Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
She hummed a happy tune as she went. She smiled a sweet hello to everyone passing her on the sidewalk, but most of them didn’t have time for a useless old woman. She didn’t care. It was a lovely day and she felt refreshed.
The door at Mortinos opened automatically as she approached it. She was still amazed at how that could possibly work, but it always seemed to, so she slipped through the door confidently.
Picking out her purchases didn’t take much time at all because her list was so short. Passing by the meat department she thought, oh my, that looks good. Her eye had been on a nice juicy pork chop, nestled securely in its styrofoam coffin, covered with a blanket of thin plastic wrap. It seemed to be calling her name. She dug in her purse again and counted her coins. Not enough. She moved along the counter. She looked back. Her mouth watered.
A devil appeared on her shoulder, probing her with its wicked thoughts. Tempting her. Goading her.
Poor Mrs. Bellows had never stolen anything in her life, and she certainly didn’t intend to start now. But the vision of that lovely chop sizzling on her grill, the smell of hot juices filling her nose, fork and knife ready, were more than her feeble will could take.
A quick look in either direction, and with a deft move she slid the awaiting feast to the front of the case and into her handbag. She immediately felt a touch of guilt, but insufficient to cause a change of mind. She walked her slow walk toward the checkouts at the front of the store, now empowered by the devil on her shoulder.
Friday, August 12th, 12:35 PM
JEREMY had been busy. The boss was working him hard today. One thing after another. Right now, he was busy piling up cartons of macaroni and cheese, as high, maybe higher, than he could reach. He’d had to get a stepladder to help him.
He stood on the top rung, hoping the ladder wouldn’t wobble and send him crashing down. He looked around. From his vantage point, he could almost see the whole store. Crowds at the registers, people picking at vegetables, and some old hag looking at the meat.
Then, he frowned and stared hard. He couldn’t believe it. The old hag had stuffed a package of meat in her purse and was now making off with it.
He sighed and climbed off his perch, taking one careful step after another, and followed the woman toward the front of the store. As he walked past her, he peeped slyly into her handbag. Yup, still there.
“I’ve got a delivery to make. Be back soon,” he spoke to the manager as he neared the front of the store.
The manager just grunted and went on reading from his clipboard.
Jeremy slipped past the registers and out the front door. He stood outside, around the corner against the wall, where he couldn’t be seen from the front.
In a few minutes, the old hag, working her cane, hobbled through the exit. He knew stealing wasn’t stealing until they left the store, so just to make sure, he walked past her again and checked her bag. Yeah, still there. He ducked into an alley and let her get ahead of him, and then strolled out and followed her.
Because she moved so slowly, it took some time, but finally they reached the run-down dwelling where he supposed she lived. Jeremy slipped inside behind her as she sweetly held the door open for him.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
She went to the right, so he went left. As she opened the stairwell door, he turned around and headed back in her direction. Keeping out of sight, he made the slow uphill climb, one plodding step after another.
Two floors later, he watched her through the stairwell exit, and into the hallway. Second door down. She fiddled with her handbag and pulled out a single key on a rabbit’s foot chain. She worked it into the lock, pushed open the door and entering her humble living space.
Jeremy pushed out his foot and stopped her door from closing completely, and then pushed it open a couple of feet. She was facing him, holding her cane out, as if about to hang it on the doorknob.
Her eyes, and then her mouth, popped open. She asked, “What is it young man? Are you the new neighbor? I always like meeting the new neighbors. People come and go in this place, but I like to meet them all.”
Jeremy let the door close behind him. “No, I’m not your neighbor,” he said. “I’m from Mortinos, and I know what you did.” He looked menacingly at her. She quivered in fear. She was caught! “I saw you take the meat. You shouldn’t take the meat. That’s stealing. You’re not supposed to steal.”
Poor Mrs. Bellows was too in shock to see Jeremy reach down and lift his pant leg. She didn’t see him pull his top-quality Bowie knife from its sheath. She only grunted as the knife entered her body. Her eyes were still wide, as she slumped to the floor.
Jeremy bent down. He wiped the knife clean on her dress, and put it back in its sheath.
The blood from the wound in her chest soaked her dress, the warm thick liquid pooling on the worn-out carpet.
He reached out and touched the wound. The tip of his finger was crimson. As he put it to his tongue, he closed his eyes, and immediately felt a swelling of exultation and ecstasy.
He remained silent. The excitement caused his breathing to become rapid, and his heart raced, as he relished the euphoric feeling overtaking him.
The blood on his tongue mixed with saliva, and was gone.
He opened his eyes slowly, and then stood and watched her.
Her eyes flickered and remained still, and unseeing, gone to join her long gone friends.
Friday, August 12th, 12:55 PM
JAKE got there before the cops did.
Annie had called him after reporting her discovery to the police. She was waiting in front of her car when he roared up, pulled a u-turn, and stopped behind her vehicle.
She ran to him as he stepped out, and held on. He could feel her shaking, and he held her tight. He tried to soothe her, calm her down.
“It’s all right now. Relax, honey,” he said.
She soon stopped shaking, his strong safe arms around her.
“I didn’t get a look at the face,” she said. “I only saw one foot. It looks like a man’s shoe.”
“At least we know it’s not Jenny.”
In the distance, Jake could see some approaching vehicles. Three police cars pulled up, and Jake waved the first one over. A uniform was driving, Hank in the passenger seat.
Jake pointed to the lane by the road. “In there,” he said.
“Jump in,” Hank said. “Annie, get in.”
They climbed in the back seat of the cruiser. Annie pointed. “Just drive up this lane into the forest, then it’s just past that.”
The uniform drove, the other cars followed.
They stopped in the clearing and climbed from the cruiser. Hank told Jake and Annie they should stand back from the immediate area, and in a few minutes, the clearing was buzzing. One cop was stretching yellow crime scene tape, others were milling around, one taking pictures, one on the phone, and Hank bending over the partially uncovered corpse.
Richmond Hill didn’t have a large robbery/homicide division. When Hank joined the force here, there hadn’t been a murder for years, and few since. His training and experience took over now.
Officer Spiegle was there. He bent curiously over the grave.
“Don’t touch anything,” Hank warned. “The M.E. is on her way. Get back over there.” He looked up at the cop. “Spiegle, make yourself useful. Go out to the road there and make sure she finds us all right.”
“The M.E.,” Hank said. “Who else?”
Spiegle wandered away. It sounded like an easy task.
Hank watched him and shook his head.
Jake and Annie were sitting, their backs against a tree. Annie followed Jake as he got up and approached Spiegle. He held out his hand. “Hi, Yappy,” he said.
Jake knew Officer Spiegle. A little bit. He didn’t think much of him, but he liked to keep a cordial relationship with everybody. Especially cops.
Yappy shook Jake’s hand limply. “Hey Jake,” he said.
“I want to ask you a little bit about the car you chased the other day. The one that drove into the bushes.”
“The guy who was driving it. I know you reported he was fifty or sixty.”
“Can you tell me anything else about him?”
Spiegle looked up at the treetops, and then back. “Maybe he was drunk,” he said.
“Drunk? How do you know?”
“Don’t know really, I just think he was. He looked like a bum too. Had on this old overcoat. He ran fast though. I wasn’t that close and he was gone before I had a chance to catch him.”
Jake squinted at Yappy, and asked thoughtfully, “Do you think he was just out for a joyride?”
“Yeah, probably. Anyway, it wasn’t his car.” Yappy looked over toward Hank. “I gotta go,” he said.
“Thanks Yappy. You’ve been a big help.”
Spiegle waved it off. “Don’t mention it.” He walked toward the road.
Jake looked at Annie. “I lied,” he said.
Annie cocked her head at him.
“He was no help at all.”
Friday, August 12th, 1:33 PM
THE sunlight seeped through cracks between the boards, casting long strips of white, diagonally across the heavy plank floor of the vast storage area. The air inside the barn was warm, but not uncomfortable, as the tin-covered roof high above the hayloft deflected most of the heat. An old tractor, unused for years, sat decaying beside the large double doors. Other forgotten farm implements were scattered about.
Jenny had worked at the thick leather collar until her neck was sore and raw. The chain holding her allowed a few feet of freedom, and she’d searched as far as she could reach for something sharp, anything at all that might cut into the leather band. She’d found nothing.
She picked away at the peanut butter sandwich Jeremy had left her that morning. A half-eaten apple lay on the plate. She didn’t feel much like eating.
She’d slept little the night before, and any attempts to sleep now were useless, though she’d tried.
She used the pail he’d left her for a toilet. There was no tissue. She had to use straw. She felt dirty.
He’d left her with a good supply of drinking water. There were several bottles of spring water in a small cardboard box. Removing her shirt and bra, she emptied one at an attempt to wash, dumping it over her head. She dried herself on the tattered horse blanket, and dressed again.
He’d been to see her that morning, and said he couldn’t stay long. He had to get to work. She didn’t care. She didn’t want him to stay. Or did she? Maybe a bit. She was lonely.
She touched her right eye. The swelling around it seemed to have gone, and the pain from the beating she’d received the day before had subsided.
Her hair felt like the straw surrounding her. She wanted a comb. She wanted a toothbrush. She wanted to see her mother again.
Thoughts of her mother made her wonder. Surely, they would be looking for her. She was thankful at least she’d been able to contact her. She wondered whether the call could be traced. Probably not. It was too short.
In a fit of desperation, she tugged violently at the chain holding her to the post. The sudden frenzy caused her face to contort, and she gritted her teeth. Emitting a low throaty scream, she thrashed the chain back and forth, up and down. It rattled and sang, as if mocking her. Then, she collapsed on the straw, the dust settling around her.
Chained up like a mad dog. She had no tears left.
Friday, August 12th, 2:11 PM
THERE WAS MORE traffic on County Road 12 than it’d seen in a month. Channel 7 Action News had arrived at the scene, no doubt picking up the report on their police scanner. It was the biggest news in a decade and they wanted some of it. Other news stations and local newspapers were represented as well. Reporters and camera operators were busy milling around outside the taped off area, cameras humming, trying to shove microphones in faces.
Hank made a brief statement and informed them there would be a press conference later. The cameras kept humming. The reporters kept milling.
The M.E. was there as well. The soil was painstakingly swept from around the body, which was then hoisted from the hole, and onto a gurney. A bloody blanket was found, and carefully removed from the grave.
Hank peered at the corpse. The face was a mess. What appeared to be a bullet hole was visible just below the nose. He found a wallet in the back pocket of the victim. Flipping it open, he dug through the papers inside.
“Chad Bronson,” he read. By the picture of Bronson he’d seen, even by what was left of his face, he could tell clearly this was indeed Bronson.
He flipped the wallet closed, and then bagged and tagged it, slipping it into his pocket. With the big mouths around here, he knew enough to keep the information private until Bronson’s mother could be told, and the M.E. could make a positive identification. He didn’t want her to have to hear about this on the news.
Bronson’s body was covered with a snow-white sheet, and placed into the waiting ambulance. The ambulance drove away, red lights flashing.
Hank walked over to where Jake and Annie were watching. A camera followed him. He turned and glared, and the camera operator went to bother somebody else.
He turned back to Jake and Annie. “It’s Bronson,” he said quietly. “Shot through the head.”
Hank turned again, annoyed, as a brave reporter shoved a microphone at him.
“No more comment right now.” He frowned and turned back. “I’m done here. Forensics can finish up. Meanwhile, let’s go somewhere where we can talk without being bothered by reporters.”
He beckoned to a uniformed officer. “Charlie, let’s go.”
They walked out to the road.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” he said to the uniform.
The cop leaned against his vehicle and lit up a smoke, while Jake, Annie, and Hank went and stood behind Jake’s car.
Annie spoke. “So now there’re more than just Jenny and Bronson involved here. Somebody killed Bronson, and now we have a murderer out there somewhere, and Jenny is still missing.”