday night at approximately three in the morning, our undercover officer was approached the moment he stepped foot in front of ‘In the Clouds Realty.’ Fortunately (and as planned), half a dozen officers were parked in undercover squad cars a few buildings away, myself included. We moved in immediately, surrounding the hooded perp.
The man (yes, it was a man), dressed in a black poncho with contrasting white sneakers on his feet, didn’t try to run. He didn’t try to fight us off.
He just stood there, as motionless as the bodies he’d most certainly put out on display for the world to see.
We put the man in an interview room as soon as we got back to the station. By that time, it’d been called in, so half the force had come to bear witness to the man who’d made our lives (and the town) a living hell for the past few months.
Captain Morris was present as well, and when he came up to Sergeant Gailman, Officer Rodriguez, and me, he stopped directly in front of me and said: “I want you to speak with him first, detective. This was all you, after all.”
I nodded. My heart was pounding again, trying to make an escape. “Thank you, captain. Although, we owe as much to these two.” I pointed to my colleagues.
With a heavy breath inside me that I held tight for more than a moment, I marched forward. The station was half full, yet no one was uttering a word. They were just staring at me. Either wishing to be me, or not wishing it for their life. I couldn’t tell which.
“And detective . . .” the captain called out from behind me. I turned to him. “Let’s hope he makes a peep, because he’s not said a damned word since he got here.”
The interview room was cold. An icebox, or so was the consensus around the station day-in and day-out. But as I sat there, only a few feet from the man I’d been searching for—the one who’d kept me up for nights on end—my body was wanting to shed off all my clothes. I was burning, sweating, and visibly flustered. I was certain the man could see it in me, especially since he hadn’t taken his eyes off me since I’d stepped foot in the room.
His eyes were a pale yellow. The color reminded me of sewer water, the type that overflowed and settled in the gutters just above after a tremendous rainstorm, filled with all kinds of filth it’d picked up along the way. His skin was scarred, more than a few protruding lines all about his face that were somehow whiter than the rest of his pale skin. And most disturbing yet was how he was clean-shaven, as if this should’ve been a special night for him. Probably, that was true.
“That fortune . . .” I began. “The one that told you, ‘Keep your head in the clouds and all will pass you by.’ I wrote that one.” My voice was quavering, but I continued anyway. “I worked with every Chinese restaurant in the city that offers fortune cookies. For over two weeks, they sold that fortune and only that fortune to each and every customer that walked in the door.”
He didn’t say a word, as silent as he’d been on the ride to the station, and as silent as Captain Morris had warned me about. All he did was lift his cuffed hands off the table, bringing them down to his lap, then all the way down to one of his legs. I scooted my chair back and peered beneath the table between us, watching as he dug into his right sock and pulled something out of it. It wasn’t enough to make me draw my gun (besides, he’d already been searched), only enough to make my heart race a little faster.
The F.C.K. placed a gentle palm down on the table. He pushed it forward, sliding whatever he’d dug out of his sock toward me. When it was close enough, he retreated his cuffed hands, leaving me to read it.
It was a fortune. A different one; an old one, by the faded and worn state of it. One he’d most likely had for a long, long while. I leaned forward and read it.
Curiosity is one of the great secrets of happiness.
It gave me chills I’d never forget.