Rush stood, paralyzed.
All the muscles in his body had gone slack. His gun was drawn, but it was so much useless metal in his hand.
The flashlight had fallen when the old man touched him; it rolled along the floor at his feet in a lazy arcing motion that mocked the fear he was now feeling. The light reflected jaunty shadows in front of his eyes and he wanted to scream, but could not.
“I’ve been waiting for you Detective. I thought you would come back, that you would come to see the exhibit,” the old man said. His accent was heavier now than it had been. “Why are you really here? I have a guess but then again, you don’t get to be my age without learning a thing or two about the predictability of humans.”
Rush tried to remember his training, to remember the things they taught at the academy. All his cop bravado left him. He was at the mercy of the old man lurking in the shadows.
“I could let you talk, but I don’t know how much it would change things. You have questions young man. I can see them on your lips, but the answers don’t matter, not really.” he said.
Rush could hear the gloating satisfaction in his voice. It was the same sardonic sound he heard in court months ago. Rush had wanted to hit him then, too. He tried to tighten the finger that lay on the trigger of his gun, but nothing happened.
“Let me guess a few, shall I? After all, we’re in no great hurry here. Your department doesn’t even know you’ve returned, do they?” he asked. “You want the truth, am I right? You want to know the how and the why.” The old man was moving around behind him; Rush could hear him but still couldn’t see anything more than a shadow.
“Possibly you wanted to come return all the property you took during the trial? You came here to give back my things, my tools, and you happened to wander in to the workshop because you couldn’t find me upstairs with the rest of the old relics.
“I don’t see any of my things here, Detective so you must be here for answers.”
The old man shuffled into the light. He walked the distance between them with the same hunched-over waddle he had before. He stepped in front of Rush and straightened with an effort.
“I am going to let you speak, for now,” the old man said and touched Rush’s throat.
“What the hell did you do to me, old man?” Rush belched out in a roar; every other muscle in his body useless.
The old man tottered a bit, then crumpled back into his hunched posture and stepped back from the detective. He looked frail, battered and too old to be a murderer.
“My family has been doing this for a very long time, Detective, and we’ve gotten exceedingly good at it. In fact, you are the first person to come so close to guessing the truth about what we do in over a century.”
This man was a direct descendant of the exhibits creator, Marie, but to Rush, he looked like any other murderer.
The old man looked up at Rush and smiled.
“What have you done to me, scumbag?” Rush bellowed again. He could think of nothing else to say. All the questions about the victims and the wax statues were gone.
“Come now, Detective! Let’s not resort to the vulgar just yet. I have so much to show you.” He smiled again and Rush tried to cringe back. The old man seemed to have too many teeth.
“What did you do to me?” Rush demanded. He was scared now on some deep and childish level that he didn’t understand.
The man stepped a bit closer and took the gun from his hand. He placed it on a table near the two of them and turned back.
“You can have it back when I am finished. I’m afraid the bullets wouldn’t agree with me,” he said.
“Don’t touch me!” Rush spat out.
“I’d like to say that everything will work out for you when I am done, but that isn’t likely. I doubt anyone will fuss over a police officer gone missing after such an embarrassing moment in the spotlight.” The old man took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves.
Rush watched as the man reached up again. He paused, his finger looming an inch from Rush’s face. He looked like a man contemplating some monumental decision.
He touched Rush on the cheek under his left eye and the color began to drain from his vision. His left eye dimmed and then was gone. He didn’t feel anything but picked up the slow movement on his cheek where the man had touched him. Something dribbled down his face. The old man reached up and plucked it off his cheek.
Rush began to scream when he realized it was his eyeball.
The old man touched his right cheek and laughed as the screaming doubled then morphed into the choking sound of hyperventilation.
“You see, Detective…” he started and then shook his head. “Actually, you can’t see so I’ll describe it to you. I’ve gotten rid of your eyes because we won’t need them. I shall give you new ones when I am done.” The old man stepped up to Rush and plucked the right eye off as it rolled down his stubble covered face, then tossed both orbs onto the floor.
“It’s customary to remove the eyes from the exhibits as the trauma of watching your own death can cause… unexpected changes in skin tone and hair. You still have your ears so you can listen. I think it’s a fair trade for the tools and time you took from me during the investigation and trial,” the old man said, still polite, still smiling.
He reached up to Rush’s mouth and stuck his finger in.
Rush wanted to gag, but couldn’t move more than his throat. His tongue flopped out of his mouth mid scream. Blood and saliva spilled down the front of him.
“Detective Rush, I will be doing something that you may consider rather gruesome, but I assure you it’s necessary. When it begins, you are going to feel nothing, but I promise it won’t end that way. Sometimes I can still hear them screaming a day or two after but not every time,” the man said.
Rush fought his paralysis as hard as he could, forcing his will against every nerve and muscle but his body would not respond. He could smell his own fear now.
“The last thing we need to do before we can continue, Detective, is to remove your clothing and have everything cleaned and pressed. Undoubtedly you will spoil yourself and that won’t do. I assure you though, you will look as professional and well dressed as any officer of the law in this fine city,” the man said with an air of perfectionist pride.
The fear finally shattered his resolve. Rush felt his bladder let go. Bile crept in to his mouth and he vomited. He was going to die at the hands of this monster.
“We’ve come so far since you kicked in the door of my home and the museum. Your meddling almost cost me everything, Detective, and I think it’s only fair to tell you the entire truth as we proceed,” he said.
Rush could hear the sound of something on wheels being moved across the room. It mocked the same waddling gait the old man had when he walked.
“You were so much closer to the truth than you ever realized.” The sound of metal on metal filtered in through Rush’s panic. He could hear things that sounded sharp and painful.
“I used to embalm my exhibits after ending their lives, but I’ve found a way to do it while the subject is still breathing. It’s a bit more painful but in the end, it gives each of you a more life-like feel. Now, I am going to place a needle in your arm. You won’t feel the pinch but the rest, well, you’ll see.”
Rush felt something in his arm where the old man had touched him. It was pressure at first, but the pain that followed was immediate. Rush began to scream again as the old man touched his throat, the scream cut off; Rush passed out.
“…and this is our newest and most popular exhibit. The curator calls this ‘New York’s Finest‘ and will feature the men and women in uniform from all over The Big Apple.”
Rush heard the pleasant female voice pass and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. The realization of what happened hit him and he tried to scream and thrash about. Nothing came out of his mouth; he couldn’t move.
The voices faded, as did the footsteps.
~ Christopher A. Liccardi
© Copyright 2016 Christopher A. Liccardi. All Rights Reserved.