Three days passed and, finally, the files I requested arrived by carrier late in the evening. In a hurry, I ran into the dining room and threw the stack down on our large oak table and started spreading the files out.
My first order of business, as far as I was concerned, was putting them in order by date. Before I could even start looking for similarities, I needed to know who crashed on that curve and when.
Unfortunately, right as I was in the middle of shuffling and sorting, April walked into the room. “Sweetie, you know I love you and I don't mind your work but…”
“Yes,” I said sliding one of the files into its proper place.
“Well, I don't want to have to get a bigger table. We do have to eat at some point you know.”
I couldn't help myself but to laugh. That dining table hadn't been used for eating in so long that I had honestly forgotten it could be. Though April was a very good cook, we both seemed to favor a variety of take out to home cooked meals and take out usually wound up being eaten in the computer room or at a nearby park if it was a nice day outside.
“It'll only be a moment,” I said, “I'm just getting them in order so I can go through them.”
“Oh,” April said with interest in her voice, “Those are the files for those accidents. You want some help going through them.”
On the long car ride home from the accident, I had told her all about the supposed curse of Marxam the Great and previous twelve accidents. Though, like me, she hadn't spotted anything interesting at the wreck, she took some interest in the case and was eager to help.
“Here,” I said sliding her the second file on the stack, “You can take the second one and I'll take the first one. I'll read out the pertinent information on mine and let me know if you seem to have a possible match on your end, alright?”
April nodded her approval and we both cracked open our files. I took a moment to skim through the file, even glancing at a few of the horrific photographs inside it before finally settling in to read.
“Ok, this woman is named Claire Duveaux. She was seventy-six years old, Caucasian, she lived out in the country off of route 367, apparently in a ritzy house though because she was driving a large brand-new Cadillac, white, and was on her way to see her grandchildren in the upstate. She had no history of any serious physical condition, outside of minor arthritis, and, if this is her complete driving record, hadn't been in an accident in about twenty years or so.”
I looked up from my file and saw April still buried in hers. I tapped the table twice to get her attention and, when her eyes met mine I motioned for her to begin. However, that only caused her to shrug her shoulders at me.
“You didn't say anything. Something wrong?”
“No, nothing's wrong, there just weren't any similarities.”
“Huh?” I said confused, “Nothing at all?”
“Let's see,” she began, “My victim is a thirty-five year old black male, father of two, who was driving down the highway as a detour home from work, apparently there was some road construction at that time. He lived in an apartment complex outside of Jamesboro and the only thing he shares the first victim is no known history of medical problems. No Epilepsy or heart trouble or anything like that.”
I motioned for her to slide the file across the table, which she did. I picked it up and briefly leafed through it. Though the accident was almost identical in every way to the other file and the one we visited, at a glance, the victims couldn't have had less in common if they tried.
Immediately, a whole flood of theories and hopeful guesses washed away. I was hoping for an easy solution, something like medical problems or someone targeting a certain group of people. But as I continued to leaf through the files, the victim list only got more and more random.
By the time it was done, there were 12 victims. Nine were dead, three were alive. Among the dead, four were white, three were black, one was Hispanic and one was Asian. They came from all classes of society ranging from the wealthy Claire all the way down to a welfare dad with seven kids. They drove a variety of cars, from Sedans to pick up trucks and only one had a history of heart trouble, but his autopsy revealed no heart trauma.
When I finished with the last file, I tossed it down on the stack and buried my face in my arms. “Nothing,” I said, “They have nothing in common.”
“Except how they died,” April chimed in.
I sat back up slowly, my face must have still be streaked by frustration because April took pity on me and brought me a Coke from the refrigerator. “How they died or were injured,” I said, “Was in twelve separate, unrelated car accidents at the same bad turn. As far as I can tell, this is still a case of bad road design, not foul play.”
April set the coke down on the table in front of me and went back to get herself one, “So tell Mike that,” she said speaking over the refrigerator door.
I took a long sip of the Coke and leaned back in my chair, “I tried that, but the locals are spooked badly and Mike wants something more substantial.”
“Sometimes there isn't anything 'more substantial'. Accidents happen you know? That's life,” she said sitting down, opening up her can.
“I don't know, maybe.” I said cracking open the last file again, hoping to see something new.
April reached across the table and pushed down the top of the file to look into my eyes, “Something else is bothering you Tony, I can tell. What's going on?”
She was right, she could tell. Despite years of learning to hide my emotions I could never hide them from her. She could read my eyes as if I had what I was feeling printed on the back of them. The only consolation was that I could do the same to her, I guess this is what four years of living together does to you. Still though it's frustrating to be called on it.
“It's the survivors,” I said. “They all reported feeling like they were in some kind of hypnotic trance when they got onto the property. It's strange.”
April took a quick sip and said, “So do you think the curse has merit?”
“No,” I said shaking my head violently.
“But you're worried that it might.”
At that point, she had me, I leaned back in my chair and uttered “Yeah,” under my breath, “It's just that these accidents are very weird and, right now, I don't have another explanation so it's going to eat at me some.”
“Well,” she said scooping up all of the files on the table, putting them back in order, “Let's find another explanation. Any ideas where to start?”
I scratched the back of my neck and leaned forward in my chair, “The victims don't have anything in common, but the accidents seem to have plenty. Let's make a list of everything the accidents share and see what that offers us.”
April nodded her approval and we were off. This job took significantly longer as there was a lot more information to go through, or at least a lot more productive information. Files began to fly across the crowded workspace and April began using a dry erase board to keep track of our ever-growing list.
It was a messy ordeal, but within about thirty minutes we'd filled the board with all of the things we could find. April, picked it off of the table and began to read, “Ok, all of the accidents happened roughly the same time of day, between four and seven in the evening, on clear days. They were all traveling north on the road. All were going about fifty five miles an hour, give or take, and none of them, apparently, made an attempt to stop before hitting the embankment.”
“Furthermore,” I chimed in, “They were all driving alone and only one had a history of medical problems but, as we said earlier, that was found not to have played a role.”
“So,” April asked as she tapped her fingers on the table with anticipation, “What do you make of it?”
“Well, any of these things can be explained by coincidence. Most roads are busiest between four and seven, most people in the country do drive alone and with those deputies in the area I'd wager everyone does the speed limit religiously.”
“Still though,” she said smugly.
“Still, all of it together makes it seem like the exact same accident happened to thirteen completely unrelated people. I don't believe in the word random, but this is about as close to it as you can get.”
“So where do we go from here?”
“I have no idea,” I said shaking my head lightly, “It's getting harder and harder to write it off as a coincidence, but there's still no proof that anything is wrong.”
“So where does that leave us?”
I stood up from the table and started pacing our small dining area. April said frequently that this was my “Sherlock” mode and she knew to keep quiet when I was wearing down the carpet. “I still think that if we can tie the victims together, we can solve this easily.”
April tossed one of the files onto the table and picked up the dry erase board, “Good luck with that, you won't find a much more diverse group of people than this. From what I can tell, all they have in common is the same death certificate.”
I went back over to the table and started throwing open the files, looking at the types of things they all contained, “Since none of these cases were treated as homicides, there wasn't any real investigation into the deaths. No serious interviews of family members and so forth.”
April looked up from the dry erase board, “So what are you saying?”
“I'm saying tomorrow I'm going to talk to the victim's families. See if they can tie these thirteen together. They might be part of a club or something. Diverse people get together all the time for all kinds of causes, we just have to find the one they all shared.”
“So who are you going to start with?”
I rubbed my chin and went over the names in my head, “Claire seems as good as any. She was going to visit her grandchildren so it reasons she's close with her children, at least her son. Maybe he'll have some answers for me.”
“Hold up,” April interjected before I could continue, “Why not talk to some of the survivors? Wouldn't they know better than anyone what happened and what was going on?”
I leaned back in my chair and began tapping my fingers lightly on the table, “Two of the survivors don't even remember the crash and all three of them have had this spook story drilled into their heads. So much so that none of them faced as much as a fine from their insurance company. They've got too much at stake to abandon the 'curse' theory. I need people who were close to the victims but have no reason to hide the truth.”
“Ok, wait a minute,” April called out as she reached across the desk and began rummaging through some of the files, after searching for a few moments, she pulled out the one she wanted, “If that's the case, why not talk to Mr. Carney? His wife died in an accident six months ago. They were closer and his memory will be a little more fresh.”
“Ok, him first, Claire's son second and, well, someone else third. If I can't pin it down by the end of three interviews, there's probably nothing there, agreed?”
“Sounds good. When are you going to leave?”
A quizzical look came over April's face, “But tomorrow's Saturday.”
“Exactly, they'll all be home, best time to do it.”
A smile came across April's face as the thought sank in. “Good idea. I'll be sure to pack you a lunch.”
The alarm clock started buzzing at 6:00 in the morning and somewhere between pressing the snooze button and arising to my feet I took a few moments to curse my job and it's unholy hours.
A night creature myself, getting up early on a Saturday morning was akin to sacrilege and, right then, I wasn't terribly fond of Mike, his half-baked case, or the job I was about to do. Not only are relative interviews one of the most depressing tasks a police officer can be called to do, but doing them six months after the fact means bringing back bad memories that should have been forgotten.
However, as the coffee kicked in and my body began to come a little bit more alive, I started feeling a bit better about things, or at least hating them less. I paused a few minutes before hoping in the shower to re-read the files of the people I was visiting and tried to envision what I was running up against.
The first was a man by the name of Alex Carney. He lived in a middle-class suburb of Jamesboro, which was about three and a half hours away, If he was anything like his wife, he was middle aged, Caucasian and pretty straight-laced. But as the old adage goes, opposites attract.
After that, I was planning on visiting Claire Duveaux's son Harold. He lived a little bit north of Jamesboro, up near the state line and, if he wasn't adopted, he would be Caucasian, probably fairly wealthy and on the fast track to success. I knew he had children, two daughters, but not a lot else.
Finally, there was Samson Nash whose sister, Marceka, was killed on the turn eight months ago. Since he stumbled upon the accident on his own trip home from work, he was stopped and interviewed by the police at length. He was a black man, age 26, living in a rural area on north end of the highway about thirty minutes past the turn. He was a factory worked and made a good living, but was, by his own admission, uneducated. Apparently though, he's a genius at fixing things, his record listed him as a former mechanic in the police motor pool. Tough environment for anyone.
I'd gone ahead and, using the Internet, mapped out routes to all of the houses. It was a little over three hours to the Carney residence and I wanted to get there before noon. I also wanted to leave a lot of time for searching around since I wasn't familiar with the area.
However, when I was comfortable I had everything together, I jumped in the shower and started slowly getting ready.
April, for her part, didn't stir. She had grown accustomed to my odd hours and could easily sleep through my stirring around. She wasn't coming along this trip, since you only bring two people for hostile interviews and, besides, I figured having one figure dressed in all black would be intimidating enough.
Regardless, I ended up taking my sweet time getting ready and didn't leave the house until a little bit after eight thirty. I figured, if nothing else, I could take advantage of April's absence to drive a little faster and, hopefully make all of my mental deadlines. So, with little more than a kiss on the cheek, I left April behind and headed north to parts unknown.
The drive itself was uneventful. The only part that was really memorable was driving past the accident site. Though I was warned about it by the newly-unveiled speed limit sign, I still wasn't ready for the shock of seeing it in plain daylight. With the mangled car and police cruisers about, the spot looked almost peaceful and calm. Though I felt no ill effects myself, nothing that could be called a trance to be certain, I was still a bit taken in by the gravity of the situation and it shored up my resolve to press on and find a solution to this little mystery.
As I took the turn, I made note that, though it was difficult, it wasn't impossible, even at fifty-five, which was how fast I was traveling. It was easily visible, especially with the reflector arrows, and anyone not accustomed to taking tight turns would have had ample time to slow down, even if they had missed all of the previous signs. Simply put, there was no reason for an alert driver to go flying off of the road.
To be blunt, that knowledge lingered with me and only deepened my sinking feeling that something was going on.
Regardless, I pressed on and eventually made my way to Jamesboro. It was there that I got my first unpleasant surprise. Though I easily found my way to the address of Mr. Carney, I quickly learned that he had recently vacated the quiet house he and his wife had shared. Luckily, the new owners had his current address and they, in turn, sent me on a wild chase through back roads and trails that eventually ended up at a shady mobile home park on the outskirts of town.
Admittedly, I was reluctant to enter. It was the type of park that's often a haven for drug dealers, petty thieves and a variety of cop-haters and I didn't want to be a police officer caught in the middle of it all, not with out some form of protection at least. Since being a “special detective” didn't afford me the privilege of carrying a gun, I had to rely on my wits and my hands to get me out of any shaky situation I might land in.
So, understandably, this wasn't the place I wanted to be. However, wearing all black and driving a beat up late model car aren't exactly monikers of the police force so I figured, as long as I didn't make too much noise, I'd be fine.
However, that didn't comfort me much as I drove to the edge of the park and approached the door to one of the older, run-down trailers. I paused before knocking on the door to look around a bit. Though the trailer was of decent size, probably larger than my apartment, it looked like hell. The siding was coming off of the wall, the ground was littered with debris and the roof was lined with bent antennas and a mess of wires that I doubt any electrician could have figured out.
To call it a dump would have been a radical understatement.
With a deep breath I knocked three times on the door and, almost immediately it swung open and a large, unkempt man wearing nothing but an undershirt and a pair of jeans was standing before me.
“Are you… Mr. Carney?”
“Yeah, that's me,” he said with a growl, “What do you want?”
It was ten seconds into the conversation and he was already angry with me. I immediately began to wonder what I'd done to deserve this fate but decided to play it straight. I pulled out my badge and showed it to him, “I'm special detective Tony Altru. I'm here to talk to you…”
“Hey, if this is about them parking tickets, I'm going to get that later. I'm good for it.” he interrupted.
“Mr. Carney,” I said softly, “I'm here to talk to you about your wife.”
The look on his face changed. Though I still wouldn't say he was remotely pleased with me, a look of bewilderment sank into his eyes and he opened the door wider, “Why don't you come in and sit down.”
“Thank you,” I said nodding as I made my way into the house.
The living room looked like a cross between a swap meet and warehouse. It looked as if he'd tried to fit twice as many things into the room than would comfortably fit. Though he had a seating and a TV area, it was cramped and surrounded by boxed. The walls were so crowded with pictures that the wallpaper was almost completely covered and the whole room seemed to be filled with odd trinkets and display items.
It was starting to sink in. Mr. Carney, since his wife's death, had fallen on some hard times. Though I suspected it when I heard he had moved out, this confirmed it. He was living rough and probably hating it.
“So what do you want to know about my wife,” he said sitting down in a recliner opposite the TV.
I took a moment to examine Mr. Carney in more detail. He was a big man, but not what one would call fat or even overweight, he looked like someone who worked with his hands for a living. His thinning dirty blond hair left a very strange pattern on his forehead and made the rest of his face look round and heavy, like a pitbull's almost, and his clothing, all ripped and mangled, seemed to complete the picture nicely.
“Your wife, as you know, was killed in an accident along route 81. This was about six months ago.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said impatiently.
“The death was ruled an accident, however, nine other people have since died at that exact location in the same way. There are those that think there's something else involved.”
Mr. Carney leaned forward and began to slide his chair closer to mine, “You're damn right there's something else going on. I suppose you've heard about that curse.”
“I have,” I said flatly.
“Well, I didn't believe in curses until I found out about that road. That's bad magic going on there. I don't drive it myself you know. I take highway 25 up and around.”
I looked at him puzzled, “That adds at least an hour to your time though,” I said.
“I don't care!” he exclaimed. “I don't want to drive by the curve that killed my wife and I sure as hell don't want to drive on no cursed road.”
“Sir, please,” I said motioning for him to calm down, “I'm here to get to the bottom of this, curse or no curse, and I need your help.”
He settled back in his chair a bit, “What do you want?”
“I want to ask you a few questions about your wife, see if there's any reason that someone would want to do this…”
“You think someone killed my wife?” he said excited.
“I don't know,” I said trying to remain calm, “But I need to find out.”
“Alright, go ahead,” he said with bitterness dripping from his tongue.
I opened up my file and my notebook and situated myself to where I could both read and jot notes, “Now, it says here that your wife was a nurse, is that correct?” he nodded his approval. “Did she have any enemies at work? Someone who might want to harm her?”
Mr. Carney started shaking his head, “Naw, she worked in the cancer wing, not a lot of people can do that you know? I don't think anyone hated her. They all loved her really. Gave her a big birthday party a few months before she passed on. She'd been there for umpteen years. Never had a bad word to say about anyone. Lovinest creature ever was.”
“Was she politically active at all?” I asked trying to maintain the momentum.
“Naw, some of the other nurses wanter her to join this pro-choice group but she said she didn't care one way or another about it. She said it wasn't her business. Hell, I don't even think she voted come to think of it.”
“Was she a member of any clubs or organizations?”
Mr. Carney started shaking his head trying to think, “Nope, not that I know of. Tried the nurses union once, many years ago. Ended up leaving though.”
I settled back on my seat a little trying to plan my next move, “Listen, I'm going to read you a list of names, let me know if you've heard of any of them in relation to your wife.”
After Mr. Carney nodded his approval, I proceeded to read the names of the other 12 crash victims, including the survivors. None of them rang a bell and the brick wall I was running into was getting thicker by the minute. I could see the case stalling on the train tracks and decided to push a little harder.
“Did your wife have any enemies outside of work?”
“Not really, she and I pretty much minded our own business. We went to the movies every Friday but that was about it.”
“Did anyone stand to gain financially from her death?”
Mr. Carney's eyes turned to stone. I immediately knew that I had made a huge mistake. He dug his nails into the armrest of his recliner and I could see him visibly restrain an explosion. He didn't strike me as a guy with stellar temper control and I could tell this was pushing him to his threshold.
“I didn't gain shit from my wife's death,” he shouted.
“Sir, I wasn't necessarily talking about you…”
“Do you think I'd be living in this dump if I had?” he said bowling over my pathetic attempt to quell his rage, “My wife loved me you know? She was college educated, had all of them fancy degrees and me, I barely got by high school. She didn't care though, she loved me and made me feel like I meant something. She never called me stupid, she helped me when I was down and didn't care that all I did was solder shit together in a factory.”
“I understand that sir, I wasn't saying necessarily you but someone else…”
Mr. Carney's rage had turned to despair, he was starting to get visibly upset and he rocked back into his chair, choking back tears, “She really loved me and I never got to tell her that I loved her before she left… When she died… She didn't have insurance or nothing and I lost everything because I can't pay for shit with my job. All I could give her was a decent burial…”
The weight of what he was saying began to get to me. I'd seen crocodile tears before and could sniff out fake despair easily. This was the real deal though. I could also see that it was time for me to be thinking about my exit, that I wasn't getting any more here and that I'd done enough damage for one day.
I procured a card from my wallet and laid it on the table, Mr. Carney, for his part, began weeping almost uncontrollably and was completely beyond comprehension. I felt a huge pang of guilt as I looked into his tear-filled eyes and I started kicking myself for bringing back all of his pain, especially to no avail.
“Mr. Carney,” I whispered, “If you think of anything else, call me. I'm going to show myself the door.”
He waved me on but I could still hear his sobbing as I left the house and it followed me through the thin walls of the trailer until I shut the door of my car.
At that exact moment, the only thing I could think about was the fact that I had two more to go.