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HESLEHURST STILL WASN’T ENTIRELY SURE HE COULD TRUST AMBER, but now that he had jumped a few months ahead of his plan he didn’t have a choice. The network had pushed him too far, and not even Riker could keep him focused enough to withstand the mental torture. The next three months was supposed to be spent learning the intern’s craft so he could take over making the masks and therefore be able to eliminate her, but now there was no time. He once again found himself turning back to his minor in Psychology, something he had done numerous times throughout his career to pull the strings of those he needed to manipulate.
Heslehurst had taken Amber on a forty-eight hour thrill ride, giving her a crash course in Stockholm Syndrome as he broke her down and built her back up, both physically and mentally like a military recruit, only on a much more intimate level. Like a deer in headlights she didn’t even use the bathroom unless he suggested it. He could only hope that such hyper-training would keep her on his mind-altering leash.
Heslehurst shifted the four-wheel drive Range Rover rental as they headed up the dark mountain path. It would be a homecoming not only twenty-six years in the making- he had left at the tender age of seventeen- but for him, his whole forty-three years in waiting, for he was about to serve the coldest dish of revenge these parts would ever know.
JASON HESLEHURST. The name I discovered when digging into Royce Riggs’ past. He had filed for the name change on his eighteenth birthday, the petition having been approved by the Los Angeles County court system a month before his first year as a college student. Pulling a few strings I was able to get some of his school records pulled up, enough to tell me he had grown up in the small mountainous town of Greenville, California. So small that it was only eight square miles. Convincing Jaime to come on down to Los Angeles had went smoother than I thought it would, mainly due to the fact that she was able to set up a tattoo job with an online friend who was from the area. I figured the last place Heslehurst would want to be was in the city where he had gained his notoriety, so with Jaime as safe as she could possibly be I headed up north, hoping that by going to the origins of his madness I’d be able to better understand the psychopath.
“They’ve always been a disturbed bunch if you ask me,” Sheriff Wilkinson told me as we climbed the half mile slope up to the Heslehurst house. His patrol car couldn’t make it up the sharp incline, so we had no choice but to close the distance by foot. “The only thing they really have goin’ for ‘em is the deed to this mountain, the rent they collect on the base of it enough to sustain ‘em. The matriarch hasn’t been down off the top in God knows how long.”
“How long have they owned the land?” I asked.
“Oh, I’d say it’s been in the family nearly a hundred years now. Started off as a slaughterhouse of sorts, folks from all around these parts comin’ to ‘em for just about any meat under the sun. That went on till the early 70’s, till more civilized laws hit the books and eventually put ‘em out of business.”
“Do you remember Jason?” What was he like?”
“You know, they say only so much dumb can come out of a family. That somewhere along the line the law of numbers has to take effect. If I didn’t believe such a thing before I certainly did once that boy came along. He was smarter than a whip! While most kids his age was being sent to the principal’s office for not payin’ attention he’d be in there for fightin’ with his teachers! Tellin’ ‘em how wrong they were on this subject or that.
“Once he hit intermediate and joined the school paper this whole town was on edge. Tryin’ to print up every little secret there was. And when the faculty put a stop to it he’d print up his own! And I swear, half the bad that went on around here I just knew he was behind it but could never prove it. Next day, sure as the sun rises there the incidents would be, hot off the press.”
“Did he ever show violent tendencies?”
“Every now and then someone’s pet would come up missin’, found a day or two later butchered to the bone. But again, could never prove who done it.”
“He moved away after high school?”
“Same day he got his diploma and gave his Valedictorian speech. Had someone drive him to Marysville where he apparently got on a Greyhound. Wasn’t till years later when I saw him up on the TV. New name, new look. But those eyes. That’s one thing he couldn’t change. So intent they could burn a hole right through your soul.”
“Does his family know about his success?”
“I doubt it. They’ve never had a cable line comin’ up here. Far as I know they’re still only watchin’ VHS movies. Still rentin’ ‘em from a small place in town.”
“Was his family abusive towards him?”
“He’d sometimes go to school with a bruise here or there, and they’d call me in when they were big enough to really cause concern, but the kid would always talk his way out of it. A fall… An accident… Never from a problem at home.”
We finally reached the Heslehurst house. It was aged, the landscape overgrown, the whole place only kept up enough to barely be livable. A dog came scampering out the front door which was cracked open, licking red off his lips and paying us no attention as he found a cool shaded area to lay down and take a nap.
Doubting he had gotten into some marinara sauce the sheriff and I withdrew our guns. With no answer from our knock we proceeded on in.
The interior was just as bad as the exterior, but the odor was much worse. Following the sound of buzzing flies and chewing mouths we entered the dining room, a few more dogs, along with some chickens and pigs all eating on and around the dining table. The four people around it were still as could be. An overweight woman in her mid-sixties at the head of the table, two middle-aged men seated across from one another, each with a Spyderco sticking out of their back, all having been disemboweled, hence the animal feed.
As I moved closer…
Heslehurst’s cellphone vibrated. He flipped off standby and found the notification to be coming from the house he had grown up in, the hidden cameras he had set up around the dining room being switched on by motion detector.
There Riker was with Sheriff Wilkinson, the two being able to do nothing but stand there and process the gruesome scene.
When Riker’s eyes got around to Heslehurst’s mother, the only one of the three who had her hands pinned to the table with a Spyderco sticking out of each of them Heslehurst brought up his contacts and speed-dialed Riker.
Riker looked at his phone, didn’t recognize the number.
“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Just one of the many grotesque sayings she would use right before unleashing her wrath on me. If I did well in school, they wanted to reward me with an award at an assembly, calling dear ol’ mother with the great news. News that she would find to be very upsetting, as it meant having to come off the mountain and show some support to one of her three bastard children. Enough to put her in a rage and work me over half the night. Dumbing myself down really wouldn’t have helped. Anything held the possibility of setting her off, with Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber camouflaged in their stupidity most of the time.”
“So this is your excuse for ruining so many lives?” Riker asked, looking around the room to see if he could spot a camera or two.
“Don’t try to psychoanalyze me, Riker. I’ve proven over the years that I’m on a whole different level, even from you. Those pathetic lives didn’t raise me, they only held me back for awhile. I raised myself. What you see before you is just an effect. This equals that, nothing more. Just as my actions are nothing more than an effect, the cause being the evolution of the world around us, as crippling as that actually is. I didn’t need to read Bradbury to know what kind of future we were headed for.”
“Ah yes,” Riker answered. “The disease of repetition, right?”
“So you did catch my last show. But no, it’s not just about that. Don’t act like you don’t miss the days when things actually meant something. When people dealt with you face-to-face, not with a point and click or swipety swipe.”
Riker found one of the cameras and looked straight into it. “For someone who hates technology, you sure are embracing it.”
“Sometimes you have to do such to serve the greater purpose.
“You’re becoming a fan, I can see it on your face. See you soon.”
IT WAS TEN MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT. Heslehurst masked as a light-skinned Latino sitting with his lap dog Amber at his side as the two watched from the inside of their rental car the streets of Hollyweird grow in freaks. This was the time of night Cenobites Cove served their most unusual of customers, from twelve to two a.m., the Woolly Mammoth in the dog collar arriving to put in his six hours of working the front end of the shop while doubling as security.
Jules, the owner of the place, looked like a demon straight out of hell, with ink covering every inch of her body, enough piercings on her face alone to fill up a jewelry display case and horn implants that looked like they could come bursting through the skin at any time. She’d be behind the curtain with Jaime, the two modifying body parts late into the night.
“You do what I say when I say,” Heslehurst instructed Amber, now helping her put on a backpack before sliding an empty orange juice container over the chamber of his handgun and handing it off to her. “Always watch my back, and if something goes wrong, remember, the most important thing is to get the report uploaded.” He caressed the side of her head. “It’s our work. The world is counting on us to tell them the truth.” She shook her head in agreement to her master’s words, and when he sealed it with a kiss Amber knew she’d follow him to the depths of hell if she had to.
Heslehurst grabbed a long duffle bag and the two headed inside.
“What can I do you for?” the mountain of a man behind the counter asked as Heslehurst approached.
“Hey, how’s it goin‟? I got some ink done about a week ago from Jaime. Looks like I need a touch-up.”
“Alright, come on back.”
But getting a better look at that big ol’ duffel bag slung over Heslehurst’s back Woolly Mammoth had second thoughts. “What’s in the bag?”
Heslehurst laid it on the counter and unzipped it enough to show some tripods and a key light. “We’re indie filmmakers. Gonna be shootin’ some things in Hollywood tonight.”
“Alright, come on.”
The curtain was pulled back and the unsuspecting giant led the two inside the working space. Heslehurst’s heart began to beat faster at the sight of his Jaime, her first-paced needle working on the back of a biker. He then caught sight of Jules, a more fatherly feeling coming over him, one of disgust, as she was in between the legs of some asshole, tattooing his hard-on right there out in the open for Jaime to see.
“Hey Jaime, this guy says you gave him a tat last week, and he needs a touch-up.”
Her foot came off her pedal and she flipped off her tattoo machine, looking up at the Latin face of the guy in front of her. “Are you sure it was me? I’ve only been here a few days, and I don’t remember doing one for you.”
Heslehurst began to unbutton his white dress shirt, waiting to open it up until he got down to the last button. Eyes continually staring into Jaime’s he then did so, revealing Darling Nikki.
She couldn’t speak. Couldn’t make sense of it as her eyes darted back and forth from the tattoo of what she now knew to be her mother and the face she didn’t recognize.
Heslehurst reached up to his neck line and started to peel away skin, the brains of everyone in the room going into a scramble as he tore his face off his face. Everyone that is except for Amber, who used the perplexing moment to reach into her coat pocket for her master’s gun.
He handed the silicone mask over to Woolly Mammoth, who was still too stunned to have anything but tunnel vision, Heslehurst’s free hand now wrapping around the heavy metal Amber placed into it. He immediately brought it up and fired a hole into the giant’s head, not waiting to watch him fall before doing the same to the biker.
The guy with the inked hard-on was now cowering behind Jules’ tattoo chair and already going soft, leaving her to fend for herself. A couple of seconds later and he too was put down.
“BABE!” Amber yelled just as Jaime lunged for Heslehurst, giving him the opportunity to step aside and push her to the floor. “Do that again and you’ll join ’em.”
He pointed his barrel at Jules. Although she was an extreme example of Jaime’s art he respected the demon chick’s dedication. “Get in the corner. Both of you get in the corner now.”
I WAS MAKING GOOD TIME through The Grapevine, spending it winding through the hills while trying to crack the complexity of Heslehurst’s fucked up mind. After spending half our lifetime in control of it, to a certain extent anyway, it was obvious he was now beginning to lose it. How long had he expected this game to go on? We were both getting older, physically slower, and yes, in an ever-changing world. How did he expect to end it? Murder suicide? Going underground? But he had a face recognizable to millions. How would he continue?
My phone rang. Another unlisted number, another disposable phone. It had to be him.
“What do you want?”
“Jaime?! Jaime, where are you?!” I had to pull over to the side of the road.
“Do you know some of the shit they do in this place?!” Heslehurst asked. “Do you know what I caught Jules doing right in front of Jaime?!”
“What do you want? What-?”
“How far out from L.A. are you?”
“About two hours.”
“The key will be under the mat. Come alone, or you’ll never see her alive again.”
As I stepped on the gas I never felt more hopeless, more vulnerable in my life.
THE SIGN IN THE WINDOW SAID CLOSED, only one light on behind it, coming from the back of the shop. I slowly turned the key and pushed the door open, having my nine millimeter lead me inside.
“Lock it back,” whispered a female voice. It came from a girl that couldn’t have been much older than Jaime, standing in the shadows with the outside light shining on the gun she held, homemade silencer attached to its chamber.
“Put the gun down and lock the door. Or she dies.”
I did as told, ready to pull out my back-up piece at a moment’s notice.
“Go. They’re back there.”
I stepped behind the curtain to find three dead bodies, one naked from the waist down with his pants tossed over his crotch, all laid out so as to be the first thing to catch my eye. That, along with two tripods: one holding a camera, the other a portable light. Then nearby there was Jules, duct taped to her tattoo chair but still alive. What made my heart sink was what I saw next…
Heslehurst holding a shotgun, his hand taped to the trigger, the end of the barrel duct taped to Jaime’s neck.
“Bet you wondered for years if this day would ever really come, huh?” He spoke with nostalgia in his voice. “Here, put these on, left wrist to Jaime’s chair. Sit back in it.”
It was a pair of handcuffs. On my way over I saw a life-like mask of a human face lying on the floor. The answer to how he expected to go on with his life, while also explaining the need for the girl.
Right before I sat down he stopped me. “Wait. Am… Search him.”
There went my back-up piece.
Once I cuffed myself to the chair and he double checked it Heslehurst unclipped a Spyderco from his pocket and brought it up to Jaime’s neck, using the blade to cut through the duct tape and free her. He did the same to rid himself from the tape around his hand. “Put your right arm up on the chair extension. Forearm up.”
When I did so he placed the round hole of the single-barrel shotgun against my forearm, looked me in the eyes and pulled the trigger.
“I would never hurt our Jaime,” he said, his demeanor so calm it was surreal.
“We’re family, the three of us. We’ve always been.”’
He gestured over to Jules. “Her on the other hand, you know I won’t hesitate to kill. Do what I say, or she dies.
“Am, give me the journal.”
His puppy dog followed his order, retrieving a journal I hadn’t seen in years from her backpack and handing it over to him, her expression now looking as though she was about to cry.
He kissed her on the forehead. “The four of us.” That correction lifted her spirits.
Heslehurst handed the journal over to Jaime. “That was your mom’s. The two of you were similar in a lot of ways, but you were also quite different. Your Uncle Riker probably didn’t tell you how much she hated her past. Being raised by quote, ‘hippie sailor parents in the swamp of fish guts and ink.’ That’s why she ran away at seventeen, catching a Greyhound from Coos Bay and never looking back.
“That’s where her and I were similar. But your uncle can tell you about that story some other day, right Rike?
“What he doesn’t know is that I helped guide his young twenty-one-year-old mind into finding you a new home once your mom had to leave us. I wrote out a letter from her perspective and addressed it to your Grammy and Pappy over at the marina. Filled it with a story of how she wanted to reconcile now that she had a baby of her own on the way. I slipped it in the journal, knowing Riker would find it. Knowing he’d place you in your grandparents’ care, when, in reality, it was the last thing your mother ever wanted.”
Jaime looked down at her tattoo of the mother and calf dolphin. I wanted to say something but didn’t know what. Heslehurst spoke back up instead.
“There was one thing she liked about the seaside though. Loved, actually. Dolphins. Which is why she called you hers. It’s all in there.”
How could he change his persona so fast? From serious killer to having the empathy of a family member? And in the blink of an eye it changed again, this time to the professional news man known as Royce Riggs. He explained everyone’s part as he buttoned up his shirt and put on a tie and jacket, all while Amber got the camera and light ready.
“Ok, Jame, you’re going to initiate your Uncle Riker here into the ink world with a tattoo of his very own. Right there on his right forearm. Prime real estate, right Jame?!
“Amber, give her the image.
“Rike, you’re just gonna lay there and take it like a man. It’s only fair, I got one of you.”
He showed me his right forearm.
“Jules, you’re our background dressing, and we’ll come around to you before we wrap. Am…?”
She ran up to him and gave him a touch-up.
“Come on Jaime,” he said. “We’re on in sixty seconds. Get ready.”
She looked at me for approval. I nodded. She set up.
Amber readied the camera. “We’re on in five, four, three…”
“Good evening, I’m Royce Riggs, and this is The Riggs Report. As you can see we’re coming to you on location, which is now our new format. To bring the news where it happens, and yes, sometimes even when it happens. Tonight we have a very special guest. Actually two. An ultra-exclusive that you absolutely won’t see anywhere else! But before we get to that, the latest on The Spyderco Killer. I’ve been told he’s flipped his last blade a couple of nights ago up in Northern California. Only time will tell if this is really the last we’ve heard of who many consider a serial artist, but you can rest on one thing. If he ever comes out of retirement, you’ll hear it here first.
“And now on to our exclusive…”
Amber panned the camera as Heslehurst walked over to us, Jaime not looking up from the work she was doing on my forearm. “Introducing the man who gave rise to The Spyderco Killer, Private Investigator Jeremy Riker! So graciously getting a tattoo of The Riggs Report logo. And inking such a work of art, Jaime Moore, daughter of the victim who was the first to receive The Spyderco Killer’s signature kill!”
I too refused to give him any acknowledgement, keeping my line of sight on the tool in Jaime’s hand.
“They’re both a little camera shy, but we’ll see if we can’t get a few words out of them before the end of tonight’s show.”
We had no choice but to listen for the next thirty minutes as Heslehurst babbled on about the current state of the news industry, and through his new platform how he was going to revolutionize broadcast journalism.
As Jaime finished the last touches to the logo Heslehurst’s excitement grew. To see all that he stood for, all that he had worked for permanently represented on my arm made his eyes glaze over with accomplishment. He had Amber dismount the camera and push in for a close-up, those admiring eyes of his just a couple of inches from the tattoo.
It was then when I went for it…
Pulling back my arm while simultaneously grabbing the tattoo gun out from Jaime’s hand and whipping it back in a fraction of a second to gather the speed needed to impale it into Heslehurst’s eye socket, driving it so deep inside that I was sure it reached his brain.
With impulse reaction Jaime grabbed hold of the sides of his head and shoved it down into my lap to keep him from getting away, grinding down on the pedal of her tattoo machine full throttle, the needle in rapid fire as it penetrated his skull several dozen times a second while dispersing ink, a portion of it pouring out of his eye socket along with blood and other internal fluids.
Heslehurst’s screams died down to the sporadic last sounds of grabbing out for life, his body then going into shock as it produced a succession of small seizures.
I shot a look up to our last possible threat, Amber, whose face was so distorted in shock of her own that I couldn’t tell what she would do next. Not taking any chances I pushed Heslehurst’s head off my lap and thrusted my hips up along with my left leg, the move giving me enough momentum to send my foot crashing against the side of her head, rendering her unconscious before she even hit the floor.
Ironically, it ended up taking Heslehurst about five minutes to succumb to death. About the same amount of time as it had taken each of his victims to die.
I FOUND MYSELF STARING DOWN AT MY FOREARM SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, mesmerized by the work of art Jaime had come up with when covering up the image of The Riggs Report. The logo was now buried and gone, just like Heslehurst and all the pain he had caused, my new super cool tattoo representing my new lease on life. The beautiful structure of The Los Angeles Union Station, a magnificent steel-horse-of-a-train blasting out of its entrance. I was now a proud part of a community that chose to not only hang art, but wear it as well.
While sitting at my desk busy with my fifth attempt at trying to capture the perfect selfie. (yeah, ink wasn’t the only thing starting to rub off on me from Jaime’s world!) she walked in through the doors of my office. A tall blonde bombshell whose beauty reminded me of old Hollywood.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
Her sultriness, while never really going away, turned to concern.
“I don’t know how much you keep up on the news, but lately there’s been a serial killer, The Ghostwriter, who’s been wreaking havoc on the publishing industry.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” I replied.
“Well, I work in the publishing industry, and I’m afraid he might be coming after me next.
“I need your help.”
Origins to Riker’s new nemesis,