Henry arrived back home. He didn’t wear a watch, but he could feel he was late. His mother wasn’t going to appreciate it. Now, she wouldn’t have to know if he snuck into the house.
The Hidgens family owned a big plot of land at the edge of the town, with a mansion in the middle. There were more than enough rooms her mother could be in, enjoying her day while the staff did the cooking and the cleaning. They could afford it - Bernard had worked incredibly hard to reach this level of wealth, and he was damn proud of it, too.
Henry guessed his mother was currently sitting in the living room, where she sat by the fire and drank her tea, enjoying some novel a famous person wrote. If Henry came in through the front door, he was certain his mother may not notice - on the condition that he was really quiet.
So Henry dumped his bike in the backyard and walked to the front door. As silently as he could, he turned the knob and cautiously pushed open the door.
It creaked to the extent that Henry had expected, and quietly, steadily pushed through. He even took the caution to push it closed at the same rate, so as not to raise any alarms. He was glad when the door finally shut. Now he needed to get up the stairs, change into a clean set of clothes, and come down to go to Claudia for his lessons.
He stopped in his tracks, however, when he spotted a figure at the top of the stairs; a stately lady in a dress free of wrinkles, not a hair out of place, and a cold look in her eyes.
Henry looked to the ground in shame. His mother had caught him.
“Look at you. So dirty,” she said, letting the disappointment show in every syllable. “Where have you been?”
“The construction site,” Henry said loud enough for his mother to hear, still not looking at her. Even a wrong look might send her into a fit of anger. She never hit him but wasn’t afraid to humiliate him. He could feel this was what was going to happen shortly.
“You cannot play there,” Mrs. Hidgens said. “Undress yourself.”
He did as he was told. Fighting back was not an option. As calmly as he could, he took off his jacket and shirt. He hesitated when he came to his pants, but his mother’s strict gaze reminded him it was better to just get it over with. Soon, he stood in the hallway wearing nothing but his underwear. It was chilly in the house, and Henry shivered once. The thin layer of fabric of the shirt and shorts could not protect him from the chill for too long.
“Wait here,” Mrs. Hidgens said. She turned around and climbed the stairs, to go to his room. She was going to fetch him a clean set of clothes. She was going to take her time, too, to learn Henry this lesson. It had never really worked, but maybe she hoped that one day, the lesson would stick.
Until then, Henry stood at the bottom of the stairs, in his underwear, waiting impatiently for his mother to return so this could end. Luckily, none of the servants were around - Henry would feel more humiliated if they saw.
The door behind Henry opened. The front door. There was only one person who would come home at this hour. Somehow, Henry felt more at ease and more terrified. It wasn’t the first time his father had seen him in his underwear, but Henry still didn’t like that. Maybe that’s why his mother left him at the bottom of the stairs - for extra humiliation.
“Hi, son,” Bernard said. He’d walked into the home with the familiar footsteps and ticking of the cane hitting the ground. “What are you doing here?”
Henry turned around to look at Bernard Hidgens. He had a smile on his face and looked at Henry’s face; he didn’t even dare to look at anything else, to make Henry feel like he was looking at him and not laughing with the situation his mother had put him in.
“I was at the construction site,” Henry said, who also did not look at anything else but his father’s friendly face.
“Really?” Bernard said with genuine interest. “What did you think?” He glanced up briefly; his wife must have walked down the stairs with the fresh set of clothes. Henry did not turn to look at her - his father’s face was much more pleasant.
“I think it’s nice,” Henry said. He loved the place. “But the police were there.”
“Were they now?” Bernard asked. His son’s words made him curious. After all, he hadn’t heard of the police having to go to his construction site. Why didn’t he know about this?
“They were looking at a pile of dirt,” Henry said truthfully. “There were bodies in there.”
“Are you telling the truth, Henry?” Bernard asked. His face was suddenly serious, and a chill ran down Henry’s spine. If his father was serious, it must be important.
“Yes,” Henry said. “There were bodies.”
Bernard muttered a quick goodbye to Henry and an apology to his wife. He grabbed his coat and hat again and hobbled out of the front door as quickly as he could. This was an important matter, after all, and if he’d known about what happened, he wouldn’t have cut his workday short and come home.
The door slammed shut. Henry turned around again to look at his mother. She stared at him, unsure whether to believe his words or not. The clean set of clothes became a bargaining chip.
“Are you lying?” his mother asked, her voice cutting through the temporary silence.
“No, mother.” There really were bodies. The police were really there to investigate, and Henry had witnessed at least a part of the process.
Apparently, that answer was all his mother needed. She put the clean clothes on a nearby cabinet.
“Get dressed,” she said, and Henry quickly took these new clothes and put them on. If there was a way to put them on in an instant, Henry would have done so. Next to the set of clothes, there was a dollar bill. Henry stared at it for a second before continuing to get dressed.
“This money isn’t for you, it’s for Claudia,” his mother said. She’d seen him look at the money. It was indeed for Claudia - she was getting paid for the lessons with Henry. If the Hidgens family was to keep up the appearance of a bright son with an amazing mind, they needed to silence Claudia by paying her for her services as well as her confidentiality.
His mother was gone. She’d left - the clothes would be picked up by a maid or something. Henry grabbed the bill and put it in his pocket.
He looked at the clock. There was still some time left to play before he was supposed to be with Claudia. And if his mother wasn’t going to let him play at the construction site, he knew just the place to spend his time.
Since nothing ever happened in the sleepy town of Hatchetfield, their coroner could put himself to the case immediately. That same afternoon, Daniel Green and Ewan Monroe could already visit him for the first results that were in. Based on the wounds they’d already seen, the results weren’t going to be positive.
“Have you got any news, Harry?” Daniel asked. Harry, the coroner, shrugged.
“I’m gonna have to disappoint,” he said. He looked at the two bodies. They lay on separate morgue slabs, a white sheet covering everything but their toes and head. The burns where the eyes should have been, were in plain sight and Ewan nearly gagged when he saw it again. This was just monstrous.
“These are the worst burns I have ever seen in my life. I’m guessing it was the works of some phosphorous grenade,” Harry suggested. “But the grenade does not explain why their ears are also destroyed.”
Daniel frowned. “Their ears?”
Harry nodded. He pointed to his own ear.
“On the inside, it’s all destroyed. Almost as if something burst through it.” He walked to a tray with some objects and picked it up: a red string with a bronze penny attached to it.
“We also found these pennies around their necks. The coin says they were made in 1986.”
Daniel and Ewan exchanged confused looks for a second. 1986? That was about thirty years from now. When Harry handed the penny to the officer, he could clearly see that same year on the penny. Whoever did this, must have made an enormous effort to get that date on the two pennies.
“Is that some kind of joke?” Daniel wondered out loud. It couldn’t be more than that, right? Dump two bodies and give them a penny supposedly from thirty or so years into the future. But this all went a little too far to be a joke in Ewan’s eyes. There was more to this, he could feel it.
“That’s not the weirdest thing,” Harry said as he nodded to a bundle of clothes, neatly folded at the girls’ feet. “Their clothes. Look at the labels.”
With a cautious mind, Ewan leaned closer to the blouse. Its label indeed shocked him. This was by far the strangest thing.
“Made in China?” Ewan read aloud. A blouse, made in China. Did that mean…
“All of their clothes were made in China,” Harry confirmed. Everything they were wearing at the moment of their death was made in China. That was something shocking and quite disturbing, too.
“So they’re communists?” Ewan wondered. That was a possibility. If they worked with the communists in China, maybe they also wore their weird Chinese clothes or costumes as a sign of support. Or maybe they worked together.
“They wouldn’t go so low as to hire children, would they?” Daniel asked. Ewan shrugged. They had no idea what the commies were up to - maybe that was a strategy, using the youth to recruit others to their cause. Still, it didn’t explain why they were killed, or how.
“Even then, they don’t look Chinese,” Harry said. “This one is clearly Caucasian, while the other seems to be black or something.”
True. They couldn’t be of Chinese origin. But that didn’t mean the American youth wouldn’t be influenced by these devilish ideas. Ideas always had the chance of gaining support where one most and least expected it. Unfortunately, corrupting the American youth seemed to be part of the plan.
Why kill them, then? Who killed them and why seemed to be the big question, but that was not the only mystery they could uncover here.
Ewan sighed. “This is going to be a long investigation.”
Later in the restroom, Ewan found he was going to have a hard time focusing on his job. Yes, he was a police officer who helped and served the community - but those girls and their deaths took all of his energy. It siphoned from him, and he could only regain the strength if he solved it.
Two teenage girls, two lives brutally ended by something, maybe with a grenade that left horrible burn marks and melted the eyes. Communist or not, that was horrifying.
Which meant an even more horrifying person walked around, reveling in his crimes.
“What kind of monster mutilates girls like that?” Ewan said, looking out of the window.
“I don’t know,” Daniel responded. He sat in a chair a little further away and smoked a cigar. Ewan refused his offer; he didn’t feel like smoking one right now.
“You know what’d be easy?” Daniel said, breaking the silence again. “If murderers were just… born with some sort of mark. Something easy to identify them with. We could lock them up before they even commit a crime.”
Ewan nodded. That would be a utopia. It would make their work indeed a whole lot easier. Even in that scenario, there was something Ewan could not get behind: locking up people when they were still innocent and haven’t done anything.
“Unless they commit a crime, we shouldn’t lock them up,” Ewan said, turning to his colleague. Daniel groaned.
“Alright,” he said, and he stood up from the chair. “If we could see what murderers look like and catch them making plans to kill - sounds better, right?”
Ewan nodded. “At least that scenario has some criminal intent.”
Knowing if someone was going to commit a crime wasn’t enough. They hadn’t done anything yet - they may not even walk around with the idea of murder or any other crime. A lot of circumstances informed how one behaved around others. Someone desperate may not have planned to kill someone at the beginning of the day, but when the opportunity arrived and it seemed right, maybe that person would be a murderer by the end of the day. Intent may not even be there until the moment he sees the person he was going to kill.
Ewan shook his head. What were the chances of this hypothetical coming true? Criminals ought to be locked up after a crime, or if they planned to do so. In the heat of the moment, it is hard to determine intent, but if it’s there, it should be considered in court.
“Those girls aren’t from around here,” Daniel then said. “Maybe the criminal isn’t, either.”
Ewan shrugged. “Maybe.”