Flash: Twilight Hours

Photo 241261581 © Georgiy Georgiy | Dreamstime.com

The strip mall was typical, herb seller and cigarette store anchoring one end and pizza delivery anchoring the other. Packard remembered when the food anchor had been Chinese, but COVID chased the Panjins back across the ocean. In between drugs and food were a tax prep place, cursed vacations, and a title loan store. Darkness skittered away from the police spotlights, scattered furthered by the falling rain. Flipping the metal flask in her hand, Packard tucked it unopened back into raincoat’s deep pockets on the left side; the right pocket held her wand. The apple schnapps was getting low, and she would need a drink after seeing another damn dead body today.

Dashing from her compact, the contracted specialist ducked under the police tape and edged into the ten-by-ten shelter the cops had placed over the body. The drenched uniform who should have been by the tape nodded at her and stepped into the downpour to make room for her. They had met this morning shortly after dawn.

The camera kids were tucking their expensive equipment into bags, leaving only chalk marks behind. The rest of the parking lot was a wash, literally, as whatever evidence remained from the killer ran into the gutters. A detective had his badge clipped to the outside of his raincoat, trying, ineffectually, to keep the water dripping from his coat outside the chalk marks.

“About fucking time,” he muttered loudly to be heard over the rain hitting the plastic above them.

“Nice to see you too, Smithers,” Sabine Packard, Magik Consulting and Investigations sole employee, nodded at the detective. “Some of us haven’t slept yet.”

“Chief is pissed the Twilight killer is doing back-to-back days.”

“I’m too.” She walked around the body, belly open crotch to midchest on the young male, crouching down, quickly measuring the tear with her hands midair above the body. “It gets bigger each time.”

“By about six centimeters according to the lab geeks.”

She nodded, having heard this from Smithers day counterparts this morning. “What’s the bets for tomorrow’s morning location?” she asked standing in the space now clear of the forensic crew. The Twilight killer always killed one person at nightfall and another in the morning. The first death nearly four months ago. Nine days of her getting a call shortly after sunset and another just past dawn.

Eighteen, now nineteen bodies. Tomorrow, twenty, unless they figured out how to stop him or her or it.

“Monroe in statistics is improving the data and says West Side.” Smithers shrugged. “My guts says the Mall.”

Packard rotated the big onyx ring on her thumb she had inherited from her father. “Mall.” She did another rotation and then another, staring at the body. “But one of the strip areas like this one across the street.”

“Treebranch or Goody Goods?”

Packard shook her head. “Don’t know. Killer hasn’t decided … no, wait, the killer doesn’t decide.” Her eyes hazed over and Smithers pulled out his notebook and turned on his recorder.

“Doesn’t decide?” All the detectives in homicide and missing persons had been taught how to deal with a tranced clairvoyant.

Packard’s hard words softened, taking on a sing-song property. “Things escape where they wilt, crawling out into the time between. A killer feeds. A hand pets. Grow monster, growing yet. Feed me belly tum tum tum, swirling world come undone.” The consultant collapsed as though someone cut her strings.

“Oh shit,” said Detective Matt Smithers, dropping his notepad and rushing forward to keep her body from tipping over onto the dead man.

The woman looked up at the man holding her head above something stinky. “Joy,” she snarked, “something finally came through.”

“Yeah, some half-assed poetry.”

She let him move her until he laid her down, rain pouring down the edge of the tent onto her shoulder and back. Packard looked him a question and he nodded, indicating she was clear of the body and evidence contamination. “Sorry, only a quarter elf. My dad was capable of whole-ass poetry.” Placing her hands on the cement parking lot, Sabine pushed herself to standing. “Did you get it on tape?”

“Everything but ‘the killer doesn’t decide.'”

“Great, because my body tape ran out of juice sometime around noon.” Sabine wiped her hands on her raincoat. “I would have had nothing.” She nodded at the body, “Let’s have the body snatchers do their jobs, forensics must be getting bored, and you can drive me to the station.”

“Can’t you drive?” The detective asked as they walked away from the murder site through the rain, waving over the morticians and indicating the uniform had the scene until the higher levels who were canvassing the area came back.

“After being up thirty-nine hours and having a trance?”

The officer looked down at her, as he opened up the passenger side of his unmarked. “You are going to be snoring before we pull out, aren’t you?”

“If you don’t like my snoring, stay out of my bed Matt.”

He closed the door and walked around the vehicle. Sabine was already snoring before the car even turned over. “I’m trying, girl. I’m trying.”

(words 856, first published 11/1/2023)