The police officer came out of the living room, shaking his head. He was dressed in his full uniform. On his face was a thick black moustache under a shiny balding head. He was visibly shaken.
Another officer approached him as he left the room.
“What do you make of it, Chief?”
The balding man stopped and turned around. “What is there to make of decapitated bodies, Corporal?”
Even for an experienced police officer like him, the nastiness and unpleasantness of the job could still get to him sometimes.
“The boys are asking the neighbours if they heard anything. We hope to get some clues from them, no matter how little—just something, anything that we can work on.”
The chief shook his head. “Why are you wasting your time with such basic procedural stuff? You think whoever committed such a gruesome act would have left clues?”
“I don’t know, Chief. They always do. No criminal is 100% meticulous. Forensics will soon be here to do their sweep. I’m sure we’ll find a lead.”
“I admire your enthusiasm, I really do. But by the time you have risen through the ranks and become as old as me, you’ll begin to realize that the old way of policing, investigating and tracking criminals does not always guarantee success. Trust me on this.”
“What do you mean, Chief? Are we just going to give up because we might never catch the culprits? I’m carrying out the standard operating procedure. Do you want me to abandon that?”
“Not exactly. What I’m advocating is a different approach to the norm in such situations.”
“What would that be, Chief?”
The chief ran his fingers through his bushy moustache as he regarded his subordinate. He was considering if he should tell him what was playing in his mind. Eventually, he arrived at a decision. “Call headquarters right away. Ask them to give Lazarus a call. He should come to this crime scene immediately.”
The corporal blinked. “Lazarus?”
The chief nodded. “Yes.”
The corporal turned to leave. After he had gone, the chief looked in the direction of the living room again. He shook his head and brought out a cigar from his pocket. After lighting it up, he began to puff the cigar and closed his eyes, allowing his mind to drift to different thoughts.
“You really should think about quitting, Chief.”
The words seemed to cut through his subconscious mind like a hot knife through butter. The chief opened his eyes. In front of him stood a man wearing a black suit and a black hat. He had a slight beard and a moustache. He was smoking a cigarette.
“Who are you to tell me not to smoke when you’re doing the same?”
“Would who I am change the fact that your lungs are already polluted and weakened by your excessive smoking? You know that’s the truth, Chief. And the sooner you begin to accept that fact and quit smoking, the better you will be able to enjoy a healthy retirement from all this dreary and dirty work.”
“You think so? Well, maybe while you’re busy worrying about my health, you should also take a look at yours. I mean, what is it that they say about the pot calling the kettle black?”
The man in black removed the cigarette from his lips and smiled. “You’ve got it mixed up, Chief. It’s the kettle calling the pot black. You see, I’m the kettle because I have a cigarette, while you’re the pot because you have a cigar. It’s about comparisons, Chief. My cigarette cannot cause me as much damage as your cigar will cause you.”
The chief waved his hand. “Whatever, just let me be. I don’t need some stupid smart aleck preaching me about the hazards of smoking.”
The man grinned widely in reply. “I can’t be both stupid and a smart aleck. Make up your mind.”
Just then, the corporal arrived. “I got the headquarters on the radio, Chief. They promised to get in touch with Lazarus. But I don’t know how soon he will get here.” he said, glancing briefly at the man in black who had gone back to smoking his cigarette.
The chief smiled. “You don’t need to worry about that. He has already arrived.”
The corporal frowned. “I don’t understand, Chief. I just got off the radio and you say he’s already here? How is that possible? Even if he only lived a few blocks away, it would still take him some time to get here.”
The chief took a puff on his cigar. “That’s if you’re doing things the usual way, Corporal. But Lazarus doesn’t work with the usual. He prefers the unusual.”
“The unusual?” the corporal repeated.
The chief pointed at the man in black who was standing in front of him. “Corporal, I’d like you to meet Lazarus. Lazarus, this is my new assistant.”
The man in black nodded. “At your service, Corporal.”
Just then, a phone rang. Lazarus put his hand into his pocket and brought out his smartphone. He picked up the call and deliberately put it on loudspeaker. “Lazarus speaking.”
“I’m calling from the police headquarters. Our chief wants you to go to a crime scene.”
Lazarus looked at the chief. “Where?”
“It’s at an apartment on the corner of Redstone Avenue. You can’t miss it. Our men are already at the scene.”
“No problem, I’ll be there soon.” He put the phone back into his pocket then turned to the corporal, who was staring at him with his mouth wide open in bewilderment.
The corporal glanced from Lazarus to the chief. The chief was busy puffing away at his cigar.
“Chief, did you, did you—” the corporal began to say in confusion. The chief patted his subordinate’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about such things, Corporal. Remember what I said earlier about the unusual. Lazarus is very good at that.”
“But, but, but how?” the corporal stuttered.
“You might not understand how I work, Corporal. But for this particular situation, let’s just say that I usually have my ears to the ground. I can hear when the chief requests my presence even before your people at HQ put a call across to me.”
The corporal was still confused. The expression on his face said as much. But the chief wasn’t ready to offer any more explanations. He beckoned to Lazarus and they both headed for the living room.
The corporal was still standing where they had left him in the corridor. He watched as his boss and Lazarus walked into the room. Suddenly, he went after them. He sensed that he might be missing out on a whole lot if he stayed in the corridor.
Inside the living room were a couple of other cops. “I hope none of you have touched anything here. I don’t need to tell any of you that this is officially a crime scene. Which means that you leave everything as you see it. Understand? The forensics team will be here soon, but I need you to leave right now,” the chief said in a very firm voice.
Without a word, they filed out of the living room. The chief watched them leave, then turned to the corporal. “I was going to ask you to go with them, but since you’re so keen on finding out more about other ways of solving crimes, maybe you can stay. Close the door, and make sure it’s locked.”
The corporal nodded and shut the door, turning the key in its lock.
Lazarus looked around the living room. As he did, he was greeted by a sight that he had become familiar with. There were three settees and a glass table, which had been moved from the centre of the room towards the walls, exposing the Persian rug underneath. On the rug was the body of a young woman. However, there were several missing limbs.
“No head, no feet and no arms,” Lazarus said as he looked around the room.
“We searched the entire place several times. We could not find them. Whoever did this took those parts away,” the chief said.
“Because they needed them.”
“But what would someone need a woman’s head, feet and arms for?” the chief asked, watching Lazarus assess the body.
“The usual. Dark arts, black magic, the usual or unusual stuff.”
“Dark arts and black magic?” the corporal blurted suddenly. He felt embarrassed that he could not restrain himself. Is this man for real? he thought. What is it with all this mumbo-jumbo?
Lazarus looked at him and smiled. “Yes, Corporal. Are you familiar with any of those?”
The corporal glanced at his chief and shook his head nervously. “No, sir. I thought that was the stuff made for the movies.”
“So, you think all that stuff you see on television isn’t real?”
“Of course not. Isn’t it just for entertainment?”
Lazarus could see the chief shaking his head as if he was embarrassed by his subordinate’s questions. “Don’t worry, Chief. It’s usual for people like your corporal here to imagine that everything they see on television isn’t real. If only they knew.”
“Well, isn’t it just for entertainment?” the corporal asked again.
Lazarus pointed at the headless body on the floor. “You think this is for entertainment? Does that body look entertaining to you, Corporal?”
The corporal shook his head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand.”
“Then stay quiet. Observe, learn and become wiser,” the chief said in a calm voice.
The chief and the corporal watched as Lazarus assessed the body on the floor again. “They did a good job this time.”
“A good job?”
“Yes, Chief. They made sure that they didn’t spill any blood, even while decapitating the corpse,” Lazarus replied.
“Are you sure that the woman was already dead before they cut off the body parts?”
“Absolutely, Chief. There’s no other way they could have removed those parts so cleanly unless they had already killed her and drained her blood. All signs of the dark arts, if you ask me.”
The chief puffed on his cigar. “Drained her blood before cutting her up into pieces? I never thought my department would get involved in such a case.”
“No one ever wants to get involved in this sort of thing. It’s good you have me around. You can just imagine what it would take to solve this case without people like me by your side.”
“I really am grateful to know you. I always have been. But now, can you tell me why anyone would want to do this?” the chief asked.
“That is what I’m going to find out.”
“How long will you need? The forensics and detective units will be here any moment now.”
“That won’t be a problem. I will be done before they can get in through the door.”
The chief glanced at his wristwatch. “You sure about that? They’ll be here soon, the call went out to all units quite a while ago.”
Lazarus stood up and looked around. He then walked to the door, which was shut and locked. He raised his hands to the top of the doorframe, but stopped what he was about to do. He turned around, glancing from the corporal to the chief. “Are you sure that we can trust him on this? Or do we ask him to leave?”
The chief puffed at his cigar. He glanced at his subordinate with tired and disinterested eyes. The corporal was uncomfortable at the sudden interest being shown to him.
“Well, Corporal? Do we send you out or will you be able to stay?”
The corporal blinked nervously. “I don’t understand, Chief. I mean, I’d like to stay. I’m not getting in the way or anything, am I? Besides, it would help me to learn. I really want to grow in my career, and I appreciate the faith you have in me by allowing me to stay. Please. I promise, I won’t be a distraction.”
“It’s all right, let him stay.” Lazarus looked at the corporal. “Just make sure that you don’t distract me while I’m working, understand?”
“I understand, sir. I promise not to get in your way.”
“And no matter whatever happens, keep your mouth shut. No matter what happens. Okay?”
“I promise. No matter what happens.”
Lazarus turned to face the door again. He raised his hands and touched the top of the doorframe. He then began to mumble something incoherent.
The corporal glanced briefly at his boss. The chief was still busy smoking his cigar, as if he was watching a familiar exercise. It was apparent that he had observed such a routine being performed several times before.
The corporal turned his attention back to what Lazarus was doing at the door. He realized that what Lazarus was saying was more than an incoherent chant. There was a rhythm and a pattern. It was an incantation.
As Lazarus chanted the incantation, he used his two index fingers to trace an invisible line from the top of the doorframe down to the floor. Lazarus then stepped back. As he did, the invisible line that he had traced lit up. The light glowed brightly around the door. The corporal could feel his heart race with intrigue and amazement. His mind was racing with random thoughts of how Lazarus was able to perform such a feat. Who is this man? He thought.
Lazarus looked at the door. “That should hold time long enough to let me finish what needs doing.”
“Hold time?” the corporal repeated without thinking. He quickly caught himself when he saw the anger in the chief’s eyes. “I’m sorry. I got carried away.”
“It’s all right to get carried away. Just don’t let anything you see carry your spirit away. That spell I cast there is going to hold back time and, in the process, stop anyone who wants to gain access to this room. That way, I will have enough time to complete my investigation.”
The corporal nodded as if he understood what Lazarus meant. But he didn’t. And he dared not ask for further clarification.
Now what did he mean by that? Did I hear him right? Did he say hold time? Does he really have mastery over time?
His eyes suddenly caught sight of the wall clock. He noticed that it had stopped working. He could have sworn that when they initially stepped into the living room, the wall clock had been working. Could it have stopped because of a malfunction? Or was it that time was really standing still as Lazarus said?
Out of curiosity, the corporal glanced at his wristwatch. He frowned when he discovered it had also stopped working.
Alarmed, he brought out his cell phone and checked the time. That too hadn’t changed. Time had actually frozen. The corporal saw his boss calmly checking his own wristwatch before he resumed smoking his cigar.
Lazarus went to the headless corpse and knelt down by its side. He turned again to look at the chief, who was still smoking. The chief looked back at him, barely batting an eyelid. Lazarus then glanced at the corporal. “Remember what I just said?”
The corporal nodded, although the look on his face showed that he wasn’t too sure.
“No matter what happens, keep your mouth shut.”
“My mouth is shut, sir. It is shut.”
Lazarus turned to the body in front of him. He then raised his hands over it and began to recite an incantation. Still muttering, Lazarus began to spread his hands over the body. He moved his hands over every part of the body from the neck to the feet. He repeated this several times.
Then, Lazarus stopped and stood up. He raised his hands above his head. Suddenly, the headless body began to glow, as a light-blue light engulfed it.
The corporal was taken aback. His first instinct was to scream. A quick glance at his boss made him stand his ground and not bolt out through the door. The chief was watching the whole thing with a blank expression. The corporal turned his attention back to Lazarus.
Gradually, the blue glow began to rise, taking the shape of a human. The blue glow took the shape and form of a woman.
The woman stepped away from the body and began to look around. When this happened, Lazarus approached her. “Can you communicate with me?”
The woman turned away from the body and looked at Lazarus. “Yes, I can.”
“I’m sorry that I had to bother you like this, but we need some answers. Can you tell us what we need to know?”
The woman nodded and started to move around the room. She moved like a breeze, gliding through the air like mist.
By now, the corporal could feel his body shaking like a leaf in the wind. He could tell that Lazarus was obviously more than what he appeared to be. But the corporal couldn’t understand how his boss could still watch the unfolding incident so calmly, smoking his cigar while the ghost was moving about.
She floated towards a set of drawers by the wall. Once she got there, she stopped and turned her gaze to Lazarus. “I am scared.”
The woman pointed. “Open that drawer.”
Lazarus rushed to follow her instruction.
“The gold chain,” she said.
He rummaged through the drawer until he found it. He raised up a small chain and showed it to the woman. “This one?”
“Why this chain?”
“It’s what he gave me before he killed me.”
“He? Who is he?”
She turned and pointed at a table by the wall. Lazarus walked up to it. On it was a picture frame, with a picture of a young woman and a man.
“We were happy.”
Lazarus held up the gold chain. “Was that when he gave this chain to you?”
“No. He gave me the chain four days ago.”
Lazarus looked at the picture. He brought out his cell phone and took a shot of it before putting it back on the table.
‘’Why did he kill you?’’
“You know why.”
“This whole thing is linked to the dark arts and black magic. Was he into any of that?”
“He wasn’t, until last weekend.”
“Tell me more.”
“On Saturday night, he first made contact with it.”
Lazarus rubbed his neck. “I see. Any reasons why your lover would want to dabble in such stuff?”
“Where is he now? Where did he run to? Can you tell me?”
“Follow the chain.”
“Tell us your names?”
The woman walked back to where her headless body was still lying on the floor. When she got to its side, she looked at Lazarus. “Rachel. And Morrison.”
“Thank you, Rachel.”
“Ask him if he feels richer now that he has done this to me.”
“I will do that, I promise you.”
Rachel’s spirit lay back down onto her body, and disappeared.
“We have to get going right away, Chief. We must get to Morrison.”
“How do we find him?”
Lazarus raised the gold chain. “Rachel’s spirit is imprinted on this chain. It will direct us to where he is. I won’t come with you through the door, but I’ll meet you outside.”
“Sure. We’ll meet you outside then.”
Lazarus snapped his fingers at the door. When he did, the light around its frame stopped glowing. As the corporal watched it disappear, he turned to take one more glance at Lazarus—who was no longer in the living room. The corporal glanced at the wall clock and saw that it had started to work again. Quickly, he checked his wristwatch as well. It was ticking once again.
Just then, the living room door opened and some policemen came in.
“Gentlemen, it’s great to have you here,” the chief said, extending his right hand towards one of the men.
A detective dressed in a grey suit and wearing a pair of spectacles asked, “So, what do we have here?”
The chief shrugged. “I really wish I knew, Detective. I really wish I knew. No head, no hands and no feet. And yet not a single drop of blood in any part of the crime scene. This is really a weird one, believe me.”
The detective frowned. “Who would do something like this?”
“I wish I knew. Anyway, it’s a good thing that you’re here. You can take over. I’d better be on my way. Let me know what you eventually arrive at, especially the preliminaries, okay?”
“Sure, Chief. I’ll have a report ready for you within the next couple of days.”
On their way out, the corporal nudged his boss’s shoulder. “Chief, why didn’t he come with us?”
“Lazarus. Isn’t he going with us to find Morrison?”
By now, they had gotten outside. As they approached their patrol vehicle, the corporal saw Lazarus leaning against a wall close by. The corporal was bewildered. He spun around to look at his boss. The chief didn’t even bother to look back at him. He just went to the patrol car and opened the door, letting himself into the front passenger seat.
“How did you do it? How did you get here?”
“There are so many things that you wouldn’t understand, Corporal. But let’s just say that I used a faster means to get here.”
“I see. You didn’t want the detective and forensics boys to see you?”
“The forensics? Don’t make me laugh, Corporal. I mean, seriously. Do you think I’m scared of your people?”
The horn of the patrol car sounded twice. It was the chief. “Are we going to look for Morrison or not? Or would you prefer to stay here all day explaining to my corporal how you do your things?”
They both got into the car. “Don’t mind me, Chief. I’m amazed at the level of ignorance your corporal is displaying here. I find it amusing to see that some folks really don’t know anything about people like me. All they have is this amazing curiosity, which frankly I find tedious.”
“Can you blame them? He’s just fresh out of police college and can’t wait to solve crimes. This will help him understand what might be involved.”
“But Chief, the forensics people would surely be able to find some sort of lead.”
“You really think so? Look, I’m not doubting their skills, but I have been in this business long enough to know a dead end when I see one. Unless one of them can do what Lazarus did back there, making the spirit of a headless corpse talk, then this case will not be solved through conventional means.”
“So, they’ll keep going round and round in circles?”
“Not just circles. Because that would mean that they’re making some sort of progress, and that’s not what’s going to happen. Rather, they’ll be stuck in the same position, in the same spot, in the same box. No movement forward, backward or anywhere. Trust me, I know. Their reports will show this later on.” The chief turned to look at Lazarus in the backseat. “Okay, where to now?”
Lazarus pulled out the gold chain from his pocket. “The chain is going to direct us.”
“And how is it going to do that, sir?” the corporal asked.
“Just watch.” Lazarus rubbed the chain between his palms before he breathed into it. “Show us where Morrison is.”
The chain floated out of Lazarus’ hands and through the passenger window, hovering briefly outside the police vehicle. Then it began to move away, into the road ahead.
“What are you waiting for? Follow it, Corporal!” the chief barked.
The corporal snapped out of his confused stare and kicked the vehicle to life. He then began to drive after the floating gold chain.
As the corporal drove, he kept shaking his head and muttering below his breath. “I can’t believe I’m seeing this. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Lazarus patted his shoulder from the backseat. “You’ll be all right. Others would have run away or passed out by now. I admire your resilience and spirit. You’re not a quitter.”
The corporal shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no, I’m not quitting.”
They soon arrived outside an old abandoned warehouse outside of town. They parked the car and got out of it.
They could see the gold chain hovering outside a big door. It was locked.
“Let me handle that,” Lazarus offered. He stepped forward and snapped his fingers. Immediately, the door slid open and the chain floated inside.
Lazarus and the policemen walked into the building, closing the door behind them.
Inside, they could see stacks of crates and boxes. Lazarus pointed ahead of them. “The chain is headed for the rooftop. Quickly, let’s take the stairs.”
They ran up the stairs and burst through a door which led them to the roof.
On the roof, they saw a man sitting in a corner. He was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a black shirt, clutching a big bag.
As they approached, the man spun around, still holding onto the bag. He sized up the three men before him. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Relax, Morrison. We’ve come to see you,” Lazarus said.
Morrison frowned as he looked at the chief and corporal. “But why are they dressed in police uniforms? Are they supposed to be here?”
“Yes, Morrison. They’re supposed to be here. Or were you not expecting us?”
“No, I knew you would come. I did everything just the way I was told.”
“You did everything as you were told?” Lazarus repeated.
“Yes. I made sure that I had her drugged. That way I was able to easily drain out all of her blood before cutting off the necessary parts.”
Lazarus nodded at the bag he was clutching. “And you have everything inside there?”
Morrison nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, yes, yes. Everything is here, the blood and the parts, everything.”
“So, what do you expect now?” Lazarus asked.
A look of confusion flashed through Morrison’s face momentarily. “I don’t understand. I thought you said that if I got these, then I would become rich.”
“That’s what they told you? You should kill Rachel to acquire riches?”
“Wait a minute. What do you mean ‘they’? Are you not with them?”
“I could never be with them. Not now or in a million years.”
Morrison took a step backwards. “Then who are you? And how come you know my name?”
“There are many things that you don’t know and will never know. That is a fact. And I don’t even want to begin wasting my time with introductions and further explanations, either. Rachel said I should ask you a question.”
“What? Rachel? That’s impossible. She’s dead!”
Lazarus smiled. “I have my ways. She only had one question for you.”
By now, Morrison was sweating and shivering. “One question? What question?”
From the corner of his eye, Lazarus saw the dark shadow that was coming from afar. He glanced at the chief and the corporal who were standing a couple of feet behind him.
With a smile, Lazarus took a step forward and handed Morrison the gold chain. “Do you feel richer now?”
Morrison was still clutching onto the bag that contained Rachel’s body parts. He reached out to collect the chain from Lazarus. He stared at it as if he was in a trance.
He never saw the dark shadow that came upon him from behind. As he screamed, the shadow seemed to engulf him. Then he was gone.
Lazarus turned to look at the chief. He was still puffing on his cigar. The corporal was sweating profusely.
“I guess that settles it.” the chief said.
Lazarus nodded as they walked back to the staircase. “Yes, Chief. The messenger has already picked up Morrison. If only he knew what he was getting into before it was too late. Too bad. The things people do for riches.”