Yellow Mama Archives II

Pamela Ebel

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Zumpe, Lee Clark

Don’t Move

 

by Pamela Ebel

 

Fear has a distinct odor. Visceral. Invasive. That odor hung in the hot, humid, October air of the Spice Island Swamp Game Reserve. The animals there knew instinctively that in three weeks they would be hunted again by those carrying guns as the season opened, and that produced fear.

Angie walked gingerly through the dried leaves that covered the reserve’s floor. She could smell the fear, looked carefully for the source of it, but saw no animals. Steve moved quietly behind her. She stopped and turned around.

“Come up and walk with me. You said we’d have a nice trail walk. So far I’ve been alone up here.”

Steve stopped, the shotgun on his shoulder, and considered his wife. He offered her a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“I’m here to scope out where the deer cross the stream. You just keep walking and if you see something interesting, let me know.”

The smell of fear grew stronger as Angie turned and started walking again. Their conversations had become increasingly tense since her oil paintings had found collectors who paid handsomely for her work. 

“Guess you don’t need my money anymore because some idiots are paying for paintings?” 

“That’s not true. You’re a successful architect and I have always appreciated your support. All of my earnings go into our joint account. It’s all ours.”

Still, he spoke less, sulked more, and bought more guns. Just a month before, they had taken a trip to a barrier reef in the gulf. She had waded in the cool water, enjoying the breeze.

Suddenly Steve had yelled, “Don’t move!”

He fired his rifle into the water, bullets just barely missing Angie.

“What are you doing?”

“Sharks! They’re all around you.”

He stopped when a boat with fishermen appeared. Neither Angie nor the fishermen saw sharks. Steve shrugged and smiled.

Now as she walked, with Steve still behind her, Angie realized that the odor of fear was coming from herself. She started to tell him she was going back to the car to get the picnic lunch ready.

“Plop!”

Something heavy fell from the tree behind her. Angie heard a rustling sound on the ground and then:

“Don’t move!”

The rustling grew closer, and the head of the water moccasin appeared two feet from her. It eyed her but kept moving toward the bank of the stream. She heard Steve behind her, closer now. The snake paused and then leapt in the air and cut in front of her.

“BOOM!”

The sound of the shotgun blast deafened her hearing. Dirt and buckshot swirled around and cut her skin. The odor of her fear made her nauseous. The moccasin raced to stream and disappeared in the dark water.

“What are you doing? You could have killed me! What were you thinking?” Fear turned to anger as she stared into Steve’s eyes. “That snake was headed for the water. He wasn’t any threat to me.”

“Only good snake is a dead snake. And if I had wanted to kill you . . .” He shrugged and smiled. “Come on, I think I see deer tracks on that bank where the snake went in.”

He walked by her and sniffed the air.

“Strong odor. That’s what hunted animals smell like, you know.”

Angie stayed rooted to the ground and watched as her husband walked to the bank, got down on all fours, laying the shotgun next to him, and looked for deer tracks.

A movement in the tree above him caught her eye. The moccasin was moving slowly and quietly down the trunk.

“When I come to kill that buck next month, I’m bringing you with me so you can paint something worthwhile. What do you think about that?”

The moccasin continued down the tree and onto a branch hanging directly over Steve’s neck. It turned to look at her, nodded, then turned back, opened its huge cotton mouth and let the fangs slip forward.

“Aren’t you going to say something?”

As the moccasin started to drop, Angie whispered,

“Don’t move.”

 

Sleeping with Sharks!

By

Pamela Ebel

 

Sheepshead Island, California

July, 2005

       “Alright everyone, quiet down. We have one more storyteller to hear from. Maggie Bodean, welcome to the 45th Annual Sheepshead Island Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. You all know Maggie’s uncle was Tommie ‘Tank’ Bodean. He passed away a few months ago and left her his fishing camp. Maggie, we are really pleased you joined us today and we want to hear your fish tale entry for the ‘Liars’ Contest’. Jack Casper smiled at Maggie and handed her the microphone.

       “Thanks Mr. Casper and thanks to all of you for the warm welcome. I spent every summer from the time I was six to seventeen at Uncle Tank’s camp. I’ve been busy cleaning it up which, if you knew Uncle Tank, you would know is a serious challenge.”

        Lots of laughter followed.

          “I wanted to be here to honor him as a founder who never missed a rodeo in 44 years. More importantly, he was a frequent winner of the ‘Liars’ Contest’ and while cleaning out his desk I found a letter he left me. He asked me to read it at the next ‘Liar’s Contest’ after he was gone. So, here it goes, in Uncle Tank’s own words:

       ‘I want to thank my niece Maggie for agreeing to do this last favor for me. You all know the Legend of Big White. The story goes that the Great White Shark got separated from his school during a migration down to Mexico. Bad weather drove him into Shark Fin Cove and he took up residence there. Those of us who grew up on the island know that many people were supposed to have tried to catch Big White and disappeared without a trace. And most of the islanders just say that the shark doesn’t exist except in the over-active and booze-filled imaginations of the local fishermen.”

        More laughter and raised beer cans in response to this.

       ‘Well friends, I am going to share a story with you because I didn’t want to leave without clearing up two mysteries. First, remember back in 1985 when Carl Magnus went missing? There were rumors that he might have left the country because the Feds were investigating him for money laundering. That might have been true, but it wasn’t what caused Magnus to disappear. No, he disappeared because of his love of ‘dirty laundry’. See, Carl was quite the ‘Ladies Man’. He’d have affairs with the wives of prominent men and then blackmail them for his silence. One of those husbands got in a fight with Magnus, hit him with a baseball bat and killed him.’

       The crowd was completely silent and leaning toward the stage as Maggie looked out at them.

      ‘That husband was a longtime friend of mine, and came to my camp that night with Magnus’ body in his car trunk asking for help. I never cared for Magnus and didn’t think anyone else did either. I waited to midnight, then took Magnus to my boat, Ole Snake Eyes, and cruised to Shark Fin Cove. I put two life jackets on the body so it would float on top of the water like a large fish, wrapped a rope around it and hooked a Tarpon Fishing Spoon to it.

       I lowered Magnus into the water and watched him float out behind the boat. Then I started trolling slowly and chumming the water with dead fish parts and blood and waited. Soon I saw a large fin appear and circle the boat slowly. Then the fin got close to the wheelhouse and a head rose to the surface. Finally, I was eye to eye with Big White. He swam around Ole Snake Eyes again, slowing to look at me. He was huge, about 17 feet long and several hundred pounds.

       He disappeared briefly and I was afraid he might hit the boat. All of a sudden, I saw the fin move back and then Big White rose up behind Magnus’s body. His huge mouth opened, and his teeth sparkled in the moonlight. Then he picked up speed. In two quick bites Carl Magnus disappeared forever. The only thing left was the Pet Spoon dangling from the rope. I watched Big White circle the boat once more and eye me, then he sank back into the water.

       I waited a while then went back to my camp. I never saw the husband again and never shared the story until now since everyone concerned has moved on. I went back to Shark Fin Cove a few times later. I’d see the fin once in a while, but Big White never surfaced. I decided his purpose was to dispose of all the bad things in life. The second mystery I wanted to clear up, is that Big White is not a legend. He exists and I wanted you to know how to get rid of a bad situation once and for all.’”

       Maggie folded the letter and placed it in her pocket and looked out at the crowd. There were a few minutes of silence and then the laughing and clapping began. Mr. Casper announced that Tank Bodean had won the ‘Liars’ Contest’ in absentia.

       Taking the trophy, Maggie walked to the dock and boarded Ole Snake Eyes. Thirty minutes later she cruised into Shark Fin Cove, set the engine on idle and listened to the radio news that convicted serial killer Tipp Torres remained on the run after escaping from a van taking prisoners for medical treatment. Authorities had been looking in the Sheepshead Island area where Torres grew up, but hadn’t found him yet. Maggie, however, knew just where Torres could be found. A half mile from Uncle Tank’s camp was an abandoned fort where all of the island children played growing up.

       Now she opened the tarp lying at her feet. Tipp Torres stared back at her with a shocked look. She was grimly satisfied that the last thing he saw before her bullet landed right between his eyes was the face of his sixth victim, her twin sister, Lily.

       She took Uncle Tank’s letter out of her pocket and placed it in Torres’ mouth and lowered his body, with the two life jackets firmly in place, into the water and secured the Tarpon Spoon to the rope. She watched as the body floated silently out behind the boat.  Grabbing the bucket of fish guts, parts and blood Maggie chummed the water as she started trolling slowly.

       After thirty minutes a huge fin appeared and circled the boat once. Then near the wheelhouse the huge head rose out of the water and Big White smiled a toothy grin at Maggie, drifted back and lined up behind Torres’ body. He picked up speed as his giant mouth opened.

        Later, as she pulled the fishing spoon and rope in, Maggie looked at the moon and smiled.

       “Thanks for sharing the Legend of Big White, Uncle Tank. Sometimes the only revenge to be had when bad things happen is ‘Sleeping with Sharks."


Dead Men Don’t Text!

 

by Pamela Ebel

 

Julia sipped her second cup of coffee and studied her appointment book. Three new clients wished to schedule events through her company, and she needed to finish her proposals. A sharp knock brought her to the front door of her apartment. Standing in the hallway were two men dressed in business suits.

“Julia Frazer?”

“Yes, I’m Julia Frazer.”

 I’m Detective Clark Dillon and this is Detective Carl Ellis. We would like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”

Julia looked at the credentials the two men offered and handed them back.

“Questions about what, gentlemen?”

Detective Dillon, clearly the point man, opened a note pad.

“We have received a ‘Missing Person’ report about a Travers Muller. His roommate says he has not seen or heard from Mr. Muller in five days. We are contacting anyone listed in Muller’s Appointments Book and your name appears several times. Do you know Travers Muller?”

“Yes, I know Travers.”

“How long have you known him, and have you seen him recently?”

“We met about three months ago at an investment club meeting that my event company catered. He was giving a speech about investment opportunities.”

The detectives looked at each other and Dillon made a note.

“We went for coffee afterward and since then, we have gone out several times. Nothing serious on my part, although I thought he wanted more commitment. I haven’t seen Travers in several days because of my work schedule. You said he’s missing?”

“That’s what his roommate claims. He has tried calling and texting Muller’s cell phone and had no response.”

Julia walked to her desk and picked up her phone.

“That’s odd, because Travers texted me yesterday morning. He said, “Happy Valentine’s Day. Will you meet me at The Landing tonight at 7:00 and be my Valentine?”

She showed the text message to the detectives.

 “I had nothing better to do, and The Landing is one of my favorite restaurants so, I texted yes. I arrived a little before 7:00 and there was a reservation in Travers’s name. I ordered a drink and waited about 30 minutes. Then I received this text from him: ‘Had an emergency. Can’t come. Explain later. Sorry, Travers.’ I explained to the hostess, paid for my drink and came home. When I got here, there were that dozen red roses, a bottle of champagne, and a box of chocolates by the door with a card—‘Sorry Valentine but more later.’”

“No information on a florist? Anything on who delivered these?”

“Nothing. Anyone can enter the building. I haven’t heard from him since last night. I wish I could be of more help.”

“Well, we appreciate your time and information. I’ll leave my card in case you hear anything.”

“Of course. I certainly hope he’s all right.”

“Well, we have information that the FBI is also looking for Muller as a suspect in an investment fraud scheme that preys on retirees. He probably got wind of that and took off. I mean dead men don’t text, do they?”

Julia shared a laugh with the detectives as they heard an approaching trash truck.

“Oh, I didn’t get this out to the curb. Would you mind just giving it to the man? It’s full of cat litter.”

Dillon took the bag gingerly, and she watched from the window as the trashman threw it into the truck obliterating the litter and the pieces of Travers’s destroyed cell phone. Taking a sip of the champagne she had saved, along with the flowers and candy, from one of her events, Julia read one final time, the note her parents had mailed her six months earlier. After being swindled out of their life savings in another retirement town, they had taken their own lives.

Julia stood and tossed the note into her fireplace. The paper turned to ashes, like those of her parents, now sprinkled in a lake near their home. She stared out at the lake near her apartment with a grim nod to another watery grave and raised her glass.

“To You Mom and Dad. Dead Men Don’t Text and They Don’t Steal Anymore, Either!”

 

Happy Hour at the Grown Folks Bar

By

Pamela Ebel

“Do you need some ice?”

Cliff Simms leaned over the bar and held a scoop of ice cubes out to Robin Carter, who sat staring at her glass of Old Overholt on the rocks.

“No thanks Cliff. I have enough ice to smooth the rye a bit.” She smiled and held the glass up. “See?”

“I didn’t mean ice for your drink. It might help with the…” He reached his hand toward the egg sized bruise on Robin’s cheek that wasn’t quite hidden by her auburn hair. She backed away with a flinch and Cliff pulled his hand back quickly.

“It’s okay Cliff. I’ll put some ice on it when I get home. Thanks for the thought though.”

The clock on the wall behind the bar came to life suddenly as an ancient Cuckoo appeared and announced that it was 4:00 p.m. Across the room a sign in the window lit up in red, white and blue neon with a flashing message that “It’s Happy Hour at the Grown Folks Bar.”

There was a loud cheer from the crowd standing at the other end of the bar room. Sticks and balls were flying around the pool table and the sticks and balls attached to the men in their red ball caps grew larger every time another round of drinks appeared.

“You got him Slim!”

“Yeah, Slim go ahead and sink the 8 ball so we can start on the Happy Hour specials.”

More laughing and comments and then, total silence as the man leaning over the pool table called the pocket and the 8 ball rolled down the table and disappeared. Then a great cheer as the tall man slapped the back of his losing competitor and took three hundred-dollar bills off the rail.

“First Happy Hour Round is on me, Cliff!”

Jeff Slim Carter emerged from the sea of red ball caps, pulling his off to smooth a thick mane of black hair. He looked down the bar at Robin who had turned her attention back to her drink.

“Be sure to give my wife a fresh drink too. Maybe it will improve her mood. What do you think, Robin?”

He moved to her side and yanked Robin’s shoulder toward him.

“You need to fix your hair better. That little bruise is showing. Wouldn’t want the gang to get the wrong idea.”

Robin winced as Slim pushed his fingers into her shoulder.

Cliff appeared with a fresh rye on the rocks, even though she had barely touched the first one, and a bourbon and coke for Slim, who smiled broadly as the front door opened.

 “Just the man I’ve been waiting for. Derek, how you been? Cliff, get Derek whatever he wants. Do you have something for me?”

“Sure, do Slim. Right here!” Derek handed over a small paper bag.

“My Happy Hour Pills! Robin, put this bag in your purse. Derek, we can all go over to Carol’s. She’s having her usual Friday Open House and there is always plenty of booze and new faces, if you know what I mean. Robin here, usually just sits and nurses one drink all night. Maybe tonight you can do something besides sit like a stump!”

Slim pushed Robin’s shoulder sharply, causing her to slip off the bar stool. The two men laughed as she struggled to get back up.

 “Let me do one thing and then we can leave. I got a hundred-dollar bill here says I can clear the table in under two minutes. Any takers?”

One of the men stepped up and placed two fifties on the rail and everyone made a space for Slim. He picked a cue stick and then let the challenger break the balls. With a timer selected everyone grew quiet, all eyes on the table.

 Everyone, including, Cliff was looking at Slim or staring at watches. Everyone except Robin. Suddenly a cheer went up as the pool table was cleared in a minute and thirty seconds.

Another round of Happy Hour Drinks was ordered and Slim downed another bourbon and coke at the pool table. Returning to where Robin sat, he pulled the paper bag out of her purse, placed it in his jacket pocket and downed his remaining bourbon and coke.

“Time to go to Carol’s. Get your coat.”

“I don’t feel well. I want to go home, please. You can just drop me off and then go on over.”

“Taking you home is going to take me twenty minutes out of the way. Either come with me to Carol’s or find you own way home.” He grew loud and sneered at her.

“Alright, I’ll get a taxi. I just don’t feel well. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, you’ll be really sorry later tonight, Bitch. But I need to get going. I’ll see you guys in a while.”

 He saluted the sea of red ball caps, shot Robin one more threatening sneer and went out the door.

She heard his Harley fire up and watched through the window as he screeched out of the parking lot. She turned back just as the bartender picked up Slim’s empty glass, rinsed it out and placed it in the dishwasher.

“I am going to the Ladies Room, Cliff. Back in a moment.”

Robin walked down the hallway to the bathroom and looked backed to see that no one else was coming. She entered and locked the door behind her. Inside the stall she took out a tissue containing two empty pill capsules, dropped it into the toilet, pushed the handle and watched as it swirled rapidly downward and disappeared.

Back at her seat at the bar Robin looked at the clock again as Cliff offered to give her a ride home.

“In twenty minutes, it will be 6:00 p.m. and another Happy Hour will be over for another Friday night and my shift will be over, too. I would be glad to give you a ride and spare you the cost of a taxi.”

“Thanks Cliff. That would be great!”

 The next Friday Robin entered the bar just as the Cuckoo made his appearance and announced it was 4 p.m. The red, white and blue neon sign blinked to life indicating that it was once again Friday night “It’s Happy Hour at the Grown Folks Bar.”

The room grew silent as the pool players and their audience of red ball caps stared at her. Finally, one man stepped out, removed his cap and offered her the group’s condolences for the death of her husband.

The paper had reported that on Friday evening a week ago, Jeff Slim Carter had lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into Tillman’s Gorge dying instantly. An autopsy report indicated that he had ingested a lethal dose of barbiturates along with alcohol a half hour or so before the accident, causing him to lose consciousness. The police traced his movements to a local bar, where the bartender confirmed that he had consumed four bourbon and cokes before leaving. The article noted that his wife did not leave with her husband because she was ill. Funeral arrangements were pending.

Robin pulled Slim’s red ball cap out of her purse and handed it to the man. Then she took out a hundred-dollar bill and placed it on the bar.

“I know Slim would have wanted his cap retired here and I know he would want to leave you with good memories. So, Cliff, please give a Happy Hour round to the house in honor of my husband.”

Everyone cheered and raced to place their order. The man who had accepted the ball cap hung it high on the cue rack and everyone toasted Jeff Slim Carter.

Cliff gave Robin her rye on rocks. She took a couple of sips and looked at the Cuckoo Clock.

“I have to get going. I have a pot roast in the oven and I don’t want it to burn.”

She stood, raised her glass to the red ball cap hanging on the cue rack, took a quick sip of rye, set it on the bar and walked to the front door, taking one more look at the neon sign announcing “It’s Happy Hour at the Grown Folks Bar.”

Cliff called out, “Pot Roast is my favorite.”

“I know. I’ll see you about 6:30.”

Then Robin opened the door and disappeared into the night.




Hacked Off!

 

By Pamela Ebel

 

July 4, 2019

 

The Embarcadero, Pier 23 Parking Lot

 

 San Francisco 5:00 a.m.

 

Alexi Gorev had never considered himself in danger because of his job as a computer hacker for the Russian cybergroup Evil Corp. So, he was completely surprised when the darts hit him.

As Gorev’s breathing stopped a gloved hand reached down, removed the darts from his chest and arm and walked quietly from the garage.

July 4, 2019

Cerberus Cyber Security, Market Street

San Francisco 6:30 a.m.

“Good morning, Ms. Vale. You are in earlier than usual I see. Think that is going to get you moved up in the pecking order maybe? Think the boss might show up this early and realize you need a better office? A better view? Something better than what I have just because you’re a woman and have a law degree?”

Steve Laxle glared at Claudia Vale as he stood at her office door. He had opposed her hiring based on his belief that women couldn’t do the type of security work Cerberus engaged in as one of the FBI’s private sector partners. 

“Good morning, Steve. I am just about to get into the assignment on the latest hack of bank accounts over in Marin County. I wanted a little quiet time to assess the chatter we picked up between the Kremlin and their main hacking unit in Evil Corp.”

“Who gave you that assignment? I sure as hell didn’t. I was planning on starting on it tomorrow.”

“I got a call from Special Agent Bricker over at FBI headquarters yesterday. You had already left for the day. He told me to get on the assignment as soon as they started to send the encrypted messages over. I started last night, I had some personal business I had to take care of earlier this morning. When it was finished, I came here to keep working on the assignment.”

“Personal business before 6:00 a.m.? Really? We will just see about this. Hold off on any more work until I speak with Bricker.”

As Laxle stormed out Claudia turned and picked up the photo of her aunt Paula who had died of a heart attack when her entire savings had been stolen in a local hacking scheme a few months earlier.

After four months of law enforcement officials at all levels failing to capture or get any leads on the hackers, Claudia had used her security clearance to do some sleuthing of her own, finding an ‘off the grid money mule operation’ skimming thousands from their employers in the Russian government. She had approached Laxle with great expectations and excitement.

“Steve, I think I have a lead on some local hackers who might be responsible for that bank account hack back in January. I put together a brief for you.”

She had placed her information on his desk.

“Ms. Vale, just because you have a last name like the reporter that had Batman all a flutter, doesn’t make you a crime fighter in the real world. I have bigger issues.”

He had pushed the brief back to her, turned to his computer, ending the conversation. So, she had returned to her office and clicked into the Russian chatter about missing money and dug deeper.

Finally, two weeks ago she had discovered the identities of the four men responsible for the hack. She tried again.

“Steve, I think I have narrowed down the list of Russian Nationals on the January hack. Should we send this over to Bricker? He’s been looking for the connection.”

“It’s like I keep telling you MS, VALE! I decide what we send and when we send it over to the FBI.”

Realizing her situation Claudia had returned to her office and planted anonymous information into the FBI’s data system to indicate that Evil Corp. had received orders from the Kremlin to eliminate the ‘off-grid skimmers’ in the usual manner. As she knew they would, the Bureau assumed that meant using some type of poison. Then she waited for their call.

Laxle appeared at her office door again. “Bricker says you told him you didn’t know where I was yesterday when he called. I told everyone I was calling it a day.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me telling the head of the local Bureau office that you had gone home for the day at 2:30 in the afternoon, Steve.”

Claudia attempted to look contrite as he stomped out. She rose to make sure he was gone and closed her door. Sitting back down, she touched her aunt’s photo as she picked up the phone and made a dinner reservation.

“Pay Back Time, Aunt Paula!”

July 4, 2019

Cliff House Restaurant

San Francisco 6:00 p.m.

Kori Litov sipped his vodka martini at the Cliff House bar and listened as a local newscaster reported on another citizen death from an apparent overdose of some form of barbiturate. The reporter stood in front of the Pier 23 Parking Lot.

 “The still unidentified man was found by a cleaning crew in that parking garage this morning about 6:00 a.m. The coroner on scene said that man had a couple of needle marks.”

Litov thought of calling his friend and co-worker Alexi Gorev, who parked his car in that garage, to see if he knew the guy, but decided another martini and then a walk down on the Seal Rocks would be more fun. He was also distracted by the lovely black-haired beauty that he had been visiting with.

“I love your accent. Where did you say you were from?”

She smiled at Litov, who was feeling the effects of the third martini.

“I didn’t say. But I am from Moscow.”

“OOH! A Russian! I have always wanted to meet a real Russian.”

She smiled slowly. “It’s stuffy in here. How about a walk on Seal Rocks?”

“My favorite place here in this city! Yes! Let us walk!”

Litov walked unsteadily onto the slippery rocks as the waves crashed up toward him

Between the wind and the barking of the seals he didn’t hear the footsteps behind him and didn’t feel the sharp jab of the dart into his arm.

July 6, 2019

The Haight Apartments

San Francisco 7:30 p.m.

Maxsim Turashev and Igor Kaspersky sat in their apartment drinking shots of vodka and listening to the news reports that two Russian Nationals had been found dead two days before. The Coroner had released the cause of death of both men as an overdose of barbiturates, delivered into the skin tissue.

“I think someone has found our ‘Money Mule’ Igor. You know that Litov and Gorev didn’t use drugs. Our government uses poisons to get rid of people. The Kremlin knows everything going on here through Evil Corp. We’ve worked for the cartel for three years with no trouble until you started shifting funds into the hidden money laundering account.”

“We don’t know what our friends did in their spare time. Maybe they used the extra money for drugs, or women, or whatever. But one thing we can’t do is look worried or do anything different in case we are being watched. If someone asks, we didn’t know anything about anything. Do you understand?”

“Yeah! But look, we have a big bank roll now. It’s about $500,000 each! Let’s head to the island. We could live nice. When the heat is over, maybe we could relocate somewhere else and start ‘money mule’ again. Right now, I don’t think it’s safe to keep going.”

“You are such a worrier. We’re just two more young bachelor geeks working in Silicon Valley. If we try to leave, they will know we did something wrong. Besides, the hacking is easy. Americans are so gullible. They believe anything if you are polite and smile while you pick their pockets and computers.”

Igor poured another shot of vodka and stared out the window as their new neighbor walked up the stairs to the apartments. He smiled as he remembered how scared and upset she had been when he ran the hacking program that shut down her home lap top.

“I mean really, where else would we find such gullible people like this woman next door? After I froze her computer, she fell for the line about accessing her debit card to protect the funds we hadn’t really ‘taken’. We got a nice $12,000 from her and didn’t have to leave the apartment. We can ride the hidden mule a bit more. We just have to act natural.”

 Claudia Vale entered the apartment she had rented next to the remaining two hackers responsible for the theft of her aunt’s savings account. The apartment had become available when she sent the previous occupant an anonymous tip that his ex-wife had discovered his address and was planning to serve him with suit for back child support.

She had used an alias and a black wig and glasses to disguise her blond hair when renting the apartment and then let the Russians hack her computer to make sure she had the right actors. After making a quick visit to the area around the Sather Gates in Berkley, Claudia set her final plan in motion.

Now, hearing the remaining Russians’ laughter, she took the bottle of Mamont Vodka and two shot glasses out of the freezer and placed them in a liquor store paper bag, freshened her lipstick, checked to be sure the hall was clear and knocked on their door.

“Ms. Smith, what a surprise!”

Maxsim offered his best ‘fox in the hen house’ smile.

“We haven’t been properly introduced yet. I’m Julie Smith. The manager said my neighbors were from Russia and I wanted to give you a gift to start what I hope will be a long, fruitful friendship.”

She took the bottle and shot glasses out of the bag and held them up.

“Mamont! We have not seen that here in the states. What a great gift. Please come in and have a toast with us.”

Maxsim grabbed the bottle and glasses and stepped aside to let her enter the apartment. She watched as Igor took the bottle, placed it on the dining table and pulled the cork out.

“I’m afraid I can’t join you in a toast tonight. I have an ear infection and antibiotics and alcohol don’t mix. But I will be done with the prescription tomorrow. Perhaps I can return to toast then?”

Igor was already pouring the vodka into two extra-large shot glasses.

“That would be wonderful. If there is any left!”

She slipped her hand into the paper bag and waited as the two men lifted their glasses.

“Za Zda ro’ vye! To Your Health!”

 They shouted loudly and downed the vodka. They both took another shot, then began to cough and choke. As the three-minute mark approached Maxsim and Igor had fallen to the floor in respiratory distress. In fifteen minutes the two men lie silently side by side.

Claudia removed her hand from the bag, picked up the vodka bottle and shot glasses and slipped them into it. They joined the empty vial of barbiturates she had purchased easily from a vendor at the Sather Gates.  She reached into her pocket and pulled out a mini-bottle of champagne and raised it over them.

“To Your Health Indeed!”

She drank quickly and placed that bottle in the paper bag, opened the door, checked to be sure there was no one in the hall and took the elevator to the empty lobby. At the corner of Haight and Ashbury she dropped the bag into an incinerator the Italian restaurant operated 24/7 and watched as everything melted and disappeared into the pile of ashes. The tranquilizer gun now slept with the fish at the bottom of the bay.

Back at her building Claudia noted that the neighbors’ place was deathly quiet. She packed her computer and the few belongings she had brought in a carpet bag, swept the apartment clean, as the FBI had trained her to do, and exited the deserted lobby. She stepped into an alley and removed the wig and glasses, placed them in a bag, and stopped at the incinerator one more time. 

She caught a bus to her car and returned to her office at Cerberus. She emailed FBI Special Agent Bricker the information she had uncovered on the hidden “money mule” hacking operation, (leaving out the names of the four Russians) and included a copy of her original report. She imagined Steve explaining how he had failed to follow up.

She returned to her own apartment. Sitting at her desk Claudia smiled, as she read the framed quote on the wall above it:

Vengeance must be Profound and Absolute!

In her bedroom, Claudia Vale turned off the lights and slept well for the first time in ages.



Venom!

Pamela Ebel

 

“You did what? John, how could you?”

“Why the big fuss, Jan? I ran into Bob Harris downtown yesterday and he mentioned he thought our wedding anniversary was coming up. Remembered being my Best Man and that wild Bachelor Bash, he gave me.  I told him about the party and gave him the date and time. So, he and Chris got a divorce. Half of our friends from the early days are divorced. This is my anniversary party too, and I don’t feel right about not having him come. I know it will be a bit difficult with Holly coming, but we’re adults Jan, not teenagers.”

“What do you mean ‘with Holly coming?’ Surely that asshole isn’t planning to drag that woman to our gathering. You should have asked me first. Christine is still coming to terms with Bob cheating on her, and with their son’s college professor! Bob even told her that he found someone more his ‘intellectual equal.’ Chris has always struggled with not getting her degree like the rest of us.”

“Well, if she hadn’t gotten herself pregnant in our freshman year…”

“I’m sorry, John. I thought it took two people to make a baby. I never heard Bob suggest Christine raped him!”

“God, I wish you hadn’t started taking that Feminist History course.  Just get a grip and plan the party. Bob is going to announce his engagement to Holly Sutter then! I am going to be late for work.”

An hour after her husband left, Jan called Christine.

“Hey Chris, how you doing this morning?”

“Pretty well today. Just got back in from my run and headed to the yoga class you recommended. I also need to go look for a dress for your party. I bet you’re getting excited.”

“Well, the party is the reason I’m calling. John invited Bob without telling me. He also said Bob wants to bring Holly Sutter and announce their engagement!”

There was total silence from Christine.

“Chris, are you all right? Are you still there? Say something, please!”

“Jan, I just can’t face him and that woman and our friends so soon. It has only been three months since the final decree. Everyone will know how long his relationship was going on and thinking how stupid I am. I can’t talk right now.”

After hanging up with Jan, Christine dialed a long-distance number.

“You have reached the home of Dr. Sue Richardson. Please leave your name, number and a brief message and I will return your call as soon as possible.”

“It’s your Sissy Chrissy, Suzie Q. I’m having a really bad day and I need to talk to you. Bob is going to marry that Sutter woman soon. Please call me!”

Two weeks later, when the research group she was leading in the Congo got back to cell reception, Sue Richardson heard the message. After several calls she reached her sister’s friend Jan, who shared the events of the day the message was left.

“I called her all day, Dr. Richardson. Finally, I asked her son to please go check on her. He found Chris in the bedroom with the empty sleeping pill bottle. We didn’t know how to reach you. The funeral was two weeks ago. I am so sorry.”

Six months later, Dr. Sue Richardson stood in the front yard of her new house, watching the moving truck depart.

“Hello there!”

She turned to see a petite, lithe woman approaching from the house next door.

“Hello! I wanted to be the first to welcome you to the neighborhood. I’m Professor Holly Sutter. I didn’t notice anyone else. Are you married?”

“I’m Dr. Sue Richardson, and no, I am not married.”

Sutter looked disappointed.

“You’re a doctor? What’s your specialty?”

“Snakes!”

“I beg your pardon? Did you say snakes?”

“Yes. I just took a position with the local zoo. I am a herpetologist and will be upgrading the reptile and amphibian exhibit and improving the local display.”

“We don’t have snakes in this area! I have lived here for five years and I have never seen a snake!” Sutter looked down at the ground as she spoke.

“Well, perhaps you haven’t seen any, but we are only a few miles from the Shell Bayou Wildlife Reserve that has a wonderful gathering of snakes.”

Sutter offered a brief welcome wish and left.

A month later, Professor George Bradley drove up to Sutter’s house. She had recently announced the end of her engagement to Bob Harris and her plan to marry Bradley after his divorce was final. Mrs. Crowley, who lived across the street, told Sue that Bradley was the fifth man in five years to leave his wife for Sutter, who dumped all the others after their divorces.

Bradley smiled broadly as he exited his car with a huge bouquet of red roses.

“Is this a special day, with roses, professor?”

“Extra-special. I moved up our marriage date to coincide with our Thanksgiving break. Holly has been procrastinating. But not anymore. Wish me luck.”

Sue nodded as he headed for the front door. Luck won’t help you, she thought and turned back to her Halloween decorations.

Shortly after, she heard yelling and watched as Bradley came out the front door, waving to an ambulance pulling up in Sutter’s driveway.

“Hurry, she’s in the jacuzzi in the back yard. I can’t get a pulse!”

Within minutes police cars and the coroner’s van filled the driveway. One officer was stationed outside to fend off the gathering neighbors. An hour later the ambulance attendants drove off alone. Then, a gurney appeared, rolling the covered body of Professor Holly Sutter to the van. A distraught George Bradley appeared next, surrounded by two police officers.

“I can’t understand how she could be dead from snake bites. There are no poisonous snakes in this area! I didn’t see a snake. Have any of you ever seen snakes roaming around here?” he shouted at the crowd, all of whom seemed stunned by the question.

Later Sue watched the noon news:

“The preliminary coroner’s report indicates that Professor Holly Sutter apparently entered the jacuzzi portion of her pool last evening and did not see, what was thought to be a water moccasin, in it. She had multiple bites, was unable to summon help and was found dead by her fiancÚ, Professor George Bradley, early this morning.”

In the late afternoon, Sue finished decorating and drove out of town to the Shell Bayou Wildlife Reserve. She carried a cardboard box to the edge of the water, set it down and opened it.

A four-foot-long water moccasin slithered out and headed to the bayou, disappearing into the muddy water.

Sue then walked a path that led from the reserve to the Green Hills Cemetery and stood before a headstone. The inscription was simple:

Christine Anna Harris

August, 1987 – June, 2021

Grant Her Peace!

“It’s over, Sissy. The Serial Seductress is done. You can Rest in Peace Now!”

Sue left one red rose on the grave and started to walk away.

Hearing a rustling noise, she turned back to see the moccasin curled at the top of the grave with the rose in its mouth.


Unclaimed Property!

by

Pamela Ebel

 

 “Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars!”

Angelica Barsini watched as a clerk for the State Treasurer’s Office placed the last stack of Bearer Bonds back into the steel bank box, locked it and smiled at her.

“An incredible find for our Unclaimed Property program. This is one of the largest monetary amounts we have returned to the rightful owners since the program was created. More incredible is that it sat in your attic for eighteen years with no one discovering it until last year.”

He pushed the box, the key, and the Claims Closure Form across the desk to Angelica. She signed the form and returned it to the clerk.

“Yes, it is quite amazing. We went back and tried to go through the house four weeks after Katrina. The water had finally returned to the Mr. Go but the mud, debris and the bodies that were still there were just too much for my mom. We took the few things she wanted and since the attic was basically on the ground after the house washed off the foundation, and considering the fact she never went up to store things, we saw no reason to search there.”

“Your father is, or was, the original owner of the bonds. Didn’t he tell your mom about them? Why wouldn’t he have taken them with him when the hurricane was sure to hit in the Ninth Ward?”

Angelica stared at the box.

“He was my stepfather and he refused to leave. He stayed and was washed away in the flood waters. We never found him and he never told us about the bonds.”

Angelica kept her composure as she silently remembered the bastard:

‘He would have never let mom know he had anything of value. He let her cover all of the bills for the house she had bought before he married her and moved in. Even after I begged her not to, she put him on the title and he still insisted it was her property, that he just ‘stayed’ there. He said odd jobs around the house paid for his ‘room and board.’ Where the SOB could have gotten his hands on those bonds is a mystery to me.”

She looked at the clerk and smiled.

“I really can’t imagine when or where he got those bonds. But I’ve been away at school for several years.”

“Well, water under the bridge, uh, sorry about that. It’s over now and as the only heir you’re entitled to everything.”

“Thank you for your time and assistance.”

She stood and picked up the bank box.

“Wait, you need to go retrieve the chest. We have some men who will help you take it to your car.”

“Chest? What Chest?”

“It was found under a pile of mud and rubble about three years after the flood. It had your dad’s name and Naval ID on the top, It’s still locked and in pretty good shape. It’s been sitting in storage all this time until we could set up this program. I am sure your dad would want you to have it.”

“He was my stepfather and I forgot about it. Where is it?”

“Just head over to the warehouse across the parking lot and show your claim form to them. Someone will get it for you.”

Walking across the lot Angelica remembered that chest well. Her stepfather would take her into the attic, starting when she was about five, while her mom was at work. He told her she could play in the chest while he did more than let her play.  Even that young she knew it was wrong. But he said if she told, something bad would happen to her mom.

For years the man molested her every chance he got. She always managed to prevent him from penetrating her body. Unfortunately, the penetration of her mind and soul were harder to prevent.

In her teens, Angelica made up her mind to tell what was going on but by then her mother was battling cancer.  

“Caro, I am so sorry you do not like your father. I don’t know why because he is such a good man. I need him now that I’m sick and you are going away to college soon. Please try for me.”

She couldn’t take away the man who had become the ‘rock and soul of her survival’ as her mom called him, so Angelica said nothing.

Graduating from high school at seventeen, she moved to California to stay with relatives and attend college. She visited as often as possible as her mother’s cancer grew. Finally, in her senior year the phone call came:

“Angelica, it’s Aunt Louise. Your beloved mother and my only sister, Francesca, passed last night. Father Corlini gave her the Last Rights and she cried out for you.”

“Where was he, aunt? Was he there?”

“He wasn’t there. He has a new, young woman over in the Garden District. He spends his time with her. Her father has a large corporation and the new woman lavishes gifts on him. We saw in the paper that there was a problem with some kind of bonds missing. We don’t have anything to do with that. Please come home!”

Angelica returned for the funeral as Hurricane Katrina bore down on the city. She went to her mother’s house the night before landfall to gather some personal mementos. Sitting at the bottom of the attic ladder was the chest.

Frozen with fear and shame Angelica stared at it. Then she walked over, turned the key in the lock and yanked the chest open. Inside lay several of his Navy service weapons and his discharge papers. There were also several of her childhood dresses and her Raggedy Ann doll. She had always taken it up with her and clung to it as he touched her, his breath smelling of cigarettes and booze. Picking up the doll she heard the front door open.

“Well, well. It’s my precious Angelica. And still holding the doll that gave you so much comfort while we played in that chest. I thought you would probably be at the funeral and come here. So, I thought we could play some games again without fear of your precious mom finding us! What do you say?”

He came up to her and Angelica could smell the cigarettes and booze on his breath.

Eighteen years later she stared at the chest in the back of her car.  After dark she returned to her family home, where much of the debris had been removed. But closer to the levee, bulldozers continued to clear the land for the new houses to come.

Parking near a pile of debris, Angelica pulled the chest out of the car and over to the levee. She took a chain from around her neck and removed the key she had worn for those eighteen years.

Fitting it in the lock she opened the chest. His perfect skeleton stared up at her. The WWII KA-Bar knife still protruded from where she had shoved it into his heart that night.

Angelica pushed the chest on its side and the skeleton rolled out in parts. She removed the knife and tossed it into the water. Then she picked up the bones in bunches and tossed them after it. The skull was last to go. It didn’t leer at her or smell of cigarettes and booze. With a great yell she released it into the swirling water knowing it and he would soon be out in the gulf sleeping with the sharks.

She replaced the chest in the car and returned to the city. Two weeks later the doorbell rang at her Napa, California home. The UPS truck unloaded a crate into Angelica’s backyard.

Opening it, she removed a small chair. Then what was left of the chest, now a pile of wood, was tossed piece by piece into the fire pit.

“Hello Angel. How’s my favorite fiancÚ? And what is this you’re burning?”

A man smiled down at her, offering a glass of champagne.

“Hello Jeff. Thanks for the drink and let’s toast to eliminating the last unclaimed property.”

From her seat in the chair made of reclaimed wood from the chest, Raggedy Ann’s button eyes gleamed as the flames rose and she smiled.

 

When You’re Dead You’re Done!

Pamela Ebel

 

“I figured the chief would put someone low in seniority on this one. You’re the new detective, right? I’m Dr. Daniel Gravois, Chief Coroner.”

He looked up briefly from the body lying on the steel table in front of him. The woman entering the autopsy room pulled her turtleneck sweater up higher.

“Yeah, it gets pretty cold in here. Takes a long time to get used to it. Of course, it also cuts down on the various odors.”

The new arrival moved to the table and looked at the corpse of a young woman with chestnut hair framing an angular face. Though her thin body was now almost devoid of color her neck still bore the purple-bluish marks of the fingers that had ended her life.

Blues eyes stared up into the void the dead pass through. Always wishing she could enter there, sure the person who had taken this life would be seen, Corla Cross continued to study the young woman as she answered.

“It’s nice to meet you too, Dr. Gravois. I am Corla Cross. special agent of the State’s Bureau of Investigation. I am here at the request of Chief of Police Patterson. Is there a reason the chief wouldn’t want someone with substantial experience on this case?”

“You are definitely from out of town if you have to ask that question. Do you know how many murders we have in this city each week, Detective Cross?”

“Special Agent Cross, and at the moment, doctor, you are averaging about four to five murders a week.”

“Correct, and with limited personnel in the Homicide Division, our seasoned staff are assigned to high profile cases. Dandria Capple here, was just another young woman roaming the streets she knew were dangerous at night. That being said, I am surprised the Chief would ask for help on such a low-profile case.” 

Corla looked up from Dandria Capple into the coroner’s face. His eyes were almost as devoid of life as those of the young woman on the table that separated them.

 A danger of being on the job to long? She hoped that explained his attitude.

“Dr. Gravois, my file on this murder indicates that it is one of six over an eight- month period; that all of the victims were young women; that they died in the same general location and lived in the same general neighborhood. My report further shows that it was your conclusion that the previous five victims died of asphyxia due to strangulation. And when I met with Chief Patterson earlier this morning, he stated you concluded that the bruising on Ms. Capple’s neck appears consistent with strangulation in the same manner?”

“Oh! Now I get it. The Chief is responding to the media pushing the suggestion that these killings are the same as that spate of murders twenty years ago. I pointed out to him that ‘similar’ is not the same as ‘exactly’ when looking at the methodology of the perpetrator.  Also, what something appears to be, is not always the actual cause of a death. The killer wears gloves so, no traceable DNA samples. He also appears to surprise the victims from behind and subdue them. We never found any tissues or bodily fluids under the victim’s finger nails or other body parts or on their clothes. He was a clever killer.  But really! You seriously think that person would appear after twenty years?”

“Eighteen young women died over a two-year period and the killer was never identified or apprehended. I see no reason not to consider that the same person is possibly active again.  At any rate, the Chief has asked the bureau for help and I’m it. That means Dandria Capple will join the other twenty-four young women and their families who are waiting for justice. They’re part of my world now. If you will excuse me, I need to meet with Ms. Capple’s family.”

“I’m just about to start on the autopsy, detective, uh Special Agent. Don’t you want to stay for the exciting part of a murder case? Or don’t you have the stomach for it?”

Corla paused briefly to look at Gravois before continuing to the exit door. Chief of Police Eric Patterson stood in the shadows. They nodded to each other and as she left the chief walked over to his coroner.

“Eric, I’m surprised to see you down here. Keeping an eye on the Special Agent? I don’t know if she will be of any help if she can’t watch an autopsy.”  

“Dan, it is a damn good thing your patients are all dead because you wouldn’t have a practice with live ones with that bedside manner. I wanted to look at the victim and then I will be joining Agent Cross and the family. And there is something else you should know. Corla Cross would not be a bit bothered by observing or even conducting an autopsy. Harvard’s School of Medicine, from which she graduated with honors, requires all doctors to conduct autopsies before getting a degree. She also has a specialty in psychiatric forensic investigations with an emphasis on cases involving sequential killings. She volunteered her services and we are lucky to have her. Perhaps she’ll join you another day, but as she noted, we has twenty-five victims waiting for justice and a killer that needs to be stopped. Have a good day, Dan.”

Chief Patterson exited the autopsy room with Dr. Dan Gravois staring after him, scalpel raised and mouth open.

# # #

 

Corla looked into the swollen face of Dandria Capple’s sister, Patricia, who held her two-year-old niece, Krista. They had the same chestnut hair and blue eyes as the dead girl.

“I can’t believe she’s gone. Who would want to hurt her? To strangle her to death? Danny loved everyone and she took such good care of Krista. Even though there was just the two of them, she was a good mother. Who is going to take care of Krista now?”

“What about Krista’s father or his family? Can’t they help?”

“Right. Mr. Wonderful. He disappeared as soon as he heard Danny was pregnant. She hasn’t seen him since. He joined the army and is out of the country somewhere and Danny never heard from his family. Our parents are both dead. We had to go into foster care when we were little. Danny swore that would never happen to Krista. Now! Now what?”

“You said that Dandria worked six days a week and went to college classes three nights a week. Who took care of her at those times?”

“I took care of Krista at night when Danny went to school. She just got her associate’s degree and signed up to finish the bachelor’s degree to become an RN. She works for a firm that has their own day care. I have three kids of my own and I don’t know how I am going to be able to keep Krista all the time.”

Krista turned her blue eyes on Corla as she patted her aunt’s shoulder. No tears there. Just a look of concern and determination.

As Chief Patterson appeared and sat next to her, Corla leaned forward and slid a set of papers across the table.

“These are the forms that you will need to complete to give you temporary custody of Krista. It will allow you to care for her needs while Child Protective Services works through a plan for her future. In the meantime, I intend to find the person who took Dandria away from both of you. That’s a promise.”

“Mrs. Tucci, I’m Chief Patterson. I know this is a bad time but we need a positive identification of your sister. We have a special room with a glass partition. All you will see is her face.”

He rose and held out his hand.

“Krista. I can’t take her in there.”

Tears rolled down her face and the child touched them and kissed her aunt.

“I’ll take care of her.”

 Corla stood, walked around the table, and held out her arms and smiled.

“How would you like to get a coke, Krista? And maybe a doughnut?”

The child gave Corla a serious look, checked with her aunt who nodded yes, and then rose into the special agent’s arms.

# # #

A week later Corla had a detailed chronological chart of the original eighteen murders. The cold case file notes brought those victims into the present. Their photos and those of the six recent victims, including Dandria Capple, sat front and center on the bulletin board facing her desk. Chief Patterson sat across from her as she ran down the facts.

“The first eighteen were in their late teens or early twenties. All of them worked full-time jobs, were taking classes at the local junior college, lived in the same geographical location and knew each other in a casual fashion. They rode the same bus that dropped them off near the site where their bodies were found, and all were single mothers. They left behind a total of twenty-two children. Fifteen of them ended up in foster care. The four babies were all placed in adoptive homes and the other three children seemed to have fallen off the radar screen soon after their mothers died.”

“That’s a heavy burden, isn’t it? Not just the women’s deaths but all of those children losing their family unit.”

 Chief Patterson stood and stared out the window. Corla joined him as they quietly considered the facts.

“What about our newest victims. Any similarities to the first group?”

“The current six victims appear to be more diverse. They did live near each other, in an area near the riverbank where they died, and used the public transit to go to and from their homes. However, the first three had dropped out of junior college and did not work because they were single mothers and had no childcare options. The other three, including Dandria Capple, were single mothers who both worked and were attending the local JC. They had a network of family and friends to help them.”

They moved to the bulletin board where photos provided by family or friends were displayed. They showed young women smiling, their worlds filled with possibilities and futures still ahead of them.

“Chief, I see the obvious similarities between these victims, but there is something else underneath. I know it. I just need a few more days to line things up.”

“That’s fine. I think our victims can wait a bit longer for an answer.”

“What happened to the nineteenth victim, the one that survived twenty years ago? I didn’t find much paperwork on her in the files.”

“I was just a rookie back then. My partner and I took that call. A cab driver had just dropped off a ride and was headed back to the main road. He called in to the dispatcher that a woman with no top on was wandering around the riverbank but ran away when he called out to her. We responded and found her under the bridge. She had the bruises on her neck consistent with being strangled. She told us she was walking home from the bus and didn’t see the man because he attacked her from behind. The cab apparently scared him away. We took her to the emergency room and parked. When we went into the waiting room she was gone. We never could find her. She just vanished.”

“What about the security guard at the junior college that was a suspect. What happened to him?”

“Chris Green. We were never able to build a solid case against him. Most of the information was hearsay and many of the ‘informants’ wouldn’t make formal statements. He was placed on administrative leave for six months after the last attack. He went back to work at the college but said he couldn’t deal with the attitudes of everyone on campus. He moved and there were no further attacks until recently. Last I heard he was working private security in Missouri and there had been no cases like these there.”

“Do we keep tabs on him?”

“I don’t think we stayed on him after a couple of years. I’m not sure where he is.’

“Well, right now he is here in the city and has been for five days.”

Corla and Patterson turned to see Daniel Gravois standing in the doorway. She looked into the coroner’s eyes and saw a challenge she couldn’t quite place.

“Since Green fled the city and the killings stopped, I decided to keep my own investigation of him going. I mean, it should be obvious that his departure and the end to the murders are connected. And for your information Green started returning to the city because his father is ill. The murders started again when he began visiting regularly.”

“Dan, I can’t believe what I am hearing. You had this information, and you didn’t tell me so that we could put a tail on Green. How many more young women were you going to let die before sharing this with me?”

“Eric, I was not aware that my duties as coroner include doing the grunt work for your homicide department. And I wasn’t sure that this wasn’t just coincidence and didn’t want to get sued. I. . .”

Corla moved swiftly until she was face to face with Gravois. She spoke in a strong whisper.

“Why are you telling us now? Why did you suddenly decide to share your suspicions, Doctor? Was it my presence that caused you to be concerned about Green now?”

 She got the response she anticipated.

“I could care less about your presence, detective. Oh, excuse me – Special Agent. You should be thankful that I did my due diligence and have delivered your serial killer all wrapped up in a bow right to your office.”

Gravois threw a file on Corla’s desk.

“I have my own work to do right now.”

“Yes, like finally getting me Dandria Capple’s autopsy report!”

“I told you that I am backed up with the detritus piling up downstairs.”

They watched him stomp down the hall.

“Why the push on Capple’s autopsy? Do you think there will be something to see that will distinguish her death from the others?”

“It’s what I don’t expect to see that I am interested in. You’ve heard of Locard’s Exchange Principle in forensic evidence?”

“Yes, but I don’t think we’ve ever used it”.

“Well Chief, the basic tenet is that a criminal leaves something at the scene and takes something from it. Either one or both exchanges become silent witnesses to the crime, never forget and can’t be manipulated. I’ve looked at the reports from all twenty-four women and there may be something that was overlooked, particularly from those deaths that occurred before we had strong forensic tools. Once I see Dandria’s report, I will let you know what I found.”

 “I’ll pay Gravois a visit right now. You can pick that up this afternoon.”

Back at her bulletin board Corla Cross moved down three rows of photos looking at each one carefully and remembering their bios. She ended her review with Dandria Capple’s smiling face in her mortarboard and gown at her graduation. She leaned in studying the photo, straightened up, took her written bio chart, and drew lines into a central bullseye circle. Turning to the computer she did a new search, then sat back shaking her head.

The first thing they teach in the study of the criminal mind is that the obvious answer is the one usually missed. But not this time. This time will be the last time.

She placed an overseas call, waited for the email to send the confirmed answer to her inquiry, then grabbed her brief case, placed the new evidence in it and headed to the coroner’s office.

# # #

The autopsy room was empty, and Cross pulled her turtle neck sweater up around her neck as she walked toward the main office.

“Well, if it isn’t the Complainer to the Chief. I have already had a visit from Patterson. I’ll tell you what I told him. I will have the Capple final report first thing in the morning, and not a moment sooner.”

Dr. Dan Gravois stared at Corla from behind his desk. She smiled, set her briefcase on the floor, and looked around his office. There were the usual diplomas and professional accolades. The only photos were of Gravois in groups from ‘Doctors Without Borders’ and some of banquet events.

“That’s alright doctor. As it turns out I have a new lead that I have to follow up on. Tomorrow morning will be fine.”

“Don’t tell me someone is finally going to check out Chris Green?”

“The chief and I just talked about that. He is putting a team on it right now. I really have to go. I need to get to the scene of the most recent murders before it gets to dark. I think there may be some clues that have been overlooked. Thanks again.”

Leaving quickly, she left her briefcase sitting on the floor.

# # #

Corla walked the most recent killing fields as the sun began to set. She used a map that noted where the six victims were found to look over the ground at each site, saving Dandria’s for last. Her body had been found closest to the river and Corla could smell the brackish water and hear the fast-moving current.

She closed her eyes and summoned the pictures of the twenty-five women and pulled the turtleneck sweater up near her ears.

She heard the sound of breaking branches and the small shuffle of footsteps and felt hands close around her neck. As she was jerked backward off balance her taser came out of her pocket and hit the surgical gloved hands. With a surprised yell the hands fell away.

Turning sharply Corla tased the masked figure twice as he shouted obscenities and fell to the ground. She used his temporary immobility to flip him over and place hand cuffs on him. As the attacker regained enough momentum to turn back over, he kicked at Corla. Anticipating that move she tased him again then looked into the face of Danial Gravois.

“I’ve been waiting for you, doctor. I knew you couldn’t resist another opportunity to kill such an ‘easy target’. That’s your MO, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about. There is no MO. I was just out here because I got worried about you roaming around a murder scene by yourself. And I will certainly tell them about your wild use of force and inability to react with restraint in a dangerous situation. I will see that they pull your badge.”

“I kept looking for the connection between the women killed and the murderer. All of them were working toward associate degrees at the junior college and planning to enter nursing school.”

“That’s right and its why Chris Green is the murderer. He worked as a security guard at the college. He even said he knew some of those women pretty well. You should be off investigating him. Now let me up!”

“You counted on throwing me off with Green, but he wasn’t the only one that worked at the campus. All of those women needed a passing grade in the required anatomy class. I checked and they were all on your rosters. The same for the most recent six victims, including Dandria.”

With the taser effects wearing off Gravois moved his feet under him in a quick move to stand and was met by Corla’s steel-toed riding boot in his groin. He gasped but continued to try to get up.

“What was it doctor? I’m betting you tried to date all of those women and didn’t get anywhere. You’ve never married and I think you tried to use the grading pencil to get compliance and when that didn’t work you decided to eliminate them.”

“Those women were unmarried but they had children. Obviously, they were having sex with men who didn’t care. They should have been flattered to be involved with a medical professional with a career. But you’re forgetting one thing. There was no trace evidence left at any of those scenes.  You can’t implicate me.”

“That’s where I almost failed to see the obvious in my investigation. I just assumed you had done those autopsies twenty years ago. Then I saw that the previous chief coroner performed all of them. A foot note for each one indicated the bruise marks left on the victims’ throats indicated that the killer had a weakened index finger on the left hand. Reading your autopsy reports of the most recent victims there is no mention of the left finger indentation difference. But the state coroner is examining Dandria’s neck bruising as we speak and I believe that left hand issue will appear.”

“You are going to be sorry about this, you crazy bitch. I didn’t note bruising differences because there were none. More to the point, my hands are just fine. If you remove the handcuffs, I’ll show you.”

“Not going to happen, Gravois. Your medical school report shows that you weren’t able to get a position as a surgeon because an injury suffered during a college football game prevented full use of your left hand.”

   “Still makes no difference because all of those twenty are long gone. There is no way to prove that their killer had some hand issue from a foot note. If your theory is correct, what was I doing for the twenty years between killings? Taking a vacation”

Gravois struggled to stand again, shouting at Corla. Her eyes narrowed.

“Another piece of evidence I almost missed. You couldn’t resist looking in my briefcase, which is why I left it in your office. Your absence from this killing field was definitely not a vacation and the photos on your wall will prove it.”

“You are crazier than I thought. What do those photos prove?”

“They’ll prove that you used your time at ‘Doctors Without Borders’ as an escape route. You joined them six months after you lost your suspect coverage when Green retired and moved to Missouri. You traveled around the world for fifteen years, Interpol confirms at least one unsolved strangulation case in the ports you visited. I’m betting they will find more now that they know what to look for.” 

“I have been back here five years with no murders. What was I supposed to be doing if I’m the murderer?”

“Simple. You were running for the office of Chief Coroner and getting back into your teaching position at the junior college. Once you heard Green had started returning to visit his father you had the perfect setup to start again. The class rosters will show the six recent victims were in your college classes, just like the rest.”

“I will deny all of this and there will just be your word against mine, Cross.”

“Dr. Cross, Special Agent, to you Gravois. Remember it and my face because you aren’t going to get a chance to tell any more lies or do any more harm to women who are just trying to better themselves and take care of their children. My mother, Evelyn Crossland, was one of the eighteen women you murdered twenty years ago. You killed a wonderful woman who gave me a loving home and everything I needed, I was fifteen and they wanted to put me in foster care because we didn’t have any family.”

“And I’m supposed to feel bad for you? Looks like you did just fine for yourself without her.”

“Wrong doctor. I lived a nightmare for months after her death. I disappeared so that they couldn’t put me in foster care. I lived on the street for a while and with friends that helped me hide. Still, there were two more murders after hers.”

Gravois stopped struggling and looked at her. Fear began to replace outrage. That fear increased as Corla pulled down the turtleneck to expose her own neck.

“That’s right doctor, I made mom a promise that I would end it. I would have been your nineteenth victim and I have the scars to prove it, including the indentation mark for the left-hand index finger. I would have been your last in that series, except that cab came along and you didn’t have the balls to stay. I was the one that got away.”

“Well, I suggest you call for backup and then we will see what happens in court. In the meantime, I am going to stand up and you had better not try to stop me.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, doctor.”

Gravois got to his feet and turned around with a growl.

“You are going to look very foolish when this is all over, Cross. When I tell them how you attacked me and….”

“You aren’t going to be telling anyone anything doctor.”  

“You aren’t making any sense. Call for backup.”

She pulled her service revolver.

“You can’t kill me. I deserve my day in court and you are an officer of the law.”

“I will have done my duty. You attacked me and gave me no choice but to protect myself. I’ll be sure they know how you followed me here when you found the evidence I left in my briefcase in your office.”  

As Gravois lunged at her Corla’s bullet hit him in the chest. He fell to his knees and then to his side. She watched as he struggled to breathe. Walking over, she released the hand cuffs and pushed Gravois to his back with her foot. He clutched his chest.

“You see, like those wonderful women whose lives you took, you aren’t going to have a chance to tell anyone anything anymore. You won’t get to see the sun come up or the days end. Most importantly, you won’t get to troll for more unsuspecting women and take them from their children. You should know that I am going to serve as Krista Capple’s foster parent and intend to adopt her. That means one more single mother that you won’t be able to hurt. I will also have done my duty by ending any chance you might have of getting out of this”

Gravois looked up at her as the light began to fade from his eyes.

“There are two rules that you should know better than anyone, doctor. One is Locard’s Exchange Principle. You brought your hand to the crime scenes and left those indentations and you took that evidence away from every murder scene and your work record came in and out of each too. Both of those were ‘silent witnesses’ to your crimes.”

Bending down to check his pulse and finding none, Corla pulled out her cell phone and called for backup. She looked down at Gravois one more time then walked to the river’s edge.

“The second rule you should have known is that when you’re dead you’re done. And you doctor, are definitely done.”










Pamela Ebel has been published in Shotgun Honey, The BOULD AWARDS 2020 Anthology, as well other venues. Her poetry has appeared in the Delta Poetry Review. A native of California, she now concentrates on tales from her original home state and tales from the highways of the South. She also knows, like the Ancient Greeks and the Irish, that as a southern writer you can’t outrun your blood.

She has turned to writing full time as of 2020, obviously either perfect or bizarre timing, and this will be her fifth career. She lives in Metairie, Louisiana, with her husband and two cats.

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