Word Count: 588
“Third one this month,” said Detective Barnes, crouching over the body. The deceased was a male in his late twenties, in decent physical shape. He had light hair, tattoos on his wrists, and was dressed in a plaid leisure suit, polyester tie, elevator shoes, and a thick scarf. “Did you check his closet?” Barnes asked.
“Nothing like what he’s wearing,” said one of the officers working the scene. “Blue-collar kid, mostly jeans and t-shirts.”
Barnes stood and wiped his forehead. He couldn’t make heads or tails of it. His partner, a portly detective named Stiers, approached., having just finished interviewing a neighbor. “Nobody’s seen him in a day and a half,” said Stiers, “but he didn’t know people in the building very well. We’re tracking down his parents.”
“Does he have a girlfriend?” asked Barnes.
“Lives alone,” said Stiers, glancing around the loft apartment. “I only see one toothbrush. We’ll know more when we talk to his folks.”
Barnes nodded; the other two were single. Three victims in seventeens days, all found dead in their apartments. No signs of forced entry or struggle, no obvious cause of death—although the first two had turned out to be asphyxiation. And most confusing of all, each victim was uncharacteristically dressed as though a vintage clothing store had vomited all over them.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Stiers, sipping on a coffee.
“A serial killer with a weird clothing fetish?” asked Barnes. “It’s pretty thin.”
“Three victims,” said Stiers.
“Four, possibly,” said one of the officers. “There was that kid in the Village three days ago.”
“Why didn’t I hear about that?” asked Stiers.
“He was pretty Bohemian already, so the clothes didn’t stand out,” said the officer.
“I suppose we’ll be revisiting quite a few asphyxiation deaths over the course of the next few days,” said Stiers.
Barnes crouched back down and pulled on a glove. “Can I move him?”
“Go ahead,” said a member of the forensics team. “We’re done with him.”
Barnes rolled the body over and pulled back the collar of his shirt. “No label,” he said. “Just like the others.”
“Specially designed, I guess,” said Stiers.
“But why?” asked Barnes. “They don’t even look like clothes from the seventies. They look like a bad imitation of clothes from the seventies.”
“Could be sending a message.”
“To who?” asked Barnes.
“Vintage clothing suppliers?” offered Stiers. “Hipsters?”
“That’s the stupidest theory I’ve heard so far,” said Barnes.
“Compared to your serial-killer-with-a-fetish theory?” asked Stiers.
Stiers put a hand on Barnes’s shoulder. “You just need to put this into perspective. Listen to a couple of genuinely horrible theories and ours won’t seem so bad.”
“Like what?” asked Barnes.
“Posit this,” said Stiers. “Alien nanobots from across the galaxy are studying humans, learning to duplicate them, and they can only get close enough if they the shape of articles of clothing. But all of their fashion knowledge has come from broadcast TV signals that they got in outer space. They’re going from person to person, picking up singles in bars, and then killing them.”
Barnes considered this. “You’re right; I do feel better. We got an employer?”
“He had pay-stubs from a nearby body shop in his wallet,” said Stiers.
“Let’s talk to his boss,” said Barnes, and they left the room.
As the scene quieted, as officers prepared to move the body, the deceased’s necktie and scarf exchanged a quick message:
THE FAT ONE SUSPECTS US. HE'S NEXT...
Edited by Carolyn Abram