by Louise Dragon
The following morning, Brad sent Joe Nightshade's name, AKA Joseph Nietupski, through the computer and learned that he had received two consecutive life sentences at Turney Prison in October of 1974 for murder. There was no chance of parole. The mug shot connected to the file portrayed a slight, nervous-looking man of about thirty with thick, unruly dark hair and bulging eyes. Brad tore off the printout, shoved it into his pocket, and finished out his shift.
"May I see your credentials, Mister, ah, um, uh?"
"Officer -- Officer Swistack, Memphis PD. Yes, of course Warden Enser." Brad flashed his badge at the serious little man and started talking immediately.
"I'd like to question Joe Nightshade. One of your inmates. His name recently came up connected to a case I'm working on."
"Ah, case? How, ah, could Joseph be involved with anything ah currently pending." The little man began shifting the items on his desk -- lining them up into straight rows -- pencil, pen, stapler, and paper clips. The warden's eyes trained earnestly on this project. His hands moved with minor tremors, like a wino out of money.
Brad wiped damp paws quickly across the arms of his chair. "Not involved, no, of course not. Basically I'd just like to ask him a few questions about a symbol he used -- to mark his crime scenes. Perhaps Mr. Nightshade can tell me something about the cult he headed."
Warden Enser shook his head. "Ah, I don't think so, Officer."
Brad scowled. He certainly hadn't been prepared to have to prove himself to the warden for Christ-sakes. He was about to stand up and tower his imposing six-feet over the serious little guy and throw his weight around a bit, when he realized that the little man was still talking.
" . . . happened when he was in ah, solitary confinement. Suicide. The ah, body was unrecognizable when the guards found it. We ah, have a small rodent problem here, you see and . . ."
"He's dead? Joe Nightshade's dead?"
"I'm ah, afraid so."
"Is there anyone here who might have known him well? A cell-mate perhaps?"
Little Warden Enser swiveled to a nearby filing cabinet and began rifling through the folders inside. His thin little hands looked like skeletal spiders spinning across the pages.
"Ah, inmate number 013601 -- Gene LeSage. Mr. Nightshade also has a surviving son, Alec Nietupski, who saw to his father's remains. His address is listed as 11 Chelsea Street -- on the East side of the city. Would you like to see Mr. ah, LeSage in the interrogation room?"
Gene LeSage strutted into the small glassed-in room like a rooster looking for hens. Although the man was smaller and at least twenty years older than Brad, he appeared solid and well built, like an ex-football player or boxer. Gene's outgoing presence filled the room as he placed a hand on the guard's shoulder and politely thanked him for the escort.
Seemingly dismissed, the guard closed the glass door and walked away. Gene LeSage turned steely, ice blue eyes to Brad and glided into a hard plastic chair with the elegance of a silk scarf that had temporarily floated out of place.
"I don't know you, do I, son?"
Brad yanked his gaze away from those captivating eyes for a moment and collected his thoughts. "No, sir."
(Sir? The man was a convict, for Christ sakes!)
"I wanted to ask you a few questions about Joe Nightshade. I believe you shared a cell with Mr. Nightshade?"
"Ah, Joe. Such a frightened man. He could have enjoyed life so much more if he had stopped looking over his shoulder."
"What do you mean by that, Mr. LeSage?"
"Please. Call me Gene. The poor man was possessed! Bad dreams every night, even when he kept that bag under his pillow."
"Bag?" Brad prompted.
"Man had a little black bag. Old drawings and pictures -- who knows what else he had wadded up in there? Carried it everywhere with him. Well almost everywhere, they didn't let him take it into solitary that day . . ."
"Gene, why was Joe Nightshade put into solitary confinement?"
The ice blue eyes hardened into sapphires. "Joe was afraid of women -- did you know that?"
Brad shook his head negatively. Hadn't Joe's victims all been female? He shelved that thought and went back to what Gene was saying.
" . . . so he tried to kill the doctor that day. They take blood samples from us, you see. About every six months. Testing for AIDS, I'd say. Usually student doctors from the Medical Center. This one was a woman. Quite lovely too -- raven black hair, dark sultry eyes, legs that . . . Sorry, we don't see very many women here." Gene's magnetic blue eyes gazed raptly into a far corner of the room.
Teeming with impatience, Brad strove to keep his voice low. "Why do you think Joe wanted to kill the doctor?"
"Well -- because she was a woman, and Joe wasn't about to let any woman take his blood! He killed his wife and daughters! Did you know that? Slit their throats and then drew funny looking winged ovals across their dead bodies in their own blood."
"Winged ovals?" Brad felt a rush of heat move through his face. He pulled one of Elizabeth Michaels' drawings out of his pocket and offered it to Gene.
"Like this, Gene?"
A bit of the sparkle disappeared from Gene's eyes when he saw the drawing. For a second, Gene looked as though he might glance over his shoulder, but then he took a deep breath and went on. "Yeah, something like that. Joe used to squeeze blood out of his fingers and draw those damn things. His ovals were always empty. None of those symbols in the center like that one there.
Otherwise, it's damn close. Do you know what it stands for?"
Brad had been about to ask Gene the same question, now he sagged back into his chair. "I was hoping you could tell me."
"Joe never said. Sandy, the guard that just left, he said the walls in solitary were covered with winged ovals. Said he killed himself down there, then rats got to the body. Sandy said one Joe's arms had been chewed off -- blood everywhere." Gene's voice faded and his eyes sought out a ceiling tile. The once virile-looking man with his bubbling personality now looked old and tired. Lively blue eyes had faded to a dull blue-gray.
"That's about all I can tell you, son."
"Gene, do you know anything about Joe's son . . ." Brad pulled out his little notebook and flipped back the pages. "An Alec Nietupski?"
"Knew he had a kid somewhere, Joe got letters sometimes. Never saw the kid though. Joe didn't want him coming here."
Continued . . .
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