THE BUTCHER by Andy Echevarria
The full moon shone brightly this early-September evening, accompanied by the thousands of stars high in the perpetually dark night sky. The detective looked up for a moment as he shut the door to his Ford, wondering whether someone Up There had seen what had happened to the pizza boy.
The detective rushed to the apartment building, and reached the other side of the street just in time to see a vehicle run a red light. Had it been any other day the driver would’ve gotten his ticket. But not today--the detective needed to attend to a more serious matter. Already, four people were dead, with possible many more in line, if authorities didn’t do what they could to stop him.
A week before, Bobby Valentine was found in a dumpster in Chinatown. A twenty-year-old student who moonlighted as a pizza boy three times a week at the Marino’s Pizzeria in Little Italy, his throat had been slashed, and he’d been cut up into five pieces. It was all the work of “The Butcher,” the infamous killer (the first one since The Zodiac Killer--not the infamous murderer from the 1960s, but rather, a copycat-wannabe from the early 1990s) who had in his three-month killing spree instilled fear in the otherwise tough-as-nails residents. The detective thought of the car that he’d parked at the corner of the street--a little too far. This was the Upper West Side, true, supposedly one of the wealthiest areas in the nation. But crime was still rampant everywhere in the city.
Apartment 401--that would be the fourth floor, he thought.
He pressed the buzzer and waited. This building was old, badly in need of a paint job. Surprising that a woman like Courtney Singer continued to live here.
The intercom system instantly crackled alive: “Who is this?”
“Detective Lampart,” he said into the mouthpiece. “May I please speak to Miss Singer?”
Silence for some moments. Then: “That’s me. What do you want?”
“Would like to ask a few questions, Ma’am.” He referred to the slip of paper in his hand. “It’s about a pizza delivery-boy, Bobby.”
“What about him?”
Lampart winced at the brusqueness of her tone. Careful, he told himself; he wouldn’t want to rub a woman of her stature the wrong way. He took in a deep breath. “Bobby’s pizza company has lodged a complaint, Miss Singer. He has gone missing. You were the last on his delivery list.”
“Hang on for a minute.” This time her voice was faint, as if she had stepped away from her intercom. Lampart sighed. Good thing he was alone. No one breathing down his neck, offering uncalled for advice. In the past he had several partners who wanted to be helpful but only ended up complicating things.
Lampart looked around. A modest residential area. A few shops nearby that were still open. Not too busy a street; just the odd car cruising around. But that was to be expected at this late hour.
The intercom crackled again: “Take the stairs, Detective. The elevator is out of order.”
Annoyed, Lampart stomped down the hallway. Just his luck to have to climb four floors.
Courtney leaned forward to place the photograph of Bobby on the centre table. “Yes, that’s him all right.”
“So, he left soon after you tipped him a dollar?” Lampart said, as he pocketed the photograph.
Courtney smiled. “Didn’t talk much. In fact he didn’t speak a word. Seemed the strong silent type.”
Lampart’s nose twitched. It was the smell of something cooking. Or cooked. Cheese and tomato, judging from the aroma. They were sitting in the living room, he in a chair, and she on the sofa. She looked pretty but tired. He must have woken her up from sleep, he thought, noticing the slightly puffed up eyes and deranged hair. She still had on some makeup though: a smear of lip gloss, a bit of blush on her firm cheeks, some mascara over her blue-green eyes.
Often spoken of in the media as having the charisma of a movie star, Courtney Singer was considered one of the city’s leading TV anchorwomen. She had won several Emmy Nominations. One newspaper compared her to Barbara Walters in her early days on television. Another predicted that it was only a matter of time before Courtney would grace the covers of magazines like Vogue and Playboy.
But things suddenly went awry. Courtney botched up two news reports by getting her facts horribly wrong. Then, in an interview with an influential politician, she charged him with associating with drug dealers. Furious, the politician challenged her to present the evidence. She couldn’t. The next day she was off the show.
For some weeks, Courtney laid low, working in an inconsequential program when suddenly she got hold of a story that no other channel seemed aware of: a serial killer who chopped his victims into three pieces and dumped them into trash bins. So far, four bodies were discovered, all carved with an ‘X’ mark on the chest. Courtney remarked on her show that it was as if the Butcher—which is how she described him--was carrying out the killings like a job marked important. Although the murders remained unsolved till today, the story did wonders to Courtney’s career. Her show was back where it originally belonged—right at the top.
Lampart turned to look at the open window. Not too large. The curtain blew in, propelled by a strong late-fall breeze. He walked there. Below, a narrow fire escape. Beyond, the usual night lights, a drunk tottering near the curb, fallen leaves rustling on the sidewalk. All quite ordinary. Just that a pizza man had vanished into thin air.
“I need a drink,” Courtney said from behind. “Would you like one?”
Lampart glanced at his watch. 10.30 pm. Just an hour left for the end of his shift. What the hell, one drink couldn’t—wouldn’t—hurt. He was, after all, a big man – a hundred and eighty pounds and nearly six feet. “You got beer?” he said, walking back into the room.
“Think so,” she said. She moved towards the kitchen with a force and rapidity that surprised Lampart. Like an athlete, he thought. As he settled back in the chair, something caught his eye: a corner of a large box wedged into a trash can at the far end of the room. The pizza box? He got up to go there when sounds of something heavy moving in the kitchen stopped him.
“Miss Singer?” he called out.
“Just thawing the beer,” her reply came, a faint shout.
He hesitated, then went back to his chair. Should he call up his sergeant and give an update on what was happening? Then he decided against it. Nothing much here. Bobby had delivered the pizza and gone off to some other place. Maybe eloped with a girl. Or to a party where he must have gotten drunk. But the pizza company owner had been upset when he lodged the complaint at the station. “Bobby is my nephew, Detective. He always returned to square up the accounts before leaving,” he had said.
Courtney came in with two bottles of beer, already open.
“Thanks,” he said and took a sip. Icy cold. But the taste…weird…like… like cold metal. Lampart turned the page on his pad. “What time did Bobby come in?”
Courtney gave a small sigh, apparently bored with the questioning. “About thirty minutes after I ordered the pizza…around quarter to eight. He placed it right there on the table, took the dollar tip, and left. That’s all that happened. If anything else happened to him, it didn’t happen here.” She paused. “Have your beer, detective.” Then, as if to encourage him, she took two quick gulps from her bottle and looked expectantly at him. There was now merriment in her eyes. Was she mocking him? Suddenly, alarm bells went off in his mind. Something… or everything…was not what it seemed.
“Later,” he said and got to his feet. “May I look around?”
With a casual wave of her hand, she said, “Go ahead.”
As he looked around, determining where he should start, a wooziness overcame him. What the hell! He’d just had one sip of the beer. Shaking his head, he proceeded towards the kitchen.
A two-door fridge, a fancy oven, a glitzy microwave, a four-burner gas-stove, a steel sink, cupboards... Funnily enough, the smell that pervaded the living room wasn’t here. He realized then what that smell was. Pizza. Courtney had eaten it in the living room. Had Bobby sat down with her and watched her eat? Had she made a pass at him? She was after all much older than 23 year old Bobby and lived alone in this apartment. Lampart went out and almost rushed into her outside the door.
“Sorry,” he murmured and went past. The lights were on in the bedroom. Large. Well furnished. The curtains, the mattress, the sheets, all spoke of good taste and material. And everything was, surprisingly for this hour, in its place. No askew pillows or disturbed sheets. So, that meant Courtney had not been sleeping when Lampart arrived. What was she doing then at this late hour? Watching television? Or cooking? No, she had ordered a pizza. And eaten it in the living room.
Lampart bent to peep under the bed. The next moment, laughter emanated from behind.
“Come on, Detective, you think Bobby is down there?”
Angry at himself, he jerked up straight and there it was back, the weird wooziness in his head. He stumbled.
A hand shot out and held him. “Careful, Detective!”
“Sorry,” he muttered, marveling at the strength of her hand.
Next he covered the store room, the dining area, and the wash rooms. Nothing suspicious. He stood near a window, swaying slightly, ignoring Courtney who lounged on a settee nearby.
“Now, may I go back to sleep?” she asked with exaggerated politeness.
He almost laughed out loud. You weren’t sleeping before I came here, Miss Singer, he thought. Then it struck him. What he had missed. A narrow door, adjoining the kitchen. He rushed there and stood, undecided.
“Just the attic,” Courtney called out from behind. He ignored her and pulled open the door. A short flight of stairs, and yes, the attic. It was dark and humid up here. He almost turned and went back down the stairs when his foot nudged something soft and heavy on the floor. With a shaking hand he groped along the wall for the light switch. He found it and turned it on.
On a small table to one side lay Bobby’s head. Just like the photograph. Blue eyes, boyish face, blonde hair. Only thing missing was the rest of his body. And Lampart instinctively knew where that was—he looked down. A large black trash bag. He didn’t have to strain too much to see the contents because the bag was still open—the rest of Bobby’s body, severed into two pieces.
The next moment something hard hit the back of his head. He collapsed to the floor, screaming. Through pain-filled eyes, he saw the blurry outlines of a pair of sandals stop inches from his face.
“You ought to have taken the beer like Bobby did, Detective,” Courtney announced in a mild tone, as if chiding a child. “You could have saved yourself so much pain.”
He tried to look up at her face, but she was already bringing down a machete.
Bio: Andy Echevarria has worked in a number of writerly jobs—as a translator, teacher, bookstore clerk, tour guide, and gardener. In addition to writing, he enjoys film, cooking, and nature. He lives in New York City.