“Is the boy here yet?”
“CPS is transporting,” the desk sergeant replied. As usual, Child Protective Services was predictably late.
The small police station in Show Low, Arizona was on edge. Before this incident, the station just processed the usual petty theft and property crimes—with the occasional drunk and disorderly or drug bust for good measure. But after last night, the entire station seemed to be on tenterhooks.
“How old is the kid?” Detective McMurtagh asked the desk sergeant. He hated questioning minors, no matter how trivial the matter. Children tended to shut down and stop sharing information, unlike adults who were almost too ready to confess.
“Twelve,” said the desk sergeant, looking at his notes. “The boy just turned twelve.”
He walked back to the interrogation room to wait for the child.
“Can I get you anything, McMurtagh?” asked his secretary, handing him a very thick file labeled Malachi. The papers were still warm from the copier. Recently taken grisly photos peeked out from the expansion folder. “You may need an entire pot of coffee to get through that. It isn’t pretty . . .”
“Do you have any good news?” Detective McMurtagh asked, one eyebrow raised in the small hope that she did.
“The FBI is coming this afternoon,” she crisply added. His eyebrow lowered. “They will officially take over the case. They want to question the boy, too.”
“This isn’t their jurisdiction,” he said, sitting down at the utilitarian desk, sifting through paperwork. It had been a slaughterhouse.
“They are investigating this incident as an NRM,” she replied.
NRM. New Religious Movement. It was the politically correct terminology for a religious cult, tacitly deemed as a threat. As much as he didn’t like the Feds in his backyard, McMurtagh didn’t want the likes of Jim Jones, David Koresh, or Marshall Applewhite in his town either. And now this incident risked turning Show Low into another Jonestown, Waco, or Temple’s Gate.
“The boy is here with Maretha,” the desk sergeant announced on the intercom.
“I’ll be right there.”
Detective McMurtagh felt the boy’s presence before he saw him. Dressed in an ill-fitting Arizona Diamondbacks t-shirt and oversized shorts from the CPS emergency clothes closet, the boy exuded a sense of preternatural calm. On the yellowed plastic chairs, he sat deathly still next to Maretha, his fretful CPS caseworker.
McMurtagh had known the unflappable Maretha for over a decade. She quickly stood when he entered the police station’s dingy lobby, attempting to communicate far too much with her eyes. He’d never seen her unnerved before.
“Good. There you are,” she said. “Malachi, this is Detective McMurtagh. He will ask you a few questions. I’ll wait right here for you, and then we’ll go get some lunch.”
Malachi stood and looked her full in the face.
“For the lips of a strange woman drop as a honeycomb,” he said with a small smile that was both comforting and disquieting.
Maretha shot McMurtagh a look.
McMurtagh walked the boy back to the interrogation room.
Normally he would have referred the boy to the Phoenix division as they had an agency equipped for interviewing children. With the FBI’s imminent arrival, the case was surely to be taken out of his hands. The best thing he could do at that point was to ensure the child’s testimony could be recorded as faithfully as possible before any more chaos ensued.
The key was asking open ended questions. Let the child tell his truth as unhindered as possible. Detective McMurtagh pushed a button on a small recording device.
“Malachi, I’m Detective McMurtagh,” he began. “I am going to record our conversation. Do you understand?”
“I do. Your badge number is 2436. You are numbered with perfection,” the boy said happily.
“Thank you,” McMurtagh replied. “Will you tell me why that is?”
“24 is two times twelve. 36 is three times twelve. Five is God’s Grace, as the ten commandments are two sets of five. Twelve is perfection.”
“I understand,” McMurtagh said slowly. “Thank you for explaining that to me.”
“You are of Scottish lineage,” Malachi said with his small smile. His voice cracked a bit, the natural result of puberty as the larynx grows. A few whiskers were on the boy’s face, just under his nose. “The Scottish Stone of Scone was actually Jacob’s pillow when he dreamed of a ladder reaching to heaven.”
“That’s the Celtic legend,” McMurtagh replied. “Now the British use it as their Coronation Stone.”
“The British have been excommunicated and will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone,” Malachi explained to McMurtagh, as if teaching a child a simple truth. “They will burn for eternity along with the many other descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. So many nations divided after the flood.”
McMurtagh sipped his cold coffee and leaned back in the cheap office chair. He looked up at the fluorescent lights, one of which blinked intermittently.
“What happened last night, Malachi?”
“Malachi means messenger,” replied the boy, sitting ramrod straight, appearing to be delighted to answer his questions.
“Are you a messenger?” McMurtagh asked the unblinking boy.
“I am the messenger. Just as there were twelve minor prophets in the Old Testament, I am the last.”
“Which of the twelve prophets are you?”
“I am not a prophet—not yet.” Malachi said. McMurtagh noted his eyes lost their certainty, but only for a moment. Malachi blinked back his stalwart gaze. “But I will be soon. Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah. My mother said I am the Messenger of The Twelve.”
“Who are The Twelve?”
“The Twelve are legion, Detective McMurtagh. They are all around us. I spent twelve years in our encampment learning about The Twelve, until I was ready.”
“What are you ready for, Malachi?”
“To prepare the way of the Lord,” the boy replied, almost joyously.
“Who prepared you, Malachi?”
The boy went quiet. Thinking back. Back before last night. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Detective McMurtagh, there are many twelves. The Bible lists so many. Twelve tribes. Twelve pillars. Twelve stones. Twelve bullocks, ready for sacrifice.”
“Where is your mother, Malachi?”
“She was not a bullock . . .” said the boy. McMurtagh watched his eyes cloud over. He was unsure again. “But she was ready for sacrifice.”
McMurtagh waited an inordinately long time to ask another question. He sat and let the weight of Malachi’s words hang in the room.
“Malachi, why was your mother ready for sacrifice?”
“It’s quite clear in Leviticus, Detective McMurtagh,” he replied, eyes now clear as glass. “Moreover thou shalt not lie carnally with thy neighbor’s wife, to defile thyself with her. The Lord was clear about abominations.”
“Who defiled your mother, Malachi?”
“Brother Daniel,” he replied without emotion. “His family had been with ours since the beginning, preparing for the End of Days. I saw Brother Daniel and my mother. I saw them in the granary where we keep the wheat. They lay down together like beasts in the field. On her forehead was written The Mother of Harlots. Like Abraham, I knew. God asked Abraham to slay his own son. I was asked to slay my mother.”
“Why did you hurt your mother, Malachi?”
“To prepare the way of the Lord, Detective. It’s what The Twelve wanted me to do.”
“Why did you hurt the others, Malachi? You hurt your mother and eleven other people, including your little sisters.”
“Because twelve means perfection. The tree of life will bear twelve fruits before the End of Days,” Malachi said as plainly as possible. He attempted his small smile, but his upper lip quivered. He shook his head and spoke more loudly. “I am the Messenger of perfection. The Messenger of The Twelve. If a man abides not in me, he is cast into the fire. . . I am the Messenger of perfection.”
“Are you done perfecting, Malachi?”
“No, Detective McMurtagh,” Malachi replied. He offered a genuine smile. “I have so much work to do. Twelve times twelve. Perfection times perfection. I will be preparing the way of the Lord until the End of Days.”
The intercom buzzed.
“Yes,” McMurtagh said wearily.
“The FBI is here,” the desk sergeant said. “All six of them.”
“The false priests are here,” Malachi zealously looked at McMurtagh, hands folded in gratitude. “The Twelve have sent me to perfect The Six. The Six are the mark of The Beast.”
“Come with me, son,” Detective McMurtagh helped the young man up from his cold folding chair. He passed his secretary in the hallway.
“You need backup?” she asked.
“No,” McMurtagh said. “But tell the FBI that they might.”