by Louise Dragon
Chelsea Street -- on the East side of the city -- had become part of the nouveau district. All flashy pink and yellow stucco with lots of Bourbon Street type wrought iron fences and gates.
Number eleven, styled after the old mission churches, was no exception. Brad brushed through the yielding spokes of iron just as the marmalade sun dropped behind Mount Mariah for the day.
Above the plain, white-painted front door -- fixed to the yellow stucco wall with a series of ornate brass tacks – the red, winged oval was painted onto a tanned leather square. Brad realized he was holding his breath again, and let it out in one long rush. His hands were sweating almost to the dripping point
-- he brushed them quickly across his thighs before ringing the bell.
Alec Nietupski bore a striking resemblance to the man – Joe Nightshade -- that Brad had seen in the mug shot. Five-eight, if he stretched, wiry Einstein hair, and large, bulging tan-yellow eyes. He moved in quick short bursts, like a puppet with an inexperienced operator.
"I'm Officer Swistack, Memphis PD. Could I ask you a few questions?"
"What's this about, Officer?" Nietupski's eyes bulged wider.
"Can we go inside? This will only take a moment."
Nietupski backed away from the door and Brad was allowed into the huge living area, which consisted of one vast room furnished in turquoise-Navajo.
"What's this all about, Officer . . . Swistack? Did you say Swistack?" Nietupski frowned.
"It was an Officer Swistack who arrested my father more than twenty years ago -- looked a lot like you . . . I answered the door that day. The day they took my father away. Sorry, my Dad died recently and I've been thinking about him a lot. You just reminded me of something is all. You're too young to be the same . . ."
Brad was feeling out of place. A trickle of sweat dribbled down the center of his back.
(What the hell am I doing here? This man could have a grudge. His father was a murderer. Like father like son?)
Brad coughed into a damp fist to clear his throat. "It was your father that I wanted to talk to you about."
(Just jump right in and get this over with!)
Brad pulled out Elizabeth Michaels' drawing of the winged oval and offered it to Nietupski. "Do you recognize this drawing? It's been connected to a recent string of killings and . . . Mr. Nietupski? Are you all right sir?"
Nietupski was swaying in front of Brad. His bulging eyes appeared about to pop out of his drained face. Low moans vented from his tightened lips.
"Oh shit. Oh shit. Damn. They're out. Somebody let them out. Oh my God. Oh no. We're doomed. That's it. We're all doomed!" Nietupski's hands swished through the air punctuating his babbling tirade. Groans and moans fell between his senseless statements and his eyes rolled back exposing a sea of whiteness beneath the tan-yellow irises.
Brad, instinctively taking over, pushed the trembling Nietupski into a nearby chair. "Put your head between your knees," he commanded, pushing down on the guy's shoulders until he was satisfied with his position. Quickly scanning the room, Brad found a small bar on one wall, grabbed a plastic tumbler from the kitchen area and sloshed in a few fingers of brandy.
"Here, drink this."
After a few sips, Nietupski's breathing slowed and his glazed eyes seemed as if they were trying to focus. His body trembled in spasms while incoherent, broken sentences flowed from his slack mouth. "They're out. They're out. At least one got out. Dad. Did they get Dad? He was so afraid."
Brad waited impatiently for the brandy to take effect. Some of Nietupski's obvious fear was transferring to the tight muscles on the back of his (Brad's) neck. The winged oval apparently meant something to Nietupski and Brad wasn't leaving until he got some answers.
As he continued to sip the brandy, Nietupski relaxed. Trembling slowed to intermittent hitches, his eyes cleared, and he stopped rambling.
"I'm sorry if I upset you, Mr. Nietupski. That wasn't my intention. Can you tell me what you know about this symbol?"
Nietupski turned wary eyes to Brad. "Just who the hell are you, and where the hell did you get that?"
Brad hesitated. He had been unprepared to reveal his own motives. Sure that Nietupski would spill his guts of his own accord. Perhaps another approach? Perhaps if he offered some info -- he might get Nietupski talking.
"That other Officer Swistack, the one who came to your door and arrested Joe Nightshade? He was my father. I remembered the old pictures of the crime scene. I remembered the winged ovals.
This one was taken from a new crime scene a few weeks ago. I, of course thought of your father . . ."
"Nietupski. His name was Joe Nietupski. You cops gave him that other name! What-da-ya-think, my father came back from the dead? He wasn't a murderer. He didn't really kill them, you know."
(It worked, keep him talking!)
"I don't understand," Brad said. "Wasn't your father involved in a cult? Human sacrifices, that kind of thing?"
"Ha," Nietupski barked. "It wasn't my father who was into that shit. It was my mother. My mother and my sisters. Oh, it's all so complicated. You wouldn't believe any of that stuff.
The courts didn't believe it. Nobody'll listen until it's too late. And believe me that time is coming. It may already be here."
Nietupski's voice had dropped to a whisper, his large eyes darted frantically about the big room resting uneasily on the windows. "Excuse me a moment," Nietupski rose shakily to his feet and wobbled from window to window, closing the blinds.
Switching on a bank of ceiling lights, he returned with another tumbler of brandy, which he sipped nervously.
"I'm afraid, Officer Swistack, that I can't tell you anything that you'd want to hear. My mother was nuts and into some weird shit. It's a long and complicated story and I just don't have the energy to go into it. Besides, your kind took my Dad. Took him and locked him away for all those years. HE WAS A DECENT MAN! I don't owe you anything." Nietupski was furiously brushing tears from his eyes.
"Tears won't help," he mumbled. "They'll use them."
"Mr. Nietupski, good men are being killed right now. If you can shed some light on these cases . . ."
"Oh come now, Officer. It isn't GOOD men who are being killed, is it?"
That statement startled Brad. Nietupski knew. He knew who the Memphis-Mangler was. He knew far too much about everything.
Perhaps he knew so much because he WAS the Memphis-Mangler. The closed blinds . . . Brad had been foolish enough not to tell anyone where he was going . . .
Cautiously, Brad reached a sweating hand beneath his jacket and unsnapped the safety strap of his shoulder holster.
(Like father, like son?)
As if reading Brad's thoughts, Nietupski went on, "My father was no murderer and neither am I. We don't fit the profile – do we?"
Brad knew he was right but decided to goad him into talking more.
"You seem to know a lot about these deaths, Mr. Nietupski. Perhaps I should take you in for questioning?"
This was the furthest thing from Brad's mind, but it seemed to work for Nietupski. He sagged back in his chair, "Okay, okay, I'll tell you what I know, but believe me, you'll wish I hadn't."
Continued . . .
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