The man’s eyes opened slowly due to the weight of their heavy lids. He didn’t know how exactly he had gotten to where he was. After the initial struggle, he was wide awake. He realised he was naked and felt the tight bind of the rope around his arms which were pressed against his torso. His legs were tied to the legs of the chair he was sitting on. He tried to give a loud cry for help but only panic-filled mumbles which barely filled the moderately-sized room he was in made their way into the air.
When the man finally accepted that he was at the mercy of whomever had tied him up, he was still but for the craning of his head from side to side – then up and down to accustom him to the unfamiliar surroundings. It was an empty room but for a chainsaw in one corner and a table at the centre. The man wouldn’t let himself fully accept what it was for. He hadn’t wronged anyone for all he knew. He was not deserving of a gory death. People like him deserved to die in their sleep peacefully at a ripe and tender age.
Slow, ominous footsteps could be heard from outside approaching the door to the room. The door swung open slowly as another man dressed in black made his way inside. He looked at the man in the chair expressionlessly before he grabbed the chainsaw and set it on the table. He took out a blindfold from his back pocket and covered his victim’s eyes, “You don’t want to see this,” he said when he was done. He grabbed the chainsaw from the table and started it. The heavy grinding of its large mechanical teeth startled the man in the chair.
The bound man was again struggling, his tears streaming through the blindfold and onto his cheeks. He expected gnawing pain to cut deep into a part of his body as the chainsaw’s cry moved closer to him. That is not how he died though.
The man lay on the floor with a bullet in his head and a pool of blood flowing from the wound. The culprit unclipped the silencer from his gun and put it in his black, jacket pocket. He took out an enveloped letter with his gloved hand and placed it on the table where the chainsaw was still going. When he left the room, his victim lay on the floor, still tied to the chair in a pool of blood with the chainsaw gyrating on the table and the letter next to it.
Mark Ryan was a detective that worked for the Secret Agency. His job as well as that of his colleagues was to swoop in and solve cases that local police departments could not crack before they got out of hand. He was now head of the Secret Agency’s detective program after a long string of successful busts and more importantly, being related to some very powerful people. The job put him in charge of selecting new recruits and going into the field if needed.
News of Ryan’s promotion was not met with universal approval. It was widely believed that Marco Blue, the deputy head of the detective branch for the past five years was a more deserving candidate. On the day of the announcement, Mark was met with insincere handshakes and congratulations from all his colleagues until he bumped into Marco walking out of the conference room. Marco did not congratulate him instead, he walked past him with a look of disgust on his face only to return and accuse his rival of reaping the rewards of nepotism. “You’ll pay for this Ryan, I guarantee it,” he said before he walked out for good this time. A few days later, news of Marco Blue’s resignation was made known to all.
The Secret Agency’s detective department had been called in to solve the case of a series of killings in the small town of Ronen. The most the local police department had managed was to deduce that it was the work of a serial killer. This was not a particularly important discovery though as the culprit had left typed letters at the scene of every murder announcing who he was but giving no motivation for his actions. Initially, it was believed that the murderer would slip up and give the police enough to track him down but he had so far been admirably faultless.
All cases of murder in Ronen were now under the jurisdiction of the Agency. A case would simply be reported to the local police and they would move it on to the detective department. For a month now, the case had been entrusted with different agents, none of which had managed any breakthroughs. Mark thus decided it was his turn to intervene which he did with the help of his protégée – one of the potential stars to come out of the recruitment programme, Ms. Alexa Jones.
Mark and Alexa had been to the scene of the killer’s latest murder. It was in a free room in an abandoned warehouse where a man’s corpse lay, tied to a chair and surrounded by dry blood. There was a chainsaw on the table as well which hadn’t been used on the victim but had been kept on until the fuel ran out and it died. Mark put his gloves on and took the letter he had expected to find and started reading it.
Most of it was biographical, giving the name of the victim (Steven Johnson), age (25), where he resided, his occupation and a bombshell about him having asked his girlfriend to get an abortion after he had impregnated her. It ended differently from how other letters the killer had left at the crime scene ended though:
I hide in plain sight but you do not see me
The truth is in the evidence
You of all should know this
I am The Magician but there is no secret to my tricks
Open your eyes
I want you to catch me
“He’s no poet, I’ll tell you that,” Mark said to Alexa. “He’s playing with us now. Unless he’s stuffed up and been careless with this murder, this doesn’t mean anything,” he said, waving the letter slightly in the air before he put it down.
“It could be a woman, sir.”
“So far we have nothing to go on,” she paused briefly before she continued, “for all we know, it could be a woman.”
“I guess you’re right.” He was turning away from her but then quickly jerked his head in her direction. “Don’t call me “sir”, it makes me sound old. Call me Mr. Ryan.”
He saw the look of confusion on her face: Isn’t Mr. Ryan as equally aging as “sir”?
He laughed while he waved his hand in a calm-down-I’m-just-messing-with-you motion. “You can call me Mark. I insist you do. Sure, you’re supposed to respect me but we have to have a certain level of...” he snapped one of his fingers close to his right temple as he tried to come up with an effective enough phrase, “...casual familiarity.” He wasn’t necessarily pleased with it but he had committed himself.
“Yes, casual familiarity! You’ve probably seen a lot of cop shows where they call each other by their last names. In real life, that’s how everybody that isn’t your partner calls you. If one of the other new recruits called me “Mark” I’d fuck them up! Do you understand Ms. Jones?”
“Good, you’re listening,” he said as he turned away from her. He looked around the room before he continued talking: “Look for anything unusual...well, more unusual than...” he stopped himself before he could say: more unusual than a dead man with a bullet wound in his dead, lying in a pool of old, dry blood tied to a chair. “Basic detective work, Alexa, that’s what I want.”
Alexa put her gloves on, following her more experienced partner’s lead. She ran her eyes around the room – there was nothing noteworthy. She ran her finger across the surface of the table and then under it – again, nothing. When she was done, Mark did the same and also found nothing.
“Unless the boys in the lab find anything then it’s another dead end.”
“Aren’t there any women working in the lab, s-, I mean, Mark?”
“Are you a feminist or something?”
“No, I just believe in accuracy is all. It’s basically the name of the game.”
“I like you,” he said approvingly.
News of the note left behind at the latest crime scene had been let known to the rest of Mark and Alexa’s colleagues. It hadn’t been very useful, unfortunately. It didn’t give anything away. Only Mark Ryan’s DNA had been found on it. Everyone concluded that some of his hair must have fallen on it or that he got some of his saliva on it when he was running his mouth as he often did.
The body of the latest victim had been examined throughout the night. Detectives Ryan and Jones were to meet with the head of the laboratory department for any information that might have been gotten. It was nine in the morning when the two detectives went to Nigel Black’s office.
“Alexa, I’d like you to meet Nigel Black. He’s head of the lab department.”
“Pleasure,” Nigel said as he shook her hand. “You’re quite the looker, missy.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said uninterestedly. “Were you able to find anything?”
“Straight into business, I see - very well! Let’s get to it! Follow me,” he looked at detective Ryan as he said it.
Nigel motioned his two guests to where the body that had been brought the night before was. He was a middle-aged greying man, whose worries rested on his back and shoulders, hence his hunched posture. He led them to a room which was filled with surgical equipment and Steven Johnson’s lifeless body covered in a white sheet lying on a steel table. Nigel stood at one lateral end of the body while the detectives stood at the other one.
“My colleagues and I were surprised by what we found when we were working on this guy last night,” he pointed to the piece of meat lying on the steel table. “The body was, amateurishly handled.”
“What do you mean?” Mark asked.
“This is gonna sound weird but, we found too much. Sure, in this job, we’re looking to find damning evidence but in all my years, I’ve never seen this.”
Alexa looked at Mark, almost asking what was going on. She then looked at Nigel and shrugged: Am I the only one that doesn’t know what’s going on?
Nigel saw the confusion on her face and started explaining: “We found a lot of evidence, dear. We found finger prints around the guy’s neck and arms as well as on the bullet that was buried in young Johnson’s head. We also found hair, sweat and saliva from the culprit too. The guy who did this, according to the evidence was very clumsy.”
“So you found a match?” Mark asked.
“We did. It’s you, Mark Ryan.”
“What do you mean?” Mark asked; his eyes wide open. Alexa looked equally shocked while Nigel seemed ashamed to have to say all of this.
“I’m choosing to believe that you must have accidentally contaminated the crime scene. Of course that in itself is not good but it’s better than the alternative.” Nigel cleared his throat before he continued, “I should have let our superiors know about this, of course, but we go way back. I’m gonna need you to tell me what happened – I need some confirmation that I didn’t stick my head out for nothing.”
“What? You want me to say, I didn’t kill that guy? I didn’t do it, I promise you!” His eyes were wide open and reddening with every word he said. He continued: “I don’t know how my prints got on there.” He turned to Alexa, almost pleading her to help.
“We got to the place together. I know he didn’t contaminate the crime scene.” She paused and thought quickly: If he didn’t contaminate the scene, how else did his DNA get on the victim? She shook the thought from her head and proceeded to defend her partner.
“There’s no motivation for him to kill the departed and I know he didn’t compromise the scene. There must be some kind of misunderstanding here.”
“I hear you and I’m inclined to believe you but what am I supposed to do with this information?” Nigel asked sensibly.
“Of course we have to let Regina know,” Mark said with the worry lines showing on his face.
“Why? You’re gonna get fired at the very least,” Alexa said worriedly.
“Nigel, thanks for not letting anyone know about this.”
“Of course the two doctors I worked with know but other than them, no one else has any idea what we found.”
“Alexa and I have to report our progress at noon. I’ll let Regina know what we found today. Hopefully we can get this misunderstanding out of the way quickly.”
Mark and Alexa shook Nigel’s hand before walking out of the room. After initially having looked petrified when he had gotten the news, as he walked with his partner to their office, he looked unworried. He wasn’t smiling, his lips were pressed in a thin line but his eyes were relaxed. He was walking tall and proud as he always did.
“Hey! What the hell was that?” she rightly asked.
“I’m sure it’s some misunderstanding. We have two hours to figure it out before we have to pitch to the boss. I’m sure we’ll find something.”
Alexa was worried by his calmness. She figured it came with the territory. He was of course head of the detective department. He had probably been in cases like this before. If anyone can get out of this, it’s Mark Ryan. They walked the rest of the way without speaking. Only the sound of their shoes clicking against the ceramic floor could be heard against the din of the busy Secret Agency base.
When the clock struck noon, the two detectives had been sitting in their boss’ waiting room for fifteen minutes. It was Mark that had suggested they get there as quickly as possible. The unfortunate nature of what they were to let known was bad enough. “We don’t want to be tardy, too,” he had said to his partner.
Their boss, Regina Xavier’s office was on the top floor of the Secret Agency’s base. Her waiting room which had a secretary sitting in a comfortable leather chair behind an oak table was also furnished with two luxurious couches, an expensive-looking painting of a ship sailing into the distance, a large purple rug on the floor and three mini-trees.
Alexa and Mark were sitting at the same couch, going over what they would say when the secretary’s phone rang.
“Yes? I’ll call them in.” She put the phone down. “Ms. Xavier will see you now.”
The office had the same decor as the waiting room, the only difference being the presence of a larger-boned, more authoritative-looking woman behind this oak desk. She looked up when they closed the door behind them. She craned her head down and looked at them through the gap between her eyebrows and her spectacles. She pointed at the two chairs facing her and motioned for them to sit. She took her glasses off and set them on the table.
“So, did you get anything?”
Mark quietly slid the file with the report towards her. She looked at it, picked it up and quickly paged through it before she put it next to her glasses.
“I can read this later,” she said, pointing to the file on the desk, “I want to hear from you what you found. Let’s start with you, missy!”
Alexa cleared her throat before she started talking. “It’s definitely the work of our guy – the serial killer. All his trademarks are there. His victims never really suffer physically; it is psychological torment he likes.”
“We don’t know for sure if it’s a male. All the victims so far have been male though. We believe it’s more likely that a man is the most likely suspect. It would take the physical strength greater than that of the average woman to restrain the victims the way we have seen in the cases so far.”
“I see? What’s this about psychological torture now?”
“He started a chainsaw on his last victim but killed him with a bullet to the head. Johnson was expecting to be hacked to death, which would have been more painful. That expectation made the few minutes before his death a lot more hellish.”
“I see. Ryan, what else do you have?”
“We didn’t find anything at the crime scene so we brought the body to the lab,” he stopped.
“They found my DNA on the body – all over it. I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I’m being framed?”
Regina sat back in her chair, stunned. She then stood and walked to the window, looking at the city below. She took a deep breath before she started walking around her office, obviously thinking. The two detectives followed her with their eyes, occasionally looking at each other before they fixed their eyes at her again. Regina returned to her seat prior to speaking.
“How did this happen, Ryan?” It was a rhetorical question. She continued: “I’ll have to tell the board, of course. They’ll want this to be known to everyone who works here. There’ll be a lot of eyes on you two; you’ll have that to deal with as well.”
“Are you saying we’re still on the case?” Alexa asked.
“If I had my way, the two of you would have been off yesterday but it’ll look fishy if you’re kicked out now in light of recent events. At least you have extra incentive to get the job done,” she said with a forced smile on her face. “The both of you get out of here! Bring me results next time.”
When the two were in the elevator going down to their office, one of their phones rang. Mark gave a shrug to his partner almost saying it wasn’t his. You can answer it, his eyes said to her. She dug her hand into her pocket and pulled the phone out. She didn’t get many phone calls. The one she got now was from a private number.
“Just listen! It’s Regina.”
Alexa looked at Mark but he was looking straight ahead – at the elevator door.
“You’re still with Mark now so I don’t want you to answer.”
“I said, you shouldn’t answer me. This is about your partner. He’s been a loyal employee for a long time so I don’t believe he had anything to do with the murder. I want you to keep an eye on him though. We can’t let any leads slip.”
She returned her phone to her pocket, trying to look as calm as possible. The elevator had been near-quiet until it screeched to a halt when they reached their floor.
“Who was that?”
“The person on the phone, who was it?”
He didn’t hear her say that to the person on the other end but he dismissed it. They made their way to their office to work on their next course of action.
“Last night, a man was found dead in an abandoned warehouse with a bullet wound to his head. There were no signs of a struggle just before he was shot. Our sources tell us there are no leads at present, however, it is believed to be the work of a serial killer, which we have been told calls himself, The Magician. For more on this story, join us again for the news at 10am.”
Alexa turned the television off and made her way to her shower. She had a meeting with Mark and Regina about the case. As always, the characteristic letter had been found. Again, Mark’s DNA had been found at the scene of the crime. Again, he had sworn to her that he had nothing to do with it. She had also seen him work when they had gone to investigate. Again, the victim had obviously died of a bullet wound but there was a baseball bat in the room. He had been tortured by the thought of being clubbed in the head before he met his demise in a more merciful way.
As she had been instructed to, Alexa had been keeping an eye on her partner. She had not observed anything particularly alarming but she had become more aware of his detachment. This wasn’t specific to the scenario he found himself in but it was just how he was. She recalled his behaviour at Steven Johnson’s murder scene. He was as close to being happy as she had ever seen him when he told her about the relationship between partners. At the latest one, she had been aware of what to expect but one never gets used to seeing the results of cold-blooded murder, except for Mark Ryan.
Mark had used the latest crime scene like a prop. He made Alexa aware of the slightest detail. He pointed to the dents on the hard wood floor which were probably made by the bat being dug into it for the psychological effect. Again, the victim was blindfolded. He expected to be clubbed to death but he died of a bullet to the head. As he advised her on things to look out for, he pointed and spoke in the uninterested tone of an uninspired lecturer. When Nigel had told him that his DNA had been found again, he appeared genuinely shocked but then returned to being detached afterwards, like he had completely forgotten.
In the time she had off the case, Alexa had been looking into her partner – checking his relationship with those he had worked with before, his social life, anything – anything in his profile that might be suspicious. What she got was interesting – no one liked him: “He’s a smug jackass...cunt...I hate his guts...he’s the killer, no doubt in my mind...he’s gonna burn in hell...high and mighty...prick...dick...fuck Ryan...”
She couldn’t work with any of that. There had to be a reason people didn’t like him but she couldn’t pin anything on him based on what they had said. They had been too subjective. After a laborious procedure, Alexa had managed to attain the right to Mark’s personal file. Fearing that she wouldn’t be given access to it, she had attempted to steal it from human resources only to be caught by the lady in charge of the department.
“What are you doing here?” the lady had asked Alexa when she caught her going through one of the file cabinets. “I could have you fired for this!”
“I’m so sorry but I need access to one of your files. I know it’s against company policy to get access without consent from the person so I had to do this.”
“Give me your name, right now! I have to report this, unfortunately for you.”
“My name is Alexa Jones. Before you do anything, I want you to call Regina Xavier; she’ll let you know what’s going on.”
“You know Ms. Xavier?”
“Yes and she’ll explain everything, I promise.”
Xavier explained to the woman the nature of Alexa’s work. She admitted that her employee in an effort to maintain discretion and efficiency had been ironically careless. It was a more embarrassing version of the classic scenario where the “naughty” child is bailed out by the protective mother. Alexa stood in wait for the customary “I’m disappointed in you, young lady” when it was over. Lucky for her, it never came. The lady gave them access to his physical file as well as the password to the electronic version.
“I know Mr. Ryan doesn’t have a lot of fans around here but he’s a fine man. I’m sure you’ll find that he checks out well, Regina,” the lady had said before she left Ms. Xavier’s office.
Alexa had now gone through the file three times and found nothing, except for her partner having had to see a psychiatrist for a month when he was younger. The psychiatrist, a Dr. Evans, was still practicing and now resided in New York. It was another dead end. For all intents and purposes, Mark Ryan was as clean as they came – he was no suspect. Alexa would let this known to Regina before the meeting, before Mark got there.
Alexa was still in the shower when the phone rang. She ignored it and proceeded with her shower. It ran again and then again and then again. She wrapped a towel around her waist and picked the phone up from her bed with her breasts swaying from side to side.
“Get yourself right here this instant! We have a situation!”
It was Regina’s tense voice that was on the other end. She hung up as soon as she had gotten her message across. Alexa picked up a white shirt she hadn’t ironed and paired it with a grey jacket and a grey skirt. She hurried through traffic, running through red lights in the process. She reached Regina’s office, a sweaty mess with her hair an unintentional bang.
Mark was sitting in his chair when she got there. He turned and faced her when she opened the door. Regina had been looking at the door the whole time and stayed looking at it even when Alexa had taken her seat. What’s going on? She asked herself when no one filled her in. She looked at Mark, he shrugged also seemingly unaware of what the emergency was.
“Regina, what’s going on?” she finally asked.
Regina poured herself a scotch but just as she was about to drink it she put it on the table. She walked back to where the table with the bottle was and poured two more glasses of scotch with one observably more filled than the other. She gave the glass with more in it to Mark and the other one to Alexa. All of this she did in silence while the two detectives shared confused looks. Regina gulped her drink in one swig and started to speak.
“I told the board we shouldn’t have let them know but they didn’t listen. Now we’re in shit! We’re in deep shit!”
“What happened, Regina?” this time Mark asked.
“It’s been leaked. Someone from this agency let the media know that so far, the evidence points to one of our agents being the serial killer – The Magician. They think you did it!”
“Why is that such a big problem? It’s the media! They have no credibility,” Mark said in an attempt to calm her down.
“You don’t understand, you idiot! They have one of our own, on the record, saying you killed all those people and that we know but are letting you get away with it.”
Regina had been drinking since the news broke. Years at the stressful post she held had acquainted her to the comfort of a good scotch. She held her drink admirably. She was still stable but she had now lost the filter between her thoughts and her mouth.
“You’d have to think I’m guilty to let me get away with it, wouldn’t you? Calm down, Regina. This will blow over!”
“Listen to me Ryan! No one thinks you’re innocent! It’s only a matter of time before we get you. Give yourself in!” she said with her hands on the table and her eyes on him. She hadn’t said it because she was drunk but she said it because the time was right. Once the story broke, there would be public outrage at the corruption behind this. Mark Ryan, a high-ranking detective would be spared the wrath of justice for the sake of the agency’s reputation.
“Alexa has been doing a check on you. We’ve got you Ryan,” she lied, “give yourself up.
Mark looked at his partner with disbelief on his face. You really think I did this? Me?
“I promise you, this wasn’t me! I am innocent! I’m being framed somehow! I know it sounds stupid but that’s the only explanation! Regina, you have to believe me! I didn’t do this!”
“I’m sorry Ryan but we have to arrest you before this gets out of control. We’ll continue with the investigation with a different team but to get the public and the media off our back, we have to hold you in custody.”
Mark seemed on the verge of a panic attack. He breathed more heavily and his whole body shook. He moved his hands to his head first burying them into his hair and then running his fingers in his thick mane as if to force out an idea. He looked at Alexa who was sitting down and facing the floor. He stared at the top of her head, telepathically begging her to face him and tell him it’s going to be okay or better yet, save him.
When Alexa finally looked up at him, she had a sparkle in her eye - the sort that comes with a brilliantly instinctive idea. She faced her partner and then stood up as she looked at Regina now.
“Regina, do you believe he is guilty? Be honest here, it’s just the three of us.”
She was looking at Mark as the question registered in her brain. She was still looking at him when she answered.
“I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I’ve learned to trust in the evidence not the man. Mark Ryan here has been one of my best for years but it all points to him.”
“That might be the case, Regina, but we have nothing conclusive.”
“I understand that! With the public on our back, this investigation will get a lot messier. We have to make an arrest before the news breaks this evening.”
“So we’re doing this for publicity purposes?” Alexa asked. She saw that Regina was about to speak before she started speaking herself: “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Why don’t we make Mark take a polygraph test on TV to prove his innocence? We can’t just arrest a potentially innocent man to appease other people. We are administers of justice!”
There was silence in the room as Regina thought it over. She would have to have the board green light the motion before the six o’clock news. It would take some convincing but she felt she could do it.
“Are you innocent, Ryan? I don’t want to stick my head out for you then have my ass burned. Tell me now that you’re innocent. Look me in the eye and tell me you did not kill those people.”
“I didn’t kill them.”
The local media had been called in to the secret agency’s Ronen base to document a potentially historic moment. They had been let known of the lie detector test the main suspect of the serial killings the town had had over the past few months would take. They had been offered the opportunity to broadcast it live which they duly obliged to. They set up their cameras and microphones in the interrogation room they had been instructed to do so in. The lighting equipment was the last to go in before the polygraph was set up by an Ana Romanoff who would be interpreting the test. Mark sat down and had the necessary wires stuck on him.
Alexa and Regina were watching through the one way, see-through mirror. They watched Mark uncomfortably comply with the instructions he was given. He then shifted in his chair before he was very still, trying to regain his trademark cool.
“Alexa,” Regina said, “this idea of yours is a good one but you should know there’s a large element of risk to it. Do you know how a lie detector works?”
“No – no, I don’t.”
“It records discrepancies in some physiological indices when one lies and when one tells the truth. Your heartbeat or blood pressure might increase when you lie for example. What the interrogator often does is ask questions the person being tested cannot lie about. They then ask them to lie so the discrepancies between the physiological actions can be seen, do you understand?”
“Good, I want you to interrogate him.”
“What? I’m not ready? I won’t know what to ask!”
“You’ve been investigating him for a couple of months. No one knows him like you do. You’ll be fine!”
Alexa composed herself. “I hope so,” she said.
“Jones!” Regina called.
“I know you think he’s innocent which is why you proposed this idea but there’s a chance he’ll be found guilty anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“The stress of the situation can make an innocent man look guilty. The test doesn’t read minds; it just monitors the body’s behaviour after someone has said something.”
“So it can be cheated too?”
“Yes but that’s obviously harder to do. I just thought you should know.”
Alexa opened the door to the interrogation room. She stood at the door frame, composing herself before she walked into the room. She greeted Mark who responded with the nod of his head. She sat at the seat facing him and took a few deep breaths.
“It’s ready! You can begin now,” Ana announced.
The cameras had been on since they had been set up. The lighting arrangements had been set up as well. Alexa pulled out a notepad and a piece of paper. She had planned to jot down a few questions but she realised she wouldn’t have the chance now. She remembered the proper administration of interrogatory questions before she started.
“Mark, I’m going to ask you to answer the first couple of questions I ask you falsely, do you understand?”
He nodded his head.
“Ok...first of all, is your name Dennis Pacheco?”
“Are you a woman?”
She asked a few more questions of the same nature before the next phase of questioning started.
“Ok, from now on, I want you to answer truthfully. Is that ok?”
“Is your name Mark Ryan?”
“Are you a man?”
“Ok, good. From now on I’m going to ask more difficult questions. Ana has charted the discrepancies by now. She’ll let us know when you’re not telling the truth, ok?”
“Have you ever been married?”
“Do you have children?”
“Are you religious?”
“He’s lying,” Ana said.
“I grew up a Christian. I haven’t been going to church for a while or read the bible. I believe in God, I’ll tell you that much. I thought that qualified me as a religious person.”
“I would think it does,” Alexa said, “back to the questioning.”
She questioned him about The Magician’s victims. She asked if he had ever met them, if he knew them and more importantly if he had killed them. All of these he negated and seemed to be telling the truth based on Ana’s silence.
“Did you know Steven Johnson?”
The long stretch of true responses had dulled Alexa’s interest in the matter at hand. She had believed her partner was innocent and the polygraph test would merely be a formality. Mark’s apparent lie had made the possibility of his guilt clearer to her.
“Mark, did you know Steven Johnson? Answer truthfully, please?”
“I met him once before at the supermarket. I didn’t know him personally.”
The media people outside the room, the Secret Agency’s employees and the viewers at home collectively leaned forward in anticipation of the question and the answer that would bring justice to the murderer that had struck fear into the residents of Ronen.
“Mark, did you kill Steven Johnson?”
He paused for a long time before he answered. He closed his eyes and took three deep breaths. When he opened his eyes, Alexa was staring at him. Alexa - his protégée. She had lived up to the potential he saw.
“No, I did not kill Steven Johnson.”
Ana was quiet. Alexa turned around believing herself to have been temporarily deaf when Ana had said, “He’s lying.” Ana hadn’t said anything. When Alexa looked at her, she shook her head. He’s telling the truth.
Alexa asked again, “Did you kill Steven Johnson?”
“He’s telling the truth,” Ana said, as shocked as anyone else.
Alexa asked him about the last victim who it turns out he had never met and hadn’t killed. The six o’clock news had a segment in which it was explained how Mark had come to be the prime suspect and the circumstances leading to him taking the test.
“He’s innocent,” the news anchor had concluded the story with before he dictated the sports news.
Marco Blue’s body lay in his living room’s hardwood floor - the blood was dripping through the hole in his head and drenching the back of his shirt and then to the soles of his shoes. The blood flowed to the 38 snub next to his body. The television buzzed in the background while the rest of the house was still but for the hum of the refrigerator and the hourly ding of the digital clock. It dinged five times before the neighbours knocked on the door and called the police at the discovery of the gruesome scene.
There were no signs of forced entry, no sign of a struggle having taken place. The house was in perfect order but for the bloodied man that lay on the floor. The gun that had been found was licensed to the former secret agency employee himself. All signs pointed to a suicide.
Over the course of the next few months, no murders were reported. The public’s acceptance of Mark’s innocence despite him passing the polygraph had initially been disputed. It was also brought into doubt by Dr. Evans’ declaration that Mark had the mental predisposition to be harmful to society.
A week after Mark Ryan’s public lie detector test, Dr. Evans had agreed to have a video-linked interview with the local news anchor in order to express his views on the matter. In order to accommodate the time difference between New York City and Ronen, the interview was broadcast at noon instead of primetime (six o’clock in the evening).
Alexa and Mark watched the broadcast with Regina in her office while the rest of the town followed suit in households and bars. After the local news’ title sequence and opening credits, James Smith, the news anchor, got straight into business. He introduced his guest for the night as well as the reasons for his presence. He didn’t have to. The town already knew.
“Dr. Evans, hello!”
“I’m gonna get straight into it. Tell us about your relationship with Mark Ryan.”
“He was a patient of mine twenty-five years ago.”
“Do you still remember the details of his visits?”
“Yes, I do. My meetings with him were memorably odd.”
“Are you allowed to disclose any of this to us?”
“Under normal circumstances, no – doctor-patient confidentiality does not allow that. However, in the event that one of my patients discloses information that might be useful to law enforcement entities, I have permission to.”
“Ok! Tell us about Mr. Ryan.”
“Mark Ryan was a patient of mine some twenty-five years ago. He was ten when he started seeing me. His parents were worried about his violent nature and his complete lack of empathy as a child. They told me that when he was seven years old, they got him a puppy which he clubbed to death with one of his toys. They got him another one a year later after he had been begging them for it. He killed it too. In school he got in trouble many times for violent behaviour. He started fights without provocation senselessly beating both boys and girls.”
“I know that’s a little extreme. Him killing his puppies was particularly disturbing but isn’t it common for children, especially boys to be violent at that age? It sounds to me like he was your average bully.”
“Yes, violence is common in children at that age but there always seemed to be more to him. He showed no remorse for his behaviour. I found this very odd! His parents said even when he was scolded, he shook it off. They tried to implement corporal punishment but he would fight back.”
“All of this happened prior to you meeting him personally. When he had consultations with you, what did you observe?”
“Exactly the same! He was completely disinterested in seeing others have pain inflicted on them. He was an odd case, as I have mentioned thus he drove me to radical means to understand him. I made him watch extremely violent movies to which he did not react to with shock or fear. He was simply...passive. He took a lot more pleasure in actively being violent.”
“Could you elaborate?”
“He enjoyed throwing things at me and stomping on insects a lot more than he did having ice cream. I had a cat at the time he consulted me. He would chase it around the house and squeeze its tail when he caught it. Naturally the cat would lash out but he went back to it every time. He smiled more in those moments he brought anguish to the cat than he did in all the time I ever saw him.”
“Why did he stop seeing you? From the way it sounds, I don’t see how a month would have been enough to...uhm...help him.”
“It certainly wasn’t. His parents pulled him from my programme after I’d let them know he displayed pure psychopathic tendencies and should be committed.”
“I’m sure they didn’t like that idea very much.”
“Not in the slightest.”
“Now the most important question of all, before we wrap up: Do you think Mark Ryan is guilty?”
“He could very well be. The obvious joy that “The Magician” takes in his murders I’ve seen in Mr. Ryan. The difference, of course is that the culprit of these terrible killings takes great pleasure in psychological torment over the physical. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Mr. Ryan simply converted to enjoying psychologically inflicting pain over doing it physically. I can see him being guilty,” the psychiatrist concluded.
At the time of the airing of Dr. Evans’ interview, public opinion was generally that Mark was guilty despite having passed the polygraph test. The two overriding theories as to how he had managed to pass were that he simply cheated the test, the possibility of which many people were aware of from years of watching police procedural series. The other less likely but surprisingly believed theory was that a polygraph was never really conducted. Instead it was staged to appease the public.
These views persisted for months until Marco Blue committed suicide. For six months after his death, there were no murders in Ronen. With time a connection that had previously not been considered became clear. Marco Blue and Mark Ryan were fierce rivals for years before the latter emerged victorious with the promotion.
“Ridiculous!” was the view from some of the public when Regina declared the case of the serial killer, The Magician, closed on the grounds of him being believed to be the now deceased, Marco Blue. It was announced that Marco had been the serial killer all along and framed Mark for having gotten the promotion he was deserving of. Regina could not offer motivation for the suspect’s actions but after a while, no one cared. Another six months passed and The Magician was gone. There were no serial killings, only natural deaths, drug overdoses, the results of police incompetence, mob justice – the world was as right as it could ever be.
It had now been over a year since The Magician’s last murder. Ronen was returning to the way it had been before he struck fear into the generally peaceful town. People returned to leaving their doors unlocked at night, having social gatherings in the street and enjoying the freedom of life with a bearable sense of worry and danger.
Mark and Alexa’s relationship had been strained since their days on the case. Mark was still head of the detective branch in Ronen while Alexa had been promoted and was in charge of the New York branch. They had however agreed to catch up should one of them find themselves in the other’s region. Alexa was back in Ronen to visit her family when she called her former partner. He seemed excited to hear from her and invited her for dinner at his place.
Mark Ryan lived in a mansion! It was a colossal estate not remotely suiting him. His peers resided in bachelor pads of varying degrees but he did not follow the status quo. Mark’s house was of the order of the Victorian era mansions in which different generations of the same family shared a roof. These were the thoughts running through Alexa’s mind as she stood at the door ringing the doorbell.
“If it isn’t Alexa Jones,” he said as he took her by the hand and walked her into the house. He felt a piece of jewellery on one of her fingers: “And this?” he asked looking at the three carat ring she had on.
“I found a boy,” she giggled, “I’m getting married!”
He smiled at her genuinely before embracing her, squeezing her body tight against his. They were both aware of the unfamiliar energy that flowed between them as they did this. They had shared great mutual respect in the time they spent working together. The most they had managed in terms of “casual familiarity” was being on a first name basis.
As they had dinner, they caught up, talking about their lives since they had stopped working together. Mark had a new partner. He mentioned how after the success he attained from having his last partner be a product of the recruitment process, he had made it a philosophy of his to pick from the bottom.
“The girl I’m working with is good! She’s not as good as you but then again, not many are. You’re something special.”
Alexa talked about the challenges she had faced being head of the department in her branch with being so young and having very little experience. She was however asked to talk about the man in her life by her host. She told him about how they met, how long they had dated and how he proposed to her.
“It was magical,” she concluded.
They went back to shop-talk with Alexa giving the highlights from her time in charge and Mark doing the same. Again, he mentioned how wonderful a partner she was to him. Somehow they circled back to the biggest case of their careers – the first one they had worked on together.
“Do you really think Marco did it?” Mark asked.
“Not at the time but I’ve come to accept that maybe it was him. It can’t just be a coincidence that The Magician disappeared when he died.”
“It’s no coincidence at all but Blue didn’t kill all those people. It wasn’t him.”
“You sound very sure of yourself,” she said, smiling.
“I know for a fact.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m The Magician. Could you please pass me the asparagus?”
“Mark, don’t joke like that!”
“I’m not joking! I killed most of my victims but then when I got bored I added the riddle at the end of the note in Steven Johnson’s murder scene for fun.”
Alexa’s smile moved from genuine to forced and fake as he was talking. Surely he’s joking. He didn’t seem to be though. He was talking in his normal, everyday, detached voice. She couldn’t muster a question from the shock mixed with the gradual realisation that he might be telling the truth. Mark continued talking:
“I cheated the lie detector and forced my old friend Marco to kill himself.”
“How did you have him kill himself?” she somehow managed to ask.
“I threatened to kill his family if he didn’t.”
“Why didn’t he try to shoot you if he had his gun in his hand?”
“Even with all this information you’re able to think clearly? You really are a smart girl!” he had a sip of water before he started talking again, “I shot him with his own gun. I had my gloves on so the only prints that showed were of the last person who had held the gun prior to me – Marco Blue.”
“Your DNA was all over the two crime scenes before Marco because you were intentionally careless?”
He nodded his head.
“Why are you telling me all of this?” she asked.
“Because, my dear, there’s nothing you can do about it. The case has been closed for over a year, “The Magician” hasn’t killed anyone since before Marco died and it would be suicide for you to try and have me arrested – you have nothing to go on.”
“What if I let Regina know about everything you’ve just told me now and take a lie detector test to prove I’m telling the truth.”
“That’s a good idea but it wouldn’t work. Of course you’d pass a polygraph but there’s nothing on me. They can’t make me take another one with no other evidence to back up your suspicions of me. It’ll simply be your word against mine.”
She sat thinking. The riddle came back to her:
I hide in plain sight but you do not see me
The truth is in the evidence
You of all should know this
I am The Magician but there is no secret to my tricks
Open your eyes
I want you to catch me
She remembered how she had been trained to believe in the evidence. To trust the evidence and not have emotions taint what is right before her. She had a knife in her hand and contemplated sticking it in his jugular but she would spend the rest of her life in jail, away from her fiancé and the happy family they could have if she kept her mouth shut. She realised she was going to have to live with this secret for the rest of her life.
“Could you please pass the asparagus?” he asked again.
Appreciation of my father first man I’ve unconditionally loved
Instead of butterflies, it's this short burst of false hope in your gut.
One woman's strange love affair with a pair of pigs feet. (Originally a blog post)