On the right palm, on the forehead, on the left palm, and on the abdomen.
The first victim is discovered in the Florida Everglades.
0, 8, 2 on his hands and forehead. 5 on his abdomen.
“We believe the numbers may be significant,” a uniformed man reads from a prepared statement to the press, “but we cannot say for sure at this time.” Detective Pierce has seen more faces of death than any man should ever have to endure, but this case—this seems different, somehow.
Another victim is discovered in the marshes of Louisiana soon after.
0, 8, 0 on her hands and forehead. 19 on her abdomen.
Are they connected? Law enforcement in Louisiana contact the agency in Florida. Criminal psychologists and cipher experts are called in to decode the strange numerical messages. Nothing yet. There isn’t enough data. Detective Pierce knows, if there is a deeper meaning, it will only surface with more bodies. To solve the murder, more must be committed. A cruel irony.
A third victim emerges, and a macabre certainty is apparent—a serial killer.
0, 6, 9; 2
“What could it mean?” Detective Pierce ponders over a table littered with dozens of photographs. The psychological stress begins to weigh on him. He first began the investigation into the mysterious number killings, and he now makes it his mission to discover the secret of these symbols and put an end to this evil.
0, 7, 1; 6
0, 6, 5; 10
0, 7, 8; 8
0, 7, 3; 12
0, 6, 9; 4
0, 7, 8; 9
“069 repeats!” the authorities notice after the ninth victim is discovered. “It’s certainly a code!”
“And here! The victims with 8 and 9 on the abdomen have identical numbers on the hands and forehead too: both 0, 7, 8.”
Detective Pierce broods over this information. He locks himself away with the numbers, poring through literature about ciphers and codes. He devises complex algorithms to analyze the data, looking for patterns.
Pierce has always put work before his family. His colleagues will all tell you that. But the domestic strain from the number killings is pushing his relationships to the brink of collapse.
Another body in Florida.
0, 8, 5; 15
Pierce is on the scene, crouching over the Number Killer’s latest conquest, examining the slapdash 15 scrawled unceremoniously on the abdomen.
“Detective Pierce.” A voice from behind him. Pierce stands and peels the purple nitrile gloves from his hands and glowers at the intruder on his crime scene. “Agent Rickson. Federal Bureau of Investigation. This is my crime scene now, sir. I’ll need a full briefing.”
“The hell it is!” Pierce snaps back. “I’ve been working these killings from day one! You think you can just come in here with your federal mandate and expect me to catch you up on all the work my people have done?!”
Agent Rickson hands Pierce a bound legal envelope. “You’ve been relieved.”
“This isn’t over. You’re gambling with people’s lives…sir.” Detective Pierce practically spits the final word at the agent’s feet before snatching the envelope and rushing off the scene.
Over the next two weeks, eight more victims. Pierce’s anxiety has left him unable to leave his office. He hasn’t been home in three days. Though he’s officially off the case, he’s still haunted by the numbers and mounting body count. His work has suffered to the point that his superiors have issued reprimands.
At his wits’ end, Detective Pierce pulls officer Malloy into his office. Malloy is a rookie who’s eager to please and has a knack for numbers.
“I need you on special assignment, rookie.” Pierce is looking pensively out his office window when Malloy enters.
“Special assignment, sir?”
“Secret, special assignment, Malloy.” He turns and places a sealed envelope on the table. “I need you to collect everything we have on the Number Killings. Meet me at the address enclosed here. Tomorrow night. Midnight. Tell no one.”
“But sir, I thought you had been reliev-”
“Dammit, rookie! Do you want more people to die?! We need to figure out this nonsense now or we’re going to end up with dead bodies in triple digits, son!”
Malloy reluctantly agrees. He smuggles boxes of files and pictures out of the precinct late the next night and meets Pierce at an abandoned warehouse to go over the information.
For hours, the two sit at opposite tables, running numbers, delving into research, and analyzing the evidence, late into the early hours of the morning.
With a sudden energetic vigor, Malloy springs from his chair and cries out, “ASCII!”
Startled out of his analytic trance, Pierce inquires, “What did you say, Malloy?”
“ASCII! It’s a computer language that uses numbers to represent letters! Look!” Malloy pulls up a reference sheet and begins arranging numbers on Pierce’s desk. “If we take the abdomen numbers as the order, and the palm and forehead numbers as the code for the letter…”
“Malloy, you’re a genius!”
Working furiously, Pierce and Malloy clear a space on the dusty warehouse floor to lay out the pictures in sequence:
Abdomens: 6, 12, 17…
G, I, U…
4, 9, 11…
E, N, G…
In minutes, the men have spread 76 photos over a 10 foot square of the warehouse floor and scratched nervous letters on ripped sheets of notebook paper under each group corresponding to the symbol.
As they finish, Malloy stands back to survey the message.
“No…” All blood drains from his face. His legs go weak, and he collapses onto his knees. “It can’t…It just…It can’t!
Detective Pierce is wide-eyed next to Malloy’s broken form, mouth agape.
A sound from the warehouse wall rattles the building as a dozen federal agents storm the facility.
“Mother of God…” Pierce doesn’t even notice the agents. His unbroken stare is consumed by the message on the dusty warehouse floor.
Agent Rickson grabs hold of Detective Pierce. “You’re under arrest for interfering with a federal investigation and tampering with evidence.”
Malloy sheepishly confesses. “I told them everything! I told them you wanted me to take the evidence. It was a setup. I was worried about you. I’m sorry! But I never thought…oh God! What can we do?!”
Pierce is handcuffed, and as he is dragged backward from the grotesque mosaic of death, he laughs in spite of himself, “You monster…”
As he comes back to his senses, Pierce begins tearing at the agents pulling him away. He lets out a shrill, animalistic shriek…
The other agents crowd around the space on the floor that has itself become a crime scene, and in an eerie silence, they collectively ponder the ethereal message left by the elusive Numbers Killer:
“NEVER GONNA GIVE YOU UP”