Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Folie A Vingt (Short Story)

Detective Collins walked out of the interrogation room, wiping his brow. The 54-year-old investigator's eyes were surrounded by dark circles, his face pink and his brow clammy.
His colleague, Lt. Samantha Byrne, looked at him with concern. "So how many is that now?” she asked.
"Twenty," he said.
"Twenty?" she echoed.
"Twenty people. All of our witnesses. They all have the same bogus story. Not one of them has told me anything different," Collins said as he sat down in a swiveling office chair, Resting his elbow on the arm rest and letting his broad chin rest heavily on his knuckles.
Lt. Byrne paced the floor, gazing at the tiles. "This could be some kind of cult thing. They were all in this together, maybe Mr. Allison planned this. He could have been... I don't know, rationalizing his own sacrifice," she said, exasperation heavy in her voice.
"Okay, let's think about this," Collins said. "Maybe Mr. Allison or Father of Mystic Light or Reverend Boogedy-boo or whatever they called him planned for his own people to kill him. Why would they call us in a blind panic to come stop whoever did this before it got them too?"
Lt. Byrne sighed. "Well I don't know, but it makes more sense than the alternative..."
"...You mean that a ritual sword flew off the back wall, across the room, and embedded itself in Mr. Allison's skull? Well, I'm out of ideas, so if you have any good ones, I'd like to hear them!" Collins screamed.

"Easy, Reggie," said a tall, thin man in a button-up shirt and suspenders, a pistol snugly holstered under his left arm.
"You know what I said about first names in the station, Harlow," Collins said.
"You've had a long day, Collins. I couldn't pull 18 straight hours of interrogation. Why not go home and calm down a bit? We can handle this," Harlow said.
"Not till we get a break in the case," Collins said.
"When's Dr. Ford due in?" asked Lt. Byrne. "I don't think we'll get through to these people without a psychologist."
"Dr. Ford will be here... ah, let's see, it's 6:30 now... give him another hour," Harlow said, glancing casually at his watch.
"Have I really been up 24 hours?" asked Collins, his tone softer than before.
"Yeah, we're worried about you. You look rough. Come on, we'll handle it while you're away. Get some rest, and come in some time this afternoon. Forensics should have some of the lab results in by then," said Harlow.
"Right, maybe I should," said Collins, standing up slowly and taking his coat. "Don't let me down," he said, his eyes locking first on Byrne, then on Harlow.
"No worries, we're all on the same team here," said Lt. Byrne as Collins walked out the door, slamming it behind him.
She waited a moment, staring at the door, then turned to Harlow. "What's his problem?"
Harlow shook his head. "You know how it goes. Twenty years on the force, you get used to seeing things through."
Lt. Byrne took a seat. "But we've never had a case like this. Twenty witnesses, each one a suspect, each with the same ridiculous alibi, and no inconsistencies in their story whatsoever."
"Except the part about the sword just flying off the wall," Harlow said. "Are they still here?"
"All except three, a mother and two children. Even Collins won't tell a mother with kids not to go home at 3:00 in the morning," Byrne replied.
"Let me speak to one of them. No sense in accusing them of something they don't believe they did."

Nathan Dietrich sat in the interrogation room for the second time in 18 hours. The officer who had brought him in- a tall fellow he hadn't seen earlier- had left the room for a moment.
Nathan stared at the two-way mirror and let out an impatient sigh. He had been told to wait in the lobby along with the rest of the congregation for hours on end, each of them being taken in and questioned intensely before the next was called.
Only Frida had been allowed to leave when her young children, Lilly and Brandon started getting sick from exhaustion. The rest were told to stay in the lobby where they waited, silently gazing at one another.
Nathan had been the only one they'd called in for a second round of questioning. He rested his head in his hands, running his fingers restlessly through the tight brown curls of his hair. His reflection in the two-way mirror looked tired, his young features looking a decade older as dark circles and creases accented his eyes and a faint shadow of stubble had begun to raise on his chin.
The officer walked back into the room and took a seat in front of him. "Thank you for this, sorry to keep you waiting, Nathan" he said politely. "I'm Detective Harlow, I just wanted to ask you a couple questions about what happened yesterday."
Nathan sighed. "I already told you everything I know. Look, I know how stupid it sounds but it wasn't anybody... not anybody in our church anyway. Not... well, it wasn't anybody we could see."
Detective Harlow folded his hands in front of him, looking Nathan in the eye with a sincere expression. "Nathan, I want you to know that we don't necessarily think that you did this. But we do think that you- that everyone who was there- knows who killed the Reverend. And I know it must be really painful to turn on someone that you've gone to church with for months or years. I know I'd want to protect them too. But you have to understand, if they've killed once, they might kill again. If you protect the person who did this, you might be putting everyone else in your congregation at risk. Now Nathan, I'm going to ask you again, what happened yesterday?"
Nathan sighed. "I already told you what happened. Reverend Light was about to tell us a great secret that had been revealed to him in a vision the night before. A vision of the day when man devours man. He knew something about what would be revealed that day, and just before he could tell us, the sword on the back wall flew off the wall and... and... It just... it hit him, hard. I don't... I've never seen. I'm sorry, I don't know, it sounds stupid but it's true."
He buried his face in his hands once more, frustrated and exhausted.
Detective Harlow scrawled a few notes on his notepad. "Can you tell me about this Day that Man Devours Man?" he asked. "Is it... some big ritual you had planned?"
"It is the Great Consummation," Nathan said. "It is the end result of all that has happened. When the first green tree sprouted, the last green tree was already destined to die. When the first stars formed, they were destined to burn out. When the first of mankind was born, he was destined to devour his own in the end. Only those chosen by Eternity itself can survive that. Reverend Light was chosen to lead us into Eternity. We would be the Uneaten on that day. But now he is gone, we have no hope."
"So you think some dark power wanted the Reverend gone so that you would all eat each other at the end of days?" Detective Harlow asked, his expression turning.
"The darkness has won. The darkness has won!" Nathan said, suddenly bursting into tears.
The detective sighed. "Nathan... Listen, maybe you should go outside and rest for a little bit. We'll let you know if we'll be needing you again. You've done alright though. You told us what you knew and you've helped all you can."
"I will see you at the Feast, where Father eats Son, where Husband eats Wife! I will see you dine on the flesh of your own kin, and I on mine! I will see you there, oh Eternity! Save us!" Nathan sobbed as he left the room for the lobby.

Dr. Victor Ford stepped into the station around 7:33 that morning, stopping by the time clock in the hallway.
"Morning, Dr. Ford!" a short officer with dark brown hair said, walking briskly away before the doctor could reply.
No sooner had he turned toward the break room for his usual cup of coffee when he heard a voice behind him.
"Dr. Ford! Thank God you're here!"
He turned to see Lt. Byrne, her arms crossed and a worried expression on her face.
"Is something the matter?" the tall doctor said, adjusting his tie slightly.
"We have a situation," she said. "Come on, we'll tell you more."

Some minutes later, in the viewing room opposite the interrogation room, Dr. Ford sat, twirling a pencil restlessly.
Lt. Byrne paced nervously behind him, and Detective Harlow stood next to him, staring at some fixed point beyond the two-way mirror.
"So not one of them has shown any inconsistency in their story?" Dr. Ford asked.
"Not a one," Harlow replied. "Just slightly different versions of the same exact story."
"The devil's in the details. It's easy to discount slight variations when you're looking for patterns," Dr. Ford said. "I think if you look at it objectively, you might find a lot of discrepancies you overlooked before. It may be a very simple case when you get down to it."
"We've got tapes of every one of them," Harlow said. "If there's a discrepancy, you're welcome to look for it. But I don't think there is."
"So if they aren't just lying to cover for someone, what do you think it is?" Lt. Byrne asked.
Dr. Ford sighed. "I don't want to speculate on that. I want to talk to them before I try to make any sort of judgment on that."
"Most of them have gone home," Lt. Byrne said. "Only three of the witnesses have agreed to stay."
"I thought you told me that Collins wanted them to stay put until we solved this case?" Dr. Ford said.
"Collins may have wanted that, but we had no way to legally keep them," Byrne replied. "One of them started to demand to be charged or released, and most of the others joined in. They were getting really restless and we couldn't risk sabotaging the investigation by letting them get out of hand, so we agreed to let them go."
"So what about the three who agreed to stay?" Dr. Ford asked.
"Marjorie Dickinson, age 64, George Beckman, age 39, and Alex Torkelson, age 22. No apparent relation, and we can't figure out yet what they had in common, but they all seem terrified of going home, almost like they don't want the same thing to happen to them," Harlow said.
"Interesting. I'll get started talking to them," Dr. Ford said.

Dr. Ford walked into the waiting room, scanning the faces of the three exhausted people who waited there. An older woman lay across several of the chairs, asleep and covered by a wool emergency blanket borrowed from the disaster relief supplies. A middle-aged man sat, half-asleep with his arms crossed, and a younger man sat rubbing his red, drooping eyes.
"Mr. Beckman, may I speak with you a moment?" the doctor said.
The middle-aged man stood up sleepily, rubbing his back. "More of this?" he said.
"I'm Dr. Ford, I'm a psychologist with the department, I just want to ask you a few questions about what you saw," he said.
"Fine," said Mr. Beckman as he shuffled toward the interrogation room for the third time in nearly a day's time.
They entered the room quietly, Mr. Beckman still rubbing his back and neck. "Would you mind if I take the padded chair this time? My back's killing me," he said.
"No, not at all," said Dr. Ford as he hung up his coat and locked the door.
The two took their seats. "So, I've been hearing some very odd things about what happened yesterday. Can you tell me how it happened, in your own words?" Dr. Ford asked.

Detective Harlow walked into the viewing room, where Lt. Byrne sat watching intently as Mr. Beckman recalled the events of the previous day in exact detail.
"Just heard from forensics, they're done with the scene and they've done a fingerprint analysis on that sword," Harlow said.
"Any luck?" asked Byrne.
"If only. The more we learn, the weirder this gets. The sword was on a display rack on the wall at the back of the chapel, held onto the wall with sheet rock screws. The screws were ripped out with so much force that the sheet rock around them basically exploded," Harlow said, thumbing through a printout from the crime lab. "According to the coroner, the sword was embedded with its tip piercing the exact center of the forehead and coming to rest at the back of the skull. The path of the blade was almost completely horizontal..."
"...Instead of up and to one side, which it would be if someone stabbed him from the front while he was still standing," Byrne said. "Even a martial arts expert couldn't make a stab wound like that on a good day. He had to have been on the floor when he was stabbed."
Harlow shook his head. "Here's the really weird part. According to the position of the body, he was still standing when he was stabbed. There's no sign at all that he was held down and stabbed, in fact there's a trail of blood droplets leading back from the pulpit to the spot where his head came to rest."
"What about the fingerprints?" asked Byrne.
Harlow shook his head. "The only prints they could find on the sword belonged to the victim. Probably from the day he hung it up."
"So what does it mean, exactly?" Byrne asked, sitting down and running a hand through her hair.
"It means we've still got a long way to go on this case," Harlow said stoically.

"So tell me again, why is it you are so afraid to go home?"
Dr. Ford scanned over his notes, his eyes darting from his note pad to the frightened man in front of him anxiously.
"I told you, what is it, three times already?" Mr. Beckman sighed loudly. "Rev. Light was going to tell his congregation today what had been revealed to him, but it wasn't a secret. Three of us... Me, Alex, and Marge... we worked in the office. He'd tell us about the next sermon. Usually kept a copy of his notes in the office. This time he didn't have any note cards, though. He came in one day... last Thursday, I think... and sat down with us. He told us what it was he'd seen in his latest vision, told us not to tell anyone outside that room and let him tell the world about it. He told us if anything happened to him, that we needed to get out of this town, get out of our homes, go as far from where we heard it as we could. That was... I think he knew. He knew he was gonna die. Now we know too much. It's gonna come after us too, and our families. I don't know what to do or say or... I just... I don't want to die for this, not the way he did."
Mr. Beckman burst into tears, sobbing hysterically at the table.
"Do you think maybe someone in the congregation might have known something too? Something about the Reverend that they didn't like?" Dr. Ford asked.
"No, no, nobody was like that. We... we were all brothers and sisters. We're trying to stay together as the dark days draw in. Nobody else in the congregation knows that we know, but we can still save them. We know what it is that will save our family from devouring one another! But we have to wait for the right time to tell them," Mr. Beckman said.
"Would you mind telling me what it is, then? If it's important to know, I really think you should let one more person know. If Marjorie and Alex know too, they can tell the congregation if something happens to you. Please, just... just whisper to me, nobody else has to hear it, it doesn't have to leave this room. What did the Reverend know?"
Mr. Beckman let out a long sigh, his posture slumping. "I hope Alex and Marjorie can keep it alive when I'm gone," he said, then walked around the table, bending over and whispering something in Dr. Ford's ear.

"So, what do you think?" Lt. Byrne asked as Dr. Ford thumbed through his notes.
"I think we have our three prime suspects," Dr. Ford replied. "These three seem to share a common delusion that the Reverend told them something he didn't tell the others. All the other delusions about the circumstances of his death seem to originate somehow from these three people. I think one of them is the source of the delusions, and one of them killed the Reverend yesterday."
"That's all well and good, but what about the physical evidence? We're looking at a wound made by a... I don't know, like a samurai warrior or something. God, in all my years on the force I've never seen a sword used with that kind of accuracy. It's almost supernatural," Harlow said.
"Almost is the key word here. Occam's razor. Don't add a supernatural element where one isn't needed. If the Reverend's killer was brainwashed enough, he'd have found a way to make his death look supernatural. People working under delusions have an amazing capacity for keeping a hoax alive and yes, they can make you and anyone else around believe it was supernatural too. But this is a flesh and blood assassin we're dealing with," Dr. Ford said.
"So you think the killer was able to convince twenty people of the same delusion in just a few days or hours time, so thoroughly that none of them has deviated once from the exact same story?" Lt. Byrne asked.
"It seems a bit of a stretch, but I have heard of stranger cases of mass hysteria and shared delusions. We generally don't talk about time frames for the spread of these, and in this case I think it's not relevant. All the evidence points to a mass delusion."
"Sort of like a Folie à deux, only with twenty people," Lt. Byrne said.
"A Folie à venti," Harlow mused.
"Folie à vingt, actually. 'Venti' is Italian," Dr. Ford corrected. "Although the technical term for anything over four people is usually 'folie à plusieurs.' It's not unusual, when you have a religious sect like this, that a large number of people can be drawn into the beliefs of a handful of people close to their leader. The Reverend had twenty devoted followers who would die for him if asked to, I don't think convincing them to sacrifice him as some sort of end-times ritual and then deny it happened would be beyond his reach. Hard to say which of them did the actual deed, but I'd start with those three out there seeing as their delusions are the most well-developed. The others seem to just be mimicking them."
"Then which one of them do you think did it?" Harlow asked.
"I'll leave that to you and the rest of the homicide detectives," Dr. Ford replied, handing Harlow and Byrne his notes. "I'll be in my office if you need me."
With that, Dr. Ford left the observation room, not once looking back.
"What do you think?" Harlow asked.
"I don't know any more," Lt. Byrne replied. "I guess we should find out which one of them could have made that stab wound. I'm not sure we really have our prime suspects, though."
"Yeah," said Harlow, taking a seat and rubbing his neck. "Neither am I."

The rest of the day proved uneventful for Dr. Victor Ford, and evening found him at home again, making the usual small talk with his wife over dinner.
The evening passed as so many evenings before had, and by midnight the two were ready to settle in for the night. Dr. Ford made his way to the bathroom and began to undress for the evening.
Victor. He was Victor here. None of that Dr. Ford business. Save that for the office. His wife was already asleep, and he was tired enough. It would be a plain, uneventful day the next day.
He began to brush his teeth, his eyes straying to a shelf over the toilet where he kept an old-fashioned straight razor, partly for show and partly for when a disposable razor seemed too impersonal.
A straight razor... like Occam's razor. That blade would see its way through all of the delusions and nonsense brought on by that disturbing cult. Reason would find its way, and this would prove to be yet another open and shut case.
And yet, it was not Occam's razor, but Victor's own razor that suddenly garnered his full attention and concern.
The polished horn handle seemed to move on its own, exposing the blade. The razor itself then seemed to move, to rattle, imperceptibly at first, but with increasing fervor as he turned to face the shelf in astonishment.
No, it had to be an earthquake or something. Nothing to be afraid of.
But why did the bottle of aftershave next to it stay perfectly still?
Victor put his toothbrush back in the holder, then walked cautiously toward the shelf.
The last thing Dr. Victor Ford saw was a flash of nickel-plated steel aimed straight at his neck, propelled by a force that he could neither see nor understand.

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