“What?” came a growl from the other side. The hand turned the doorknob and opened the door a crack.
Detective Peters stuck his head in. “Have a minute, Cap?” Jackson waved him in without looking up from the thick file he was reading. “Sir, I need to talk to you about Smitty.”
Reluctantly, Jackson stopped reading and appraised Peters with weary, baggy eyes. “Don’t tell me, son. He scares you. He’s too intense. It seems like he’s getting too close to the case.” Peters nodded eagerly at each statement. “Well, let me tell you something, Peters. Smitty is the best detective in the whole state. He’s been here longer than anyone except me, and he’ll be here long after all you fair-haired boys get tired of solving crimes for a living and take your pretty wives and three kids to the leafy lawns of suburbia. Now get back to work.” Jackson’s head sagged back down.
Peters didn’t wilt. “I know all that, sir. But this is different. Smitty thinks he’s the killer.”
Jackson looked up, his world-weary expression replaced with surprise.
Captain Frank Jackson is a man who prides himself on having seen it all. And after twenty years on the homicide squad in a big city, it’s a fair claim to make. Today, however, Captain Jackson is about to discover that he hasn’t seen everything after all. He’s just been handed what will prove to be the strangest case of his entire career, straight from one of the grimmer jurisdictions . . . of The Event Horizon.
Jackson fidgeted nervously with his pen while he waited for Smitty to arrive. When he heard Smitty’s familiar slow, almost hesitant knock on the door, he tried to sound nonchalant. “Come in.”
Smitty opened the door. He was his usual pale, thin, and stooped self, his thinning dark hair giving him the look of a college professor — or an undertaker. His expression suited his demeanor. He dropped his lanky frame into the chair in front of Jackson’s desk.
“Have a seat, Smitty,” said Jackson, trying to sound casual and unconcerned, and failing on both counts. “Peters says that you’re having some trouble with the Wackler double homicide.”
“I think I’m the murderer,” Smitty said flatly, his baritone voice filling the space.
Jackson tried to laugh dismissively. “I’ve known you since we were both pounding a beat in the old Fourth Ward. No way you’re a murderer. Maybe you’re just getting a little too close to this case. When’s the last time you took a vacation?”
Smitty looked straight into Jackson’s eyes, causing his boss to shift nervously in his seat. “The evidence is all there.”
Jackson sighed. “What evidence? Did you recover fingerprints? Is there any eyewitness? Anything that puts you at the scene?”
“No. But it’s exactly the way I would have killed them.”
Smitty leaned forward. “You know that anyone who’s been on the force as long as we have starts to think about these things. How would we get away with it. How would we avoid all the mistakes. Well, the killer did everything I would have done.”
After a moment of pondering, Jackson let out a laugh of relief. “There, see? It’s just that you’ve finally found a killer who’s as good as you. That’s all it is. That doesn’t mean it was you.”
“Except that I can’t remember where I was at the exact time the coroner said the murders took place.”
Jackson waved his hand dismissively. “I don’t remember where I was six hours ago, Smitty. And I don’t even need bourbon to make me forget anymore. We’re just getting old, you and me. That’s all.”
A rueful smile appeared on Smitty’s face for just a beat. “I appreciate it, old friend. But I just have this feeling. A hunch.”
Jackson’s mood fell. “That feeling?”
Smitty nodded. “And it’s never been wrong in twenty years.”
Jackson looked around the room as he tried to think. “You didn’t even know them. Everything about this crime says that the victims knew their killer. No signs of forced entry, right?”
“It was too methodical. Too clean, too precise. It was a rational, planned act. It looked staged. Like someone was trying to make it look like someone else did it.”
“So someone you arrested ten, fifteen years ago gets out on parole. He’s bent on revenge. He sets up a crime to make it look like you did it, to discredit you.”
Smitty shook his head. “Don’t you see, Frank? It has to be me.”
Jackson slammed the desk in frustration — and fear. “No, I don’t see it, Smitty! It doesn’t make sense! Why does it have to be you?”
“Because it’s the only thing I haven’t seen or done in this city. I’ve been around long enough to see and witness everything. Except the one thing that we all think about but most of us never try.”
Jackson paused. “You’ve been thinking about committing a murder?”
Smitty nodded. “It’s been an obsession of mine for a long time now. It’s been keeping me up at night. I’ve ben planning to do something just to see if I could get away with it. To fool everyone.”
“Is this a confession?”
“If you like.”
“Have you ever heard of projection?”
“Projection. The ability to appear in two places at once.”
“You’ve been reading too much of that mystical garbage, Smitty.”
Smitty shook his head emphatically. “I’ve been studying it for years. Teaching myself how to travel outside my body. The night of the Wackler murders, I was on one of those journeys.”
Jackson sat in stunned silence, so Smitty continued. “Beginners can only see vague glimpses of places, impressions. For skilled travelers, the experience is as rich and textured as a real physical journey.”
“I can project myself into any room, any place that I’ve never been, and describe it with eyewitness accuracy.”
Smitty smiled. “In the basement of your apartment building, the caged storage area in the far back corner. Number fourteen. You still have Timmy’s tricycle. It’s on top of three old suitcases. Mona’s things. They . . . ”
“Stop!” Jackson shouted angrily. “You broke into my apartment complex?”
Smitty shook his head. “I projected myself there. I can describe the Wackler’s apartment in every detail. That’s when I knew. When we walked in there, I already knew where everything was. The console radio. The chintz curtains. I knew where the bodies were before we had even left the foyer. Peters can confirm it.”
Jackson leaned forward, his anger replaced with genuine concern for his lifetime friend. “But did you really do it? Did you really kill the Wacklers?”
“Does it matter? I was going to kill someone, eventually. You might as well get me for this one. And if it turns out that I didn’t do it, Peters will find who did. Someday he’ll be as good as you and me. I can tell.” There was a palpable relief in Smitty’s demeanor now that he had unburdened himself. He stood up.
Jackson stood up too. “I don’t want to see your career end like this, Smitty. You’re too good for this.”
“Not anymore. In my heart, in my soul, I’ve gone over to the other side.”
“But how can a ghost kill a real person?”
Smitty shrugged. “That part, I don’t know. Apparently, my skills go beyond what the books describe.”
Jackson stomped over to his office door and flung it open. “Peters! Get in here!”
A moment later, young Detective Peters ran in. “Cap?”
Jackson looked at the floor. “Smitty here is under arrest.” His words were muttered and barely audible.
“I’ll go quietly,” Smitty assured Peters, who was visibly uncomfortable at the prospect of arresting not only his partner, but the most distinguished detective in the city.
Jackson, heartbroken, looked up at his old friend. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re doing me a favor. Just one thing, though.”
“I can project through walls, remember?” Smitty’s expression turned wicked. Then he turned and left, with Peters following behind.
Jackson stared in horror at the open door.
We think that we understand how the world works. We believe that walls are solid, and so are we. But what makes us human is not solid. It is ethereal. It is the will and the belief, the passion and the sorrow. What makes us human is the belief that we can do the impossible, even if the evidence says otherwise. Captain Frank Jackson has just learned that there are many cold cases yet to be solved . . . in The Event Horizon.