Patrolling the industrial district in a squad car was not how I envisioned celebrating my fortieth birthday, yet there I was, on the dog end of a twelve-hour shift. Earlier, Sandy sent a pic of a cupcake with a candle next to a bottle of my favorite bourbon. “Happy Birthday, Jake,” it said. Not much, I know, but after twelve years of marriage, it was the little things.

I had just turned for home when the call came over the radio, a home invasion near Laurel Park. That was my neighborhood! The address was 1723 117th Place. I knew that house; my house shared the same address, only Street instead of Place. UPS was constantly getting our deliveries switched.

The homeowner awoke to find a man standing over his bed. He fired several shots at the suspect with a handgun. Blood found at the scene indicated that the suspect may have been wounded. Then a chilling detail came over the wire. Officers found a single dime stuck to the bathroom mirror. The calling card of the Ten Cent Killer. He was back; this time for me.

TCK was a ghost. His victims were always found alone in a locked house, with nothing left behind but a Roosevelt dime from the victim’s birth year. He killed chronologically, 39 victims born between 1946 and 1985. 1986 was next. I leaked it to the press last year and TCK went dark. The mistake got me busted from detective to beat cop, but maybe, saved a life.

It was his turn to make a mistake. Just like UPS, the fool went to the wrong house, now he was out there, wounded and on the run. The house sat against Laurel Park, a long narrow canyon secluded from the road, with only one way in and out. I slammed the gas and sped off toward the other end of the park, hoping I wasn’t too late to cut him off.

I pulled into the empty parking lot and drove up on the grass, scanning with my spotlight. As I panned over the lone picnic table, I saw something sitting on it. I stepped out of my patrol car, and slowly approached the table. Sitting there and marked with bloody fingerprints was a Roosevelt dime collector’s album. I quickly put on a latex glove and opened it. Inside, where the holes had been cut for coins, were the cropped Polaroid faces of his victims. I recognized them from the case files, each placed according to their birth year. He was toying with me again. I grabbed the book and started back to the car.

There was a flash and a “pop! pop!” like gunfire beside me. I drew my weapon and dove behind my squad car. A whoosh of blue and pink smoke erupted from a pair of smoke bombs, billowing like cotton candy through the spotlight. Suddenly the vehicle shook as if someone had jumped on the back of it, then something slammed shut.

Silence followed as I trained my sidearm toward the back of the car and watched. As the smoke cleared, I looked around the park. At the picnic table, I saw a hazy silhouette sitting where I found the album. I aimed my weapon and turned the spotlight on him.

He was thin, in his mid-thirties, about six feet; his clothes and every inch of his body were drenched in blood. The man squinted against the light but remained still, his hands splayed out on the picnic table.

“Hi, Jake,” he said.

“Stand up slowly, put your hands on your head, turn around, and slowly walk backward toward me!” I commanded.

He did as he was asked.

“That’s far enough!”

He stopped, and without a struggle, I handcuffed him, patted him down, and shoved him in the back of the car.

“Dispatch, be advised, I have the suspect in custody, en route to Plainview Hospital. Suspect has sustained possible gunshot wounds and has suffered significant blood loss.”

“I don’t need medical attention. It’s not my blood.”

That’s when I saw it, reflecting under my dome light, a shiny Roosevelt dime, sitting on my dash. I picked it up and read the date.

“You fucked up, I wasn’t born in 1986.”

“I know,” he smiled, bloody locks of hair matted to his face.

I had a dark thought, and I picked up the collector’s album.

“I also know the difference between ‘place’ and ‘street,'” he said.

I flipped through the thick pages until I found the 1980s.

“By the way, would you have preferred a boy or a girl? I wasn’t sure, so I got both blue and pink. She was saving the surprise for your birthday. So… HAPPY BIRTHDAY JAKE!”

I scrolled down to 1986, Sandy’s birth year.

“No! No! No!”

I popped the trunk, jumped out of the car, and lifted the lid. I will not describe the state of her body.  The horror within eclipsed all reason, paralyzing me with rage and crippling grief. I can’t say how long I stood there, numb, but his voice jerked me back to focus. It came from outside the car!

“Bye, Jake, I really hope they put you back on the case, so we can do this again sometime!”

I rushed to the cab to find only his lock pick kit in the back seat. He had taken my keys and the collector’s book with him but left the dime.


I could barely hold it together long enough to call it in. Then I slumped against the car and wept uncontrollably as the sirens blared in the distance.

I was not reinstated to homicide, so I quit the force. TCK is still out there, and so am I. I won’t stop until I find him. 1987 is next. It’s not much to go on, but sometimes it’s the little things. Just, like the one thin dime he left me, rubbed smooth in my pocket, ensuring that I never forget.