July 21st, 2011
Jenna Lowe was well aware that a hot, thirty-two degrees day in London was as rare as her father skipping his afternoon siesta. Incredibly rare, and hard to miss.
At one p.m., the summer heat was at its peak, and the blue sky had invited most of London outdoors. Sun out, shirts off, ice cold beers cracked open. The news channel had deemed it the ‘Hottest Day of the Year,’ and that it most definitely was.
Jenna sauntered outside, her oversized flip-flops rubbing against her feet, making them feel hot and clammy. She brought her hand up to her face, squinting against the sun’s intense glare.
“Where are you off to, Jen?”
Jenna turned to find her little sister, Rowan, standing at the doorstep in a polka-dot sun dress and pink sandals. Her curly mop was clipped up into a messy bun.
“The shops,” Jenna said. “Mum wants me to get a few last-minute bits for the barbecue this evening.”
The Lowe family had been planning the summer barbecue since today’s weather had been forecasted, but amidst the commotion and preparations, they had forgotten to buy skewers. An essential.
“Can you buy me a Toffee Krisp, please?” Rowan said.
Jenna snorted. “Sure.”
Rowan’s eyes lit up and she scampered back into the house, shutting the door behind her.
Jenna headed left, down towards the park. She held her tote bag close to her body, blowing out a rush of air in an attempt to cool her face. Why do we crave heat? she thought, hurriedly removing her hair-tie from her wrist, gathering her own curly mop into a low bun.
Jenna practically skipped through the park, desperate to find shade. Beads of sweat glided down her face, the salty droplets resting on her upper lip and rolling onto her tongue.
Bowing her head down, she wrenched open the park gate and crossed the road, hurrying towards the shops.
The bell on the door chimed as Jenna thrust the door open, greeted by a strong blast of cold air. The air conditioning hummed. She sighed in relief.
“Afternoon, Mr. Baker,” she said, offering him a wide grin.
Mr. Baker pinched his imaginary magician hat and tipped his head, as always. “Afternoon, Jen.”
Within a matter of minutes, Jenna was at the counter with a pack of ten skewers, a Toffee Krisp bar, and an iced tea. Mr. Baker eyed them with an amused look.
“Quite the variety, Jen,” he said, scanning the items one by one. “That’ll be eight-pound thirty.”
“Shit, I only brought a five-pound note,” Jenna said, emptying the contents of her wallet onto the counter. Other than the note, a fifty-pence coin fell out. “Can I pay you the rest tomorrow?” She batted her eyelashes for effect.
Jenna could have sworn she’d seen Mr. Baker begin to nod his head, a slight, almost indiscernible tilt, but then another voice interrupted.
“You know the rule, kid. Pay the full price all at once.”
Jenna turned to find a short, chubby woman, her bleached hair pinned back with a crocodile clip. Her eyebrows were heavily filled in, but left a few smudges at the edges, making them look horrendously bushy. Her cheeks glowed red, and Jenna could almost see the heat radiating off her face. Mrs. Baker.
The Bakers were the storeowners, but Jenna made a point of visiting before two p.m., when Mr. Baker was in charge. Mrs. Baker always worked from two to closing time.
Mr. Baker, sensing the confusion on Jenna’s face, said, “We’re cutting the day short. Got family round this evening and no one to watch the shop.”
“Yeah,” Mrs. Baker interjected. “So no playing favourites. Not on my watch. Pay the full price, kid.”
Jenna grumbled. Even if she only bought the skewers, she’d still be two-pounds short, so she grabbed her wallet and heaved a huge breath. Mr. Baker gave her an apologetic look as she turned on her heel and headed out the door.
Jenna jogged back in the unforgivable heat, cursing herself for being so careless. She cursed herself again for leaving behind the iced tea. She’d had enough money for that.
She swung open the park gate, wiping her forehead as she powered along, her calves screaming under her bodyweight. A family was picnicking in the sun. A group of boys sprinted up the hill, water guns in hand. A lady lay on her back, a large, floppy sunhat covering her face.
By the time Jenna neared the first tree, the heat was enough to force her to double over in the shade. Jenna clenched her abdomen, squeezing it in an attempt to alleviate the intense stabbing pain that had formed.
It was at that moment she noticed it, the meticulous entity glistening before her. She shifted her gaze, and another lay not so far from the first.
Jenna picked up the first pound coin, and then the second, shoving them both into her bag. And then, by some crazy miracle, she noticed the third one, a small spark amidst the trimmed grass.
No fucking way.
Jenna scurried over and picked up the coin. She now had eight pounds. Eight pounds and fifty pence.
And then a voice caught her attention. “Heads up,” it said, and Jenna jumped. She turned around but saw no one. She found herself staring into nothing.
Jenna could hear the birds squawking, the children screaming and laughing in the distance, the cars honking, but she could see nothing.
Staring into absolute darkness, her palm fell open and the third pound coin slipped through her fingers. Her body crumpled to the floor.
The last thing Jenna heard was a loud peal, the spinning of a coin ringing in her ears. Then, there was a swooshing sound, as if it dissipated.
Out of sight, out of mind.
July 17th, 2021
Lara: Meet me at the library. Need to show u something urgently!!!
Jared pocketed his phone, releasing an audible sigh. Ever since his girlfriend’s cat, Oscar, had been found dead in her garden, Lara had been spending hours at the local library, scouring the internet and perusing old articles, insisting she was onto something. Lara had four siblings, all younger, so staying focused at home was out of the question. Jared had no doubt that Lara wanted to show him her latest findings.
Ten minutes later, Jared found Lara seated at one of the library computers. Besides himself and the librarian – an eccentric, pink-haired, forty-something old lady – Lara was the only one there.
“Babe, it’s a beautiful day outside,” Jared said, beginning to massage his girlfriend’s shoulders. “Why don’t you save your investigating for later?”
Lara turned in her seat, offering Jared a smile. “I found something.”
Jared sighed. He pulled a seat and sat himself next to Lara. “Go on.”
Lara’s eyes lit up with excitement. “This could prove that Oscar’s death was something more intentional. Finding a cat drowned in ruby-red blood and sprawled across a perfectly manicured lawn hardly screams ‘accidental,’ and I think I could be –”
“Onto something, I know,” Jared finished.
Lara spun in her chair and clicked onto a tab, displaying an article titled Calling Card. “Listen to this,” she said, leaning closer in her chair. She began reading. “A calling card is often used as a way of taunting the police or obliquely claiming responsibility for a crime. Essentially, it serves as the perpetrator’s signature.”
Jared furrowed his brows. “Okay…so?”
“So,” Lara continued, “I think Oscar’s killer left a calling card. The coin.”
When Oscar was found dead, Lara had found a pound coin next to his body. Being the crime-obsessed, cat-lover girl she was, she completely overlooked the possibilities of what it could mean. Jared had argued that people drop money all the time, and that the coin was most likely abandoned loose change, but Lara insisted she had experienced a sense of déjà vu.
“I feel like this means something,” she’d said. “It’s telling me something.”
Now, Jared was on the verge of giving up. “Lara, why won’t you let this go. You’re eighteen, you’re young, you could be doing absolutely anything else right now.”
Lara considered Jared’s words, but shook her head. “I swear I’m onto something.”
Defeated, Jared dropped his head into his hands. “How is the coin a calling card if it has only been used once? It serves as a signature, so shouldn’t there be more occurrences of it being used?”
Lara smiled. “Do you remember Jenna Lowe?”
Jared nodded. Jenna’s death was all anyone would talk about ten years ago. She had been found by a dog-walker at her local park, surrounded in a pool of her own blood. It was suspected to be murder, but was officially filed as a cold case, as no further evidence had been uncovered. There had been a few major suspects, including the now deceased shop-owner Julius Baker and his widowed wife, Marissa Baker, but video-footage confirmed them as each other’s alibis.
As the years had passed, people lost interest and the newspapers no longer headlined Jenna’s unusual death. Jared was only eight at the time, but he remembered his parents telling the story of the famous Jenna Lowe. But why would Lara would bring it up now?
Lara clicked onto another tab, an blogpost dating back to August, 2011.
The Lowe Family Reach Their Lowest Point, was the title. Jared cringed at the insensitivity of it.
“Read this,” Lara said, zooming in on a particular sentence.
Jared inched closer and read.
Jenna’s wallet, bag, and a pound coin were found at the sight and examined for fingerprints, but no traces of DNA were detected.
Beneath the text was a picture of the items found at the crime scene. Jenna’s body was blackened out.
“Who the hell took this photo?” Jared said.
“Some civilian who arrived before the police, I guess.” Lara faced Jared. “I found this crime blog, a bunch of amateurs who look into cold cases for fun. They’re anonymous, and they’ve been around for a while, so I doubt they’re completely illegal, but look at this.” Lara clicked onto another tab, and another, and then a few more. She spread them all onto the same screen. “These are all articles from the past decade. All cold cases.”
Lara expanded the first tab. “Every single article mentioned the deceased being found in a pool of blood and a pound coin found next to their body.”
“Why the hell would they mention a coin?”
“I don’t know, maybe they thought the murderer dropped it while attacking or something? I’m not a detective.”
You sure are acting like one, Jared wanted to say.
“Anyway, I emailed these articles to myself and used an app on my phone to zoom in.” Lara pulled out her phone and shoved it in Jared’s face. “All the deaths of people show the coin faced heads up. But when I found Oscar, the coin was faced tails up. Look at this one.” Lara switched to a different tab, the article titled ‘Big Benny,’ Oldest Living Cow Killed at Forty-eight in Istanbul.
Beneath was a gruesome photo of a bloodied cow, sprawled across a field. Jared was overcome with a wave of nausea, but still, he inched closer to the screen to get a better look.
Lara pulled up the same picture from her phone and zoomed in. Sure enough, the tiny, golden pound coin lay at the nape of its neck, but this time, it was tails that faced up.
“This might sound completely absurd,” Lara began, pulling her hair back into a ponytail, “but I think the guy responsible is like…a supernatural being.”
Jared expelled a loud laugh, receiving a dirty look from the librarian. “Lara, we need to go. You’re losing the plot.”
“No, no, wait, just hear me out.”
Jared bit his lip in defiance, but acquiesced. “Two minutes. Go.”
Lara nodded hurriedly. “You’ve probably realised, for every human that has been killed, the coin was faced heads up, and for every animal, it showed tails. The killings are usually in different countries, but not always.”
“Ninety seconds,” Jared pointed, tapping his watch.
“The day Jenna died was the hottest day of the year. Pretty much everyone was outside, but there wasn’t a single witness. How is that possible?”
“It’s more possible than the supernatural,” Jared muttered.
“Fine, forget the supernatural. Let’s say the murderer is a magician.”
Lara switched to the final tab and pointed at the screen. “There’s a magic show in Birmingham next week. A girl commented about it on this blogpost, said Jenna’s death reminds her of the ‘Coined Craft’ trick by this magician dubbed as the ‘Paranormal Priest.’”
“How ironic,” Jared said, annoyed. He was losing his patience. This was so typical of Lara, to give in to her pliable mind and conjure up bizarre theories. Only a few months ago, Lara had insisted she’d seen a ghost make himself a sandwich in her kitchen. Jared couldn’t handle this anymore.
“Jared, I just need to see this magician at work. I have a very strong feeling that he has an ulterior motive,” Lara persisted.
Jared scoffed. “Like what, murder?”
Lara nodded. “Yes.”
July 29th, 2021
Fifty-eight-year-old Julius Baker sat hunched on his plush sofa, the T.V. remote resting in the palm of his hand. He flicked through the channels, one by one.
National Geographic, click. Wild Caribbean, click. Harry Potter, click.
Julius could hear the birds chirping outside, the gentle breeze and swaying palm trees, the waves crashing against the island shore. Through the windows, Julius admired the brilliant blue sky, not a whisp of cloud to be seen.
Soon he would hear the sound of a whirring helicopter and blaring sirens. He relished the tranquillity until then.
It was only a few days after Julius’ final performance, the greatest magic show of all time. Now, the ‘Paranormal Priest’ was ready to die. He had contacted his wife, Marissa, only a few hours before now. She had always been a faithful partner, so he thought it best to warn her before they took her away and locked her up.
Julius pressed the button and switched to the next channel. Caribbean News.
“…deaths that made absolutely no sense. Jenna’s body had shown no signs of force or trauma…” The camera panned to a familiar face, now much older. Julius could no longer see the light behind her eyes. Rowan Lowe. “She was simply a lifeless being in a pool of her own blood. How the blood had exited her body, we never found out,” Rowan, Jenna Lowe’s sister, said. Julius admired her composure.
The camera panned back to the news reporter, a pretty blonde lady with big red lips and airbrushed skin. Julius smiled as he thought about how good she would taste.
“…Marissa Baker, former shop-owner and wife to Julius Baker has been arrested for conspiracy to commit murder…”
Julius leaned forward in his seat and pressed the volume button, making it louder. The T.V screen pictured an angry, red-faced woman. The creases around her eyes looked like ruffled sandpaper. Marissa never aged well, Julius thought.
“…this comes moments after Julius Baker’s ‘last will’ was published by Mr. Baker himself, who until now, was believed to be dead…”
Julius relaxed back into the sofa.
“…in his last will, Mr. Baker confessed to a gripping series of murders he committed in the last decade. Worldwide fans of the ‘Paranormal Priest’ will be especially shocked to learn that the well-renowned magician is the serial killer…”
Julius waited with bated breath for his moment of glory.
The screen displayed an old picture of Julius in his late twenties, his head covered in thick, luscious hair, and his brown, deep-set eyes filled with glee.
“In his will, Julius Baker said, ‘My father gifted me my first magic set when I was two. I honed my skills over the course of my life, only deciding to use them to do good ten years ago. I killed ten humans and ten animals. It had to be equal and even.’”
The reporter continued. “About the murder of Jenna Lowe, the first human victim of Mr. Baker’s, he said, ‘Jenna was sixteen, and I could already see her growing up to be a dominant, controlling, manipulative bitch. She used her pretty face and charm to get free stuff, and I let her. She was powerful. She thought she could be more powerful than me. She had to go.’”
The camera panned to a man, trimmed hair and rounded glasses. Under his face were the words: Dr. Jeffrey Hans, Serial Killer Expert.
Julius exhaled. He was getting impatient.
“Julius Baker craved power and attention,” Hans said. “He was also a perfectionist. He wanted to be unique, to be remembered. Hence his distinct calling card…”
Julius zoned out, waiting for this Hans guy to finish acting like he knew everything.
Finally, the camera panned back to the beautifulreporter.
“In the last few lines of his will, Julius Baker confirmed his wife’s devoted participation and expressed thanks for loyal fans of the ‘Paranormal Priest.’ He said that faking his death gave him the freedom to kill all over the world without the added scrutiny. He admitted to visiting his birthplace, London, about a week ago for one final killing. He also admitted to be dying of prostate cancer, and plans to take his own life today. The police have tracked down his whereabouts and are on their way to him now, to an island in the Caribbean.”
As if on cue, the sound of the sirens started. Julius waited eagerly.
“…still, one question remains unanswered: how did Julius Baker kill? In his last will, Julius simply wrote, ‘I understand everyone’s desire to uncover my skill, but after much contemplation, this is something I must take to my grave’…”
Julius laughed, a maniacal, self-fulfilling laugh.
A magician never reveals his secrets.