This is part two of a longer series. To read part one click here.
Mencken pulled on his beard with his left hand and looked at the door of the house in front of him. A silver of light shown through it’s open seam. It wasn’t like him to shy back. He was not a coward like the other reporters on his floor. He was the tireless crusader who chased the police scanner. He was the one who never thought twice about driving into the most impoverished neighborhoods for a story. He was the one who would approach the thug for a statement, no matter how big and scary the witness seemed. He was Mencken Cassie. He was relentless. He was courageous. He was a god damn force of nature. “So why are you still standing on the fucking sidewalk?” he whispered to himself.
He looked up and down the street. There was only silence and darkness. He looked at the cell phone in his right hand. The time read 1:32am. The text from the unknown number glowed on the screen, “Come to 2302 Mayfield Road for a story. I’ll leave the door open for you.”
Mencken looked up at the house again. He stared at the open door. It taunted him, daring him to come in and discover what lay behind it.
The house was a two story, brown stucco family home with tall white columns, a big front yard, and expensively groomed flower beds. A house like this was hard to come by inside city limits. It belonged to Councilman Christopher Gilman. Mencken knew the tall and stunningly handsome politician live here with his much lusted after wife and their new born son. Gilman was new to the Baltimore City Council, but he’d been making waves and rising in popularity like a bundle of accidentally loosed helium balloons.
Mencken pulled on his beard again and bit the inside of his cheek. The door was open. He had an invitation. “So why are you hesitating?” he whispered to himself again. Mencken exhaled sharply and made up his mind. He jammed the phone into his pocket and took a few jumps like a swimmer preparing to take the block to get his blood pumping. Then, with all the momentum he could muster, Mencken strode up the front cobble stone walk to the door.
He went to knock, but his gut stopped him. Something inside caught his eye. Was it a foot? Mencken gently pushed the door open with his right hand. He was horrified but intrigued by the spectacle waiting for him in the front hall. There on the hard wood floor lay the lifeless body of Councilman Gilman. The dead man’s blue eyes were wide with horror and his mouth hung open in a scream. His left wrist was broken and his left hand bent in a peculiar direction. His right knee was inverted as if a powerful force had pounded it backward, shattering his kneecap. The most grotesque part of the scene was the councilman’s neck. It twisted internally like a covered spring. There was no blood, only a broken body.
Mencken stood, staring. This was not his first crime scene. The gore did not shock him. Rather it was the precision of the attack that chilled him. This was no simple robbery. This was a hit by a trained professional.
Mencken’s mind told him to retrieve the phone in his pocket and call the police, but his gut quietly reminded him that once the cops arrived they would cover the house in caution tape and he would be back on the sidewalk unable to get the facts. He’d be forced to digest whatever story they handed him.
Mencken ignored his mind and sided with his gut. He crossed the threshold. Tiptoeing forward he called, “Hello?” There was only silence. Gingerly he eased over the councilman, making sure to touch nothing with his hands. Mencken wondered how the councilman felt about meeting his end wearing Umbro shorts and a white under shirt. The politician was rarely seen outside a suit and tie. Mencken looked down at the man one final time. Even in death, he was hansom.
Mencken looked left into the dark study, but saw nothing of note. Then he looked right into the kitchen: red marble countertops, beautifully stained cabnets, stainless steel appliances, but nothing out of place. “Hello?” he called again. “Mrs. Gilman? Are you here? I got your text?” He’d seen the councilman’s wife before at media appearances. She was a thin, petite woman who enjoyed jogging and eating kale. Mencken didn’t believe for a second she was physically capable of twisting her husbands neck like a screw. He didn’t believe for a second she’d sent him the tip; but he figured it didn’t hurt to try.
Mencken stepped into large living room. Across the dark room he could make out the silhouette of a loan female figure. She seemed to be seated on the couch with her back was to Mencken. She was perfectly still, facing a large screen TV. With the lights off and the shades pulled, Mencken couldn’t make out any more details. The site of a person sitting in front of him brought him to a halt. “Mrs. Gilman?” he said, trying to hide the fear in his voice. “Are you alright?” he asked.
There was no reply.
Mencken considered turning around, walking outside, and calling the police; but his feet wouldn’t move. His mind said go, but his body said finish the story. He glanced to his right and noticed the light switch. He flipped it on and the room became clear. There were three brown leather couches arranged in a half circle, a wall of expensive looking books, and a brown handled kitchen knife protruding from the top of Mrs. Gilman’s skull. Her blond hair was soaked in blood. The knife stuck out from her head like a flag on a mountain top.
Mencken crossed the room to get a better look. He circled around the couches to see her face. Mencken knew this was a scene he would never be able to erase from his mind. Like her husband’s, Mrs. Gilman’s once beautiful face was frozen in an expression of surprise and terror.
As he moved around the end of the couch to face her, Mencken gagged in horror. His long-ago-consumed diner rose to the top of his throat. It took all his strengthen not to empty the contents of his stomach onto the carpet. There nestled in Mrs. Gilman’s arms was her newborn boy, covered in blood, donning a matching kitchen knife in his forehead.
Mencken turned away. Tears welled in his eyes. He fought back vomit again. Why hadn’t he just called the police? Why had he come inside the house? He rubbed his eyes with both hands trying to push the image out of his brain. It wouldn’t leave.
As he wept, his mind turned. Something stood out. Something he had noticed by hadn’t seen. It gnawed at him, demanding he turn back around. He wiped his eyes. Something was wrong with the coffee table. His memory told him there was something there he needed to examine, but he couldn’t make out in his mind what it was. Mencken didn’t want to, but he knew he had to turn back around and look at the scene again.
He sucked in a deep breath of courage and exhaled. Then he spun and dove back in to the horror. There was a third knife. It had been stabbed with great force into the coffee table. Refusing to look at the child, focusing only on the knife, Mencken edged closer. On the table, just below the knife was a white linen business card. On the card was a single word in Currier type, “Hunter.” Mencken gazed at the card, perplexed by it’s meaning. He drew close, wanting to touch it, but not wanting to fill the scene with finger prints.
He jumped back in alarm, but then sighed when he realized it was only his phone buzzing in his pocket. He stepped away from the coffee table and moved back behind Mrs. Gilman, out of sight of the dead infant. He pulled his phone from his pocket and read the text. “You’re welcome,” the message said.
Mencken looked up at the ceiling trying to wrap his mind around the level of evil that had his cell number. The phone buzzed again in his hand. He looked down at the second text. “Make sure you spell my name right. H U N T E R.” Mencken shook his head in disbelief.
A third text came through. “Turn out the lights when you leave,” it read.
“Fuck,” Mencken said aloud. Panic pounded in his chest. Unaware of what he was touching, Mencken sprinted for the front door. He leapt over the politician and ran onto the front porch. He slammed the front door behind him. Once in the safety of the night outside, he dialed nine-one-one.
“You’ve reached the emergency line,” a calm voice said through his phone. “We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls. Please hold and an operator will be with you shortly.”
“No,” Mencken screamed at his phone. Looking over his shoulder, expecting the door to open at any moment and the killer to drag him back in, he began to laugh uncontrollably. The horror of all he’d witnessed in the councilman’s house crashed upon him and eroded his sanity.
“Nine-one-one,” a voice said on the other end, calling him back to reality. “What’s your emergency?”
“I need to report a fucking massacre,” Mencken yelled at the phone. “Bring the cops, right the fuck now!” he screamed.
“Calm down sir,” the woman said. “What’s your address?”
Mencken drew a blank. He searched the dark street for help. that was when he saw them. The phone slipped out of his hand. It crashed on the cement at his feet. There, across the street, were two figures staring back at him. They were leaning against a beat up car. One appeared to a young boy. The other was a thin man. They stood identically with their hands shoved in the pockets, unmoving, waiting.
Mencken slowly bent down and retrieved the phone without taking his eyes off the pair across the street. “I’m at 2302 Mayfield Ave,” he said calmly. “Send the police. There’s been a murder.”
“I’m sending the police now, sir. There’s a car in your area. They should be there in a moment. Can you stay on the line with me until they arrive?” the voice said.
Mencken watched the pair break from their position and climb into the car. The engine started and the car slowly pulled away.
“Hurry,” Mencken said into the phone with unexplainable calm. “They’re getting away.” Then he hung up the cell, shoved it back in his pocket, sat down on the front stoop, and watched the car pull away into the night.