Time here passes rather quickly. Boring days will go by almost effortlessly, while the hardest will only leave their mark at the back of your head; you went through a lot, but the moment you stepped in your home something like magic would take the cares away. I still like to think that the exotic essence of this city has something to do with it. And I am not talking about voodoo and witchcraft. It is something deeper, much more ethereal; something that doesn’t need to be given a name or a cause. It just happens.
The process of my adaptation in this new routine, meeting the other officers and learning about the city I was serving, lasted an entire month when I believed it would take me much longer to get used to everything. Christmas came and went like every other day did. Those who had families would take the holidays off and then return a bit drunk from both drinks and food, while the rest of us were struggling to keep ourselves busy somehow. Apparently, no one dared to disturb the peaceful holy days. I’d guess it was a silent agreement between the townsfolk. Nevertheless, Charles was kind enough to invite me to his house. His wife wanted to meet me and feed me a good homemade meal since I had nowhere to go in town and no one to visit. Probably the Chief had already told her about my lonely life and my habit of cooking rarely. I declined politely, making sure I wasn’t insulting them. Some other time, I suggested, when my stress would be less and my worries not that many. He understood and he assured me that she would, too. Thankfully, we had quickly established a pleasant work relationship, although there were times when I could sense his irritation on various decisions as he could feel my anger as well whenever I was coming across his stubbornness.
Thus, December ended in a blink of an eye and the new year welcomed us harshly with really low temperatures and some dead junkies, a couple of them to be more precise, identically dead as those that Charles had told me on our first meeting. Cause of death; overdose. Case Closed. There was nothing else to see. However, my gut was telling me otherwise. But the real deal happened a month later and it was a case that forced me into putting aside my doubts about the addicts and focusing entirely on the matter at hand.
10th of February 1965
Phoenix Golden Hall, 13th Iberville Street, New Orleans.
“This better be good, Dandeline,” Charles threw down his half-burnt smoke and walked towards me. “My wife is going to kill me if I miss another dinner with the Thomsons.” He let out a loud yawn and pulled his hands within the warm pockets of his coat.
The weather had gone mad. Temperature had dropped at least ten degrees from the previous week and the humidity was only making things worse. Cold like that was usual for Chicago, but from what I had been told, Louisiana was suffering mostly from humidity due to the river and her southern location. Of course, something like that didn’t seem to stop the killer from his heinous act, nor was it enough to stop us from investigating the peculiar crime scene.
“I think she will let this one go, Chief.” I replied nodding towards the building’s entrance. “You might even have a story to tell for the next gathering.” I added and entered the hall.
Charles followed right behind me with a look of anticipation. I grinned. Despite his constant nagging whenever he had to leave his office or the house, that man was hungry for action. And he’d get plenty of that from the looks of it.
The Phoenix Golden Hall was one of the few remnants of an older era, filled with tuxedos, colourful dresses and orchestras who would sway you all across the room beneath the enormous chandelier. It was standing there for over two centuries and anyone could travel back in time once they’d step their foot inside; even someone like me who was never fond of dancing and crowded places.
“I’d like to believe that whoever did this, wanted to bring this place back to life.” I commented as I stepped aside in the huge room, allowing Charles to witness the grim crime scene; one of which I had never laid my eyes before.
“Jesus Christ!” the man cursed. “They look like mannequins!”
“Four white males, around their twenties” I began explaining, “no visible signs of combat. The cause of death is yet unknown, but-” I straightened my body and threw a glance again at the crime scene.
My heart stopped for what it felt like minutes and a tight knot painfully formed in my stomach. Two pairs of young boys, dressed formally with three-piece suits, were held up straight by several fish strings; one side attached and sewn on their very skin, and the other tied up on the magnificent chandelier, resembling a very particular dance stance, accompanied by soft waltz music in the background.
“The janitor of this place, Mr. Abraham, was the first witness of the scene.” Officer Harold Hartman approached us, pulling his thick glasses upwards. His age was close to mine, yet I could tell that this kid hadn’t seen much in the field and a part of me was thankful for that.
I looked toward an old and short fellow, wearing a white shirt and worn-out pants. His skin was sunburnt and his short white hair was held in a tiny knot hanging from that bluish cap. He was still reporting to the other officers. Apparently, the colour of his skin raised more questions than usual. I rolled my eyes as Aaron continued. “He was alarmed by the music and the lights in the dance hall. This place is open at least once every six months and definitely not during such weather. He was staying as always on the upper floor,” Aaron pointed and pulled once again his glasses. “And that was when he heard music. Based upon his own words; it was a soft, nostalgic sound and it was calling out for him.”
“Calling out for him? Sounds a bit like a looney to me.” Charles commented. “No wonder why they are still interrogating him.”
Aaron simply shrugged our comments off and continued. “Usually, he stays in a small room among the mops and the rats. It took him some time to reach the hall. Even if the killer was in here, Mr. Abraham must have missed him. Anyway, the old guy rushed down with his broom in case anyone attacked. The first thing that came to his mind was some stupid prank from the kids. Probably they robbed some stores and placed the dummies to their liking. But the moment he got closer and realised the boys were in fact real and not breathing at all, he rushed to the phone booth in the lobby and called us.” The young one took a deep breath and shook his head, “I have to admit, though, that little man handled this situation better than he should, given the shock he went through.” Harold tapped his pen on the pad and took a deep breath, before exhaling all the air from his lungs.
“Is something troubling you, boy?”
“What sick mind does something like this? How do they sleep at night, knowing innocent souls were killed off by their very own hands?”
Charles and I remained silent, unable to give an answer that would make him feel any better.
“They don’t seem dead for longer than a few hours. Also, I can’t tell whether he fished them while they were still breathing or not. There’s no visible stain, nothing. Even the stitch is perfect.” Officer Aaron Wyler commented while noting down on his pad and chewing on his tobacco. It was an annoying sound, the one he was making, yet I couldn’t think of anything else than his words; those boys were treated like fish, minus the gutting, and displayed like puppets. “Do you want to know the most interesting thing of all? The killer left nothing behind, not even a single hair or fingerprints! It’s almost impossible…”
“Almost?” Charles questioned and Harold rushed to show him the notes on his pad.
“The reverse fleckeryll.” I muttered as I stared at the pairs.
“What was that, detective?” Wyler threw his bitter question at me, hoping for some unreasonable reaction, with a half-smile hanging from his lips.