The rain tapped a staccato rhythm on the windshield, the wipers struggling to keep up with the increasing force of the torrent assaulting the battered little car. The howling wind threatened to push you off the road and into the mud-riddled ditch, almost as though it didn't want you to make it to your destination just as much as you. It was oddly cold for summer and you'd had to crank the heat up in the car, pointing the vents to buffer your face with warm air; Though it was pointless, seeing as in less than fifteen minutes, you'd be back out into the cold and the wet.
Fate really seemed to hate you; Why else would it choose to rouse you from your otherwise peaceful slumber and ship you off to work at this ungodly hour? And on your vacation, no less.
Pushing back stray wisps of hair from your forehead, you leaned tiredly on your arm and drove almost on autopilot. It was easy enough to navigate to the disquieted suburban neighborhood; The police had conveniently cornered off a neat little straightaway for you and all you had to do was follow the dull blinking lights in the distance and not crash.
Faces peered from windows and there were a few people standing on front porches in robes and jackets thrown hastily over pajamas, curious stares and whispers becoming more and more frequent. As you neared, you could see a few officers attempting to persuade some folks back into their homes, some wandering around the block with flashlights and guns at the ready, and a K9 unit had just pulled up and was unloading its anxious cargo.
You pulled up to the curb of your parents' house a few doors down, grimacing when you saw them standing on their porch, drawn from their home by the flashing lights, same as everyone else. Your mother was clutching a steaming cup, huddled up in a bathrobe, your father with one arm wrapped protectively around her shoulder and the other flicking ashes from a lit cigarette. 'Just another day in Gossipville,' you thought, wearily, as you climbed from the car and made your way over to them first, pointing a finger at one of the officers gesturing toward you to get your attention. He could wait. Right now, consoling your parents was the first thing on your mind.
"Oh, [Name]," your mother sighed, the age showing in her weary face as she passed you her cup of tea, "Honey, here, drink. You'll catch your death of cold out here." She gestured to your attire, a pair of plaid, loose pajama pants, sneakers hastily slipped on and untied, and a large T-shirt of your favorite band, over top all of which you had thrown on your dark trench coat. "Did you just wake up? You poor thing. And on your vacation, too."
"Don't remind me," you grumbled, sipping at the unsweetened tea with a grimace. You would need a lot more sugar and a hell of a lot more caffeine to make it through the night. "You both shouldn't be out here. It's too dangerous. Get back inside."
"You work too hard for that Sullivan," your father grunted. You sighed, grasping them both by the shoulders and lightly guiding them back into their home. Your father snuffed his cigarette out on the brick siding of the house and tossed the butt into the bushes as you prodded him inside. "You tell him to give you a raise. That's what you need."
What you really needed was a coffee and your father to stop worrying about your job; A raise was wishful thinking at the moment. You had far too much to be worrying about. Like the fact that the peace and quiet of your hometown had just been torn apart merely a block from your parents' house. That alone was disquieting to you, but you weren't about to share that with them.
"I'll think about it, Daddy. I've gotta go before the commissioner gets on my ass." You turned and walked back to the front door, locking it as your mother followed you and planted a small kiss on your cheek.
"Be careful, sweetheart." Her tired eyes lingered on you and her frown seemed to deepen, but you forced a smile and headed out into the public, preparing to face the horrors of the night.
You walked down the block, one hand in you pocket, the other clutching the slowly cooling mug and your face pressed into the collar of your coat, each step in this miserable weather chilling you to the bone. By the time you reached the cordoned off building, your face was frozen and your coat saturated with rain, not to mention you'd stepped into a puddle and your feet squished as you walked. You ducked under the police tape and shoved inside the circle of officers, pushing your badge in their faces and your now empty mug into one's hands, moving along before he could protest.
A photographer was kneeling in the doorway to the kitchen, snapping pictures with obnoxiously bright flashes at the mundane things around the room; The sparkling clean counter tops, the dishes in the drying rack, half a bundt cake in a plastic container with nary a crumb in sight. You stepped around him and moved to go upstairs without a word, footsteps heavy but cushioned on the carpeted floors.
As you began to ascend, a couple of paramedics appeared at the top of the stairs and you quickly backed down it as they came down, each carrying a stretcher with a zipped body bag between them. You stopped them and unzipped the bag part way to peer in, flinching at the sudden wave of scent that made you cringe. All you could see was a mangled mess of flesh and blood where their face should be, but you could make out the horrible sight of a Glasgow grin carved into the flesh of their mouth, splitting their face in half from ear to ear. You paused in stunned silence, then re-zipped the bag and lowered your eyes in a moment of silent respect to the departed, allowing the medics to carry on to the ambulance.
A few officers lingered at the end of the hall, discussing something in hushed voices, their eyes lifting to watch you as you advanced. You gave them a small nod before you turn to survey the damage with a groan.
The commissioner stood in the center of the bedroom, rubbing a hand over his face. You approached him, taking a good long look at the scene, your stomach churning as the smell of death seeped into your nostrils. It was horrid. The sheets and pillows were saturated with dark, sticky blood. Above the headboard, written in blood, was one word, "SMILE". The window on the adjacent wall was open a crack. An officer was dusting the sill for prints while another was checking the closet for clues.
"No real sign of a struggle," Commissioner Sullivan stated, gruffly, "Mr. and Mrs. O'Neil were killed in their sleep." He drew a line across his neck, then across his mouth. "Whatever sick fuck did this slit their throat, split their mouth from ear to ear, and stabbed them multiple times in the head and chest."
"I saw." You grimaced, staring at that gruesome word, "SMILE". The manner in which the victims were mutilated brought to mind the Batman movies and the late Heath Ledger.
Sullivan looked at you. "We're sorry for pulling you from your vacation, but you understand. This is your hometown, isn't it, [Last Name]? You'd want to protect your neighbors, your friends, your family." He certainly didn't sound sorry even as he looked at the word on the wall again. "You know why we chose you."
You nodded, thinking of your parents a block away. "Yeah, I know."
"Neighbor said she saw a hooded figure climb in through the window. She went to call the police but by the time she turned to look back, the deed was done."
Your eyes swept around the room, taking in the blood-spattered window open a crack. You took a step towards it, looking at the house across the street. The light was on in the windows, surprise surprise, and you could see the police on the porch, questioning the only witness so far. "Did she see them leave?" Sullivan shook his head. "Murder weapon?"
"Didn't find one. We're checking everywhere, but we're sure whoever it was took it with them. Maybe even brought it with them. Obviously it was a knife or razor of some sort."
Figured. Seemed the officer doing the printing was drawing a blank, too. Having had enough, you turned away from the sight and walked from the room, Sullivan close behind you. He grabbed your arm and turned you to face him.
"You catch this son of a bitch, [Last Name], I promise you'll have your vacation time renewed, and then some." You narrowed your eyes at him, not liking how he made it sound as though he had to bribe you to do your job. God dammit, these were your people, this was your home. What other choice did you have?
You tugged your arm out of his grip with a scowl. "You don't have to tell me twice, Sullivan. I'll do my job, even though I might not enjoy it. Just make sure you do yours." With that, you strode away from him, knowing he'd just turn red and puff up like a blow fish about to pop. You and the commissioner had a sort of love/hate relationship going on; You both hated each other's attitude and loved to push each other's buttons.
Making your way downstairs and bypassing that damned photographer after nearly tripping on him, you walked out into the pounding rain. The weather had only seemed to get worse and you were sorely regretting not bringing an umbrella with you. At this rate, you were bound to catch pneumonia.
You pushed your hands into your pockets and strode around the side of the house, looking up for the cracked bedroom window. Sure enough, there it was, and there was a sturdy oak tree, thick branches extended and conveniently close to the side of the house. The murderer could have easily slipped out into the tree and gotten away within the time it took for the neighbor to run for the phone and back, though it seemed almost impossible for them to have gotten good footing with the way the wind whipped the tall arbor about. Could be they fell, and a fall from that height was likely to break a bone or two. You squinted at the base of the tree, searching for any disruption in the grass and mud but finding nothing too out of the ordinary.
You glanced around, sniffling as you searched the immediate area, checking for mud prints on the sidewalk and in the street. You found nothing; The rain washed everything away. All in all, it seemed this whole venture was an exercise in futility and now there was a murderer running loose on the streets of your town. These next forty-eight hours were going to be crucial, and you knew you'd risk hell and high water to ensure the safety of and restore peace to this once-quiet neighborhood.
About a block down, the concrete sidewalks gave way to grass, mud, and trees, thin at first, but denser further on; A small park lay nestled by the roadside. It seemed as good a place to start as any, you figured, thus you trekked back to your car and grabbed your gun and flashlight and tucking them away. Slamming and locking the door, you almost didn't notice your mother calling your name from the front porch.
"I told you to go inside, Mom," you scowled at her.
She simply stared at you, eyes weary and pleading as she replied, "Are you going home?"
"I can't, you know that. There's a crazy on the loose. We have to find them. It's not safe." You sighed as she gently took you by the shoulders this time, leading you inside.
"At least dry off a little before you go. Please." And there was the look, the utterly helpless, nearly defeated look she got when she knew you were going to risk your life to keep others safe. The look that seemed to ask if she was ever going to see you again. You crumbled every time with that look, hating how it was you who put that look there, stressing out your old mother. Not so long ago, she'd been asking when you were going to get married and give her grandchildren, and then that look when she realized you were married to your job and children were most likely an impossibility, and she hadn't asked since.
You allowed her to lead you inside, to help you out of your soaked coat and give you fresh clothes, a thermos of coffee, and an umbrella. As you transferred your flashlight and gun from one coat to the other, she looked at it with a heavy heart. You kissed your mother on the cheek and instructed her to lock the doors and windows and stay inside. Your father was already asleep in bed, and you felt guilty about leaving her alone and awake, worrying for your safety, but you did your best to assure her you would be fine and that you would call.
With that, you crept outside and stood on the porch a moment, just breathing in the rain clogged, cold night air. The frigid air burned your lungs when you inhaled deeply and glanced back at your parents' house, once your house. Finally, you stepped down and made for the park; your hunt had begun.