Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
“Sounds good. We’ll get this guy.”
Friday, August 12th, 9:45 AM
ANNIE worked her way across town, heading east. There wasn’t too much traffic to contend with at this time of day. Everybody who was going to work was already there, and she zipped her Escort deftly through the steaming city streets and made it to the outskirts in a few minutes. She was heading for County Road 12, the south road bordering the swamp. It was a few miles and a few minutes before she reached the remote stretch of country blacktop.
She planned this time to take a slow ride along the two-mile section, make some mental notes, and work her way back, checking out any possible places she had noted.
Driving with one eye on the unkempt and unkept road, and the other one studying the landscape to her left, after a couple of miles she reached the north/south intersection. That’s as far as she wanted to go. She’d noticed two spots of interest. She spun into a lane-way to turn around. She recognized it as the old Spencer farm. She could make out the barn, and shuddered at the thought of Mrs. Spencer who’d been found there, dangling by a rope from the overhead beam.
Then, she thought of Jeremy, probably at work at Mortinos right now, and how hard it must be for him to keep this place up by himself, especially with the low wage he must earn as a stock-boy.
Suspending her thoughts, she backed out and steered back the way she’d come. The shoulder of the road was narrow. She hadn’t seen any traffic yet, but she kept to the right and crept along. After about a mile she pulled over and stopped, the right side of the car tilted, almost in the ditch running along the edge.
She climbed from the vehicle and studied the area. It’d looked like a possible place of interest, but a look around showed there was no way a car could pass through here. Maybe a 4x4 or something, but certainly not the low-slung Tercel Bronson drove.
One more spot to try. She drove a few hundred more feet and pulled over again. This looked more promising. There was a small rutted track leading from the road, through a weeded field, and into the leafy forest of maples. If her memory was correct, it was just about parallel to the sugar shack they’d seen yesterday, a mile or so through the forest, and probably on the other side of the swamp, which filled the interior.
Jumping from her car, she examined the narrow track. The ground was firm. A few weeds struggled through the baked soil, and potholes marred the wheel tracks. It didn’t look to be an often-used lane.
She walked slowly down the pathway. To her left and right were rocks and weeds. Wild berry bushes and juniper shrubs dotted the field, sparsely at first, and grew thicker as she reached the tree line. A breeze whispered through a patch of grass, causing the tops to dance in the sun. As if carved with precision by a master sculptor, there was a sudden retreat into shadows at the edge of the dense forest. The cloudless morning sky disappeared under the impenetrable sheet of leaves above.
Peering ahead, Annie could see the pathway continued on, winding among the trees. She couldn’t see how far, and kept on. She was startled by a flock of blackbirds peeling themselves away from the treetops, squawking and screeching as they went, probably looking for another private perch, away from unwanted intruders.
She calculated she was in about a quarter of a mile, when the path petered out into a small clearing. Around her were untold acres of leaves, branches, and rotting tree stumps.
She was confident she was on the right track. The soil samples from the underside of Bronson’s vehicle had to have come from this area. There’s nowhere else for miles around fitting the botanical forensic report. She was confident in Sammy’s expertise, and was determined to keep looking.
Friday, August 12th, 10:12 AM
JAKE’S phone buzzed in his pocket. He dug it out.
“This is Jake.”
“Jake, it’s Chris. He’s here now. The security cameras just caught him coming in the front doors.”
“Are you in your office?”
“Ok, see the row of buttons there on the equipment? There should be one saying ‘Record’. Hit that button.”
“That starts all of the cameras recording. Keep an eye on the live monitor now, and see if he hits the jewelry counter. In the meantime, I’m about finished here, so I’ll head on over. I’m on my way as I speak. See you in ten.”
A uniformed cop, just leaving the station, whipped his head around and frowned as Jake backed out and squealed away. Jake never worried about speeding tickets. He always managed to avoid them. Almost always. And right now, he made double time as he shot the few blocks to Cranstons, screeching into the taxi waiting area in front of the store.
He knew Chris could probably handle the situation, but he wanted to earn his pay. Besides, it could be fun.
Chris saw him coming and beckoned frantically. “He’s there now. It’s a different girl at the counter today. He probably wanted to avoid seeing the same one.”
They watched the monitors.
Jake grinned. “Look at that envelope he’s carrying. He’s gonna try again.”
“Yeah, and it’ll be the last time.”
They saw the girl reach into the showcase and remove a tray of rings. They saw the large envelope put into play. They saw the distraction, and the grab, and finally they read his lips: “Not today. Thank you very much” with a nod and a smile as he moved away.
“Let’s go,” Chris said. “I’ll take the front door, you take the side.”
“Remember, wait till he leaves the store,” Jake warned.
“No problem. I’ve done this before.”
Chris walked quickly toward the front of the store, while Jake hurried to the side. He zipped past the line at the cash registers and took a quick look back. The thief wasn’t coming yet, so he stepped outside and moved around the corner out of sight.
He called Chris’s cell. “I’m out here now. Any sign of him there?”
“Hey, don’t you guys have any walkie-talkies for this?”
Chris laughed. “Cell phones work better.”
They waited for a few minutes. Jake could hear Chris humming some ‘80’s tune. Or was it from the ‘70’s. He wasn’t sure.
The doors whirred open and closed a few times. Mothers with babies. Some old guy. A couple of girls, probably skipping school.
“Ok, I see him,” Jake whispered. “He’s coming out.”
Jake moved in behind the suspect. He tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me,” he said.
The man spun around. “Yes?”
“I need you to come with me.”
The man frowned and cocked his head. “What’s this all about?”
“Just come with me please.” Jake grabbed him firmly by the arm. “Back inside,” he ordered.
The thief tried to pull free but Jake’s grip allowed no possibility of freedom.
Chris was coming their way as Jake escorted the man inside. He grabbed the other arm. “Care for this dance?” he asked.
The man scowled at him, but offered no resistance as he was marched across the store to the security office. Chris shut the door quietly behind them.
“Empty your pockets.”
“You’ve no right to hold me,” the man said arrogantly.
“Actually, we do. You’re on private property and we have proof you stole a ring from the jewelry department.” Chris pointed to the monitors. “Right there, scumbag.”
There was a tap on the office door and it was pushed open. A security guard poked his head in. Jake and Chris turned at the sound.
The thief was waiting for any opportunity. And there it was. He dove headfirst to the floor, and scrambling and rolling, he slipped past the legs of the guard, spinning to his feet. He stumbled a moment, caught his balance, and ran.
Jake reacted. Chris was right behind him. They chased him down a long aisle, before he came to a quick stop and vaulted over a counter leading to the hardware department. He stumbled as he landed, but quickly gained his feet, pushing aside a couple of kids as he ran, knocking one crying to the floor. Jake vaulted the counter behind him, but the man had taken another turn and headed for the stock room.
Chris was still behind, on his cell, calling for the other guards to watch the doors. “Don’t let anybody out!” he yelled.
The large metal doors leading to the stock room burst open as the thief hit them, barely slowing down. The impact caused him to stumble and fall, but he landed like a cat and was up again.
Jake dove for him and caught him by the pant leg. His grip slipped and he was left holding a shoe. The man was up and running, but Jake reached back into his football years at high school and the shoe flew from his hand, smashing the runner squarely in the back of his head.
He went down face first.
Jake had him. While twisting his right arm securely behind his back, he forced him to his feet.
Chris walked over. He was steaming. Whacking the thief in the chest with his open hand, he rammed him back against the concrete wall. The blow caused the thief’s head to bounce against the wall a couple of times. His eyes rolled.
Chris’s face was two inches away. “You run again, you scumbag, and next time you’ll go right through the wall.”
The scumbag just glared back, held securely to the wall.
Another security guard came running.
“Call the police,” Chris said. “Let’s get this guy out of here.
Friday, August 12th, 11:15 AM
ANNIE HAD SPENT the last few minutes walking back and forth, up and down, combing the area where she was sure Bronson’s vehicle had been. She was looking for tire tracks, footprints, anything. Anything unusual at all.
The rich earthy smell of the nearby swamp filled her nostrils. She watched a squirrel scamper up a tree and disappear in the foliage above. A sparrow chirped. A woodpecker tapped.
What had he been doing here? There’s got to be something I’m missing.
She examined the forest floor several yards ahead. Near the edge of the clearing, she noticed a slight dipping of the earth, as if the ground had sunk. Walking over, she bent down and brushed away some of the dead leaves and twigs. The soil below was rich and soft. She felt it with her fingers.
She brushed away more of the decaying undergrowth.
It was a child’s footprint. Barely detectable but unmistakable. She stared at it a moment, and then carefully swept more and more.
Lots of footprints!
She pulled out her cell and snapped a few pictures. The whole area, and then a couple close-ups of the clearest footprint. Tucking away her phone, she scooped out a handful of soil, and frowned. Why are there undecayed twigs and leaves under the soil? As if the ground had been disturbed here. Recently.
She stood and stepped back. She should’ve brought the shovel. It was still in the trunk of her car, so she’ll have to go back and get it. She looked at her watch. Lots of time.
She hurried back to her car and popped the trunk. A vehicle zipped by on the road, heading for the horizon. She removed the shovel, slammed the trunk, and made her way back to the trees, the shovel slung over her shoulder.
Using the shovel, she scraped back the ground, layer by layer. She worked for several minutes. It was cool under the canopy of leaves and branches, but she stopped to wipe her forehead on the sleeve of her shirt. She swatted at a mosquito buzzing around her head.
Then, dug more and more.
Even down a couple of feet, there was still a trace of undecayed leaves mixed in with the soil. She was on the right track.
Her shovel hit something solid. She tossed it aside and dug at the area with her hand. Digging and scraping and brushing.
It was a shoe!
She jumped back in horror, stumbling over a branch, and fell on her buttocks. She sat there a moment, mouth and eyes wide, breathing fast. She stared at the shoe in disbelief.
She was afraid what she might find attached to that shoe.
She wanted to run. She just wanted to get out of there. But gritting her teeth, she summoned her bravery and edged over to the hole. Not wanting to, but as if forced involuntarily, she gently brushed away the soil around the shoe, bit by bit.
Then, she realized she’d found what she hadn’t wanted to. What she’d thought may be hidden in this forest, but had hoped wasn’t here at all.
She wasn’t wrong.
There was a leg attached to that shoe.
She called 9-1-1.
Friday, August 12th, 11:55 AM
OLD Edna Bellows was rather a kindly soul. Always optimistic and cheerful, but lonely. Everyone she had known was dead now. She’d had so many funerals to attend, she couldn’t get to them all. At eighty-nine years old, her savings had long run dry. Now she had to settle for living in a small apartment in a wretched old building that should’ve been long ago condemned. The government check she received each month barely covered her dwelling space, with little left for food to keep her energy up.
Nonetheless, life goes on. She sighed to herself as she counted out the few remaining coins rattling around in her cookie jar. Just enough for a bit of bread, maybe a pack of chicken wieners, the no-name brand, and maybe a jar of marmalade.
“Sounds like a feast to me,” she chuckled.
She was too proud to use one of those silly walkers the old folks were using these days. She grasped the handle of a well-worn cane as she removed it from the doorknob. She tied a scarf over her thin gray hair, fastening it firmly under her chin. Grabbing her handbag, she made her way out to the hallway, locking the door carefully behind her.
She was glad to be on the second floor. Only two flights to climb. With the elevator not working, as usual, it took her some time to make it to the street, and hugging her cane with one hand, handbag clutched in the other, she moved haltingly down the sidewalk toward her destination.