Chapter Six

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Thurie Jore spun a pencil between his fingers as he stared blankly at the white paper before him. His father’s deep voice filled the small, grubby room, interspersed with long, heavy moments of silence, but all Thurie could focus on was the paper. It’s a snowstorm, the young boy thought. A snowstorm that’s keeping us from seeing.

His father kept asking his questions, coaxing and prodding and wheedling, but the woman seated across from Dunna Jore and his son still wouldn’t respond. Like Thurie, her face also held a fixated expression as she envisioned something not in the small room. Or tried not to envision, rather. Her hands clenched tight into fists.

Thurie’s father eventually lost his patience. “Begging your pardon, miss, but he was on top of you. You must have seen something.”

That brought the woman back to the present. “I was trying not to look,” she hissed, words dripping with vitriol. “He beat me… Held a knife to my throat!” Indeed, the left side of her face was already bruising purple and yellow from where he’d hit her several hours before, the skin puffy and swollen.

“What about his hair? That’s often easiest to start with.”

Her eyes slid again toward something only she could see. “It was… curling. Longer, maybe, than the style you see around Haplyr now.”

His father waved a hand at Thurie, and he picked up his pencil. Time to find a way out of the storm.

“Hair color? Could you tell?”

“Dark, like his.” She pointed to Thurie across the table, who gulped and looked back down at the paper, his olive cheeks coloring. He much preferred to go as unnoticed as possible in these interviews. “Black or brown, I couldn’t tell. It was night, you know,” the woman said, biting her lip now and picking at her sleeve. Her thumb worried the sleeve hem over and over again.

“What about the shape of his face? Did he have a strong jaw?”

“Yes, a square jaw, I think. And a beard, sort of scruffy.”

This was enough to start. At last Thurie put pencil to paper and started making some initial markings. Firm strokes began to form a mop of dark hair. Light markings for the chin—he would wait until his father asked about the cheekbones and ears. Everything was a balancing act in this line of work, where each facial feature helped shape its neighbor.

The conversation moved onto the eyes and the nose. “His nose… I don’t remember,” she admitted. “His eyes were dark as well. Circles under his eyes, like he needed sleep. And they were a bit sunken, maybe.” This was good information. Sunken eyes could mean a nose with a higher bridge. His pencil skittered over the page, the light marks converging, darkening, refining an image of a man, a bad man who was the recent scourge of Haplyr’s Firefly Hollow neighborhood. The bodies of four women had been found; rumors swirling on the streets spoke of mutilated corpses, skin mottled with bruises and deep cuts from a knife. This woman had nearly become his fifth kill; she’d been taking a shortcut down an alleyway when he’d attacked her. Luckily, a drunken couple with amorous intentions happened to enter the alley just in time to scare the man away. He’d fled into the night, leaving this woman the first to escape the Firefly Hollow Killer’s grasp.

Dunna continued the interview, touching on eyebrows, ears, lips, and complexion. “You scratched his face, yes?”

“That’s right. His skin… was under my nails when I got home. I had to wash it out…” She trembled. “It must have hurt him badly.” Her breaths became ragged, and Thurie’s father allowed her a minute before pushing her further.

“Which side of his face did you scratch?”

“His left, from his temple to his lips.”

His father turned towards him. “The wound might scar. We’ll do two pictures, one with and one without.” Thurie nodded, then pulled back to get a better sense of how the drawing was progressing. He still had work to do on the sketch, but there was a sense of the man there now. Just like almost every other drawing Thurie did for the city guard, this man looked ordinary, innocuous. But though the man did not appear evil, he was making a hobby of killing women, biding his time in shadow-cast alleys or perhaps peeking from an apartment window as unsuspecting passersby bustled by outside.

The woman looked at Dunna with a pointed expression. “You think he’ll be caught?”

“One can never tell these things. Might at least give him a fright, scare him off the streets.” His father’s words were just a comforting gesture, Thurie knew. Though he was only twelve, he’d spent enough time in guard stations to know a few pictures posted around the city might deter a thief, but they wouldn’t scare away this sort of man.

“My mam told me to never come to Haplyr,” the woman said. “It’s rotting out from the core, she said. I’m from Bebrook originally.”

“And we from Haplyr,” his father said. “It’s a city that’s always had its good and its bad.” Thurie’s father gave the sketch a once-over. Satisfied, he motioned to his son to pack up the supplies. The current drawing was good enough to post around the city, and the woman had given them all the information she could. There was always a fine line between discovering clues to a criminal’s physical identity and pushing a victim too far. If they wanted to refine the sketch further, they’d have to wait for more witnesses.

As Thurie began to stow the pencils, papers, references, and so on in the oilcloth carrying pouch, his father continued. “If I were you, miss, I’d take your mam’s advice and get out of the city for a while. Go home to Bebrook. The attack was near your apartment, yes? His attacks have been local to Firefly Hollow so far. Say he recognizes you on the street and wants to… take care of loose ends. It might not be safe for you here.”

Her lips pressed together into a tight line. “I send money home from the dress shop where I work. Jobs are scarce in Bebrook, and my mam’s often sick.”

“Just my opinion, miss. I’m not unfamiliar with the criminal element’s penchant for vengeance.” He laid his gloved hands on the table with a soft clunk.

She studied his hands with wide eyes. “Yes, I did notice… Someone did that to you? Aren’t you afraid they might do the same to your son?”

“A hazard of the job. If you could help keep Hygot’s society safe, wouldn’t you do it? It’s an honor for us to help the city guard.” His voice was firm, proud.

With some effort, she dragged her eyes away from his hands. They lay on the desk with unnatural stillness. “I can’t say I would, sir. But thank you both for your efforts—and your advice.” She tipped her head to father and son, then stood and left the room.

Dunna sat in silence as Thurie finished packing up the supplies. “It was a good job today,” he finally said when the oilcloth pouch was fastened and bulging at the seams. “But if a drawing scares him off it’ll be a minor miracle.” Thurie got the door for his father, and they exited from the interview room into the bustling guard station. Normally his father would have stopped to chat with old acquaintances, but it seemed the whole affair had put a sour taste in his mouth, so Dunna simply nodded his goodbyes and the pair left the station. Walking the streets of Haplyr on their way home, they were the perfect picture of father and son, the boy’s smaller, warm hand clutching his father’s cold, gloved, wooden one.