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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Robert Jeschonek: Secretary to a Serial Killer

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Art by Bernice Holtzman 2023

Secretary to a Serial Killer

 

Robert Jeschonek        

 

Carefully, I arrange the strips of bloody flesh to form letters on the hardwood floor of the victim's home.  It has to be done just so, set up in a neat semi-circle that spells out a single word:  Parasol.

Next come the fingers, severed at the second knuckle.  I place all ten of them in the bronze bowl behind the word "Parasol" and squirt lighter fluid on them.

Then, I light a match and toss it into the bowl.  Flames dance, lighting up the rest of tonight's work for review.

Clumps of hair from other victims encircle the bowl, alternating in color.  Beyond that, bones from a rib cage—some bleached, some painted black—are laid out in two parallel rows.  Next, splotches of soft-boiled egg and little piles of cooked spaghetti that look completely random—but aren't.  Nothing here is random.

Not even the way the dead man's 87 stab wounds are situated on his body.  Everything has to be just so.

Suddenly, a camera flash goes off behind me.  I shiver, because I know he's back there—my captor, my boss.

"Very nice, Lydia.  I knew I made the right choice when I hired you."

My name isn't Lydia, and he didn't hire me, but none of that matters.  "Merci, Monsieur Le Grande."  It also doesn't matter that I don't know more than a few words of French.  He insists I speak it the best I can.

His footfalls are heavy as he steps up beside me, blood-soaked butcher's apron and all, snapping more photos with his phone.  "You've done me proud, my dear.  I am truly blessed to have you on staff."

My heart pounds so hard it hurts because he could kill me at any second.  Also because of what he might see in those photos when he takes a close look.

"You're just what every great artist needs," says Le Grande.  "An assistant.  A fellow sick mind by his side."

There's a case of the psychopath calling the kettle black.  The disorder I've got doesn't compare to his bloodlust.

Though it's true, I wouldn't be here right now if not for my extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder—my OCD.

#

The whole way home through the West Virginia moonlight, I can't stop thinking about tonight's photo shoot. The pictures he took—the proof of my betrayal—are right there on his phone, waiting for him to see.

All because I took a chance and broke the rules, planting the subtlest of clues within his own twisted cypher in the hope that someone out there will see what I did and understand.  Someone who can help me get free.

"We'll take a little downtime tomorrow, yes?"  Keeping one hand on the wheel of the van, he pats my knee with the other.  "We'll make breakfast, take care of the mail, and catch up on social media.  Sound good?"

"Oui, Monsieur Le Grande."  By "taking care of the mail," he means sending the crime scene photos to the cops via some distant, random mailbox...and by "social media," he means picking his next victim online.

"We're allowed to have a little downtime now and then, right?"  Le Grande chuckles.  "A day off never killed anyone, did it?"

"Non, Monsieur Le Grande."  It's been a long time since I last had a day off.  My life hasn't stopped being a nightmare in the last three months.

Not since Le Grande showed up at my home office in Wheeling and asked about hiring my company, OCD Diva, Inc., for some so-called consulting work…then came back later that night, broke in, and hauled me away.  From that moment on, my new life began…my new life of being the prisoner of a serial killer.

And being his crime scene decorator, too.  Who better than an OCD expert to make sure his intricate masterpieces are perfectly presented for the police, without a detail out of place?

And what better motivation than the promise of death to keep that expert cooperating?

#

When we get home—to his house in the woods outside Parkersburg—he puts me to work cleaning his implements.  As always, I'm repulsed...and also forced by my OCD to scrub them like crazy.

The three bloody knives, I wash with bleach-based cleanser in the laundry sink in the basement.  I wear yellow rubber gloves up to my elbows and scrub every surface until my hands hurt.

The bone saw takes longer.  So do some of the torture implements, like the pliers and razor wire.  But I get it done; I always do.

"Just printed out the photos from tonight, Lydia."  Le Grande swoops downstairs with a handful of color prints.  "There's just one...problem."

Every drop of blood in my body turns to ice.

"Here."  He swings over beside me and holds up the prints.  "I'll bet you thought I wouldn't catch this, huh?"

He sees it.  His eye for detail is too fanatically sharp.  He zeroed right in on the clues I so carefully concealed.

"Look."  He pulls out a scalpel and jabs the tip at the top print in the stack.  "It's right there in plain sight."

Can he see me trembling?  Can he smell the terror in my heart as death draws near?

My voice sounds faint when I finally find it.  "I was just...just trying to..."

"I know exactly what you were trying to do!"  He shakes the scalpel at my face.

Tears streaming down my cheeks, I brace myself for the end.

Then, he plunges the scalpel at the photo, sticking its point in the image of the bronze bowl with the charred remains of the fingers smoldering within.

"You were trying to make me look bad," snaps Le Grande.  "How dare you turn the bowl so the number of pentagrams engraved on the rim is not equal on either side of the Eye of Horus as it is centered over the word 'Parasol' on the floor?"

I draw in a deep breath, fighting to steady myself.  After all this, all my fear, he was looking at something else the whole time.

"You have failed me."  He sneers.

"I apologize."  I bow my head.  "It will never happen again, Monsieur."

He stares at me for a long moment, and I worry he may yet see through me.  But then he sighs, and his expression softens.

"You are only human, yes?"  He presses the prints into my sweaty hands.  "And we do have PhotoChop on the laptop, hm?  Editing is possible."

"Yes...I mean oui."

"Then I suggest you get busy.  We simply must have these in the mail to the gendarmerie first thing tomorrow."

I straighten the prints as he winks and strolls away, slicing at the air with the scalpel.  My relief is almost more than I can bear.

Today, I live.  I survive.

But tomorrow is another day.  Tomorrow is another letter of the alphabet painstakingly mapped in minute variations of soft-boiled egg splotches corresponding with Morse code.

One letter, one victim at a time, purchased at terrible cost.  Even then, will anyone see it?  Will anyone understand the full message when it's done?  Will they come for me?  All I can do is pray for someone with as much OCD as I have to be on the receiving end.

And, God help me, for Le Grande to keep the victims coming until I am done.

Robert Jeschonek is a USA TODAY-bestselling author. His fiction has appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Pulphouse Fiction Magazine, Mystery Magazine, and other markets around the world.



Bernice Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2023