I was already on my third cup of coffee before some of what Waylon Clark rambled on about started to really settle in. My brain always was interested in riddles, but I couldn't really figure out where his fantasy ended and his reality began. The truth is, he really was totally convinced that there was some horrific conspiracy going on with bloodsucking vampires, preying on us from behind the shadows. Nothing was really adding up.
I stopped trying to connect his delusions to the books and the movies...and tried to start looking for connections to reality. Or his particular view of reality, whatever it may be. It began to paint an entirely different picture for me, and I kept going through his folder looking for more clues as I attempted to figure things out. He kept mentioning the 'children'. What children?
'They start them off young these days! So young.'
I thought back to the videos that I had seen in his secret folder for 'Sector-V'...the teen and preteen boys and girls that were making those realistic snuff films online. The bites, the blood, the special effects...I guess there are a lot of kids out there taking these texts pretty seriously. But why? Why hide them away in some secretly coded computer program that even experts like myself have a hard time trying to crack open? Why not put them on Youtube like a normal teenager? Or TikTok? Why is there no cosplay movement on Instagram or shared videos on Facebook? Isn't that why they would go through all of the trouble to make these films? To broadcast the footage in exchange for 'likes' and new followers?
The children. Hmmm...
I opened a new tab and entered my login password to regain access to the missing persons files. I thought that maybe I could untangle the discrepancies between the dates of their disappearances and the footage I saw in the Sector-V files. But, no. All of the dates remained the same. Every last one of them.
Another string, left to dangle.
I heard a loud rumble of thunder outside of my office window, and I hadn't even realized that a storm had swept in to cloud the sky above. A heavy spattering of thick raindrops began to bang against my windows, a flash of lightning crackling its way through the clouds. But I wanted to keep my focus. There's got to be some sort of trigger or...or a glitch in Mr. Clarks logic somewhere. Something that contradicts this whole vampire thing and might make him see some sense of reason long enough for us to have a rational conversation. Where is it? It's got to be here somewhere. It's GOT to be!
It was then that I thought about that strange 'incident' that Mr. Clark was talking about, and thought that it might provide me with a little bit of added ammunition for breaking this puzzle down into more cohesive parts. I finished off my coffee and decided to stop there before I got my brain too hyped up to think straight. Already, I could hear the sound of my own fingers tapping feverishly on the desktop. I'm winding myself up a little too much to concentrate like I should be concentrating.
I got up and went back to talk to Monica. She seemed surprised to see me. "You're still here? Jesus, Winston, I thought you left hours ago."
"I'm going soon. I've just...I've got something rubbing me the wrong way about all of this. And I can't seem to find the monkey wrench in the gears. It's bugging me."
"Maybe you just need a break, hon." She said. "Sane can't understand 'crazy'. It just doesn't work like that."
"So they say." I replied. "But this just won't leave me alone. There's a fish hook in his story somewhere. I want to know what it is."
Monica gave me a look of true concern, and she said, "Winston...I'm telling you this as your best friend...go HOME!" I frowned up for a minute, and she continued, "You really just need to leave this alone. Sometimes people lose their marbles and they do crazy shit in some strange attempt to get them back. It's not always as complicated as you make it out to be." She put her hand on top of mine and looked me in the eye. "Go home to your husband. Let this go. We've got the extra security detail on him that you asked for, and chances are he's going to be transferred to another precinct as early as tomorrow morning. They'll take care of it. They'll look at the evidence, give him a proper psych eval, and the courts can handle it from there. Why are you even pursuing this?"
I sighed with a heavy heart. I hated to leave things so open. Problems unsolved. She knows that. But I made her a decent compromise. "I'm going. I am. I just want the storm to die down a little bit first, that's all. It's at full tilt right now, and I'm not looking forward to getting wet." Then I said, "Listen, while I wait...can you bring up a file from homicide for me?"
"Yeah. Happened not far from here. Some real estate guy. Owns a ton of properties on the South, West, and North, sides of the city. Goes by the name of Guthrie Kincaid. Send me whatever you can find when you get a chance. I want to take a look at what's going on with that."
"Don't you start digging into stuff that's none of your business, Winston. It's not a good idea. You're just going to get yourself buried in bullshit again." She warned.
"Hopefully not." I said to her. "Maybe there's something there...maybe it turns out to be a wild goose chase. But I won't be satisfied until I know for sure." Monica rolled her eyes at me, but I stayed persistent. "Look, just...do this one thing for me, I'll take a look at it, and I PROMISE I'll drop it and go home and give my brain a rest afterwards. Ok?"
"Don't bullshit me, Winston..."
"No bullshit. You have my word." I said, holding up my right hand to swear that I'd keep my word.
She grunted and grumbled a bit, but begrudgingly told me, "I'll send you the info when it's ready."
"Thank you, sweetheart. I love you lots."
"Whatever. Tell me anything, why don't ya?"
"You're precious, Monica! Love you!" I smiled gleefully, and went back to my office to see what else I could find. There's got to be something that I'm missing here, and I won't be able to rest until I find out what it is.
I stayed in my office for a bit longer than I expected to, still trying to crack open new doorways and discover new secrets from this 'Sector V' code that was so prominent in Waylon Clark's computer activity. What did it all mean? He seemed to be rather focused on it once he cracked it open for himself...and now it seems like he's gone 'crackpot crazy' and wishes that he had never found it in the first place. What is it about this hidden internet frequency that's got him so freaked out? I just wanted to know what was going on here so I could find a way to talk to him about all this. Because, right now, it wasn't making a whole lot of sense to me.
Eleven years I put into my computer, hacking and sneaky tech and figuring out the most exquisite puzzles that people could come up with...and yet, this was totally brand new for me. I've never seen anything so complicated before. It was a like an entirely different internet once I was able to tap into the appropriate algorithms and side channels. Sooooo many links. Sites. Advertisements too. How is it that nobody else was able to view this before now? I mean, it was like an entirely different culture and social community that existed just beneath what the rest of us would call 'normal'. And I know that my husband said that this "Gone From Daylight" story was a bit of a big deal for him and for a lot of the die hard fans...but this was taking things a bit too far, don't you think? This is a whole other WORLD being built online. One that your average person couldn't gain access to, even if they wanted to. It was hidden behind a variety of smoke and mirrors that would throw even the most experienced computer experts off of their scent. So why do it? Why build it? What IS this hidden oasis of online fandom for a vampire story that doesn't even exist in the real world?
I kept looking through the files and the links attached. I even looked through some of the attachments and consumer ads attached. Hmmmm...the 'Black Gator' fighting arena...Stronghold fight club, betting records on some blond kid named 'Renegade'...Crimson Euphrates night club...a place called the 'Nifty Archive' in the center of some place called the IceZone...there was so much stuff that I found myself getting lost as I spiraled down the rabbit hole of it all. And then I was snapped back to reality as Monica entered my office with a folder or two, placing them down on the desk in front of me.
"Here's what you asked for. It looks like the Kincaid case was written off as a simple home invasion murder. Nothing more. I doubt that you're gonna get much out of this one Winston. He's just a guy who got caught up in some shady dealings, and ended up dying in the parking lot outside of his high rise apartment. We don't have much more info on him than that. The case pretty much went cold after that." She said.
"No more details on what happened to him?" I asked. "I'm hearing that he was ripped to pieces. Seems like a pretty painful way to die."
Monica looked at me and said, "Winston...this is the point when you need to leave this shit alone. I'm being serious here, ok? Just stop. Let it go."
"You don't find it strange that a real estate mogul was found dead in the parking lot, tortured to death and broken down into indivisible fractions without any kind of 'story' to go along with it?" I said. "Not only that, but it doesn't really make the nightly highlight reel or the papers to hear that he's been killed? He owns a great deal of buildings in the city of Chicago, and he barely gets a mention on the news when he's murdered in cold blood in his own parking lot for no discernible reason? That just doesn't sit right with me, Monica. It shouldn't be sitting right with you either." I said, opening the folder to look at the severed body pieces of Guthrie Kincaid as they were strewn all over the concrete, his head completely detached from his body, eyes wide open as his mouth remained open in a silent scream from the pain he must have suffered as he was being torn to shreds. "There's something really weird going on here."
"Nothing that you need to know about." Monica said.
"Waylon Clark knows about it." I answered. "How did he find out about this before we did? We're the police, aren't we? It seems a little awkward to admit that something like this could slip under our radar undetected."
"It's a cold case, Winston. Go home. Get some sleep. We'll ship this nutjob off tomorrow morning and be done with it. Ok?"
Giving her a slightly suspicious look, I asked, "Is there a reason that you're so focused on keeping me out of bounds on this, Monica?"
"I just think that your chasing shadows at this point. It's not good for you. Some puzzles just aren't meant to be solved. You know what I mean?"
She seemed sincere enough, and I began to think that maybe I was overdoing the whole detective thing a bit. There are times when I get something stuck in my head and I obsess over it to the point of insanity when I should really just be trying to get back to my normal life. So I chose to take a break from the whole thing and told her, "Yeah. Maybe I just need to relax for a little while so my brain can organize things a little bit better."
"An excellent idea. You're one of the best that we've got on call, Winston. The last thing we'd ever want is for your brain to get all cramped up and tired out to the point where it starts malfunctioning on us."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, beauty queen." I smirked. "I'm going home. Make sure to keep that extra detail on Clark tonight, and don't let anybody in to see him without the proper paperwork and authority. Got it?"
"Nobody's getting in there without getting by me first. Promise." She said. "Give Jacob a big kiss for me."
"Will do." I made sure to take the Kincaid files and tuck them away to carry home with me. Then I grabbed an umbrella for the rain outside. "I'm starting to think Jacob likes your kisses better than mine these days." I said, giving Monica an endearing hug before finally heading out the front door and into the rain.
It was late in the afternoon, but the storm made it look like it was much later in the day. The cloud cover had darkened the streets significantly, the puddles rippling as I did my best to step around them...even though some of them were too big to avoid. The sky flashed with strikes of lightning, followed by a theatrical boom of thunder as I walked out to my car, trying to keep myself as dry as possible. And it was then, as I was out in the middle of the parking lot...that I noticed a dark figure standing there across the street.
I did a quick double take, and wondered why he was staring at me so intensely. It might have taken me a few seconds, but I remembered him as I stopped walking and got a better look at him. I remembered the charcoal gray colored hoodie, and that young boyish face peeking up from underneath it. It was clearly the same boy that I had seen standing outside of my house last night. What was he doing here? Was he following me. The hood still hid his eyes from me, but I was determined to find out what he was up to.
"Hey! Hey, kid!" I called out. And he turned and began to quickly walk away from me again. But this time I hurried across the street, putting my hand out to stop a car as it honked its horn to get me out of the way. "Hey! Hold on!" I said as I followed the kid around the corner.
As soon as I caught sight of him again, he began to walk even faster, and then he started to run! Awwww SHIT!
I started to chase him down, dropping my umbrella on the sidewalk and racing towards him as fast as I could in order to keep up. The kid was quick on his feet, I'll give him that. But he couldn't have been much older than twelve or thirteen years old, and my legs were longer than his, so I was able to catch up to him pretty quickly despite his youthful energy. I reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder, bringing him to a complete stop and pushing his back up against the bricks in a nearby alley. "Who are you? Why are you watching me???" I shouted.
The boy's face came into view...and wow, he was SO young! I might have over judged his age. He might have only been ten, at best. It really caught me off guard, and I loosened my grip on him as the abusive nature of my assault began to sink in. Jesus...what am I even doing right now?
Then...his big brown eyes stared into mine, and a wicked smile appeared on his thin lips...
Suddenly, I felt him stomp down on my foot, and his arms began to strike out in a flurry of punches that caused a hell of a lot more damage than I would have ever though possible from such a young kid. What was I going to do? I couldn't just haul off and hit him! He was a CHILD, for crying out loud! But as I felt his small knuckles digging into my stomach and chest, I did what I could to defend myself. I tried to grab his hands in an attempt to maybe hod his arms down at his sides and keep him from attacking me any further, but once I grabbed a hold of his wrist, he merely spun around to break free from my grip, and with an agile series of blindingly quick moves...he jumped up to spin kick me across the jaw, sending me reeling back into one of the ice cold puddles in the alley.
Ok...so...he's obviously had some training.
He tried to run away again, but I reached out to grab a hold of his ankle, pulling it back and making him fall forward as I held on for dear life. He rolled over, and I felt the pain of having the sole of his sneaker smash into my face as he fought to get loose. He kicked and wiggled and squirmed until I was forced to let go of him for fear that I would take any more damage than I already had. And by the time my eyes were able to focus again, the boy had pulled the hoodie up over his head again and was running to the other end of the alley, leaping over a dumpster and spinning around the corner to evade being seen again.
I, on the other hand, was nursing a busted lip and a sore stomach from having this random youngster beat the living shit out of me. I guess that'll teach me to skip out on days at the gym, won't it?
Soaking wet, with the bitter tang of blood in my mouth, I got back up on my feet and tried to ignore the frozen shower of rain falling down upon me. What, exactly, is going on here? Has the whole fucking world gone crazy? Why do I feel like I'm the one who's not making any sense anymore?
I picked up my bag, and I basically limped my way back to the station parking lot and into my car. There is definitely something strange happening behind the scenes here. A half-crazy prisoner, a fictional story about vampires in the city of Chicago, a completely hidden frequency on the internet, a few murders that go unreported and unnoticed by the mainstream media, and a little boy who seems to know where I am at all times, with the skills of a well trained martial arts master. How can these things possibly be connected?
I'm not sure. Not yet. But I'm going to keep digging until some of this makes sense. I'll be damned if I just got my ass handed to me for nothing.