The following is Chapter One from The Probability of Time, my debut novel. If you like what you read, you can preorder your copy: here. Enjoy!

. . .

Patrick’s Pub was your typical Irish tavern and the oldest purveyor of alcoholic refreshments in Grimwick. Founded in the late 1800s after one of the largest Irish emigrations to the United States, the pub was known for its live music, cheap booze, and welcoming atmosphere. It was also a popular post-workday hangout location for many of the city’s working class.

At least it used to be.

After several economic recessions forced most of the mills and factories to close, many of the city’s blue-collar workers were forced to find work outside the city. As the number of workers declined, so did the experience which made Patrick’s such a popular destination – the original handcrafted wood fixtures began to deteriorate, the atmosphere became stale, and the live music was replaced with an old, skipping CD player and drunk college students flexing their vocal cords on a karaoke machine.

Despite all this, the tavern was still frequented by many regulars. One of these regulars was a middle-aged man with salted brown hair and a scruffy five o’clock shadow. Liam Smart, once a bright up-and-coming star in the Grimwick Police Department, spent his evenings at Patrick’s washing down an endless carousel of horrifying images from the city’s criminal underground playing in his head.

Tonight was different though. Tonight, he drank to celebrate. Tonight, marked the end of one of the city’s most brutal serial murder sprees in recent history – a case which gave Liam sleepless nights, caused irreparable damage to his personal relationships, and became his obsession for more than a decade.

Liam entered the bar around six p.m. and sat down at his usual spot near the end. The Red Sox and Yankees were on the television and a group of college students was butchering Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ on the karaoke machine.

“Evening Liam, what’ll it be?” asked the bartender.

“Hey Joe,” Liam’s voice sounded tired. “Whatever your top-shelf whiskey is, on the rocks.”

Joe looked at him with curiosity. “Woah. You’re high rolling tonight, what’s the occasion?”

Liam couldn’t resist the slight grin from crossing his lips.

“Do me a favor Joe and switch over to the news,” Liam’s grin stretched into a full-blown smile. “Tonight’s the night. Tonight, Austin gets the needle.”

Samuel Austin, better known as the Arrowhead Killer, was convicted of fifteen murders around Grimwick, spanning ten years. He targeted young women in their early 20s, drugged them, dismembered their arms, legs, and head, and laid them out in a pose similar to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. His signature was to place red stone arrowheads over the victim’s eyes, although he never admitted why. In court, when asked about this peculiar calling card, Austin only stared at the jury with a smile many admitted gave them nightmares.

This was one of Liam’s first cases as a detective and it turned his world upside down. For ten years, he combed over evidence and testimonies with meticulous detail but always came up empty. It wasn’t until six months ago when he received a tip from an informant about a storage rental unit in Rosewood. 

It took some finageling with the paperwork and case evidence to get a judge to sign off on a warrant, but the gray shade of legality paid off as the storage unit was a treasure trove of incriminating evidence against Austin.

Liam was heralded as a hero in local and national papers. To the press, he admitted it was an unnecessary accolade, that he was honored to bring justice to the women and their families. Personally, however, he felt the praise was an affirmation for all the hard work and everything he sacrificed.

“Oh, shit, that’s right,” Joe said. “I don’t think I ever properly congratulated you on catching that sick son-of-a-bitch. Thank God that’s finally over.” Joe slid the glass of whiskey to Liam. “This one’s on me, buddy. Thank you.”

Liam raised the glass and nodded to Joe in appreciation.

For hours, Liam guzzled down drink after drink and watched the local news coverage of Austin’s sentence, doing his best to tune out the growing crowd of students and their terrible singing.

During the commentary, Liam learned that Austin’s last meal was a medium-well ribeye steak with garlic mashed potatoes; he was read his last rights by a local pastor from Saint Peter’s Cathedral; and spent his last hours with his daughter Cecilia before being brought to the execution chamber.

The panel dug deep into Austin’s past. They talked about his abusive father, his addiction to alcohol, his dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps for failure to obey orders in combat, and the likelihood he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

At the same time, they talked about his experience raising his daughter alone after his wife passed away and his inability to cope with losing her – they painted a picture of a victim of his habitat and unfortunate circumstances, not of a deranged serial killer who preyed on vulnerable young women.

Liam was convinced they did this to develop a narrative for the viewers which would provoke an emotional connection to Austin. Liam wasn’t going to fall for it. He remembered the victims; he remembered how each bare, dismembered body was cast aside after some sadistic ritual of a demented man.

Where’s their narrative? If anyone deserves to be talked about for hours on end tonight it’s those women and the futures they’ll never have thanks to this psychopath.

Around eleven o’clock, one commentator asked panel members what they thought the chances would be of the governor granting clemency in Austin’s final hour – the death penalty was legal in the state but the governor had always been an outspoken opponent of the practice.

“I swear to God, Joey,” Liam slurred. “If the governor pardons this prick, I’m gonna lose it!”

Joe smiled and poured him another glass – with extra ice and just a splash whiskey. As he took a quick sip, his attention was drawn away from the television to the bar’s front door. Walking through the squeaky old double doors was a stunning young woman in a low-cut black sheath dress.

It wasn’t just her beauty or the way her hips swayed as she glided through the maze of sticky beer-soaked tables and chairs on a pair of stiletto heels that captured his attention. By any definition, between the young college women and many of the regulars, there were plenty of attractive women already in the pub.

No, it wasn’t her beauty that caught his eye – it was her attire. This woman, with her perfect makeup, her long, curly blonde hair, and her flaunted endowments was dressed like she was on her way to the opening of that fancy new nightclub, Oracle, and not a rickety old tavern like Patrick’s.

And yet, she didn’t turn around to leave. Maybe it was the booze, maybe not, but the more Liam watched this misplaced Aphrodite, the more he couldn’t help but think she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He sat slack-jawed, unable to take his eyes off her as she moved closer to the bar.

He wanted to talk to her. No, he had to talk to her. With his belly full of liquid courage, he stood up to make his move; but as he tried to step forward, his legs behaved more like rubber than instruments for movement and he had to sit back down.

Shit. He turned his attention back to his drink, defeated. Whatever. How old is she anyway? Twenty-three? She’s just a kid. 

Convinced she would be more interested in the younger college students rather than an old, burnt out cop, he tried to focus his blurred vision back on the television. 

“What can I get you?” Joe asked.

Liam tried, and failed, to hide his surprise when he turned and saw the woman sitting a few chairs down.

She took a moment to look over the beers on tap and liquors on display behind the bartender. “I’ll take a glass of whiskey on the rocks please,” she said with a smile.

Oh, my God, she really is perfect. “Good choice,” Liam said, holding up his own glass of the brown liquid.

The woman blushed. “Thanks. It’s so hard to get a good, stiff drink in this town. It’s like, every bartender around here wants to dilute this perfectly good liquor with some crazy concoction of who-the-hell-knows-what. It’s not right!”

They both laughed.

“Okay, but seriously, you can get a glass of whiskey anywhere, what brings you to this shithole?” Joe overheard Liam’s comment and gave a look of disapproval, but Liam smiled at the bartender and gave a quick wink.

“Hey! This place isn’t a shithole, it has character!” the woman giggled at her own joke. “Seriously, did you know this building used to be a brothel?”

“I did not know that. Joey, did you know that?” 

The bartender laughed. “This bar’s been in my family for generations; I’ve heard all the stories. My great uncle Manny used to tell that story every time he got drunk. Which, for him, was every evening around seven.”

“The history of this building is amazing, actually,” the woman said. “The building laid abandoned for years because, according to the stories, it nearly burnt down in the great fire of 1804 and many of the entertainers who worked here were killed. The owner, Joshua Granger, couldn’t get enough new girls to work for him and many of those already in his employment decided to find new work. Granger ended up going bankrupt and was forced to sell the shell of this building to Patrick O’Sullivan, who rebuilt it into the bar in which we are currently sitting.”

Liam looked at Joe. “That right, Joe?”

“That’s how the story goes,” the bartender replied as he washed soiled glasses behind the bar.

He was impressed but his smile disappeared and he took a long sip of his drink after realizing how he succumbed to stereotyping her based on her attire and physical beauty. As a veteran detective who tried to use his influence in the community to break stereotypes, he should’ve known better. 

“You sure know a lot about this place,” Liam said. “Forgive me if I sound ignorant, but why?”

The question made her laugh so hard she nearly spat out her drink. After swallowing, she apologized for almost bathing Liam in her backwash.

“Well, believe it or not, I’m a historian. Knowing useless knowledge about old buildings is kinda my thing.”

“Oh, okay that makes sense. Sorry, it was a stupid question.”

“No, no, please don’t apologize. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them. What do you do for a living?”

Liam gulped down the last of his drink; despite his level of intoxication, it still burned going down. “I’m a cop.” 

Her eyes lit up and she slid over to the stool next to him. She admitted she had a deep appreciation for those who selflessly served their community and their country and asked him about his work.

The two talked, drank, and laughed until Joe announced the last call and turned the house lights up. It was blinding at first, but after his eyes adjusted, Liam looked at the woman who’d been occupying his time that evening and was still amazed such a beautiful, intelligent, and simply perfect person existed and that he’d found her.

She gathered her things, tucking them insider her handbag, and saw him staring at her with a subtle grin. “What?”

“What’s your name?” 

They both laughed. The past several hours had felt so organic, like two friends who’d known each other their entire lives. At no point did it feel awkward that they hadn’t properly introduced themselves. 

“Loralei,” she said with a smile, holding out her hand.

Liam took her hand in his and gently shook it. “It’s nice to meet you, Loralei, my name is Liam.”

. . .

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