The Black Tulip

4

It was just another day on the streets of New York City. Another body waiting, another dollar to be made. The body won't go anywhere and Detective Keller knew it very well. As with any other stiff, they are desperate to tell their story, desperate to speak through the jaw that will open no more, begging for the warmth of the crematory's raging fires. Keller parked his unmarked cruiser just across the street from the landfill of which the crime scene was located. It was quite a feat for him to be able to get to the outskirts of New York City so soon; traffic was on his side.

As he stepped onto the hot pavement, the pummel of one hundred and one degrees stung every nerve strand in his body. Mid-July New York was a furnace. Despite the sweltering heat, Keller was always thankful for it; people and animals alike were scurrying for shelter, the sidewalks are empty and lunch was over early. He tormented himself further by lighting a cigarette he had bought that morning. At least the softness of the smoke soothed his trachea. Alas, Keller had not forgotten about his duty. Another body waiting. He took his black oxfords for a stroll to the landfill—it absorbed the heat from the asphalt and cooked his feet from the inside with every step taken. The entry gates were adorned with yellow lines and the New York’s finest. Bystanders were prowling around the chain link fence, creating a barrier between the civilized and the malevolent. All different classes of people striving to satisfy their curiosity.

As Keller strode onwards, he donned his trusty latex gloves that he always carried a pair on his murky charcoal suit; just in case, because either way, he’s willing to plunge his hand into filth—and he was keen to keep his methods clean. A uniform detected Keller approaching the gates, he saw Detective Keller’s badge hanging on his belt but instead of greeting him, the uniform just stared at Keller’s eyes, gave him a nod and looked away. Keller had the impression that he was either in pain, disgust, melancholy or anger.

Perturbed, Detective Nathan Keller made his way to the man he saw standing just outside of the yellow line. Keller took his badge from his belt and waited until he got to a reasonable distance from him before he introduced himself.

“Detective Nathan Keller, 12th Precinct. What do you have here, son?”

“Oh, uhhh… Well, sir, we found Emma Hopkins’ body…. It’s just… next to the blue sofa over there.”

Keller scoffed, almost relieved. “About damn time.”

“Aren’t you worried about her, sir?” Said the policeman, mildly perplexed.

“Well, they called up a homicide detective; they’re coming home one way or another.”

“That’s… true, sir, it’s just…” The policeman stopped mid-sentence.

Not even a second, Keller found his shining black oxfords stained by the policeman’s half-processed breakfast. Keller recoiled—he was used to seeing a few upchucks around the crime scene but the why in this case, he did not have the chance to find out.

Keller gave the ailing man a few gentle pats on the back and ordered him to leave the crime scene. The dissolved meatloaf on his shoes did not bother him too much. Emma Hopkins was the name once belonging to a 10-year old girl, gone missing a few months back. Her parents were among the few top earners living in New York City—they offered a bountiful reward for her whereabouts the very second she was reported missing. Keller was sure that it was just a ransom kidnapping but now, he had his doubts.

The CSU nor his partner had not arrived when Keller reached the decaying body. However, it looked like one of the first responders had covered the corpse with a discarded red blanket. Keller scanned the area around the body—most of the policemen had their chins resting on their palms; one was even vomiting as he turned his head around. A man in handcuffs was leaning face-first against a patrol car parked near the filth mound, clothes flecked with months’ worth of grime, car exhaust byproducts embellished on his hair—almost fitting for a sparrow nest. Keller figured it was the suspect waiting for processing.

Keller crouched and grabbed the edge of the blanket. He can smell the repulsive stench of decomposing flesh, stronger than that of the landfill’s aroma. He estimated that the body was found six days after it died. Keller turned the blanket over and saw the stiff face of what once an innocent child.

Red eyes, pink skin and signs of struggle around the neck; classic symptoms of death by asphyxiation. The wound on the neck was not as visible as other strangulation victims Keller had seen in his career, meaning the killer took the time and—quite possibly—enjoyed every second of it. Her narrow jaw was dislodged, possibly a deliberate attempt of torture, or failed to accommodate the sheer size of a deviant’s asset.

He scanned her torso. She was as naked as the day she was born. Trying not to think much, Keller inspected the cuts slashed all round her chest. Several puncture wounds, not deep but was still agonizing. Aside from the usual torture wounds, Keller saw a burn mark just above the heart, shaped like a bird—a raven. He saw reports of similar modus operandi from other homicide detectives. Maybe it was indeed a ransom kidnapping?

He found his gaze driving further downwards subconsciously, a reflex he had developed but not containing the pain, anger and disgust he had in his heart. Not much to see other than the ripped skin along little Emma’s pelvis. No signs of healing on the cuts, the killer took the time to relieve themselves before she died, or immediately after when the blood was still flowing warm.

Keller’s train of thought was derailed as he heard a commotion just behind him. A man in a brown suit jacket and black trousers was assaulting a man in handcuffs. He noticed it was his partner and quickly got up, leaving the corpse exposed.

Several policemen were attempting to break up the conflict as Keller arrived on scene. “Harper! Harper!” Keller shouted, grabbing him by his arms and pulling him away. “Not here!” Shouted Keller once again. He threw his partner on the ground—the policemen escorted the handcuffed man outside the landfill. “Not here.”



***

“I’ve seen some sickos in my time as a Captain but… Goddamn…” Captain Ashworth said in disbelief. “Regardless, protocols are protocols; you can’t play the judge, jury and executioner, Detective Harper.”

“With all due respect, sir, If you want my badge and gun, then have it but don’t say I didn’t do the right thing.” Detective Harper replied, agitated.

"Nobody's saying that, Harper but you've been a pain in my ass since the Commissioner assigned your sorry ass to this precinct! This is your second strike and there won't be a third!"

“Sir, I suggest we conduct the interrogation, there’s something about him that made me think he didn’t kill her.” Keller added, attempting to defuse the conflict.

“Well, what made you think that?” Asked Captain Ashworth.

“First, I’ve seen similar burn marks on Emma’s chest, so someone must’ve been branding these people; a coordinated effort. Second, why would they kill their victims before they can get their ransom money? The Hopkins are quite loaded, so it was pretty much a guaranteed payday. Third, well, he just doesn’t seem to be the type, sir.”

"The burn mark… Black Tulip?"

"I'm afraid so."

Captain Ashworth sighed. “Alright, just make sure you don’t fuck up his face like Harper did, you may go now.”

“Yes, sir.” said both Keller and Harper, walking out of the Captain’s office.

Captain Ashworth yawped. “Not you, Harper, you stay right here.”

Detective Harper sighed; his frustration was almost audible. Keller didn’t think much and went straight to the interrogation room. Keller wanted to reflect on the raven brand on Emma's chest. Reports began surfacing 2 months back and it was so prominent; the whole Homicide squad of the NYPD had given them the nickname "Raven Mafia". However, the men in charge had fed the media with the infamous "Black Tulip" murders. Keller's mind was too fixated on the suspect to think about it. The observation room was already swarming with uniforms, waiting for an authorized detective to conduct the interrogation. Keller took a deep breath and opened the door, the chattering stopped and the whole floor fell into an eerie silence.

Keller was so enraged by the suspect to the point he ignored all of his interrogation training. He sat down on his cushioned chair and did not attempt to patronize him. Detective Harper had given him a street makeup so expertly done; blood was still dripping from his lips and the bruise on his left cheek was beginning to swell. Keller gave him some time to reflect on himself: 5 hours alone in a dead silent room, having the entire precinct staring down on him knowing damn well what he did without being provided food nor water—not even a light snack.

“Why’d you do it?” Keller said, breaking the silence.

The suspect was sitting on the cold, hard steel chair, hunched and completely silent—ever since he was taken into custody, he hasn't said anything. Nobody could get a name out of his mouth; not even an ID found on his pocket. Keller swore he saw tears flowing from his eyes. However, the constant flow of blood from his untreated wounds made him unsure. Keller could feel every single heartbeat beyond the one-way mirror, eyes staring down on the suspect. Every molecule of oxygen in the room was putting on what felt like six gallons of water on the suspect’s back, belittling him with every breath taken. The break is already there, Keller could feel it.

“I have the impression you didn’t kill little Emma.” Keller said. “But unless you want to have the entire population of Rikers lining up on you at the showers and be known as the scum who kept a corpse of a 10-year old girl as your own personal sex doll, I suggest you start talking right now.”

Keller leaned in closer, trying to build up tension. "You know what they do with child rapists in there? All sort of nasty shit; I don't even have a word to accurately describe it. Nobody would help you, not even the guards. But we both know you didn't just simply rape a child, did you?"

The suspect started to sob. Keller saw the break is coming ever so closer with each waking minute. Keller leaned back on his chair and took out a cigarette. He took out his zippo lighter, leaned back in and burned the tip of the tobacco mere centimeters away from the suspect’s face. Keller flicked the lid, startling the suspect.

Keller inhaled the smoke and exhaled it right on the suspect’s face. “Little Emma’s parents missed her so dearly. I’d hate to be the one breaking the news to them, let alone be in your shoes. I assume you don’t know about the Hopkins, so I’ll just sum it up for you: You’d probably never make it past that door alive.”

The suspect was trembling on his chair. His entire body is convulsing in fear. Keller inhaled his cigarette smoke once again. “So, for your own sake…” Keller placed a piece of paper and a pen on the metal table just Infront of the suspect. “…confess.”

After a moment of which felt like a century, the suspect reached out his right hand and pulled the paper closer to him, all while still sobbing. Keller figured he’d better get out of the room before he changes his opinion towards him—and possibly doing something rash. Keller loved his job and he intended to keep it.

Every single staff on the floor was staring at Keller. Some gave him a nod, some gave him a smile, some gave him a thumbs up. He was still disgusted by the suspect but he was looking forward to reading his confession hoping it would relieve the pressure on his temples.

Keller returned to his desk while still smoking his cigarette. He sat down on the leather chair that was ready to collapse anytime soon. He’d file a complaint but he figured he would just buy a new one with his own paycheck, since the process would be lightyears faster.

The ashtray on the corner of his desk was overfilled but he rested his lit cigarette on top of the pile regardless. Keller started to think about the raven brand. He had never seen the brand on his victims ever since the rise of the Black Tulip but he was aware of it. He typed on the oily keyboard: “Keyword: Black Tulip, Raven, Brand” and pushed the Enter button.

As with every single equipment the 12th precinct had, the computer was painfully slow; the low processing power was dwarf in comparison to the gargantuan NYPD database. While waiting, Keller took the cigarette and reflected on the case. The Hopkins were powerful. It would make sense to get ransom from people of their stature but why kill the victim before they can get the ransom?

Immediately after Keller asked himself the question, the first search result popped up. It was the first victim to have the raven branded on their chest. Then the second result popped and the third and the next. All of the victims were related to people in power—government officials, wealthy businessmen, arms dealers and so on. Some sent the ransom and got their victims back, with the raven brand. There were even reports of detectives gone missing while investigating the Black Tulip cases. Keller knew this is deeper than it looked like and considered this as a challenge. He was willing to go down the rabbit hole… but how deep does it really go?

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License