Trajectory - Short Fiction

Quick note: Trajectory was originally published by Midnight Times in the Summer 2009 issue. It is still archived here: if you prefer to read it in the original form. Enjoy!

By Mark C. Frankel

It begins with a bullet.
            Lying peacefully, nestled amongst cold steel. Unflinching and unremorseful for its task to come. Its abeyance is ending.
            A simple click, the primer ignites the propellant and the propellant pukes out the projectile. As if a train through a tunnel, the round rockets from the barrel spiraling in perfect symmetry and cutting through the air. One pop and a thud.
            The hole on one side is small, almost unnoticeable but for the appearance of a third eye. A second crater gapes, a match for the completing contents spewing across the brick wall.
A waste? Maybe, but only of the bullet.

            The detective looks at the scene. An execution, point blank. The victim must have stared the killer in the eyes when he pulled the trigger. It takes a cold son of a bitch to do that. Or a lot of hate.
            One casing on the ground, one round through the victim’s head. As he looks over the scene, the detective figures his killer is cold. Hate would produce more ammo.
            “Name?” he asks one of the cops on the scene. The only answer is a shrug and a mumble, something about no ID. He’s not surprised; the crumpled corpse was probably homeless and lived in the alley. Might have been days before anyone even noticed.
            He asks a few more questions and gets expected results. Tough neighborhoods don’t give easy answers. No one had heard or saw anything. Probably a druggie or a drifter. He’ll know more when they do. With a grunt and a flip of the notebook, he retreats to the car, finally turning off the siren and leaving.

            It continues with a blade.
            Just as quiet, snuggling instead in red velvet. Classy, but dangerous. Meant for close quarters where one can bathe in the sanguine river’s flow by the moonlight.
            A pop of the button, the knife is free. Two steps to close quarters, hot breath awash over the face like a summer breeze. The fleshy prison collapses as the key is inserted into the organic cage.
            A swipe to each side and back into the sheath. Waste not, want not.

            Dawn and already a call. Coffee scalds the inside of the detective’s mouth, but he refuses to let it show. Different MO, but it just feels the same. Much messier this time, yet the results are the same.
            No ID, no name, different alley, tougher neighborhood. This one definitely has gone unnoticed for days. A “concerned citizen” called in a strange smell. Summer makes bodies rot quicker causing the pungent odor to creep into everything.
            Strays chewed some of the entrails. That will make the job tougher, but it’s still clear what happened. He figures it was done with one motion, no extra stabs. Probably dead instantly.  Cold, certainly cold – almost surgical.
            The next stage is silence.
            A rope, simple and frayed, indistinguishable. A tool to bind, now a weapon with intent for ill.
            Quiet is essential, searchlights beaming down every alleyway. One dirty form shuffling along hardly gives pause. The cord slithers down the arm, falling slack and dragging along the ground. It whips up wrapping the neck quickly trapping the remaining breath. Effortlessly, the other hand grasps the tattered end.
            No sound is heard but a slump of the carcass to the ground.

            It is a small break, but still a break. He is tired and was almost finished with his shift as the call came. A neighbor had looked outside to see a large man fleeing the scene and so the detective rushes there, hoping to find a hot trail.
            “Can you describe him?” he asks tapping on the notepad.
It was dark. He was tall, only saw his back. Thought he got into a two door, no, four door car. American, um…maybe Japanese model.
The detective sighs, frustration etches its way onto his stony face. He flips the pad closed and thanks the woman for her time anyway. She says something trite, like how she wishes she could help more, but he has already turned away from her and pretends not to hear.
It’s still the same guy, he thinks, and he’s getting bolder. The moon is bright and the neighborhood is better. The target seems to be someone who was just unlucky enough to have been there at the wrong time. Despite the strong smell of alcohol, this victim was not homeless. He had a wallet and ID on him.
The other cops want to investigate the victim, but not the detective. He thinks its random, just bad luck to have crossed paths with the killer. Let them track down those leads. They argue with him, but he knows. This was cold; it was simple strangulation. No attempt to snap the neck or bash the victim’s head in and therefore not an act of rage.
Might as well go tell the family, then maybe a beer and bed. Tomorrow will be a late night.

Tonight will be a night off. The city can sleep. One night only, sleep one, sleep all.

His feet are sore. The detective’s walk through alley after alleyway produces nothing but a few strange glances and several offers for “dates.” A Friday night should be a prime night for the killer to strike, but other than a scuffle at a local dive, no violence.
He evaluates the red glow in the East. His night is ending. A grumble accompanies a kick to the air. He chastises himself for his disappointment at the lack of action. At least no one died. He balls his hand into a fist before correcting himself again – there is one person he’d like to expire. Then slowly, he hobbles home to get ready for his next shift.

The climax. It builds to the point where hero confronts villain. Sometimes those lines blur, criminal in every champion, altruism in every evil. Not him. Not tonight. He won’t blur those lines.
            The cop has left for his night walks. He is point on the case. Time to bring it home. The bludgeon will do nicely.
            One downward stroke, the hammer descends. It ought to crack louder, but it catches a soft spot and squishes. Another slump and a surprised look in the compressed eyes. The door remains slightly ajar, enough to arouse interest. The hammer keeps it open.

            He is tired again. A second night of no results weighs heavily on the detective with each step up the stairs to his apartment. He barely makes it to his floor as the sun peaks into the window at the end of the hall.
            With the dawn comes a realization that something is wrong. A light from his door intrudes upon the hallway. It is too early for anyone…
            Several quick strides reveal an open door. A gory hammer pries it apart from the latch. His observations numb, focus to a narrow thread. There is only the body in front of him. A detached voice tells him this was cold, probably only one blow.
The detective can’t bring himself any closer. He wants to. The man wants to step all over procedure and contaminate the scene, run to her. The cop can’t make himself break protocol. He steps back, trips on the hammer.
Written on masking tape along the mallet’s side is a name. He knows it. Rising with renewed energy he heads back out before all goes red.

Resolution. Waiting near impossible, eagerness to try a new weapon. The oldest kind - organic pistons that grip, rip and pound. Darkness surrounds all, lingering, about ready to pounce on the intended.

His pistol is loaded and sits hot in his hand. He can feel the worn grip. It hasn’t been fired in some time, but remains ready always. A foot on the door, the frame cracks inward. He bursts in, two hands cradling the revolver.

The target appears as expected if not on cue. Another moment’s pause, but no matter. As soon as the shadow passes…

The detective senses the attack before he feels it. A blow to the ribs, he almost drops his sidearm. Instead he whirls about, only to get another punch to the midsection. This time the gun drops and he grapples with his assailant. They slam into the wall, knocking plaster to the floor.
His attacker wears a black ski mask, but it doesn’t matter, he knows who lies beneath. The detective smashes his forehead upon the opponent, making a gratifying crunching noise and knocking him back…

Repelled. Not something expected. It should have ended easily, one, two blows at the most. Instead they face each other gasping. Arms rise, ready to strike as they circle like carrion birds over an injured animal.

The officer feels the weight of sleepless nights. It wears heavy on his limbs, making it hard to keep them up. He realizes that he can’t match the killer’s pace and he might become the next victim to be investigated. Desperate times call for…
He turns into the circling attacker and their hips almost collide. A kick to the knee sends the opponent sprawling on his back. The cop dives for his gun and continues to roll. As he grasps it, he barely evades another strike from the killer’s sweeping leg.
He rises with the gun. The killer struggles to his knees and they lock eyes.

Cold fire flickers in the gaze of opposing orbs. They calculate the distance between the outstretched barrel and a skull. A step forward, the muzzle licks the forehead. Arms go to the nape of the neck forcing elbows up. A sardonic look of surrender asks ‘what are you going to do now?’

And it ends with a bullet.