Dan A. Cardoza’s most recent darkness has been published by Allegory, Honorable Mention, Aphelion, Blaze VOX, Black Petals, Bull, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights Podcast, Cleaver, Close to the Bone, Coffin Bell, Consequence, Dark City Books, Entropy, Flash Bang Mystery, Gravel, HorrorAddicts.net, Literary Heist, Mystery Tribune, New, Overstock, Suspense Magazine, Tall Tales TV Podcast, The Yard Crime Blog Variant, Visitant, and The 5-2.  

He was also nominated by Coffin Bell for the Best of the Net Anthology, 2021, and best micro-fiction by Tiny Molecules.  


by Dan A. Cardoza


“God-damned bone vandals, that makes three in six months.” Gus Ferguson was the night shift police captain with the City of Colma. Colma is a less windy, eye-blink of a city east of Interstate 280, a few miles south of San Francisco. He sucked hard on the business end of an unfiltered cancer stick, its tip amber in the gloomy fog.

“Jesus, that’s crazy,” said Detective Shanahan with his gravelly voice. It sounded raspy against the smooth calmness of early darkness. He was investigating the growing number of Bay Area homicides, each with the same glaring MO. The dead and murdered were all from the Russian Community, each victim missing arms and legs.

“This shit is gaining momentum,” said the jittery Captain.

“I hate to change the subject, Ferguson, but how many people you got here in Colma?” Detective Shanahan asked.

“Last time I checked, a thousand and change.”

“That’s all?” the detective asked, his face an unsolved Rubik’s Cube in the groping darkness.

 “Well, I’m referring to the living, Detective, in the city of Colma. If you count the ones underground, then we’re talking over a million.”

“Damned,” barked Shanahan, “that’s a shit-load of rotting bones.”

“Joe DiMaggio is out here. So is Wyatt Earp. Earp is buried over at Eternity Memorial, the Jewish cemetery.” Ferguson pushed out his invisible chest as if he had something to do with anyone’s fame.

“I never cared much for Joe DiMaggio,” grumbled detective Shanahan, sanding his whiskered chin with his knuckles. “He was such a pussy, all that carrying on after Marylyn Monroe croaked.”

Ignoring that, Ferguson asked, “Detective, can you smell it?” He inhaled deeply.

“No shit, Sherlock, why do you think the City of San Francisco wants to investigate this cemetery?”

“Speaking of San Francisco, back when they moved all the bones, a lot of burial debris went unclaimed.”

“Like what?” asked Shanahan.

“Like mausoleum bricks, markers, concrete blocks, and headstones.”

“That’s a damned shame.”

“Check this out,” Ferguson continued. “Some of the abandoned crap was used to line gutters, like over in Buena Vista Park. Much of the concrete clutter was dumped into the San Francisco Bay for the breakwater at the Aquatic Park and over at the Saint Francis yacht club; those rich, sardonic bastards.”

Detective Shanahan, unusually grumpy, needed a raise to fund his dream retirement in Idaho. “Sunz-a-bitch, that’s gross.

Ferguson asked, “Are you here because of all those cut-up Russians that keep turning up dead in the city?”

“I can’t say, Captain. This case is as tight as a frog’s ass underwater. If, or when this thing breaks, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Ok then, Detective. If I see any more suspicious behavior, I’ll give you a call.”


As a boy, Elijah displayed a passion. He’d learned everything he could about the families tailoring business in St. Petersburg, Russia. He loved working at his grandfather’s storefront locations. Early on, Eli had embraced the families tailoring legacy.

Unfortunately, nothing stays the same. Stalin’s post World War II government issued a warrant to detain Eli’s grandmother and grandfather. After their arrest, the family never heard from them again. Throughout all the grief, Eli worked long hours in the family’s clothing business. He had to make up for his grandfather’s absence. 

In the early ‘50s, Eli’s parents were also detained. The Jewish Community was up in arms.

After the incident, Eli’s extended family arranged to have him move to America. He wasn’t happy about the uprooting and relocation. In fact, he was broken hearted at the notion of leaving his mother and father behind in his native Russia.

Eli was sent to live with his great aunt in San Francisco. He’d be safe in America. Many had moved there before him, mostly good folk, others, informants and conspirators, intent on spending their pilfered fortunes in the west.

He presented his pass and boarded the Royal Rotterdam Lloyd M.S. Sibajak. On the first leg of his journey, Eli steamed to the Netherlands. After taking on more passengers, the ship sped off to Wellington, New Zealand. From New Zealand, it took a full month for Eli’s ship to dock in New York City. He’d thought the Statue of Liberty too casually dressed, frumpy looking.

After his arrival, friends and family assisted Eli in boarding a bus for the long journey to San Francisco. Shortly after he arrived at the Transbay Terminal on Mission and Howard Street, Eli took a cab to his great aunt’s small bungalow. Eli had concluded that his new America was too casual in dress and terribly unstructured.

Everything he owned was in his vintage steamer trunk. When the chest was built, the storage of bones had certainly not been contemplated.

A temporary move turned into eternity for Eli. Before he knew it, fifteen years had trekked across his horizon. He missed and loved his parents more with each new day.

And then the letter arrived. The dark news would alter his life. His aunt unfolded the tragic story s shortly after they’d finished dinner and dessert. Both of his loving parents had burned to death in a prison fire. Eli swore revenge. Neither the innocent nor guilty would be spared.


The year was 1967.

Elijah Kirill had grown into an independent, handsome man. He was cursed with a mission. Eli had become one of the wealthiest men in the Bay Area. He felt the need to prove to his dead mother and father, buried back in Saint Petersburg that he’d grown into a worthy son.

It would be a difficult task, but he intended to keep his word, no matter the cost.

Eli was a man who didn’t have time to date or marry, or raise a demanding family. He was too busy growing his custom suit fitting and tailoring business.

He realized years ago, as an apprentice, that a business expenses and taxes can make or break someone. And so he thought to improve the odds of success. He threw in all his savings and purchased a small two story house in Pacific Heights. The house would double as his studio.

The dark and dank basement of his home was turned into his creative studio. Underneath the one car garage, below street level, is where he performed his movie magic for the rich and famous. Eli made sure his workspace was well equipped for the level of success he coveted. One of his first purchases was a massive Vulcan four-burner stock pot stove. Next on his list, he acquired a brand new Vevor Industrial sewing machine. He found it as easy to operate as a Tesla Roadster. He knew he’d finished after his basement was successfully converted into a tailoring and meat rendering workspace.

He hunted in the streets of the city. If he ended a hunt with no prey, he would dig up bodies from Colma. Following each new grave robbery or targeted kill, Eli concentrated on the leg and arm bones. He cleaned them by using his three-gallon stainless steel stockpots. Five hours of boiling seemed just right.

He had no use for the rest of the skeleton, and so he mostly left them in the many graves in Colma. His parents had always taught Eli, “Only take what you need.”

Free of flesh, Eli dried and sanded the arm and leg bones. Afterwards, he buffed them until they reached a beautiful ecru patina. He did this by using carnauba furniture wax and a little brown shoe polish. When complete, he stored them in the large steamer trunk.

He’d always kept an assortment of Humerus, Ulan, and radius bones. Eli used the bones, along with his industry’s best practice metrics, to calibrate a suit’s arm and leg length, as well as their form and function. Exact calibrations were essential. The girth, degree of bend at the elbow and knee would determine the level of success each selected businessman acquired. After all, any world that would choose to be their oyster had steep demands.

Against the naked flesh of his best customers, he’d compare an assortment of femur, fibula, and tibia, all to secure a custom fit. How one moved in his suit, and thus their psychological disposition, was important. Not one metric of calculation would be wasted on any Beta.

As the result of sheer genius, Eli developed a mathematical matrix that would ensure his customers a perfect fit. Each suit was as important as a canvas to great art. Selecting the fabric, style, and even the thread was a pedestrian requirement of the trade, but easy-peasy. Traditional methods were used to measure a man’s chest, shoulders, and waist.

He would lecture his best paying customers that the most important aspect of a well fitted suit was how it allowed a man to carry himself. “A big heart is all fine,” he’d said, “But to climb the ladder of success, you need to display a suit’s elegant arms and legs. Everything is about how you present yourself.”

Through the introduction of style and grace, Eli successfully instilled confidence into the minds of his chosen customers, to go along with their expensive personas. Each suit, each garment, was a chariot, designed to drive a businessman into battle or expose him supremely in a victory parade.

Eli would always say, “Kind sir, if you are comfortable in your own skin, then anything is possible.” His suits made his customers filthy rich.


Eli Kirill arrived at Millennium Tower at 301 Mission Street. Millennium Tower is one of San Francisco’s most sought-after high rise living spaces. The massive building had been sinking into the ground since before it opened for business, one or two inches per year. The tower didn’t have a 13th floor; superstition, of course. Most who lived in the Millennium don’t seem mind. They were used to taking risks. They loved all the glass that stands between them and death.

The Uber driver assisted Eli in removing his collapsible aluminum hand-truck. He also assisted him in setting it up. Eli purchased the supportive apparatus at Home Depot. It weighed eleven pounds. It was designed to assist travelers to move heavy luggage around. 

The Uber driver helped load the steamer trunk onto Eli’s dolly. He then wheeled it into the lobby and onto the elevator. Eli made sure to tip him well.

A wealthy businessman named Ulan Beria answered the door at apartment 2433, on the 24th floor. He graciously invited Eli into the apartment’s opulent living space next to the elegant dining area. Mr. Beria offered Eli an imported cigar. Eli politely refused as usual and began to set up shop.

As requested, Ulan was only dressed in a wife-beater tee-shirt and a pair of baggy fitting boxer shorts. “How’s business, Eli?” he asked.

“Never been busier, sir.”

“Well, please don’t get so famous that you forget about me, Eli?”

They both chuckled, more like business acquaintances than friends.

“Eli, I wore your black suit the other day. You know the one with the blend of vicuna, qiviuk, and pashmina. It was during all my business meetings when I was in the Ukraine. The meetings were part of a global import conference. I am sure it was the suit that landed me an import contract, two shiploads of expensive goods that are to be shipped in the fall.”

“That’s nice to hear, sir.” Eli was singularly focused on unlocking his tailor trunk. He opened the arched lid and exposed the chest’s folding top shelf.

Ulan looked down at the S.H. Churchill & Co. Ivory handled tracing wheels, the fine assortment of tailor awls. “Two sets of scissors. The one set is eight inches in length. The other set, Wiss & Son’s, a razor sharp thirteen inches. That pair, Eli, looks like two German daggers welded together.”

Ulan pointed at what looked like a palm sized, triangular guitar pick “And over there, look at your C.S. Osborne Tailor Chalk That one could fit on the end of a tomahawk.”

Eli straightened his back as if he had a cramp. If it were, I would slice you in half, he thought to himself. He raised the upper shelf and gently pushed it back using its capable hinges. Out of the way, the steamer’s inner workings were exposed. Inside the large gut of the trunk were a pile of clean ecru bones, all categorized.

“Those plastic bones are the reason my family and friends use you as a tailor, Eli. It's like movie magic. Whatever the hell you do with them, it works.”

Plastic, Eli thought. If you only knew.


Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the head of Stalin’s Secret Police in the former USSR. His only son was named Timur, followed in his footsteps. Timur Beria senior was Ulan’s father. I say was because ten years prior, he’d died an untimely death.

Ulan Beria and his father arrived in America with Shakespearean blood on their hands. Blood begets blood, and so the family’s wealth was a flood. Ulan was a good student, but he was much more talented at investing the family’s rich heritage snuff money. He believed in paying it forward. After all, he had a precious son to think about.

Ulan’s singular objective in life was to leverage all the pilfered wealth his family had taken from the imprisoned or murdered in the former USSR. In California, he’d networked with other like-minded oligarchs who’d fled their respective countries, lesser men, but silent.

Many of Eli’s beloved family had been killed at the hands of the Beria family…something Eli has never forgotten.


Eli gritted his teeth and bit down hard on the pencil. He’d placed one of the femur bones up against Ulan’s thighs. Ulan smiled and looked down on Elijah. Eli was kneeling next to his work chest.

Through the crack in his teeth, Eli mumbled the words, “Forty-nine centimeters.” Then, he quickly placed the hallowed femur back in the steamer trunk. He used his iPhone calculator. Next, he extracted a radius and ulna from the organized inventory. He examined the two bones carefully. Still on his knees, he looked up at Ulan, shook his head yes, and placed the two bones back in the old chest.

“390 millimeters, we used these two last time, Ulan.” Eli jotted down his brand of calculus onto the nondescript notepad. Eli counted all his fingers and one thumb. He looked out the panoramic window as if measuring the rings of Saturn.

“That’s good?” Ulan asked. Eli didn’t answer, only nodded.

Eli hadn’t allowed much space in his vengeful mind over the years for chit-chat and humor. After all, he was a serious artist. He was the Andy Warhol of the men’s suit industry. Most in the know agreed.

Eli handled an assortment of radius, Ulna, and humerus bones. He placed one along the length of Ulan’s forearm. Next, he pressed a humerus bone against the air-conditioned flesh of Ulan’s beefy arm. After jotting down the measurements, he looked up at Ulan. Michelangelo glared at Stalin. Eli rose to his feet, “Ulan, I think we are good to go here.”

After Ulan dressed, the two sat at the elegant glass dining table and reviewed the fabric choices, the suit's design and where to place the slanted breast pocket for Ulan’s power rose.

Ulan’s ten-year-old son could be heard giggling in the shadows of the long hallway. He was an only child. Eli looked into the darkness of the corridor. It was a burly looking shadow of a boy, a chip off the old block, shoulders of a bear, and barrel-chested. He was a plump little piggy, ripe for slaughter just like his father.

Out of the blue, Eli requested his check. “Send me forty-three thousand dollars by tomorrow. You are going to die soon.”

“What?” Ulan’s voice quickly snapped, as sharp as a cracked whip. “Did I hear you correctly? Did you just say I’m going to die?”

“No sir; I said send the money fast, so I can order the fabric and cutting die soon.”

“Oh, okay then, I’m sorry for holding you up, Eli.” The boy that would be orphaned fetched his father’s checkbook.

After they’d completed their business, Ulan walked Eli to apartment’s front door. Timur, Ulan’s son wheeled Eli’s hand truck and steamer trunk to the elevator. Young Timur tugged the chest into the elevator with a puppy-dog smile.

After, Ulan insisted Eli take the expensive cigar. Ulan’s boy had tagged along. The boy pushed his father’s hand with the cigar at Eli. The boy giggled, waited.

In the lobby, Eli tossed the expensive cigar into the trash receptacle before he angrily spun himself through the glass marry-go-round exit.


Detective Shanahan inspected the two black plastic bags, each one holding a head and torso, with missing organs. He’d been down to the same Warf a month ago. This time there was one plastic bag, a torso with an attached head. Every organ had been taken, except the heart. The tempo of killings had escalated.

“Why?” Chet, his partner, asked. “Why just the torso and heads?”

“What we have are Russian oligarchs here, Chet, every god-damned one of them. We’ve known about the pattern, so it’s who, not why. Every one of them was wealthy SOB. A lot of the DNA we’ve collected over the months matches the vandalized bodies over in Colma.

“I don’t get it.” Chet said. Chet was clueless. Even Sudoku made him a nervous wreck.

“These are revenge killings, Chet. And it won’t be over until every damned one of the killer’s vengeful bitcoins is spent.”

Chet knew nothing about bitcoins. All he had on his mind was that damned Hawaiian vacation he’d been planning for years, those Mai Tai's, and all the Hula-Hoop girls who were dying to meet him.

“I’m going to place an ad in the Chronicle, Chet. Watch me.”

The Ad:

You started by stealing leg and arm bones from corpses, some clear over in Colma. That’s no secret. Eventually, you graduated to murder.

We have evidence. Turn yourself in. We will make sure you are treated respectfully.

If anyone has any information, please contact the San Francisco Police Department, day or night. Ask for Detective Shanahan.

Two years after the Chronicle ad, nothing. Then suddenly, Ulan Beria went missing.

Eventually, he was found in the Holosiivskyi National Nature Park in Ukraine. His skeleton was discovered by two horrified hikers. What was left of him was dressed to the nine’s in a brand new suit. His arms and legs were missing. He’d been eviscerated. Dental records confirmed the victim was this business executive named Ulan Beria from San Francisco. His body was returned to the USA.


Six months of grief had done nothing to relieve Timur’s pain. After all, he’d lost his father.

Timur, who’d been named after his grandfather, couldn’t stop crying himself to sleep each night. It was difficult for him and his mother to move on from such a horrible tragedy.

Three cracks at the front door woke Timur, the main lock, two dead-bolts. It’s nothing, he shouted back at his cowardly thoughts. He closed his eyes as quick as a lizard, as if he’d done this in a previous life. As a small child the same action signaled an escape into sleep. He’d set his alarm for 5:00 am, a habit for school, plenty of time to wake and get ready. Yet, the digital clock pulsed a red 2:33 am.

His heart was a Siberian Toad. It insisted on croaking in his throat. The toad clawed against the raw flesh of his rib cage. Seriously he thought to himself. What is all this anxiety about?

Timur’s fear grew retrograde primordial. It was the kind of fear that doesn’t follow orders from higher reasoning. Its existence was instantaneous, instinctual and reptilian.

The moon through the kitchen window was a frozen Scythe. It reflected an ambient light that was created by an invisible sun, light years away. Each and every being or object in the long hallway was backlit. Every shadow that was cast turned into liquorish taffy.

Each silhouette in the funhouse corridor stretched in the direction of Timur. In the young boy’s mind, one shadow in particular stood out.

Timur sat straight up in his bed. He’d decided that he wasn’t going to die lying down. He pressed his sweaty back against the coolness of the expensive headboard. His skull emptied of thought vibrated out of control against the exotic wood. This erratic terror had turned into a jungle drum. His mind dissolved into a poisonous tidal pool that ebbed and flowed in time-lapse videography.

Attached to this futuristic Slender Man shadow was a long arm that span eight feet down the hall. Connected to the elongated arm was a hand. The hand stretched three feet in distance. The hand was gripping a three foot Fillet Knife.

The elongated shadow extended itself down the hall in the direction of the boy’s bedroom. The beginning of dawn extended the length and sharpness of the knife. The knife’s shadow glinted.

In Russia, a son inherits his father’s guilt. Timur readied himself to give up his life. He was a strong boy, and he intended to honor his father’s legacy. He was bright, knew enough that a debt had to be paid. 

The toad n Timur’s throat ripped itself free and leapt to the ceiling after his alarm blew off. It was a fire alarm, as signal too late to save him. In his self-imposed purgatory, he imagined himself stranded on an island named honor and horror.

He found his feet on the floor. He forced his steps through the bedroom doorway and down the long carpeted hall toward the modern kitchen, and its dark window. The kitchen had begun to inhale dawns light. The same light that hinted at a beautiful view of the panoramic city. The boy had the taste of rust in his dry throat. But, he was alive.

He locked his eyes onto the brilliant red rose that has been displayed on the black granite counter. He likened the rose to a corpse on a slab at the morgue.

The rose’s cape had created a long shadow. The long shadow appeared as a silhouette of a bat frozen in flight. Just for an instant, Timur’s heart stopped, skipped a few beats. He looked over his shoulder at nothing but the charcoaled vapors of emptiness.

He wanted so badly to believe that a debt had been paid. And so, he destroyed the rose, dealing its petals as discarded playing cards into the trash can under the sink. Each card was a black spade. Somehow, he knew this would assist his emotional healing. After all, he was still alive. Whatever had come to kill him had vanished.


In the next few months, March made room for April. The killings had come to an abrupt end. It was a time for renewal.

Before April was finished, Detective Shanahan broke protocol and made arrangements to meet Eli at the flower garden in Golden Gate Park.

Detective Shanahan greeted Eli. Somehow he knew him. Eli was sitting calmly on his steamer trunk, with the folding transport dolly flat on the grass next to the steamers side panel. He was on this dry grassy knoll overlooking spring as it showed off the flower garden.

“Aren’t the new flowers dazzling Detective, the roses, daffodils, and the tulips? They seem to dance in the cities predictable wind.” Eli was sipping at his Starbucks Chai Latte, 190-degrees.

“The best,” said detective Shanahan. 

The fog had been waiting patiently for both of them.

“I would have gotten your usual, Detective Shanahan, a Grande, hot Blonde Roast. But I thought it might get cold. I’ve seen you and your family on occasion at the Starbuck’s on Fillmore.”

Detective Shanahan paused. In some sort of twisted way, he was thankful and intended to let Eli know this.

“How about we stop on the way to my office when you are ready, Eli? You can buy me a cup of java then? How does that work for you?”

“Deal,” said Eli. “I am finished with what I set out to do. All my family needed, Officer, was a little respect and compassion. I extended that to my enemy’s son when I decided to spare him. Now we are even.”

“I’m sure,” said detective Shanahan. “Tell me all about it.”

“Sometimes life can make you feel as though you are piloting a boat in the fog.”

“How so, Eli?”

“It’s like everything in front of you in the distance doesn’t exist unless it’s in the light of your lantern. That’s usually enough to guide you where you need to go. But sometimes, you can get lost, begin to enjoy the act of killing and consuming, learn the comfort of being lost in the darkness and fog. ” 

The two men chatted for a few hours, mostly about suits and detective work. There was plenty of time for Shanahan to get a full statement back at the station.

As they departed the park, Detective Shanahan offered, “Here, Eli, I’ll help you with your steamer trunk.”

The Detective squirmed into a pair of blue medical gloves, readied the hand truck, allowing Eli to position the heavy steamer trunk onto the dolly’s platform. Detective Shanahan had solved his case.

Flash Forward:

A lot has gone down over his forty-year career. Civilian Shanahan is retired, of course. He’s sitting in a fishing boat, on a lake, perfectly located in a forest near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The morning is exquisite.

He’s going to miss his yearly visit with Eli at San Quentin. Eli had died in the infirmary.

Retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There aren’t many mysteries in Idaho unless you can figure out how to catch those damned trout. Later in the day, a consuming fog rolls over the lake.