Fun and Games

On a hard grey night in a cold grey city, the world watched as Ted Hawkins was sentenced to death. In a cramped apartment across town, Clint lit another cigarette and turned down the TV.

Before last week, there was no Ted Hawkins. There was just Babyface, the bogeyman who kept people from going out once the sun went down. Babyface, who’d leave his victims posed in playgrounds and dressed in children’s clothes. Jay Thornton, the city councilman, had been the first. A family on holiday found him lashed to the swing set, a big Glasgow smile on his face as his milky dead eyes stared out across the baseball fields. He’d even been wearing a propeller beanie, holding a small baby doll head in his lap.

It’d been Clint who was assigned to bring him down. Clinton Weiler, the police officer and hero, not Clint the has-been sinking into his couch right now. He wiped away a stain from his wifebeater and took another big bite of his pizza.

He still had the heads. They were on his mantelpiece, sitting behind the glass swan Lindsay used to like so much. She’d left in December,  the month Ernest Turner was found on a bench in KiddieLand covered in blood and cotton candy. She called him obsessed. Insane. Took Angela and Neil and hit the fucking road. Said he loved the maniac, who was now being berated by a tall attorney, more than he loved his own family. Clint didn’t remember what he’d said to that, but she was gone now, so it couldn’t have been all that great.

He remembered what his old instructor at the academy had said. Said that when it came to serial killers, you’d see a lot of the guy. You were gonna have to get in his head, gonna get to know him. Hell, you might even start to admire him a little. Clint hadn’t believed it until he’d come in to the precinct one night, past God knows how many police officers, and found the baby doll head sitting on his desk. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” said the note. Cheeky. Reckless. Ballsy. Clint must’ve laugh at his desk for a good hour. That’d been month four.

So they played the game for weeks. Like Holmes and Moriarty. Kasparov and Deep Blue. Babyface would leave a trail, nearly let himself get caught, and pull the rug out from under him at the last second. At the time, it’d been hell. Now, from the edge of the couch, it seemed like the good old days.

On the tube, the prosecutor howled to the jury about the monster in the orange jumpsuit. About how the pure personfi-fucking-cation of evil was sitting in the room with them. Hawkins looked more like a schoolteacher, his blond-white hair thin and wispy, just like the rest of him. The night Clint finally caught up with him, he’d thought for a brief moment that he’d found the wrong guy. But then again, normal people didn’t spend a Friday night in a mini-storage with a dead body splayed out on an operating table. Hawkins was sitting in a lawn chair drinking a Budweiser, reading the news, calm as you please.

“Hi Clint,” he’d said, friendly as could be. “I guess this means you win, huh?”

In what seemed like a blur, the boys had him cuffed and shoved in the back of the cruiser, leaving Clint alone in the mini-storage. Thanks, Detective, we’ve got it from here.

And just like that the game was over.

On the TV, the prosecutor got right up into Hawkins’ face, sneering, and in a flash of steel he jerked back. His face was bleeding. The courtroom boiled like maggots in a pot as Hawkins leapt through the crowd, knocking open the doors and vanishing into the street.

The next morning they’d wonder where he’d got the knife, who’d slipped him the handcuff keys. Who unloaded the guard’s gun. They’d wonder what would happen next. Clint shut off the tube and sat in the darkness, grinning. A text message bleeped on his phone. A smiley face.

Your move, Ted. Game on.

For Chuck Wendig‘s flash fiction contest, “Doll Heads”.

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