Hard boiled? Or scrambled Yegg?

Hail Mary
by Carl Alves ©2015

Detective Kevin Russell had a feeling something big was happening when Captain Bishop called him into his office. He had a mountain of paperwork to tackle, but whatever Bishop wanted had to be more important based on the urgency of his voice.

He knocked on Bishop's door

"Sit down."

"What's going on?" Kevin asked.

Bishop frowned. "It's about the Hail Mary case."

Kevin raised his brows. For months, the Hail Mary rapist had terrorized the San Francisco metropolitan area. After his second victim, an aspiring journalist penned this name on the killer after learning that the perpetrator raped and murdered the victims, then took the victims' blood and wrote the words to the Hail Mary prayer on the wall. Tensions were high at his precinct. The serial rapist and murderer had gained more publicity with each new victim.

Bishop stared at Kevin. "I want you to be the lead detective. Will you do it?"

Kevin's eyes opened wide. For a moment, he was too stunned to speak. "Of course."

"You have what it takes to solve this case. I got faith in you. You're going to be given as much support as you need. It's not all on your shoulders. In fact, I want you to consider taking on a partner."

Kevin shook his head. "You know I work alone. Other detectives get in my way."

"You're the only detective I allow to work on his own," Bishop said. "I trust your judgment. But realize you'll have every available resource. Whatever you need, just let me know. So what do you think?"

"I'm going to nail this son of a bitch."

Bishop grinned. "That's what I want to hear. I wanted to give you this case from the jump, but some folks around here weren't so keen on the idea. Now that our backs are up against the wall, they no longer care who does it, as long as the perp is arrested."

Kevin's face tightened. "I'm not going to let you down. That's a promise."

Still stunned that he had been given the biggest case in the Bay Area in years, he left Bishop's office thinking through what he knew about the case. Detective Rita Tedesco, a fiery Italian in her late thirties, had been working on it. Despite being married with two children, she still found time to attend a martial arts class twice a week with Kevin, who had a first-degree blackbelt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu

Over a month ago after one of their workouts, they had gone for a drink at a local tavern. Rita had looked down somberly at her beer. "We're spinning our wheels on this case. There's no pattern. We got killings from San Jose to the Presidio. There's no pattern with age. The youngest victim was nineteen and the oldest fifty-seven. There were two Hispanics, three Caucasians and two blacks. We've got no finger print evidence. We've got nothing."

"Sometimes you have to forget what you think you know." Kevin put down his beer down. "I've studied lots of serial killers. There's always a pattern."

"If there is, then I can't see it. I'm at my wit's end."

Kevin put his hand on her shoulder. "Keep working. You'll find what you need."

Less than two weeks later, there was another rape and murder. For five consecutive days, the headlines of the San Francisco Chronicle had concentrated on the Hail Mary rapist and the ineptitude of the police force. It was up to Kevin to change that.

***

That day, Kevin did not return home until dawn. Time was not on his side. The killer had not struck for three weeks, which meant he would likely strike again soon. The longest time in between attacks was just over a month.

He thoroughly read the case file. The crime scenes were vivid. After scouring these files, he studied what little physical evidence had been gathered in the forensics lab

Kevin contacted the victim's friends, relatives and employers. He preferred to speak in person, so he made appointments to see them.

He wasn't going to sleep much for the next couple weeks and his personal life would suffer. At times, he thought it would be nice to be married and have a family, but now wasn't one of them.

Unsatisfied with the departmental psychologist's profile, Kevin contacted Dr. Kernan, a psychologist he had known for years, to get a profile on this perp.

He paced around Dr. Kernan's office. "This doesn't feel right. The report said the perp doesn't have an emotional attachment to these women. I don't buy it. By the way he handled the dead bodies, it's like he reveres them in his own fucked up way. After draining their blood, he didn't discard them. The way they looked, I don't know, it's like they were family members greeting him as he came home."

Dr. Kernan stroked his beard. "I think your insight about cherishing the women is accurate. I suspect he may have had a horrible religious experience that caused him to associate this violent act with a prayer."

Kevin spent the next two weeks speaking with people who had been close to the victims and discovered several common threads. The women were well liked. They made positive contributions to the community, serving on school committees and other charitable organizations. One volunteered at a hospital, another visited a retirement home, and another ran an after school program for troubled teens. These victims fit a profile. He was still not satisfied. The rape and murder was some sort of ritual.

***

Everything changed late Thursday evening. The Hail Mary killer struck again. It was a single woman living in a small apartment in Nob Hill. Kevin fought nausea when he arrived at the apartment. It was a blood bath. The victim, pale and ghostly, had been propped in a chair. Her left leg had been crossed on top of her right and her head leaned back in a casual pose.

The evidence suggested the perp had raped the victim first. During the rape, he had choked her until she suffocated. After she died, he had used a sharp object to pierce her carotid artery. There was a minimal amount of blood surrounding the body, so he must have used a transfusion device to transfer the blood to a basin. He then dipped a brush into the blood and wrote the words to the Hail Mary, clearly and precisely, on the wall.

He frowned as he examined the victim. In her early twenties with short brown hair and a petite figure, she seemed so innocent

The rapist left little to trace back to him. There were no hair follicles, clothes, or the instruments used in the slaying. The only physical evidence was his semen and skin.

While gathering evidence, a monthly church schedule at Our Lady of Good Council parish caught his eye. He searched her bedroom and found a cross and several rosaries. In the living room was a statue of the Virgin Mary at Fatima in Portugal.

Did the other victims also have strong religious inclinations? Perhaps this was the perp's way of striking back at organized religion

He stared at the corpse. The lack of blood near the body was uncanny. The perp was no amateur. He had experience drawing blood and access to the proper instruments.

After leaving the crime scene, Kevin spoke to family members of the other victims. His hunch was right. They were all active members of church groups.

Later that evening, he spoke to Detective Tedesco at the station. "I think I have this guy figured out. But I have to arrest him soon because II can't live with another woman dying like this. It won't happen on my watch."

Rita finished her fifth cup of coffee. A gleam of excitement entered her tired eyes. "Then you need a game plan. Tell me how he does it."

Kevin took a deep breath. "Okay. Our guy goes to a church and carefully observes the audience. Maybe he gets information about the different church groups, possibly volunteers. He tells them he recently moved into the area, had been active at his old church and would like to help in any way he could. That would make it easy for him to get close to these women."

"All right," Rita said. "Talk to the ministers and priests of the churches. Gather a list of the people who participated in the church groups the deceased had been involved with. Then see if any newcomers had recently become active with their church around the time of the killings."

A few days later, Kevin came up with an individual who fit this description and arranged for an artist to make a sketch of him. He was getting closer.

He recruited twenty female officers to be used as bait. Age, race and physical characteristics did not matter. He assigned each to two local churches where they would attend services. He gave them the sketch and the killer's psychological profile. Each female officer would report to him on a daily basis. To his surprise, Rita volunteered

During the first week nobody had made a positive identification. Kevin thought the killer had moved to another area or was attending an uncovered parish. He contemplated picking different churches when Rita called him late Saturday afternoon.

"Kevin, I'm at Saint Catherine's. I think I found our guy."

"Tell me about him."

"He got here minutes before the service started. He's portly, I'd say late twenties, with curly black hair and an ungroomed goatee. He's wearing wire-rimmed glasses, black slacks and a brown blazer. I've memorized the sketch, and he's an exact match. He was sitting in the opposite side of the church. I slid out before we made eye contact."

"You're sure it's him?" Kevin asked

"A hundred percent."

"Good. Go back inside and make yourself visible."

Rita was an attractive woman, so Kevin was confident he would notice her. He got into his car and committed every possible traffic violation in order to make it to the church before the mass ended, praying the priest would deliver a long-winded homily. The parking lot was mostly full when he arrived. He approached the back of the church. The parishioners had just finished receiving communion. He spotted Rita, but no sign of the suspect. He had to be inside because Rita would have followed him if he had left

He hung around the back of the church trying. He approached a statue of Mary separated by a railing. In front were dozens of votive candles. A voice startled him.

"Can I help you, sir?"

He turned around and found a short nun in her early fifties.

"You appear to be confused."

He spoke in a voice he hoped exuded confidence. "I'm fine. Actually I'm here to see a parishioner. It's official police business." He showed the nun his badge

"Oh my. Why I hope everything is all right."

"There's no need to worry. I just have to ask some questions." He pulled out a sketch of the suspect. "Have you seen this man before?"

The nun had a look of wide-eyed amazement. "No. I do not believe I have. If there is any way I could provide assistance, I would be glad to."

"I'll be sure to contact you if I have any questions. What's your name?"

"Sister Elizabeth."

"My name is Detective Kevin Russell. It's nice meeting you."

"Likewise."

After the nun left, the mass was nearly over. The parishioners were in their seats as the choir belted out a hymn

The priest told everyone to go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Rita left her pew and walked down the aisle ahead of the suspect. Kevin took a deep breath, his heart pounding. Stay calm.

Kevin, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, exited the church and stood by his car trying to look like he was picking up someone. As the church-goers exited, Rita dropped her purse. Kevin smiled as the suspect picked it up. They exchanged pleasantries and she thanked him

A hypnotic gaze came over the man as he walked to his beat-up, black Cadillac.

Kevin started his car. There weren't many people attending church, so he easily maneuvered through the traffic and followed the Cadillac.

He signaled Rita on her radio. "I'm following our guy. See you at the station."

When the Cadillac pulled out of the parking lot, he drove behind it, allowing a few cars to go in front of him. He followed it across the city to a residential neighborhood. The man then walked to a row home. Kevin jotted the address and pulled into a parking spot. He got a closer look with binoculars, but the shades to the row home were down.

He sat in his car observing for nearly an hour, but had no luck. The suspect remained inside. He then called Bishop to set up surveillance. After it looked like nothing was going to go down, he drove back.

Before the night was over, they identified the suspect. His name was Ray Holman. As Kevin suspected, Holman worked in a hospital. He was a nurse at St. Agnes. He had access to the equipment needed to perform these blood extractions in a precise manner.

They had little background on Holman. He had worked at the hospital for five years. Prior to that he was in the army. He had no criminal record, although his parents died in a fire when his childhood house burned down. He was questioned in the incident but the police found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Over the next few days, Kevin found out that Holman had no friends at work and kept to himself. Few co-workers had contact with him outside work. He rarely took days off and frequently worked weekends. Hospital records confirmed that at the times of the Hail Mary murders, Holman had not been working. Kevin had circumstantial evidence, but he needed more to nail him. He contemplated getting a search warrant, but Holman was so meticulous that they might not find anything in his house. He needed something iron-clad to link Holman to the crimes.

He asked Rita to keep going to the church and join some of the church groups. Holman continued to attend mass at Our Lady of Good Council. Rita always sat near him. A few days after their initial contact, Holman followed her home. Kevin felt guilty since Rita had a husband and two kids, but he would take the same risk for her.

He had Rita wired. A van full of police officers waited each time she went to church. After a week, there had been no further progress

At the police station, Kevin told Rita, "We need you to make contact with Holman."

"What do you have in mind?" Rita asked.

"I want you to up the ante and initiate conversation with him."

Rita nodded, and they came up with a plan.

***

Rita waited in the balcony of the church until Holman took his seat. He looked around and frowned. Perfect. She left the balcony and sat next to him in his pew

"Hello," she said.

He smiled but did not respond

Toward the end of the mass she turned to him. "Are you new to this parish?"

"I just moved here from Maryland." Holman fidgeted and pushed his glasses to the top of his nose.

"My name is Rita." She extended her hand. Kevin had instructed her not to give a false name since he probably had seen her mailbox when he had followed her home

He extended his hand. "My name is Mark Falcone."

"It was nice meeting you." She exited the Church when mass ended. A few seconds later, he walked behind her, and they exited the church. This time Holman did not follow her home.

Later, Kevin went to Rita's apartment. He sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee. "You might have scared him off by being so direct."

Rita shook her head. "I don't think so. I bet you he'll be back at the next mass."

***

While working out the next morning, Kevin went over what had happened. Just because the suspect did not immediately strike, it did not mean he would not attack. Holman was meticulous and careful. He would be well prepared.

After showering, he drove to the station and gave Captain Bishop an update.

His boss looked haggard. The media continued blaming the mayor and the police commissioner. The blame then floated downstream to Bishop.

Bishop clenched his fists. "I want you to arrest this bastard right away."

Kevin put his hands up. "Look, I don't want him to get off, so we need a rock solid case against him. If we hold off a little and play our cards right, we can catch him in the act. Then there's no doubt we would land a conviction."

Bishop folded his arms and paced around the room. "This has to go down soon. I need to have the perp arrested quick or my ass is in a sling, and so will yours."

Later that night, right before he was going to go home, Rita called. She seemed calm but he could sense something was wrong. "Ray Holman just entered my building."

"Holy shit!" His heart beat into overdrive. "I'll be there right away."

He hung the phone up and jumped into his car. His tires screeched as he drove out of the parking lot. Rita was more than capable of handling herself, but he wanted to be the one to collar Holman. It had become a personal vendetta.

He drove to her apartment in ten minutes, much faster than he would have ever thought possible. He took a couple deep breaths. He had to think clearly to nail Holman.

As he got closer, he reached for his holster, ready to draw his gun as soon as he got out of the car. He pulled into Rita Tedesco's street. As he was about to double-park, a shot fired and a window crashed just below her apartment

Ray Holman raced out the front door of the apartment building carrying a medical supply bag. He wore a long, brown trench coat, and was wide-eyed. The last thing he must have expected was that his victim would shoot at him. He chose the wrong woman.

Holman raced down the street and turned the corner. Kevin put the Pathfinder in gear and drove after him. Holman turned his head and stared at the SUV. He ran to the end of the block and turned left. Kevin gripped the wheel tightly and made a sharp left. At the end of the block, Holman turned right. Kevin smiled. He hadn't properly canvassed the neighborhood for an effective escape route because this was a dead end.

The suspect encountered a steel fence surrounded with barbed wire. Without hesitating, he went for the fence. Kevin stopped his car, leaving the key in the ignition and chased him. Holman got caught on the barbed wire. Just before Kevin could grab him, he broke free. Kevin put his jacket on the barbed wire and climbed over at that spot. He jumped from the top of the fence to the ground, never letting Holman out of his sight.

The chase continued. Holman had a lead on him, but Kevin gained ground. He was leaner and more athletic and would overtake him quickly.

Holman ran to an apartment building and climbed the fire escape. Kevin climbed after him until they reached the roof of the building. Holman made a break for it. Kevin fired a shot, and Holman dove behind a chimney

"There's no way out." Kevin moved toward the chimney. "You only have one decision to make. Do you want to leave in handcuffs or dead? Your choice."

There was no reply. He was about to fire another warning shot when Holman darted past the chimney to the edge of the roof. Kevin ran after him. He stood ten feet away from Ray who stood along the edge of the roof. "Don't do it!"

"Go fuck yourself." Ray jumped. He landed on the roof of the next house a few feet away, but tumbled in the process

Kevin leaped to the next roof and closed the distance between him and Holman, who struggled to his feet. He tackled Holman before he could jump to the next house. Their momentum drove them forward. Holman's head hit hard against the roof. Kevin got to his knees. The suspect looked out of it. He removed a set of handcuffs and apprehended his man.

The end

A sort of police procedural that falls into the "speculative fiction" category, this one's unusual for anotherealm. No element of the supernatural and only "psychological sci-fi" revolving about the quasi-religious theme. Almost appropriate title-wise for this month, though. (Old school Catholic reference.) Comments? Put them on our BBS.

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