Playing the Game


            Looking blearily across the room, desperately trying to focus on the digital read out of my alarm clock I figured it must be around three in the morning, but that was my best guess. The phone was ringing out for maybe the sixth ring but for all I knew it could have been ringing for hours. I let it ring for another couple of seconds, trying desperately to get myself together. I’d been in bed for around two hours and asleep for less than half of that, despite sinking several beers over a couple of games of pool with a few friends last night. It had been a rare night completely switched off from work. When those nights come around you have to make the most of them. I’d been around long enough to realise that good news seldom arrives at this time of night and I suspected that the call I was about to receive contained no good news at all.

            ‘Yeah, this is Patton’, I mumbled, picking up the telephone. As my eyes became more focussed, growing accustomed to the darkness, the familiar outline of my bedroom furniture gave me little comfort. My heart sank as my worst fears were confirmed.

            ‘Hey there, Detective,’ I sat upright, trying to shake off the tiredness. ‘It’s time to play. You want her back, you have to play!’

            I recognised the eerie digitised voice straight away, despite only having heard it a couple of times before. For the last four and half weeks, my partner and I had been working a high-profile case that had been driving us insane. In my fifteen or so years working homicide in the LAPD, I had seen all kinds of crazy but nothing like this. I knew that Los Angeles had its fair share of sick bastards but this one must be close to the top of the pile.

            So far the individual that the papers had nicknamed ‘The Chemist’ had struck, and been successful, twice. Up until tonight, The Chemist had kidnapped two girls, injected them with an extremely high dose of a drug called Clozapone and then mailed us the antidote. All we had to do then was to ‘play the game’ and find the girl. This was girl number three, and we hadn’t found the first two in time. We hadn’t even been close.

            Clozapone, in its prescribed dosage is pretty harmless. It is commonly used to combat schizophrenia or as an anti-depressant. Sure, there are side effects but nothing major. In the dosages that this bastard was prescribing it would gradually decrease the number of white blood cells in the victim’s bloodstream then systematically shut down their vital organs. It’s not quick and it’s not painless. A hell of a way to go – and trust me when I say – you don’t want to be the one who finds the body. Not if you want to sleep anytime this century, anyway.

            The phone went dead, but it didn’t matter. I’d had two of these calls before and I knew the drill by now. Wearily I got out of bed, shivering as the cold night air cascaded over me. I walked to the bathroom and stood for a moment as I filled a glass with water; the alcohol I’d consumed last night had made my mouth dry. My head was pounding although I thought that this was as much to do with the beer last night as the phone call I’d just received. If we stood any chance of getting the girl back, we’d have to be on top of our game today, and would need more than a little luck alongside that. I looked in the mirror as I drank the water, and thought I looked older than my forty-five years. Maybe years of chasing psychopaths like The Chemist had aged me slightly, or just maybe I could no longer sink several beers then be ready to go again after little or no sleep.

            For some reason, I was the one getting the initial call and that meant that The Chemist wanted me close to the case. I hadn’t figured out why The Chemist wanted me specifically yet, but I knew it was crucial. Most of my first week on this case was spent searching through my past cases histories to see if any of my past ‘wins’, had been released recently – seeing if it was personal. Nothing so far, but one thing was for certain, I was determined to make this one another win. I had no choice. For me, each case was either win or lose. In my experience no-one ever drew, and I wasn’t about to start now.

            Wearily, I went through the now all too familiar motions for the third time in just over a month. A call to my partner who sounded a lot worse than I felt, a call to my station captain, who sounded like he never slept whenever I’d had the misfortune to have to call him in the early hours of a morning and, finally, a call to the PD getting them to check for the fax I knew would have arrived seconds after I’d had the telephone call from The Chemist.

            After I hung up the final call, I took a moment to savour the sound of absolute quiet. I knew in just about forty-five minutes, at one of the major incident rooms of the PD, I would be once again surrounded in chaos.



            Considering I live a good forty minute drive from my station, it was reassuring to do it in just over thirty. The Chemist commanded our top attention, no doubt about that. If we were being watched then my rapid response time would no doubt be pleasing. It would indicate just how seriously we were taking the games that The Chemist was setting us. According to the profilers I’d worked with over the years, perpetrators of crimes of this nature often like to be close to the investigation. It gives them an increased sense of power and authority. So maybe The Chemist

            Heading up the three flights of stairs to where I knew the fax would have been sent, I could hear a buzz that suggested I was by no means the first to arrive at the incident room. Although it was probably just the guys on the night shift, I knew word would have spread quickly throughout the station once the fax had been received. Virtually every police officer in LA was aware of the case, and would naturally take an interest in any developments. For those on the night shift tonight, especially if it was a relatively quiet night, the arrival of the fax would herald the major talking point of the shift, no doubt about that.  I took the steps three at a time and I could have done them with my eyes closed. I was getting used to this by now.

             As I arrived at the incident room, I looked around. There were ten or eleven members of the PD gathered round a board. None of whom seemingly had a home to have gone to. It was nearly ten to fucking four in the morning. Someone had pinned the fax on the board, which would be the starting point of the investigation. During the previous two investigations, although I hated to admit it, we didn’t have much else on the board by the time girls had died.

            ‘Hey man’, the familiar voice of my partner greeted me.

            I’ve had a few partners during my years in Los Angeles, none of them such a force to be reckoned with as my current partner, friend, drinking buddy and all round bad-ass Charlie Holland. I’d called him immediately after The Chemist had hung up on me. He was without a doubt, the one guy you want on your side when the brown stuff hits the fan. As solid as they come, he’d saved my life on more than one occasion, and I’d been in the position to repay the favour a couple of times. I’d known him for years – we first met at training academy back in eighty-four when we were both twenty-one. We’d hit it off almost immediately, both being ultra competitive and ultra dedicated from the offset. It still pains me to this day that I graduated in second place, just behind Charlie. If truth be told, I couldn’t have come second to a better man. After graduation, our paths took a separate course. I stayed in LA, Charlie moved to Minnesota and later Colorado, cementing a solid reputation in both states, before finally moving back to LA, and rejoining the LAPD five years ago. We’d been partnered up pretty quickly. I’d certainly covered similar ground to Charlie, albeit in one state, not two. My captain, Captain Neil Williams, had been keen to hook us up – his ‘Patton and Holland, you better make Riggs and Murtaugh look like fucking pussies A-Team’, to give you his direct quote. He must have been a fan of Lethal Weapon I guess. Those nicknames had stuck, if for no other reason that Charlie was coloured and I was white and we had kicked almost as much ass as our movie counterparts over the years. Charlie, a hulking figure and with a nose that had been broken on more than one occasion, looked more like a boxer than a detective. This was a card that we had played throughout our partnership; he was one intimidating son-of-a-bitch when he needed to be. He was also one of the most gentle, giving and unselfish people I’d ever met.

            ‘Here we go again, huh?’ I shook my head, giving Charlie the familiar greeting of a handshake and quick back slap. We were in for a hell of a day, we both knew that. It was good to see Charlie looked as rough as I felt. He’d been at the pool hall last night too; we’d only parted company a few hours ago.

            We made our way to the board, exchanging nods and words with those officers we knew. There was very little small talk. Given the situation we found ourselves in, you would be hard pushed to call them pleasantries.

            Looking at the sheet of paper that had been pinned up we saw twelve rows of symbols, each row containing twenty characters. No surprises there, exactly the same MO as the previous two. But different symbols this time – not that I’d been able to make any sense of the previous two.  I shook my head again. This bastard didn’t want to make things easy for us.

             I couldn’t help but think of the Zodiac Killer who had terrorised Vallejo and San Francisco, amongst others, in the late sixties, due to the startling similarities to the point of contact. That had been our first and obvious frame of reference when we had received the first one. But there were no instructions for us to publish them, like the Zodiac had given. Oh no, these were just for us.      

            The tech guys were already on their way. I’d always had reservations about what these guys contributed to law enforcement, but in truth I’d never needed them before. They had also been nowhere near cracking the code by the time the two previous games were over, doing little to reassure me they were as good as they thought they were.

            Over the next twenty minutes we could do nothing but stare cluelessly at the sheet of symbols, desperately trying to make any sense of them we could, as more and more people began to arrive in what had now become the most important room in the station.

            I’d already called the top tech guy, who was almost half way to the station when I got through to him. Captain Williams had done me that favour at least. The tech guy on call was Dave Ferguson, known all around the PD as ‘Fergs’. My computer knowledge extends just about to turning it on and off, typing up reports and kicking the damn thing when it crashes. Fergs, on the other hand, could probably launch shuttles from his if he put his mind to it. In other words, he could do pretty much anything he wanted with them. Including cracking this fucking code.

            Automatically checking the clock on the wall, I knew we had a couple of hours until our next point of contact. At exactly 6a.m. we would get the antidote delivered directly to the front desk by a courier, and if I were a betting man, which I am when I know the odds are in my favour, I’d stake a month’s wages on it being a different courier firm to the previous two. I wasn’t betting today though, I couldn’t even begin to guess the odds on this one. Someone had the foresight to brew some coffee, and I helped myself to two large cups. Strong, black and no sugar. I passed one to Charlie who accepted it gratefully. We knew we had a long day ahead and that we would need to be razor sharp if we had any chance of catching The Chemist. Any chance at all.

            I could hear people murmuring ‘number three’ under their breath. One is an isolated incident. Two is extremely worrying. We all knew what three could mean. I was deep in conversation with Charlie, getting our battle plan together, when he uttered the words everyone was thinking, but no-one else was daring to say.

            ‘Patton, if this one dies we got ourselves a balls-to-the-wall, bona-fide serial killer’. Once again, I couldn’t help thinking of the Zodiac. One overriding fact kept pounding my head harder and louder than anything else, and this time it was nothing at all to do with the alcohol I’d consumed last night. They never caught that fucker, did they?



            ‘So if you were some freelance motherfucker for hire at the time of the Rebellion, you’d work for the Imperial Empire rather than the Allies? Is that what you’re saying?’

            The lobby of the Kavannagh, a relatively small coffee house, on the outskirts of Eagle Rock, was deserted. Hardly surprising, it was a shade after half five and they weren’t due to open for about half an hour. It was your typical coffee house which did just about enough business for the owner to employ several employees to help ease the growing strain that the hours she was working were placing on her; often in excess of seventy hours a week. This included Graham, her college drop-out nephew and his equally hapless friend, Tel.

            Graham Keast, known to his friends as Keasty since around the fourth grade, and Tel Pennington, the two lucky employees deemed worthy enough to get up at an ungodly hour five times a week and open the place up, sat back, both puffing at the type of cigarettes you would find difficult to buy from your typical newsstand vendor. They were given about an hour and a half to prepare the place for the day but had long ago figured out how to do it in half the time.  If truth be told it wasn’t what either of them thought they’d be doing with their lives but having received the ultimatum from his parents of ‘Either get a job, or get out’, Keasty had turned to his aunt, who had given him the job out of family loyalty as much as anything else. A couple of months later, with the business doing a respectable trade, he’d gotten his friend a job there, which made the fact that he had to come to work all the more bearable. And, just like now, there were plenty of opportunities to put their feet up and do nothing except smoke weed and shoot the breeze.

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