A Symptom of the Job
The news broadcast played into an empty house.
"Jeremy Black, 22, was found dead this morning a little after three. Police have as of yet refused to comment, but the method of killing remains consistent with the spree of crimes that have been haunting Lanes for the past several months..."
The TV chooses this time to burst into static, as if prompted by the mention of the town's name.
Once upon a time it used to be known as Springfield, or Oakland, something of that nature; the kind of town that TV shows used to make fun of for its stereotypical suburban neighborhoods. But after the industry boom of 2025, it began to decay, as all suburbs do in the face of progress. Brick walls gave way to steel beams of skyscrapers, tidy houses relinquished their spot on the street in favor of crowded apartments, and public schools spit out sullen faces every May and swallowed them again every August.
The TV resumes its broadcast as if nothing happened, unaware that it is blasting its message to empty rooms. Cable service is notoriously unreliable in Lanes. There one minute, gone the next.
Much like Caleb Boon, who was awoken this morning a little after three by a call to come into the office, and who did so with a splitting headache and blurry vision. He knew what the call meant. He'd gotten eight identical calls in the past two months, reporting a body full of broken bones and a killer with a blurry face.
"Jeremy Black, 22, was found dead this morning a little after three," Officer Carrol relates, his words echoing the news broadcast. His next words, though, deviate from the script: information the public isn't supposed to know. "Every bone in his body was smashed, just like the others. Like he was dropped off a goddamn building." His cold, clinical voice gets angry for just a moment, personal feelings clouding his face for just a moment before he shuts himself down. John Carrol can't allow himself to get invested. After two failed marriages, a year of unsolved killings, and countless other crimes witnessed, he'd given up on Empathy in favor for its more manageable twin, Apathy.
"From what we can tell, the killer starts at the feet and works his way up."
"Do we have audio? Reports of screams?"
Everyone lives in apartments now. Even the rich. There's just no room left for the sprawling mansions. Surely someone would have heard something. The screams of a dying man can't be that easy to ignore.
"Nothing. Not a peep. We asked around everyone on the floor. No one heard or saw a thing."
"Nothing. No screams. As for visuals..."
"It's Blurryface, innit?" Caleb Boon is a little too proud of his nickname for the mystery man.
"Yep. No face. No history. No identity. He's a modern Guy Fawkes. Except instead of large-scale political carnage, he's just a psycho."
"Just a psycho," Boon echoes.
He's one helluva smart psycho. No ordinary man. He's certainly not an average citizen. No average Joe could fool an entire city's cameras. In a world where a single photo can reveal an entire lifetime, somehow this man has made himself a blur. Stumped an entire police department. Knows the system inside and out.
Caleb Boon has a hunch, but it's one he can't share.
"Well, Boon, gonna be a busy day for you. Carters wants you at the scene by noon."
Boon looks at the clock. 11:46.
It's a good thing Caleb Boon drives fast.
He gets there at 12:02. Stella Carters frowns at him.
He waves her off. She notices the slow tremor of his hand, paired with his squinting, bloodshot eyes that seem to flinch away from the sun.
"Again, Boon? Really?"
"Symptom of the job, Stella. Can't sleep sober."
She rolls her eyes.
"Drink's gonna get you killed one of these days."
Boon offers a noncommittal grunt.
"It's a mess in here, Boonie."
Boon winces. When she brings out his nickname, that's a bad sign.
"Anything I should know?"
Carters offers him a shrug of her own.
"I dunno. Not sure there's anything I can say to prepare you."
Boon takes the mask that Stella hands him and pulls it tight over his nose.
"Well then. Let's do it."
The stench hits him first. Even several hours after the body was removed, Death lingers in the walls, on the floors, in the very air. No mask can block it from filling his nose, his mouth, his lungs.
It's a familiar scent. One he recognizes from some buried memory. Boon has a lot of buried memories. A lot of buried scents. Which repressed memory was being summoned this time? That case from two years ago with the little girl who was found running around naked and mute in the woods after being kidnapped and god-knows-what-else, missing for more than 2 years and then spending the rest of her life in psychiatric care after she was found? Or was it the case that robbed him of his last partner, just before this new serial killer began his spree? Maybe the time he was called out alongside paramedics to try and save a young man who became the unfortunate victim of a drive by, who died coughing up blood and begging for his mama? The meth dealer who was arrested after he was caught showing up at the local elementary school with "candy?"
Yeah. Boon had a lot of memories that he'd rather forget.
The memories, the cases, the faces... all of them start to blur together after a while.
Yet another symptom of the job.
He'd long been known for his acute sense of smell. After he solved four cold cases in his first eight months of working, people started to joke that he could smell a culprit from a mile away.
But that was years ago. Liquor and time had dulled his nose.
Still, there was something here, something familiar...
Maybe it was the color of the walls, the soft muted green that seemed like something out of a dream. Maybe it was the shards of broken glass on the floor. Maybe it was the creaking and groaning from the upstairs apartment.
Humans. Always chasing their dark desires, even in the wake of death. Lust does not stop to make room for grief.
Boon studied the body with a carefully cultivated detachment. He'd trained himself not to vomit, not to think. He studied the victim and her smashed bones the way that a machine would solve a math problem. Purely objective.
A symptom of the job.
He'd seen the worst that humanity had to offer in his two decades of service. Had begun to expect depravity in everyone around him.
"We're gonna have to wait for the autopsy," Boon says. "No external injuries. Just like the last time."
And the time before that. And the time before that.
"I don't get it, Boon. Look at her. No entrance wounds, no bruises. Yet every bone in her body is powder. She's as flat as a pancake and as limp as my ex-husband's dick. How can someone do that to a person? And evade detection, no less?"
Caleb Boon does not answer. There is no answer to give. None that he's willing to tell, anyway.
He does not tell her about the new technology that he stole from the department, a type of paralysis device gone wrong.
He does not tell her about his nightly binges, where he gets drunk, follows someone home, and then wakes up to another victim's face on the news or another phone call from John Carrol.
He does not tell her about his vivid dreams, dreams that are more like memories. Dreams of death, of violence.
He does not tell her, because he feels no guilt. No shame. Not even pride. Killing, he knows, is no achievement.
It's just another symptom of the job.