The sun is a traitor, thought inspector Stephen Crowley as he pushed the trailer door open. A putrid stench rolled out, enveloping him and his second in command like a fog. The foul odor spilled forth, refusing to dissipate on such a hot and humid morning. When they would later tell the story, the two officers would describe the smell as almost tangible. With every whiff that snuck through a breath, the stench broadcast its source; rotting flesh. The cops weren’t here by coincidence. They had come to hopefully make an arrest and, whatever was giving off the retch-inducing odor would likely become important evidence.
The day had been so promising. Stephen had planned on taking his son Donald fishing in Magog. The cool breeze on the water would have balanced out the harsh heat and humidity. The sun would have been a glorious luxury, instead of a devastating discomfort.
Summer vacation had just started and it was a given that Donald would have welcomed the opportunity to knock back a few cold ones with his old man. Don wasn’t of drinking age, being just shy of seventeen, but out in the middle of a lake, supervised by his old man, a representative of the law, it wouldn’t have mattered. Instead, Crowley was woken up at the crack of dawn so he and lieutenant Belanger could make this most unfortunate house call.
On the bright side, assuming everything went as he expected, the Inspector would become a hero in Saint-Ferdinand. It was just a shame Stephen had no interest in that kind of attention.
The trailer was as run down as could be expected. It had been dragged deep into the woods almost two decades ago and Crowley could see no sign of upkeep since. Every piece was falling apart, down to the front doorknob having been replaced by a broken padlock. Around it, a generous amount of varied furniture and appliances created an odd forest that was in dramatic conflict with the majesty of the surrounding trees. The inspector’s trained eye noticed a strange preference towards refrigerators.
Everyone in town knew old Sam Finnegan wasn’t completely sane. He used to live in a farm on the outskirts on Knowlton where, as far as anybody knew, he’d lived a quiet life breeding dogs and raising ducks. There was even some clues that he had been married once. When he moved to Saint-Ferdinand there was already little trace of that man left. He was but a husk, his eyes distant yet oddly focused. He’d purchased a plot of land from a local farmer, and drove his trailer there to rot. It was deep in the woods with little more than a dirt path leading to it. He’d frequently come to town to buy food, booze and perform odd jobs for local residents. He’d never caused any trouble, often helping out other locals for favors or a bit of cash. Eccentric, was what polite townspeople called him.
His trailer however was that of a man driven stark raving mad. Sam was quite obviously obsessed with significantly dark things. The already cramped two-room residence, if it could be called such, was littered with letters he’d penned and drawings he’d made. There was a large and disturbing collection of knives on the counter near a filthy sink. More knives than any sane man should own. Stacks of books from dozens of religions, each dog-eared and annoted litered every corner. The first room, which seemed to function as a living room and kitchen combo, turned out not being the source of the smell. An ever thickening cloud of flies pointed instead to the second room. Inspector Crowley and his lieutenant already had a good idea what it was they were going to find.
The door was ajar. Neither of the two officers expected to meet with any resistance but just in case Crowley drew his sidearm and nodded for Belanger to nudge the door open. As it creaked ominously, the door allowed light to flood the floor and a bed. Instead of old Sam, unconscious from a hangover, the officers were disappointed to have their suspicions confirmed. Lying restfully, almost serenely on its back was the body of Ms. Benjamin, a retired school teacher, volunteer at the local library, prize winning gardener and latest victim of the Saint-Ferdinand killer.
Stephen put his gun back in its holster, sighed loudly and scratched the back of his thick neck. The inspector had never considered himself much of an intellectual. He’d passed on or slept through most of the seminars and training sessions on blood splatter analysis, crime scene assessment and other modern investigation techniques. Not that he wasn’t qualified to do his job, but creeping on his mid-fifties, Crowley was from an older school of crime fighting, one that relied on gut instincts and hard questioning of witnesses and even harder interrogation of suspects. Still, he knew that when a body turned up, it was time to call in the egg-heads.
"Jackie?" the inspector croaked into his radio. "Send for Randy and let the boys know to pick up Finnegan if they spot him in town."
After giving his orders he turned his radio down and took a better look at the scene. Officially, his job was to wait for Randy Mackenzie, the medical examiner, to show up. It was going to be a long wait. Randy didn’t work exclusively for the department but doubled as one of two physicians in Saint-Ferdinand. Also, he was notoriously nonchalant about his duties. Crowley had plenty of time to make his own observations about the scene.
First and most obviously, Ms. Benjamin had been killed elsewhere. The dark patches of blood covering her light-blue, flower patterned dress suggested she’d been stabbed a couple of times in her ample belly. Lack of blood in the room meant the body was probably dragged there. No mean feat considering Finnegan weighed at most a hundred and fifty pounds while his victim must have hovered near two-fifty.
The more Stephen observed the body, the more queer it all seemed. A few things were off. The corpse had been positioned face up, with both arms lying to the side of the body. It seemed old man Finnegan had, for some reason, been worried about his victim’s comfort. The body was also fully clothed, reducing the likely hood of a sexual motive. Ms. Benjamin wasn’t known for her wealth either, making money another unlikely motivation.
Sweating profusely from the heat and humidity that seemed amplified within the cramped trailer, Crowley took a step back out of the room. The smell was also becoming a bit much to tolerate and a little fresh air wouldn’t go unappreciated. However, before he could turn around and walk out, Stephen’s attention stopped on the many flies that crawled over the body. Flies had always disturbed the inspector. The smell of death and decomposition, while unpleasant had never bothered Crowley. Nor had the sight of death, blood or gore. Flies however touched a nerve. It reminded him too much that, under the right circumstances, people were nothing more than walking, talking bags of meat, ready to become something else’s meal.
The flies on Ms. Benjamin were especially numerous, which wasn’t surprising considering the weather and circumstances. However, a veritable swarm of the repulsive insects covered the wounds on her chest as well as her eyes. Intrigued, Crowley leaned in and shooed the flies away from the body’s face. As the insects scattered into a small black cloud, the inspector got a good look at the dead teacher’s eyes, or lack thereof. He had to crouch down in the dim light to make sure but there was no mistake; someone, presumably her killer, had removed Ms. Benjamin’s eyes.
Belanger’s call cut through the stillness. The lieutenant was phlegmatic by nature, an emotional pillar of strength. Inspector Crowley knew that when Mathieux Belanger raised his voice, it was usually for a good reason and, accordingly, double-stepped it outside.
There he found his lieutenant crouched next to one of the many refrigerators, a small pile of bright pink clothes at his feet. The door to the refrigerator stood open, giving the impression the old appliance had disgorged the pink bundle.
"I heard a hum from one of the fridges and took a look." Bélanger explained.
Crowley looked down and saw that the discovery was in fact a second, tiny body. He immediately recognized her as Audrey, the daughter of William Bergeron, a local business owner a friend. He’d seen her alive no later than the previous day, sitting at the counter of her father’s drugstore, telling long stories about all she was going to do during the summer. She’d been wearing the same dress, her blinding platinum hair tied in the same ponytail. She didn’t seem to have any obvious wounds or signs of having suffocated while in the appliance. Her eyes were still open and more importantly, still in their sockets.
"Shit..." whispered the inspector "do her parents even know she’s missing?"
This news would destroy William and Beatrice. Audrey was their only child and a darling to them as well as all of Saint-Ferdinand. More than a few of William’s acquaintances attributed his recent sobriety to her presence in his life. She had been a fragile thing from the day she was born, over a month premature. It was no surprise that everyone was so protective. Even older kids would allow her to tag along with them, ever doting on the delicate child.
Villagers would tear Finnegan apart if they found him before the cops did, and Crowley had half a mind to let them. Anger came easily to the inspector. Affection for his own son aside, Stephen wasn’t an openly loving man. However, someone had to tell the Bergeron the bad news and that was his job. Saint-Ferdinand had been home to a very long stretch of unsolved murders and disappearances. There had been much reason to celebrate when they’d chanced upon evidence that might put a definite end to the killings. It was quite a different feeling to be faced with the fact that he’d known the killer for so long and never once suspected him. It was embarrassing. Just for that, Stephen felt like administering a legendary beating to Finnegan himself.
However, decades of professional experience soon took over. The inspector stood up and walked to the nearest refrigerator, putting his hand on its back. Frowning, he walked over to another and did the same. Crowley repeated the process with another six refrigerators before he stopped, looked around and realized.
"They’re all working Matt." there was an unmistakable gravity to his voice. "They’re all working."
Crowley had only been partially right. While most of the refrigerators had been functioning, a handful were not. There were fifty-two fridges in all. Some in plain sight, others overgrown with vegetation. All running off a hijacked power line.
The inspector and his lieutenant had suspected that more of the fridges contained bodies but had dutifully waited on the medical examiner and as many other cops and EMTs they could round up before going through the grizzly task of opening them. By noon, Sam Finnegan’s property was covered with professionals gathering a gamut of forensic evidence from prints to blood samples and casts of shoe prints and tire tracks.
The final count revealed forty-seven bodies, including that of little Audrey. Of these, all but the child had their eyes plucked out. Thankfully, identifying the bodies turned out being an easy task as the killer hadn’t bothered to mask their identity or even remove personal items, not even wallets. Every victim was familiar to Stephen Crowley. They’d been neighbors from his childhood, high school classmates he’d lost track of or at the very least he remembered them from the case files of the Saint-Ferdinand killer. The majority had been residents of the small village but half a dozen were hikers that had disappeared in the surrounding woods throughout the years. Three task forces had formed and disbanded to attempt to find the monster responsible and it was dumb luck that had finally pointed the finger towards old, harmless Sam.
"You can’t start blaming yourself Stephen." Randy Mackenzie was bent over the body of Melanie DesPins, a middle aged mother of three who had disappeared four winters before. Her throat had been slashed mercilessly and her eyes ripped out. "’till today we’ve barely had a thing to work with on this case."
Crowley grumbled a polite agreement. It was true, of the sixty three missing people linked to the Saint-Ferdinand killer, only six bodies had been found. No obvious signature, motive or even M.O. had been drawn between the cases. No prints, no witnesses. All disappearances were so spread out that it took a long time for the authorities to draw a parallel between them. By the time a serial killer was suspected, Sam Finnegan was so well integrated into the community that no one thought to he might be involved.
There had been other, more likely suspects. Outsiders mostly, as the people of Saint-Ferdinand were reluctant to imagine one of their own capable of such horrors. Just a few years ago they’d brought in a trucker called Patrick Michaud who frequently camped in the surrounding woods. He had been in town frequently enough to have committed the murders and most damning was a watch he wore that had belonged to one of the victims. He claimed he’d found it in the forest. He was grudgingly released for lack of evidence.
No, Stephen had no reason to blame himself or anyone in or out of his department for missing the obvious. They’d all been wearing the same blinders. They’d all ignored what had been staring them in the face. Yet, it was difficult not to feel responsible, especially for poor, young Audrey.
"Doesn’t it seem strange that she’s here though?" asked Randy as if reading the inspector’s mind. "I mean, she really shouldn’t be here at all."
"None of them should be here Randy." Crowley frowned. "They should all be home with their friends and families."
"Yes, of course. What I meant is that she’s the only victim below thirty five and she has no apparent wounds." the medical examiner snapped off his latex gloves dramatically "I know there wasn’t much of a victim profile when we only had six bodies but now it’s quite apparent there was one after all."
"And she doesn’t fit into it." Crowley finished, scratching the back of his neck.
"Hell, I doubt she was even murdered. I don’t think she’s part of Sam’s plan."
That was an odd statement. The girl was found less than twenty four hours after her disappearance trapped inside the refrigerator collection of a madman. Eight year olds didn’t die of natural causes very frequently. On the other hand, there was no sign of her having struggled. No bruises or lacerations. Audrey had also been a tremendously fragile child as a result of her birth. She had a weak heart and suffered from severe asthma. Any number of things could have killed her from within. The coincidence nagged at him though.
"Randy?" the inspector asked. "Do me a favor will ya?"
"Sure. What do you want?"
"Figure out where she died for me."
"Whatever puts your mind at ease Stephen."
A few silent moments passed as both men surveyed the scene. A dozen officers from Crowley’s department as well as from other regional stations were busying themselves securing the perimeter and, following strict instructions from the inspector, identifying evidence. Stephen’s people had become extremely comfortable working a crime scene. While professionally reassuring, it bore witness to the morbid history of Saint-Ferdinand despite all efforts to fool themselves by its residents.
"What about the eyes?" Randy asked, breaking their contemplation. "Any idea what that’s about?"
"Not a clue. I’m really hoping he wasn’t eating them though."
"De-personalization." someone interrupted
Both men, startled, turned around to see, crouched over the body of Ms. DesPins, a young woman in a grey pant suit, her brown shoulder-length hair held up by large sunglasses. She looked up from her investigation and smiled apologetically.
"Disfigurement is usually a way the killer uses to de-humanize or de-personalize the victim. Makes killing easier. Especially if the murderer knew his victim." she immediately got up and walked over to kiss Randy on both cheeks.
"Stephen," MacKenzie explained "this is Erica Hazelwood. She’s a criminal psychologist. I figured I could have her drop by and give a hand."
"This is a closed scene Randy," Crowley was near fuming, clearly unhappy to have surprises pounce on him. He came near to venting his day’s frustrations on the medical examiner but was interrupted once more by the new arrival.
"Inspector, I mostly work with victim’s families." her smile quickly turned to concern and she empathetically reached out to put a hand over Crowley’s arm. "I’m here about the little girl."
Stephen realized he’d been clenching his fist during the exchange and relaxed it, a little embarrassed at his temper.
"If you’ll allow her, she’ll talk with William and Beatrice." Randy added. "You’ve got enough on your mind I imagine."
"You’re right Randy." He turned to Erica "Sorry Ms. Hazelwood."
"it’s quite alright, though I must ask, how long have you been working today?"
Stephen had been woken up around three in the morning. One of his officers had been called in to break up a fight at a local tavern. When he got there it had turned out to be something different. Sam Finnegan had showed up, his hands soaked with blood and tried to purchase a beer. Arnold, the bar tender was immediately suspicious and refused him service. Things became agitated when Finnegan wouldn’t take ’no’ for an answer.
Old Sam fled the scene but it was enough reason to visit his trailer. Crowley and Belanger didn’t really know what they were going to find, but Stephen’s gut told him they had their man.
"Not that long." he lied.
Erica tried to contradict him, but the inspector’s radio scratched to life.
"Crowley?" came Lieutenant Belanger’s distorted voice. "I found eyes."
Sam Finnegan, it turns out, did not eat the eyes, being significantly more industrious instead. Lieutenant Belanger’s location was surprisingly deep in the woods, roughly ten minutes walk away from Finnegan’s trailer, and conveniently obscured by thick evergreens. He’d come across a small cave opening. Moss covered rocks lined the entrance which was barely visible through the foliage. The cave itself wasn’t very imposing. Less than a meter in diameter, but digging almost straight down into the ground, it would have been claustrophobic for an adult to squeeze in.
Where Sam’s handywork became evident was in the way he’d arranged the area. He’d set up a dark brown couch, facing the cave like a lunatic’s living room. The piece of furniture was covered with branches in a crude but premeditated attempt to camouflage the setup. Empty liquor bottles and cigarette butts littered the area, testifying that old Sam spent a large amount of time there. Most disturbing was a series of half a dozen thin metal rods, planted firmly into the ground and meticulously arranged at regular intervals. Planted at the tip of each of these metal rods were the eyes lieutenant Matt Belanger had found.
"So much for de-humanizing his victims huh?" Stephen commented, his own eyes riveted to the bizarre scene in front of him.
"Sam..." murmured Randy, crouching to the level of the nearest rod. "what the Hell were you doing?"
"How did you not notice a pattern of missing eyes in the bodies that were found inspector Crowley?" asked Erica, carefully tip-toeing through the ferns and branches, trying to get a better vantage on the bizarre arrangement.
"Five of the bodies were at various stages of advanced decomposition." Crowley started to explain while studying one of the rods. "We have a lot of hungry critters in these woods Miss Hazelwood. Most go for the eyes first."
Erica stopped in her tracks, her face twisting in concern. "Then, why weren’t these devoured yet?"
Stephen ignored the question, prefering to keep his theory to himself. He knelt down to investigate the skewered eyes further. The one closest to him was bright blue. Incredible care had been taken as to not damage the globe of the eye or obstruct it’s pupil. All the same, everything else seemed to have been neglectfully done, from how the organs were removed to the blood that had been allowed to cake in thick layers on the metal rods. The inspector smiled to himself and reached out slowly towards the rod but before he could touch it, Randy interrupted him.
"Stephen!" the name broke the silence, echoing back softly from the nearby cave. "Don’t touch it. Look at them."
Everyone started paying more attention to how the eyes were arranged. The tiny white and red dots surrounding the cave were horrifying and eerie. It was difficult to feel any of the heat from the mid-day sun as a chill seemed to permeate the area. Perhaps it was that Sam, the author of the grizzly scene, was still at large, but something was definitely playing on everyone’s nerves.
"They’re all looking at the cave..." Erica explained, noticing what Randy had pointed out.
Once Crowley noticed it, everything became clear. Each eye was pointing from an equidistant location directly at the cave entrance, as if waiting for something.
"They are ever vigilant in death." came a raspy, tired voice from behind. Instantly, inspector Crowley and Lieutenant Belanger spun around and drew their sidearms. Both had immediately recognized the voice. Both had been waiting for it.
"Sam Finnegan..." whispered Erica Hazelwood, though her words were lost in the din of threats the two officers were shouting as they moved in to arrest the old man. Sam didn’t put up a fight, passively surrendering instead. However, he was anything but peaceful. Sam lifted his arms and in an almost practiced move put his hands behind his head, all while slowly collapsing to his knees. The old man was a pitiful wreck. Eyes sunken and cheeks hollow he appeared malnourished and filthy. In fact, the only patches of skin on his face not covered with grime were the two growing streaks left by flowing tears. While the short burst of chaos overwhelmed the senses, old Sam Finnegan’s lips move as he kept repeating words that were swallowed in the din. It was Randy who softly repeated the words which he had somehow made out over the screaming.
"I’m sorry. I’m so sorry." said the medical examiner, echoing the madman.