Illustration to accompany "Three Two-Penny Pieces" Copyright (c) 2017 by John Waltrip. Used under license.

Three Two-Penny Pieces

Story by L.P. Melling

Illustration by John Waltrip


Three two-penny pieces he had on his person. Three two-penny pieces he wouldn’t have by the day’s end.


The detective placed one coin, heads down, on the dark, fraying grain of his desk. He kept one in his left pocket and pulled the other from his right. The copper sliced glints of light across the dark, smoky, coffee-smelling office.  The coin deftly dancing through his fingers like a wave of rusted water. Deep scratches providing the only shine from an otherwise dull, old piece of coinage—soaked by hundreds of hands of sweat and dirt through the years….

He often did this to help him think. The rhythm and flow of his fingers sent him to a quiet place of thought and meditation; a bubble of calm thought from the noisy office sounds of humdrum.

This was a case that was getting to him—right into his gut, to the pit of his oxen stomach. The sort of case that was like an abscess of a rotten tooth you couldn’t quite get to. Shots of pain hit mercilessly into raw nerve-ending, but you couldn’t pull the damn thing out, no matter how hard you tried. It was a case like no other for him, in all his days with the force.

The smooth rotations across each finger carried on as his mind ached to make some sense of it all, to find connections. Anything at all. The smallest of details; the zoomed-out perspective of seeing all the pieces from afar. A jigsaw that did not fit; an arbitrary bunch of jigsaws, more like, all mixed together. No matter how much he forced the detail, no parts would click. The ping of an Underwood and vague chattering threatened to break his train of thought; the loud ticking of an old sepia-toned clock could not be blanked out like it normally could. Tock follows tick follows tock. He realizes he is getting nowhere. The tumorous case-detail cannot be correlated in any possible way.


After passively taking his fill of carcinogenic air, he puts the coin back in his right pocket and flames his Cuban. The end lightened in tune with his lungs as they feel the sharp hit. He could never resist the urge to inhale, just once, when they were first lit. God only knew what damage it was doing to his insides.


His head ached as he tried to unravel the facts once more….

— ♦♦♦ —

Four bodies found already. Not even a damn hint of a clue. Broads, one young, one older (sisters), a nun and even a young kid for God’s sake. It was sickening—a case that smelt like used cigarette buds stewing in stale ale. The boys in blue who found and called in the last two were still not the same. The bodies indiscriminately cut to ribbons to make them barely recognizable—there was no way either one could have been used to make an ID.


No connection to any of the victims save for locality, no motive, nothing. My career as a detective was riding on cracking this case but here I was smoking and floating coin, getting nowhere fast.

Not a single reliable witness either. Not even when the two poor sisters were butchered in broad daylight in a local park, just before the strike of noon.

The solace of slushed ice and whiskey could not help me now. There would be no comfort. For too long, I’d spent my time at the bottom of a bottle, and now my career was on the verge of bottoming out.

The sullen black telephone, layered in dust motes, suddenly sprang into life. It was Peterson. I asked him what the hell he wanted when I was trying to concentrate on figuring out the damned case! His response was an address: two new victims.

I slammed the phone down hard as it choked off a vibrating ring, threw on my jacket, and left the chair swiveling as I ran for the door. Shouting for Williams to make the hell sure that forensics were on the way to Peterson.

I grabbed the leather wheel of the black Ford for all its worth. The ghostly blue glow radiating out before the screeching wheels. The smell of burnt rubber. Had to get there as fast as I could, while the evidence was still fresh.


Slamming the car door, I shouted for Peterson, who was just outside the barrier, told him to hit me with it.

Another broad, five foot, the name of Katelyn Hughes. The worst part was that she was with her son, a son who was barely out of diapers. Peterson stopped suddenly, as he could not bring himself to say more, he told me, with a green wash to his profile. I’d have to see for myself to get more answers here.

I knew it had to be the same killer. Peterson didn’t have to tell me. The scene had the hallmarks of the little I could glean for an M.O. Quiet suburbia-cut apart, like the cold, sharp blade of a butcher’s knife. Indiscriminate killings, usually a woman, possibly a child: too cowardly to kill a man. All within a five-mile radius, the only link to the whole damn case. The same gruesome disposal of life. More slaying of innocence, chosen out of a hat, for the apparent lack of connection between murders.

I pushed through the back door, moving through the kitchen that floated out smells of breakfast and through to the main room where they lay, mother supine, the kid’s head down on a blood-soaked carpet.

Goddamn this son of a … I realized then why Peterson was so green. The grotesque before me was akin to a Caravaggio—shafts of harsh sunlight exposing the terrible scene.

I gloved-up and got closer to the child, couldn’t be more than six, looking at the back of his body. I gently pulled him over to trace the source of the blood that pools into the cream carpet. I recoiled back as I see the kid’s face. Goddamn it, I thought, I’m going to make this guy suffer when I get a hold of him! I will hunt him down if it’s the last thing I do.

I’d shouted out before leaving: “Forensics! Get in here and do you work and tell me anything and I mean anything you find!”

— ♦♦♦ —

A mother dead, with her arms around her child, refusing to let him go in death, as in life. A child with only one eye. Severed and curdled skin all that is left for where his right one should be, the blood coagulating to plug the socket. An innocent child taken without reason. A mother’s only error: moving to the wrong area. But together they now rest as one.

The detective leaves with an ache to the bottom of his being, fraught with frustration, no further to finding the killer. He knows he will never be able to forget the scene. A feeling of sickness pervades him. It’s time to hand in my badge, he thinks, and then hit a bar.

He sets off in the automobile, heading in the direction of the station. The blocks flicker past in the corner of his eyes as drives on when a street sign grabs his attention. The park on the other side of the buildings was where the sisters were found.


What it was that he took him back there, he couldn’t say: One final attempt to solve it? A twisted form of nostalgia?

The detective parks up the black Ford on the deserted street facing the municipal green and retraces his steps on that day when he first inspected the bodies, the day as lightless and cold then as it is today. However, unlike that day, there’s no one around apart from a solitary runner in the distance. He finds the tree again where their mutilated bodies lay, remembering the haunting look in the younger sister’s eyes.

He says a silent prayer to the tree, flowers of remembrance lining its trunk, and turns to leave. He walks the snaking pathway back towards the park’s entrance when he thinks he hears something in the bushes behind him.

He spins around, breath caught in his chest. A young kid, face as sweet as the killer’s last victim pops out of the bushes, smiling wide. A game of hide and seek. But in this case, the detective knew the one hiding would be found.

The wrought iron gate grates on the detective’s ears as he closes it behind him. Putting the key in the Ford’s lock, he takes a last look at the park before he drives off and resigns from the force. About to start a new life.

The sun breaks free a moment from the gunmetal clouds. A glint of light flashes in the corner of his vision like a flipped coin. The sharp edge of a rust-stained cutthroat razor slices up the air towards his face—

Through one eye, the detective watches his blood flow down the street’s gutter. Fighting for breath, he hears the killer behind him.


Three two-penny pieces to cover two windows of two lost souls, to pay their tolls to the ferryman, one soul that placed them forever damned. 


— ♦♦♦ —


Next Week: 

Illustration to accompany "The Three Edakis" Copyright (c) 2017 Carol Welart.  Used under license.The Three Edakis. 

By M T Ingoldby,  Art by Carol Wellart

Almost everyone you’ll meet knows the myth of EdakÏ. There was, of course, only one, whose notoriety is proven by a hundred other stories swapped and shared across the Waylands; even now, some vestige of his tribe remains, though greatly reduced in both infamy and number. But the legend that concerns us happened long ago (a more exact date has never been agreed), and a thousand miles east of a crowded coastal bar.  Find out about the legend that was Edaki…

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