Jake could see them from his bedroom window. He watched them leave in the cover of darkness from the abandoned house across the street, panicked and crying. And then the murders began.
It started with Adam Thompson, who was found stabbed to death outside his car in a parkade downtown. Investigators turned up no evidence. There were no witnesses and no leads.
Next, Lacey McGirvin made a call to 911 at 3:02 on a Thursday afternoon. The operator heard a scream followed by a crash of what turned out to be her own car crushing her against her garage. She died on the scene.
Police requested assistance from a public filled with growing anxiety. The death count rose to 15 before photos of the victims were broadcast on TV. They were searching for any information on what were being called “The Ghost Murders”. Jake didn’t recognize the names, but he recognized the faces of the victims. He’d seen them leaving the abandoned house across the street.
Several days later, Jake found an unusual letter deposited in his mailbox. There was no return address. Frowning, Jake tore open a side with his stained fingers. Inside was a colourful invitation glued together from letters cut out of magazines, like a ransom note. It asked Jake to attend 116 Fletching Street for the “opportunity of a lifetime”. What the fuck? Jake thought. That was the address of the abandoned house across the street, which seemed to produce soon-to-be murder victims.
I ain’t going in there, was what he should have thought to himself, but who was he kidding? Money was tighter than ever. His business, nefarious as it was, wasn’t paying the bills the way it used to. I won’t end up dead meat like the rest of these fools, he thought, and tucked his Smith & Wesson 9mm into the waistband of torn jeans. Ka-ching, baby.
The windows of 116 Fletching Street, like many in this neighborhood, were boarded up. Only a few folks around here still made ends meet, none of them honestly.
He knocked as a precaution and opened the door. The sour smell of spoiled food and old sweat wafted from the doorway. Used needles carpeted the floor in the kitchen. Discarded rags, clothing, and turpentine cans were scattered in the living room. Fuckin’ junkies, Jake thought, probly gettin’ themselves killed on drug debt. Precious. Whoever’s runnin’ this schtick needs product moved, I’m the guy.
The basement door stood open. A faint blue glow shone out. Weird, Jake thought, no way anyone’s payin’ the power bill in this dump.
The stairs were steep. The walls were made of earth. It smelled damp and mouldy, like potatoes that forgotten in a cupboard for too long. Then he saw it, an ancient laptop computer, its screen glowing bright blue.
“What the fuck…” his whispers were muffled, swallowed in the dirt of the walls.
On the screen were the words:
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?
There were two fields. One for his name, one for his email address. What is this, some stupid game? A test? Jake entered in only his first name and last initial and his secondary email address he used on porn sites. The screen went black. Clicks and whirrs came from behind the screen. It’s thinking.
A name appeared:
SAM WILLIAMS – 253 WATERFORD ST. HAS BEEN EMAILED YOUR SECRET VIA THE SWK-1283 SYSTEM. THANK YOU FOR USING THE SWK-1283 SYSTEM.
Jake’s mouth hung open, his face lit by the screen. My secret? The fuck’s it talkin’ about? He became very aware of his heartbeat. There was just one button.
WHAT’S MY SECRET?
He swallowed hard. What could this hunk-a-junk know based on what I entered? Yet he was wiping sweat from his brow on the back of his hand. He clicked. More clicks and whirrs and then his own name appeared on the screen:
JAKE HANSON – 115 FLETCHING ST. – SEX TRAFFICKING, 12 COUNTS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT.
Jake ran out the front door of the abandoned house wearing the same expression of fear he’d seen on the others. Tears streamed down his face as he got into his car. Waterford St. was only a few blocks away.
He pulled up outside 253 Waterford and waited. Sam Williams wasn’t a friend but he knew who he was. He’d seen him leave the abandoned house a couple days previous. What’s his secret?
A black car pulled into the parking spot. It was Sam. Jake lay his 9MM on the passenger seat and exited his car. It would only draw attention.
Nobody can find out. He ran crouched over to conceal himself behind the car and then grabbed Sam from behind with an arm around his neck. He squeezed. Sam’s arms flailed, searching for purchase but finding none.
“Ah woh tal” Sam choked. I won’t tell.
Jake squeezed harder, tears falling from his eyes.
“I can’t risk it.” Jake whispered, closing his eyes. “I have-” he swallowed hard at the lump in his throat, “-a daughter”. Sam’s knees buckled and they both sunk to the ground. His arms lost strength and then collapsed. Jake now straddled the unconscious man and put his hands around his throat, pressing down as hard as he could. He felt a gristly pop when Sam’s trachea collapsed. When he was certain that Sam was dead, he ran back to his car, his eyes darted from window to window of surrounding houses. Nobody saw me.
The next evening Jake watched out the window. A man stumbled out of the abandoned house, crimson-faced with twisted features. He saw the man scan the street, notice his address, take a long hitching breath, and begin crossing the street. His phone vibrated. He had a new email.
Featured photo by Kristina Flour from Unsplash