The Case: The Medallion Hunt Murder
Ice crystals sheathed my eyelashes and tugged at the hairs in my nostrils. Every breath was like an inhalation of flame. Ten below will do that. Tack on a fifteen-mile-an-hour wind carrying shrapnel shards of snow and ice, and it feels a bit like a scythe carving the flesh right off your body.
Only in Minnesota are there souls crazy enough to venture out for hours in such conditions to search for the Winter Carnival medallion. At least eight hundred of us huddled together near the anticipated spot. The glow of cellphones hovered on a vapor of breath as thick as smoke, casting us all in a shimmering, ghostly light.
It wasn’t the prospect of the $10,000 prize that had drawn me out that night, though that was how the whole thing started. As a forensic criminologist with the FBI—a profiler—I used the annual treasure hunt as a fun way to match psychological and intellectual wits with someone whose intentions weren’t intrinsically coupled with violence and/or death.
But this year, the nightly riddles took a decidedly sinister turn. Admittedly, the clues are vague and can be interpreted any number of ways—so much so that hunters are often in the wrong park right up to the very end. But as the clues progressed, so did the ripple of unease crawling over my skin. Something wasn’t right. Still, it was just a hunch. Nothing I could prove, and certainly nothing I was prepared to officially act on.
I’d tried to unravel the mystery before everyone else, but the clue writer had other plans. He’d forced the hunt to go to the very end. His ego demanded a spectacle. And I knew he was there among us, waiting to see how his little drama would unfold.
I refreshed the Pioneer Press webpage again, and there it was. The twelfth and final clue. A mad dash to a small bowl-shaped valley ensconced in the trees ensued. Bundled as we were against the cruel elements, we stumbled through the deep snow, looking like a crazed, charging battalion, hunting implements of choice slung over our shoulders.
By the hundreds, people collapsed onto their knees and began to hack at the snow, their tools—pitchforks, rakes, shovels, spades, and jimmy-rigged things I couldn’t begin to define—glinting in the light of a thousand lanterns, flashlights, and headlamps. The air smelled of kerosene. Metal sang off of ice. Overrun as the space was with writhing bodies jockeying for position, I marveled that people weren’t slashed to bits in the melee.
I watched as people crumbled clumps of snow between gloved fingers and inspected hunks of tree bark and trash. Across from me I noticed a man whose interest was intently focused on the confusion below. He was filming the chaos. I slowly began to circle toward him.
Seconds later a woman shrieked. A collective groan went up from the crowd, who’d assumed she’d spirited away their chances at the prize. But I heard the quaver in her voice that signaled it was a scream of terror and not one of triumph. She screamed again, and a chorus of “Oh my Gods!” and “Holy shits!” filled the night. As people staggered back in horror, I caught a glimpse. Atop a bed of crimson snow lay a man’s head. The medallion was stuck between his blue-gray lips.
Ballsy, but even I had to admit, if the killer hoped to get away with the murder, this wasn’t a bad play. Physical evidence would be all but impossible to gather after damn near a thousand people had trampled and contaminated the scene.
“FBI!” I shouted over the commotion, keeping my eye on the voyeur not twenty yards ahead of me. “Everyone step away. Now!” The man’s head shot up, and his eyes met mine for a brief second before he bolted. I drew my Glock and gave chase. “Call the police!” I yelled, dodging people as they stumbled out of the valley. Most had their phones pointed toward the vic, taking pictures and video. I only just avoided crashing into a woman as she doubled over and puked in the snow at my feet.
Up ahead, my subject escaped the glow of the lamps and became nothing more than an indistinct shadow crashing through the trees. But he was headed in the right direction. I cut around the wooded area just in time to hear my boss, Bill Quentin, shout, “FBI, stop right there!”
A spotlight from a nearby Crown Vic exploded to life. The man faltered and threw his arms up in front of his face.
“On your knees. Hands behind your head,” I yelled. He quickly complied.
“Holy hell, Keegan, I can’t believe it,” Quentin said as I frisked and cuffed the suspect. “I thought for sure you’d lost your damn mind.”
I yanked down the balaclava covering the guy’s face and checked the ID in his wallet. Just as I’d suspected.
“David Davenport, crime writer for the Pioneer Press, you’re under arrest for murder.”
Chaos is the author’s debut novel published by Critical Eye Publishing, December 2016.
Aleksandr Zorin is a sadistic psychopath and one of the most prolific killers in United States’ history. Exploiting the flaws in an ineffective ViCAP database, he has remained invisible for nearly fifteen years. No one knows he exists. But that’s about to change in a horrifying way.
Special Agent Nicholas Keegan is a forensic criminologist working for the FBI’s Violent Crimes Squad in Minnesota. An expert in the field of abnormal psychology, he employs his unique expertise to profile and capture society’s most dangerous and violent offenders. An unusual case sent his way from a friend in California sets Nick on the path of a killer unlike any he’s ever faced.
An innovative overhaul of ViCAP reveals the staggering enormity of the case, and Nick quickly comes to a disturbing realization—his unsub isn’t just a killer. He’s a profiler.
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Meet the author
D.J. Schuette is an author and editor residing in the oft-chilly northern suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His work covers a wide variety of genres—from dark thrillers, to horror, to YA Fantasy and beyond. He is a published and award-winning songwriter and poet and the creator of enterthemaelstrom.com, a fictional blog written from the perspective of Aleksandr Zorin, the serial killer featured in his first novel Chaos. D.J.’s personal blog, a comprehensive list of works in progress, features on some of his friends in the Minnesota writing community, and pictures of his adorable dog Pogo can all be found on his author’s page at djschuette.com.
All comments are welcomed.