No Mercy for a Newbie: The beginning of my thriller Murderhouse
It's the first 1,000 words. Thanks in advance.
It is clear that I am dying, though no one has said as much.
It is a Tuesday morning in the state of Connecticut. An especially hot summer has been followed by the onset of an unseasonably chilly fall, and some of the leaves have already begun to turn. I am lying in a white, rectangular room, a sterile-feeling place, alive with the buzz of machines and nervous voices. The smell of ether is thick in the air and there is the hurried shuffle of quiet shoes. I struggle to look beyond the congestion of tubes and wires I am attached to; there is a cop in the hallway guarding the door. There is no clock, no television, newspapers, radio, nothing. There is only a single window to the greater world located at the far end of the room. My only companions are the too-bright lights, the medicine smells, and a pain that emerges out of my very center, eased only by the regular doses of morphine. The doctors are all hushed tones and worried looks.
Here are the last things I remember: the blue sky floating above, the bullet inside like a cigarette being extinguished against my spine, the leaves crackling against the hard ground beneath me, the wind slowing to a stop.
I came to and found myself here, you sitting there.
A bit about me. A famous artist once said that painting is merely the placing of detail next to detail until a full picture emerges. That in essence is what I do. Judgment I leave to others. My name is Barry F. Donfield, and I have been with the Bureau’s Boston office for twenty three years. All lives come down to a single story, and this is mine. What I shall relate consists of the facts as I have been able to gather and assemble them. Interviews, transcripts, official records and diaries have all helped put the pieces in place. The gaps I have had to fill in.
The outline of my story you may already know from the summer’s nonstop media coverage. Most of the girls were killed in a forest located along a four-lane highway in Southeastern Massachusetts. Their shallow graves and tell-tale wounds eventually led us to a single man. The so-called Murderhouse killings were also attributed to this individual. Case closed, or so it appeared. What is it that made me push on? Was it worth this?
Jackson Compton spent a good portion of his time these days in the darkroom. The apartments on this side of New Bedford lacked space for such amenities, so he converted the tiny bathroom. It was makeshift, but it did the trick. Sitting on the floor, Jackson closed his eyes as if he could merge with the darkness. The black-and-white photos he worked on were of hands. Squinting, he could see them developing above, strung like dark shirts on a clothesline. There, they blossomed, the opaque centers opening slowly into filigrees of gathering nimbus. They radiated for him, and he watched until his eyes began to play tricks on him, the shapes dancing and pulsating with life.
Words poured forth from a radio which sat on the edge of the tub, the voice like the wind across a dark prairie: “You force a slit in time and someone disappears.”
The static shrouded the words as if they contained a message the universe was intent on concealing. Jackson heard it loud and clear. They went on: “Afterward, there is silence. Peace. The soundlessness of an indifferent world moving on.”
The voice belonged to The Man. He was the host of a syndicated radio show, originating from where Jackson didn't know. “The Mayhem Hour,” it was called, and nightly the distant voice intoned about murder. Murder as art. Murder as a higher calling. Murder as a necessity against the sullen emptiness that pervaded everything like a choking fog. No callers, no commercials, just the stream of words emptying into the dark void. The sound reverberated against the porcelain of the converted bathroom as if tumbling into a canyon. It echoed in Jackson’s head during daylight hours, soft and persistent, The Man’s dry tongue making a barely audible click like a ticking clock.
It was an addict at Candle Lake who had first told him about the show. Jackson tuned in and the voice felt like a caress, like the notes of a far-off melody becoming clear. It gave him an odd sort of comfort. The Man made Jackson feel that if this world were a prison, at least he was not alone.
The photos were done. He stood and hit the switch, shutting his eyes tight against the light. When he opened the bathroom door the vinegar odor of the acid dissipated into the apartment and was swept along in his wake. The rest of the apartment consisted of a single room marked by a mess of rolled-up clothes, stacks of dirty plates, scattered papers and crookedly hung photos from his days before the accident. Junk littered the floor to the extent that it was no longer possible to determine the carpet’s original color. With his chronic injuries Jackson had to step nimbly, like a man crossing on half-vanished stones, to make his way over toward the front door. He forced open the closet and removed a piece of the flooring. From the darkness beneath, a green gym bag saying “Just Do It” jingled to life at his tug. The same space surrendered an olive-colored vest, slightly oversized, and still a bit damp from when he’d washed it in the sink the morning before.
The accident had left him disfigured from head to toe. Even his voice seemed scorched, emitting a tone several notes higher than one expected, more hiss than human speech. The kid rarely went out in daylight hours or spoke to anyone, according to neighbors. I’m sure the New Bedford cops were aware of him back then, if for no other reason than his appearance. But they were too busy trying to figure out why so many local prostitutes had been disappearing to bother with him.
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