Unlike most boys his age, Donald Crowley was up at the crack of dawn, even during summer vacation. Being raised by a single father who was also head of law enforcement in town had bred a sense of discipline few teenagers understood, let alone practiced. Apart from waking up early and following a strict exercise regiment, Don ate a surprisingly healthy diet and displayed impeccable grooming habits. When most of his buddies were discovering the joys and pain of alcohol abuse, he could easily nurse a single beer a whole evening and was often either designated driver or covering up for his friends who's parents weren't lenient enough to let them drink.
It goes without saying that Donald held a summer job. In fact, for the past three years he had been working at Luke Howard's grocery as a bag boy or hauling inventory. It wasn't the best salary in the world but it helped him pay for gas and his car, the two main ingredient of a healthy social life this deep in the townships.
Thankfully, work didn't start for another two weeks. This gave Don plenty of time to just hang out. There was a lot that needed to be done during those empty days. For starters, his old Honda Civic could use a little maintenance. It wasn't in bad shape but it had been bought used and was showing it's age. Some amount of time would also have to be dutifully wasted by the lake. Summer demanded it. Then there was Sasha who would monopolize as many hours as she could from him before his job swallowed him whole. Finally, he wanted to hang out with his dad.
It wasn't just that he needed his father's help with the car, but Donald genuinely enjoyed Crowley senior's company. The two had built a strong relationship after Don's mother had abandoned them both. Stephen relied on his son to upkeep the household while he kept the odd and demanding hours of a high ranking police officer. In return, Don could count on his dad to fill in the role of both parents, a task he was usually very capable of.
Usually. The events of the previous weekend had however already sabotaged some planned activities between father and son. It really couldn't be avoided and despite being annoyed, Don understood that the scale of the situation with Sam Finnegan, not to mention the death of the daughter of a prominent businessman who also happened to be a close friend of the family, took precedence over a day trip to go fishing. Thankfully, Finnegan had confessed to everything and pending a lawyer's appointment to the defense, the case wouldn't move for a couple of days.
Donald rolled out of bed and made his way downstairs to the kitchen. They shared a relatively large two story colonial house big enough that both man and teen could maintain a large amount of privacy should they desire. So it didn't surprise Donald that he didn't cross path with his father as he went through his morning rituals. It's only when sitting down at the kitchen table to eat some eggs and bacon that he noticed his father's Ford Explorer was missing from the driveway.
"You can't be serious." he muttered as he dropped his fork and stood to have a better look through the window.
The situation was far from unprecedented. Often, Stephen Crowley was called upon to work through the night or leave before dawn on some emergency. Which was why Donald had made sure his father had prepared for any and all eventuality. The Finnegan case was stagnant for the next few days and any other situation could easily be handled by Matt Belanger for twenty-four hours. No radios, no cell phones, no interruptions; that was the arrangement.
Furious, Don tried to call his father for an explanation as to why he was gone. Of course, his cell phone was out of service range which didn't stop the boy from leaving an angry message he'd probably regret later. Still furious, Donald abandoned his breakfast, grabbed his keys and made for the door.
Saint-Ferdinand was a small town but the municipality itself was significantly larger, being composed of many farms that radiated from the village. This made for an inconvenient territory to cover when looking for someone. The same set of circumstances had likely served Sam Finnegan as he carved his bloody mark on the town's history and now Don's own father was benefitting from it as well. Hence, Donald Crowley had no choice but to make his way to the station and see if anyone knew his dad's whereabouts.
To describe the station as minuscule would have been remarkably accurate. With roughly two thousand inhabitants, Saint-Ferdinand only required a handful of full time police officers and only the most essential and rudimentary of facilities. Located at the edge of town on the main road, it boasted three floors each of very limited square footage. The ground floor housed a reception area, where three dispatchers shared shifts throughout the week. There were also a handful of desks and three offices, the largest of which was Stephen Crowley's. The basement also had a couple of offices that were, to Don's knowledge, completely vacant. Though they had once belonged to the Saint-Ferdinand killer task force. There were also a couple of cells that more often then not sheltered farmers who maybe weren't in a condition to drive. Finally, the top floor was reserved for archiving and booking.
When Don walked in he was politely greeted by the dispatcher on staff, Jacqueline Tremain. He'd known her since he was a boy and she'd treated him like a favored nephew for a long time. Now that he was grown, standing at an athletic six foot one, squared jaw with a respectable stubble for his age, her demeanor towards him had changed and become more professional. Had he been the manipulative type, he could have exploited that to get away with just about anything, as it were however, Donald barely gave it a second thought.
"Morning Jacky. Have you seen my dad anywhere?" he asked as he crossed the door.
"Good morning Don. He dropped by 'bout an hour ago." answered the dispatcher, looking up from a magazine "I assumed he'd be back home by now. Want me to page him to see where he's at?"
Donald considered it for a moment. The notion had it's appeal. It would be expedient and cut out the guess work. It was the logical thing to do. However, anger and resentment demanded that his father be given no warning.
"Nah. Do you know if he was dropping off anywhere before heading home?"
"Sure, he was supposed to check out something at the Finnegan place."
Donald barely had time to thank her before storming out the door.
"Dammit Don! This is a crime scene! What do you think you're doing here?"
Stephen Crowley had been standing in front of the cave for a while now. Time had seemed to lose it's meaning while he stared down it's dark and forbidding entrance. The hole in the ground hadn't changed since the first time he'd laid eyes on it. Small, forbidding in a way, but unspectacular otherwise. Yet, much about the area around the entrance was different. Putrefied and desicated eyes from nearly a dozen victims had been found on and in the ground near the entrance. The thin metal rods that had surrounded the cave, each with a gruesomely plucked eye stabbed at the end, had been taken as evidence along with the couch and any other foreign object. Thus, apart from small flags marking where each piece of evidence had been removed from, the area had returned to some semblance of it's natural state. Strangest of all, the animals had returned along with their chirping and rustling.
Crowley had so far restricted the investigation from going into the cave itself. Unless they found bodies for all the Saint-Ferdinand killer victims, which was incredibly unlikely considering how far back the case went, they would eventually have to check it out. At this point however, the inspector felt significantly more comfortable allowing people inside the cave than he had the day Sam Finnegan was arrested, but remained hesitant.
It was hard to tell how long he had been standing there by the time his son arrived. Too long judging by how furious the boy was. In a way, Don was justified in his anger. Stephen had promised him, twice, that they would spend time together and he was not accustomed to being lied to or let down by his old man. On the other hand, this was a sealed crime scene and no amount of anger justified violating its boundaries.
"Hey! I could ask the same question. We had plans dad!"
Crowley balled his right fist while pinching the bridge of his nose with his left hand. It took a tremendous effort to keep his temper in check. Flying off the handle would gain him nothing and anyways, Don was right. He had promised high and low that they would hang out before his son started working at the store for the summer and they had specifically reserved the day for that occasion. On the other hand, two wrongs did not make a right and Donald had no business being here.
"Plans change Don!" Crowley explained with as much calm as he could muster, which wasn't much. "Look, I'm sorry okay? I just had to stop by here for a few minutes."
"Why?" asked Donald, looking around for whatever was so important his father would forget about him.
It was a good question. There was really no good reason for inspector Crowley to be there, none he could explain to his son. In fact, no one should be here, not until he ordered a more thorough forensic investigation of the cave. This was not to say he was here by accident. Events had been weighing heavily on Stephen Crowley's mind in the past few days. Between his friend's only daughter dying, a decades long multiple murder investigation finally seeing some potential conclusion he didn't have much time to think about his parental responsibilities. This goes without mentioning that the inspector had other obligations. Obligations that weren't meant for the public eye or even his family.
"Look, Don" Crowley began with a sigh "there's a lot going on with this case. I can't tell you why but there's a very good chance there's gonna be more murders."
"Wait. What? But you have Sam in jail right? And he's the killer so..."
"Yeah, no. Maybe not. We don't know. Sam is definitely involved with the killings. He'll very likely turn out to be our guy but huh, he might have been working with or for someone else."
Donald was dumbfounded. The Saint-Ferdinand killer had been the Jean Valjean to his father's Javert for longer than he'd been alive. The killer had been the town boogyman and the reason why most kids in the village were unusually good about adhering to their curfews. Now that he'd been caught, the little community had let out a sigh of relief, finally discovering exactly how much fear it had lived under or so long. If what his father was saying was more than a weak excuse for his negligence, which was unlikely, the nightmare could very well not be over.
"So what? You think the other guy is hiding in that cave? You were gonna go check it out?" Don knew that wasn't the case. His father wasn't always exactly by-the-book, but he wasn't careless either.
"No one's in that cave Donald. Not anymore." Crowley sounded more disappointed than annoyed. "I was just hoping I'd find some... Sign of where he'd be."
Donald didn't know what to make of this. His father should be in the mood to celebrate, at best, wringing information out of Sam Finnegan at worst.
"So, no fishing then?" Don asked in angry resignation.
"No fishing." answered Crowley, half paying attention.
"Fine then. Let me get out of your crime scene before you decide to arrest me." Donald stomped away, furious.
Then, as if remembering he was having a conversation with his son, Stephen called him out.
"Hey! Donald!" he yelled "Sometimes there are things more important than fishing in life!"
Donald didn't look back.
Erica Hazelwood really felt like a fish out of water. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy this kind of rural lifestyle. In fact, when she was younger and more prone to making grandiose plans about her future, she often imagined moving to a beautiful house, far from the city where she could enjoy nature and the kind of salt-of-the-earth people that seemed to populate places like Saint-Ferdinand. Of course, in those plans she was always married to a rich and handsome neurosurgeon and owned a horse or three, but what good were dreams if they weren't at least a little extravagant?
For the time being she would have to manage with a small room in a local bed & breakfast, her patients and a rented sedan. Maybe the horse power wasn't as romantic as real horses but it had air conditioning.
This wasn't all there was to her kingdom either. The local police department had allowed her to take over one of the ground floor offices. She hadn't planned on staying long, perhaps two or three days to help out Wlliam and Beatrice, but when others who had lost family and friends to the Saint-Ferdinand killer heard a psychologist was in town, they lined up to seek counseling. Slowly at first, but as word got out that the Bergeron were meeting with her, that was the only seal of approval the rest of the community needed.
Setting up shop wasn't what she or Dr. Mackenzie had in mind when he called to ask for her assistance but she could hardly let these people down. Besides, there were serious benefits to being involved in such a high profile case.
So Erica called in her vacation time from the hospital and set up an impromptu cabinet here in town. If all went well she'd be helping dozens cope with the repercussions of two decades of continuous tragedy while getting valuable experience. As a bonus, she might be able to coax a book out of all this. In short, this was a great opportunity and even if she had to spend a few weeks living out of a suitcase while her mother watered her plants and fed her cats, it was well worth it.
Already things were shaping up beautifully. She had gone through three meetings so far. One of which was with the son of Christine Joyal, one of the earlier victims. Ms. Joyal had disappeared nearly nineteen years ago during autumn. Back then there was still no such thing as the Saint-Ferdinand killer, just a string of murders and disapearances. According to the files she had access to, Erica found out that Jonathan, Christine's son, had put the blame on the owner of a circus that used to come to town. A man who went by the name of Cicero. Things had come to blows but all Jonathan got for his troubles was a fractured rib and a night in jail. Eventually the circus left and the killings continued. Still, Jonathan had a lot of guilt to work through and almost two decades of doubt and uncertainty that had come to an abrupt end.
The other two meetings were with the Bergeron. Erica had taken it upon herself to deliver the horrible news of their daughter's death. That meeting went as well as could be expected. The news was obviously devastating to both parents and she found herself catapulted into the complex family dynamics of William and Beatrice Bergeron. Immediately upon hearing the news, William reached for alcohol, which he'd apparently had a problem with until the birth of their daughter. This caused an altercation between the spouses. Then, out of nowhere, both parents began displaying increased anxiety regarding the cause and location of death. When inspector Crowley and Dr. Mackenzie arrived, all Hell broke loose. Randy confirmed that little Audrey died of natural causes just up the road from where her body was found. William went into a raging fury, screaming that it was 'too close' and in turn either berating inspector Crowley for having failed in his duties and begging Dr. Mackenzie to do something. Eventually, Randy escorted her out after promising the Bergeron he'd do everything he could. Erica wanted to tell him that it was a bad idea to give the bereaved false hope like that, but somehow they all seemed to worry about Audrey as if she could die a second time. The experience had left a bitter taste in her mouth but had set her professional curiosity ablaze.
Her second meeting with William and Beatrice happened this morning and had a much different tone. When she'd left them the day of the tragedy they had obviously skipped directly to the 'bargaining' stage of dealing with their grief. This was unusual enough on its own but today they seemed to have already jumped ahead to 'acceptance'.
William was showing clear signs that he was drinking again which accounted for his coping mechanism, such as it was. Beatrice however had become almost content with the situation, both of the loss of her only daughter and her husband's relapse into alcoholism. Of the two she was the only one to accept meeting again the following week to check up on her progress.
While all three of these meetings were fascinating in their own right and would be followed by a very long list of other similar interviews, Erica had secured the permission to chat with someone significantly more important to the case; Sam Finnegan, the confessed Saint-Ferdinand killer himself.
An officer with the unfortunate but comically accurate nickname of Stuttering Steve brought Sam to Erica's office and would stand outside during the interview, in case Finnegan caused any trouble. So far, he had been extremely sedate so no one expected any fight out of him, but procedures were what they were. The important thing is she would be alone with a career serial killer and able to ask any questions and hopefully have them answered. This was a dream come true for any criminal psychologist and aspiring true crime author, or at least it was for Erica.
Usually, serial killers were reputed as being smart and manipulative, two things no one would have ever accused Sam Finnegan of being. Hannibal Lecter he was not. Erica expected to be able to run circles around poor old and have a fairly easy time coaxing his secrets out of him.
"Thank you Steve, I'll take it from here."
Steve finished securing Finnegan to the chair, locking handcuffs to each arm. The officer then nodded with a smile and left.
Sam sat silently looking at the door as if expecting the officer to return immediately. Finnegan was a thin man who's prison clothes seemed three sizes too big. His file listed his age at sixty-three but he didn't look a day under seventy-five. Wrinkles lined his weathered face like a roadmap making him look used up. When he did finally turn his attention to Erica, he graced her with a toothy smile. Pale blue eyes framed by deeply etched crows feet revealed nothing of his diminished capacities. In fact, he looked more aware than most people Erica had interviewed in her career.
"Good afternoon Mr. Finnegan." she began in a professional but friendly manner. "I'm doctor Erica Hazelwood. Inspector Crowley tells me you've agreed to my asking you a few questions?"
"Yeah. I see no harm innit."
"Great. So I'll start with a few simple ones, if you don't mind." Erica uncapped her pen and flipped the first page of her legal pad to a fresh sheet. "First, can you tell me briefly why you are being jailed at this time?"
"'Cause I killed a lot of people." his smile vanished, replaced by a convincing mask of regret and torment. "I wrote it all up in my confession. Didja read it?"
"I did. Would you feel more comfortable if I asked questions about things that aren't in that document?"
Sam nodded slowly, eyes digging deeply and uncomfortably at Erica.
"Alright then, would you mind telling a little bit about yourself? Your life as a child maybe?"
So went most of the interview. Erica would ask questions about Sam's past, about his life, his goals and his desires and he would answer with the banalities of a life too ordinary.
Sam had been born second of two children in Northern Vermont. His father was an accountant, a career that Sam would eventually imitate. His mother stayed at home to raise him and his sister. Despite her questions, Erica could not crack the surface of what had apparently been a perfectly normal, if mundane, family life. Both parents had died in a car crash leaving their children with a considerable inheritance. Finnegan's sister took the opportunity to move to Europe with her husband while Sam took his share and bought a small farm in Knowlton. There he raised ducks and dogs until he eventually moved to his trailer in Saint-Ferdinand.
Nothing in his over-ordinary biography gave any clue why Sam Finnegan, an otherwise unremarkable individual had snapped and started killing. In fact, if Sam held an accounting degree, when exactly did his mind break so sharply as to make him dim-witted? It could have been from an overwhelming feeling of abandonment brought upon by his parents death and his sister moving so far away. However, according to his story, Sam had kept regular correspondence with his sister and, during the course of the interview had reminisced fondly about friends past. He'd also been socially active in town, helping the villagers with odd jobs and drinking with them at the local tavern. None of this pointed to any symptoms of a severe mental breakdown.
So it went for nearly three hours, until Sam asked if he could use the washroom. While he was gone, Erica buried her head in her hands, struggling to figure out if she was being conned or just incompetent.
Suddenly, as she was about to give up in frustration, she glanced at the top page of her notes on Finnegan. 'They are ever vigilant in death'. The words where circled on the page. They were the first words she'd heard Sam say the day he was arrested. Regaining her composure, Erica flipped to a fresh page again and wrote the words at the top. When Stuttering Steve brought Finnegan back, she had a fresh line of questioning ready for him.
She allowed him to settle but did not ease into the topic.
"Who are you're victims looking out for Sam?" she asked, scanning his sky-blue eyes for a reaction.
"My victims? My victims are dead Ms. Hazelwood."
"Yes, but the other day in the forest you said they were being vigilant. Vigilant against what Sam?" she tried to make her voice sound soft yet stern. To pressure him into answering without scaring him off.
"Look, Ms. Hazelwood, I ain't barely sharper than a baseball bat. I say things and I don't really mean 'em y'know."
"Are you afraid I won't believe you?"
Finnegan laughed. Without humor and just a moment too long. It wasn't a sane laugh.
"It's funny" he began after catching his breath. "I ain't afraid of you not believin' me 'cause the answer you wouldn't believe is way scarier than the one you would."
"What?" Erica understood the path of old Sam's circular reasoning, but she was no closer to an answer to her question. "Then tell me Sam, tell me what the dead are vigilant against."
"What's was in the cave." he answered, this time without a laugh or the hint of a smile.
"And what is in the cave?"
"Was. It's gotta be out now. I kept fresh eyes to keep it trapped there. Fresh eyes to keep it from coming out. But now, the eyes are gone. I'm gone. Nothing is keeping it there, so it gotta be out."
"What Sam? What is out?" she knew the answer would be something crazy, some nonsense from a deranged mind. Yet, she wanted to know, she needed to hear him put a name to his imaginary threat.
"A god Ms. Hazelwood. A god of death and hate."