River of Sensations

River of Sensations
By Sheldon Doyle
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Copyrighted 2007 by Sheldon Doyle

River of Sensations


Wednesday, June 30th Racine, Wisconsin

Moving silently through the network of fire escapes and sheltered alcoves, the black jump suit made him virtually invisible. To the world beyond the narrow alleyway, it was impossible to tell where the lines of the buildings ended and he began as he slinked forward. Even if a stray headlight did penetrate the darkness and silhouette his lanky frame, he felt safe no one would actually see him as he crouched down behind a cluster of dumpsters.
He checked his watch again to make sure he was still on schedule, then rose and steadied the Yukon Monocular atop the closest dumpster to study her more.
Good. She was still alone, standing in the doorway of Harmon’s bookstore. An old man hobbling with the cane entered his field of vision, so did a long legged beauty in shorts clinging to some geek behind him. Even a homeless one poking through gutters looked up at her oddly before he too vanished from his sight.
But none had said a word to her. Nor she to them. Like him, they all knew what she was, what she was looking for, but still she remained in the shadows, persistent in her efforts to find another customer.
He mused over her decision. Of all the corners in Racine to pick he wondered why she had picked this one. It seemed Fate had intervened in his favor. Most of the others hadn’t been as adventurous, preferring instead to stay within the known turf of State Street where there was safety in numbers, where working girls peddling their butts knew all the hidey holes and where customers were easier pickings.
Easy pickings.
He smiled at that one. She wouldn’t believe who it was she was about to meet. A block either way and he never would have seen her. Never would have had the opportunity to make her number four in his growing list of memories.
He checked his watch again and watched as the second hand sped towards zero hour. It was time to get moving.
Stowing away the monocular, he gathered up his belongings and hurried down the walkway to the parked Ford Bronco. It took him only a few seconds to strip out of the jump suit, to make himself presentable before heading back in her direction. Having made herself available to him, he couldn’t be late and disappoint her destiny.
At exactly 12 midnight, he slowed to a stop at the curb beside her and rolled down the window. At 12:01AM she sauntered over and asked if he wanted to party.
At 12:02AM and smiling warmly, he swung the door open and invited her in.


The nightmares had returned, fierce and unending until sleep finally fled and I was left panting into the darkness chilled with sweat. To settle my nerves I was now working at my desk, having removed myself from any further horrors my mind might chose to admire, and was sifting through mounds of reports when my cellphone vibrated across the table top. The number didn’t look familiar, but the attached 911 made it urgent and sent a shiver of dread clinking down my spine.
Please, this can’t be happening again.
It was hard not to image what was waiting or who was calling so late when I pressed the redial button. It could be anyone for any number of reasons, but at 3AM it was never good.
Halfway through “Detective Murin here,” Ben Haskins’ child-like voice cut through the intro and I hurriedly changed to something more friendly. “Hey kid, what’s up?”
“Hey Pops. Sorry to bother you so late, but we’ve got another one. Just like the other three.”
Detective Ben Haskins, the youngest of my task force, is well on his way to stardom if the job doesn’t burn him out first. He’s seen a lot for a twenty-eight year old kid. More than his fair share of robberies and homicides. But nothing like this. So when his voice broke into a tremulous squawk it was obvious the latest had hit him hard.
I listened while he explained what he had, grimacing whenever some detail reminded me of the latest nightmare. By the time he finished, Ben was sucking air, gulping back the emotions.
“Okay Ben. Good job. I’ll be right there. Just give me a couple of minutes.”
Grabbing my Smith 5906 and clipping it to my belt, I bedroom on autopilot. Halfway up the stairs I stopped and shook my head, clearing away the cobwebs as the realization settled in again.
There was no need to tell Claire I was leaving. She wasn’t there.
The phone in the kitchen rang.
I was still thinking about her when Andrew Chaffey said he’d swing by and pick me up. Being the good detective, Haskins had called him also, alerting the rest of the task force that our killer had likely struck again and where we should gather.
But Chaffey was being more than a friend or number two in the effort. He doing the motherly hen thing again. One of those kindly people for friends in trouble. Namely me.
He knew about the fight with Claire, the decision she made and how badly it hurt. And that trying to drown the sorrow with too many Coors and not enough sleep made a bad recipe for a homicide detective with a boat load of problems. But he didn’t know everything. Not by a long shot. And while I waited for him to pull into the driveway, I wondered how I was going to explain the impossible.
It still didn’t make any sense to me.


We headed cross town, taking Main Street through downtown to State Street, before turning west into the older section of Racine. Motoring past blocks of closed shops and vacant streets that grew more destitute by the minute, I wondered aloud if our killer had snagged his latest victim somewhere downtown.
Chaffey said no and handed me some Tic-Tacs. “Here, you’ll need these.”
Most of the prostitutes worked State Street, but occasionally a few ventured into downtown when the bars emptied out, spilling their drunken customers onto the streets. If the killer was feeling the heat, I figured it was only a mattered of time before he relocated to friendlier hunting grounds and Main Street seemed the most likely spot.
For the record we were floundering. Evidence was sketchy, just some flecks of white powder that Forensics identified as construction grade drywall. The kind that hangs in ninety-eight percent of every house across the country. From there it went down hill. No prints. No DNA. No nothing.
Only the three pathology reports from Coroner Dave Brown, the fourth member of the task force, offered a hint to what we were up against. Officially, our killer was methodical and very meticulous, almost to the point of being obsessive. He was also enormously strong.
Off the record, Dave thought he was psychotic masochist with a military background who enjoyed toying with his victims before he slit their throats. A real psycho.
When we turned off State Street onto Harmon, I got that de’javu feeling again. Squads were parked at odd angles across the street again, their flashing lights flickering off the wood and brick two story buildings built in the late twenty and thirties. More cops were huddled again in quiet conversations at the edges of a small parking and a few, including Haskins, were crowded around another dumpster, their flashlights probing into its darkness.
Old is not the proper word to describe this section of the city. Worn down is more appropriate. The luster of life has faded from years of neglect. As I got out of the squad the night breeze carried the distinct odor of age, of rot, of vintage depression.
Spotting me approach, Haskins said, “She’s over here Dell. We haven’t moved her yet. I wanted you to see her before she’s taken to the morgue.”
He shined his light into the dumpster as Chaffey and I leaned over.
Chaffey spun away and sputtered, “Oh, my God!”


Detective Cecil Thornton, the fifth member of my task force, was inside the empty dumpster straddling another nude body. He was busy rattling off similarities to the previous homicides into a micro recorder, noting the locations and number of puncture wounds around her left breast and across her abdomen, the lack of blood and the fact that lavidity didn’t correspond to how she was found. All would be confirmed by Brown, but we were positive she had been killed elsewhere before disposed of in the dumpster.
“Does any one have a clue as to why he slashes like that?” Thornton illuminated her neck and the wound that stretched from ear to ear.
“Who knows,” I offered, leaning in for a better look. “Brown thinks he does. Believes he’s a crazed psycho who enjoys doing this.”
“Yeah, well looks like another closed casket if you ask me. I sure as hell wouldn’t want my kid displayed with a zipper across her neck. Much less all the stitches to put her face back together.”
To Ben, I asked, “You call a funeral home already?”
He nodded. “They’re over there, waiting for us to give them the word.”
“Before she’s moved, make sure her hands and feet are bagged. There’s some dirt there on her left foot that might be worthwhile. And from the condition of her fingernails it looks like she put up a fight.”
While the carriers for Dawkins Funeral Home moved in to claim her, I asked Chaffey to make sure a guard accompanied her. If we found anything of value and made an arrest, I didn’t want the case thrown out on a technicality.
Ben and Cecil were finishing up and like before found more drywall dust in her hair and what looked to be bruising around the back of her neck. As Ben followed the gurney, Cecil busied himself lighting up a cigarette when I approached him. He blew a streamer of smoke into the air after I told him to start checking new construction sites going up nearby.
“There’s a lot of them. They’re springing up all over the place. You want me to check every one?”
“Every single one. Take Ben with you.”
It was just past 6AM when we finally closed down the scene and left. Chaffey and I had an appointment with the DA first thing Friday morning and we were running out of time. I wanted to give Charlotte something more than drywall powder when we met. Something we could at least focus on.
I wasn’t sure why I wanted those construction sites checked. I just did. It seemed right. The only way I knew that powder could get in their hair was to be near it. And new construction sites seemed the most logical place for a crime scene. Maybe I was grabbing at straws, hoping to find a winner. But if I were right, then maybe our killer wasn’t as meticulous as Brown thought.

Chapter One

Friday Morning, July 9th, Racine, Wisconsin

Charlie Bickford, a mousy reporter for The Herald, spotted us sneaking out of the District Attorney’s office around nine o’clock Friday morning. We had been in DA Charlotte Meeker’s office all morning and I didn’t feel like putting up with his badgering. I’d had had enough of someone chewing on my ear and all I wanted to do was escape unseen, to lick my wounds and wonder what in the hell just happened.
Charlotte was normally quiet and reserved, a kindly woman about thirty five who I liked working with. Short and ultra slender, in the peak of supreme physical condition, she reminded me of an advocate for some dietary supplement, the living proof it guarantee was genuine. If she wasn’t working to throw thugs in the slammer, she was hoofing it across town or pumping iron to shed imaginary pounds.
When cases bothered her, she became a real gym rat, taking her frustrations out on herself rather than me. But the fact that we had four unsolved homicides hadn’t settled well her. Nor with her constituents. And a month of Friday morning meetings with nothing to show but drywall dust had finally boiled over this morning and my normally demure DA was spitting fire at me.
Still in her togs, she was panting behind her mahogany desk and flinging sweat as she chewed my ass, making it clear she fed up with our efforts. The city was beginning to grumble nervously.
Still furious, she slammed the morning edition of The Herald on her desk and stabbed the story by Bickford with a long fingernail.
“Have you read this morning’s edition yet? Maybe I should call him and ask what the hell he knows that we don’t. The implications are obvious. And I’m getting sick of his innuendos. We don’t need any outside agencies sticking their noses into our business. Especially the FBI, ATF or whoever the hell he’s alluding to.”
I shook my head no. I didn’t want them sniffing around either. I was about to say something more when she summarily dismissed us, waving us out of her office with another sprinkling of sweat.
I was just about out the door when she called out and apologized.
“I’m sorry, Dell. It’s just that the City is getting scared. And to be honest, I don‘t blame them. My phone has been ringing off the hook. The people are wondering when he’ll stop with the prostitutes and start on their children. And after reading Bickford’s article I’m beginning to wonder the same thing. It’s only a matter of time.
“Please, Dell. Give me something I can work with. You’re our only hope. You have to stop him.”
She gave me one her patented plaintiff looks, the sorrowful heart-rending kind she always laid on the juries when making a point in closing arguments. I had seen it work a hundred times, but never paid it much attention. It was grandstanding. But this morning, dress in running togs and sporting a long brown ponytail, I guess it worked on me as well. As I ushered Chaffey out the door I could hear myself mumbling, “Yeah, I know.”

Chapter Two

Bickford wanted an exclusive and ninety percent of the royalties should his book go Hollywood. It seemed only right. He was, afterall, the one who was receiving the killer’s letters.
If they agreed, their share would amount to less than five figures while his would clear six, maybe even seven. Yet even as he counted his imaginary wealth, he knew the validity of the letters required verification. A requirement that had cost him a lucrative job.
Six months earlier as the lead reporter for The Globe, Bickford had been a household name. An icon in the industry that devoured his articles. Readers relished his explicitness that often bordered on the macabre and reeked of half-truths and sexual connotations _ the seedier parts of human behavior his readers enjoyed and the tabloids gladly printed.
But as quick as he rose to fame, he plummeted faster in failure. Two stories, both lies, both manufactured, had cost him his job. The actress was not a drunkard as he had gleefully reported, but of impeccable lineage dating back to Prohibition, which her family still supported. They also had enough financial clout to prove it and forced The Globe to settled out of court.
Nor was the Member of Congress soliciting sex when Bickford photographed him donating twenty bucks to a buxom Bow Peep on the steps of the Capital. That story had raised the hue and cry of constituents and brought the Tennessee Congressman’s fury down on The Globe and Bickford.
The attorneys were horrified. One asked if he was crazy. “You gotta be crazy to write something like this. Jesus, Bickford, are you nuts?”
Bickford ignored the flavorful adjectives and only shrugged at the suggestion he had did something wrong. “It sold copies didn’t it? And there was nothing manufactured here that I can see.”
Once more The Globe settled out of court and in a flaming tirade fired Bickford, spurred on by the Congressman’s desire to roast their collective asses. By the time they banked the fires, Bickford’s reputation was dead. He would never see the inside of a tabloid again, much less any respectable newspaper.
Yet Bickford was a genius and his boss knew it. He quietly suggested a mid-west newspaper where his investigative talents would not go to waste. He felt he owed him that much, since Bickford had actually done a good job lining everyone’s pockets with gold.
Undaunted, Bickford moved westward and eventually took a letter of recommendation to The Herald in Racine, Wisconsin. It was a conservative newspaper with a circulation over three hundred thousand, covering eleven counties; three in southern Wisconsin, four in the Chicago metropolitan area and four more around the southern end of Lake Michigan in Indiana. Readers ranged from sedate midwestern residents to liberals commuting daily to Chicago or outlying suburbs.
The Herald was an unlikely home for someone like Bickford, for its moderate approach hamstrung his creative genius and forced him to play by the rules. “You can still shoot from the hip,” his new boss often quipped, “but nothing goes to print until I know we’re on solid ground. The Herald’s not a tabloid Mr. Bickford. No sir. We’re a newspaper and we report only the news. Good news.”
Bickford could only smile. Eventually his break would come, he just had to bide his time. Until then he would play by the rules, something he was unaccustomed to doing.
Then out of the blue they appeared. Vanilla envelopes inked with his name. Never stamped. No return address. But everyone had arrived just before the discovery of another body.
Number five came Thursday night.


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