Monster by David Macfie

“We’ve had three disappearances in the past two days,” said the police spokesperson in a clear, authoritative voice. She wanted to be sure that all of the media people facing her could hear her briefing.

“Two nights ago a male jogger vanished from the bridal path through the park. He was in the habit of doing ten circuits at six in the evenings and he was as regular as clockwork. His girlfriend reported him missing at nine that night, when he didn’t pitch up for a date. Yesterday there were two more. A seventy year old woman, who was taking a walk in her garden at about seven in the evening, was noticed by a neighbor. She hasn’t been seen since. And lastly a seven year old boy was last seen at school yesterday afternoon. He was to be fetched by his mother, from aftercare, at four, but he was missing when she arrived. None of these people left any traces and there is no sign of violence anywhere close to the places where they were last seen. The chief Constable has put together a task force to look into these matters. They have already started work, but so far they have found nothing. I will call other briefings every three days to keep you informed. Today I will not take questions because I have told you all we know at present. Thank you for your attention.”

She quickly turned and walked briskly to her car. In moments she was gone, leaving a bunch of reporters talking animatedly among themselves.

Later that afternoon a housewife, returning from shopping, never arrived home. The trolley she had borrowed to cart her purchases back to her house was found two hundred meters from her front door. The shopping was all accounted for according to the till slip in one of the packets. There were no other signs at all, to show that she had been there. Around eight that evening a forty year old man disappeared on his way for a late drink at the pub. Once again there were no signs of his passing. As with all the others, he had simply disappeared.

The Chief Constable called an emergency meeting of his task team at seven the following morning.

“This situation has rapidly become a crisis,” he began, his face stern and a little horrified. “The worst aspect is the absolute absence of any evidence whatsoever. I want you to split up into teams of two and search every location, where these atrocities have taken place so far. Leave no stone unturned. Find anything that might shed light on this. Talk to all the people you meet there and also everyone who lives nearby. If there are no clues then perhaps somebody saw something. And above all, stay in touch with the station at all times. Detective John Dickinson is in overall charge and you must call in every half hour to the emergency numbers. I have arranged a group of four that will be manning the phones 24/7. Any questions?”

“Only one,” said Dickinson, dourly. Has anyone checked the records for similar happenings elsewhere?”

“I’ve got two detectives on that research. You will immediately be informed of any developments. Anything else?” Everybody shook their heads. “All right then. Get organized and get busy. I want results and I want them soon.”

He turned and hurried away. Dickinson arranged the pairs and their allocated locations then the team scattered to start the search. Dickinson had paired himself with one of the three female detectives on the team. Kate Worley was experienced and dedicated and she was an expert at assessing and finding evidence at crime scenes. They were heading for the old woman’s garden.

Meanwhile detectives Jim Murry and Robbie Stewart set off to the park. They reckoned they’d drawn the short straw because the area they’d have to cover was much bigger than all the rest. They complained to each other in the car on the way and were still whinging as they started along the bridal path. As soon as they began, however, their professionalism took over and they combed the ground meticulously. They’d called the girlfriend and knew the victim’s routine – he never left the path and almost obsessively timed himself, trying every day to beat his best time. The detectives were looking for scuff marks, bits of clothing, blood, hair, anything that could give an idea of what had happened.

Their early efforts were fruitless and now the path entered into the woody area of the park. The trees shielded the light and made it more difficult to search. Consequently the pace dropped off and the men had to concentrate even harder. They were completely absorbed in their task when Robbie heard Jim briefly cry out. He turned and looked in the direction of the sound and was just in time to see a black shadow lifting Jim effortlessly into the air. His partner was slumped and unmoving, his head dangling at a very odd angle to his neck. Robbie knew, in that moment, that Jim was dead. In seconds, the shadow was gone and Robbie was left with an impression only of the size and shape of the assailant. He called in to the emergency line and asked them to get out the police helicopter to try and find traces of anything in the air. Then he rushed over to the place where Jim had died. As with all the other disappearances there was no sign that Jim had even been there. He’d been lifted cleanly off the ground in no time flat. Robbie called John and told him what had happened.

“Robbie, search as well as you can and also look for any signs of where this thing, whatever it is, might be taking its victims. Do your best, then get back to the station. We’ll all meet there once the searches are done.”

Later, a shocked and subdued task force sat in the station meeting room.

“Robbie, take your time and tell us everything you can remember,” instructed Dickinson.

“I’m sorry, John. I don’t have much at all. It was all over so quickly. We were both searching the bridal path and the ground on either side. We were perhaps twenty meters apart and not facing each other. I heard Jim cry out and turned to see what was wrong. All I saw was a large, black shadow lifting Jim off the ground. His neck looked broken and his body just hung down with no movement at all. I’m sure he was dead almost as soon as the thing got hold of him. There was no blood at all and no sign that he had been there so, at least this explains why there have been no clues at the other sites. It only took a second or two to disappear so I never really saw it clearly. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Take it easy, Robbie. Take it easy,” said Dickinson, in a calm voice. “You got something. That’s more than we had before. You kept your head and I’m proud of you. Do any of the rest of you have any ideas based on this or any other thoughts at all?”

Only Kate Worley raised her hand.

“John, when we got back from the old lady’s house, I was curious about the crime locations so I printed a map of the area and plotted the crime scenes. I found that all of the sites were within a kilometer of each other and they seemed to be centered on the park where the jogger went missing. I’m wondering if this thing lives in the park or close by.”

“Good work, Kate, that’s a start. But let’s park it for a moment. Let’s talk about the shadow thing first. Robbie, you told us what you saw, but you didn’t say anything about what you heard or smelt. Do you remember anything from your other senses? Think carefully.”

Robbie was silent for a while as he tried to recollect the exact situation when Jim was taken. Finally he screwed his face up into a ferocious scowl.

“It’s so hard to remember,” he choked out. “I was so shocked, my brain froze. I have impressions only. The one that’s strongest is a sound like flapping wings or a helicopter rotor. I’m not sure. There was a faint smell of petrol, I think. I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m sorry, I’m just not sure.”

“Well done, Robbie. That’s well done. Sometimes these impressions are critical,” said John. “Right guys, that’s all for today. We’ll meet tomorrow, first thing, to decide what’s next. Robbie, are you OK? Do you need anything?”

“Thanks, John. I can’t say I’m OK. Jim was a good friend. But I want to help find his killer, so I have to be OK.”

Next morning Robbie opened the meeting before John had a chance to speak.

“Guys, I spent most of last night going over Jim’s disappearance in my mind, trying to remember anything else that might help us catch this monster. So now I’m sure about the petrol smell and I’m also sure there was no other smell, like an animal smell or the smell of feathers. What I’m trying to say is I don’t think this is an animal or a bird. When I thought more about the sound, I remembered that it was very faint so, at first, I didn’t remember it well, but the more I thought about it, the more it sounded like the almost silent sound of a helicopter. You know – that sort of whup, whup, whup kind of sound. Now, with that and the petrol smell, I’m pretty sure that it was some sort of flying machine disguised to mask its shape. I have no idea whether the pilot was in it or whether it was remote controlled but I’m sure that it wasn’t alive.”

John was very pleased with this revelation.

“Robbie, that was terrific. I know you weren’t in the best shape last night so our thanks for sticking with the nightmare. You may have just made the difference we needed. Let’s now discuss how to catch this monster, because he or she is a monster, make no mistake. Any ideas?”

“Obviously, we must set a trap,” said detective Ralph Sanderson. There were nods all round. “But it will need to be pretty clever. This perpetrator has a unique and ingenious MO so he or she isn’t going to be easily fooled. And whoever is the bait is at serious risk because it seems obvious that the killing is instantaneous as part of the first contact.”

“Does anyone disagree with Ralph in any detail?” asked John. No one did.

“OK,” said John, with certainty. “So we set a trap. Now it’s down to the details. The first question is where? The park is the obvious place, but given that Robbie saw Jim getting carried away, the killer may avoid there for a while. Any suggestions?”

Kate raised her hand. “I think the map I annotated indicates more than one thing,” she commented. “We already concluded the park was the focal point, but I think the proximity of the other attacks also might indicate that the flying contraption has a limited range. So, I suggest we stay inside that area. I also think that this killer is not sane so may not be entirely rational.”

“Why?” asked John.

“Well, the victims are odd. There’s no pattern to them – an old lady, a little kid, a jogger, a man going to the pub, a housewife coming from shopping. No connections or similarities. And taking Jim when Robbie was right there makes no sense. It’s like the victims are random. That might be a clue to the mentality somehow.”

“Good thinking, Kate. But where does that leave us?” asked Robbie.

“Kate might be right about the mentality,” observed Ralph’s partner, Donovan Pelser. “The attack on Jim was stupid really. It suggests that these crimes are spontaneous rather than planned. Like the killer is flying around and randomly takes whoever happens to be there at the time.”

“Good point,” said Kate. “I think it’s not entirely random though. I think this machine is remote controlled because lifting one body is already quite a load so lifting two would need something bigger than Robbie saw. And I think it has some sort of video monitoring capability that allows the killer to see what’s happening close to the possible victims. I think the fact that, with the first killings nobody saw anything, it means that the killer is able to choose victims when there are no witnesses nearby. And all the events have taken place late afternoon and in the evening so that tells us when we should set the trap. I would go back to the park for the trap even though Robbie saw the last attack. I think the park has some significance. And it will be easier for us to conceal the trap there. But it must be soon or there will be more victims.”

“This all is pertinent, but I think it still leaves us with some worries,” mused John. “The killing mechanism is fast and instantly fatal. We have to counter that. We also have to counter the video surveillance and finally, if this is a remote controlled killing machine, we can’t take it down until it has led us to the actual murderer. And I can’t imagine what is happening to the bodies. This trap is complicated, very complicated.”

The silence that greeted these words was palpable. And it went on for a long time while the team tussled with the complications that John had identified. Finally, Kate broke the silence.

“I think I can see some of it,” she began, tentatively. “First, we flood the target area with plain clothes officers, hidden in specific locations, not moving around. They must all have radios or iPhones. Second we put our bait on the bridal path in the park. The bait is wired with a tracker that can be seen on all the radios or phones. We have no officers anywhere close to the bait but we do have surveillance with binoculars. These officers must be particularly well hidden. That way we can watch our bait until the attack takes place and we can track the machine back to its controller. All these people must be in position at least an hour beforehand. I haven’t got any suggestions on how to overcome the killing device.”

“You’ve made a great start,” complimented John. “Everything you said makes sense. “Robbie, you said you thought Jim’s neck was broken. How sure are you?”

“Pretty sure. The way his head was flopping about his neck had no rigidity at all.”

“Then he was killed by a device that wrung his neck like a chicken – a rapid twist through more than half a revolution, with a jerk at the end. The device must have grabbed his head tightly before the twist began. That’s probably when he cried out. We need a brace that covers the head so that the grab doesn’t cause an injury and the brace must go down to fit round the shoulders. Then the twist will turn the whole body not just the head. And the jerk will lift the whole body. What do you all think?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Robbie.

“And me,” echoed Ralph.”

Donovan paused, thinking for a while before he spoke.

“I like it,” he said finally. “And I think I can make the brace. It must be light and very strong so that the grab doesn’t crush it. And it must be able to take the weight of our bait once the lifting starts. I use a material like that when I renovate golf clubs. I can tailor it to the exact shape of the bait. One other suggestion. The bait must wear a hoodie with the hood up and we should probably target early dusk for the operation.”

“Then all we need is the bait,” said John.

“I’ll do it,” interrupted Robbie, almost before the words had finished leaving John’s mouth. “Jim was my friend. I want to be right there when his killer is caught.”

John searched Robbie’s face for a long moment. He saw a steely determination that reassured him.

“Done deal,” he said, decisively. “Can we be ready by tomorrow?” He got nods all round. “Good. Robbie, Donovan, you get busy with the brace. Ralph, organize the tracking device and the radios. We’ll have fifty men in this trap. Kate, come with me. We’ll work out the positions of all our watchers.”

The team scattered and got busy.

“In the end, the team were so committed that the preparation was completed by mid-afternoon. John decided to go that evening and immediately all the watchers were positioned and concealed. Now the wait began.

At six seven that evening Robbie, in a colorful hoodie, sauntered into the park. John did a final check that all the officers could see the tracker blip on their devices. When all was confirmed he told Robbie he was good to go. As if he hadn’t a care in the world or that the weight of the world was on his shoulders, he strolled, head down, to the bridal path and slowly wandered along.

The watchers in the park kept their binoculars trained on the space above his head. He had almost entered the trees, when the watchers saw the black shadow descend slowly out of the canopy. The alert was sent to Robbie and all of the hidden officers. Robbie didn’t react at all. He continued along the path. The shadow hovered for a moment, perhaps taking a longer look around for possible witnessed, then descended quickly. The watchers didn’t see the grab to the head, but the twist was clear. Then the shadow started to lift up again. Robbie slumped and let his head dangle as much as the brace allowed. In moments the shadow disappeared into the canopy again.

The blip was clear on all of the watchers’ devices and they began to close in, slowly and carefully, to not give the game away. The blip moved no more than half a kilometer before it slowed. John gave the order to close in rapidly and fifty officers, with only one objective rushed to the final location. They were just in time to see Robbie cuffing a scruffy, hippy-looking man, half his size. The shadow device lay off to one side. And the remote control lay on the ground next to the captured hippy. Robbie was smiling for the first time since Jim’s death. They were standing in the private back garden of a detached house.

At the station, the device was examined. It was a helicopter of sorts with a fine framework, covered all round in black, matt material cut to resemble a bird’s wings but open above and below. It had three grabs, two for the shoulders and one for the head. It worked much as the team had surmised. The man resisted questioning for a long time, but the detectives found identification in a wallet in his pocket. It turned out that he owned the house with the garden where the device landed. A search warrant was obtained and the house was searched. The bodies of the other victims were found in freezers in the basement. Then the man started to boast about his achievements. He admitted to killing all of them and said he was going to mummify the evidence of his brilliance and place the bodies in crypts in the basement. He couldn’t understand why his captors weren’t amazed and in awe of his work.

He was sent to an establishment for the criminally insane and the judge pronounced that he was truly a monster.