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The following is a work of fiction. All names, characters, incidents, and places are either the product of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, business enterprises, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Suitable for ages 13+





Synopsis:

Tic . . . Toc . . . Tic . . . Toc . . .

A ruthless killer lurks within the shadows of Somerset, New Jersey, elusively masterminding his every step, persistently taunting Chief Williams and his elite investigative team. Angry over the loss of his close friend Dianne, the Chief promises her husband, Dr. Summers, that he’ll avenge her death.

Jack Trempton has barely recovered from the loss of Dianne, a high school flame, only to discover his girlfriend, Jackie Stolths, harbors a dark secret.

Suspect, Charles Staples, performs a daring escape and the Chief receives another threatening letter.  

 . . . the killings continue




Chapter 1
 

A sadistic grin crossed his face as strokes from the fountain pen continued to smear the white canvas. 


Dear Chief:

Voices in my head that want her dead,
All her troubles have come to an end.
With the light of God her sins will expire,
A knife through her heart has ended her desires...

His brow furrowed as he remained pensive, slowly replaying the images in his mind one frame at a time. A sinister look crossed his face, and he felt a deep inner gratification. Satisfied, he then slowly rose from his seat ready to surrender to a good night’s rest. 

Tic ...Toc…Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…

Exuding a cool persona, shielded behind his shades, Jack sprinted out the front door slamming its solidness firmly shut. Still gripping the door’s handle, a strong resonance streamed throughout his entire body. This unwelcome sensation lasted only a split second, before Jack locked the front door and deposited the key into his left pocket.

Unexpectedly, a chilly fall crept onto the citizens of Somerset, New Jersey. As Jack stepped into the open, he noticed the sun’s rays had already cast shadows, but welcomed its radiating heat beaming down on the back of his neck. He took several deep breaths filling his lungs with the morning’s crisp air. It was a picture perfect day for his morning jog, and Jack had just missed the hustle and bustle of commuters driving to work and children waiting for school buses.

A black ominous shadow was nearly covered by Jack’s next footstep. Harboring an irreverent presence, its sudden loud mournful cries cranked Jack’s neck high into the sky. It emerged without any warning, something evil, which would prey on the unsuspecting.

A raven perched itself high on a tree branch, leaving him temporarily immobilized by its contemptuous piercing glare. Jack was left gazing helplessly into the bright blue sky trying hopelessly to come to terms with his past. Caught in a daze, he quickly rebuked himself.

Jack Trempton continued with his light stretching, pausing briefly to absorb the morning’s beauty before beginning with his lengthy jog. He took immense pride in his physique much like his heydays in college; Jack’s motto had always been a healthy heart equals a healthy mind.

Much time had elapsed from his glory days, and at thirty-eight he still maintained a youthful appearance. Just eclipsing the six foot mark, Jack stood tall with a muscular build and a well-chiseled chest. Jack often broke free from his hectic schedule and set sail during the summer months giving him a healthy tan. Although he often remained unaware, many young women were mesmerized by his good looks and charming personality.

He felt beads of perspiration forming as he brushed back a mass of black wavy hair which cascaded slightly over his forehead, softening his sharp angular features. Jack’s agility and speed allowed him to speedily capture several streets before reaching the park’s entrance. It was his preferred route, although a couple of other accesses to the park existed. Except for a few of the park’s small inhabitants, the park remained virtually sound asleep.

His senses deepened, allured by the beauty of the transitional seasons. The leaves instead of being uniform and unvaried were dressed in beautiful variegated russets and gold tones. Scattered indiscriminately, they covered the park’s surface like a picturesque handwoven blanket. It was a splendid time of the year to experience such a stunning masterpiece of nature, unequalled in richness by any other season. Jack’s nimble strides propelled him briskly across the terrain. He got a rush hearing the crisp crunching sounds of the lifeless leaves underfoot. Justice didn’t serve well as nature’s twisted irony baffled Jack’s sense of logic and sound reasoning. Leaves had always fascinated him by their ability to transform into more vibrant and colorful tones, whereas roses simply continue to shrivel, withering into obscurity.

Pausing briefly to catch his breath, Jack supported himself against a tree trunk. Tilting his head slightly, a bright smile lit Jack’s face. The squirrels were dancing gracefully from branch to branch without missing a beat. They lived in harmonious cohabitation with a wide variety of bird species whose melodies filled the air with beautiful songs. Although, Jack’s favorite was observing the ducks swimming rhythmically downstream, while at the same time being enchanted by the sounds of rushing water.

Jack picked up a little bit of speed before reaching an incline. His heart rate accelerated from this exertion, and he breathed a sigh of relief having reached peak, although this was short-lived. Oh no, thought Jack. Renewed anxiety set in upon spotting Sandy approaching like a speeding bullet. A quick flashback of the previous week caused Jack to quickly brace himself, just as Sandy’s paws came thundering up against his chest. Her tail wagged exultantly from side to side.

“Hey girl, you’re looking bright and cheerful this morning,” exclaimed Jack trying to be a good sport, while continuing to stroke her gingerly behind the ears. Sandy was a friendly tri-colored German Shepherd with a lot of spunk and great zeal for life.

Brad finally caught up to his dog. “Sorry Jack, I hope she hasn’t soiled your shirt. Sandy just becomes terribly excited every time she sees you,” apologized Brad somewhat flushed.

“Ha -- you mean this old rag,” teased Jack with a light chuckle.

“I guess with the nice weather, you’ll continue to jog for the next little while,” commented Brad while Sandy sniffed the ground near him.

“You bet, there’s no better way to begin my day,” conceded Jack.

“In a few months, it’ll be much more difficult tracking through the park, especially with snow knee-deep.” Brad turned his gaze towards the bottom of the valley.

“Yeah, but I’m sure Sandy will be up for the challenge,” reassured Jack.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched his dog’s attention drawn to a dainty brown squirrel, which darted up an elm tree. She stretched her front legs up the tree desperately trying to reach it, while barking non-stop. Jack and Brad laughed, bemused by her vain efforts. Brad whistled loudly a few times, but grew increasingly frustrated by her disobedience.

“Sandy come!” Disappointed, Brad decided to take a firmer stance. He jogged over and tugged at Sandy’s brown leather collar. “Go fetch girl,” Brad tossed the Frisbee high into the sky.

Sandy’s attention reverted back to the flying object spinning dizzily out of control. Particles of dust and grass flew up in the air as Sandy sped off to intercept her target. Her body became airborne leaving Jack to admire her brilliance in co-ordination. Her launch had been deadly accurate; the swirling Frisbee came to an abrupt halt clenched in-between Sandy’s jaws. She sped back to her master anticipating another toss.

“Good girl,” Brad acknowledged petting Sandy’s head. He waved the Frisbee high above his head and watched her excitedly bounce up and down, before tossing it to Jack.

“Wow, she’s impressive. Have you ever considered entering her in a dog show?”

Jack unleashed all his power into the Frisbee, sending it soaring towards the clouds. In this instance, out of sight didn’t mean out of mind, Sandy continued in hot pursuit. She sprung forward, reaching full speed after only a few strides.

“Actually, I entered her in a local show two months ago and she finished first,” Brad beamed radiantly. Brad was a much smaller man in both height and stature. In his mid-forties, he sported a moustache and a thinning hair line.

The bright Frisbee lay stark on the pale sand, just shy of the meandering river. It lay immediately in front of Sandy just begging to be sent soaring back into flight. Oddly enough, Sandy acted indifferently, apparently distracted by some unknown force. She repeatedly circled around it, but dared not touch it.

Jack glanced at his Swiss watch, and was surprised by his tardiness, “Well, I should be heading home.”

“Take care, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Brad admired Jack’s speed.

Jack be swift; Jack be quick, thought Jack as he tracked back.

Brad looked around, but oddly enough his dog had vanished much like the flying Frisbee. His heart sank. “Sandy, Sandy!” shouted Brad at the top of his lungs. He immediately rushed towards the hill, instinctively fearing something was amiss.

Sandy remained in a fixed stance behaving rather uneasy; her back legs trembled uncontrollably. She sniffed the air aggressively while continuously twitching her nose. Brad held a confused look. Oddly, Sandy remained motionless adjacent to the riverbed. Without any warning, she became riled and began barking aggressively, leaving Brad totally perplexed. “Let’s go!” he commanded sternly wondering what the hell she was barking at. But before he could even flinch, Sandy began to dig furiously. Brad immediately took cover and stepped back as a sandstorm ensued. “Hey, cut that out!” It was very disturbing, not to mention disheartening observing his dog’s erratic behavior. Within seconds she managed to unearth a mound of dirt. Brad made the mistake of trying to pull her away.

“Errr…” A flash of a full set of teeth jolted him back.

“Easy girl,” Brad shielded himself wondering if his dog had gone completely mad. He cautiously backtracked towards the river feeling quite anxious. Inadvertently, he strode too close to the riverbed and suddenly felt his feet sinking into the wet sand. “Whoa,” Brad quickly steadied himself nearly taking a plunge.

The softness of the ground made it much trickier to regain control, and during early spring this feat would have been unimaginable, not to mention treacherous. The riverbank swelled into a raging torrent and one could easily be swept underneath the powerful current.

 

Jack reached for the water dispenser to pour himself a tall glass of ice-cold water. He chugged it down quickly. “Ahhh,” sighed Jack. It felt refreshing flowing down his overheated body and he then waved the glass across his forehead appreciating its coldness. Satisfied, he placed the glass on the Venetian granite countertop.

He rewound his answering machine and was surprised to see there were no new messages. Jack wondered if John was still planning to join him for dinner.

It was evident that Jack took pride in decorating his home. The theme of gold and brown tones carried into the living room. The room was bright and lively as the morning sunshine flooded through a large bay window. He turned on the high-definition TV while enjoying his morning fix. It was hooked up to the state of the art surround sound system creating a dynamic 3-dimensional effect. The total impact was so inspiring that it cast Jack into a fantasy dream-like state. Many mornings, he found himself dozed off on his favorite buttery-soft brown leather recliner. After listening to the morning news, Jack sprung from his seat and stepped into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

Even though Jack had a hectic schedule, he still managed to find some downtime. He recalled one day in particular. A large crowd was poised in front of the pet store, and Jack’s curiosity lured him in that direction. Now in the thick of the crowd, he observed her attracting a lot of attention. She constantly repeated ‘good mornin’’ to all the passers-by, immediately captivating Jack’s heart. Being a bachelor, he was determined on gaining a friend. He received a crash course on her diet, and gladly left with a new friend. The six foot enclosure was placed next to the bay window, giving his friend a panoramic view. Feeling a touch guilty seeing her enclosed in a steel cage, Jack relieved his conscience by letting her fly freely while at home.

Clothed in a dazzling display of beautiful bright colors, Tara was predominantly green, with a sunshine yellow head, and had a dab of red splashed on both wings. After only a couple of months, she became really fond of Jack. She unmistakably recognized the sounds of Jack’s footsteps upon his arrival. They were unique, much like a set of fingerprints.

Perched smartly on the Manzanite wood next to her latch, Tara anticipated liberation. Upon seeing him, she would shrill ‘Jack swift; Jack quick’. Jack’s laughter echoed emphatically upon hearing his darling little friend. She thrived on their friendship and all the affection thrown her way, and became increasingly jealous during the presence of visitors. Cautiously, Tara would smartly perch herself on his shoulder keeping everyone at bay, but while alone she felt less threatened and would settle herself on the top of a chair opposite to him.

Jack finished his breakfast and headed upstairs. Although a little shocking at first, a cold shower felt really invigorating, giving him a much needed boost for the day.

As he stepped outside, Jack didn’t notice its ominous shadow. Overhead, it silently kept watch. He slid into the driver’s seat of his sporty 2006 BMW convertible, and cruised along Maple Avenue. Driving mostly on local streets, he rarely experienced the thrill of greater speeds possible only on highways. It was a short pleasant drive to work with surrounding areas still remaining untouched. The area was marked by gently rolling hills covered in thick luscious grass. Rock gardens and flower beds provided interesting highlight points, while spruce and maple trees accentuated the landscape. Jack never grew tired of this route, since it was not only the shortest but also the most breathtaking. The morning traffic was congested more than usual. Jack continued to travel east on Bramgate Drive, then steered smoothly, handling a sharp right turn on Mount Pleasant Lane, leading him into Fernheight’s Security Depot.

“Good mornin’ sir -- may I please see your security pass?” asked the spectacled patrol officer in a heavy southern drawl. “Thank you Mr. Trempton and would you please place your hand up to ---” Jack’s hand was already against the digital scanner confirming his identity. “Thank you sir,” responded David embarrassed.

Jack drove through the open gate and parked in his reserved space.

 

Brad was still gasping for air as he stared at Sandy in disbelief. “What the hell has gotten into you?” he cursed.

Trembling, covered in wet sand, Sandy slowly crawled back and let forth a succession of yowls. Suddenly, Brad turned around with a look of dismay, “Jesus Christ! What …” Slowly, but surely, everything was beginning to make sense. It still remained indiscernible, obscured by much sand. He tried to take a closer look, but the stench was unbearable. Brad nearly gagged. Hurriedly, he backed away. Glancing over to his left, Sandy looked very apprehensive. She whimpered while remaining crouched over in a low stance. “It’s okay girl, it’s okay,” he petted her gently trying to calm her down.

Brad frantically reached into his pocket barely controlling his trembling hand as he dialed 911. “Damn static, just my bloody luck.” Unable to connect, he once again fumbled with the keypad. “Come on, come on. Unbelievable -- why is this happening?” He desperately raced uphill to reach higher ground.

“He-hello,” Brad’s nervousness was clearly evident. The words stuttered from his nerve-rattled jaws.

“Hello -- sir, please calm down. What’s wrong?” the voice at the other end keenly sensed his distress.

“There’s something … there seems to be … well I just happened …,” his incoherent rambling continued unabated until a firm voice interrupted him at the other end.

“Is someone in trouble?” the dispatcher awaited a reply, but was just left hanging in suspended animation. “Is someone in trouble?” she repeated hoping to prompt a timely response. She was beginning to lose her patience. Finally after a lengthy wait, Brad’s voice eclipsed the line’s static.

“No, my dog started acting crazy. Then she went totally berserk,” muttered Brad.

“Did she attack someone?” her voice sounded shaky.

“No, Sandy would never hurt anyone,” the inflection in his voice emphasized this point.

“Please sir, take a moment and relax,” she suggested.

Brad remained jittery, and barely managed to whisper. “There’s a corpse at Stetson Highland Park by the riverbed.”

“I’m dispatching the police immediately. In the meantime, please try to remain calm. I’ll remain on the line with you,” she reassured. The conversation was mostly one-sided, since Brad was too distressed to say much of anything, and instead paced about nervously.

 

Shortly afterwards, and much to his relief, he could hear the wailing sirens approaching closer and closer. Brad saw four uniformed officers standing on the hilltop. They soon spotted him. Two of the officers quickly descended the hill encircling the partially unearthed figure. But they were careful not to approach too closely, fearing they could destroy vital evidence. Brad finished his phone conversation as the other two officers headed towards him.

“Are you Brad?” a burly officer asked in a husky tone while pulling out a pad of paper from his back pocket.

“Yes,” responded Brad rather timidly, already feeling drained.

“Can I see some ID?” The younger officer wearing shades seemed rather anxious to unravel the mystery cut in, “Please tell us what happened?”

“We were tossing the Frisbee.”

The older officer scouted the area, “Sorry, but is there someone else?”

“I usually bump into Jack while exercising my dog. She’s quite fond of him, and was enjoying retrieving the Frisbee. But he left before she began acting strangely,” explained Brad.

“Do you come to the park often?” the older officer continued to probe.

“Yes, it gives my dog a chance to keep fit,” Brad was overwhelmed by the whole situation.

“Well, she has certainly gotten her exercise today. Have you noticed anything unusual lately?” The officer detected a strained look on Brad’s face.

“No. I usually come early morning around eight, while the park is still fairly quiet,” explained Brad.

“Do you usually come alone?” There seemed to be no end to his voracious appetite for answers.

An eerie feeling that he was a potential suspect was setting in. “Not always. Sometimes, my wife joins me for a morning stroll. We live just a couple of blocks from here,” indicated Brad. The officer continued to ask Brad numerous questions, before handing back his ID.

“You are free to go now, but we may need to contact you later.”

“No problem,” Brad made off quickly still overwhelmed by the whole situation.

The other officers were to section off the area with yellow tape. Brad heard one of them stating that the park would be closed pending an investigation. Just a few feet away another officer was busy calling the coroner’s office. A special team would be assigned to the murder investigation.

“For the last time, stand back,” an exasperated officer pleaded with onlookers. The crowd was eventually ordered to leave the park.

 

Jack walked through Fernheights’s corridor, his clean-shaven reflection shot back at him from the granite floor. The lobby was spacious with light streaming through the domed glass ceiling. He admired the cascading motion from the twin waterfalls.

He pushed the button and rode the elevator to the third floor. The delightful aroma of fresh coffee saturated the air as Jack stepped into his suite.

“Good morning Samantha,” greeted Jack.

“Good morning Jack, I’ve just prepared some fresh coffee.” She gazed into his dazzling emerald eyes.

“Thanks.” Samantha was a real beauty; she had the ability to make men’s hearts beat just a little quicker. Jack’s mind was often distracted by her presence. He really wanted to get to know her better, but thought it best not to mix business with pleasure.

Samantha had been the receptionist at Fernheights for over three years, landing her job not only for her talents but also for her warm personality. She was looking forward to dancing at her favorite local nightclub, La Cabana, later that evening.

“Good morning, Samantha,” acknowledged Yvonne.

“Good morning,” responded Samantha.

“Did you retrieve the files I requested?” Yvonne asked while walking towards her desk.

“Yes, they’re on your desk,” Samantha snubbed her nose as Yvonne walked away. There goes Miss Prissy, never even bothered to ask how my weekend was or how I was doing, thought Samantha. Samantha was bored from the same routine. Lately, she had other career aspirations in mind, and the title of Office Manager had a much nicer ring. Soon I plan to stand in your shoes, Samantha smiled slyly. As Office Manager, Yvonne Wright hadn’t a clue her job was being coveted, nor was she aware of Samantha’s true feelings.

Jack settled back in his leather recliner enjoying the soft music playing in the background. He flicked on his computer and a high-pitched voice prompted him which files needed to be retrieved. His computer was connected to a giant wall-sized screen impressing clients with visual presentations. As Marketing Director, conferences were often conducted in his office.

As Jack’s eyes remained glued to the flat screen, Scott Matheson, the Executive Director at Fernheights, walked into his office. In his late fifties, tall, rugged looking, and topped off with a husky build, Scott could be quite intimidating.

“Good morning Jack, how was your weekend?” asked Scott, startling Jack.

“Good morning, my weekend was blasé,” Jack confessed. “Luckily, it gave me the opportunity to nearly wrap up Tormac’s file.”

“Well, I’ve just reviewed it and your ideas are exceptional. Would you be able to finalize everything today and drop it by my office later?” there was a trace of urgency in his voice.

“Sure, I just need to make some minor revisions,” responded Jack confidently.

Over the last couple of months, Jack poured his heart and soul into the project. Drawing his ideas on paper was not within Jack’s realm. He counted on Henri Levine, a graphic artist, to capture his ideas on paper. Over the years, they had become good friends. Jack had introduced Yvonne to Henri, and they had hit it off from day one.

Scott was about to make a call when Jack knocked on his door. “Please come in,” invited Scott.

“Here you go,” Jack handed him the file.

The mall was being transformed from a mid-range to a high end market. “The skylights will certainly brighten things considerably,” noted Scott.

“New prominent retailers have already jumped on board,” Jack stated enthusiastically.

Scott’s euphoria was in full display. “Very well done, well done indeed,” commended his boss.

 

A police officer kept watch from the top of the hill. He escorted the forensic team to the body, which now lay partially exposed at the bottom of the valley near the river.

Tim pulled out his Nikon and snapped some shots of the crime scene. Careful not to destroy any vital evidence, each of Tim’s steps were carefully calculated. He noted the dog’s imprints all over the sand.

“Too bad they’re not human prints, or we might have a good lead to go on,” Tim said mordantly.

Anne shot him back a quick glance. “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy,” she scoffed.

Tim was a seasoned veteran who left nothing to chance, but analyzed everything in minute detail. He couldn’t help but wonder if the dog had destroyed any clues, while at the same time realizing that if it wasn’t for Sandy the body would still be buried deep beneath the sand. Time was an important factor, and with each passing moment crucial evidence would be lost forever.

Tim paused momentarily noting the unusual positioning of the head; the victim’s head lay perpendicular to the running water. He frowned while pondering this for a brief moment. “Did you guys notice something odd?” he quizzed.

“Like what?” Anne looked puzzled.

“Look how the body has been positioned.” Anne and Mike stared dumbfounded.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Mike cut in.

“Perhaps, the water spilling over the head is symbolic to that of a religious ceremony,” Tim conjectured.

“Oh,” Anne paused. “I never even thought about that, but you might be onto something,” she reasoned.

Tim continued shooting photographs while Anne and Mike hauled a dozen different tools and set them down on the sand. They fervently swiped their nets over the corpse to collect insects. Different insect colonization and larvae would provide the team with vital clues. It would help determine whether the body had been transported after death, and how long she’d been dead.

Mike raised the glass and examined the contents; he was quite knowledgeable about insects and confidently identified them as skuttle flies. With careful strides, they closed in from different angles trying to determine how to unearth the corpse without disturbing it. Experience told them they would remain at the crime scene for at least several hours. It was now just shortly after 1:00.

Anne held the trowel-like tool trying to unearth some of the sand away from the face. She placed a sample into a tube to be brought for testing. The body had been wrapped in a cloth, which was quickly deteriorating. Dropping the trowel back into a pail, she reached for a soft nylon brush and gently brushed the sand away from the forehead. Clusters of hair covered the face, although the sand made it difficult to decipher the victim’s hair color. Anne noted the bloated greenish color of the victim’s face, indicative that the victim had been buried recently.

Right next to her, Mike quietly toiled with knees already buried in sand. “I think I’ve found something,” he announced excitedly. Anne stopped in her tracks.

“Yeah, she’s holding something, but it’s hard to tell with all this dirt.” Tim squinted unable to make out the object.

“Here use this brush, we don’t want anything destroyed,” offered Anne. With steady hands, Mike diligently brushed for what seemed like eternity.

Three sets of eyes stared with equal intensity. “Gees, that almost looks like some sort of twig,” Anne surmised.

After several more careful strokes, it stood in plain view. What once had been a bright lively red rose was now shriveled into a brownish–wine color.

Momentarily, they all remained pensive, before a bewildered expression took hold of them. Mike was simply revolted, “One thing is for damn sure; whoever we’re dealing with is one deranged whacko.” He couldn’t understand how someone could take another person’s life and then have the audacity to leave a love object behind. Anne could not help but notice Mike’s exasperated expression.

“I can’t put aside this nagging feeling that this is just the beginning. If he’s psychotic, there’ll be more brutal slayings,” forewarned Tim. “We’ll need to handle it carefully,” he advised.

“Use these tweezers,” suggested Anne. Carefully, Mike lifted the rose and placed it into a cardboard box.

“Jesus Christ!” yelled Tim clearly frustrated, he bolted up and flung his arms in the air. A grimaced expression enhanced his weathered face, revealing his apparent disgust.

Anne and Mike studied the opening. With the opposite end of the tweezers, Mike gently lifted the seared blouse. The incision measured over two inches.

“Is the killer trying to make a point, or was he simply enraged?” Tim looked puzzled.

“Maybe both,” Mike’s mind drifted weighing different scenarios.

The skies seemed to shift; overcast replaced the blue horizon.

“The forecast is calling for rain later this afternoon. We need to move quickly,” Mike interjected.

In unison, they moved back to the corpse. Miraculously, the body remained in a relatively preserved state. Judging by the fact the body was still quite discernible, it must have been buried fairly recently. The decomposition process had been significantly reduced by the very dry summer, leaving the body fairly intact.

Her hands were clasped together. Anne took over Tim’s previous position. She gently feathered away traces of debris around the fingers. An odd mystified feeling swept through her. She could not explain it, but somehow instinctively knew they would uncover something. Her hands were in full display, and they waited until Tim snapped more close-up photos. Anne carefully lifted the victim’s left hand. An ivory rosary dangled from the corpse’s clutched fingers. Her intuition proved correct. Weird, thought Anne, how the hell did I pick that up?

All three of them were baffled by this latest discovery and hadn’t even noticed the officer descending the steep hill. The maggots had been thriving on her flesh, nearly reducing her hands to mere bones. As grains of sand fell off, sparkles of bright colors beamed from her diamond ring. It was impossible to miss the nails; they had grown long, curly, and pointed. They were intertwined around the rosary, clutching it tightly. As Anne fumbled to unravel the rosary it accidentally caught on to one of the victim’s fingernails. Anne cringed. “Damn unbelievable!” Feeling guilty, she cursed loudly. “Crap -- the entire nail has just snapped off.”

“Umm, place it in here and we’ll place the ring in this other plastic bag,” Mike held open a plastic bag.

“It looks like you guys could sure use a break,” stated the officer. “I’m going for coffee. What can I get you guys?”

Mike and Tim turned to Anne. “A coffee with cream, please.”

“Cream, double sugar for me,” answered Mike.

“Black coffee for me and a chocolate donut,” Tim said half-laughingly. “Well if anyone cares for the perfect recipe for a pot belly, it’s the following: one pot belly equals two too many donuts,” Tim joked, lightening the mood.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the officer stated.

A few drops of rain fell and they tried to unearth the remaining dirt as quickly as possible. The face could still be discerned, although it had decomposed slightly leaving darkened sockets. The body was clothed in full length sleeves and ankle length pants concealing any other markings or disfigurements. Mike wondered if she was fully intact. Two feet of sand had already been removed around the perimeter of the body, exposing considerable moisture close to the earth’s base. This was natural due to the close proximity to the river.

With all their combined experience none of them had seen anything quite like this before. The murderer not only made a point of marking his victim, but sure went through a lot of trouble burying her. Why not just dump her body? Perhaps, it was some sort of sacred ritual? It was still early in the investigation, and for now there were far too many questions and no answers.

The officer returned with their coffees, and one donut.

They removed their gloves and masks. Anne felt the strain in her legs; it was strenuous tucking her six foot frame for so long. “Damn, I think I have a kink in my leg,” she complained momentarily losing her balance.

“This donut is mouth-watering,” hints of chocolate glaze were smeared around Tim’s mouth. A smirk flashed across his partners’ faces.

Thunder erupted from the ominous skies. Moments later, a lightning bolt shot perilously close to them.

“It’s going to start pouring any minute,” Mike frantically stated the obvious.

“There’s not enough time to retrieve the body,” Anne panicked.

“Damn! We have no choice, but to cover her up again,” just the thought disturbed Tim.

“We better hurry up,” Anne added. They partially refilled the shallow grave; the rain intensified. Pressed for time, they laid a tarp over the burial area. It began pouring.

They made a quick break for the hill. Rain pelted down against their fatigued bodies. It was difficult for them to breathe against the heavy rainfall, suffocating the air supply from within them. An officer tried offering them umbrellas, but the gale winds created havoc with them. The incline was slick and treacherous causing them to slide, but some force guided them safely to the hill’s peak. Another greater peril was now in their midst, and ultimately fate would play out its hand. Their lives were in real jeopardy and the enemy literally unstoppable. They could only run as there was nowhere to hide. Haphazardly, they navigated their way blindly relying mostly on instinct. The sky became brightly illuminated by a multitude of lightning flashes, followed by deafening bolts of thunder. Fearing the worst, they quickened their pace hoping to avert a possible tragedy. They had lost sight of one another, but no one dared to look back. A dark eerie silence followed. 

 


 


Chapter 2
 

Jack flicked on the TV while coating the ribs. “I’ve got sunshine on a rainy day,” he hummed. Unlike many men he knew, cooking was a real joy for him. Jack froze in his tracks. The brush remained suspended in mid-air as he listened attentively.

“A middle-aged man was found dead earlier today. His remains were found underneath an old maple tree. Apparently, the man appears to be the tragic victim of a wicked lightning storm. He was found curled up, as though desperately trying to seek refuge from the storm, but the exact cause of death will be determined following an autopsy report. His identity won’t be released until his next of kin have been notified. This unfortunate occurrence reminds us we should never take Mother Nature too lightly,” the reporter continued sheltered by an umbrella just as the police prepared to place the corpse into a body bag.

Jack was repulsed and clicked the TV off. He placed the ribs in the oven along with the baked potatoes, and then sliced the whole wheat bread. Everything would be ready before John’s arrival.

“Tara, you rascal! What’s our guest going to think if he sees only a crust of bread,” Jack scolded his feathery friend.

Tara swooped down in a second valiant attempt to snatch another morsel of bread.

“Now you stop that and behave yourself!”

“Beehve self, beehve self,” Tara mimicked.

Jack was amused. Tara’s imitation acted like a domino effect, each day, increasing his adoration for her. He was about to double-check on the ribs, when he thought he heard the front doorbell ringing. John must have arrived, thought Jack.

Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…

“Hey, just in time, please come in,” welcomed Jack. Jack was about to slide the closet door open to hang John’s jacket, but oddly only the staggering movements of a well-built figure was reflected in the eight foot length closet mirror. “Excuse me for a minute while I grab the newspaper; I see it on the other side of the driveway.” Make yourself comfortable -- I’ll be back in a minute,” stated Jack as he headed out.

“Daddy’s home,” Tara stated perched on a chair post.

“Say hi to John,” pleaded Jack. Tara remained silent staring seemingly into space, oblivious to his presence. This troubled Jack and he looked momentarily confused, but he dismissed it as an isolated incident.

The tantalizing aroma fueled John’s already voracious appetite. “Well something sure smells awfully good, I hope you didn’t go through too much trouble,” remarked John. A half bottle of whiskey sat on the countertop with a partially filled glass next to it.

Jack chortled, “No trouble at all. Spareribs and potatoes are tonight’s specialty. If Tara doesn’t eat the entire loaf, we may have some bread with our meal.” Jack became aware that Tara wasn’t perched on his shoulder like she normally did during the presence of other guests. He pondered this for a brief moment watching her nibble on a snatched morsel, perched directly across from him.

“Ha-ha...” now it was John’s turn to laugh. He found Tara quite adorable and occasionally would sway her gently on her little swing. Ironically, besides Jack, he was the only one that Tara seemed to like and this flattered John.

“Well it’s been a while since I saw you last,” reminisced Jack.

John sighed and nodded in agreement. “Sure has been. I’ve been busy trying to keep up. I was assigned a major file and have been working around the clock for the last few months,” explained John.

“Ditto for me. It’s going to be a while before dinner is ready. We could relax and watch some television in the meantime.” Jack gestured for John to make himself comfortable on the sofa. “I’ll get us a couple of cold ones in the fridge.” He came back with two beers and turned on the TV. Jack twisted off his beer cap and cheered John. Indeed, Jack thought it was a well-deserved toast to their hard-earned success, bringing with it much respect and admiration. The beer was ice-cold just the way Jack liked it.

“Early this morning a body was found buried at Stetson Highland Park.” A bright and cheerful atmosphere was eclipsed by a dark and somber mood.

Oh shit more bad news, thought Jack.

“It was discovered inadvertently by a man playing Frisbee with his dog.” Jack’s eyes bulged. “The victim’s identity and cause of death are still a mystery. Hopefully, an autopsy will shed some light once her body is recovered. Police detectives have been sweeping the park, and the grounds will remain closed pending a thorough investigation,” the reporter was a young man in his early thirties who sounded a little nervous.

Jack continued to stare in utter disbelief. He fidgeted in his seat, “I…I was just at the park this morning, playing Frisbee with Brad’s dog.” He was so shocked with this discovery that it left him rather shaken and totally unsettled. Years ago, Jack learnt to disassociate himself, whenever confronted with an uncomfortable or painful situation.

John was taken aback. “Good God -- what happened?” John questioned.

Jack looked downward pensively while rubbing his chin. He reflected on the news, but still remained quite puzzled. “To be quite honest, I’m not exactly sure. I went out for my usual morning jog and bumped into Brad and his dog, Sandy, at the park. It was getting late, but before leaving I tossed the Frisbee to Sandy. They must have found the body afterwards.” Jack looked baffled and tried to visualize how this bizarre situation had unfolded. “I just can’t believe it; I go to that park almost every day. It’s such a beautiful and relaxing place. This is totally unbelievable, not in a million years would I have imagined something so horrid.”

John nodded in agreement. “Yeah, that’s just awful,” John was still nursing fresh wounds, which might leave him permanently scarred.

The aroma stirred Jack’s senses as he entered the kitchen to check-up on dinner. He cut a portion of the spareribs to see if they were ready. Satisfied, he removed them as well as the potatoes from the oven and they seated themselves at the kitchen table ready to feast.

“How are the ribs?” Jack asked in-between mouthfuls.

“Mmmm, they’re delicious. So where have you acquired your culinary skills?” John inquired, thoroughly enjoying his food.

“More practice than anything else,” Jack had no magic formula except for the fact that he loved to cook. A side dish of Caesar’s salad seemed to magically disappear. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Sure,” John always welcomed a fresh cup of coffee after dinner.

In a true sense, Jack and John’s life were a mirror image of one another; they both shared similar career paths, hobbies, interests, and astonishingly looked like the spitting image of each other. John like Jack was also enslaved to his career. As a financial analyst, he was a master at number crunching and would scour meticulously through a company’s books, successfully boosting a company’s profits by at least twenty percent. John’s vast business knowledge made it easy discussing different aspects of the business world. They spent hours discussing mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, and of course the stock market.

John’s parents emigrated from London, England in the late seventies. His father, Daniel was asked by his employer to immigrate overseas. The company was in expansion mode and required candidates with his expertise in America. Both of his parents were respectable hard working middle-class citizens. Daniel had worked mostly in sales promoting fine china to various retail chains. Extensive travel throughout the USA was a must, although his family unequivocally remained his first priority. Barbara cherished spending time with her only son and it wasn’t until he turned five that Barbara resumed her career as a social worker for the government.

Jack poured John’s coffee into a tall mug.

“Thanks,” John sipped it while it was still steaming hot.

John had always excelled academically and during high school the business world captivated his heart. Afterwards, he pursued his master’s degree in business and graduated with honors in 1992, the same year as Jack.

John’s vast scholastic achievements were proudly displayed within a glass enclosure in his study. The first three shelves were lined with countless trophies from having excelled at different studies, as well as his natural athletic ability, in particular his love for track and field. John’s athleticism had vastly increased his popularity with peers. Interestingly, it had been something more than just talent which attracted people to John. He possessed something rare; perhaps it was his general love for humanity. John always took time to listen to his peers’ concerns, bringing him much admiration. These attributes spilled over into his career life, and both his colleagues and his superiors were drawn to his charismatic character.

But, absolute tragedy tore his world apart four years ago, suppressing John’s passion for life. Like a mirror’s image, Jack could see the sorrow lingering behind his eyes, haunting him and tentatively holding him hostage.

John painfully remembered the events of that bone-chilling winter morning. A light dusting of snow created a magical scene often captured only on film. He enjoyed the luxury of his new black Mercedes E320, equipped with all the bells and whistles. The car symbolized prestige and power, instilling a quiet confidence in John.

The calamity occurred early one morning in late December. He arrived at work shocked to learn that a huge pane of glass had crashed down into one of the office’s suites. Oddly enough, the glass had fallen without any apparent reason. Fragments of shattered glass were scattered everywhere, including three long jagged pieces, which pierced deeply into the boardroom table, much like flying daggers. John felt quite unsettled and equated the broken glass as a bad omen. One of his co-workers was rushed by paramedics to a nearby hospital for multiple lacerations to her arm. Later, he learnt that Sharon was lucky to have escaped with only deep cuts to her right arm, barely escaping death. Inches closer, and the glass would have sliced her.

“Is everything okay?” Jack noticed John’s morbid reflection as he glanced into his shadowed eyes.

“Sorry, everything is fine; I was just thinking,” John politely feigned a smile, trying to reshift his focus from the past to the present.

John continued to remain distant as Jack prepared dessert. Tonight’s specialty was homemade apple pie with vanilla ice cream, topped off with delectable caramel sauce. It was his grandmother’s secret recipe passed down only to close family members.

John’s mind drifted helplessly back to one particular Christmas. His daughter, Alicia was the eldest of his two children and in two months she would have officially become a teenager. Alicia’s easygoing personality made her quite popular with classmates. After school, Alicia would attend ballet classes three times a week. Both children were enrolled in private school.

Timothy, Alicia’s younger brother, was just shy of his seventh birthday before catastrophe struck. In contrast to his sister’s light hair, his was ebony black. He lounged endlessly in front of the TV playing the latest video games. John’s eyes watered as he recalled the news of the tragic accident; it happened just days before Christmas. John had been working when he received a disturbing call from the hospital. The caller’s voice sounded frantic. He was told there had been an accident at his home, but refused to give John any details over the phone. John pressed him for information, but to no avail. ‘Sir, please just come quickly’, were the last words he remembered. His mind raced crazily as he drove to the hospital. John just hoped and prayed to God that everything would be fine. Ignoring all the parking prohibitions, he parked his car near the front entrance. Instinctively he rushed to the hospital’s emergency ward.

He could still remember the doctor leading him down a long corridor to a private room. The doctor had explained that a natural gas explosion had occurred at his home; the explosion caused extensive damage tearing the entire structure apart. Unfortunately, the children were inside at the time. John gasped. His eyes were fully glazed and he stared intently ahead, a man clearly in shock. Unfortunately, his only distraction from this travesty was his heart pounding heavily against his chest causing him even more discomfort. He tried lessening the pain by reassuring him that his children hadn’t suffered any pain, but had died instantly. John learned that his wife had been walking towards the house with groceries in hand at the moment of impact. She suffered numerous injuries, but was still breathing upon arrival at the hospital. They did everything humanly possible to save her, but unfortunately she succumbed to numerous internal injuries. The doctor offered his condolences and expressed his deepest sympathies. John remained speechless, almost frozen in time. He had just spoken with his wife a couple of hours earlier and her last words to him had been, ‘I love you.’ These words kept echoing in his head so clearly that his mind refused to believe it, thinking it was a terrible nightmare from which he would awaken. The horror did not register until he saw his wife’s body. He stared at her in despair. The body was badly burnt; John had been sick to his stomach. Luckily, her face was still recognizable and remained mostly intact helping him to preserve his sanity. He gently caressed her skin feeling its softness, just as he always had. Part of him wanted to scream at the top of his lungs, but instead he repeatedly stroked her silky hair while whispering her name in an agonizingly painful tone.

John’s heart raced. His watery eyes shed an endless flow of tears, and he sobbed incessantly. Those were his last moments with his wife. Ironically, her hands still remained remarkably warm. This memory remained firmly implanted in John’s mind, and occasional flashbacks renewed his sorrow. The doctor advised him against seeing the children’s bodies or what little that remained of them. Already emotionally drained and exhausted, he heeded the doctor’s advice.

John never fully recovered from his shock; his sorrow was simply unbearable and darkness cloaked his heart slipping him into a major depression. Most of his days had been spent in an eclipsed setting, with curtains drawn; even sunlight caused him great discomfort. He lacked the energy or desire to do anything, and simply stared blankly ahead, oblivious to his surroundings.

Luckily, his family stood close by him and helped him through his crises. His parents took over the household chores including all of his personal finances. John refused to seek counseling, but was on antidepressants having even lost the will to live. His mourning continued seemingly endlessly. Even though his parents were somewhat discouraged, they never lost hope and stood by him until he finally summoned enough courage to move on.

 

The richness of the rose fragrance dazzled her senses, making her feel very feminine and uninhibited. Yvonne lay in the whirlpool, lying perfectly still, letting the water’s warmth relax every inch of her body. She felt herself slip into a dreamy state with magical steam clouds rising higher and higher.

Reluctantly she stepped out of her fantasy, wrapping the towel around her shoulders and let it glide it freely down her silky-smooth streamlined body.

Despite her long days at work, she still found herself with a bountiful amount of energy. She was hopelessly in love and would constantly toss and turn just thinking of him. But despite her restless nights, Yvonne still felt refreshed in the morning. With the towel still wrapped around her, she rummaged through her walk-in closet, “No -- not this one, definitely not this one,” she let out a low laugh. Tonight, she wanted to look dazzling. She pulled out an above knee-length skirt, which would certainly accentuate her long lean legs. She then flipped through dozens of shirts and blouses which were stacked in the upper rack of her closet. She had expensive taste and constantly shopped for the latest fashions. She reached for the scoop-necked ivory cashmere sweater.

Yvonne took a quick glance into the mirror for approval and smiled confidently. Running late, she quickly brushed her shoulder length golden brown hair, which had been recently highlighted with complementary blonde streaks. She hesitated, before reaching into her makeup bag for her light coral blush. Yvonne dabbed it on lightly, giving herself a livelier complexion. She then applied her hot pink lipliner further accentuating her full lips.

Even though she had been dating Henri for a while, she still felt a touch nervous. The first time they met her heart had thumped wildly against her sweater, her stomach had been in knots. Yvonne reached over and splashed her favorite floral fragrance on each wrist. The light scent was invigorating helping to calm her shaky nerves.

 

Henri sipped his white wine quite satisfied with his selection. He glanced at his watch and smiled realizing he never grew impatient waiting for Yvonne; nonetheless, she was twenty minutes late -- it was now 7:20. Henri eased back into his chair extending his long legs beneath the table while admiring the restaurant’s elegant appearance. The chandeliers lit the room well, but still maintained a romantic ambiance. The room was painted in a gold color, cultivating a sophisticated style.

“Hello Henri,” Yvonne greeted happily. She looked radiant. He rose and gently brushed her cheek with a kiss. Henri’s dark eyes shone brilliantly, simply enchanted by her beauty.

“Ou-la-la. You look beautiful as always,” the lingering scent of her perfume stirred his senses.

“Thank you, sorry that I’m running a little bit late,” Yvonne blushed.

But you’re consistently late,” chuckled Henri. He lavished her with another kiss, but this time on the lips before returning to his seat. Yvonne’s color deepened.

“What would you like to drink?” he offered. “Perhaps you would like to try some of my white wine?”

“Mmmm, it’s actually quite good,” Yvonne enjoyed its light-bodied taste.

With a wave of his hand, Henri gestured to the waiter. His French accent was quite appealing, “The lady would like a glass of this white wine, please.”

“Certainly, are you ready to place your order?” Henri noticed the uncertainty on Yvonne’s face and asked the waiter to give them five minutes.

Yvonne loved Henri’s mannerism, especially his sexy appeal. Women constantly flirted with him, since he was tall, dark, and extremely handsome. She looked longingly into his warm eyes. He reciprocated, loving to gaze into her sparkling blue eyes. He gently pulled her to him and kissed her tenderly on the lips. “You look marvelous as always,” he complimented once again with a huge grin.

Yvonne sat speechless, overwhelmed with emotion. She couldn’t remember a time when she felt happier. Presently, everything in her life was just perfect. She was successful, had a loving family, and now had a wonderful man to share her life with. Henri was everything she’d ever dreamed of.

“The sole dipped in the wine sauce sounds delicious,” suggested Henri. Yvonne read the menu and agreed it was well worth trying.

“So how was your day?” Henri asked.

“Swamped, I can’t remember such a long and hectic day.” Yvonne sighed deeply. “I spent well over an hour looking for a client’s file. Surprisingly, it wasn’t on the corner of my desk where I usually leave it, before stepping into the washroom. Anyway, Jack had to reprint fifty pages, while we had important clients waiting well over half an hour. The boss wasn’t impressed to say the least,” Yvonne’s voice cracked, apparently stressed over the whole fiasco.

“That’s odd -- I know how extremely organized you are,” Henri observed. “Perhaps, it was accidentally misplaced,” he suggested gently. He deeply cared for Yvonne and hated to see her troubled. But privately, he couldn’t dismiss the possibility of foul play.

Henri had emigrated from France at the young age of thirteen. His father moved his family to continue his career as a civil engineer. Henri had been elated; after all some of his favorite actors lived in the glamorous USA. Up to now, his life had been generally easygoing, without too many bumps. But not until meeting Yvonne had he felt truly fulfilled.

“I’ve been thinking about you all day,” Henri reached for Yvonne’s hand. “I’ve enjoyed our time together and have grown very fond of you. I hope I’m not being too presumptuous, but I feel we have a strong chemistry; I guess what I’m trying to say is I would like to take our relationship to the next level.” Yvonne’s eyes lit up. Henri was open with his feelings, and generally expressed himself diplomatically, letting people know exactly where they stood with him. He didn’t put up a pretentious front.

Yvonne loved this facet, and despite the fact they had only dated for a few months, she felt as though she had been in love with him forever.

“How’s everything?” inquired the waiter.

“Dinner was delicious,” complimented Henri.

“Are you ready for dessert?”

“Do you have any suggestions?”

“The chocolate pecan cream pie is an all-time favorite.”

Henri glanced at Yvonne for approval. “Okay, we’re sold.” Henri winked at her. “While we wait for dessert would you care to dance?” Yvonne embraced Henri’s extended arm as he led her to the dance floor.

Henri and Yvonne nestled against each other lost in their own world. They were the last couple on the dance floor, not to mention the only ones left in the restaurant. It wasn’t until the lights dimmed that they realized the restaurant would soon be closing.

 

Jack cleared the table, stacking the dishes in the sink. John’s visit left him feeling rather on edge and quite uneasy. It was troubling seeing his friend in a distraught frame of mind, dwelling in a past he could not change, and a future he was barely facing. It would be refreshing to see his friend move on with his life and enjoy a new start. He slowly climbed the staircase nearly stumbling on the last step. “How clumsy,” he stated trying to steady himself. Shadows were cast from the full lit moon, which was suspended directly above his bedroom. As he lay in bed, he became increasingly restless. He could barely keep his eyes closed, let alone fall asleep. Tossing his blankets aside, Jack stepped onto the hardwood floor.

The basement was chillier than the upper two levels, but Jack looked forward to a good workout. It was completely renovated with a small bar, bathroom, entertainment room, and Jack’s own training room. His exercise room included a wide variety of exercise equipment, including a treadmill, a stationary bicycle, weights, a punching bag, and workout mats.

Jack steadily increased his speed enjoying the workout. After ten minutes of running, he was beginning to feel beads of sweat trickling down the length of his backbone. He took a short break; he could feel his heartbeat return back to a more normal pace. In the meantime he prepared the barbells. In his prime, it would have been an easy feat to bench press over four hundred pounds. Wisely, he recognized the importance of gradually easing to that level. Along with bench presses, Jack performed curls, and dead lifts. He liked the firm tone of his muscular biceps. Jack could hear the echoing sound from his mean punch, leaving several indentations. During his teen years, he had learnt some boxing techniques coupled with martial arts moves. His mean uppercut earned him quite the reputation.

These disciplines came in handy one day while walking home from school. Pressed for time, Jack took a shortcut through a narrow alley. It was littered with filth and rubbish, and the walls were spray painted with graffiti and profanity. Red and yellow spray paints marked their favorite rock groups and their impression of authority figures. The bright colors jumped out from the dull brown bricks. His headset had been turned on full blast to Van Halen, so he relied on his other senses. The alley was fairly dark and the nauseating stench was revolting, Jack almost did a one-eighty. But, it was too little too late. Jack was on the ground gasping for air after taking a solid boot to the stomach. Now in agonizing pain and winded, he couldn’t muster enough strength to even groan.

‘Jack be swift, Jack be quick.’

His life was in jeopardy, and he needed to focus damn quickly.

Years of training allowed him to steady his breathing and override the intense pain. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the three adolescents closing in on him. Quickly, Jack rolled away from the thugs. He needed to buy some time. Then with a clever acrobatic move, he flipped back onto his feet.

“Hand me your money!” demanded one of the burly punks in a curt tone. Jack was poised in a defensive stance oblivious to any pain or emotions.

“Go to hell, you bunch of freaks!” dared Jack waving his fists.

A rush of adrenaline engulfed him, he was ready to battle. He sidestepped away from a wielding knife fearing a life-threatening gash. The skinhead continued to swipe at Jack, but he was easily able to outmaneuver his opponent’s moves. A few quick moves allowed Jack to drop-kick the knife out of the youth’s hand, sending it airborne into a pile of litter. This nifty move startled the hoodlums who sought safety in numbers and they tried encircling Jack. Anticipating this move, he immediately repositioned himself to offset their efforts. With a flurry of wicked kicks and punches the three young adolescents were sprawled on the ground in agony.

The memories of the event infuriated Jack, as he repeatedly nailed the punching bag. He then lowered himself onto the mat, clearly exhausted.

He desperately needed to rehydrate. The bottle of ice-cold spring water felt so good in his hands; he halved its content in just one gulp relieving the dryness in his throat. “Whew, that was good,” Jack spoke out loud as he finished his drink. He could hear Tara flying about in her cage. “It’s okay Tara,” he spoke softly. “Don’t worry, it’s just me and everything is fine when daddy’s home,” he encouraged. Tara settled on her favorite branch. It disturbed Jack seeing her all ruffled up.

Jack being totally exhausted, quickly showered, and went to bed.

 

"I could hold you here with me forever.” Henri showered her mouth with soft gentle kisses before engaging in a long passionate one. Yvonne suddenly felt light-headed, seemingly the room seemed to be swirling. She wanted the moment to last forever.

Their eyes met, and they both knew exactly how the other felt. “We should leave before they get tired of us and kick us out,” Henri suggested. Yvonne purposely hesitated, simply wanting to cherish the moment forever. She was rudely awakened by the cold wind as they stepped outside; it woke her from her dreamy state.

“Has anyone ever told you just how beautiful you are?” Yvonne felt herself quickly warming up, despite the bitter cold. A radiant glow brightened her face as Henri embraced her, drawing her closer to him. Yvonne’s heart skipped a few beats as a deep passion fervently swept throughout her body, rendering her limbs limp, but she felt secure with his strong powerful arms wrapped around her.

Henri realized he could never let this woman go; she had become a part of him. In all his twenty-eight years, he never felt as passionate about anyone. He felt her shivering lightly. It was so tempting to take her home with him, but Henri felt it still might be premature and didn’t want to take advantage of her. Little did he realize that Yvonne felt the same way. “It’s getting late and tomorrow is another working day,” acknowledged Henri half-heartedly. “Any plans for Saturday night?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m going to a movie with an old school friend,” she stated casually.

A worried expression spread across Henri’s face.

“I’m just kidding,” teased Yvonne placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“Fine, I’ll pick you up around seven,” he stated with renewed confidence.

“I’ll see you then. Have a good night,” she quickly slipped into her car.

Henri felt a multitude of emotions rush through him; he found it extremely difficult to part from her. The temperature gradually dropped, but Henri didn’t feel its biting sting. His passion not to mention his hormones were keeping him plenty warm.

 

Anne, Mike, and Tim carefully descended the steep hill.

“I would hate to roll down this hill,” Mike stated.

Anne silently agreed as she continued to take slow steps, and sighed having reached flat terrain. Large pools of water covered the tarp. “We’re going to have to remove some of these spikes to let the water drain out,” instructed Mike. Once he yanked the last spike, they lifted the tarp and watched the water slowly trickle back into the river.

They silently encircled the corpse. Anne noticed the sand was heavier, despite the tarp some rain still managed to trickle down from the hill.

It was some time before Anne saw the corpse’s shape beginning to form. She switched from the hand-held shovel to using a soft bristle brush to uncover the victim. Anne’s muscles were cramped from her crouched position, despite her knee pads she felt a terrible strain building.

“Unearthing a body, but twice -- Jesus,” Mike blurted shaking his wrists to remove some of his own kinks. Each of them felt stressed. It was frustrating, not to mention unnerving, being extra careful not to mar the body. But, it was the least they could do for someone whose life had been viciously taken.

Tim just stared at the decomposing body, which stood in plain view. A foul smell lingered in the air; its caustic odor made it difficult to work. In his initial year as an officer Tim had preconceived images of what a person would look like after being dead for a lengthy period of time. Now, even after so many viewings, he had to admit it was still nerve-racking.

Tim wondered if the body had been immediately buried at the riverbank, or had been transported to its current resting place. The body would certainly be examined for any lividity markings during the autopsy as well as for different types of insect colonization. Slowly, Tim stood up feeling his cramped muscles.

“It’s a good thing we don’t have to do this every day; I don’t know about you guys, but my body aches all over,” Tim broke the silence.

“Let’s take a break; it’s nearly 11:00, and sure as hell not going to rain today. Let’s send out for some coffee,” suggested Mike.

It was the first time Anne had unearthed a corpse. The discovery weighed heavily on her, even more so than the fetid smell. Anne needed a diversion and decided to take a stroll along the riverbank. It was very relaxing and peaceful at this time of year, and as Anne continued to watch the ripples flow downstream, she felt some of her inner tension slowly being released.

“Is everything okay?” Tim caught up to her.

“Yeah, I’ll feel much better once she receives a proper burial.”

“It’ll be especially devastating for her family.”

“Imaginably so,” Anne acknowledged. “I would hate to be the one breaking the news.” Anne felt a rush of sympathy for the victim’s loved ones, imagining how the family had coped with her disappearance. The loss must have brought a lot of grief and turmoil in their lives. Now any hope of a miracle would be quashed forever. Anne thought back, trying to recall any recent missing woman’s report, but none came to mind. Although some closure would be brought to their lives, the mystery still remained unsolved. Would the killer ever be brought to justice? Why was her burial conducted in such a bizarre fashion? And of course the million dollar question, would the killer strike again? She felt troubled as a myriad of questions continued to flash through her mind.

Steam rose from the coffee cups; it was still quite hot. “Well, our work is nearly done. I’ll ask the officer to send us a stretcher along with additional manpower. It’s too heavy for the three of us and I don’t know about you guys, but I’m exhausted,” Mike stated wearily, gazing to the hilltop. No one disagreed.

Anne was going to support the victim’s head while the others would lift her onto the stretcher.

“Okay, are you ready?” Mike led the group. Anne’s hand dug underneath the earth. Her fingers dug away at the soil to find the center of the skull. It was imperative she had a firm grip, but her fingers slipped and Anne inadvertently gripped her upper neck.

“Ahhh, God no!” she screamed out in horror, shocking the rest of the team. Everyone simply watched baffled. Were Anne’s fingers caught on something, thought Mike? Her loud cries carried to the hilltop. “Oh my God!” she frantically yanked her hands out. Color drained completely from Anne’s face leaving her with a ghastly complexion. Sheer terror struck within her, from the realization that her fingers had plunged through what once had been layers of skin. Her hands were now dripping with skin, clumps of nerve tissue, and gunky stuff. This was so revolting and appalling it made her cringe; she flung her arms away from herself in disgust. The slimy material continued to slither to the ground. Mike steadied her from behind, fearful she might faint. Other officers rushed to the river filling pails with water, and then scurried over to help her clean up. Tim tried comforting Anne with reassuring words, observing her erratic breathing. One of the officers offered her some water, but she gestured no as she was still in shock and gasping for air. No one had anticipated how quickly the body was decomposing. The moisture from underneath the body was causing it to deteriorate much more quickly. Minutes later, Anne’s complexion was beginning to show some color, and slowly she regained her composure, determined to finish the task at hand.

“Perhaps you should rest a while longer,” Mike gently persuaded.

Her skyward gaze shifted from the heavens back to him. “I’ll be okay, I need to do this.” Anne’s pride and perhaps stubbornness were even bigger than her large stature.

“Let’s try and slide these boards underneath. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll attempt to roll the body over.” Tim lifted one pant leg while Mike suspended the other into mid-air. The officer’s working space was considerably limited making it difficult for him to maintain the hefty board at the same level, causing the board to repeatedly dig into the sand. “Shit,” the officer cursed becoming increasingly frustrated from his failed attempts. After several more tries, he finally managed to drive the board through the mounds of sand. Now, somehow, they would have to raise the upper torso to support the entire body.

“Perhaps, we should lift her from her sleeves. As we lift her body, we can support the head and try sliding the board underneath,” Mike contemplated his idea.

“It’s at least worth a try,” Tim stated in agreement.

They gently raised the sleeves into mid-air. Anne positioned a smaller board from the side of the body to support the back of the head. Mike felt the stitching starting to tear. “Crap,” he quickly tried to lower the arm, but despite his lightning reflexes it ripped before he could set it down. “Dammit! It ripped so darn fast,” Mike swore in disgust. The arm lay limp in an awkward position. He was visibly upset, and his complexion deepened to a deep red.

“Let’s use the tarp instead,” Tim was repulsed and could not handle seeing anymore of the body dismantled. The removal of the body was becoming some sort of freak show, as parts of her were becoming dismembered. “Her underneath is obviously decomposed, so let’s try to roll it over like paramedics do with unconscious victims,” Tim suggested.

They bent the right knee outward on a forty-five degree angle. Anne was going to support the head. Mike positioned his arm behind the right shoulder blade, while the other two officers supported other areas of the body. “On the count of three we will roll over the body: one, two, and three,” Tim stated. They rolled her over onto the stretched tarp.

The horrid smell of the decomposing body hung in the air, making it unbearable to breathe even with their masks on.

“Damn,” Mike failed to grab the long slimy worm, which measured at least eight inches long, as it repeatedly slipped from his grip. The worm slithered away and burrowed itself in the middle of her back. Mike held on tightly and with one quick pull yanked the wiggly coil out. The crew looked on in disgust, but reserved their opinions. The victim’s sunken pockets were clearly visible underneath the torn clothes. Each of them silently cursed the bastard who killed her. The four officers grabbed each corner and hauled her onto the stretcher. The last feat would be to safely reach the top of the hill.

Tim felt it difficult to breathe against the cold wind. His mood turned somber, lacking any desire to crack any more jokes. One could clearly see deep stress lines weathered across his face.

“Í think we should set her down,” Mike suggested. They carefully lowered the stretcher, giving Mike a minute to stretch.

Momentarily, everyone stared as they watched in a trance.

“Hurry up -- it’s rolling down the hill!” Anne yelled as she watched it increasingly gain speed. Tim frantically chased after it managing to run in front, stopping it from rolling any further, just in the nick of time.

Tim’s patience had expired. “Damn, the wheel must have come unlocked,” he explained in-between breaths, while securing the wheel in a locked position. They carefully continued their steep climb.

“Whew, that was one hell of an ordeal,” sighed an exasperated Mike.

It had been sheer hell removing the body. It seemed that an invisible force thwarted their every step. Perhaps, the victim wished to be left undisturbed to rest eternally.

Despite the cold weather, trickles of perspiration coated their foreheads. “I hope we don’t have to repeat this feat again,” lamented Anne.

Anne quickly shot a glance back to the uncovered burial site. “Did you hear that?” she sounded spooked, but no one had heard anything. She listened acutely, but now the only distinguished sounds were of birds chirping. Desperately, Anne tried pushing aside disturbing thoughts of potentially more bodies decomposing throughout the park. Tomorrow the forensic team would return to the park to search for more hidden bodies, or at least probe for any clues. But today, they had a corpse to deliver to the morgue. 






Chapter 3


Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…

Even though John generally dreaded being late, he didn’t regret reflecting on his past. Yesterday’s reminiscing had sprung open a flood gate of memories, which left him feeling uneasy. And today John looked forward to chatting with Edward, appreciating his natural ability to shed light on the most challenging situations.

John buckled up and sped off, cornering smoothly around several bends before reaching his destination. Edward’s home was situated on a quiet crescent, backing onto a small lake. Mostly old money lived in this area, thus it was not surprising that only a dozen estate homes sat on this crescent. Only the elite could afford the magnificent architectural splendor encompassing these mansions.

John drove through the open wrought-iron gate while observing the interlocking stone work; it had multiple designs and in-laid borders, ranging in color from forest green to rustic orange. These colors nicely complemented the home’s variegated stone work. After climbing seven steps, he reached the front door. John held the metal knocker with his left hand, admiring the lady’s figure stylishly dressed in the old Spanish tradition. A loud rap followed. Within seconds, he was greeted by Harold, the butler.

“Come in, Edward is expecting you,” he welcomed. His voice echoed throughout the foyer due to an extended ceiling, which spanned at least sixteen feet. “Please make yourself comfortable,” gestured the gracious host pointing to a recliner. Everything in the room certainly reflected a Spanish ambience. Mexican tiles spread throughout the foyer and a large painting of an actual bull run nearly covered the entire length of a wall. It depicted pools of dust in uprising clouds from a bull’s hoofs. Different sized Mexican hats hung throughout the room in an array of poignant colors.

“Buenos Dias -- good to see you my friend. I was beginning to worry that something had happened,” confessed Edward with a warm smile and a firm handshake.

John didn’t like to make it a habit of lying, but was caught off guard. “My alarm didn’t go off this morning.” He tried to maintain a poker face hoping his friend wouldn’t catch onto his façade.

Edward escorted him through a wide hallway leading to his study. John was bewildered by the vast amount of artifacts displayed on the walls and book shelves. Pausing briefly, he admired the double-edged swords which shone brilliantly. The hilt had been cast in iron, as had the rest of the double-edge blade. They were mounted in a criss-cross position, symbolizing the onset of an upcoming duel.

It had been years after his heroic feats, and Edward was now in his late sixties. He still maintained his stocky athletic stature, standing six feet tall, with just a slight slouch, but had put on a few pounds since his battle days. He had served in Nam and his feats became somewhat legendary, earning him several medals. During one battle, he came perilously close to losing his life as a mortar round exploded in front of his battalion, wounding several of his compatriots. Edward single-handedly warded off the enemy, thus saving his men. After many years in service, he gained recognition as one of the best in the Marine Corps. He remained undefeated in battle, both on the field and in the ring. There was never any hesitation for him to enter a boxing match; his success in the arena earned him a formidable reputation. To put it bluntly, Edward was as tough as nails.

“Would you like some coffee?” offered Edward.

“Don’t mind if I do.” He poured himself a cup with just a hint of cream. John quickly noticed the remarkable difference in taste. The roasted blends percolated a stronger full-bodied flavor that he had ever tasted. Obviously money was no object. Edward could certainly afford to spend his money extravagantly and acquire the best of everything. An avid collector of rare paintings and antiques, he indulged in the finest things life offered, including fine cars and yachts. He traveled extensively, not only to enrich his knowledge of different parts of the world, but also to appreciate the best in life.

“Make yourself comfortable,” motioned Edward. He leaned back in his brown leather chair gently swaying back and forth. “It’s a bright beautiful day today, although I’m a bit surprised to see you this early,” remarked Edward. Sometimes, it was rather difficult comprehending Edward. Being the eternal optimist, he was always able to put a positive spin on everything. On a hot scorching day, he would comment that the weather was lovely; during a miserable dreary rainstorm, he would comment it was nature’s way of keeping the grass nice and green. Despite all the hardships and sorrow life had dealt him, Edward still remained upbeat. He had watched his wife courageously endure a lengthy battle with cancer, before succumbing to her illness. In another tragic episode he lost his eldest son. Their family owned aircraft nose-dived into a field after the engine stalled. Apparently, a routine inspection of the small plane a day prior failed to detect any deficiencies. Yet despite these heartaches, Edward still managed to maintain a positive outlook on life.

“I’ve been thinking about my family a lot,” confessed John.

“It must bring back a lot of memories -- is there something in particular that’s bothering you?” John stared blankly at the ceiling. Surprisingly, John felt a radiant heat sweep throughout his entire body. Edward caught a sudden whimsical expression surface on his face.

John thought back to his family’s adventurous outing at Sea World. “We had a splendid view, seated in the front row, watching the killer whales and their acrobatic routine. One of the most applauded acts was the killer whales reaching high into the sky, touching the suspended balloon, twenty feet overhead. The jump was a marvelous feat, regardless of the fact that their landing created quite a splash, soaking everyone in the front row,” John chuckled. “Our amusement came to a sharp halt with Timothy’s unceasingly loud cries. We couldn’t understand what brought on the crying; and despite our best efforts to comfort him, he kept wailing.” John struggled to continue as he fought back tears. “We were forced to leave, and I treated everyone to ice cream. After less than a minute of savoring it, Timothy’s face was covered with chocolate and it dripped down smudging his Mickey Mouse shirt.”

‘Ice cweam,’ he spluttered and everyone broke out laughing. John shared his memory.

Edward was ecstatic to see the profound effect this memory had on John, it was nice seeing him smile. John often felt like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His inner emotions often dragged him from a state of euphoria to one of doom and gloom. After John’s loss, it was almost like a second religion to visit Edward. The somber feeling in John’s heart seemed to be lifted by his friend’s passion for life and uplifting dialogue. John glanced at his watch, and was surprised to see an hour had elapsed. He genuinely expressed his appreciation, particularly Edward’s allowance on such short notice.

“Well I’m looking forward to seeing you soon,” Edward expressed his heartfelt warmth. “Remember keep your spirits up.” He accompanied John to the entertainment room. Once again, it was easy to see Edward’s love for the Spanish culture in his memorabilia. John’s gaze turned towards a large handcrafted sailboat, situated on top of the fireplace mantle. It was unlike any he had ever seen, and the sails were cleverly carved and arched, just as they actually would while sailing at sea.

Edward noted the gleam in John’s eyes. “It’s part of my antique collection and dates back over two hundred years. I purchased it at an auction; apparently it has a legend attached to it,” Edward explained. He placed a Spanish colonial hat on and a patch over his right eye for added emphasis, then faced John. “Err Johnny -- have you ever sailed the high seas?” Edward had a natural flair for the theatrics and could successfully play the role of an evil pirate.

“A Spanish King had acquired a scepter with the intention of giving it to his Queen. It was a magnificent treasure gleaming in solid gold, and it glittered with splendid gemstones embedded throughout its entire length. The top was the crowning glory with a stunning emerald. Its rare beauty and size definitely made it one of a kind, and the King anticipated it would melt his wife’s heart. He was very pleased with the scepter’s intricate design, but dismissed tales of it possessing magical powers. The pirates thought otherwise; they believed it would give great power and dominating authority to whoever possessed it and were ready to die for it. During the late 1700’s, a famous pirate known for his heroic feats was determined to swindle it from the King. Accompanied by his comrades, he managed to intercept the Royal ship’s route. Guided by telescope, they maintained a safe distance. They managed to remain out of sight for a period of days. Early one morning, an overbearing fog presented them with the perfect opportunity. The pirates quickly boarded the King’s ship and quickly subdued the few men on deck. Surprisingly, they knew the exact location of the scepter; it was well hidden in a small wooden chest, enclosed in a secret compartment. With the prize in hand, they made off quickly before the remaining crew awakened. They boarded their own vessel and set sail to South America. Minutes later, the sailors became aware of what had transpired. Immediately, they set chase. The distance between the two ships was too great to open fire. Besides, they damn well knew that if they sunk the vessel the scepter would never be recovered. Their pursuit continued for hours and the King’s men were closing in on the thieves. It was now only a matter of time. Great fear gripped the pirates as they kept vigilance through their telescope. If caught, a slow torturous death was a certainty. Unfortunately there was no recourse, since they didn’t have the firepower or skills of a well-trained army. One of the pirates thought of making a deal. They would tie the scepter over the edge with a rope. Unfortunately there was no recourse, the calm sea started to become turbulent. The waves intensified, the clouds darkened, and a strong wind threatened their sails. Stubbornly, the pirates were determined to maintain their course and continued sailing through the rough waters. Smartly, the pursuing ship did a one-eighty, apparently valuing their lives more than the treasure. The storm worsened; huge two story waves tossed the small vessel about. Eventually, the mighty seas proved too overpowering and capsized the pirate ship. Before their deaths, one of the pirates cursed, ‘Damn these waters.’ To this day some believe that is how the curse of the Bermuda Triangle came to be,” Edward retold enthusiastically.

“That’s quite some story,” John wondered just how much of the tale was true. Nonetheless, his visit with Edward left him with a renewed sense of hope and in a more optimistic frame of mind.

 

Back at the park, the officer’s footing cut deep into the earth’s surface. The ground was like quagmire, making it difficult to maintain his balance. He swept the metal detector along the length of the tree trunk, but before completing his swipe, he lost his balance and toppled backwards landing on top of a thicket. Large beeping sounds engulfed the air. “Shit!” the officer managed to pull himself upright. Supported by the thick underbrush, the officer thought it was impossible for the metal detector to have broken, since it still bounced on top of the branches. The only other possibility was that something lay underneath. His spirits soared, realizing this could be their big break. Hurriedly, he spoke into his walkie-talkie to dispatch other fellow officers.

“Let’s photograph the tree, the underbrush, and everything within a ten meter radius,” Mike excitedly instructed the team. The Nikon telephoto zoomed in. Its powerful lens was capable of capturing the minutest detail, without disturbing any potential evidence.

“Have them circle the entire area,” Officer Neally commanded. They circled, sniffed, but the canine unit came up empty.

BEEEEP-BEEEEP-BEEEEP... One by one, Mike connected all the points forming a letter X. It measured eight inches both in width and length. He circumscribed a circle about sixteen inches from the center of the X.

“I don’t know about you guys, but this endeavor is becoming like a game of bad back-gammon.”

Mike and Anne could always count on Tim’s humor.

“We better switch to these plastic hand-held trowels,” Mike retrieved one from a plastic container.

Slowly, bit by bit, they began unearthing. Samples of soil were dumped into a box to be tested for traces of blood or other contaminants. Tim’s trowel cut through the earth’s soft crust. His body stiffened feeling a razor sharp pain firing down his back. The shovel suddenly flew from his hand. Tim winced as he tried to stand upright while supporting his lower back with his right hand, “God the pain is excruciating!”

“Would you like some aspirin?” offered Mike worriedly noting his hunched position.

“I’ll be okay, if anything get me some oil. I need to lubricate my hinges.”

Mike smirked.

“Bingo! We’ve found something,” Anne distinctively heard a metal-clinking sound.

Final grains of sand were brushed aside exposing a rusted metal tin box. Anne gently hoisted it from the ground. It was relatively light in weight. “I can hear something rattling inside. Spread open the tarp so we don’t lose anything.”

Excitedly, Mike envisioned a breakthrough, “Anybody care to wager what’s inside?”

“Hopefully the killer has tripped up,” Tim added.

Several screeching and creaking sounds had the crew biting their nails. Anne continued and carefully pried the lid open. “It needs to be oiled worse than I do,” Tim just couldn’t help himself. His humor eased Anne’s anxiety as she envisioned a blood-drenched knife.

The lid popped open. They stared in disbelief; it was moments before anyone uttered a single word. Disappointment engulfed them, since it definitely wasn’t what they were expecting to find.

“Bloody unbelievable!” Anne cursed with a sunken look.

Beer bottle caps lined the bottom of the metal box. “Probably a group of teenagers buried them afraid of being caught drinking,” Mike reasoned.

 

“Excuse me,” hollered the officer to the individual.

Half-startled, Barry turned around and approached the officer, “Yes officer.”

“What the hell’s the matter with you -- can’t you read? The park is off limits pending a murder investigation,” the officer yelled while pointing to the sign, obviously upset at his apparent disrespect and disregard for the law.

“My name is Barry -- I’m the Park Manager,” he justified.

The officer cleared his throat and toned it down a notch, “Oh I see, we’ll contact you as soon as we finish our work here. If you could jot down your address and phone number, I’ll give you a call.” The officer handed him a pen, along with a notepad and then added, “We’ll also need to ask you some questions, it’s just procedure.” Barry could have sworn he heard his name being called from a distance. He then caught a glimpse of a figure scampering away.

“Hey you -- hold it right there!” warned the officer in a sharp tone. But instead, the man darted towards the safe haven of the trees. A quick glance back confirmed two officers were chasing in hot pursuit. It was difficult maintaining his velocity up the steep slope, allowing the officers to gain on him.

“Stop -- stop!” he heard them yelling repeatedly.

Their voices were approaching closer and closer by the second; fear ripped through him. The deck was stacked against him and perhaps his only ace in the hole was his familiarity with the park’s grounds. He cut in-between trees and inadvertently plunged through a pointy branch, cutting open his right shoulder. The pain was excruciating, but he dared not scream. Determined not to be caught, he frantically swerved in and out of the thick underbrush while simultaneously feeling a series of pokes and scrapes pricking his entire body. Blood drizzled down his arm, smearing his brand new white cotton shirt. Momentarily, they lost sight of him. He remained steadfast and cut through a bunch of thick trees while trudging down a steep hill, allowing him to pick up speed without exerting too much effort.

He ran for his life.

“Over there -- he’s running down the hill,” pointed one of the officers

.“I’ll cut to the left. Cut around those trees -- in case he changes direction,” the other officer ordered.

The figure looked back. He saw them closing in on him; he couldn’t allow himself to be caught. The threat was real and his life was in jeopardy.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” demanded the officer. But puzzling enough, the man sped towards a group of civilians.

“Bery, Bery,” the group heard the desperate cries of someone shouting, followed by a deafening gunshot fire. Barry turned around and was paralyzed with fear. One of the police officers had his gun drawn.

A bullet must have grazed Tommy. Barry saw Tommy’s right sleeve drenched in blood, the blood continued to ooze from the wound spilling all over his right side. They were ready to bring down their mark. One officer took a firm stance while taking aim at his target. An ear-piercing sound ensued, followed by billowing gun smoke from the barrel of a 9mm cannon, obscuring the officer’s identity. The target had been viciously assaulted, and Tommy sprawled forward helplessly to the ground. In an instant, a man’s life had become a blur; Tommy’s body lay motionless facing the ground. His plain white shirt was smeared in a sea of blood, a testimonial of how merciless bullets viciously tear through bodily flesh. Barry stared blankly ahead, mouth gaped wide open.

Reality flashed back like lightning as Barry snapped out of his trance upon hearing the frantic cries of his distressed friend.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” Barry yelled repeatedly, while he flung his arms in the air trying to avert a tragedy. Barry raced towards Tommy for dear life with his arms still raised high in the sky. Tommy threw himself at Barry. He was breathing quite erratically. A surge of relief spread through Barry, grateful that his friend wasn’t seriously hurt. Everyone’s worst nightmare had been narrowly averted. “It’s okay, they won’t hurt you. They’re here to help; they’re investigating a murder,” Barry gently explained, while Tommy just clasped tightly onto him.

As the officers approached them, everything became quite clear, Tommy was slightly handicapped. Terror swept through the officers realizing their near fatal error. “We sincerely apologize. We had no idea -- he was far off in the distance. Will he be okay?” the officer asked genuinely concerned.

“Give him a few minutes to calm down. He’ll be okay. I need to go back to the office and grab the first aid kit.” Tommy’s arm was still bleeding quite badly with blood oozing out from his gash.

 

“Good morning, may I help you,” Samantha answered.

“Hi Samantha.”

“How are you Jack?”

“Could be better. I’ll be working from home today, but I may have forgotten one of my files on the filing cabinet. The page I need has a rough sketch.”

Samantha’s heart skipped a beat; she was attracted to Jack and found herself frequently fantasizing about him. “Okay I’ll go check -- just give me a minute,” Samantha strolled down the hall briskly. She found it exactly where he stated. “Yes, you left it on the cabinet.”

“Can you e-mail it to me? It’s the first or second page in the file.”

“No problem, I’ll send it right away.”

“Thanks Samantha, I appreciate it.”

“I can’t believe I forgot it; I must be getting absent-minded,” Jack spoke out loud.

“Abzent-mend, abzent-mend,” shrilled Tara.

“You cut that out,” Jack said half-laughingly.

Tara perched herself on the computer monitor, chirping now and again, as she continued to watch him work. He checked his inbox and opened the appropriate file. Jack studied it extensively. The mall needed major changes; it presently looked outdated and run down, since it had not been renovated since 1989. He reviewed the strategic revisions, which would involve some major alterations to the mall’s architectural structure. His software program cast everything in 3-D, bringing everything to life. He jumped at the sound of the cuckoo clocks ringing. Seven birds poked their heads out every hour on the hour. Tara enjoyed their synchronized sounds.

“Cu, Cook,” Tara tried to repeat its sound.

Jack laughed, “Let’s take a break.” He turned on the CD player and watched Tara enjoy the classical music. She perched herself on the swing knowing full well that her master would gently send it swinging back and forth. “Are you having fun?”

“Fun, fun,” she repeated.

That’s exactly why Jack adored his feathered friend. She was a joy to be with and she never angered him or caused him any headaches. “I’ll take that to mean that you’re enjoying yourself.”

The telephone rang. Jack tried to concentrate on what Samantha Palms was telling him, but was distracted by a racket in the kitchen. “I’ll have to call you back.” Tara was stirring up a fuss. Her water bowl had flipped over creating a puddle. “I’m sorry my little feathered friend; I’ll refill it for you,” Jack apologized.

“Sowy, sowy,” repeated Tara.

“Okay you don’t have to rub it in too much,” joked Jack, stroking her gently.

Jack had to be cautious of his vocabulary for fear of embarrassment. Imagine Tara repeatedly swearing in the presence of guests, or even more embarrassing would be having her repeat something very personal.

 

The weary officer entered Larry William’s office, grudgingly chosen to be the bearer of bad news. “We have identified the murder victim. The dental work allowed us to make a positive identification. It’ll still be a couple of more days before the autopsy report is completed,” the officer continued.

Suspense was written all over the Chief’s face. “Well are you going to just stand there and keep me hanging? Come on, who’s the victim?” The Chief was growing more and more impatient by the second.

“With all due respect sir, I think you should be seated,” the apprehensive officer suggested politely. The officer was forewarned that the news would be upsetting and tried using the outmost discretion.

This was a first. It wasn’t customary for anyone in the force to give orders to the Big Boss. The Chief appeared more puzzled than shocked, but noted the officer’s reluctance to confer the victim’s name. “Alright,” the Chief drudgingly sat down. Little did he realize how shocking the news would be. He anxiously waited, nervously clenching the armrests of his chair.

The somewhat dreary officer cleared his throat, preparing to speak. Pausing for a second, he then slowly divulged the victim’s identity. “The body we found at the park is that of Dianne Summers.”

The Chief’s face reddened; shock filled him.

“We’ll have a thorough report completed within a couple of days,” the officer added. The Chief was numb. At a loss for words, his head hunkered down digesting the news. It was disheartening to learn the identity. For many years he had been close friends with Dianne and her husband, Dr. Tyler Summers. They had shared so many wonderful times together. As the shock wore off, fury set into the Chief as he took the news personally.

Affirmatively, while maintaining eye contact, the Chief spoke bluntly. “I’m going to set up a special task force and want you to be present at the meeting. Bring all the evidence to date at that time.”

“Yes sir,” the officer took the Chief’s cue to leave.

The Chief rubbed his temples. Why did he have to be the one to deliver such horrid news? Quite simply, Dr. Summers would be devastated. Even though Dianne had been missing for some time, there was still that small glimmer of hope of her returning home safely. Now all hope had been extinguished, much like a candle burning in the wind. At least he took some comfort knowing a good friend would be breaking the news, and Dr. Summers could count on his full support, helping him make any necessary arrangements. But before he made his dreaded visit, there was one more phone call to make.

He picked up the receiver, “This is Chief Williams, how are things going?”

“We’ve scoured the entire area and found nothing,” replied Officer Neally.

“Dammit, what do you mean you’ve found nothing!” the Chief was incensed. “Listen to me very carefully, keep searching, and bring in the canine unit until you find something!”

A little confused, he paused momentarily and then replied calmly. “But Chief, we have already done that,” Officer Neally justified.

“No buts, find something, anything dammit, and that’s an order!” he fumed.

“Yes Chief, consider it done,” mumbled Officer Neally.

 

The Chief was accompanied by an officer. They arrived at Dr. Summers’s home in a dreary state. Dr. Summers had seen the police car pull into his driveway. As a concerned parent, many thoughts swarmed through his head, not surprisingly he opened the door before the sound of knocking.

“Oh hi Larry, I’m surprised to see you at this hour.”

“May we come in?”

“Sure -- sorry, I’ve lost my manners.”

They followed him into the living room. The room was spacious with many rich colors, including a wide spectrum of blues. They seated themselves on the cobalt blue sofa, but the serenity would be short-lived; the mood would darken deeper than any color in the room.

“We have some news,” an exasperated Chief began.

Immediately, the doctor cut in, “Have you found my wife?” He noted the Chief’s stricken look.

The sadness in his eyes carried over into the Chief’s sympathetic voice. “Yes, there’s no easy way to tell you this.” Judging by the Chief’s statement and the sadness in his voice, Dr. Summers knew she was dead. “The lady we found at the park matched your wife’s dental work. I’m so sorry.” The Chief struggled as he fought back tears. “She was a fine lady and certainly didn’t deserve to die so tragically. One thing I will promise you, we’ll search and continue to search until we find the killer. I’ll make it my personal mission to track him down,” there was a strong conviction in both his voice and eyes as if taking a solemn oath.

“Oh God no -- no -- not my beautiful Dianne!” he cried out repeatedly in desperation, burying his face into his hands. “I want to see her.” It was a natural reaction of a grieving man.

“She has been buried for some time and you have so many wonderful memories. Hang on to those memories. Remember her full of life and energy.

“I must see her,” insisted Dr. Summers with a stern look.

“I know how you feel, but it’s probably best not to see her in her current state,” the Chief attempted using friendly dissuasion.

A now vehement doctor flared with rage. Dr. Summers’s voice exploded, as he abruptly shot up from his seat staring down at the Chief, “You don’t know how I damn well feel! How the hell could you know! I have a right to see her,” he lashed out.

The Chief’s sorrow deepened, fearful of causing him more anguish. “Yes of course you have the right, but you won’t recognize her,” he pleaded. “As a dear loyal friend, I implore you to think more with your mind and less with your heart.” Little did the Chief know the irony of his last remark.

“Daddy -- why are the police here?” Christopher asked curiously while holding his airplane control. Dr. Summers simply felt devastated and couldn’t begin to tell his son the dreadful news. Hunkered over, he simply remained silent.

“Perhaps I can try?” The Chief subtly motioned. Dr. Summers gave a slight nod. “Do you remember me son?”

“Yup, you are the Chief. Last time you visited you gave me a big red fire engine,” a big grin flashed across the young boy’s face.

“You have a very good memory. I came to give your daddy some news today.”

“Have you found my mommy?” his big blue eyes lit up. The Chief always found Christopher to be a bright young boy. His heart ached having to tell such a young lad that he has lost his mother forever. But it was better to tell him now, before he heard such horrific news through the media. Soon the reporters would swarm all over the story.

He chose his words carefully, “Your mommy is now safe in heaven with the angels where nobody can hurt her. But no matter where you are and what you are doing, she’ll always be watching over you. She’ll be very happy knowing you are listening to your father and are being a good boy.”

“Will I ever see her again?” Reality was quickly settling in, as he began to pout.

“One day when you are much, much older,” the Chief tried to soften the reality of the situation.

“I miss mommy. Daddy you promised me mommy would come back. You promised,” he stomped his feet, sobbing incessantly, with tears running down his cheeks and spilling onto the floor. His sorrow coupled with disappointment turned to bitter rage. Bang! He flung the control across the room, clearly venting his frustration. At that moment, a small Chihuahua ran to Christopher. He picked her up, smothered her against his chest, and ran up the staircase without looking back. They watched the tiny figure in despair, but no one dared call out to him. Instead, they simply remained reclusive, perhaps paralyzed with their own inhibitions of further exasperating the little boy.

Dr. Summers simply sat motionless for some time. “I do want to see where the bastard buried her,” he conceded.

“Okay, we’ll drive you there.”

“But first, I need to drop Christopher off at my sister’s home and I need a few moments with my daughter.”

“Take your time, as I’ve taken the day off so I can assist you in any way possible.”

Dr. Summers reluctantly headed upstairs. He stopped in front of his son’s room. It broke his heart to see his young son curled up on the bed hugging his dear dog, Cookie. Tears streamed down the boy’s face, the doctor sat on the edge of the bed before speaking. “In my heart, I wanted to believe that mommy was alive and well. Every night, I prayed she would come back home safely, so we could be a happy family again.” Dr. Summers took a minute to regain his composure. “But, I should not have made you that promise because it was out of my control. I do promise you this -- I love you and I will always love you,” he wiped away his son’s tears while comforting him.

Christopher looked into his father’s eyes with a deep yearning. “Daddy are you going to leave me too?” A distraught young boy felt his whole world crumbling apart.

With a heartfelt warmth in his eyes and a strong emphasis, he spoke, “Oh good God no. Son, I don’t plan to leave you for a very long time. I want us to do many fun things together; I want us to go camping, play sports, visit amusement parks, plus many more fun activities.” Christopher rose and hugged his daddy tightly. “I have to go with the Chief just for a short while. I need you to help me, okay?”

“Okay daddy.”

“We are going over to Aunt Becky’s; I need you to be strong for your aunt and your sister. Cookie can come with you.”

“Okay, but when will you come back?” he asked anxiously.

“I’ll be back in a couple of days. Now, I’m going to pack some of your clothes. You can choose a couple of toys to bring along with you.”

Absorbed in much thought, no one uttered a word along the way. Dr. Summers dreaded telling his daughter that her mother’s body had been found. They had always shared a close bond, and he was paralyzed with fear of her reaction.

He took a deep breath. The Chief and the officer waited outside. Cindy heard the front doorbell ring.

“Hi dad, what are you doing here?” she asked startled, before noticing a cloudy darkness in his eyes, unlike anything she had previously seen. Christopher trailed behind, with his head bowed and clearly in very somber spirits. Aunt Becky walked into the living area and immediately sensed something was terribly wrong.

“Tyler, why is there a police car at the end of the driveway?”

He sighed. “How about if we all come and sit here on the couch.” They all followed him. “I have some news. The Chief was over earlier and --”

“Is it concerning the disappearance of Dianne?” interrupted Becky. Her facial expression turned sullen, quickly realizing the dismal news he was about to deliver.

The doctor tried to think of the proper way to break this disheartening news. He held his daughter’s hand and looked directly into her eyes. “Mom always loved you so much and tried to be the best mother possible. Now she has gone to a better place,” Tyler’s voice nearly cracked and was forced to pause momentarily. “She’s with the Lord and angels in heaven, where your mother will share eternal joy and happiness. The police were over earlier today and confirmed mom was the lady found at the park.”

“No!” Cindy covered her mouth. “No, not mom! Cindy’s sorrow was simply too much for her father to bear. Her father noted the remarkable similarities between them, intensifying his pain so much so that he could barely maintain eye contact. Valiantly, he tried calming her down,

“Honey please…” But her sobbing intensified, piercing his already wounded heart.

“Why would anyone want to hurt mom?” Cindy threw her arms around her father who reciprocated.

Tears streamed down their faces, spilling onto one another. “I don’t know honey; we don’t have any answers yet.” Christopher ran over to them, apparently overcome by all their grieving and he too succumbed to tears. Becky picked up Christopher and tried consoling both children. She had been very close to Dianne and sympathized wholeheartedly with both siblings. She felt it was her obligation to give her brother’s family support and guide them through this difficult time.

On the drive to the park, Tyler felt completely drained. His wife’s disappearance had taken quite a toll on him, and now he felt exasperated, with the dismal reality that she would no longer be coming home. The park was still closed to the public. Tyler seemed impatient to arrive at what had been her temporary resting place. His mind was consumed by many memories, but his heart felt as empty as the park. The conservation area held many cherished moments for the Summers’s household. He swept past a cluster of maple trees. Just a couple of years ago, they sat in a shaded area enjoying a family picnic. Christopher and Cindy had been so excited barbecuing outdoors, Tyler caught himself smiling at the flashback. They had captured this moment on film; an onlooker had been kind enough to snap some photos. Dianne had been so pleased with one photo, she had it enlarged, framed and mounted in their living room. Unaware, tears rolled down Tyler’s face. Clearly distraught, he shook his head from side to side still in shock over his wife’s tragic death. Tyler’s heart almost broke. How many times had they watched their children reaching high into the sky and then just as quickly watched them swing back? The sandbox had also been an all-time favorite. Their laughter seemed to still sway in the gentle breeze. They had often joined other children, wagering bets as to whom could build the biggest sandcastle. Now, all those joyous memories would be forever tarnished.

The yellow ribbon carefully marked the area where Dianne had been buried. The Chief politely stepped in front, explaining to Tyler they were still investigating. Tyler stood speechless. A myriad thoughts and emotions swept through him, but he didn’t articulate any of them. Overcome with grief and anguish, he broke down pounding his fists on the ground. “How could anyone do this to you, how? My beautiful, beautiful angel, I don’t know how I can go on without you!” His sobbing was so loud it overpowered his bitterness. It was agonizingly painful watching him mourn his loss, but the Chief let him grieve, figuring it was perhaps the first step to a slow and trying road to recovery. But one thing was for damn certain, it would be a day neither would forget.

 

Regardless of the fact that he drank two cups of chamomile, the Chief had a very restless night. He tossed and turned until the wee hours of the morning. His temples ached that morning and he was on the onset of a terrible migraine. Over the years, his calm composure enabled him to deal effectively with life’s constant pressures, but today he felt irritable. His mind reeled, counting the number of tasks on his agenda; perhaps it was time for a pre-emptive strike. He needed relief if he was going to effectively cope and popped two pills. They usually provided relief, although today he was a bit skeptical of their effectiveness.

He picked at his bacon and eggs not feeling hungry, and then dumped his coffee into a large Styrofoam cup. In all probability, he would need it and plenty more just to make it through the day.

The drive to work left the Chief with mixed emotions. Unfortunately the pleasantry associated with the park had become a very disturbing eyesore.

He slumped back into his seat, staring at the three piles neatly arranged on his desk. He leafed through his mail. A letter-sized envelope aroused his curiosity. It was addressed to him, with the word ‘URGENT’ handwritten in large red block letters, followed by Personal and Confidential. Oddly, no return address followed.

The Chief’s patience was being exhausted; it was the fifth call in the last hour. “Hello,” he answered hastily in an abrupt tone. “I’ll call you back as soon as I’m ready to schedule a press conference,” he shouted and slammed the receiver. Dianne’s death had become the top news story, with the public demanding answers.

He ran the letter opener along the length of the envelope. The Chief was about to crumple the piece of paper realizing it was just a poem, and he sure as hell had no time for such frivolities. “Christ -- don’t people have anything better to do with their time.” Just as he was about to tear it in half, his eye caught a glimpse of the ending of the first line. A stern expression sculpted the Chief’s face.


Dear Chief:

Voices in my head that want her dead,
All her troubles have come to an end.
With the light of God her sins will expire,
A knife through her heart has ended her desires.
The river of life will cleanse her soul,
But the avenger of truth takes its toll.
A red rose signifies a burning passion and is filled with truth and lies,
But as time elapses it withers and dies.
Every song and dance we shared,
Welcomes the truth of love and gets us prepared.
The rosary offers hope for those who believe,
Others who mock and tease will soon grieve.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best,
For the hour is not yet finished until I get the rest.

Yours truly,
Eternal Flame
 

It quickly dawned on him that the poem was written by the killer. Disbelief, shock, and perplexity of this latest revelation sent the Chief’s blood pressure rising and his temper flaring. The letter seemed rather personal, almost as if the killer knew him. Who are you, thought the Chief? “Damn bastard! I will get you rest assured, and when I do I’ll put an end to your sick little game,” the Chief declared vindictively, clenching the letter tightly in his hand. He needed an outlet to vent his rage and frustration. The letter dropped from his hand. Shrugging both shoulders, he leaned his head forward onto his outspread hands, firmly grasping his temples. The throbbing continued to escalate to a dangerous and unprecedented level.






Chapter 4
 

He read all the evidence to date. Finally, after many years of investigation it led to the bank robber’s arrest. The loud rap on the door nearly jostled the Chief out of his chair, but successfully sent his file airborne. He was definitely a man on pins and needles, and seven daily doses of caffeine didn’t help matters. “Sorry to startle you, but Dianne Summers’s forensic report has just arrived,” the officer apologized, handing him the file. The Chief anxiously began reading it, while the officer courteously picked the papers from the floor.

He spread the file’s entire contents onto his desk. A series of photographs exposed the cranial and spinal regions. While viewing the photos, he skimmed through the report trying to find the most pertinent details, since the usual technical jargon didn’t impress him. He continued reading. According to the report, the victim hadn’t been buried immediately; the different types of insect colonization found on and around the victim’s mouth, nasal and genital areas confirmed this. The body had been stored indoors for at least several hours before being transported to the park; this was supported by different types of insects found on the body. There were no blows to the head or spine, nor were there any traces of narcotics or poison. How did he kill you, the Chief thought? The next line answered his question. The autopsy concluded that suffocation was the cause of death. This deduction was also supported by the fact that her front lower and upper teeth were slightly dislodged. Dianne’s last visit to the dentist, just days before her disappearance, confirmed they were in perfect alignment. The killer may have caught her by surprise. A visual synopsis formed in the Chief’s mind as he continued reading the report. A rush of sympathy took hold of the Chief as he read the next line. The victim’s heart was severed in half by a sharp object, most likely a large knife. Sickened by this revelation, the Chief yelled, “Sick bastard!” He did not realize that the door was slightly ajar, leaving everyone outside his office to overhear his apparent disgust. “What kind of psychopath are we dealing with?” An infuriated Chief paced the length of his office.

“I’m sorry. I had no idea Chief,” the officer felt uneasy being in the same room.

The killer did not victimize Dianne for her material possessions, since her gold bracelet, matching gold chain encasing a zodiac pendant, and her engagement ring were still on her person. The Chief paused, digesting what he had just read. The rosary and the positioning of the head to the running water suggested that the killer might be involved in a religious cult, or simply be a religious fanatic. If so, thought the Chief, then he may be targeting a specific group of people, but whom?

One thing was for damn certain, the murderer was ruthless. Once he seized his victim, he showed no remorse, mercilessly continuing with his course of action. The Chief also surmised that the killer must have experienced some personal satisfaction, most likely leading him to kill again. But what madness could have triggered him? And, what on earth would set him off again? If Chief Williams’s line of reasoning was correct, there were obviously more victims on his hit list, meaning more murders to follow. But the million dollar question was who would be his next victim? His temples ached forcing him to swallow two more tablets.

The Chief was ready to set his plan of action into motion. He had personally hand-picked a team of three elite detectives with phenomenal track records. All three were specialists in their respective fields and would leave no stone unturned until the killer was captured. The Chief glanced at his wristwatch realizing they’d soon be arriving.

Terry Bradshaw entered police headquarters. She was a twenty year veteran on the homicide squad. Her specialty included reconstructing homicide cases, and deservedly had earned herself a reputation of being extremely detail-oriented, often uncovering clues overlooked by others.

Sean Anderson joined Terry in the conference room. He would definitely prove to be a vital member of the team with over twenty-five years of service. He was dubbed the ‘bloodhound’. Nothing or no one could steer him off course once he picked up a scent, he was relentless like a hound chasing a fox.

Steve Black was the third ingredient needed to successfully solve the homicide. With thirty-five years of duty, he had been involved in a myriad of cases over the years, enriching his treasure chest of experience. Steve was capable of uncovering the minutest detail. Several years ago, he helped arrest a serial killer who viciously took the lives of fifteen women in New York City. If it wasn’t for his participation, many cases would still remain unsolved. Some would swear he relied on the paranormal, giving him an edge like a sixth sense.

The detectives seated themselves in the conference room awaiting the Chief’s arrival. “Thank you for being here on such short notice,” the Chief entered, acknowledging each of them. “We have a murder case which requires your expertise. Earlier this morning, I received the forensic report for Dianne Summers. The cause of death as well as other relevant information suggests we’re not dealing with a single isolated incident, but evidence strongly indicates we’re dealing with a serial killer.” The Chief relayed all of the pertinent details. “We’ve combed the entire crime scene along with the entire park’s grounds and have come up empty-handed. The mayor has implored me to make this my personal mission and would like us to give this murder investigation top priority.” The Chief sighed, “I’m also an old friend of the Summers’ family and believe the killing was premeditated.” His tone intensified and he paused briefly before continuing. “The media is already having a field day, blowing everything out of proportion. We’re under tremendous pressure for not having any leads, suspects, or motives. Therefore detectives, you are going to make this case your top priority. Search the entire crime scene one hundred times if need be, question any potential witnesses at the park or surrounding neighborhood, ask forensics about anything suspicious, interview the family, but be sure to get answers.”

Without the Chief explicitly asking for their co-operation, the officers affirmed a synchronized “yes.”

“Now I want you all to brace yourselves; never in my entire career have I experienced something quite disturbing as this poem.” The Chief appeared flabbergasted as he removed the photocopies from the file and handed each of them a copy. “The original is presently being tested for fingerprints, although realistically he probably was prudent enough to wear gloves.”

He left them to read the poem uninterrupted.

“He doesn’t sound too stable.” Sean Anderson stated.

“He certainly knows enough facts to be the killer,” Terry surmised. “It seems as if he’s playing some sort of mind game, perhaps, a mind duel, if you will. On the one hand he has gone to extraordinary lengths to dispose the body, but then ironically plays a game with us, taunting us to catch him.”

The Chief’s voice and facial appearance was of a man rather tired and shaken, fearing more corpses and mayhem in his city. Sometimes the unknown or unexpected creates more fear and anxiety in a man’s heart than even the most grotesque finding. “Perhaps, he’ll try contacting us again. Most likely, we’re dealing with someone who may exhibit some sort of psychotic behavior. If so, he may already have chosen his next victim,” Steve reasoned.

“Call me with any new developments -- day or night. I‘ve included my cell as well as my home phone number. Furthermore, I‘ve advised the forensic team that you may drop by to see the body.” They dispersed after the meeting, carefully calculating their next move.

 

Dr. Summers wearily began making funeral arrangements. Despite the fact he treated sick patients daily, he never prepared for the final stages either for his wife or himself. They occasionally had discussed signing a will, but postponed making any concrete plans believing it was still too early. Tyler moved at a very slow pace, lacking his usual drive. His mind continuously reverted back to his beloved wife. “How am I supposed to move on without you?” Tyler cried out in desperation. He realized that not only had he lost his wife, but also his confidant. She had supported him for over fifteen years, giving him courage and aspiration during the most difficult times.

Dr. Summers jumped at the sound of the doorbell. Dr. Adams, a colleague at the hospital, greeted Tyler. “I’m very sorry for your loss and Dianne’s tragic death,” he gave him a warm embrace while offering him his condolences. “The staff at the hospital has prepared this for you.” He handed him a large fruit basket. A condolence card accompanied it, signed by many of his colleagues and staff.


Dear Tyler:

Our thoughts are with you at this sorrowful time. We all miss you and wish you and your family peace and love during this difficult period. Please accept our sincerest condolences and our heartfelt sympathies.

 

“Thank everyone for me, I appreciate the kind gesture.”

“Everyone at the hospital is distraught about the news. Dianne was a very special person and we can’t even begin to imagine what you must be going through. Is there anything, anything at all we can do for you?”

“I appreciate you dropping by; I know how hectic things can become at the hospital.”

“Don’t concern yourself with any of that; we have everything under control. Can I help you with the funeral arrangements, or in any other way?” Dr. Summers pondered this for a moment, grateful for any assistance.

“I must sign some authorization papers for client testing.”

“We’ve taken care of everything. We don’t want you to rush back. Take all the time you need.”

“I really appreciate everyone’s assistance and your visit.” Tyler felt lethargic, lacking the drive to engage in conversation.

“You don’t need to thank us, it’s the least we can do. We’ll take care of matters at the hospital, but remember should you need anything, anything whatsoever, don’t hesitate to call. I’ll drop by later.”

No amount of training or experience could prepare the Chief for the news he was about to deliver. He cringed at the thought of being the bearer of more bad news, but Tyler deserved to know the truth. He paused briefly trying to summon enough courage before ringing the doorbell.

A stressed out Tyler called out, “Come in,” in a sullen tone. The Chief felt apprehensive noting his gloomy composure and the doctor’s appearance carried a beaten and worn look as if he had fought in Desert Storm. His hair was graying and predominant wrinkles seemed to have deepened around his eyes literally overnight. Tyler slowly walked into the foyer hunched over like a man of eighty. The Chief was genuinely concerned for his friend; it was disturbing seeing him in such an anguished state.

“Please have a seat,” Tyler gestured to the sofa.

“Thanks,” responded the Chief with a slight nod, finding it increasingly difficult to maintain eye contact.

“I’ve made arrangements for the funeral,” Tyler tried to contain a floodgate of emotions. “The funeral will be held Saturday morning. I decided against a wake since it would be too upsetting for the children, and I’m not sure how much more I can handle.” The doctor’s head was bowed as he fought back tears.

The Chief refrained from speaking, giving his friend some time to regain his composure. It was difficult watching someone grieve over a loved one, especially when that someone was a good friend; he wouldn’t wish it upon his worst enemy. Finding the right words wasn’t the Chief’s specialty, after all his job focused mainly on violence and murder.

“She was a fine person, well-respected, outgoing -- such a natural zest for life, and everyone will always remember her just that way,” the Chief stressed, trying to uplift his friend’s spirits.

“A good wife and an excellent mother, I can’t say enough good things about her,” a grin flashed across Tyler’s face helping to lift some of his melancholy. The Chief was preparing for the right moment to deliver the latest. It was hard in the best of times to deliver bad news, but this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. His clasped hands began to feel clammy, but there was no turning back, the Chief mustered all his courage before relaying the news.

“I’ve assigned the three best detectives on the force to solve this case,” he reassured.

“Do they have any leads, clues, or are we in total darkness?” Tyler wanted answers, anything to bring forth justice, perhaps even retribution.

Sadly, the Chief knew that what he was about to disclose to his friend wasn’t exactly what he hoped to hear. “A couple of new discoveries,” the Chief acknowledged humbly, suddenly feeling in the hot seat.

“Well, what are they?” Tyler’s attentiveness left the Chief’s heart aching.

“As a friend, I know you’ve suffered a great loss, and if you’re not up to it we’ll leave it for another time.” Tyler gave his approval. “Okay -- I want you to read this poem,” the Chief noticed the baffled look on Tyler’s face. “The killer has sent it to my attention. Are you up to reading it?” Tyler nodded. The Chief could see the agony deepen on Tyler’s face as he read on. He then dropped it on the coffee table.

“Good God, what kind of a deranged lunatic is he anyway!” Tyler exclaimed with a shocked expression.

“Do any of his references make any sense to you? Does his signature ring a bell?”

“No, but you seem fairly certain it was written by the killer. Why?”

“Certain evidence coincides with the poem. First of all, her body was found next to the riverbank. He placed a red rose along with a rosary in her hands, both of which he makes reference to in his poem.”

“Has the forensic report been completed?”

“Yes, but we can discuss that later,” assured the Chief.

Sternly, the doctor put his foot down while looking him square in the eyes, “Dammit, I want to know everything, right now. How did she die?”

The Chief felt numb, but was left with no choice; he took a deep breath before reluctantly relaying the grizzly details. “Firstly, I want to assure you that she did not suffer, but died very quickly. Your wife was being suffocated at the same time she was knifed through the heart.”

Tyler paled. His sorrow, shock, and terror were clearly etched all over his face. The expression painted on his face resonated much louder than any words he could have spoken. The Chief coughed a couple of times. The room’s atmosphere had thickened; its intensity could be sliced with a knife. Tightness gripped the Chief’s throat, choking his next words.

“My -- t-throat is a bit scratchy, is it okay if I help myself to a glass of water?”

“Sorry, excuse my manners. There are refreshments in the refrigerator.” The doctor’s kitchen window faced the backyard and the Chief noted the amazing additions including the deck. He returned with two glasses of orange juice. It was agonizing watching his friend face the horrid details and he tried diverting his attention.

The Chief acknowledged, “You have done an excellent job with the backyard.”

“The kids love the addition of the pool. The new cedar deck was great for entertaining guests. Actually, we built the deck at the beginning of this spring. I don’t think you have seen it before.”

“No, but it’s quite impressive.”

“You’ll need to come over next year, once the weather warms up,” Tyler invited. “I appreciate everything you’ve done, but you must be busy and I don’t want to burden you.”

“You don’t need to worry about that. Sure it’s my job to be here, however more importantly I’m here as your friend first. There’s something I need to ask you, although I probably already know the answer. Dianne and you shared a loving relationship, but were there times when you experienced marital difficulties?” he asked embarrassed.

“Oh -- we seldom had any arguments, except of course for minor scuffles.”

“Therefore according to your knowledge, Dianne never stepped out of the boundaries of your marriage?” the Chief flushed, as he was direct and to the point.

“Oh, you mean as in an affair? Ha -- I never needed to worry about that. We were both faithful and loyal to one another, and made a pact to keep our feelings open.”

“That’s what I thought. It’s getting late, have you had dinner?”

“I don’t have much of an appetite. But you go ahead.”

“You need to keep up your strength, besides I hate dining alone. I know of an Indonesian restaurant just down the street, which makes the most incredible vegetable soup.”

“Well -- alright.” Tyler hesitantly agreed, and was about to reach into his wallet.

“It’s on me; I’ll be back shortly.”

The Chief pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, but surprisingly this evening the queue consisted of only a couple of customers. Slowly, the Chief inched forward ready to place his order at the drive-thru window. He frequented the restaurant on a regular basis and was instantly recognized by staff.

“Good evening Chief Williams, may I take your order?” beamed Tina, a bright cheerful teenager.

“Good evening Tina, give me a couple of your famous vegetable soups, a dozen chicken wings, two vegetable salads, a couple of rolls, and could you throw in some barbecue sauce, please.” Tina liked the Chief. She found him never to be pushy or abrupt, but always maintained a calm and pleasant demeanor. It only took a couple of minutes for him to receive his order.

“Here you go Chief Williams, thanks and please come again,” Tina handed him the double-wrapped paper bag with a warm smile.

“You guys are getting quicker and quicker,” the Chief complimented.

“Thanks,” she beamed. He placed his food on the passenger seat. The Chief switched the radio on for some company.

“Earlier this evening, the disappearance of a …”

“Jesus Christ!” Errrrr...Loud screeching sounds overpowered the Chief’s radio. “Shit, you dumb crazy idiot!” the Chief exploded. His well-developed motor skills allowed him to just barely swerve out of harm’s way. A maniac entering the plaza driving a dark BMW came within inches of side-swiping him. The Chief glanced over and breathed a sigh of relief seeing his take-out had miraculously not toppled over. With everything happening lately, the Chief’s patience was running thin. Normally he would have chased in hot pursuit, but his grieving friend really needed support and he was determined to be there for him.

 

Jack slammed the front door and bolted for the kitchen. The loud racket escalated Tara’s apprehension as she frantically fluttered about. She finally let her guard down at the sight of her master. “Daddy’s home. You’re going to have to be patient for a minute, my friend. Whew, what a day.” He dumped a couple of ice cubes in his glass and poured himself a shot of Scotch. Jack took a moment to relax and stretched out on his recliner. He swirled his drink and enjoyed the clinking sounds of ice striking the glass. Before downing his drink, he enjoyed watching the counter-sinking and floating effect of the ice cubes. Jack’s stomach rumbled, realizing he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. He placed the chicken nuggets in the microwave. As he lifted his glass, he nearly knocked over the remaining sauce.

“Yikes -- that was the second close call today!” Jack chuckled on his lightning reflexes. He managed to catch the sauce before it splattered all over the Persian rug.

“Cloze cull, cloze cull,” Tara twittered as she picked at her vegetables, seated across from Jack. Jack realized he would be quite lonely without her, not to mention she was a great source of entertainment. In turn, maybe he spoiled her too much. For a split second, he wondered if this would come back to haunt him.

He quickly flicked on the TV to watch the rest of the evening news.

“The identity of the victim found at Stetson Highland Park has been identified as that of Dianne Summers; wife of Doctor Tyler Summers.”

Jack froze.

“She had mysteriously disappeared earlier in the summer, and despite a massive manhunt police came up empty-handed. Her body was found buried along the park’s riverbed; police are investigating and ask if anyone has any information to please come forward. Dianne was well-respected in the community and will be sadly missed. She leaves behind her two young children, Cindy and Christopher. Her funeral will be a private function …” informed the news reporter.

“Oh my God! -- I can’t believe it,” Jack was stunned. Shockwaves filled him, making it difficult for him to keep still as he continuously moved about in the living room in a state of panic. He needed another drink, a damn stiff one.

As he made his way to the kitchen, he was still in a state of shock. This time, he poured himself a glass of Scotch hoping it would help calm his shattered nerves. He carried the drink into the living room. His hand rested momentarily on his family photo album. It pained him tremendously, realizing all the wonderful times they had once shared were now lost forever. A few moments elapsed, before he reached for the Bible which sat on the shelf next to his many trophies. Jack tightened his grasp on the cover, before opening the book to one of his favorite passages. It was common for him to revert back to the sacred book whenever he felt too distressed. It was a passage from Luke 7:2, Love of Enemies. He read out loud.
 

“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek offer the other one as well, and for the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”

 

Jack completed the passage feeling comforted by its words. He swirled his glass, which still remained half full and then set it on the end table. It had always perplexed him how one devastating event could deeply affect so many lives. Jack reflected upon this thought for a while, before deciding to head upstairs to shower. He was sipping the rest of his drink when the telephone rang.

“Hello, hel --” answered the nervous caller.

“Who’s this?” demanded Jack in an annoyed tone, concluding it to be a crank call.

Panting sounds were audible in the background. “It’s Pete Waters. Did you hear the news?” Jack hadn’t initially recognized Pete’s shaky voice. He was an old high school friend who now and again kept in touch.

“You mean the discovery of Dianne Summers’s body?” Jack sadly concluded.

“Yes, isn’t it just awful?” Pete too sounded in a state of despair.

“I’m still in shock; I just heard it on the local news station. I just can’t imagine why anyone would hurt her -- her of all people.”

“She was always generous and kind to everyone. This is so freaky.”

“Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting her dead. Do they have leads or suspects?” blurted Jack.

“Nothing, but I’m sure sooner or later they’ll catch the psychopath, and I hope they put him in the slammer and throw away the keys. Justice would certainly prevail,” Pete was fuming, stressing each syllable, emphasizing his disgust. It was hard accepting that someone so caring had suffered such a vicious death.

“Keep me posted, I would like to attend the funeral to offer my condolences.”

“Sure -- as soon as I get all the details, I’ll give you a call. Take it easy.”

“Thanks -- I appreciate it.” Jack slumped himself on the leather sofa.

He gulped down the rest of his drink, and felt the Scotch’s sting.

Jack walked at a brisk pace, heading in the direction of the loud clicking noises. They appeared to be coming from the kitchen, and low and behold he was astonished to see Tara tiptoeing all over the kitchen countertop next to the empty bottle of scotch. “Tara how on earth did you get out?” marveled Jack in complete fascination.

“Hi daddy, remember a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” mimicked Tara. Jack apprehensively looked around. Who said that, he wondered in astonishment? But no one else was present. She had never previously spoken in complete sentences, and delving in self-doubt, he asked another question just to make sure his ears weren’t playing tricks on him.

“What do you think of the way daddy manages to keep the kitchen clean and organized?” tested Jack.

“Everything is spotless and in its proper place: glasses, forks, and knives,” replied Tara.

“This is unreal.” Jack was spooked and desperately needed to clear his mind. “Now daddy is going to place you back and I’m going to get some fresh air.” Still in disbelief, Jack took a couple of deep breaths trying to cope with what he just heard. Not possible, he thought to himself. He opted to take a short walk through the park. The night was lit by the pale moonlight and a few street lights, managing to keep its silhouette well hidden. “Yikes,” Jack ducked just in time. He tried to reverse directions, but it swooped towards him like a missile locked onto its target. “Get away from me!” he yelled out into the darkness. It landed on a lamppost just meters away from him. Jack peered straight into its eyes. He followed the dark tunnel intently to see where it would lead him; ironically, it seemed to be never ending, like the abyss.

Evidently it was a trap.

“You can try hiding from me Jack, but you’ll never escape me,” it forewarned with a cold glare. Oddly enough, Jack could hear the words without the raven’s beak actually moving. A cold shiver shot through him, and for the first time he felt truly vulnerable, much like a cornered animal ready to be preyed upon. Jack felt a rush of adrenaline being able to reach the safe haven of his home. Prudently, he kept the door in his sights as he took slow backward steps. It didn’t move, but remained perched almost frozen in time. Jack instinctively knew that at any moment it would dive for him again, and in a panic he accidentally stumbled over the curb. The raven didn’t miss its opportunity, diving straight down at Jack’s eyes. Jack’s training automatically stepped in, and he rolled over onto the hard pavement several times. Into the darkness he frantically searched, but had lost the whereabouts of the dark presence. He then caught sight of a shovel and grabbed it in self-defense.

“Let’s see how tough you are now!” Jack took empty swipes hoping to dissuade any further advances. His front door was less than a few meters away, and Jack cautiously stepped backwards, anticipating the worst. Fear accompanied his every step.

“You know it’s only a matter of time before I conquer you Jack,” inexplicably the voice resonated seemingly from all directions. Somehow the raven remained one step ahead of him, cleverly anticipating his every move. It was determined to become one with Jack’s mind, body, and soul. Calculating, it landed on Jack’s rooftop, unknowingly to him. It swooped at Jack ready to take revenge; Jack momentarily froze as he heard the loud flapping of wings behind him.

“AHHHHH!” His screams echoed far into the darkness.

The raven’s hideous darkness eclipsed the moon’s light as it descended aggressively intent on striking its target. In a desperate sprawl, Jack lunged forward and rolled over several times. Then there was complete darkness.

Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…

 

Cautiously, the trio descended the hill with careful steps. Their hands offered no support, as they were overburdened with a large number of excavating tools.

The demarcation tape stood out like a sore thumb. Terry, Sean, and Steve stood silent, perhaps a bit reluctant of the arduous task at hand. They too would sieve through the sand, grain by grain, to ensure no evidence had been overlooked. Steve carefully descended into the hollow space beaming his flashlight. Sifting through sand and dirt wasn’t exactly their idea of fun. It was damn tedious and laborious; an inexact science in which the parameters were not readily defined. Just as he had lost hope of recovering anything, his flashlight reflected something shiny near his right foot. He dared not touch it, but wisely brushed the sand away from around the object. A burst of excitement filled him, “I’ve found something.” Steve placed the shirt button into a plastic evidence bag and handed it to them. All their attention was drawn to the small object. He then thoroughly sprayed the ground with Luminol, aware that if any blood existed it would react with iron to expose even the minutest traces of blood. He continued to rake the sand.

It was a cool morning, but the sun’s rays still made it comfortable to work outdoors. “I don’t know about you guys, but I could sure use a break,” Sean suggested.

“It’s quite possible that the button belongs to the killer, but we need more evidence,” Terry surmised.

“Whoever we are dealing with is certainly no amateur. He’s very confident, perhaps cocky, and seems to have a well- thought-out plan. Also, I haven’t come across too many killers with the audacity to write a poem to the Chief of Police.”

“Yeah, no kidding. Perhaps confident is not the right word -- maybe raving lunatic is a more fitting description,” Sean sounded a little troubled, but continued. “Surprisingly, he’s quite thorough, unlike some murders committed in a moment of heated rage, with the killers leaving behind a heap of evidence. We’re still clueless as to the motive. I have this burning feeling inside that there’s something very unsettling with this whole picture, something is just not quite right. Generally, I don’t rely on gut instincts, but have a strong conviction to do so this time.”

“It’s almost as if he’s drawing us into some sort of game, taunting us to catch him,” Steve added his own thoughts. “As weird as this may sound, perhaps he wants to be apprehended, then he’d be forced to stop his killings. If he’s mentally unstable, then he’s definitely not in total control, affecting both his temperament and personality,” Steve tried rationalizing.

“You mean like a split personality?” Terry looked stunned.

“Exactly, thus he maintains a seemingly normal personality,” Steve explained, stressing his point.

Just as Terry was dropping the next shovelful into the sifter, her eye caught a quick reflection. “Uh-ha, perhaps the killer is getting a little sloppy,” she stated.

Steve unfolded a small square canvas for the contents to be examined. Terry poured slowly for fear of losing the object. With a small brush, she brushed the earth aside creating a thin layer over the tarp.

“It looks like a piece of metal,” Sean blurted out.

“Yes, it’s a broken piece from something,” Terry acceded.

“Well if I didn’t know any better -- I would say it was part of a shovel,” Steve noted the pointed edge. They unanimously agreed with his clever deduction. It was also placed in a clear plastic evidence bag.

“Why wasn’t the fragment discovered earlier by the metal detectors?” Terry asked puzzlingly.

“Good point,” Sean retorted disappointingly. “We’ll have to bring it to the Chief’s attention.”

They loaded their tools, hauling everything into the back of the van. Tomorrow they would take aerial photographs, retracing the killer’s route. Each of them parted with a different agenda in mind, since in a couple of hours they would regroup with the Chief.


In the distance, an incessant ringing noise begged him to answer the call. Jack found himself on the sofa, apparently having overslept. It was now lunchtime. Suddenly, Tara flew intending to land on her master, but missed. A startled Jack tried recalling back to last evening, unsure if he had fastened the latch.

“Jack be quick; Jack be swift.” He felt groggy and cradled his pounding head. It was difficult for him to regain his balance, and he staggered several times before finally settling for the comfort of his Persian rug.

“Shoot, Tara you nearly soiled the rug!” he scolded. His head reeled with pain as he kept telling himself to clean up the mess, but his body wouldn’t co-operate.

An hour elapsed before he made any attempts to stand. Jack staggered to the kitchen, fumbling to make a fresh pot of coffee. While the coffee was brewing, he made his way to the front door. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and noticed his red puffy eyes. As Jack was about to open the door to check for any mail, he was shocked to find he hadn’t set his alarm. This peeved him, since it left him completely vulnerable. His neighbor had been burglarized just last year. Jack knew he had to be more vigilant.

He welcomed the cold water beating against his skin, lifting his grogginess and sharpening his senses. He patted himself dry and caught a glimpse of stubble forming on his chin from the oval mirror’s reflection. The oval mirror had become part of the family heirloom, dating back three generations. His grandmamma, Ellen, always professed that one’s conscience was clear if one could look directly into the mirror without feeling any remorse.

 

“A Special Investigative Team is combing the park,” the Chief assured Mayor Wilson.

“Sure as hell hope we catch this maniac soon. Today alone, I’ve received at least twenty phone calls from concerned citizens and other parties. Her death has angered a lot of folks and they’re demanding answers,” the mayor seemed overwhelmed.

“Rest assured, I’ll leave no stone unturned until we catch the killer.”

“I have full confidence in your abilities, and am terribly sorry for your loss; I‘m aware you’re a good friend of the family.”

“Thank you -- she was a terrific lady. I’ll keep you updated.”

“Take care and send my regards to the family. If you need anything, and I mean anything, don’t hesitate to call.”  The mayor left it in the Chief’s capable hands.

The Chief was a bit startled from the thump on the door. “Hey -- you seem to be drowning in paperwork,” chuckled Alan.

“You can say that again,” the Chief wearily looked at his desk.

“I brought you a coffee and a muffin, if my memory serves me correctly, banana walnut.”

“Thanks, I could use a break.”

“Any plans for this weekend?”

“Not at the moment,” the Chief made eye contact.

“You’re welcome to join us at the cottage. I still get a good laugh thinking back to last year.” Larry smirked. “Remember Simon trying to escape from his puppy’s grasp, hopping backwards, while the puppy was pulling with all its might to rip his sock off.” The Chief laughed, remembering poor Simon landing in the water. It had been hilarious to watch the dog flip the sock into mid-air, catch it, and then crazily swing his head from side to side.

An officer’s loud knock on the door startled him, “Sir, a Mr. Harrison is on his way to the station, and wants to file a missing person’s report. His wife has not returned home since yesterday. The Chief’s eyes widened with fear, thinking Mr. Harrison’s wife might have become Eternal Flame’s next victim.

The Chief rose quickly, hoping to jump onto any leads. “Call me the second he walks through the front door,” he stated firmly.

“Yes sir,” the officer answered before exiting.

Chief Williams rubbed his aching temples. He pulled the desk drawer open and reached for the painkillers. The Chief tried to remain calm, but took comfort knowing the Investigative Team would be arriving shortly, along with Federal Agents Gray and Michael. Given the circumstances, he felt it prudent to compile a strong team before the killer could strike again. The Chief saw Terry through the glass window and motioned her to enter. “We may have a real dilemma on our hands; a gentleman named Mr. Harrison will be arriving shortly. Apparently his wife has been missing for over twenty-four hours. I want the team to be present when he arrives, so we can formulate a plan of action.”

“We’ll be waiting in the conference room,” Terry hurried to find the others.

In a panic, he searched for the information desk. He briefly updated the officer, who in turn hurled a series of questions at him. “I don’t know that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here!” Mr. Harrison exploded at the attending officer. The Chief was promptly notified that Mr. Harrison had just arrived.

He immediately rushed to the front desk, as every second counted.

“Mr. Harrison, I’m Chief Williams, please come with me,” he instructed curtly. They walked briskly along a lengthy corridor before reaching the conference room. “Everyone, this is Mr. Harrison. I’ve invited our special Investigative Team, along with Agents Gray and Michael from the FBI to assist us with this matter.”

“When was the last time you saw your wife?” Agent Gray proceeded.

“Yesterday morning, but I didn’t speak to her since she stepped in the shower while I was on my way out.”

“Did she say anything the evening before -- of any plans?”

“Uh, tomorrow she was supposed to leave for New York for a couple of days.”

“Does she usually travel?”

“A few times a year.”

“Is anything missing from your home?”

“No.” Unknowingly to Mr. Harrison, they all wondered if she suffered an ill fate at the hands of Eternal Flame. Wisely, no one dared to share these thoughts with him.

“Were there any hints of a struggle?” Terry inquired.

“No. I even checked her jewelry and everything was there except for Lisa’s necklace and watch, which she may still be wearing.”

“Were all the windows shut?”

“Yes, everything was locked. Our alarm system was even set.” Something was not quite right with the picture Mr. Harrison was painting; something just didn’t add up.

“Does she own a vehicle?”

“Yes, it’s still parked in the garage. It seems like she just vanished off the face of the earth. I heard about the other lady on the local news and I’m worried sick,” confessed Mr. Harrison nervously, who seemed on the verge of a breakdown.

“Let’s not jump to any conclusions at this point,” Steve consoled in a reassuring tone. Even though, quite truthfully, he himself feared the worst.

“Does she usually leave you a note?” Sean asked.

“Yes, she’s really good about that sort of thing. Lisa always lets me know her whereabouts,” Mr. Harrison frowned. “That’s what so puzzling.”

“Okay, we would like to check for any clues at your home. We’re also going to need a list of names and numbers of friends, family, and her place of employment,” the Chief explained hurriedly.

“Sure, most of that information is at our home anyway.”

It did not surprise the Chief that nothing had been missing from his home. If Dianne’s killer was responsible, material objects were clearly of no concern. As for the alarm system, the killer could be knowledgeable enough to successfully disarm it and then rearm it.

Terry performed a quick overhaul of Lisa Harrison’s car. The doors did not appear to have been tampered with in any way. She used a special type of a brush to pick up any human hairs. Terry had already dusted for prints on both the interior and exterior of the car.

Mr. Harrison watched as Agent Michael and Agent Gray filtered through everything in their bedroom, while answering numerous questions. “Yes, that’s the way she usually keeps the vanity set. She’s exceptionally neat and well-organized. Everything is just the way she usually leaves them.”

“Have you touched anything this morning?”

“I just opened that drawer to check on the contents of her jewelery, along with the walk-in-closet for a fresh pair of clothing. Actually, I did not even sleep in here last night. Instead, I slept on the couch thinking she might be working late, and I would hear her once she stepped inside.”

Downstairs, Steve and Chief Williams meticulously rummaged through the kitchen cabinets, pouring samples, and also dusted for prints. They asked Mr. Harrison how many knives they kept. The knives sat on the countertop and had been arranged according to size in their proper slots, and all six of them were present. Each one of them would be examined for fingerprints.

Sean, in the meantime, drove to her place of employment. Part of Lisa’s job as Merchandise Assistant was to ensure that the shop’s front display windows were dressed in the latest fashions. She enjoyed traveling to the Big Apple a couple times of year to purchase mannequins and other props for the boutique.

The Chief quickly took the call, “I see and when did this happen?” The Chief’s heart skipped a few beats. “We’ll be right there.”  In a calm tone, he asked, “Mr. Harrison may I speak to you for a moment?” The Chief gestured him into the living room. “I’ve just received a call, but promise me you won’t jump to any conclusions. A woman’s body has been discovered, although she carried no identification.”

“Oh my God! Please God,” Mr. Harrison covered his face with both hands and his eyes became watery. “Please don’t let it be Lisa. I don’t know what I would do without her. She means everything to me.”

Despite the fact that the Chief had been to the morgue countless times, he couldn’t repudiate the fact that this time was somehow different. He truly empathized with him. Perhaps the loss of a dear friend had somehow changed his perspective from a distant and impersonal one to a close and more sympathetic nature. “Now, please try and remain calm. We’ll go to the morgue together,” he consoled.

The Chief watched nervously as Mr. Harrison had been completely restless along the way. He repeatedly combed his hair with his fingers, clasped and unclasped his hands, and it appeared that Mr. Harrison might crack before viewing the body. The Chief let out a sigh of relief as he pulled into the closest parking space.

The morgue was bone-chilling cold; the frigid temperatures were a must in order to preserve the body from further deterioration. The Chief shuddered and swore for having forgotten his jacket, whereas Mr. Harrison was extremely agitated and wasn’t fazed by the extreme cold.

“Okay, they’re ready for us to view the body. Now take a deep breath,” the Chief coached. Mr. Harrison’s eyes were glazed wide open, partially from shock, but mostly with fear. His hands were clasped around his head and a worried look crossed his face as he feared the worst. Quite frankly, the Chief feared he would pass out noting his pale complexion.

The body was covered with a white sheet. Mr. Harrison noted the similar body length even from a horizontal position. The coroner began to lift the sheet slightly exposing her hair color. “God no!” he gasped, having noted the similar hair color. The Chief and the coroner quickly exchanged dire looks. The coroner hesitated momentarily before continuing.

 

Sean purposely withheld his position hoping not to send the office into a state of turmoil. He patiently waited to speak with the manager. “Mrs. Bloc is busy with a client for another ten minutes. Please have a seat, I’ll let her know you’re waiting,” the receptionist informed. “Oh, Mr. Anderson is she expecting you? I don’t see your name on today’s appointment list.” she asked pushing up her glasses.

“Actually no, but it’s imperative that I speak to her immediately.” Sean was willing to wait ten minutes, tops. If need be, he would certainly flash his ID.

He entertained himself with ladies’ fashion magazines.

“Mr. Anderson, I’m Mrs. Bloc. I understand you’re waiting to see me.”

“Yes, it’s concerning Lisa Harrison. Can we speak somewhere privately?”

Mrs. Bloc’s hefty figure led him to the far end of the corridor to the privacy of her office. She closed the door behind her. “Okay, I’m not at liberty to discuss any personal information about my employees,” Mrs. Bloc bluntly announced as soon as the door was firmly shut.

Sean didn’t have time to play games and flashed his ID. “I’m with the New Jersey Police Department and this is an important police matter.”

“Oh my! Is Lisa in some kind of trouble?” Mrs. Bloc grimaced.

“That’s what I’m here to find out. When was the last time you saw Lisa?” Sean questioned.

She paused a brief moment, “Uh -- it was two days ago.” Sean keenly sensed her hesitation and wondered if she was telling the truth, or perhaps, just maybe, she was hiding something.