Redmart was a Wal-Mart wannabe, a chain of stores in the southeastern USA. At the time, they were best known for their generic products and selling a tainted dog food that left dozens of pet owners bereaved and angry. Joey Schoemacher never dreamed of working at Redmart. He certainly never thought he would die there.
Still, there he was, flat on his back in Electronics, his life pouring out of him from the gash in his throat. Lying on his back, the last thing Joey saw was his killer standing over him, head tilted to one side, as if perplexed by the results of his own actions. He still clenched the knife in his right hand.
Then the lights went out and seventeen-year-old Joey Schoemacher was dead. It was after midnight and the store was quiet. Joey’s corpse wouldn’t be discovered for another hour. By the time it was, the Redmart Killer would have claimed three other lives.
* * * * *
"Jesus fuck," muttered Sanduski. He cupped a hand around his lighter, to shield the flame. "Why the fuck do you have to haul that story out every goddamn year?"
Frick grinned. He had a smile like a broken brown fence. "‘Cause they never caught the son of a bitch, did they? People who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Save it for the fortune cookies."
Sanduski finally got his lighter to spark. He shoved his cigarette into the flame and gleefully sucked in a lungful of sweet, sweet nicotine.
"Just sayin’," said Frick.
"Well don’t say anything else. It’s bad enough we’re in this fucking tomb tonight. I don’t need you telling ghost stories."
"It ain’t a ghost story, it’s a murder story," said Frick.
"Whatever. Just shut up and turn on the radio."
Shrugging, Frick turned on the radio. Hip-hop poured out of the speakers. Scowling, Sanduski twiddled the dial, until he found a talk radio station. Some wannabe Art Bell was on the phone with a geezer who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary in a pancake or something. Frick rolled his eyes.
"I’m goin’ for a walk."
Sanduski grunted. "Don’t let the bogey man get you."
With a snort, Frick flipped Sanduski the bird and headed out on his round.
It’s been eight years since the Redmart Murderer killed four people in the wee hours of the morning and got away clean. The store never recovered. People didn’t want to shop in a place where a bunch of folks got murdered, not even in the bright light of day. It was like the air was tainted. After a while, Redmart shut down the store and tried to sell it. However, nobody was buying. The place’s reputation was made. The old Redmart store at Aurora Park was bad juju. Stay away.
Stuck with the store, Redmart repurposed it. They turned it into an overflow warehouse, stuffing it with off-brand merchandise not even their most loyal cheapskates would buy. It accumulated there, in the dusty dark until someone at corporate remembered it existed and sent a truck to haul some of the crap away.
Frick didn’t work for Redmart, but a local security firm they contracted to guard the place. Vandals had broken into the old store a while back and there seemed to be a constant stream of dumbass kids who tried to get into the place on a dare.
Still, as gigs went, Frick kind of liked working at Redmart. The history of the place didn’t really bother him, not like it did Sanduski. Sanduski never said it, but Frick knew that this assignment gave him the heebie-jeebies. The fat old man wasn’t the only rent-a-guard who felt that way either. It was always a pain in the ass for the company to find people to work the place, especially during the anniversary of the murders.
Frick wandered away from the security office. Once upon a time it had been the cashier manager’s office, but since then it had been converted for the security guards. It had a bank of CCTV monitors that showed grainy black-and-white images of the store exterior. That was about as high tech as security got around here, and there always had to be one man watching the monitors while the other was making the rounds.
Frick made his way past the empty checkout aisles, long silent, their conveyor belts covered with dust. The checkouts were supposed to be removed ages ago but that had never happened. The shelves and fixtures had been yanked out, leaving the interior of the store a gutted shell that was jam packed with pallets of Chinese-made dog food and knock-off floor cleaners. Pallets formed a maze, dusty and dark, with unexpected turns and twists that changed every time the trucks arrived to drop off and take shit away.
Frick didn’t like going into that maze. He wasn’t the most imaginative person in the world but he could easily see one of the poorly stacked pallets sliding, see himself crushed beneath a shitload of laundry detergent.
He and Sanduski just walked around the maze, ignoring the interior. For all Frick knew there could have been a tribe of hobos living in the heart of the maze. As long as they didn’t make trouble, he wouldn’t have cared.
The fork lift drivers left a wide lane open around the edge of the store. This was the route that the guards used, walking from the old checkout lanes past what had been the grocery aisles, the media department, the auto department, the electronics department.
The overhead lights didn’t work any longer. When they burned out, Redmart didn’t see any point in replacing them. Frick waved his flashlight around, the bright beam cutting through the shadows, illuminating stacks of cheap-ass tires and boxes of crappy coffee makers.
Joey Schoemacher had been killed here. He’d bled out his life on these grimy garnet tiles, his killer standing over him, watching him die. The cops knew that because they found the same bloody footprints at all four murder scenes. Almost gleefully, the media reported that the Redmart Killer had traipsed through his victims’ blood without any apparent qualms.
Frick walked on, completing the circle, checking the doors. It was raining outside, the dregs of Hurricane Oro sweeping up from Florida.
"Not a fit night out for man nor beast," said Frick, peering out the loading bay door.
He stood there for a while, breathing in the wet night, then shut the door and went on his way.
It was funny the things that stuck with ya, thought Frick.
Everybody remembered Joey Schoemacher’s name, because he was the first murder victim, but nobody remembered the others.
Their names came back to Frick as he wandered through the dark.
Neal Stevens. A skinny old black dude. Killed in Gardening with a pair of hedge clippers.
Margaretta Wood. Queen-sized mother of two. Found in Ladies Apparel, strangled with a pair of XXX-large panties.
Charles "Charlie" Dint. Retiree. Devoted husband, dad and grandpa. He had an icepick shoved through his heart in Kitchenware.
Frick shook his head, feeling an unexpected pang for the four people. Ahead, the security office was a friendly little pool of light. Suddenly, Frick didn’t want to be out here in the dark, thinking of dead people. He wanted to be around the living. He quickened his pace, hurrying toward the office and Sanduski.
The fat man looked up from a newspaper. "You took your time."
"You remember to lock the loading bay door?"
"Good." Sanduski grinned. "Wouldn’t want some psycho fuck breaking into the place, would we?"
"No," said Frick. "We wouldn’t want any more."
He thought of Schoemacher again, remembering the stunned look on the kid’s face as the knife cut through flesh. The spray of blood as the artery was clipped.
They’d all had similar looks on their faces, as they died. No anger or fear, just surprise. None of them had expected it.
Frick looked at Sanduski. The fat man had gone back to reading his paper, his back to Frick.
Would he get the same surprised look on his face? Frick wondered.
There was a pair of scissors in the desk drawer. Sometimes, Frick used them to clip coupons from the paper. He opened the drawer and pulled them out now, admired the way the light from the CCTV monitors made them flash.
It had been eight years. That was a long time between deaths for someone like Frick. He tightened his grip on the scissors, walked toward Sanduski.
"What time is it?" asked Frick.
Sanduski looked at the digital clock below the CCTV bank. "Almost midnight. Why? You got a hot date or something?"
"Just an anniversary," whispered the Redmart Killer.
When he struck, Sanduski looked just as surprised as all the others.