PICK YOUR OWN PUMPKIN
"Can we get some more light out here?"
Milton tried again to get the attention of the uniform who was sitting in the passenger seat of his car. The man's face was ash pale.
The man looked up, seeming to finally hear.
"P-Power's out. We radioed for them to bring the big Kliegs and Gennies out, but they're twenty minutes away."
He put his head down, hands gripping the dash. "Jesus, detective. You ever seen..."
"Yeah." Milton nodded, grim. "This one's up there though." He ran a hand through his hair. "But it's all the same crime. Dead is dead."
The officer didn't answer, so Milton crossed the barnyard to revisit the grotesque wall of jack-o-lanterns. Window dressing or not, the killer had gone to a lot of trouble. There were three rows of ten
pumpkins, stacked one on the other, each carved into a goofy grin, sinister smirk, or - most chilling to Al - shock and surprise. Through the little "o" mouths of these last, he got a clear view of the pieces of Mrs. Edna Chalmers inside. The foot stool sized pumpkin that held her head was of the "surprised" variety. A big, wooden handled meat fork was jammed savagely into the side.
Inside each gourd was a chintzy, flickering LED light. Blue, purple and red light glittered off the pools of blood that were overflowing the hollow mouths of the pumpkins. It was the only light in the place.
"Quite the spectacle, huh?" asked Blackwood, coming around the sign that gave the entire scene a hint of black comedy: 'Don't miss our Famous 'Punkin' Chunkin!'
"Yeah," agreed Al. "Anything in the house?"
Blackwood nodded. "Yeah. There's signs of a struggle in the kitchen. Lots of blood in the living room. That's probably where it happened." He looked over at the patrol car. "Where's the kid that called it in?"
"They took him home. He was scared shitless."
"That we'd charge him with trespassing?"
Al stared at John for a moment. "No, John. By the thirty-one pieces of farmer's wife that are oozing onto the ground."
"Oh," said Blackwood. "Right."
John Blackwood was a brilliant investigator, and could deduce huge amounts of detail from the tiniest clue - but his social skills were strongly lacking. Milton thought that it was precisely this low degree of empathy that made John so effective when investigating the sociopathic crimes they'd built their reputation on. Mostly, though, it drove Al crazy.
Running down the line of pumpkins with his flashlight, Blackwood asked, "All the pieces here?"
"Yeah," said Al, "From what I can see. You ready for the old man?"
"He's still here?" Blackwood turned to face his partner.
"Yeah. Out in the barn." replied Milton. "The meds did their best, but he got away on them.
"Alright," said Blackwood. "Let's see what we can get from the body before they take him away."
"Fair enough," said Milton. "Damned flickering is giving me a headache anyway."
They walked toward the barn, following Blackwood's flashlight beam.
"You're quiet tonight." said John.
"Just thinking," replied Milton. "I told the uniform not to get freaked by the details. It's murder. Murder happens every day."
Blackwood stopped. "It doesn't though, Al. Not like this." He looked back at the pumpkins. "For a man to go to such lengths - this was building up for a long while. This wasn't a momentary loss of control."
Inside the barn, which had been turned into a makeshift apartment, there was a ratty looking yellow sofa, a small television, and three large garbage bags. The smell of pumpkin was overpowering. Three battery powered lanterns created a harsh circle of white light near the sofa. Mike Thurgis, an EMT who had been on scene with John and Al more than once, waved them over.
"It was thirty-seconds too long," said Mike. "Me and Rashid had him back for a second, but the damage was done. We're waiting on the ME to come and call the time."
Al looked past Mike to the body on the floor. "He say anything before he went?"
Mike went pale.
"Yeah," he said. "Matter of fact, he did."
Blackwood had his pad out. "Okay - what did you get?"
"He said Peter Peter. Twice - just like that- Peter Peter." Turning around, the EMT looked in the stall too. "Then he started laughing. That was the end of it. He choked on his own blood, and we couldn't get him back."
Al moved around the others and crouched by the body. The man was wire-thin, but his limbs were ropy with sun-hardened muscle. Blood was drying in dark splotches across his swollen, blue-tinged face.
"What are these blood spots here?" he asked Mike.
"I'm not a dick," said Mike. "You tell me."
The medic lifted the farmer's shirt. Milton exhaled sharply. The man's chest was covered in hundreds of tiny circular scars. Blood was congealing over two of these.
"The meat fork," said Blackwood.
"Yeah." Al agreed. "Seems like Edna'd been poking at her hubby for quite awhile, too. Old Peter here probably just had enough."
Blackwood burst out laughing.
"What? What is it John?" Al stood up.
"You may be a sick bastard, but you've got a sense of humour," said Blackwood, bending down to address the corpse. He looked over at Milton.
"Think about it, Al. All of it."
Al did. After a moment, he shook his head, unable to suppress his own uncomfortable grin. "Sick fuck," he muttered.
"What the hell are you guys talking about?" asked Mike.
Blackwood nudged the body with his toe. "All we have to do is write this one up. Think Hollis would appreciate the short version?"
Milton shook his head. "No."
Mike started to object again, Al held up a hand. "It's like this, Mike:
Peter Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her,
He put her in a pumpkin shell..."
Blackwood finished, "And there he kept her, very well."