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The Night Remembers

by Isabel Atherton-Reimer 5 months ago in Mystery · updated 5 months ago
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A Familiar Killer

Worst deeds were always hidden best under the cover of night.

In the darkness, shadows came alive and monsters were made out of the mundane. It was as if people believed that actions made under the cover of shadow had no impact on the day to day - that such misdeeds did not carry into the daylight.

People were freer with their inner beats in between the glow of streetlights, setting them free to roam those dark places.

But these streets had memories.

This was the truth that kept Frankie firmly planted in the shadows of Anniat Bridge at such an ungodly hour, despite the warm bed she had waiting for her at home and the biting hail that had begun soon after she had arrived.

Only those with something to hide or someone to catch were awake at this hour. Frankie knew this because she was one of the two. Though, if anyone asked which she was, she’d simply plead the fifth. She would only divulge such information if a gun was pressed to her head with clear intent in the owner’s eyes of pulling the trigger. Maybe not even then.

Frankie wasn’t keen on others sticking their noses where they didn’t belong, which was funny, considering what she did for a living - the same job that ensured she had that warm bed to call home, and not the dark, dirty corners beneath that very bridge.

Turning up her collar to the chill, the woman watched, and she waited. She had as much time as she did patience, and Frankie had nowhere to be but where she was at that exact moment. Her time was not the issue, however. Frankie was going by the clock of another, and that was slowly tick tick ticking with every passing hour. She might have been annoyed by this, the constant subjection to another’s watch, had it not been a requirement of the job.

And the one whose watch she went by tonight had a penchant for tardiness.

The wind picked up, a raging howl that tore beneath the bridge, scattering piles of garbage in small tornadoes of filth, kicking up any dust that wasn’t dampened by the wet. Frankie leaned into those brutal gusts, shielding her eyes against the grittiness as her hair whipped at her face.

She should have known better than to leave it unbound, but she had no energy to fight that dark halo today. Now, Frankie was paying for that mistake, and she would curse herself soundly when she had to deal with the tangled mess later - once she was inside and safe from the wind’s styling fingers.

But that was for another time, so Frankie let the wind have its fun with her curls while she waited.

“Where are you, little mouse,” Frankie whispered into her collar, breath misting in the biting night air, spiralling above like smoke to be ripped away with the increasingly violent breeze.

Frankie checked her watch again, wiping away at the water that collected on the glass as soon as she unearthed it from her sleeve. The glowing face read half past two, and at this point, she had all but resigned herself to a night without sleep. It wouldn’t be the first time, nor the last.

The wind raged on, relentless and unforgiving, bellowing throughout the dank space, tearing at Frankie’s clothes and trailing icy fingers places that they had no business being.

Frankie’s shoulders rose closer to her ears at each body-numbing minute that ticked by, like necks were just a suggestion and her head simply sprouted from her shoulders. That was how it felt, anyway, and Frankie was almost inclined to call it a day - or rather, night - and leave her informant to their own late devices.

Even by her informant’s standards, this was pushing it.

It was as if The Mouse could read her thoughts - could sense how very close they were to losing a rather substantial payday - because not a second later, they materialized from the shadows. One moment, only darkness danced across the bridge’s underside, and the next, a small, gangly shadow folded itself from the overlapping black. She dusted hail off the shoulders of her coat - a long, black bit of fabric that probably had a very confused, very cold owner somewhere in the city - and shook out a choppy bob of tree bark brown hair.

Really, Frankie wouldn’t be surprised if the girl had snatched that coat straight off of that much larger person’s back. The Mouse wasn’t known as such simply because of the colour of her hair and her size, though that was a factor. She was often compared to the sneaky rodent because of her affinity for getting into tight spots, then getting back out relatively unscathed, with only a few indicators that it was her. And those indicators were often the messes that she left behind.

Though, even if one was certain that it was she that stole their watch, the shoes off of their feet, a particularly shiny pair of earrings, no one had quite mastered the art of catching the girl in order to prove it.

Frankie had once, not long ago - tracked the girl and the dismally thin wallet she had snatched, belonging to her, to a makeshift lounging area made of cardboard in a dank alley, beside an ever danker group home. The woman had taken one look at the sad lodgings, at the thin girl with eyes too large for her head, and - aided with a few bills from that same sparse wallet - had struck up a new sort of bargain. It wasn’t a selfless action - it was never that with Frankie. No, it was far from it. Frankie saw a situation in which a new direction might better aid her, so she had taken it.

Frankie was not to be mistaken for a bleeding heart. She wasn’t about to do anything unless it benefitted her, one way or another. And at that particular moment, it had served her better to make a deal with a petty thief rather than accepting the laughable reward if she brought her in.

That decision had served her well everyday since, even though she often debated whether or not she should cut her losses - debated whether or not the unpredictability of the girl’s appearances, the suggestion that she often took meeting times as, were worth it. The answer was always yes, because once she had dry clothes, four walls and a clear head once more, reluctant gratitude would replace this lingering state of annoyance.

“You’re late,” Frankie began, the gravel of the woman’s voice coming out a murmur between numbed lips. It was no constellation, really, this reminder. The girl would continue to be a patron of her brand of tardiness regardless, and Frankie would continue to show up no matter how long the girl made her wait, but Frankie always began with such reminders, anyway.

It kept most on their toes, but The Mouse wasn’t like most.

“This meetin’ relies on my’s presence, ain’t it?” Frankie couldn’t see much in this darkness, but she imagined a flick of brows accompanied that question. “That means yer early.”

The girl wasn’t wrong, and though Frankie was a tad miffed at the walking twig’s disregard for her time, she could respect a sound bit of logic. Besides, working with the girl these past few years had accustomed her to this, and the information Frankie got out of the arrangement made the inconvenience worth it. Sometimes, it irritated her how worthwhile such information was - irritated her how much substance the small orphan’s inflated ego had to back it up.

There was no tearing down a skilled informant with little to lose, and Frankie didn’t like that one bit. It set her on even ground with the girl - the child, really - and Frankie didn’t enjoy being on even ground with anyone.

“What have you got for me?” Frankie continued, ignoring the question that wasn’t really a question altogether.

A rare flash of glee shone in the girl’s face, gone in an instant, yet impossible to miss even bathed in shadow. It made Frankie elated and wary all at once, because though she knew that meant the information was good, she also knew that it meant her wallet would wafer thin once this was all over. Again.

“Ye know how th’ victim was found with a noose ‘round them’s neck?”

Frankie didn’t even bother with a verbal response, merely a nod for the girl to continue, because of course she did. She had been on this case for over two weeks with little leads, that was true, but she would have had to be the worst PI in the city if she didn’t at least know that much about her own case - would have to be lower even than the ones hired by suspicious men with money to blow to tail their spouse to a morning yoga class.

“But what theys didn’t tell ye, that theys also finds ‘brasions inside them’s throat.” Abrasions on the inside of the victims throat, meaning poison. Meaning, the man was dead before the noose was tied. Frankie’s mind tumbled over each new development, reshaping her original hypothesis.

A cover-up, perhaps? It would make sense, if it were a crime of passion, but the lack of fingerprints said more planning went into the crime than the usual cases of that type. Or, perhaps the killer had simply done something like it before.

The cold no longer touched her as all of her focus honed into that detail-oriented part of her brain. Frankie wasn’t surprised that the city police didn’t follow up on this, or inform Frankie about this rather crucial detail. Cops were about as helpful as they were kind, and frankly, Frankie didn’t trust them as far as she could throw them. Scratch that. As far as she could throw one of their squad cars.

“Theys found this mark on the back of them’s hand,” The Mouse finished, flicking a square photo towards her. Frankie caught the object, tilting it towards the weak light coming from the bridge above. It was grainy, as if a picture of a picture, and Frankie had to squint in order to see the image more clearly. Both girl and investigator gazed upon the gruesome scene with all of the detachment of two people who had seen things like it often - that, and worse.

Her breath caught in her lungs the second her eyes caught the image fully. It was a hand, a greyness to the skin that Frankie associated with death, with only a single X carved across the whole expanse of the back. Any number of people could have done it, but the familiarity of it all rang bells inside of Frankie’s head.

It can’t be, was Frankie’s first thought. She had solved that problem long ago - three years ago, in fact, with a bullet that had stayed with her years after it had left her gun.

She had solved it with a permanence that haunted her dreams all of these years, she had thought, so then why was it back?

It was impossible, and yet, the evidence was right there, etched onto the hand of a dead man. It was right there. The mark brought back memories, of the first and last time she had to deal with its likeness, and the before, when she lived in fear of its outline. She wanted to believe that she was wrong, but it was all so hard to forget.

The impatient tone of the girl’s voice brought Frankie out of her stupor, and she gave her the money almost on autopilot, thoughts occupied in a swirling cloud of confusion and a long-forgotten fear.

Frankie doled out what was owed, which was just as large a sum as she had feared, and they both went on their way, The Mouse fading back into the shadows while the investigator returned to her sparse lodgings with a different sort of darkness on her mind.

The sandy feeling wouldn’t leave her eyes, no matter how much she blinked it away.

Frankie cursed her sleep-gritted eyes, the weak coffee in her hand, and the sun that seemed content to hammer into her sleep-deprived, shrivelled-up brain. It felt as if all of the moisture had been sucked out of her, and the caffeine that she coveted served only to bombard her with a splitting headache, rather than the energy she was chasing. If what she hesitantly sipped as she strolled down the cracked sidewalk could even be referred to as such. Calling the atrocity coffee felt like pointing to one of the cats that frequented the city’s alleyways - with their patchy coats even patcher morals - and calling it a kitten. The word felt like a mistake, a dangerous betrayal of the real thing - a proclamation that one would definitely come to regret later.

The watered-down sludge in her paper cup made Frankie want to walk right back to the stand outside of her apartment complex and demand her money back, but she didn’t have the time to retrace all those blocks for a dollar, and —

Well, coffee was coffee, just as all cats were demons. At least it was warm. Frankie’s fingers curled tighter around the cup as she took another sip, relishing the feel of the hot liquid burning a path down her throat while she braced herself against the bitter taste of burnt coffee beans. Usually, Frankie took her coffee black, since she didn’t like the way cream and sugar overpowered the dark, rich authenticity of her fuel of choice, but at the moment, she would give her left pinkie toe for even a splash of cream or a sprinkle of sugar. She might even give a whole foot for a fresh cup.

Draining the last of the gritty dregs, Frankie tossed the empty cup into a passing garbage bin already overflowing with trash.

Without breaking her stride, Frankie side-stepped pieces of trash and suspicious looking stains littering the sidewalk, careful to keep the boots on her feet unblemished. The effect she was going for might be ruined with dirty shoes. Frankie was dressed to intimidate, with a matching pant and blazer of striking lavender, complemented with a cream blouse tucked into the bottoms. The look was completed by very impractical, very loud, white heeled boots that reached about mid calf. She had left her hair to its own devices today - deeming the mild, sun streaked day safe from wind - and combined with the substantial height added from the heeled boots, she was feeling very tall, indeed.

In this part of the city, with her clothes and the way she thundered down the street, Frankie knew she stood out like a particularly sore thumb. That was exactly the idea.

When she wanted to be visible, there was no blending in for Frankie - with her wild mane of dark curls, skin like the coffee she so loved, and a tall, heavily curved figure that stayed as such no matter how often she forgot to eat - so she had decided long ago to stand out. Frankie was one of the farthest things from generic - from forgettable - that one could get, so she used that to her advantage.

Frankie had learned to use clothes as weapons and armour all in one - tools to intimidate, and shape another’s perception as if it were clay and she the sculptor.

Frankie wore her clothes like her first layer of protection - a foundation of armour before the tougher stuff came in. It wasn’t that Frankie was obsessed with physical appearances in any way, only that people often based assumptions of others on what they looked like, and she wanted to control that narrative before another had the chance. They saw what she wanted them to see.

While Frankie’s clothes were screaming for attention, drawing in the eye as a moth does a flame, she would use that distraction to wring out information.

The body shop appeared around the next bend, an ugly garage made of twisted, rusted metal. Frankie made a beeline towards it, cutting across the deserted street and entering the warm, noisy interior through the open bay doors. It smelled of warm metal and engine grease, a nauseating combination that was somehow comforting at the same time.

She didn’t spare a glance at the cars or the workers dotting the clamouring space, instead making her way up a set of stairs, taking the narrow flight two at a time until she reached the top. Only a slim, squat hallway loomed ahead, a single door sitting firmly shut across the short distance.

Frankie strode up to the dark wood, then gave the surface a firm knock.

“Come in,” came a deep voice barely a second later, and Frankie felt her brows lift to her hairline. He hadn’t even asked who it was. It was probably for the best, because the owner might not have given her leave to enter if he had known.

Brushing off her surprise, Frankie twisted the brass knob and pushed inside the room. It was a small space, a large, metal desk taking up the centre - papers and empty mugs littering the surface - while boxes of varying sizes were scattered throughout the room. It looked exactly how it had three years ago, not a thing out of place, as if frozen in time.

A large window stretched across the expanse of the opposite wall, sunlight filtering through, illuminating the large figure planted at the desk in a golden glow. Frankie almost snorted, that saintly light so very humorous in its accuracy. Tommy was nothing if not selfless.

“Tommy,” Frankie began, by way of greeting. She wasn’t fond of such mundane things as hellos and goodbyes, so she never bothered with them.

The large man looked up from his desk in surprise, freckled face growing paler as he fully took in who it was. Tommy was the type of man who looked like he could have been anywhere from early twenties to late thirties, with cropped red hair and a scruffy red beard, broad shoulders, and tree trunk arms covered in a plethora of greyscale tattoos.

He looked to be the skull-crushing type, but anyone who was familiar with the man knew he was really a teddy bear.

His brows lowered in confusion, expression wary as he ventured “what do you want, Frankie?”

Frankie planted herself in the chair across from Tommy, without waiting for an invitation. Only when her elbows were planted on her knees, fingers laced underneath her chin, did Frankie answer. “Does one need a reason to visit a foster brother?” She asked, a secret smile gracing her lips.

“If it were anyone else, no, but it’s always something with you,” Tommy deadpanned, both hands coming to rest flat atop the papers on his desk. He wasn’t wrong, and Frankie wasn’t particularly sorry about it.

She would have claimed to be wounded, except Tommy would never believe her. It would take more than a few words to wound Frankie, and they both knew it

Done with toying around, which is what it always felt like when she tracked down another of the people she had spent her childhood years with, Frankie cut to the chase.

“You remember this?” Frankie asked, whipping the photo from the breast pocket of her blazer and flicking it onto the desk. It slid across the papers with a hiss, coming to a stop before one of Tommy’s large, inked hands. Gingerly, the man lifted the stiff paper, immediately sliding it back to her once he caught what it captured. Though he tried to hide it, Frankie caught the brief flash of guilt that coloured his features.

“No,” he said, tapping his fingers against his desk.

She slid the picture back into her pocket, settling back into the stiff the metal chair, and she observed.

As badly as Frankie wanted to believe Tommy was telling the truth, she had grown up with the man, had studied him as she had all of the others in the home, and she knew that loyalty always trumped honestly for him. She couldn’t decide if it was a flaw or a gift, but regardless, Tommy wasn’t telling her all that he knew, and Frankie couldn’t have that.

Tommy wasn’t stupid, only naive, but to Frankie, the two often felt synonymous. He believed in the goodness of people, and Frankie, decidedly, did not.

The man was prone to dishonesty, had been ever since he was a child, but Frankie had known him long enough to learn his tell. Tommy had always been a still, silent type, content to speak and move only when absolutely necessary, but while spinning lies, he got… fidgety. Frankie suspected it was because such things went against his nature, and it simply had to manifest in the physical sense.

Frankie stared into his eyes, hoping that Tommy would give into the guilt and cave - as he often did - but he simply stared back, fingers tap tap tapping against the desk’s paper-littered surface.

Finally, Frankie used her last resort - something she had no intention of ever needing again. She would rather poke out her own eyes with a rusty spoon than be vulnerable, but appeasing Tommy’s softer side - the kindness that he had somehow never lost - would get her farther than intimidation. Farther than this glorified staring contest would.

Please,” Frankie said quietly, voice low, stumbling over the word that she couldn’t remember the last time she had used. “Tell me where she is.” Tell me before she gets the chance to hurt more people, was what her eyes finished.

Nothing came for free in her world. Information, kindness, it all had a price. Lucky for Frankie, Tommy still hadn’t quite learned that simple fact. He would soon enough.

The alley looked exactly like all of the others in the filthy city - covered in stains and trash and filled with all of the unwanted things, Frankie included - but the feeling in this one was different. It was familiar, this dingy spot, and not in a good way. Memories seeped into this place, through the wall at one side of the narrow space to where Frankie prowled. The night didn’t forget, and neither did Frankie.

Steady, calm, she urged her raging heart, because she would need it for what came next.

She pulled out the handcuffs she always kept on her with one hand, her gun with the other. Only the night would tell which she would end up using.

A figure was perched upon a large trash can at the far end of the alley - as Frankie had done herself, many nights as a child - their back to Frankie.

The figure stirred at the sound of Frankie’s approaching steps, turning as the PI dragged her eyes up - dread rushing through her blood as her heart thumped a staccato beat - and into the eyes of a woman she had not seen since they were eighteen years old. A woman she had not seen since they had both been booted from the group home at that same alley’s side and gone their separate ways. In more ways than one, it seemed.

She knew she gazed into the eyes of a killer, yet she found it hard to see the woman as anything but who she used to be. Anything but the girl who had been just as lost as she.

Frankie swallowed back the bitterness from those long, lonely years - shoved it underneath everything else that was better left buried - then steeled herself as she opened her mouth to speak. “Hello, sister.”

Mystery

About the author

Isabel Atherton-Reimer

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