Part and Parcel
a short story by Chuck Morgue
Vernon Ackerman watches from his window as the carrier places the package upon his doorstep. He has not been expecting anything in particular, but as he steps out to retrieve the package, he is overwhelmed with a familiar eagerness that he has not felt in years. The muscles in his back ache as he bends down for the package. At 71, he is not as agile as he once was. Not that he was ever that particularly athletic or anything. But even still, if picking up a box is such a chore now, he dreads what the coming years have to offer. He examines the outside of the box. It is a plain brown shipping box, with that familiar return address: 666 Applesauce Street, Saint Mary Mead, Downshire. A fictional address, of course. The town and county a reference to the books of mystery author Agatha Christie. Vernon will need to call this in, but for the moment he just carries the box inside, pulling the front door closed behind him.
He sets the box upon his dining table and retrieves his teapot from the cabinet above the sink. He fills the pot with water and sets it upon the flame of his stove. He glares at the box. It has been about a decade since the last one. Twice as many years since he retired from Scotland Yard. He had assumed there was nothing left to send by mail. Or that the sender had perhaps died. Or been arrested for an unrelated offense. Either way, former detective Vernon Ackerman is now feeling instantly exhausted at the prospect of opening this box.
Thirty years ago, when the packages first began to arrive, the detective greatly enjoyed the thrill of the mystery. A young woman, a rather successful lawyer based out of Manchester, by the name of Grace Davies, had gone missing after a morning jog through the gardens at Fletcher Moss. Soon after a series of letters from her supposed killer began to arrive at Vernon’s office. A few months thereafter, the first package arrived. Inside was the right hand of the missing lawyer. It appeared to have been delicately, surgically removed. Every six months, another package arrived. Each with another body part. Each with a letter, written with exquisite penmanship, specifically to the detective. There were never any fingerprints. No DNA evidence except for that of the victim. This killer was careful. Methodical.
For nearly twenty years, the packages haunted the investigators at Scotland Yard. Until one day, about a decade ago, they just stopped. A few years later, the case was shelved, doomed to remain unresolved. Soon after, detective Ackerman retired. Over the decades, Vernon had solved many cases. He brought many criminals to justice. He was far from a failure by any stretch of the imagination. But the lack of closure on that particular case always haunted him.
“Why now?” Vernon wonders. After all these years, what has made the killer decide to reach out again. And what more could be left of his victim to send? The packages were filled with random bones in those last few years.
Vernon knows he should call it in. Let those detectives still on the payroll take the box and put it with the others. But he can’t. His curiosity is piqued.
The box feels heavier than to be merely a few small bones. Whatever is inside, is solid. A new victim, perhaps. Has the killer come out of retirement, deciding to kill again?
Vernon carefully cuts the box open. Inside is something wrapped in newsprint, and a note folded on top. He opens the note, written in very crude handwriting:
Greetings, detective. I hope you are well. I am not, unfortunately. I am afraid that I am not long for this world. I would like to enjoy what time I have left. If you feel so inclined, I invite you to join me in our little game, one last time. I invite you, detective, to come find me.
Vernon sets the note aside, and unwraps the newsprint to find a hand. It’s the right hand of a male, fairly older in age. Vernon looks at the hand, then to the note. And he understands why the note is so crude, while all of the previous letters were quite eloquent. The killer is right-handed. Or, was, it seems.
Vernon knows that the fingerprints will most certainly give an ID. Finding the actual killer will not be so easy, but there is hope. He stares at the hand, and grins.
“I’m glad to finally meet you,” he says.
Vernon reaches for his phone to put in the call. There is no time to waste. They will get this killer. As the phone on the other end begins to ring, the teapot begins to scream from the stove top, and somewhere out there, in the fictional town of Saint Mary Mead, in the fictional county of Downshire, a killer changes the bandage at the end of his right arm, contemplating where to cut next should the detective need more time.
© 2017 Chuck Morgue. All rights reserved.
Illustration by Justin Talarski.