“Bledsoe, where are you?”
Her partner’s voice boomed through her car’s speakers. “I got the text, I’m en route. Did you call him?”
“Yeah. No answer, went right to voicemail. The nut turned his phone off.”
“That’s one possibility,” Bledsoe remarked. “What’s the intersection again?”
“Putnam and Lewis.”
“Right, lovely. I’ll see you there.”
Garcia pushed the gas pedal harder, hearing the engine growl as her cruiser surged forward. She didn’t relish the idea of extracting more information from their contact, but as crazy as he seemed, the little conspiracy theorist had actually proven useful. This could be the break they needed to crack a case that had been dogging them for months. She took one last glance at the text they’d received from Donovan minutes ago. “Figured out where the next one will be. Come by ASAP.” Then she hit the accelerator even harder, sending her cruiser flying down Atlantic.
At Lewis she pulled a hard left, cutting her siren for the last several blocks north. No reason to draw attention to herself in this part of the city. The hairs on the back of her neck had stood on end for the entire duration of her and Bledsoe’s first visit to Donovan’s neighborhood. And she could tell, by the absence of his usual bluster and bravado, that Bledsoe didn’t like it there either. Now, as she pulled to a stop a few tenements down from Donovan’s, she breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of her partner’s SUV already parked on the street. At least she wouldn’t have to wait for him. Why did that little rat have to live way the hell out here? And why did he have to text them at one in the morning? Absently patting the gun holstered beneath her left arm, she stepped out of her car, breathing deeply as Bledsoe joined her. “You ready?” he asked.
“Let’s get this over with.”
They walked up to the door of Donovan’s home, already hearing a drunken argument between the middle-aged couple who lived in the ground floor rooms. Garcia knocked loudly, and the voices died down as angry footsteps grew closer. A chain jangled and a deadbolt slipped aside, then the door swung inward and a bleary-eyed woman with smeared mascara glared at the detectives. “Oh, you two again,” she groaned, words slurred. “I don’t know if he’s home or not.”
“A pleasure to see you too, ma’am,” Garcia said. “Do you mind if we check?”
The woman rudely gestured up the staircase behind her, retreating without another word. Bledsoe closed the front door and followed Garcia up the stairs, the couple resuming their argument. The place reeked of cat piss, and the steps creaked and groaned angrily. Grateful for making it to the second floor without the staircase collapsing beneath them, Garcia knocked on Donovan’s door. No answer. Knocked again. Silence. She glanced over her shoulder at Bledsoe, who nodded in agreement, then tried the doorknob.
She stepped cautiously inside the dark apartment, now smelling stale coffee and cigarette smoke. “Donovan?” she called. “Detectives Garcia and Bledsoe. Are you here?”
Still nothing. A dim desk lamp illuminated Donovan’s cluttered work table across the room. Garcia headed straight toward it as Bledsoe began a casual sweep of the room’s perimeter, both of them stepping over and around stacks of books and boxes of cassette tapes. The apartment was in the same state as the last time they were here: a hoarder’s paradise. She couldn’t tell whether anything was out of place; only Donovan would know exactly where everything was supposed to be. “This is interesting,” she said, looking at the wall above the desk where several pictures hung. Well, more like letter-sized printouts displaying images of Manhattan landmarks, nailed haphazardly to the drywall. “Wasn’t here last time. A new project of his, or did he take up photography?”
“I don’t even wanna know,” Bledsoe said from across the room.
Garcia chuckled mirthlessly. She focused on the desk and its contents: a stained, empty mug, an ashtray full of ground-out butts, notebooks and newspaper clippings stained with coffee rings and splashes… and a note, scribbled in Donovan’s narrow, hurried hand. “Headed out already. Check my map and meet me there.”
Map? What map? Garcia stared at the note for a moment, then spun around, taking in the enormity of their new task. How the hell would they be able to find a map in this pig sty? “Shit,” she muttered.
She snatched the note from the desk and turned to her partner. “He took off. Says he’s on his way to the next scene.”
Bledsoe blinked in disbelief. “On his own? Well… where?”
“I don’t know! He says to check his map.”
“What the…” Bledsoe began, then flung his arms hopelessly in the air.
“I know, just… start looking, I guess.”
Her partner groaned and bent to inspect a pile of books. She turned back to the desk, rubbing the back of her neck as she stared absently at the photos on the wall… The photos… One just above the desktop depicted the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center. Off to the right, the Brooklyn Bridge. Higher up, the Empire State Building. Higher still, Columbus Circle. Lincoln Center. The Guggenheim. All in the proper locations on the island. “Bledsoe!”
He rushed to her side at the desk. “What do you have?”
“Our map,” she breathed.
He examined the pictures for a moment, his frown deepening. “I get the landmarks, but what about these other ones here, they’re just buildings, nothing important…”
He trailed off, grasping their meaning even as Garcia nodded. “These are all the sites of the other murders,” she replied quietly.
“And he put all this up since the last time we were here?” Bledsoe asked. “I don’t like this at all. Where’s the next one?”
“I’m guessing here,” she said, pointing to a sheet of paper with a handwritten address instead of a picture.
Saint Mark’s was already teeming with cop cars when they arrived. “Looks like we’re too late,” Bledsoe muttered as he and Garcia marched toward the crime scene. They both flashed their badges as a uniformed officer stepped into their path. “What do we have?” Bledsoe asked.
“Double homicide,” the officer said. “Both victims Caucasian, one male, one female. Female’s throat was slit, male suffered a large-caliber cranial gunshot wound. Knife and gun both found at the scene. Forensics are on their way.” He held a blood-spattered envelope out to Garcia. “This is for you.”
Garcia stared at the cop before taking the envelope from him. Her hands shook badly, but she could make out her and Bledsoe’s names on it. She gingerly opened it and found a single scrap of paper inside, bearing words written in the same hand as the note in Donovan’s apartment. “Officer,” she called hoarsely as the cop walked away. “Not a double homicide. Murder-suicide.”
The cop nodded. Bledsoe frowned at her. “What’s it say?”
She couldn’t speak, so she held the note out to her partner. He took it and read Donovan’s last words: “I’m sorry, detectives. It was me all along.”
This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds: write a ~1,000-word story that involves a map. That’s the only condition.