“You gotta wonder what she did in a past life
to deserve that,” a uniform officer says as I arrive. Officer Jonville
looks close to tasting his midnight dose of coffee a second time. I’m
not known for my forgiving nature with rookies like Jonville who can’t
stomach a homicide. He escapes unscathed by me, save for the image of this
woman’s corpse that will stay lodged in his brain until retirement and
For once, I’m in little better shape. The only reason I’m not moving
around the room gathering evidence or out questioning neighbors is because if
I take one step from my spot on that hideous, lime green carpet, I might faint.
Thank God the crime scene techs aren’t here yet, they’d probably
make me move.
I don’t need a forensic to know what happened here. This woman’s
husband and she were doing what happy couples do. Then in the best moment, hubby
screamed as if someone had ripped the skin from his face. She didn’t know
what happened, asked him what was wrong. He grabbed the first thing he could
get his hands on, a cheap digital clock, and smashed her head until she looked
like an elephant stepped on her. Then he wrapped his hands around her throat
and strangled her, squeezing the life out of her like a bug between two fingers.
I’ve seen worse, but until this night, I’ve never witnessed the murder
as it happened.
“Investigator Willis,” Jonville says, drawing me from my distraction, “found
her wallet on the nightstand. She lived here. Her name’s…”
“Yes, sir,” he says, with the obvious question showing on his face, “Stella
Washington. You know her?”
I don’t answer. Hell, I still can’t stop staring at the body on the
bed. Jonville shows some brains to go with his brass badge by not asking me a
Sweat’s running down my forehead, and despite a chill in my soul, I can’t
stop it. My armpits have been raining waterfalls since two o’clock this
morning. I woke up a half hour before my pager went off, and somehow I knew the
murder in my dream would be waiting for me at 10528 Dawndeer Lane. I’ve
worked in the violent crimes unit with Henrico County Police a third of my life
with a “batting average” of .800. I’ve seen enough shit to
give toenails split ends—severed hands, autopsies on bodies that have already
seen the bad end of a meat cleaver, even watched a man committing “copicide” take
19 bullets from three police rifles and two pistols at point blank range. Stella’s
face ranks low on my gore list, but as I look over at the dresser mirror, I can
still see her husband looking at himself and screaming her name like a bad stage
actor imitating Brando.
“I’m not her,” I whisper, remembering the last thing he kept
saying before I woke up. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
“Forget it, Jonville.” Damn, I need a cigarette. “Has anyone
seen the husband?”
Finally confident I can walk without falling on my face, I retreat to the front
yard. Blue lights on five squad cars light up the cul-de-sac like some uni-colored,
outdoor disco. All three local news stations are positioning their live trucks,
eager for news that hasn’t already been recycled half a dozen times over
the weekend for their Monday morning newscasts. The public information officer
can deal with them when she gets here. I can make out faces peeking through the
curtains of their two-story residentials. The good folks in the Raintree subdivision
aren’t getting much sleep this morning.
I sit in my car and surrender to the need to shake. Fifty-five words per minute
and I’m resorting to hunt-and-peck to use the mobile desktop in my beige
ninety-four Ford Crown Vic.
All it takes is a matter of minutes, and I know enough about Stella’s husband
to write a book about him. Yes, Big Brother is watching, and I’m using
Samuel Washington, born October 18, 1979, has made it into more than one police
report. I read them all. Sam’s what we call 10-96. That’s police
talk for “one crazy fucker.” In the past ten years, he’s tried
to kill himself at least three times. Sam’s a diagnosed schizophrenic,
but until last night, he’s never tried to hurt anyone else. Guess the voices
in his head just don’t like him much even if they don’t know the
razor goes down the road, not across the street.
Damn son of a bitch. I want to kill him, not because of what he did to Stella.
I’m pissed because I can’t get him out of my head. Every detail refuses
to leave like a bad dream should. The way it felt being inside her, how easily
her face bent and bled… sensations that make my skin turn the same shade
as the unstained portions of the bedroom carpet.
Get out of my head!
Maybe I’m turning into the “psychic detective.” If this is
the rest of my life, I might join Sam on the seventh floor of St. Mary’s
Hospital. That’s assuming I don’t kill him on sight. Maybe we can
get a two-for-one special on a padded room.
Two knocks on the roof of my car scare Sam out of my head for an all-too brief
moment. I turn to see Sergeant Helen Caster staring at me as if I was a two-headed
fish she just pulled out of the James River.
“Hey, Sal,” she says. “Is it that bad in there?”
“Nah, probably just your usual domestic bullshit, the last one for this
couple.” I’m not sure what else to say. I’m not known for keeping
my thoughts to myself. Hell, this morning, I’ve got thoughts to spare that
aren’t even mine.
“You must be going soft then, Sal. You look awful.”
“Just ate some bad fish,” I say.
Helen’s the one who gets to talk to the reporters. She’s one of the
better public information officers we’ve had. Knows what to say to the
vultures, but knows even better what not to say. I’d kill for her gift
at the moment. That nightmare, Sam’s nightmare, keeps playing like a DVD
player set on repeat. I’m not sure what I can tell her that’s based
on facts and not the movie rental in my mind.
“Any suspects?” she asks.
I look straight at her, scared to even open my mouth. Helen’s staring at
me, and I can tell her concern about me is changing from good humor to true worry.
“Sorry, hurting for sleep,” I say, forcing my best smile. “My
guess would be the husband, but nothing solid on that. We’ll have a better
idea once forensics gets in there and does their magic. Lady got clobbered by
a clock. Probably will get a decent print off of that. No one knows where the
husband is. Last thing anyone saw or heard of him was the guy running out of
the house in nothing but his boxers screaming like an opera singer stepping on
nails. Man’s a freaking loon.”
“You on dayshift today?”
“Yeah, gonna be a 24 ounce cup of coffee day.”
My usual jokes relax her concerns. She’s already smiling again, a nice
smile, too. I’m even responding in kind, but as soon as she heads over
to the house to get her own take, I’m nursing my aching head with my hand.
My day’s just starting, and come eight o’clock, I’m going where
all the crazy people go.
If you're nuts and you live in Henrico County, Virginia, then at one point in
your life you'll find yourself taking a car ride to Woodman Road. A few blocks
down from I-295, planted amid lots of evergreens, a two-story building with tall
windows and a brownish-orange brick exterior that smacks of "government
building" practices the ultimate in discrimination. If you aren't crazy,
then Henrico Mental Health doesn't want a damn thing to do with you.
After twenty years with the county, you can bet I've found myself in here more
than I would like. Wish I could say it was only to drop off the crazy people,
and I suppose that's true. Unfortunately, I've dropped off myself a few times,
too. After ten years of getting into killers' heads, it's hard not to lose it.
Part of me wonders if I finally have gotten lost where the buses don't run, and
there ain't no coming back.
First time I came to bare my soul, they sat me down with a man. I got up and
left with just a "goodbye." Yeah, it's sexist, but somehow I don't
mind a woman thinking I'm crazy. I figure most women think I'm a mess anyway,
so it's not as humiliating.
I've known Elena Carter for five years. She's been with Mental Health about as
long as I've been investigating murders. They cram her and three other psychiatrists
into one room and make them share that space while they supposedly never discuss
their cases with each other—right. She's the only one in the office as
I walk in there. Guess the rest of the mind readers aren't in yet.
“Morning, Sal," she says. Then she gets a look at me. "Bad dreams
I don’t know how to answer her. Second time in the same damn day, I’m
at a loss for words. Elena’s convinced that I secretly want to kill myself.
She won’t say it, but some things you can just tell from what a woman doesn’t
For a good year, I kept dreaming that someone was chasing me through the county
depot just down the road from here, and I couldn’t find my gun. The guy
cornered me in one of those big huts where they keep sand for icy roads. I’m
flailing in a huge pile of sand, and I can’t seem to get free. I charge
him, we struggle for the gun and, suddenly, I see the other man’s face.
I’m looking at myself. The guy with the gun is me.
Then the gun fires straight up into my head, and I wake up thinking it’s
time to find a new job.
That was five years ago, the thing that finally forced me to sit down and be
the 10-96 in this place. Like going to a one-man AA meeting. Hi, I’m Sal,
and I secretly want to kill myself.
"I just need to pick your brain for a moment," I tell her. She knows
what I'm asking. The way her plump face screws up, I can tell she's not happy
about it either. I’ve done my homework, and one of the reports on Sammy
mentioned he and I have something else in common—the same shrink.
"Let's go across the hall," she tells me.
She doesn't say a thing to me until we're in "the Room" with the door
closed. Very little seems odd about the Room at first. The sea foam green walls
create a soothing mood with comfortable chairs and a coffee table, but no couch.
The room is a nice place to hang out once you get past the video camera hanging
from the ceiling in one of the corners, the lack of any decorative objects that
might serve as blunt objects and the fact everything is nailed to the floor.
Elena blends in perfectly with the room in her gray pantsuit. Come to think of
it, she never wears anything that clashes with this room. Can’t help but
wonder if that’s on purpose or one of those “subconscious” things
Elena and her pals love to talk about.
“Is this about the murder this morning?” she asks.
“Well, at least I know you have something worth sharing,” I say.
She’s not the only one quick at reading thoughts.
“You know I won’t discuss anything about my clients,” she says,
but I can tell she’s hurting to talk.
“Tell you what,” I say. “Why don’t we just sit down and
discuss the finer points of schizophrenia? You can offer me a lot of examples.
You know how slow we police boys can be.”
I’m still getting a dirty look, but there’s also that hint of thanks
for offering her the way out she needs. We take our seats. Me, I get the purple
“Let’s keep this simple,” she says. “Schizophrenics hear
things—voices, typically. The voices can say anything and everything. I
once had a man in here who eventually killed himself, because he kept hearing
what he called demons telling him to hurt others. Sometimes, the voices aren’t
remotely consistent.” Her tone changes on that latter point. I get the
message. We’re talking about Sammy.
“One day it’s a little girl crying because her mommy is dead. The
next, some man named Ted is espousing the proper technique for chopping up human
remains to conceal a murder. Even more frightening, the voice sometimes turns
out to be a neighbor or a close relative.”
“Why would that be frightening? I hear my mom nagging me all the time,” I
Elena isn’t laughing.
“Imagine you hear them saying personal things, things no one else could
possibly know, and it turns out what you’re hearing is true. Imagine you
have a dream about your neighbor breaking his arm, and then wake up to him knocking
on your door because he needs you to drive him to the hospital.”
She has my attention now, and I’m reminded of waking up a half hour before
my pager started tap dancing across my nightstand.
“What are you saying? Sam Washington is some kind of clairvoyant?” I’ve
completely forgotten I’m supposed to be pretending we aren’t talking
about him. Elena looks ready to pop my hand like some nun with a ruler.
“What I’m saying,” she says through grit teeth, “is that
schizophrenia isn’t a single illness. It’s a broad term for several
similar yet different problems.”
“And what do you do to help a person like that?” I ask, and I’m
not sure if I’m asking for Sammy or myself. Elena lets the question hang
out there, and I can tell those eyes, the same brown as the wooden chair she’s
using, aren’t missing that something else is behind that question.
“I can counsel someone, even prescribe medication when needed. Unfortunately,
some people can’t be treated.”
“Why not?” Sure as hell don’t like that last prospect.
“Sometimes, they aren’t imagining things,” she replies as if
that shouldn’t be all that shocking a thought.
I’m trying not to laugh. She’s not being funny; I’m just nervous
“Sal, there are a lot of theories about schizophrenia, and they aren’t
all the kinds of things any self-respecting psychiatrist places in research papers.”
She doesn’t intend to say more, and after this morning, I need her to.
God help me. My chest is fluttering like a hummingbird, and my legs don’t
feel like they could support my shadow if I stood.
“Tell me more,” I say, “please.”
“Sal, are you all right?” She’s been in my head too many times
not to know I’m not doing well.
“I just need to know more.”
Elena knows I’m lying. She’s got her head tilted to her right in
this “don’t bull shit me” look. Bless her heart; she lets it
go. “Some people like to call it telepathy, necromancy or psychic powers.
Probably the more accepted of the ‘exotic’ theories is memories.”
“Memories from past lives,” she says. “We’re talking
I feel like someone just hit the “ctrl-alt-delete” in my brain. “You’re
She’s still not laughing, and I can tell she’s searching hard for
how to say what she’s got brewing in that head of hers. I live for baseball,
but a game seven in the world series with the Yankees down by one in the bottom
of the ninth doesn’t make me this anxious. I’m starting to sweat
again, and that’s not good in this small room since my deodorant stopped
working before I even got to the crime scene.
“If reincarnation is real, why do you think it must be a linear thing?” she
says. “What law of nature dictates that you die on August tenth and start
the next life August eleventh? It might well be more like die in 2004, be born
again in 1607.
“Sal, all I know is that I don’t have a better explanation at this
point. Our goal is to save everyone, but we never make it an expectation. We’re
just like you. We need explanations for why bad things happen to good people.” She
pauses there as if struggling to say something important, but what she finally
offers me won’t help me find Sammy. “One thing I will tell you about
Samuel Washington is that he is a good man, and if he’s actually done what
you think he’s done, then as bad as what happened to his wife is, I’ll
wager what he’s seen or heard is even worse.”
I’m not her.
The bottom drops out of my stomach like a trap door as I remember Sammy’s
scream, and his words are taking on a new meaning. The one thing that still doesn’t
make any sense to me is why Sammy is in my head.
I’m not him.
My next stop needs to be PSB, our little abbreviation for the Public Safety Building,
what most would call the police department. Unfortunately, a shower and a change
of clothes takes priority. That and I’m not really ready to see any of
my co-workers just yet. So I take a right out of the parking lot to Mental Health.
I live in the East End, so it’s back to I-295 I go.
“617 to radio,” I call into the communications center.
“Unit 617, go ahead,” a radio dispatcher with a squeaky voice replies.
“Show me clear from Mental Health.”
Good God, not even nine o’clock. I’m gonna need more coffee.
My Crown Vic coughs as I pull out onto Woodman Road and head north past the county
depot. I keep asking myself where I would go if I was Sammy. I gotta end this
investigation before I really do lose my mind. Last time I felt this bad was
after a bad batch of sangria at a Christmas party two years back. That I’m
sober this time around isn’t encouraging.
The traffic light at Woodman and Mountain catches me as the dispatcher assigns
a unit to a call about a guy on a bike riding down 295 near Woodman. Thank God
I’m not a road unit anymore, dealing with that kind of bogus call. Of course,
I might not have killers in my head either if I was still dealing with crap like
Looks like the biker decided to ditch the interstate. I see this navy blue three-speed
pulling off the exit ramp from 295 South. What a freak. The guy on the bike is
wearing this long-sleeved white button-downed shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
And the shorts on this guy are these ugly red and white polka dots. The closer
he gets, the stranger he is. He’s on a woman’s bike, with the middle
bar sloped downward, which I’ve never understood. Seems like that design
makes more sense for a guy considering we’re a lot more sensitive between
the legs. The guy’s hair is a mess, like he doesn’t own a hairbrush
Might as well spare the road unit coming to find this guy. Besides, I could use
the distraction. “617 to radio.”
“Unit 617, go ahead.”
“Radio, let the unit responding to the biker on 295 know he’s gotten
off the Interstate at Woodman. He can cancel from—“
The bike rolls past me, and I see this panicked look on the guy’s face,
like he’s seen the ass-end of hell. Those aren’t shorts. Those are
boxers, Sammy’s boxers.
“Radio, keep the other unit coming!” I yell into my radio like some
rookie getting ready to enter his first pursuit. “Subject is southbound
on Woodman approaching the depot!”
There’s this hellacious pause while my excitement probably gives the radio
dispatcher a heart attack.
“Radio is 10-7!” the dispatcher answers. That basically tells everyone
on the radio to keep his trap shut unless he’s coming to help. Not that
everyone and his brother doesn’t step all over each other trying to respond.
The radio sounds like a digital accordion with all those guys transmitting at
once. I’m just trying to get my car’s blue light flashing and u-turn
at the same time without getting into a wreck.
The radio finally clears up as Sammy’s feet start moving faster than a
man stomping grapes. “Radio, subject is wanted reference incident on Dawndeer
Lane. He’s wearing a long-sleeved white shirt with red and white shorts.
All units responding, use caution! Subject is 10-96.”
He’s got about as much chance of outrunning me on that bike as I do of
losing the spare tire around my waist. That doesn’t stop him from trying.
The idiot veers left off of Woodman.
“Subject just turned into the south entrance to the depot!” I radio
all the guys coming.
In my head, I’m already filling in the blanks. Sammy’s been a busy
boy. Stole a woman’s bike, some clothes, so why the hell come here?
I’m turning into the depot in time to see him go into a parking lot to
the right, just behind a long, dirty white garage capable of housing up to twenty
cars. Two long rows of white police cars, yellow ambulances and fire trucks split
the lot in half. Gravel and bits of glass grind beneath the wheels of my car
as I jam the accelerator to the floor. Got to get ahead of him!
He looks over his shoulder. I’m about to overtake him.
The son-of-a-bitch slips between two fire engines halfway down the row of cars.
“Dammit!” I’ve got to go around the entire row of cars. No
way to know which way he’s going until I get to the end of the row.
Need to update my help that’s on the way. “Units coming to the depot,
he’s ducked between some of the fire engines. I need the first two units
on scene to block the north and south exits. Don’t let anyone out!”
That won’t stop him from jumping a fence, but he’ll lose the bike
if he does that. Make a run for it, Sammy. Try it on foot. We’ve got tracking
dogs. Again, I can’t help but ask myself, what the hell is he doing here?
Why would he steal a bike to just to ride all the way out to Woodman Road?
I finally round the end of the line of parked vehicles. My car clears the last
one, a huge fire truck, and I don’t see him. “No!” How could
he disappear like that?
Time for another update. I grab my radio again. “I’ve lost him. He
might have double-backed for the south exit! Anyone on it?”
“Unit 243,” one of the uniforms says. “Sal, I’ve got
it covered. I haven’t seen him come this way.”
“Unit 271. I’ve got the North entrance. All clear.”
I hit the brakes and get out of the car. Where is he? Then I spot the bike on
the pavement, behind a chain link fence over near one of the sand huts. Damn
things look like big brown coconut shells with tall, open doors.
“617 to units responding to the depot,” I say. “I think he’s
ducked inside one of the sand huts.”
I turn off my car and slip the keys into my front pants pocket. You’d be
amazed how many rookies abandon their car with the keys in it for a perp to run
back and take it. I pull out my forty-five caliber Glock from the holster on
my right hip and get out of the car. The sunlight reflects off my gun’s
silver finish, and the black grip already feels slick in the morning heat of
August. My mobile radio goes on my left hip. There’s this orange button
on it for an officer to hit if he gets in trouble. I’m hoping I won’t
I approach the sand hut with my gun held ready and can’t stop myself from
asking the question once more. What are you doing here, Sammy? This time, I figure
it out. He’s trying to go where all the crazy people go: Mental Health,
the one place he knows he can get help. This is the first time since the job
jaded me that my heart goes out to a killer. I’ve spent less than twenty-four
hours dealing with something he’s probably wrestled with all his life,
and that he’s held it together this long is something I’ll probably
never understand. I no longer want to see him die for invading my mind. I want
to help him, if I can.
“Sam!” I call out. “I know where you’re trying to go.
Let me take you there.” I step in front of the entrance to the sand hut,
and I see him scrambling in vain to reach the far side of that pile of dirt.
He stops, going perfectly still like a possum in the trash when you turn on your
“I’m Investigator Willis with Henrico Police,” I say. “Sam,
I know what happened with Stella. I know why you’re scared. You can trust
Sammy walks down the sand, slipping in it. He’s gotten so far up that pile
that getting down keeps getting him stuck, and déjà vu hits me
so damn hard that I’m not ready when he charges me. My arms must be twice
as thick with muscle as his, but he’s desperate. He’s going for my
gun. “Sam! Let go!” I stare down the barrel of my own gun, and the
nightmare of five years past comes back to me. I was here. I am here! I don’t
want to die, dammit!
“No!” The metal digs hard into my skin as I struggle not to let go.
I can’t let him take the gun, but his hysteria is beating my strength.
Sammy’s finger grabs the trigger. The gun jerks loose in my grip, and an
explosion hammers my ears and sends an ache shaking straight down into my arms.
Everything goes quiet, like a mute button flipped on inside my head.
Later that day, I’m still on Woodman Road and back in that damned sea foam
green room with Elena. Somewhere else, some coroner’s cutting open Sammy
to make sure I’m not lying about how he died even as I’m spilling
my guts here.
“It was the dream,” I tell Elena. “Only this time, I saw it
through my eyes instead of Sammy’s. I was dreaming about him dying all
that time, not me.”
My ears still hurt from the echo of my gun. I can only make out half the questions
Elena’s asking me, but I don’t miss this one.
“You said you know why Sam killed his wife. Why?”
I thought him being dead would take away the memory of it, but Elena’s
question makes me relive the murder again. “He just wanted to get her out
of his head. They climaxed at the same time, and he remembered how she felt,
saw it through her eyes. He was Stella before he was Sam, and when he realized
it, he couldn’t take it.”
“Killing Stella didn’t take away her memories, though,” Elena
says, “did they?” She’s blending into the room again, and that’s
fine by me. I don’t want to see how she’s looking at me.
“Not for him, and not for me.” Sammy’s memories are still alive
in me. How many more times will I remember how he killed Stella, and the look
on my own face as I watched him die. “It’s funny, really.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sammy was desperate to get here.”
“I wish,” Elena says, then stops short. I finally force myself to
look her in the eyes, and there’s no judgment for me there. She’s
too busy crying for Sammy. “I wish he could have made it, that we could
have helped him.”
I start laughing, and she must think I’m the most heartless bastard with
“You still don’t get it, do you?” I say. “Sammy did make
it here. I am—I was Sam.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Blume lives in Richmond, Virginia, where he works as a communications
officer for Henrico County Police. He’s currently writing two
fantasy novels, including one he’s co-writing with his wife
Sheri. He’s also helping organize the 2006
James River Writers Conference. In his “past lives,” he’s
worked as a television news producer and bookseller.
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