The case got the national news networks interested because the killer (or killers, as some speculated) kidnapped men rather than women–and not weak men, either; one of the victims was a professional bodybuilder. Another was a bouncer at a nightclub. These were men who should have been able to defend themselves against an average psychopath, but they all ended up skinned just the same.
Some writer at one of the less prestigious newspapers started calling the man Mr. Grim. It stuck. Don’t ask me why; I hate nicknames. I think it encourages the deranged.
My partner and I had the bad luck of getting assigned the case. That was until he went missing. Then they assigned me a new partner. It was my new partner who cracked the whole thing and ended the reign of that foolish nickname. After that, everyone could call the asshole by his real handle, Mr. Paul Leonard.
Didn’t they tell you to be wary of people with two first names?
He wasn’t anything to look at. He was short, stocky, clean-cut. But he was fast. He used a wire to garrote his victims first. He liked to target the big guys because of some Napoleonic thing. He would torture them for days, removing a bit here, a bit there. He said his greatest skinning job lasted fifteen days before the guy finally bled out. He’d recorded a lot of it. It was horrible to watch.
But he never told me or anyone else where my partner was. Most everyone else thought he was dead. But if that was the case, why not just tell me? Why not add another body to the tally? Leonard was proud of himself; I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t want another death out in the open. He’d already confessed to seventeen murders; what was one more?
“You’re better off never finding him, Detective,” Leonard said to me before they killed him off via lethal injection in front of a cheering crowd.”That’s one freak better left in the shadows.”
It took me three years to find him, and when I did, I realized Leonard had been right. Sometimes, things change people, and it’s no fun at all to look at the wreckage of what you once knew.
For three years, my partner lived freely in the farmhouse where he’d once been tortured. We found evidence that someone else had kept him supplied with the bodies of the recently deceased, but this third man has never been identified, let alone apprehended. Three local teenagers found my partner by accident when they were breaking into old houses in the area to break things. Only one of the teenagers lived to report the incident to the police.
I was the one who took the kid’s story; I was the first one into the room where my old partner was living. The walls were crumbling, and the window was broken. Bright fall light was coming in, and even though it was cold, my partner was completely naked. His flesh, if you could call it that, was patchy and pink from years of systematic flaying. I could see blood welling in the creases everywhere on him, the way blood will seep from a hangnail bitten too far down. He had pieces of himself draped over the windowsill, and another piece dangling from his mouth, where he was sucking on it. Even as I walked in and surprised him, he was deftly slicing off a quarter-inch-thick slab of his right thigh. When he saw me, he charged, and I shot him in the head. We found the remnants of the other two teenagers on a pile of corpses in the corner of the room.
Now I sit up nights, and I think about how one blade can sharpen another, and I fear the cost of every tragic report I see on the evening news–violence rippling out from one of us to the next, forever, and sometimes our corpses are more than the bags of meat and bones they put in the ground. Sometimes …what is that they say?
Oh yeah–to live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.
Well, my partner lives on in my heart, and, even though I never even say his name anymore, I suspect he always will.
I think it’s about time for another drink.