Stuart Collins woke up that morning like every other Sunday morning. The groggy sensation of a long night's stay at the local bar hammered the inside of his skull persistently. He turned on his bed and rubbed the haze off his eyes. 11:28 a.m. blinked on and off on the alarm clock's face. Stuart groaned and rolled back onto the mattress, his hands stretching every possible muscle down his cheeks before he stretched his arms and looked up at the plain white ceiling. Same shit, different day.
In a few hours, Stuart's brother and some friends would come over to watch the game. Good thing about hanging with your buddies, you don't really need to wear a gala suit to the party or spend that much time on personal hygiene, let alone make your bed when your head feels three sizes too big to do anything more than take a quick shower and get dressed. Man, what a night. Even now, the taste of hours long cigarettes and whiskey clung to Stuart's gums like grease. He did manage to score that hot waitresses's number, though, so that was something to look forward to. Aw, shit. The beer; he needed to make a fast run to the store. Sacred law of man: no beer, no Sunday football.
Getting out of bed was the hard part. The feeling of cool sheets around his arms and legs doused some of the lingering nausea, and shifting to an upright position did anything but make it worse. Stuart swore he would never do it again, if only the ache in the mouth of his stomach died out, he would never take another sip of alcohol for the remainder of his life. Well, at least until the guys came over that afternoon.
Gathering his resolve and any sense of balance left in his body, Stuart got on his feet and headed for the door. He didn't see the need to reach into the drawers of his closet and pick up a new pair of underwear. The ones he had on from last night would do. Also, he would leave the complicated task of choosing a random sweatshirt and pants from the Stuart Collins catalogue for later. Right now, all he wanted was to get in the shower and feel the cold water soothe his clobbering headache. Stuart moved down the hallway, his foosteps resounding throughout the silent house like blunt bumps on the wooden floorboards. There was a door on the side, in front of the second floor bannister. He approached the door and opened it, his hand reaching inside around the corner of the threshold to search for the switch. And...bingo. The lights came on with a click, illuminating the green-tiled bathroom. Immediately, his eyes ran over the clear shower screen and onto the toilet. Thank God. That's when the blunt bumps on the floorboards behind him snatched his attention. Stuart turned around, but all he was able to perceive was a loud bang, right on his forehead. He felt himself tumble backwards, onto the cold floor tiles of the bathroom. When he reached for his face, his hand shook uncontrollably and a strange smell he couldn't quite describe permeated his senses. It was the same smell, that peculiar nose sensation one gets when they hit their head really hard as a kid. Looking at his palm, Stuart saw smudged blood all over it and felt his heart sink. He didn't know what was going on, but when he saw the silhouette outside the door move over him, his first instinct was to crawl away. He tried to shout, anything, it didn't matter, but the yell never came. With a second loud bang on the back of his head, everything went dark, and the deepest quietude took over.
Stuart H. Collins.
Deceased: Severe trauma to the frontal and occipital regions of the cranium.
It was a long drive from home. The call had come in at around seven. Homicide, one body. George had heard Kenneth's voice explain it to him over the phone. Some guy in the suburbs, your average Joe. Jesus...
Making a turn at an intersection, George drove uphill for a couple of minutes before he saw the flashing red an blue lights of the police cars and ambulance. It was a peaceful neighborhood, he could tell; rows of almost identical houses with mowned front lawns. The whole package of the american dream, if one still lived in the 1930's of course. All that was missing were the yapping dogs and cookie-cut families straight from a fabric softener commercial.
George parked his car across the street from the scene. He noticed a few curious onlookers standing close the police lines, vultures feeding their morbid cravings under the guise of concern. He'd seen it countless times before and it still brought his piss to a boil.
After exiting his vehicle, George approached the crowd and made his way past them. Upon arriving at the perimeter, he reached into his coat's inner pocket and held up his open wallet for one of the officers to see. One glance of his badge and he was granted passage. The cop held the plastic yellow tape up for him so George could duck under and proceed to the house. Then, as he marched up the cobblestone walkway, Kenneth emerged from the open front door to meet him.
“What a mess.” the detective told George as he warily shook his head “You know, I'm actually surpised you made it here so fast. Got yourself one of those GPS navigators or somethin'?”
“I actually know the place.” George replied, reaching once more into his inner pocket, this time for a box of cigarettes and a lighter “Friend of mine used to live here way back when. Neighborhood was shabbier too.”
“Heh. Bet he'd be glad he doesn't live here anymore.”
George shrugged as he lit up his cigarette. That “friend” of his was actually an acquaintance of his ex-wife. But this wasn't the time or place to reminisce. Putting away his lighter, George addressed his peer.
“Alright, then. Let's see it.”
“Right this way.”
George followed Kenneth inside. The investigators were already there, prying around the house for evidence. The two men made their way upstairs from the entrance hall. An officer stood by the bathroom threshold taking pictures.
“Give us a minute, please.” Kenneth asked the man, who merely glanced between him and George before heading to the victim's room.
Kenneth stepped beside the bathroom door and waved his arm to invite his partner in.
Carefully, George stepped closer and took a peek inside. His expression didn't change from apathy, but his heart raced like a locomotive on fumes. The scene was a mess alright. The victim's body lied limply on the floor, face down wearing nothing but black briefs. He was a young man, thirty four years old, white male, athletic. It wasn't difficult to identify the light brown color of his hair, even with all that blood. His green eyes were wide open, devoid of any glint. A red puddle had pooled all around his head, streaming between the slits of the floor tiles all the way to the toilet and shower screen.
“Lovely.” George remarked with disgust.
Kenneth nodded in agreement, a wry smile on his face.
“Oh, but that's not all. You see, there's a reason why I called you here, George.”
George gave Kenneth a puzzled look.
“What do you mean?”
“Take a look in the mirror.” Kenneth instructed, pointing at the sink located on the wall next to the threshold.
George was cautious not to mess with the body as he stepped inside the bathroom. Then, turning to his right to face the mirror, his eyes shot wide-open for an instant. He glanced at Kenneth with concern, then back at the reflective surface. George needed a few moments to assimilate what he was seeing.
“That's him, isn't it?” said Kenneth as he casually leaned against the doorframe.
George took a deep breath and raised his hand to rub the sides of his jaw with his fingers. He nodded slowly without a word.
There, scribbled over his reflection with blood, was the number “33”.
Ten years ago, George Collins was the lead detective in the 33 killer investigation. The perpetrator was never caught, having murdered a total of seven people across three states during the four year period he was active. Several suspects were arrested, but none of them held up to the seven confirmed homicides. The killer's m.o. made it difficult to trace all murders to a single individual. The victims weren't related to each other in any discernable way and they shared no particular characteristics among themselves that the police could identify. The only common denominator was the number “33” scrawled with the victims' blood near the bodies. The authorities had analyzed everything: the victims' age, measurements, birthdays, addresses, the date and hour they were murdered, the places they frequented. Hell, they even checked their social security numbers to see if anything matched, but there was nothing that checked with the ominous number. The manner of their murder didn't coincide either; some were stabbed, others were strangled or mauled. There were no prints, no traces of DNA left behind, and no witnesses. Once the murders stopped and no further leads were found, the case was listed as cold.
Now, a decade later, George stood before the killer's handiwork, same handwriting and all.
“Kenneth.” he called out to his peer, stepping out of the bathroom to head downstairs “I want a register of all the evidence on my desk by tomorrow morning. We'll have to skim through some old files as well.”
“Sure thing, 'boss'. Want me to pick up a latte and maybe a bearclaw on my way to the office too?”
George stopped half-way down the stairs, turned to the young detective and gestured for him to come closer. Once Kenneth did, George displayed an acrid smile and spoke scornfully.
“Nobody likes a smartass, Kenneth.”
Being on his way once more, George barely heard Kenneth's muttering as this last one complained “Last time I checked, nobody likes a hard one either”.
George reached the entrance hall, his mindset boggled by an infinite number of thoughts, all pertaining to the case he investigated those many years ago. His hand instinctively reached for the pack of cigarettes in his coat, and when he was about to exit the house, something caught his eye. Pacing around with all the crime scene investigators on the first floor and taking notes on a small notebook was a teenage boy, skinny, fair complexion. He wore a long brindled coat and few strands of messy, curly dark hair peeked out from under his newsboy hat.
George stared dumbfounded at the youth, glancing at the other people in the room as if he was the only one who saw a ghost.
“What the hell...” he uttered under his breath, his next words leaving his mouth angrily like a rabid dog's bark “Hey, kid! What do you think you're doing?”
The youngster spun around startled, and when his baby blue eyes met with the veteran detective's harsh gaze, his bewilderment was unmistakeable.
“Um...taking...notes on the crime scene?” came his ironic reply as he raised an eyebrow at the obviousness of his actions.
George's features became flustered as he stomped towards the teenager. His patience had run thin with the day's events. Then, snatching the youth aggressively by the arm, he addressed the investigators around them with the full blunt of his rage.
“Who the hell let the toddler in!”
Everyone's attention fell on the duo. At that moment, Kenneth rushed downstairs as fast as his feet would let him.
“George! Calm down.” he pleaded, hurrying to his companion's side to grab his arm off the boy “He's with us on this case.”
George scorched his partner with a fiery glare. He glanced between the youth and Kenneth, thinking that he was in some sort of hidden camera gig. But when he saw the earnestness on his partner's expression, George let out a scoff to show his disbelief.
“You kiddin' me?” he said with a frown and a reluctant grin “What is he, the water boy?”
“Actually, sir.” the youngster addressed George as he adjusted his coat and then extended his arm for a handshake “My name is Harvey Jones. I'm a consulting detective on this case”.
“Like hell you are!” George bellowed at the time Kenneth did his best to hold him back.
“No, George, it's true! Thompkins already green lit the whole thing. I mean, the kid's help was invaluable during the Jefferson and Taylor cases. He's legit, George”.
The veteran detective let out a sigh and rolled his eyes in annoyance as he arched back and looked at the ceiling.
“This is not happening...” he huffed.
Harvey drew his arm back. He raised both eyebrows and pursed his lips before heading upstairs.
“Well, nice to meet you too.”
George's eyes stayed with the youth all the way to the second floor. He then shook his head and turned to Kenneth.
“I'm having a serious talk with the Commissioner tomorrow.”