by Todd M. Thiede
In the small city of Rockton, Illinois, someone is tired of waiting. He’s tired of standing in line at the grocery store and tired of waiting at the drive-through line. Now he’s doing something about it.
The first murder rocks the city. The entire Bjornson family—except the father, Stephen—has been brutally murdered, and the killer has left a message behind, written in the victim’s blood: Don’t Waste People’s Time. It’s a grizzly start for two young detectives who’ve just become partners. But Max Larkin and Jesse Fairlane put their personal distaste for each other aside and start concentrating on how to find the killer from striking again.
As they investigate the scene of the crime and interview Stephen at the hospital, the clues slowly begin to add up. Could this be a deranged killer who struck ten years ago and has now returned to the area? Before they can answer that question, another murder is reported, and Max and Jesse suddenly realize they have a serial killer on the loose.But as they get closer to the truth, a past memory begins to haunt Max, one that might lead to a break in the case—or the end of his career.
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Genre – Mystery / Thriller
Rating – PG
More details about the author
Tuesday morning 8 a.m.
The Rockton Police Department is quiet at the moment. The station was built fifty years ago and the wear on the building during that time is evident. The bricks in the façade are old and chipped, worn down from years of Illinois winters. One window is boarded up where a brick had been thrown through it in retaliation by a convicted man’s friends. The fixtures, carpet and furniture are at least two decades old.
Detective Max Larkin enters the squad room. He feels light hearted and happy because he has just finished solving a case. It wasn’t a high profile case but there hasn’t been much crime in Rockton lately. Max is one of the best detectives Rockton has ever seen. He advanced quickly from patrolman to detective because of his natural instincts and great people skills. He has been able to get a confession from the hardest of criminals. Having graduated top of his class from the police academy, he broke many records there.
This morning he has tried very hard to get to work early as he wants to get in a quick workout before the Captain comes in to hand out assignments. The case he just closed requires him to type up some reports and he really hates doing paperwork. He often wishes he could just solve cases and have someone else do the menial work. He has the post-case hangover, where he is too tired to really want to start a new case, but also feels the desire for a new puzzle to solve. If he is lucky, today will be a light day of check up on some smaller, less urgent ongoing investigations. Then, he can finally go out for a beer at a bar after work rather than getting home at ten with beer and pizza for one. Maybe he can even meet a girl. He doesn’t miss his last girlfriend or the drama, but he does miss having someone to look forward to after work.
He sits down heavily at his desk, wishing he had gotten up a little earlier as he can see the Captain is already in his office. There goes my workout, he thinks. While Max is still only twenty-nine, he has been trying to maintain the physique he has been losing since he had made detective. It’s hard to balance the heavy workload with good eating habits and regular exercise. His average height and regular features already make it hard enough to get women’s attention so he feels that having a good physique can only help. His coworkers often tease him that his military-style haircut, high and tight isn’t doing him any favors – they comment that he looks like a jarhead gone to pasture. He always takes their joking as a bit of jealousy since he knows he is regarded by many police officers as the best detective on the force and he has come to earn their respect.
His mom had called while he was in the shower so he now picks up the phone to call her before he forgets. “Hey, Mom. What’s up? Yes, I know Dad’s birthday is coming up. I haven’t forgotten. I don’t know what to get him this year. He seems to have everything.” Max chats with his mom as he warily watches the Captain get up from his desk and walk towards the door, eyeing him.
“Hey, Max, come in here, would you?” Captain Perry calls out.
Max holds up his finger. He wraps up his call with his mom and heads to Perry’s office.
He walks into the Captain’s office to the sounds of ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ of the other detectives. He even hears one of them say, “Nice working with ya, Max. Good luck!” He waves his hand in dismissal at the guys.
As he heads towards the back offices, he calls, “Hey, Captain. I was just planning on going to the gym for a quick workout. Can this wait for thirty minutes?” The captain denies his request.
Max is always impressed by the numerous awards and commendations on the Captain’s office wall, including a Purple Heart from Vietnam. He thinks, if I had a dollar for every time the Captain told me the story of how he got that Purple Heart, I could have retired already.
Although Max has been a detective now for six years, he still gets butterflies every time he goes into the Captain’s office. Like a kid getting called into the principal’s office. “What did I do this time, Cap?” Max says with a chuckle.
“It isn’t what you did. It is more of what I am going to do to you,” Captain Perry says with a grin. “You are getting a new partner today.”
Max drops his head and shoulders and slowly shakes his head from side to side. “You know I work better alone. Can’t you give McCarren the rookie? He needs a partner bad. If not just for the help on his cases, how about just to babysit him, you know hold his hand, give him a pacifier, that type stuff?” He winks at Perry.
The Captain assumes a serious face and leans forward, “Look Max, you haven’t had a partner for two years now. Ever since Curtis suddenly decided to move to L.A. I mean, come on. He was a detective here for over ten years and then after only six months of working with you, he feels the need to move to a warmer climate. You are getting this partner no matter what. Besides she has a lot in common with you.”
Captain Perry barely finishes his sentence before Max cuts him off. “She? Are you kidding me? I graduated top of my class at the academy. I was a patrol officer for only one year and then I became the youngest detective in town at the age of 23. I have been your best detective ever since then. For the past six years, I have solved your toughest cases and, with the exception of Curtis, I have been pretty fair with my fellow detectives.”
“Someday, Max, you are going to have to explain to me what happened with Curtis. He said it had nothing to do with you and you deny it as well, but I still think something fishy went on,” Perry says.
“Six years, Captain! Six great years and this is how you repay me?” Max’s resentment is clear in his voice.
“Like I said, Max, you are getting this partner no matter what. Here, take a look at her file and you’ll see why I think you’ll make great partners,” and he hands Max a manila folder.
Max starts flipping through the file. “Graduated top of her class at the academy. Family lives here in Rockton. Her father was a cop here. He was killed by a disgruntled man on a routine traffic stop when she was young. The guy shot her dad when he approached his car to issue a speeding ticket. It says here she had offers from all over the country, but stayed here to be with her mom. She has great connections around town and is very good at research. I could certainly use that ability in a partner. If I wanted one that is.” Max puts the file back on the captain’s desk.
“Ok, Captain, I see that there are some similarities between us. But she has been on the force for four years already and is just getting promoted? Why did it take her so long? I figure with her dad being highly respected and dying in the line of duty, not to mention her exemplary history that she would have been fast tracked.” Max decides he better get this information up front if he can. He doesn’t want the Captain to think he is going to take this lying down. He isn’t at all comfortable with having a partner, let alone a female one.
Captain Perry sits down in his big leather chair and leans in to Max in a confidential manner. “Well…she has a chip on her shoulder and doesn’t take male authority figures very seriously…but I still think she is going to be a great detective. It just took some time for me to convince the Chief to give her a shot. I knew her old man and he was due to be a detective before he was murdered. If she is half as good as him, it will be a great promotion for her and we’ll get a great detective added to the team.”
The phone on Captain Perry’s desk rings. He picks it up, listening, “…Ok, I’ll put my best team on it, Chief.” Captain Perry hangs up the phone and looks directly at Max. “Well, Larkin, I have more good news for you. You and your new partner just got your first case together. And it’s a doozy. There was a family murdered. The entire family was murdered with the exception of the father. The perp left him alive, but cut off his finger and thumb. That’s all we know so far. I’ll send you some more info via email or text as I get it.”
From the door of his office the Captain calls, “Fairlane, get in here on the double!”
A young woman stands up from a desk in the far corner of the squad room. She is twenty-six years old and strikingly beautiful. Max had seen her around but never really had a conversation with her. She stands 5’8”, about 4 inches shorter than him. Her long black hair is swept back into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. She is wearing glasses that accentuate the bones in her face and is dressed very casual for a detective, in jeans and a button down blue shirt. At least I wear a sports coat with my jeans, he thinks. Her white tennis shoes shine like they are brand new and have not been worn before she took them from the closet to wear today.
“Yes, Sir, what can I do for you?” Jesse says as she steps into the Captain’s office.
“Here is your new partner. Max Larkin, meet Jesse Fairlane,” the Captain says while smiling at Max.
The two detectives shake hands and smile at each other uneasily. Max feels lucky that despite her beauty, she isn’t his type and he’s never been one to get tongue-tied around gorgeous women. He is having a hard time getting past her looks to take her choice to be an officer seriously. However, he also sees that he has no choice.
“Wait a second here, Captain?!” Jesse says with glee in her voice. “I get to work with THE Max Larkin on my first day as a detective? This is too good to be true!” Jesse turns and beams at Max as he puts his head down, blushing a little bit.
“It is an honor to work with you, Detective Larkin. When I was going through the academy, I heard so many stories about you and how you advanced so quickly to detective. I wanted to be just like you. Heck, I even broke some of your records at the academy, including your time on the combat firing range.”
“Nice to meet you too, Josey,” Max says, smiling and winking at his boss. He intentionally miscues her name, retaliating for her own sarcasm.
“It’s Jesse, Sir. Jesse Fairlane.”
Max chuckles under his breath. “Whatever.”
Jesse is astonished that he can’t remember that they have actually met many times before. She feels the need to speak up, “Actually sir, we have met before today – quite a few times at that. I am often the first officer on the scene of the cases you investigate.”
Max looks her up and down. “I guess I didn’t recognize you out of your uniform. I usually don’t pay attention to patrol officers because most of them use Rockton as a résumé builder to get a job in a big city like Chicago. I don’t really get to know them personally. I figure if they’re not going to care about my city, why should I care enough to get to know them?”
“Okay you two, enough. You have a case to work on and, according to the Chief, the Mayor is looking for a quick solve on this one because he doesn’t want to be known as the mayor of a town where this type of thing happens. Get over to the hospital ASAP. Based on what the Chief said, the father was taken there after he was found, but then heavily sedated. The officers didn’t get any information from him as he was grief-stricken by the death of his family. Try and get some info from him and then head over to the house and take a look around.” A moment of silence passes before he blurts out, “What are you two still standing around for? Get going already!” The two detectives quickly leave his office like scolded kids.
Jesse and Max head towards their desks and then meet by the front door. There are only four other detectives on the force besides them: Detectives McCarren, Phillips, Johnson, and Salvo. All four of the men are huddled around McCarren’s desk having a good laugh. When Max and Jesse walk by, the remarks include, “Good luck, Max! Be careful and don’t break a nail on this one.” With that, they all bust out laughing. Jesse bristles at the comments and walks away faster, swinging her arms. Max, however, just mockingly laughs with them and salutes as he follows Jesse more slowly to the parking lot.
As they exit the side door, Jesse heads for her own car. “Hey, rookie, we’ll take my car and I’ll drive,” Max yells.
Jesse curses to herself. She has been waiting for a case like this and never thought she would be paired with Max Larkin. She spent so much time as an officer that she started to doubt her dream of becoming detective. Now, she finally was there and she couldn’t even follow her new partner to the car correctly. I need to calm down and breathe, or I’m going to constantly worry about what he thinks rather than doing my job, she rationalizes.
Jesse jogs over towards Max as he gets into his 1982 Black Firebird. It’s cliché that he drives this kind of car, but I can’t say I blame him, she jokes with herself.
“Nice ride, Detective,” Jesse says as she lowers herself into the car and examines the mint condition interior.
“It belonged to my dad. He bought it brand new in 1981, right off the showroom floor. He took good care of it and, when I turned 18, he gave it to me for a birthday present,” Max says as he fires up the car. “It still roars like a lion after all these years. I really loved this car. I mean my dad wouldn’t even let me in this car until I was three. He used to say, ‘I didn’t want your diaper leaking all over the leather seats,’ whenever I asked him why there were no pictures of me in the car when I was a baby. All the pictures only show my parents in the car or just the car by itself. I wasn’t in a single shot with this car. Who knows – maybe that is why he gave it to me. Maybe he felt bad for not including me when I was younger.”
Max looks down at his phone and checks his email. He reads a little bit of the case information the Captain sent over and starts telling Jesse. “The killer mutilated the father, but left him alive nonetheless. However, he killed the rest of the family. It is truly a brutal murder for our little town,” he confides to Jesse.
Max can tell that she is still distant and upset. He guesses that it must be from the other detectives’ comments. He isn’t sure what to say, but he also thinks she might not focus if she doesn’t get her head in the game. “Don’t let them get to you. Despite women being officers for many years, very few make detective. The guys are just like that – always cracking jokes and taking shots at each other. It’s not personal.”
“Well, it certainly feels personal! It seems like no one takes me seriously and thinks, why would you want to do that job and see those horrible things! I want to achieve what my dad didn’t, but I don’t need all this macho B.S. and ‘women don’t belong here’ crap. I’ve done everything right and they still don’t want to let me in!” At this, Jesse’s shoulders slump and she stares out the window dejectedly.
“You did do everything right, Kid, so just ignore them. When you are better than them, someone will always try to bring you down. I mean, you broke my records at the Academy – you must have something to hold over them, Hell, McCarren can barely perform this job right now due to his divorce – so preoccupied! Don’t let them drag you down and distract you. We have a murderer to find.”
Jesse turns to face Max and grins. Max can see why the guys give her such a hard time. They are trying to treat her like the other guys, but they don’t know how to talk to her with her striking good looks. They are being overzealous when they pick on her to hide their attraction. He hopes this is the end of this personal stuff and tries to turn her attention to the task at hand.
“When we get to the hospital, I think it would be best for me to take point and talk to this guy. I think this is too big of a case for you to jump into right away. We can work your way up to it after this one.”
Jesse is abashed. Great, this guy thinks I can’t do this job either, despite what he just said. I am going to have to prove him wrong, just like I have proved everyone wrong before.
As they pull up outside the hospital, Max reiterates, “Remember, rookie, let me do all the talking. Just sit there and take notes. This guy is our only witness.”
“I hate hospitals,” Jesse whispers as they ride the elevator up to Stephen’s room. “They remind me of the perils of our job. I remember visiting my dad once after he was attacked with a knife. We spent a lot of time visiting my grandma, too, before she passed away. Not good memories here.”
Stephen Bjornson slowly opens his eyes. The room is very bright, not just from the lights, but because everything is so white. His head is spinning and he can’t seem to focus well on any particular object. He remembers sirens and flashing lights and being carried from his house. Then, the terror returns. He stifles a mental scream. Still it creeps up on him as he recalls. He closes his eyes and starts to cry as he realizes that he may be in heaven. Everything is so bright, clean looking, and quiet.
Then, the sound of beeps from machines and voices from the next room permeate his consciousness and confirm that he is still earth-bound. As he tries to raise his arms to wipe away tears, he feels the tape pull on his arm of an I.V. He can vaguely make out thick bandages and senses the wetness of blood seeping through on his right hand. He feels bandages on his lips. He closes his eyes as the room starts to spin, but then he pictures the masked man kneeling over his beautiful wife and the pen in his hand. He bolts straight up, screaming her name. The medical staff burst into the room to stabilize him. It takes two big orderlies to hold him down and strap him down.
The detectives walk into Mr. Bjornson’s room just as he is calming down. In a very direct voice, Detective Larkin says, “Mr. Bjornson, I’m Detective Larkin and this is Detective Fairlane. I know this is going to be very difficult, but we need to ask you some questions so we can find this guy. He needs to be stopped before he can do this to another family.”
Bjornson interrupts the detective before he can go any further. “Where are my kids? Are they okay?” he asks in a slightly slurred voice. He appears panicked and he can’t form the words well. Max realizes a small window of opportunity to question him.
As gently as he can he explains the fate of the Bjornson children and, as expected, he breaks down. Stephen is distraught, shuffling in his bed. His head is tossing back and forth as he fights his restraints. The detective asks him another question, hoping he will answer. “Mr. Bjornson, I know you’re in pain. We want to help you and are truly sorry for your loss. We also need to catch this guy before he kills again. Please help us!” Max says as he reaches down and touches Stephen’s arm.
He is bitter. “What do I care? He took everything from me. I have nothing to live for!” Bjornson wails.
“If you truly feel that way, Mr. Bjornson, then you’re wasting my time,” retorts Detective Larkin. Slowly Bjornson lifts his head up, his whole body goes rigid, and he blanches visibly. He gasps for air as if he is having a hard time breathing.
“I’ve heard that before,” Stephen says his eyes wild. “The man in the suit said it to me many times. Not to mention that he kept mumbling those exact words over and over to himself. ‘Quit wasting my time; you’re wasting my time; time is money,’ over and over again. I’ll hear those words in my head the rest of my life!” Bjornson then drops his head, looking down at his bandaged hand. “He kept telling me that I wasted his time a month ago and it cost him $633. He actually had me pay him $633, but that is not the weirdest thing. He collected $650 between my wallet and my wife’s purse, but he left $17 as change on my dresser. If he was robbing me, why wouldn’t he take all of our money? Why didn’t he take any of our stuff? He even left my wife’s jewelry.”