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Burning Minds Novel Excerpt: Introduction of Reginald Barkley
Detective Barkley listened to the muffled reverberations of the police station from the sanctuary of his office. The door was shut and the blinds were drawn. His mind, however, was wide open. He’d spent thirty years on the force in Franklin City and had dealt with his share of unsettling cases during that time. He’d seen numerous isolated homicides, gang violence, robberies, suicides, all very unsettling things but rather run-of-the-mill for cops such as himself. Not one of these cases had unnerved him to the point where he couldn’t focus, couldn’t zero in on reality. Now, after three decades of routine police work, the most horrible thing imaginable happened: a serial murderer had come to Franklin City.
As he sat back in his chair he was lost in a trance. August 3rd, 1974 entered his mind. He was twenty-five years old and serving on the police squad of a small town called Newport. It was a Thursday. His shift had ended at seven o’clock that evening. Around seven-thirty he arrived at his home, switched off his Ford Galaxie and started up the walkway towards the house. He reached the front door and placed the key into the lock, only to realize that the door wasn’t even locked. He thought that was strange, as his wife Madeline was always adamant about keeping the doors locked. She called it “necessary paranoia”.
He opened the door.
The first thing that caught his sight was the blood-covered body of his five-year-old son Dwayne. Reginald took a couple steps into the house before dropping to his knees at his son’s side. The boy had been stabbed six times and strangled, which had left a deep purple band around his neck.
Reginald began to sob as he reached over and embraced his lifeless child. His whole existence became a blur as he clutched the boy; his heart was in a void. Soon, however, he thought of his wife. He looked through blurry eyes around the vicinity but saw no sign of her, not even blood. He turned his attention back to his son, only to stare at him for one more moment before gently laying him back on the floor. He stood up slowly and tried to gain his composure and wits before going to search for his wife. He knew that he was in for another horrific discovery and he did all he could to maintain himself.
“Madeline,” he said aloud, hoping beyond hope that his wife would answer.
There was only silence.
He withdrew his revolver and started cautiously across the living room. He
looked in the kitchen first. There was nothing. He then moved down the hallway towards the master bedroom. His mind was a battleground in which rage and despair were having a brutal tug-of-war, and every inch he moved closer to the bedroom despair seemed to take the lead. He was sure he would find her there, and it would not be pretty. He passed two other rooms, a bathroom and his son’s room, on the way to his own. Both doors were open and the rooms were clear. He knew for sure now that what he sought, but did not want to see, would be in that last bedroom.
He could see that the door was open. He backed himself up against the wall and crept towards the doorway. Once he reached the doorway he took a deep breath, secured his finger on the trigger, then spun around and pointed the weapon into the room. The bed is what caught his attention right away. The white comforter was now a dark, splattered red. In the very center of the bed was his wife’s body, bloody and sprawled out like some game animal.
Reginald lowered his gun and stood in horrific awe at the scene. He and Madeline had been married for five years and, as he looked at her now as a bloody heap, all the memories of his time with her flooded back. Their marriage day, their honeymoon and countless other images of her with him played out in his mind in a matter of seconds
“Madeline,” he said weakly. New tears arrived in his eyes as he virtually stumbled towards the bed. He reached the bed and once again fell to his knees. He took one of her bloody hands between both of his own. It was slick and still warm but he didn’t care. He gently leaned his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. He was crying but not hysterically. It was a weak sobbing, as his mind was so lost in the pain that he didn’t even have the wherewithal or the energy to truly let his feelings fly.
He opened his eyes and the first thing that he saw was the blood on her hands. Some of it was now on his as well. He let go of her hand and held his own in front of him. The sight of her life force outside of her body unnerved him further. His despondency suddenly turned to complete rage and, with his hand still frozen in midair, he let out a tremendous yell. He drug it out for several seconds, it being loud enough that the neighbors could have heard it, and stopped only because his lungs ran out of air.
A knock on his office door abruptly broke his reverie. He breathed in deeply and shook his head to get his wits back.
“Come in,” he said.
The door opened and Anna walked in. “Hey, Reggie. How’s is going today?”
He sighed before reaching into his desk drawer for a cigarette and a book of matches. He lit the cig before saying anything. “How long have you known me, Anna?”
Her eyes moved around in her head, signaling that she was doing a little tallying. “Four and a half years,” she said after a moment.
“And have you ever seen me rattled because of a case?”
Anna didn’t have to think long to answer that. “Nope. You’re one of the most level-headed cops I’ve ever known.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I thought I was too.”
Anna cocked her head in concern and looked directly into Barkley’s eyes. “I know what’s eating at you, Reggie, and it’s completely understandable. You’re a good cop. Remember that.”
“I’m not questioning my validity as a detective, Anna. I’m questioning my ability to handle this case.” He took a drag from his cigarette, exhaled. “It took me almost a decade to make myself at peace, or somewhat at peace, with what happened to my family. The nightmares lasted even longer than that. Now it’s all flooding back to me and I don’t think I can exhibit the proper performance for this case.”
“Maybe tackling this case is exactly what you need,” Anna suggested as she took a seat across from him. “I mean think about it, if you solve this case and put this maniac behind bars then maybe you’ll finally find the inner peace you’ve been looking for. You can bring one of those same types of monsters that killed your family to justice.”
“I see what you’re saying, Anna, but I just don’t know that it’ll work that way.”
There was a strange silence throughout the room for several moments.
Barkley put out his cigarette and leaned across his desk closer to Anna. “I had the first nightmare I’ve had in almost fifteen years last night,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like to have something that horrible happen to you, much less relive it over and over again in the lonely depths of the night. I just feel that the more I get involved in this case the more the terror is going to come back to me.”
Anna placed her hand gently onto his and sighed. “I understand your feelings here, Reggie, I really do. And if staying out of this case is what you feel is right then I will respect that decision. But in my honest opinion I see you only running from your demons. I see a man who’s only been fleeing his fears instead of turning around, facing them, defeating them, and burying them.”
Barkley stared at her for a moment and cocked a half-way smile. “I appreciate your concern, Anna. You’re a great woman, and a great detective. I’m lucky to have you as a partner.”
“It’s I who has been lucky,” she replied. “You’ve been like a father to me. Every skill I own is because of you.”
“That’s right,” Barkley acknowledged. “But just remember, those are only the skills that I taught you.” He started tapping his head. “There are a hell-of-a-lot more up here.”
Anna smiled. “You are so damn conceited.”
Barkley laughed and lightly stomped his fist on the desk to show how tickled he was. Anna was pleased to see his spirits lifted and couldn’t help but laugh as well. She was certain that taking on this case would be the right thing for him to do. Even though it sounded cliché, he had to face his fears. It was the only way he could ever find solace. And the perfect opportunity had presented itself in the form of this pressing case.
A significant knock on the office door broke the moment.
“Come in,” Barkley said.
The door opened and a young man dressed in a blue button-up shirt, maroon tie, and khakis stepped inside.
“There’s a man here who’s begging to speak to the head detective of these murder cases,” he said directly to Barkley. “He says he saw the murder at the motel. He says he can describe the assailant”.
Anna and Barkley exchanged unnerved yet confident glances.
“Bring him in,” Reginald said.
“Yes, sir,” the young man replied. He then looked down the hall and signaled for the man to enter.
Then he stepped in. He was a Chicano, maybe around thirty years old. He had short black hair and a thin, neatly trimmed mustache. He looked terrified, like a child having to face his angry father.
Barkley stood up and extended his hand. “Detective Reginald Barkley,” he said straight-faced.
The man stepped up to the desk and shook Barkley’s hand. “Emmanuel Guerrero.” His accent was very thick.
“Have a seat and tell us what you know, Mr. Guerrero,” Barkley said as he motioned to the chair beside Anna.
“The young lady here is Anna Paschal,” he said as he then motioned to her.
Emmanuel and Anna shook hands as Emmanuel sat down. He was nervous, incredibly unsettled.
“I saw that murder at the motel take place,” he stated. He was on the verge of tears. “It was the things of nightmares.”
“What exactly did you see, Mr. Guerrero?” Barkley inquired.
He was starting to tremble noticeably, and a lone tear had finally reached his face.
“I saw the one guy…..take the other guy…..and pour gasoline down his throat. Then he set him on fire.”
“What did the man look like?” Reginald asked as he leaned forward in his chair and drilled the young man with his black eyes.
“He had long blonde hair and all I could see of his clothes was his black trench coat;
everything else was just black.”
Anna looked up from her notepad and met Barkley’s eyes. “I think it’s clear now what our suspect looks like.”
“He was really tall, too, and had a solid frame.”
“Did you see what he was driving?” asked Barkley.
“Yes,” Emmanuel answered. “I watched him get into a Dodge Stealth, dark-colored.”
“Emmanuel,” Barkley began, “you have been a monumental help to us today, but I don’t understand why you didn’t come to us before now. The sooner we know intricate details, the sooner we can stop the killing.”
Emmanuel shook his head slightly. “I was scared. I ain’t never seen nothing like it in my life, man. I just wanted to forget I ever even saw it. But that’s impossible; it’ll haunt me forever.”
“Well I can guarantee you one thing, my friend,” Barkley began, “we will catch this killer and bring him to justice for his atrocities.”
Emmanuel shook his head once again. “This ain’t no ordinary killer you’re dealing with, holmes. I sensed something about him, something pure evil. And he’s powerful, too. The way he dominated that man was incredible.” He paused for a moment. “Ever since that night I’ve had my own name for him; I call him El Maestro del Fuego.”
Anna looked up at him from her notepad. “The Master of Fire?”
Emmanuel nodded. “Si.”
Barkley stood up and walked around to where Emmanuel was sitting. Emmanuel stood up as well. Barkley stuck his hand out and Emmanuel shook it once more.
“Mr. Guerrero,” Barkley said, “I thank you for coming to us today, even it was a little later than it should have been.”
Emmanuel simply nodded rapidly three times.
“Go home and get some rest,” Barkley continued, “and speak to no one of what you saw. This information must remain between you and us. Understood?”
Emmanuel nodded in agreement. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore, anyway. He wanted those images to just go away. He wished he could somehow erase that night from his memory. But that, as he well knew, was never going to happen. In a sense “The Master of Fire” had burned his psyche with horrible images rather than actual flames.
Emmanuel and Anna shook hands before Emmanuel left the office.
Once he was gone, the two detectives cast their eyes on one another.
“Time to get the ball rolling,” Barkley announced.
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