by Troy Lee Strother
Phil Canter sat alone in an interrogation room holding a diary. It was evidence. So was the knife sitting nearby. The story the diary's owner told was fantastic. This was Phoenix, Arizona in the twenty first century, not Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials; but, he felt sure that sorcery had led him to this fate. He decided to read the diary again from the beginning.
Five days ago. Three loud knocks rattled off the front door of a sparsely furnished apartment. Mike Johnson emerged from his bedroom and shouted, "Just a second," as he headed toward the door. The twenty-four year old wore his red and blue pizza delivery uniform loosely. He opened the door to reveal a richly dressed and neatly groomed man. The man held a wooden box tucked under his arm.
He nodded at Mike and said, "Good day to you, sir. Are you Michael Lee Johnson?"
Mike didn't expect the man to have a strong English accent and hesitated a moment before replying, "Yes."
"I am fortunate to have found you at home. May I come in?"
Mike looked him over for a moment and after judging him to be harmless responded, "Sure." He opened the door wide, and stepped aside.
The man set the wooden box on a nearby table then turned to face Mike. "I am Richard Morganstone," he began, "the executor of your father's will. He recently passed away and I am here to settle his affairs."
"My father?" Mike wished he hadn't let him in after all. "I'm an orphan. Is this some kind of joke?" Then he smiled and asked, "Did Frank put --"
"The details of your past were never revealed to you. You are the illegitimate son of an Englishman and an American prostitute. Their names are confidential."
Mike reached behind blindly for a chair then sat. Staring blankly. "My mother was a prostitute?"
"If you would please allow me to continue," Morganstone stated firmly, "I haven't much time before I must attend to other business."
"I'm sorry. Go on."
"It was your father's wish that you be given what is in this box. You will also receive a small inheritance once you comply with your father's final request."
Mike let the words sink in then looked up and asked, "What was his final request?"
"That is explained in this letter." He pulled a manila envelope from his coat pocket as he continued, "Once you have done your father's bidding, I will put all monies in an account of your choosing."
It suddenly dawned on Mike what was so unusual about this man, his face expressed no emotion. Or maybe there was a slight hint of anger, he wasn't sure. He contemplated what he'd been told then asked, "How will you know if I've... done my father's bidding?"
Morganstone grinned unnaturally, "Don't worry, Mr. Johnson. I'll know. Now I must return to London. If you choose to retain my services I would be glad to act as accountant and legal advisor." He handed Mike a business card, "My services and fees are on the reverse. Here is the key to the box." With that, he spun on his heel, opened the door and departed.
Mike stood and called, "Thanks. Have a good trip." Morganstone didn't look back.
Puzzled, Mike closed the door and stared into space. Noticing the manila letter he ripped it open. In a neat cursive hand it read: Be Warned! The Knife is to be treated with Respect and Fear! It has given me much Fame and Fortune (ha ha) but only the Strong can survive its Bloodlust. Yours Truly, grandson of Peter J. Kaprich.
Mike read it again then exclaimed, "The knife?" He looked at the wooden box. Unlocking it, he popped open the lid to see a straight silver blade with a black handle. The handle had a fiery red gem at its center.
He reached for it then glanced at the letter, hesitating. That was silly he told himself. His father, if that was in fact who the letter was from, must have been a superstitious bloke. He grinned and shook his head at his cowardice. He extended his hand for it slowly when RING! The phone.
The knife's gem bloomed into life becoming a dull red as Mike turned away.
"Johnson!" a voice bellowed. "Where the hell are you? We've got orders stacking up here."
Mike cursed under his breath as he noticed the time. "Sorry, Mr. Sanders. I'm on my way."
"Wait! We've got two orders here and there in totally opposite directions. Get in your piece of shit car and meet me by the Circle J at Southern and Baseline. We'll split the distance. You got that."
"Yeah, Southern and Baseline."
"Why are you still on the phone?!"
Mike slammed the phone down, snatched up his keys and rushed out of his apartment.
The knife sat on the table. The gem's lurid glow grew brighter.
Sanders stood waiting impatiently by his station wagon topped with a Maxi's Pizza triangle. His arms folded, he didn't look happy. Seeing Mike arrive, he lifted two red pizza carriers off the hood of his car and strolled over.
"This is the last time I give you a break, you damn screw off," he rasped through gritted teeth. A white Cadillac honked as it pulled into the lot. The two pizza men stepped aside and let it pass. Sanders appeared insulted by the event.
"Thanks, Mr. Sanders," Mike said, "I really appreciate it. I won't be late again. I swear."
Sanders maintained a glare at the Cadillac's driver; his eyes following the man into the store. He finally turned to Mike, "Huh? Oh, yeah. If you do it'll be your last time." A devilish smirk crossed Sanders face as he rattled his car keys. "You know what I say about Cadillacs and Corvettes?"
"I see'em I key'em."
With that, he strolled up to the Cadillac and dragged a key across its side creating a deep groove a yard long.
Mike froze in astonishment, then hurried to his car and drove off.
In the declining sunlight, Mike walked toward his old beater. He chucked the empty pizza carriers onto the passenger's seat then hopped in. Immediately his reflexes launched him out of the car. He had sat on something. The knife lay on the seat. Its gem faintly glowing blood red.
He stood staring. Hadn't he left it home? For a wild instant, he thought the knife must be magical. That was crazy, he realized. He'd been forgetful recently, and this was just another example. He seized the knife then slid back behind the wheel. After setting the knife on the empty pizza carriers beside him, he reached for the ignition only to have his hand awkwardly bounce back with a loud clank. The knife was still in his hand. Shocked, he held his hand up palm facing down -- the knife appeared to be glued to his skin. He examined it closely, seeing nothing unusual he shook his hand violently. No effect. The knife remained joined to his hand. "What the -- What is this crap?" He grabbed it with his left and pulled. It came off. But when he held his left hand out palm down, the knife remained married to it. "Great. A trick knife. Just what I needed." After a few attempts, he was able to grasp the steering wheel and knife together. He let out a deep sigh before starting the car and driving off.
Back in his apartment, Mike read the letter from the father he'd never met, then set it down, confused. The knife was in his right hand. He held his hand out, palm facing down. It did not fall. He bent over, placed his left shoe on the knife's blade and attempted to peel it away with all his might. The red gem suddenly flashed brilliantly as an intense heat fried Mike's palm sending him screaming and hopping about. He noticed the blazing gem just as its brilliance faded.
Phil stopped reading for a moment and let his gaze fall on the knife. He suddenly felt like a pawn. Yes, a pawn in some diabolical chess game. But who were the players? Returning to the diary, he noticed the date and felt ashamed. He was beginning to understand why he could be so easily puppeted.
Four days ago: Phil sat behind the passenger's seat of his undercover police car during rush hour traffic. Don Villa, his partner, stopped the car for a red light. A Harley-Davidson roared up alongside them, drowning out the car's radio. The leather-decked biker that sat astride it would have made the Hell's Angels proud. Phil turned; his eyes met the biker's so he quickly turned away, then smiled to himself. "Hey, Don," he began, "I've got a joke for you. What's the difference between a vacuum cleaner and a motorcycle?"
"The vacuum cleaner, has the dirtbag, on the inside."
The biker turned to see the two men burst into laughter. He couldn't hear them but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on. He eased his bike up to the window and asked, "You mind filling me in on your little joke?"
Fear pounded in Phil's throat as he said, "It had nothing to do with you, sir. Really."
The biker grinned and nodded. As he moved away he knew he'd had the desired effect.
Phil slowly reached his trembling left hand over and whirred the window closed. He purposely avoided eye contact with Don. After a moment, Phil reached over and turned up the car radio.
Don felt disgrace envelop him like a cold blanket. He shook his head and looked away.
Mike was crashed on his couch, still dressed when the phone rang. The knife lay attached to the top of his right forearm. Disoriented, he scanned about stupidly before answering it. "Hello?"
"You've really done it this time, Johnson," Sanders said.
"What? Mr. Sanders. What time is it? Oh, shit. I'm sorry, Mr. Sanders. I'm so sorry."
"I know you're sorry. You suck! That's how sorry you are. You're fired!"
"But, I have this problem with this knife. It --"
"I don't give a shit. Thanks to you, I've got to work on my day off. Come by my place at eight o'clock tonight and pick up your last paycheck! Loser!"
"But, I can still go in. It's not...", Mike stopped abruptly. Sanders was gone.
He hung up the phone then noticed the knife glued inexplicably to his arm. Just great, he thought.
In the light of the full moon, Mike parked behind Sanders' station wagon then headed toward the front door of his ex-boss' mobile home. The entire day he had been replaying in his mind the slew of insults his former boss had leveled at him. Passing Sanders' car, he said mockingly, "I see'em I key'em."
The knife was stuck to the back of his forearm; its gem simmering a dim red. He rang the bell.
A moment later, Sanders opened it holding a beer. "Come in, Johnson."
Mike obeyed, shutting the door behind him as Sanders ambled over to his television. Professional wrestling was on. Sanders picked up the proverbial pink slip and a blue check and handed them to Mike saying, "Here. Don't spend it all in one place." Mike saw red. Hatred coursed through his veins.
Sanders continued to berate him, "You ain't never gonna be anything better than a bum. B-U-M. Might as well go catch a train with the rest of the hoboes." Grinning, he slurped the last few drops of beer then headed for one of a pair of angled couches.
The gem blazed red as the blade slid slowly into Mike's hand. Mike's pupils grew large.
"Hell, you'll probably manage to screw that up too," Sanders continued. "Probably catch all the wrong trains." He laughed maliciously.
Mike gritted his teeth and growled. The gem suddenly flashed brilliantly as the lights in the mobile home popped out.
Sanders looked around dumbfounded as he stood bathed in the television's glow. "What the hell?"
Mike's appearance seemed to have changed somehow. A silhouetted figure in front of the television, his visage bore a peaked cap. Was it him? Sanders had little time to ponder the questions filling his brain as Mike swiftly moved behind him, covered his mouth and held the blade inches before his face. His eyes widened as he shouted muffled cries for help. Mike chuckled eerily and in a low graty voice whispered in his ear, "I grip'em... I rip'em."
The blade sliced across Sanders' throat. A deep cut. The pair did a macabre tango as Sanders struggled; his blood spraying the television screen. A moment later, his limp body slumped to the floor. Head nearly severed. Mike didn't stop. He bent over the body, ripped Sanders' shirt open and began tearing him apart savagely.
Mike burst from the trailer's front door then puked over the railing. He groaned as he stumbled toward his car. Once inside, he gaped at his empty hands. "The knife. Oh, crap." He looked at the trailer. As much as he hated to go back in there, he had to get that knife. His fingerprints were all over it. An open and shut case. He glanced around to make sure he wasn't being watched then hopped out of the car and ran into the trailer. He emerged with a blue towel under his arm, hopped into his car and fled.
Miles away from the murder scene, Mike stood on a small bridge over an irrigation canal. Unraveling the blue towel, he let the knife splash into the water. He wasn't sure if the water would remove his fingerprints, but he was fairly certain it would carry the knife a few miles downstream where no one would find it for years. He jumped into his car and sped away. Suddenly, a luminous red light flashed at his feet and he screamed. A pain so intense it made his eyes cross.
The car careened off road before skidding back and stopping on the shoulder.
Mike sprang out; the knife stuck in his calf. He cried in agony as he yanked it out. "Dammit!" Fury taking over, he ran toward the roadside and threw the knife hard. But it clung to his hand. He laughed maniacally. It was stuck again. The gem glowed deep red, steadily. He had learned that once it was attached, he could only transfer it from place to place on his body as long as it contacted skin. Awareness jolted his entire being and he stopped laughing -- it had come loose only after he'd killed Sanders.
Three days ago: The forensic unit had just finished searching Sanders' trailer for evidence as Phil and Don rolled up in their undercover. A uniformed officer suddenly ran out of the trailer and yakked in the same place that Mike had the night before. Several men gathered in a group noticed the rookie and laughed heartily. "Hey guys. What have we got?" Don asked no one in particular.
The men turned to face Don and Phil. They frowned when they recognized Phil, the yellow belly. The eldest of the group said, "Hi, Don. It's a real mess in there. Guy's been cut up like a pig at a luau." He stared at Phil, "You want to have a look." The other men chuckled softly.
Phil gazed at his feet then at the men and replied, "That's my job," his voice shaking.
The men looked at each other and several walked off disgusted. Annoyed by this, Don almost shouted as he asked the elderly man, "Any witnesses?"
"No," the man began, "It's hard to understand too. You'd think they'd have been making quite a ruckus."
By this time, Phil had been able to build up his confidence. The other men having departed made it easier. "What about the murder weapon?"
"Nothing found. Medical examiner said it was a very sharp knife, probably straight, at least seven inches long. If you gentleman would excuse me." He walked off.
Don turned to Phil, "Well, let's have a look."
"Okay. After you."
Don shook his head as he headed toward the trailer with Phil in tow.
Back at his apartment, Mike unwrapped the bandages around his leg and was shocked to see the wound had completely healed. A television newscaster's words caught his attention. "The body was found horribly mutilated this morning by one of his employees," she announced, "The man's name is being kept confidential until police notify the next of kin. Police have no suspects but have begun questioning employees."
Mike's heart quailed. His legs too weak for support, he sank into a chair. A thought occurred to him and he pulled out a business card, grabbed the phone and started dialing.
"Richard Morganstone here."
"Mr. Morganstone, this is Mike Johnson."
"Hello, sir. Do you require my services?"
"I'm in a lot of trouble here! I killed somebody last night! No, I didn't, the knife did, I mean... Why the hell didn't you tell me?"
"Calm down, Mr. Johnson. Are you in police custody?"
"Well, no. I'm in my apartment."
"Then I suggest that you leave immediately. Contact me when you have obtained new residency."
"But I --"
"I urge you to leave now, Mr. Johnson. Please take my council."
He hung up before Mike could argue further. Mike slammed the receiver down. The knife rested on the back of his calf. He pulled a pair of gym pants on then departed.
A few hours later, someone pounded on Mike's door. "It's the police. Open up if you're in there."
Outside, Don and Phil stood with a young woman, the apartment manager.
"I don't think he's home, Sergeant," she told them. "His car's gone."
"Okay, open it up," Phil commanded.
Don raised an eyebrow at him and said, "Tough guy." Sarcasm dripping from his lips.
The men entered the apartment and started searching. Phil found the manila envelope, letter from Mike's father, and the empty wooden box on a dining room table. "Hey, Don. What do you make of this?"
At a local university library, Mike had been searching for Kaprich on the internet for several hours to no avail. It seemed that his father who claimed to be the "grandson of Peter J. Kaprich" didn't exist. An idea struck him. What about Morganstone? That was worth a try. The search returned a link to something called Casebook. He'd expected a listing of birth or death records or possibly even a law firm, not some obscure website.
He followed the link. The text stated that Joseph Barnett, a live-in boyfriend of Jack the Ripper's last known victim, Mary Jane Kelly, testified that she had lived in Stepney with a man called "Morganstone" or possibly "Morgan Stone". He sat back in his chair. Is that the connection? He pulled out a piece of paper and spelled out PETER J KAPRICH. Crossing out the J, he began writing a new line. A followed, then C and so on, to spell the name: JACK THE RIPPER.
That afternoon, Mike entered a hotel suite carrying a bag of groceries. He had been unable to contact Morganstone. After putting away the groceries, he removed the knife from its resting place on the back of his leg and stared at it. Thinking back to when he had killed Sanders, it seemed as if he was being led by some unseen guide. A pupil following instructions. He pulled out a small notebook and began writing what had happened the past few days. A diary. He failed to notice the knife's gem erupt into a hellish red the very moment he'd decided... he'd search for another victim.
Later that evening, Mike rolled down Van Buren Street in downtown Phoenix. The red-light district. A plethora of drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps and motels that rented rooms by the hour. As he sat at an intersection, he struggled with the notion of turning himself in to the police. Morbid fascination, like spectators at a car accident, compelled him on. He never knew he could be so cold-hearted.
A streetwalker bent over and peered at him before approaching the car and asking, "Hey, handsome. You looking for some fun?"
Afterward, Mike could not recall what he had said to her. He knew that he had responded and she had pointed to a motel up the street to which he had driven. She opened a hotel door and followed him inside. Once inside, she used her back to push it closed, "You're not a cop are you?"
"No," he heard himself say, but it wasn't his voice. It was English. He tried to move but found it to be impossible. It was Jack. Jack was in control. Mike was a mere spectator seeing events like a movie through the camera of his eyes.
The hooker noticed his expression change from a grinning smirk to a look of confusion. "Something wrong, honey?"
The smirk returned. "Nothing at all, my dear," Jack replied. "I would very much like --"
Suddenly the door burst open and sent the woman sprawling forward. Her pimp, actually her partner in crime, entered the room and shut the door behind him. A football player, he looked like a tank with a goatee. After locking the door, he turned to Jack, pointing a gun. "And I would very much like you to give me your money, punk!"
The man was a good foot taller than Jack and definitely stronger. Mike could feel his pulse racing. The knife shot into his hand with blurring speed. It whistled through the air as Jack whipped it about and snarled, "You will have to work for it, lad."
The man was momentarily taken aback, but after his girlfriend stifled a laugh, he smiled sardonically and said, "Go ahead, make my day." With arrogance he glanced at her, a mistake. "I've always wanted to say that." He saw her face turn pale as the cold steel of the knife's blade lightly touched his throat. Jack had closed the distance with inhuman speed and deadly silence.
"Go ahead," Jack whispered into the man's ear, "make me slay." The steel slid across his throat squirting blood across the woman's face. She screamed as his body collapsed into a heap at Jack's feet. "Now," Jack continued moving toward her, "where were we?"
Phil decided to skip the gory details and continue on to the next page in the diary. He recognized the date and remembered that morning well.
Two days ago: Police had gathered around a television at the station as a female newscaster announced, "Police discover two more grisly homicides in Phoenix. A man and a woman were found mutilated in their motel room." The Chief of Police walked into the room and shut the television off. "Listen up," he began, "I'm putting detective Canter in charge of this homicide investigation." Several jaws dropped and somebody clucked like a chicken, making everyone laugh. "All right, that's enough," the Chief continued, "The suspect is still at large. Check out his driver's license photo. I want to hear he's either been picked up, left the state, or he's dead before another murder takes place. I'll leave the rest to Phil." He left the room.
Don followed after him saying, "Can I talk to you for a minute, Chief?"
"What are we supposed to do, sir?" someone asked Phil sarcastically.
Phil replied, "Uh, we're going to get with vice and see if we can't catch him committing a conspiracy. Our sources say the woman was a poser, not a prostitute. If he was after a prostitute, he didn't get one last night, so I'm betting that he'll try again." The crowd accepted Phil's plan then slowly departed.
After the room emptied, Don suddenly marched back in red-faced, shoved a finger into Phil's face. "What are you trying to do?" he demanded.
Phil backed away fear pounding in his throat. "Nothing," he croaked. "What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean, you puss. What makes you think you can lead this investigation after riding a desk for six years?"
"Um, I don't know. I just had some hunches."
"Yeah, well I've got a hunch," he moved toe-to-toe with Phil, "that a certain detective is going to end up either pushing pencils or in the morgue." Phil watched as he stormed off.
He longed for the courage to stand up to Don. For that matter, anyone. He reflected on how he'd gotten into this situation. He'd awoken one morning and gone to the Chief to ask for another chance on the street. Oddly, the Chief said he'd been thinking the exact same thing. Another marionette, he realized. A week later, on the morning he was put in charge of this case, he'd gone to the Chief after the medical examiner had informed him that the murder weapon was identical to the knife that had killed Sanders. Since then, he had the strange feeling of being part of something bigger than himself. A sense of proximity to something intangible, but real. It had seduced him into action. He read on...
Mike found himself driving down Van Buren again. He knew he was letting the knife, or actually Jack, play him and he hated himself for it. He didn't know if he could fight it, but he hadn't even tried. The bumper sticker on the car in front of him read: Gun's don't kill people, PEOPLE kill people. Mike smirked and said, "Guns don't kill people, knives do." It wasn't long before he was propositioned by a prostitute. She wanted him to pull into a nearby street He obeyed, eagerly.
She walked cautiously around the front of the car under a streetlight and motioned for him to get out. As he emerged from the shadows into the light a voice shouted, "That's him! Police, don't move!" In a flash his blade glinted in the light and Mike found himself behind the woman -- an undercover cop -- taunting the police. At first he thought Jack was keeping her as a hostage, but quickly learned he was wrong as her warm blood splattered his upper thigh and she slumped forward. A police car with sirens blaring screeched to a halt as voices shouted orders from all directions. The gem flared brightly making lights in all directions burn out, plunging the street into darkness. Gunshots erupted around him. Mike's right arm jerked violently up, then left, then right with superhuman speed as the knife's blade deflected only those bullets that posed a threat. Mike noticed the knife growing warmer in his grasp.
A sudden silence fell as the echoes of gunfire faded. The police stood awestruck and stared at the dark grinning figure in the blackness before them. Suddenly laughter wafted from the darkness then dissolved into departing footsteps. A black silhouette bearing a cloak and a top hat bounded down the street and over a six-foot wall with ease in a matter of only a few seconds.
Yesterday: Mike paced his hotel room; occasionally snatching glances at the knife as it lay upon a coffee table. He had hoped the police would kill him and that would be the end of it, but he was wrong. Another innocent person had died and he had done nothing. In fact, he had allowed himself to be the vehicle of her destruction. He was raging mad. There was no doubt the knife was supernatural, but he had to know why and how it had come about. In a fit of anger he grabbed the knife and shouted, "What are you?! Where did you come from?! I know you can hear me!" He glared at the gem and demanded, "Answer me!"
Suddenly, everything went dark. He felt his stomach rise as if he were in a plunging elevator. A fire's heat blazed before him and he heard a metallic clank. Then another. Sparks flew as a blacksmith pounded away on a glowing red shank -- the knife. The scene changed and he found himself in a room full of candles. Incense filled the air. A man knelt in front of the knife at the center of a pentagram, in a trance. He had white hair parted down the middle, a handlebar mustache and appeared to be nearly fifty. "Satan, king of Hell, and rulers of the powers of the air!" he screamed in an English accent. "Give me the power I desire through this knife to satisfy my bloodlust and I promise you my soul for all eternity." The gem had been lifeless, but now it sparkled. The man smiled for an instant then frowned, seeming to detect a presence. He suddenly looked straight into Mike's eyes. Mike awoke with a start. He lay on his back on the floor. The demon possessed knife still in hand. As he stood he made a vow to himself... this would be the last time he would ever touch it.
Phil rolled into the parking lot of the hotel. His search for anyone named Peter J. Kaprich who had recently checked into a hotel had led him here. The idea came to him after reading the police reports from the previous night. Several witnesses stated that the suspect had shouted that Michael Johnson was not his name.
A couple of patrol cars arrived. With fear as his friend, Phil, along with the hotel manager and a few others, headed toward Mike's room.
Mike had been sitting comfortably, when he suddenly found himself bounding out of the open window. Jack had taken over. He landed sprawling, but regained his feet quickly. Mike glanced back and had time to realize that he'd just survived a twenty foot drop without a scratch before shouting to his right drew his attention. An officer had drawn his gun and was bearing down on him. Jack made for the cop. The man shouted once more before firing. Jack blocked the bullet then noticed a group of men running toward him out of the corner of his eye. It was Phil and the others. Mike struggled within himself as the men surrounded him. He staggered, fighting for control. Gaining the upper hand, he grunted, "Shoot! Shoot me! Quick!"
Phil and the others exchanged puzzled glances.
Jack suddenly lurched at them. The nearest man instinctively fired a shot. The bullet entered Mike's stomach, yet he remained standing. Pain shattered his concentration making his control falter. Jack continued his lunge and stabbed the man. Phil and the other men groaned. They couldn't shoot for fear of hitting their partner. They stared in horror as their comrade fell at Mike's feet in a pool of deepening crimson. Mike decided to make one last attempt. "Kill me," he strained. "Do it."
No one moved.
Suddenly, the knife turned on Mike cutting a grisly gash across his throat from ear to ear. The wound nearly severing head from body. He collapsed.
Don watched Phil intently from the office area as he stood in the interrogation room. Phil wasn't alone. Morganstone was with him. Morganstone handed Phil a business card and departed. A moment later, Phil grabbed the knife, staggered a bit, then paused calmly and stood gazing through a nearby window. Don decided to investigate. He entered the room and said "Who was that guy?" Phil ignored him. "Hey, I'm talking to you, tough guy." No response. "Phil!"
Phil slowly turned and with an English accent replied, "That's not my name." - THE END