Today was interesting to say the least. It started as any other day would, but by now, three little letters will be etched into my mind forever. I woke up, did the morning shower and breakfast routine, then headed out to work. It was early afternoon when my boss, Judy, knocked on my partially cracked door. I waved her in and noticed a look of concern on her face. She stepped aside and let a tall man in a suit, carrying a laptop bag enter my office. It was Mark Anderson. Judy hovered by the door as we shook hands and I invited him to sit. Before making much conversation, Anderson turned to look at Judy and said, “Do you mind if we have a few minutes?”
She nodded and looked at the laptop bag before reluctantly walking away. Once she was gone, Anderson got up quickly to close the door all the way, and sat back down.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked.
He asked if I had heard from Ron recently, and I let him know that I hadn’t… not since the funeral. He paused as if wondering which funeral I was referring to, so I reminded him: “Ben’s funeral.”
He nodded, and when I asked why he was inquiring, he initially just said that Ron wasn’t returning his phone calls and he was a bit worried about him. It didn’t take him long to start asking me questions. Did he actually believe Ron would interact with me without telling him about it? I reassured him that I hadn’t spoken to him at all, and then he pulled his laptop out of the bag and powered it up on my desk. Before it even booted up, we noticed a couple of my nosy coworkers peering through my window as they walked by.
He asked if we could go somewhere more private to speak, and unfortunately my office didn’t offer that kind of seclusion, so I suggested we go to his office. I took a moment to speak to Judy and asked for the afternoon off, and she agreed. Anderson was cordial, and before we left, he popped his head into Judy’s office and thanked her for allowing me to leave, mentioning that my statement was going to be a big help. She seemed relieved somehow. Was she worried that I was being arrested or something? Whatever she thought, I was grateful that Anderson said what he did so there wouldn’t be any rumors of me being implicated in something criminal floating around the office.
I followed him to the San Diego County Sheriff’s station and met him in front of the building. I asked him what we were doing, and he said he wanted me to take a look at a few things to see if I could recall anything from the papers that would correlate and/or lead to additional information. His intention for the last couple of weeks had been to ask Ron, but he tried going down to Tijuana on his day off, and nobody had seen Ron there at his usual hangouts. He said, “I know it’s a long shot, but if you could just look through a few items I have and see what you think, I’d be in your debt.”
So I said, “Sure, no problem. Hope I can be some help.”
He said, “Great!” and then got up out of his chair, asking if I wanted some coffee.
How long was I going to be here? I took him up on his offer.
Anderson returned to the room with his laptop underneath his armpit and carrying two Styrofoam cups of coffee. He placed my cup down on the table and opened the laptop in front of him on the table with his hand on it while he sat.
He said, “I have to warn you, some of these pictures could be… disturbing.”
He then pulled the laptop closer to him as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to show them to me yet. I was quite nervous to see the photos. Before he turned the laptop toward me, he said, “Let me tell you what the crime scene was like before you look at the photos… just in case.”
I asked him, “What crime scene? What are you talking about?”
He then said, “I believe it was ‘Episode 2’ of your podcast. You know, the one where there’s a video of you-know-who looking into the hotel room window.”
Shit… I thought I was done with the Grinner.
Anderson went on to explain, “When we first walked in, we found the victim sitting on the floor propped up against the foot of the bed in the hotel room.”
Wait a minute… we? Anderson was on the case in the beginning?
He continued, “There was a twelve gauge shotgun resting on the floor next to the body, and what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The splatter pattern indicates the end of the barrel was extremely close to the victim’s face. Most of the cranium was scattered in fragments throughout the room on the walls by the head of the bed, and some stuck to the ceiling. There was no face to identify, and we’re going to need to see what condition the teeth are in in order to potentially get a positive dental ID.”
I wondered why they would rely on dental records to ID the body. I asked him, “Why couldn’t you use fingerprints?”
He ignored my question as he began pushing a file toward me.
I wasn’t so sure I wanted to see the pictures now after this description, but I knew I needed to see them.
“I’d like you to take your time and look at the crime scene photos. You may find some of the images to be difficult to view,” Anderson warned as he slid the laptop toward me once again. “We are hoping, of course, that you can help to provide a positive ID on the body which can be extremely difficult with these types of gunshot wounds, but let me know if anything jumps out to you as recognizable… or unusual.”
I thought this was a strange comment… The whole damn situation was unusual. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
Anderson continued, “The body was eventually searched and we found a wallet in the back left pants pocket, as well as a post-it note with a cell phone number on it in the front right jacket pocket. We didn’t find any other belongings in the room, and there was no cash in the wallet, so we thought there was a chance this could have been a robbery, although there were several credit cards still in the wallet. Keep in mind that we didn’t have access to the video footage now in your possession. We’re looking for additional account numbers under the victim’s name to check for activity in case any may have been removed.”
“So you have identified the body?” I said.
“There’s something else” he said. “You’ll see some writing on the wall, written in blood behind the head of the bed. We have evidence to suggest the words could have been written after the gunshot, which is why we had initially considered this a potential homicide versus suicide. Luckily, one of the crime scene investigators had a keen eye. You’ll also see an incision on the inside of the right wrist that was difficult to spot at first. It was partially obscured by some writing found on the forearm, so it’s possible a cut was made and used to write the words prior to the gunshot wound, but we were never able to find out for certain. The blood from the gunshot and the blood that was used in the writing had similar clotting appearances, but most of us believe it was written prior to the gunshot. However, since there was no blood found around the wound, it’s reasonable to suspect that the heart wasn’t beating when the incision was made. Or, if it was made prior to the gunshot wound, someone would have had to clean it prior to pulling the trigger. The whole thing is a cluster.”
I looked at Anderson and said, “I’m no detective, but wouldn’t fingerprint identification be all you need?”
Anderson stared at me directly, almost uncomfortably, without blinking his eyes for a moment before he spoke. “That’s being looked into. We took prints off of the body, but we didn’t find a match in our records at the time. That usually means the person has never been printed – at least locally.”
“Usually?” I asked.
Anderson moved on without engaging my question. I was beginning to get a little frustrated, so I asked him if there was a reason he’s dodging my questions. He said, “Look, I just need you to approach this with an unbiased point of view, and there are certain things I can’t share with you yet in order to achieve that. Satisfied?”
I thought about it for a second, and it made sense, so I said, “Okay, let’s move on.”
He slid around to my side of the table to pull up one of the wider-angled images taken for me to view, which happened to be the most visually shocking one of them all. Perhaps it was because of the way it was taken from the doorway to the hotel capturing the entire scene, and there sat a headless cadaver, unrecognizable to me. I suppose this made it easier to look at in a way. It was just… a lifeless body instead of someone I may know. On the wall above the head of the bed were the words written in blood, ‘THEY’RE ALREADY HERE’ in capital letters amidst the splatter pattern from the gunshot. I imagined this photo most accurately depicted what it had been like for the poor housekeeper who discovered the body, and there was an overwhelming amount of information to be seen.
I looked at picture after picture, trying to find some recognizable feature that indicated to me that this may have been someone I either knew, or had found images of in the papers. I didn’t see any tattoos. The hair color was common brown, the clothing was kind of plain, which matched just about anyone’s style. There really wasn’t anything unique at first glance. It wasn’t until I started looking at some of the close-up images that my attention started to pique.
The initial images depicted the body sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed, with the left arm lying to the side and shotgun next to it, while the right arm was laying across the stomach and the palm resting on the waistline. Additional images were taken after the initial photographs were done and the body was moved. The image of the inside of his right forearm was not visible in the body’s original position. When the palm was turned up, you could clearly see the letters ‘C.O.M.’ spelled out in black Sharpie. I paused on this photo for a moment.
“Do these letters mean anything to you?” Anderson asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
Anderson perked up and reached for his pad and paper. “Well?” he said.
My mind was racing because this had been sort of an inside joke I had going with a guy I went to high school with, but that couldn’t be related to this case. I just told Anderson, “Have I ever told you that I used to watch a lot of X-Files?”
He looked at me with a hint of frustration. “No,” he said as the excitement drained from his body and he put his pencil down.
“Well, C.O.M. was kind of a code-word I used back in high school with a small group of friends… especially during our senior year. It was an abbreviated version of one of our favorite quotes from the X-files. We would use it to let one another know that we were about to lie about something. Like this one time when we got caught by the school security guard sneaking back on campus after ditching a class. We came up with an excuse on-the-spot about our teacher asking us to take out the garbage for her because the janitorial staff didn’t do their damn jobs. I didn’t think the security guard really bought it, but he let us go, and we all said ‘C.O.M.’ right after and laughed.”
“I’m not following,” Anderson said, sounding even more annoyed.
I explained, “The quote was from Agent Mulder on the show, who said to Agent Scully, ‘I would never lie. I willfully participated in a Campaign of Misinformation.’ We would just say ‘C.O.M.’ when we were bullshitting people. Every once in a while, we would pass notes in class with these letters on it as a way of asking if we wanted to ditch class that day. Or we would mutter ‘C.O.M.’ under our breath before telling one of our parents we were going to go to the movies or to hang out at a friend’s house, and we would really be going to a party where there was drinking. It was our kind of code-word for letting me know we were about to do something we shouldn’t be doing, and that we wanted our friends to participate.”
“Okay, I get it,” Anderson said.
He had that look of suspicion in his eyes again. I paused for a moment to consider the implications of what I just said. I didn’t even think before spewing that out. Did I say too much? These letters seemed like a message blatantly intended for me, and that last part made it sound somewhat incriminating. I hadn’t seen any of those guys since high school though, and it seems like a huge coincidence that these letters would be used, let alone potentially intended for me to see. Is that even possible? I’m not sure who else would have understood this, but why would a guy kill himself only to leave me an obscure message? It doesn’t make sense. Or why would someone murder this fellow only to leave that message for me, if indeed it was a homicide?
Anderson spoke up, “If what you are saying is true, then what could this person be asking you to participate in?”
This question made me really uncomfortable. “I have no idea, Detective. Obviously I can’t participate in anything if he’s dead.”
I was getting that paranoid feeling again… considering whether or not I should contact a lawyer. I convinced myself to keep providing what information I could in an attempt to assure Detective Anderson that I truly had nothing to hide. My mind was racing though. I asked Anderson if there was anything at all he could tell me in addition to the information he’d already shared. He hesitated for a moment, then pulled out another file. He opened it and pulled out one page of paper. It was a fingerprint analysis confirming the identification of one Joseph Foye. Malcolm Foye’s grandfather who basically raised him.
“Can you think of anything Mr. Foye would have to lie about?” Anderson asked, not really allowing me much time to process this information he just dropped on me.
“I have no idea… does Malcolm know? What actually happened to Malcolm after the church?” I asked.
Anderson told me how he met up with Malcolm at the hospital after he gave a report to his superiors and the County Medical Examiner regarding the body of Benjamin Scanlon. Malcolm had received a psych evaluation at the hospital, and self-admitted at the recommendation of the emergency room physician into a rehabilitation institute, where he’s been ever since. “Malcolm doesn’t know yet,” Anderson said.
My thoughts were piling onto one another, one by one, and it was so much to take in that it was difficult to have a rational thought in the moment.
“Wasn’t this back in 2015?” I asked Anderson.
He confirmed. I continued looking at the photographs, but kept returning to the writing on the inside of his right forearm. I couldn’t help but wonder at the potential purpose for drawing my attention to this image. Anderson reached over and magnified the image slightly, then re-centered it over the letter ‘M.’
“See there, on the vertical portion of the letter on the right?” he said. “There’s the incision I was talking about.”
He was right. It was hard to see because the Sharpie ink was drawn right over the top of it, superimposed as if it was supposed to hide the fact that the cut was there. It was about an inch long with some dried, dark blood near it which blended in almost perfectly with the black Sharpie. I zoomed in some more and noticed there were some additional lines running perpendicular to the cut and the Sharpie ink, but they were small. The ink nearly covered them entirely, and the cut was basically right through these lines as well.
“What are these lines?” I asked.
Anderson pulled the laptop closer to him and said, “I hadn’t noticed these before.”
They looked like a bar-code. He pulled out his cell and made a call and stepped out of the room. I kept looking at pictures as he continued to make additional calls. I overheard him say “Check the others for bar codes.”
After my cup of coffee was empty, I began yawning. Anderson, looking quite tired himself, finally said, “Why don’t you go on home and get some rest. Maybe you could come back tomorrow to look at the rest of the images.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’d be happy to.”
“I’ll leave your name with the front desk in case I’m not in. They’ll set you up. Let me know if you think about anything else.”
Anderson handed me his card and started to walk me out. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I didn’t know how to reach him if and when I might need to. At the security checkpoint in the front lobby, he said, “Just one more thing… we haven’t informed anyone yet. We were hoping you could shed some light on this for us, but since you’re still going to come back to look at more stuff tomorrow, let’s be discreet. Okay?”
I said, “No problem, but I have one more question for you before I come back in the morning. Why now? You’ve known the identity of this body for what, five years now? Why are you pulling me out of work today to ask me to look into this?”
Anderson got that scowl on his face that I’d seen before, as if he were in deep thought. He was discerning whether or not to provide me any additional details, and he probably assumed I was going to continue being a pain in the ass with questions if I didn’t get a few answers. Eventually, he said, “Have you ever heard of SCIC?”
In fact, I had. I said, “Isn’t that the defense contractor here in San Diego? Yeah, they subcontract with the military for aerospace and weapons technology… high tech stuff, right?”
Anderson nodded to confirm. Then he said, “Two weeks ago, they had a break-in. We were called out to the scene, but couldn’t find anyone. A set of right hand fingerprints ID’ed the perp as one Joseph Foye.”
I stood there perplexed for a moment. Anderson continued, “So I was hoping you can help explain how the fingerprints of a man who died five years ago, with ties to The Storage Papers (as you refer to them), ended up breaking and entering into a highly-classified tech company, while managing to evade the dozens of security cameras, armed guards, and other personnel in the building… all while leaving only one set of prints deep within an area of the complex that they were cautiously avoiding details about when my team was working the place. Would that be something you’d consider ‘impossible’ or ‘paranormal’ even?”
I had to agree. Anderson took a deep breath and advised me to get some sleep. Apparently we’d only touched the tip of the iceberg.
When I got home, the house was dark. There was a stack of mail sitting on the end table by my favorite spot on the couch, which I easily ignored due to how tired I was. I crawled into bed. I hadn’t realized how late it was, but I started drifting asleep slowly around one a.m. My dreams were consumed of images from the crime scene photos, and my mind continued searching for clues from the memory of images that left scars on my brain. I drifted deeper and deeper into hard sleep, and then suddenly I was startled awake with the image of the forearm and the realization that I missed something at the police station. Anderson referred to the fingerprints found at the SCIC building as right-hand fingerprints. The writing on Joseph’s right forearm was in perfect penmanship. The wallet was found in the right pants pocket, but the shotgun was lying on the left side of the victim. Mr. Foye was right-handed.
I sat upright in bed with sweat streaming down my face. Unless he had become ambidextrous, it couldn’t have been Joseph Foye laying there dead. My sleep-fogged mind tried to wrap itself around the possibilities with this realization. Could he have written those letters in perfect penmanship with his left hand? Why would he use a shotgun with his left hand? This was obviously set up, most likely by the Grinner at the time. I had to wonder how much of Malcolm was aware of what went down that night. I instantly felt sorry for him. Even if this was set up to look like a suicide, that didn’t explain how the body’s fingerprints matched the prints in the SCIC building from two weeks ago. My head hurts.
I reached to my nightstand to pick up my phone and call Detective Anderson. It went straight to voice mail. “Detective Anderson, this is Jeremy. I have some information regarding the pictures we looked at last night. You might be interested to hear what I have to say. Please call me as soon as you get this message.”
I figured Anderson was still asleep. I looked at the clock and it was after 10:00 a.m. For a moment I was concerned about work, but then I remembered it was Saturday.