The war began with a single sting. A young honeybee out playing violated the long-standing truce. Unbeknownst to the bees, the wasps had prayed for the moment the truce would end. They plotted and planned, trained and prepared. They would not lose again. No hive mind could withstand the waves of kamikaze wasps bred for one purpose, and one alone – create a path to the queen. It was over quickly, and there were no survivors – except one young wasp, dazed and confused, flying away from his smoldering home vowing revenge.
This story first appeared on Medium (yeah, I am writing a little over there now too.)
Detective Ex’id leaned against the cold streetlight and sucked in the night air as he stared at the crime scene. Third one this week. Whoever the killer was; they were good. There were no leads yet, and the only clue found at the other two scenes was an old card.
Ex’id wiped his nose and tried to swallow the stench of this part of town. The sewers often overflowed into the streets, and the locals didn’t know well enough to change their habits. Dirty, filthy, animals, if you asked him. It was just as well no one ever did. It was his job to protect the town, and that included these people. He threw his cigarette on the ground and went to work.
Ex’id glanced at the officer and nodded. “Same as the others?”
“Yes and no, sir.” Officer Taners shifted on his feet. He had seen Ex’id angry once and didn’t want to wake up in the medical wing like the last guy. “Um, this time they asked for you personally.”
“Me?” Ex’id raised an eyebrow and tried not to laugh at the quaking officer. “A corpse asked for me?”
“No, sir. The murderer asked for you.” Officer Taners backed away slowly and folded his clipboard close to his chest. “Basement.”
Bile and the unmistakable metallic smell of blood flooded his nostrils as Ex’id walked past the homicide squad and down six steps to the basement of what the victim must have thought of as home. How anyone could live with dirty walls, peeling carpets, and, by the twinge of ammonia, rats was beyond him. No one would ever catch him in a dive like this. Children’s scribbles and blood splattered toys greeted him at the bottom of the stairs.
Ex’id pulled a piece of gum out of his pocket and popped it in his mouth. As he walked into the crime scene, he caught his reflection in a mirror. He couldn’t help but admire his new haircut and how the silver perfectly accented his crimson skin.
“Looking good, looking good,” he whispered.
His grin faded as he stepped further into the scene and saw what Officer Taners meant. There it was, in the victim’s blood.
“You can’t catch me, Detective Ex’id! I’m the Billy Goat!” Ex’id stared at the wall and the murderer’s trademark card in the victim’s hand. “Billy Goat? What the hell does that mean?”
Ex’id stormed out of the room and back upstairs screaming for the scene to be processed and for all the cards to be on his desk by the time he got back to the station.
Officer Taners ducked for cover as Ex’id spat his gum out and headed back to his car. “How are we supposed to beat him back to the office when he’s leaving first?”
Everyone wanted to leave the scene before dawn and avoid Ex’id’s wrath, so they all shifted into gear and processed the scene as fast as possible. It didn’t really matter if they followed the book, did it? The people in this part of town were barely functioning in society. Another death here would not even make the morning news.
Ex’id sat behind his desk and looked at his record screen. Three thousand homicides closed — eight open, including that night’s victim. A perfect record stolen from him unless he can wrap up that case within the week. He couldn’t retire having open cases. No one wanted to go down that way. Better to die than retire with an open case. Ex’id pounded the desk, knocking a picture frame off the wall.
“It’s about time!” Ex’id shouted through his closed door as he watched Officer Taners rush toward his office with a collection of plastic bags.
Officer Taners froze midway through the desks and gulped.
“Get in here!” Ex’id shouted.
Detectives, officers, secretaries, and even a few criminals laughed as Officer Taners scurried toward Ex’id’s office. His hands trembled so much he couldn’t open the door, so he stooped and slipped the bags under the door, then ran for his life back down to the evidence locker. The entire floor erupted with laughter.
Ex’id grumbled as he hoisted himself out of his chair and picked up the bags. One by one, he laid them on the desk and looked at them closely. He had never seen anything like these cards. There was a large image on the front with small, faded lettering at the bottom. The fronts were all similar, but the backs varied between the cards. These had to be more than just the killer’s calling card. Ex’id was sure of it.
The chair groaned under Ex’id’s weight as he sat back down. He picked up the most recent addition to his morbid collection and read the lettering at the bottom. “Stanley Hack.”
“Stanley Hack.” Ex’id ran his hand through his hair, then slammed the desk again. “Stan Hack!”
The name of the last victim was the same as the card. Well, close enough he told himself. Did this fit the others as well? He searched through his desk drawers and found a magnifying glass under an empty bottle of whiskey and looked closer at each of the cards, then back to his record screen.
“Phil Cavarretta — Phillip Cavert.”
“Andy Pafko — Andrew Paff.”
“Harry Lowrey — Harry Low.”
“Heinie Manush — Hanny Munch.”
“Don Johnson — Donald Johnston.”
“Lenny Merullo — Lenny Morelo.”
Ex’id leaned back in the chair and tossed the magnifying glass on the desk. “Now that I have that, what do I really know?” He slammed his desk again and groaned. “Nothing! That’s what I have is nothing! Nothing but a bunch of cards and eight dead humans.”
He thought about his last sentence for a moment then smacked his head. “I really need to retire if I’m getting this thick.”
The sound of him crossing his office sent a shiver up everyone’s spine.
Ex’id’s door flung open. “Get me an expert on human history from the university! NOW!”
The slamming of his door rattled the precinct’s windows.
Gladys was a small woman with long green hair pulled into a tight bun and the bluest skin Ex’id had seen in a long time. If he weren’t twice her age and three times as large, he would have asked her out immediately; instead, he sat across from her at his desk and watched as her face lit up as she examined the cards.
“Well, what?” Gladys set the last card down on Ex’id’s desk. “You have a wonderful collection here.”
Ex’id huffed. “Don’t play games with me, Missy. I need to know if these are important, or not!”
Gladys glared at him. “It’s Doctor Tumwater to you, Detective. Importance, like beauty and value, is all in the eye of the beholder.”
Ex’id wiped his face, sighed, and shook his head. “You’re right, Dr. Tumwater, I’m sorry. I have spent so much time with criminals, I forget how to talk to people sometimes.”
“It’s okay, Ex’id. I forgive you.” Gladys chuckled. “I have spent too many years with know-it-alls that I forget not everyone knows as much as I do about humans.”
They chuckled and shook hands.
“So, I take it these do mean something in their culture?”
“To some, probably. If I am correct about these names, and I assure you I am, then you are missing one.”
Ex’id sat up in his chair. Was this the lead he needed? “Go on.”
Gladys leaned back and took a deep breath. “While the cards, baseball cards to be precise, do not date to the same year, they do all point to a very specific event in human history. Baseball, if you don’t know, was a sport they played with nine members on the field. While the specifics of the game do not matter right now, it did take up a lot of people’s time and attention.”
“Uh huh,” Ex’id noted everything she said in his notepad. “So, what was this event?”
Glady chuckled lightly. “A curse. The cards you have here are the 1945 Chicago Cubs team. Minus Bill Nicholson. That’s the one you’re missing, and the manager too if you really wanted to be precise.”
“Who was the manager?”
“What was the curse about?”
“Believe it or not,” Gladys said, laughing. “A billy goat.”
Ex’id nearly fell out of his chair. “Thank you! That’s all I needed to know.”
Gladys was confused but happy to have been of help and allowed herself to be shuttled out of his office like an old newspaper.
“Everyone in my office! NOW!”
Once the names of the potential next victim or possible murderer hit the newspaper, thanks to an anonymous phone call placed to an old friend, tips poured in from the gutter. Ex’id grumbled as he waded through the mass of people in the lobby. Every human in the city must have turned up to tell everything they didn’t know twenty-four hours earlier. Rather than risk a stampede, Ex’id calmly closed his door and waited. His orders had been quite explicit. He only wanted to see those who names were, or sounded like, the two remaining members of the team.
After Gladys left his office three days earlier, he stopped by the library and did some quick reading on baseball and their weird obsession with it. The more he read though, the more he thought the game sounded fun. He swung by the University and sat in on one of Gladys’ lectures on human history. It had kept him interested for the entire four hours.
Turned out Gladys was much older than she appeared and was actually only two years younger than him. Once he retired, he would have more than enough time to take more of her classes. They had dined together once, and he was sure she would be interested in him, but it was not meant to be.
Hours passed, and nothing came of it. Ex’id leaned back in his chair and listened to the silence outside his door. His final week on the force had ended, and he would leave with eight open cases. Cold cases now. He chuckled thinking how that fit with his cold personality and demeanor he had selected when he entered the force.
Officer Taners knocked on the open door and smiled. “I thought you might still be up here. Don’t want to leave, huh?”
Ex’id chuckled and took a deep breath. “Guess not. What do you have there?”
“I thought I’d bring up your file from storage.” He looked into the box in his arms and smiled wider. “Save you the trip, you know.”
“Thanks.” Ex’id pulled out two glasses and a full bottle of whiskey from his drawer. “I’m not really a bad guy, you know.”
“I know.” Officer Taners gulped down the shot and looked at Ex’id. “If you don’t mind me asking, why’d you pick Ex’id?”
He laughed and remembered how tough it sounded at the naming ceremony at the academy. It was also as far away from his mother as he could get. Human rubbish. “Sounded right at the time. Why Taners? That’s not a very strong name, is it?”
The young man smiled and shimmered in the light as he closed Ex’id’s door. Ex’id’s confused expression made him laugh. “No, I guess it’s not. I picked it to remind me of where I came from. My mother is a native, and I used her family name at the academy.”
Ex’id sat his glass down on the desk and stared at Officer Taners. “Native? Only humans call us natives. Your father — ”
“Was a human.” Officer Taners sneered. “You killed him your first week on duty. Don’t you remember? You killed a young man trying to break up a fight.”
Ex’id swallowed hard and searched his memory. He had killed so many with his weapon. A weapon that was not in his office. He watched as Officer Taners drew a weapon and pointed it at him.
“I’m guessing you don’t remember him. Am I right?”
“Bill Nickel. His name was William Thomas Nickel. He was twenty-seven years old when you killed him. He left a wife and three children behind.”
“I…I,” Ex’id stammered. He looked around his office for something he could use in defense. “Listen — ”
“No! You listen!” Officer Taners reached into the box and pulled out a file. “Let’s see,” he said, opening the file. “Detective Ex’id. That is you, right? Former name…Charles Grimm.”
Ex’id’s jaw dropped. Had it really been so long since he used his real name that he had forgotten it? His mind raced as names and images flooded his thoughts. “Wait! I’m not! I can’t be!”
“You think I haven’t seen you? Did you really think no one would notice a large crimson-skinned man on the human side of town? You must think we’re really stupid.”
Ex’id stammered, “I have no idea what you’re –”
“Four nights ago, you walked into my brother’s house and slaughtered him while he slept.”
“That was…no, it couldn’t have been…I didn’t –”
Officer Taners took a deep breath. “You did. All of them!”
A flash of light filled Ex’id’s office followed by silence. Officer Taners put away his weapon and calmly walked through the precinct back to the storage locker and put the gun back into evidence.
Everyone on the native side of town was shocked. Humans were relieved. Investigators discovered a hidden room in his house filled with clippings and photographs of the daily lives of each of his victims. When the newspaper published a photo of the room on the front page, Gladys gasped and grabbed her chest. There, in the photo, was a copy of her syllabus for the following term with a broken heart on it.
It was opening day. Everyone rose for the anthem. Family and friends clapped from the stands. As the players took their positions for the first pitch of the season, they were distracted by all the empty seats. It was unnerving playing against the newly formed Mostly Ghostly team – in their home stadium.
It was a magical tin. A butter cookie tin that was but a facade of its former self. No matter what one needed, it could be pulled from the tin. Need a button? There’s hundreds. Need a needle? Be careful reaching in, there’s thousands. There’s even a fabric tomato. Everyone’s favorite is the thimble. No one knows where it came from, but it was always there. Rumor has it, it is more than six generations old.