Mystery and Crime Fiction posted September 1, 2013 Chapters:  ...8 9 -10- 11... 

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A chapter in the book Fatal Beauty

The Bitter Truth

by Mastery

Book of the Month Contest Winner 

Ex-Chicago cop, private investigator, Cleve Hawkins tracks down a serial killer.

I knew the truth, had known it from the first day. To echo the words of Florence Rohrman: something had happened to her daughter. Something bad.

I didn't believe that girl, with that smile, just decided to run away and not tell anyone. Nor, did I really think she took off on her own and was savvy enough to never use her cell phone or ATM or credit cards.

So far the police had made no actual mention of a serial killer, although that must have been on the minds of people living in and around Chicago. Their knowledge of law enforcement was derived from a lifetime of watching TV shows in which all cases get solved. The well-groomed actors find a hair or a footprint or a skin flake, they put it under a microscope, and presto, the answer comes to light before the hour mark. But that isn't reality. Reality was better found on the news. The cops in Colorado for example, still haven't found the killer of that little beauty queen, JonBenet Ramsey.

Elizabeth Smart, a pretty fourteen-year-old girl, had been abducted from her bedroom late one night. The media had been all over that kidnapping, the whole world transfixed, all eyes watching as the police and FBI agents and all those crime scene "experts" combed Elizabeth's Salt Lake City home in search of the truth--and yet for more than nine months, no one thought to check out a crazy homeless man with a God complex who'd worked in the house, even though Elizabeth's sister had seen him that night. If you'd put that on CSI or Law and Order, the viewer would toss the remote across the room, claiming it was "unrealistic."

My thoughts dwelled on this as we rode out to the crime scene. Branoff drove with Andrews in the passenger seat. I had plenty of room to spread out in the back of the Crown Vic. Andrews draped one arm over the front seat and looked at me.

"So, do you think your guy from the bar gave you good dope on the mug shot?"

"I don't know. He got pretty excited when he spotted the guy, didn't he? Seems legit okay, but Manny Dubiel's a little flaky. I don't think he's the brightest bulb in the chandelier to begin with."

"I think he might just be a lush looking for attention, but I agree, he has got some loose shingles."

I laughed. "Yeah, we can't go by his IQ. If the guy was any dumber, you'd have to water him twice a week."

"That sounds promising then," said Branoff, sarcastically.

The April sky was blue and bright, but the lifeless trees were black from an early-morning rain. Soon, we were out in the country cruising past cornfields, cows in a pasture, signs on trees that said JESUS SAVES. Fallen branches and logs filled the scruffy forest like petrified bones. The sun was struggling to shine through the clouds, and the air was crisp.

We drove northeast to get to the outskirts of Aladdin, watching the tattered spring earth roll by. The land was creased by creeks and drainage ditches, broad fields showing the remnants of last year's corn and bean crops.

When we arrived at the crime scene, the site was a jumble of sheriff's squads, highway patrol cars, ambulances, fire trucks, civilian vehicles, four-wheelers. A helicopter and one light airplane could be seen circling above the area like mechanical vultures. The yellow crime-scene tape vibrated in the wind.

"This is gonna be a friggin' media free-for-all," said Andrews.

We got out and I put on my sunglasses. Branoff shielded his eyes from the sun's glare with one hand. The air was foul. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on my forehead and upper lip. I took a deep nervous breath, and could feel the dampness under my arms. You never get used to this shit.

The paramedics were zipping up the body bag on the remains of a female who had been buried in a remote section of a dense wooded area. The woman was white. It was impossible to tell too much more about her. Birds and animals had been feasting on her, and she almost didn't look human anymore. She didn't have a face; the skin and tissue had been eaten away. Red ants were crawling on the outside of the bag, the two men averted their faces when they picked up the bag and set it on the gurney, then one of them bent over and gagged in the weeds. At times, all the masks and Vicks Vapo-rub in the world don't help.

The wind shifted out of the south, and the odor struck my nostrils, making my throat clench. We walked into the trees where there was a clearing of sorts. I wanted to puke, myself. They say, the day it doesn't bother you is the day you should quit.

At the edge of the clearing, someone had spaded the ground with a shovel and replaced the torn divits, creating a broken pattern that made me think of a root-bound plant in a cracked flowerpot.

"So, how did these kids actually find the body, Kris?"

"Wasn't very difficult. Like I said, they were deep in these woods when they spotted the flies. Well, when they got closer, one of them started messing around by shoving the dirt with a stick. Then the smell grew stronger and he poked something soft, he said, that made him drop the stick and step back. I guess his eyes started watering not from the smell but from what he thought they were about to see. The boys stumbled backward in the shade, away from the thing that was buried in the ground. They couldn't look away from the hole the digging had created. In the dirt, all they could see was a small sneaker attached to a foot."

"Jesus Christ! So then they called in on a cell, I take it?"

"Yeah . . . 911. I was told that the initial findings by forensics showed the body was that of a young girl or woman. She was fully dressed and had been covered over by no more than a foot of dirt. Blond and about five and a half feet tall, she wore the kind of sneakers a kid might, but because of the heat and the moisture in the ground and the piles of red ants that had been pushed into the depression with her, the decomposition was so dramatic that it was impossible to estimate age.

Branoff crouched over the empty grave of a recovered body. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He didn't turn around, but I could see the rigidity in his back and the blood rising in his neck like the fluid in a thermometer. "Why does this shit always seem so shocking to me?" He looked down for a moment and rubbed his forehead with the fingertips of his left hand. Then he looked up. "No matter how many times I witness this scene, I'm jolted. It's just crazy, I tell you."

I caught myself hyperventilating and tried to slow down my breathing cycle. Running a hand back through my hair and then back across my mouth. In fact, minutes went by before I forced my heartbeat down by taking huge gulps of air.

I looked down the way, where forensics people were still digging. Five had already been exhumed and lay atop mounds of dirt. I wondered how many more and if Chelsea Rohrman was one of them.

Branoff stood and took me off to the side. "The last victim was discovered late this morning by the team doing an extensive crime scene examination of the area. We've got a fuckin' graveyard here, Hawk." He cleared his throat and spit off to the side. "They think that's it, thank God. You know they'll be out here all night though, and for however long it takes to be sure. I hope like hell that your girl isn't here."

I pulled Chelsea's picture out of my jacket. "I'm going to check before they bag the rest of them up."

"Sure. That's why I figured you'd want to be here. What we know so far though, is that none of the victims have any ID on them and I have to be honest with you, Hawk, the bodies are so far gone that we'll probably have to rely on DNA in order to track them." He paused and shook his head. "Of course, your girl has only been missing about ten days, supposedly, so maybe you'll be able to ID her, if she's here."

"Damn . . . I hope she's not."

"Yeah, I know what you mean."

Branoff was at my side as I watched them finishing up with each victim. I gritted my teeth and hoped that none of them would look like Chelsea's picture.

As we checked the fourth victim, my heart sank. I double checked the picture with what was left of the woman's face. A forensics guy I know by the name of Hank Ketchum, gently brushed the dirt off her chalk- white face. I studied the vacant eyes that were still wide open with fear. I stared at her and felt as if the ground was tilting under my feet. There was no doubt---victim number four was Chelsea Rohrman.

I hesitated to notify her mother or sister, Betty. Not yet. I knew I needed to wait until after the Medical Examiner, Bill Farnsworth, confirmed his findings. I hoped he would put a rush on the results for victim number four, listed on the tag as no name-- not even a John Doe . . .just a female corpse with a number.


These things take time, but Branoff and I had coffee two days later and met with Farnsworth, at the city morgue. He was a short man with a pugnacious face and a brisk manner with a tic. Every few seconds, his entire head dipped slightly to his left.

We agreed, there was little doubt that all the girls had been abducted and murdered, or held, in the same place by the same killer or killers.

"She was stabbed repeatedly," said Farnsworth, "but with no defensive wounds on her body and nothing under her nails. See these deep ligature marks on her wrists? She was definitely restrained. I rushed a tox screen and I'm operating under the theory that the victim was drugged and tortured before she was stabbed."

"Jesus!" I murmured.

"Yeah, whoever did this made her suffer. The young woman was mush inside. Approximate date of death is hard to say, but she was in the ground at least six to eight days. Age-- I'd say between twenty-two and twenty-five."

"Evidence of rape?" Kris asked.

" No doubt," said Bill. "Abrasions and contusions around the vagina. No traces of bodily fluids, in other words the perp used a rubber."

'What's the cause of death?" I asked.

"What do you want?"

"What do I want?"

"Because it's take your choice. It wasn't blunt trauma. She wasn't shot. Was she asphyxiated? Could be. But I doubt that. More likely it could have been an aneurysm or heart failure, maybe brought on by fear, asphyxiation, and general abuse. The big word in there is 'fear,' as in scared shitless."

The ligature marks on her wrists, are deep ones. I think she was bound up for a long time. Her stomach was empty too. They starved her. She was obviously held against her will. That means she was probably abducted. Her first tox screen was clear, which tells us she wasn't a prostitute. So I suspect she was grabbed off the street or lured into a captive situation. Maybe she met a guy on the internet. You know how many young women are out there now flirting with guys just itching to tear them apart?"

"More than we know or want, that's for damned sure," I said.

Farnsworth scratched the back of his neck as though an insect had just bit him. "Here's what I think. At a certain level of fear and depression, the capillaries pop, and blood issues from the pores with a person's sweat. This girl suffered real bad."

"How about prints?"

"Either rainwater or mud ruined anything that might have been there, unfortunately."


The long day fell on me like an anvil. When I got home, late that night, I took a long drink of scotch. Standing in the kitchen under the light fixture, I was unable to take the glass from my mouth; my shadow was like a pool of ink around my feet. I drank until the glass was almost empty, wishing I could melt and seep through the cracks in the floor and disappear into the wind and rain starting to streak the windows.

I had never agreed with the institution of capital punishment, primarily because its application is arbitrary and selective, but that night I had to concede that the killer or killers of Chelsea Rohrman belonged in a special category, one that can cause a person to wonder if his humanity was misplaced.

I'd find the killer--and if I could, I'd shoot the bastard and take a nap after I did it.

Now, the hard part. I'd have to have Florence ID her daughter's body.

Book of the Month
Contest Winner


Characters: Cleve Hawkins . . . Detective (Ex cop)
Deckle . . .A homeless friend.
Maureen . . .Cleve's ex-girlfriend
Kris branoff . . . Detective active with Chicago Police.
Florence Rhorman . . .Mother of Missing girl.
Bart . . . A serial killer
Lewis Lisecki . . . A serial killer

Thanks again to Lilac Collas for the Artwork
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