A retiree decides to write a murder mystery novel, and ends up being at the centre of a real case; by Tom Minder.
Crap! He pulled a paper towel from the Owl-shaped holder bought by Lana at yet another crafts fair. The whole roll came off and skidded across the floor unfurling until it wedged under the stove. Sam yanked the paper from the clutches of the Amana, ripped off an arm-length of sheets and crawled to the spill. He wiped until the liquid was absorbed, then slam dunked towels and cup into the can. My adventure for the day. Lifting himself, he slipped on an unseen puddle and landed on his backside. “What was that?” came a voice from the laundry room.
“Nothing Lana, just tossing my coffee,” he replied as he stood. There has to be more than this. Retirement is nice, but I need to do something more than watch the world go by. He wiped off the coffee stain, climbed the stairs, and sat at his office desk. Now what’s on Facebook?
Scrolling through postings of cute food, religious verse, and ads for cheap hotels, he closed the app and sat back. He examined his small sanctuary seeking inspiration. A laptop, printer, bill-paying desk, and a goofy wooden Christmas reindeer offered no epiphany. The bookcase. Should I read something? I do spend too much time in front of the tube. He leafed through a few paperbacks and started an Agatha Christie. The colorful setting and mysterious characters drew him into the story.
He closed the paperback. Ah. I promised myself I’d write my great novel someday. No time like the present! He opened a Word document and stared at the screen trying to remember his plot. He smiled. Murder in South Jersey. That’s what I was going to call it.
Writer’s block set in. Hmmm, I guess I can’t just start writing. I need to put down my ideas first. He typed Murder into the empty document and started to list elements of his plot as they came to him. Thirty minutes later, Sam had set down the few essential items that would be the basis for his great novel.
He headed out to buy another twenty-four ounce coffee and celebrate his emergence as a writer. He pulled into the Wawa and narrowly missed being clipped by a soccer mom tapping into her smart phone. Maybe I should kill a texter. It would get a sympathetic audience. He left his car and joined the throng entering the convenience store. Holding the cup with heat sleeve firmly in place, he reviewed his coffee choices. Hazelnut? Pumpkin? Who drinks these? He spotted Dark Columbian. Now there’s a man’s drink.
“Two cups in one day, eh Sam? Do you have a prescription for that?” joked Jane McLane, morning clerk and temptress to the men who frequent the food mart.
“I’m embarking on my next career, Jane. I’m writing my great novel.”
She smiled and turned to flirt with another man on her way to open a register. The man handed Jane a fifty which she slid into her pants pocket, returning a slip of paper. The mysterious Jane. What’s she up to? Maybe there’s a story there.
He placed the coffee on the counter, and seeing a heat-lamp-baked Ham Cheese and Egg bagel sitting idle, fetched the delicacy and placed it atop the coffee lid. “Six forty five, Sweetie,” she called out to Sam. He pulled a twenty and handed it to the fast-food vixen. She returned the change making slight hand-to-hand contact. The smitten author stood entranced until the next man in line called out, “Hey, buddy. Ya done?”
Embarrassed, Sam nodded, pocketed his change, and started for the door. The man asked Jane for a pack of Salems and handed her a fifty. Jane pocketed the change. What kind of business is Jane running? Returning home, Sam raced up the steps and into his office. He popped the coffee lid, unwrapped the breakfast sandwich, and opened his document to continue his outline. Wawa clerk, taking money on the side, flirting. Should I kill her?
He printed the notes and admired his masterpiece-in-progress. Yeah, this works. He put the page aside and continued his outline between sips and bites. After an hour, Sam stared at his greasy fingers, and empty cup. Time for a break. I think there’s a CSI repeat on now. He laughed. I can call it research.
He jogged downstairs and searched for the remote. Here it is. Wedged between the cushions as always. Working the complex set of buttons which would power on the flat screen and allow viewing courtesy of Mammoth Cable, he wiggled, found his ass groove, and entered the channel that would connect him to the crime show.
Lana walked into the office, searching for a stamp. She spotted the page and making sure Sam was downstairs, read the sheet. Murder, Wawa clerk, taking money on the side, flirting. Should I kill her? She left the room and listened to the blaring TV as Grissom described an act of mayhem.
Returning to his office, Sam entered Herb’s number into his cell. The theme from X-Files played as a deep voice came on. “Hi. I can’t return your call now. Buzz me later.”
Crap. I need Herb’s advice on the story. I gotta make the setting creepy but realistic. “Hey, it’s Sam. Call me buddy. I need your help on something.”
Lana walked in as Sam hung up. “Who was that?”
Lana’s gonna think this is silly. “Just calling Herb dear. I need his advice on fixing something.”
“Sam, you’ve been acting strange. What’s up?”
“There’s something I’ve been itching to do for a while, but haven’t gotten up the courage until now.” He sat back and sighed. “I don’t want to tell you yet. You may not understand.” She left the office without responding.
Sam returned to the den to watch his show. His pants vibrated. Who’s calling me now? Grissom is about to sweat the perp with hard evidence. He read the number, lowered the volume and ran upstairs to his office. “Hey Herb. Glad you called back.”
“Sam. What’s up, my man? I was about to hit the blackjack tables and maybe a free buffet.” A pause. “Sam, are you there?”
“Yah, Sorry. I was thinking of our trips to AC together.” He looked around to make sure Lana wasn’t standing close by. “Look Herb, I have this idea for a book. A murder mystery.”
“Murder? What do you know about violent crime?”
“Murder, Herb. Flesh ripping violence. That’s why I’m calling you.”
Lana almost dropped the laundry basket as she stood at the base of the stairs and picked up on the discussion. She edged away to the kitchen.
“Tomorrow at One? Great, Herb. I’ll bring some beer and sandwiches. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’ve never killed someone before.”
Lana pulled her cell from her jeans, selected Favorites from the menu and dialed her sister. “Angela, I think Sam’s planning to kill someone.”
“Kill someone, Lana? Are you sure?” she said. “I know that Sam is no good, but this is beneath even him.”
“Maybe I’m just imagining it, but he is creeping me out. Can we talk tomorrow?”
“Sure. I’ll come over. Do you think he’ll be suspicious?”
“I don’t think so Angela. In fact, tomorrow, he’s meeting his accomplice.”
After hanging up, she lugged the laundry basket through the den on the way to the washer. She slowed as the CSI episode was nearing its climax. Dr. Robbins sawed through a bone as Grissom watched.
“Isn’t that interesting,” Sam said.
Lana dropped the basket and half knelt, half collapsed, acting at retrieving the whites.
“Hey, are you OK? You look pretty pale.”
After a few breaths, she replied. “Sure, Sam. You just startled me.”
He smiled. “I’ll announce myself next time you’re wrapped up in a show. I wouldn’t want to scare you to death.”
Sam pulled onto the shoulder of the Garden State Parkway, looked around, and drove through an opening in the barrier. After a mile, he spotted two Harleys parked near a large mound. Tapping the horn, he turned off the engine, and walked towards Herb’s lair.
His friend emerged from a concealed opening in the mound and straightened. His six-foot-seven hairy frame carrying three hundred pounds of muscle still unnerved Sam somewhat, especially in this murky setting. Sam steadied himself and looked around. This is the perfect place to kill someone.
Offering a hand that resembled a catcher’s mitt covered in fur, Herb clutched the human limb given in return and pumped until Sam’s shoulder ached. Seeing the worry and pain in Sam’s eyes, Herb stopped shaking. “Sorry, Sam. I forget my own strength.”
Sam flexed to make sure all upper body parts were functioning. “That’s OK. It’s good to see you. How was your casino run?”
“Not bad. I won two hundred and they had pumpkin waffles at the buffet.” He smiled and looked around. “Man doesn’t live by possum alone.”
Sam reached into his pocket and pulled his outline. “Here’s my story. A poor schnook finds himself indebted to a beautiful deli clerk who has something going on the side. She puts the squeeze on him - not the good kind - and threatens to have certain limbs removed or rendered inoperable if he doesn’t pay up.”
Herb looked skyward. “So, Sam, he drops a Mickey Finn into her drink, carries her to his car and drives to the woods to do her in and dispose of the body.”
“Brilliant. Have you written something like that yourself?”
“No. I’ve just seen it done.”
Angela pulled into Lana’s and got out of her Hummer carrying Dunkin Donuts and a box of coffee. She whistled at a passing jogger, turned, and tripped over a neighbor’s cat. “Damned cat,” she shouted to Lana. “They’re worse than men. They get between your legs and expect you to pet them.”
Lana laughed, then went serious. Mrs. Shultz, her neighbor, stared at the women with Presbyterian scorn as she shooed her cat inside. Angela smiled and waved to Mrs. Shultz who offered a feeble Queen of England greeting in return. Stepping into the house, Angela dropped the donuts and coffee onto the table and parted the blinds. She turned to Lana. “Crazy cat lady. How many does she have now?”
“Six, I think. No - wait - seven. She lured in a stray last week.”
“Bat shit crazy.” She sat, pulled out a chocolate covered crème, and poured some Dunkin Roast into a cup. After a disturbing three bite demolition of the pastry, she turned to Lana. “Tell me what your good-for-nothing husband is up to now.”
Sam returned home to find an oil puddle in the driveway. Angela and her damned Hummer. That’s the last thing I need now. Walking into the house, he saw the remains of a donut/coffee chick meeting. One donut remained - an old fashioned plain. Why do they still even make these? He shrugged, poured a cup of tepid coffee, picked up the donut and walked upstairs to his office.
Sliding into his chair, he pulled his handwritten notes and added: Slip her a Mickey Finn, carry her to car, drive her to woods, slash her, bury her. He took a bite and sipped the coffee. This sucks. I’m getting a bear claw and a fresh cup of Columbian. He grabbed his keys, locked the house, and, after tripping over one of Mrs. Shultz’s tabbies, drove off to track fresh game.
Angela pulled into the driveway to let Lana out.
“Thanks for lunch. Maybe I was just imagining the worst,” said Lana.
“I don’t think Sam has the cojones to do such a thing.” Angela leaned out the window as Lana walked to the front door. “But if he does, I have a friend in the police department we can sic on him. Maria Follana.”
Angela put the Hummer in reverse and backed out. Seeing Mrs. Shultz peeking out her front window, she waved, then reduced the hand gesture to a single finger. The shades closed.
Lana dropped her house keys on the table and saw the donut bag and coffee box crammed in the trash. “Sam, are you home?” No answer. She walked upstairs to the office and noticed a hand written note: Slip her a Mickey Finn, carry her to car, drive her to woods, slash her, bury her.
The front door opened. Footsteps to the kitchen and fiddling with the drawer. Lana left the room and walked to the adjacent bedroom.
Sam climbed the stairs and walked to the office carrying coffee and a bear claw. Lana peeked from the bedroom just as the sunlight through the office window glinted off a metal object. Sam sat and examined his notes as he guzzled the brew.
Walking in, she gasped as Sam slashed a kitchen knife through the air and plunged it the bear claw. “Sam,” Lana said. “What are you doing?”
He dropped the knife, turned to her and smiled. “Who me? Just skinning my bear claw.” He laughed.
“What’s with the note? Are you planning to stab someone?”
Sam picked up the paper. Busted. “Lana, I can’t explain now. Just trust me. Someday we’ll laugh about this. Herb and I are cooking up something that will make life more interesting for all of us.”
She smiled, backed out of the room, and walked downstairs as Sam called out, “Hey, do we have an old blanket we’re not using?”
“Let me look through the garage.” She dialed her sister. “Angela,” she whispered. “You better call your detective friend. I think Sam’s planning to do something terrible.”
Sam examined the blanket as Lana left the house and pulled out of the driveway. Yes, this will do. He folded it and turned to his laptop.
Lana laid rubber as she drove away. What’s up with her? He opened the Murder outline and added the handwritten items from his meeting with Herb. He then described the blanket. Drinking the last of the coffee, he plunged the knife into a cork message board used to keep notes and appointments. My inspiration. Now to find my detective.
He found the township web site and clicked Police Department. A page opened to a smiling Commissioner Allbright surrounded by uniformed and non-uniformed staff. He scrolled through the list of detectives. No… too young. No… too buff. I want an old fart ready to retire. He narrowed his search to Detectives Max Genardi and Maria Follana, the only senior members of the division. I think I’ll pick the guy. Easier to describe his actions than try to guess how the woman would act. He studied the shot. Max, are you going to catch me?
Lana pulled into Angela’s, turned off the engine, and put her head on the steering wheel. Angela knocked on the side window causing Lana to jump. “Don’t worry, Lana,” she said after her sister rolled the window. “Maria will get to the bottom of this. She’ll be over in a few minutes.”
Detective Follana was the first female detective in the township, serving for twenty-five years. Investigations consisted of robberies, the occasional stolen car, the rare act of violence, and - almost never - murder. In fact, the last homicide in town was five years ago, and that was someone passing through. She waved to Max Genardi on the way out. “I’ll be back in an hour or so, Max. Probably a false alarm.”
He smiled and glanced at the game on his workstation. “Wouldn’t be a bad thing if there was something to it, Maria. It’s really slow now.” She winked, grabbed her keys and left for Angela’s.
Angela and Lana met Maria at the door and led her to the kitchen. Blueberry muffins cooled on the table. Maria pulled out her notebook, sat, and gladly received a steaming cup of French Roast.
She looked at the sisters. “Now tell me what this is about.”
Sam parked in the police station lot around four and waited for Genardi. Balancing his laptop between the wheel and his stomach, he entered his pre-conceptions of the man. Elderly detective (named Max), hard-nosed, no-nonsense investigator.
“Can I help you, sir?” said a patrolman as he tapped on the window.
Sam shut the lid. “Um, I’m here to get a fishing license, officer. Is this where you go?”
“Nope. You know, you can go online and get one. We don’t handle that here.” Just then, Max left the station, started his car, and started to drive away. Sam thanked the officer and followed him. The detective drove to the nearby Wawa and went in. Wow. Right at the heart of the story.
Sam walked in as Genardi was paying the clerk; Jane McLane. This is downright scary. Max looked around and handed some cash to Jane, who returned a piece of paper to Max. Damn. Mysterious communications. Can this get any better?
Sam returned to his car and reopened his notes. After no nonsense investigator he added but has his own mysteries.
Max drove out and headed towards the freeway. Sam closed his laptop and followed. What other secrets do you keep, Detective?
Lana and Angela pleaded with Maria to visit Sam’s office and look over the laptop. Maria declined, stating a need for a search warrant and reasonable cause. She handed her card to both, and told them to call if anything else worried them.
They returned to Lana’s and, after making sure Sam wasn’t home, walked to the office to examine the laptop themselves. They gasped when they saw the kitchen knife sticking from the cork board. The laptop was missing.
Angela stood a nose length away from the knife, her breathing causing the metal to fog. “I don’t see any blood,” she declared. “Wait a minute. What’s that?”
Lana studied a small opaque item attached to the knife. She dislodged it with her fingernail, examining it closely. She put it to her mouth and licked it, causing Angela to almost faint.
“It’s part of a bear claw. Sam had one today.”
Her sister regained her balance and stared at Lana. “That sick bastard! He’s going to kill her with a dirty knife.”
Sam pulled to the curb, a half block from where Max stopped his car. The detective walked to the front door of a colonial and knocked. A woman answered, smiling and beckoning Max inside. He handed her the paper Jane had given him, then reached into his pocket and handed her more money. He went in and the door closed.
Sam checked Max’s home address he pulled from local records online. This isn’t his house. Who’s that woman?
He drowsed waiting for Genardi to leave. Yip! Yip!
He awoke and looked out the window. A senior with a squirming dog said, “Who are you mister, and why are you sleeping in your car?”
“I’m waiting for a friend. He went into number 86.”
The man looked at the colonial. “Oh, Miss Barkley. Well, I hope he has a lot of money. I hear tell she teaches by day, and turns tricks with whatever John is sent her in the afternoon.”
Damn. “But he told me that was his cousin’s house and he needed to pick something up.”
The man laughed. “Well. I guess he can pick up herpes there.” He stared at the house. “His cousin, you say. What a sicko.”
Sam nodded to the man and drove away. Out of sight, he pulled over, opened his laptop, found the note but has his own mysteries and added and loves his women.
The next morning, Maria joined Angela and Lana in Sam’s office. She studied the kitchen knife and sprayed Luminol; no blood found. She turned to Lana. “Well it is pretty odd. Did you speak to your husband about this?”
“He went out today before I could talk to him. He called his buddy Herb and mentioned that he had some information on the detective - Max, I believe. Apparently the guy’s got issues and buys companionship - if you know what I mean. Then he took off.” Lana blanched. “And he took that blanket he said he needed.”
“Maybe to wrap the body,” Angela said.
“Max Genardi?” Maria asked.
“He didn’t give a last name. He just said Max.”
“And this Herb, do you know him?”
Lana shrugged. “I met him once at an Eagles game of all things. He and Sam are casino buddies.” She frowned. “I’ll tell you one thing. The man is tall and covered with hair. Oh, God… and he could probably kill someone with his bare hands.”
Sam drove into Herb’s clearing. Shirley was kneeling at her Harley and looked up when he tapped his horn. “Herb’s making a Flying Fish run. He’ll be right back.” She loosened the oil cap on her bike and started to replace the fluid. “The chick who abandoned this Hog after seeing Herb didn’t take good care of it.” She wiped her face with a towel. “And this fur really makes me sweat.” She smiled. “You humans are lucky.”
“I never thought of it that way,” Sam said. He pulled the blanket from his trunk. “Hey, Shirley, can you come over? I want to measure something.” He laid the blanket on the ground. “Lie down on this and let me wrap you up.” Shirley trusted Sam but brought the wrench just in case. “Don’t worry about getting dirt on it, it’s a rag.” She knelt on the blanket and positioned herself. “Great, Shirley. Now I’m going to wrap you up snug. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you can breathe.” He swaddled the cloth around his friend. “Hey, this fits well.”
A second Harley swung up and Herb hopped off. “Hey, Sam. You’re not killing Shirley are you?” He waved to his mate. “At least let her fix her bike first.”
She freed an arm and showed the wrench. “One more remark, Herb Pine, and I’ll loosen your nuts.”
The men laughed as Herb turned and removed a case of beer from the storage bubble, pried the cap off three cold ones, and handed one to Sam. He knelt and placed one in Shirley’s hand - after he removed the wrench. Herb sat and took a swig of his bottle. “So Sam. Where are we burying Shirley?”
The next morning, Maria approached Max as he removed his coat. She held two cups of Wawa Columbian. “Good morning, Max. I brought you a fresh one.”
“Wow, Maria. This is unexpected. Thanks.” He waved to the pleather and metal chair next to his desk. “Have a seat.”
He removed the lid and sniffed the vapor as it escaped. “And you added three sugars, just like I drink it.”
“You can tell the sugar content by sniffing the cup?”
“No Maria, I was just kidding. You’ve seen me down enough coffee to know how I like it.” He leaned back and swiveled. “Now, what’s up?”
Maria paused a second. “Max, do you know a Sam Redman?” She took a deep breath. “He seems to know you.”
“Sam Redman. No, can’t say as I do.”
“He says you have personal issues and like to buy companionship.”
Max put down his cup. “Who is this guy and why are you asking?”
“Because you’re investigating a murder that he may have committed.”
Sam lifted his cup, glanced out his kitchen window and saw Mrs. Shultz’s tabby chasing a squirrel. “You’re next, you mangy ball of fur,” he whispered.
“Next for what, Sam,” Lana said as she removed a k-cup from the Keurig.
Surprised, he spilled his coffee. Reaching for a paper towel, he smiled. “Just wishing for the demise of - Mr. Whiskers, is it?”
“Sam, we don’t keep any secrets, do we? I mean if you were planning to - oh, I don’t know - take someone’s life, you’d tell me right?”
He waved Lana to a chair. “Look. If you must know, I’m researching a book. I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery, so I’ve been looking into how a killing is planned and how you get rid of the body.” He looked up towards his office. “Oh, my God. The knife! You must have thought I was actually going to kill someone.” He placed his hand on Lana’s shoulder causing her to shudder. “I wouldn’t harm a fly. I could never even think of killing someone.” He glanced towards the neighboring cat sanctuary. “Not even crazy Mrs. Shultz.”
Lana relaxed and sighed. Her cell rang. “It’s Angela,” she said.
Sam put his cup down. “Hmmm - Angela.” He ducked as a k-cup went sailing by.
After settling into his writing chair - and removing the kitchen knife from the cork board - Sam cracked his knuckles, checked his email, and smiled. I’m glad I told Lana. It felt creepy avoiding her questions. He opened the outline and continued fleshing out the details: taking the body to the Pinelands, destroying any evidence, first enquiry from Max.
Lana walked in and glanced at the outline over his shoulder. “I’m not sure who I’m going to kill,” Sam said. “The deli clerk slash madam, or the hooker. What do you think will sell better?”
“Kill the hooker. There’s more potential for titillating the reader.”
“You’re a natural, Lana. You should try this,” Sam laughed.
“Maybe I will. But I’d get a better woman’s audience killing a secretive, creepy man. Maybe even a husband.” She picked up the knife and ran her finger lightly over the serrated edge. “I’ll think I’ll call my knife Angela.”
“Put down that knife. You’re scaring me.” The phone rang causing him to jump. Lana calmly plunged the weapon into the cork board.
“You’re right Sam, that does feel good,” She pointed to the desk phone. “It’s ringing, Sam”
He stared at his not normally malevolent spouse. Ok, she’s just trying to give me the willies… and she’s doing a damn good job of it.
“It stopped, Sam. Maybe it will go to voicemail. I’m going to Angela’s. She still thinks you’re going to kill someone, by the way. She’s not buying the novel idea.”
“You are, Lana, aren’t you?”
“See you later, Sam. Don’t kill anybody until I get back.” She smiled as she left the room. Sam relaxed, then jumped as she poked her head back. “I won’t either.”
He listened to the new voicemail. “This is for Sam Redman. I’m Detective Max Genardi of the township police. I’d like to stop by and talk to you about a matter that’s come to my attention. Call me back at 555-7776.” Sam saved the message, and sat back. What’s going on? My characters aren’t supposed to be questioning me.”
Max pulled curbside and studied Sam’s house. A curtain pulled back and abruptly closed. He walked up the driveway past Sam’s car and greeted Mrs. Shultz who was sitting nearby brushing fur from a Calico and puffing a Cigarillo. She waved and closed her housecoat to avoid a free viewing for Max. Three of her cats ran to him, rubbing his trousers seeking whatever cats seek. He started to sneeze and shook his leg to rid the cats.
“Of all the nerve, kicking my cats,” she harrumphed. “You should be kind to all God’s creatures.”
Max bowed to the lady. “So sorry, ma’am. I have allergies and can’t stand to be near these, um, lovely animals.”
Her tabby growled at Max. “Have a good day, ma’am,” Max called out as he hurried to Sam’s door.
Sam opened before Max could knock. “Come in Detective.” Sam peeked at Mrs. Shultz, who glared back. “It’s a jungle out there, isn’t it?”
The detective brushed cat fur from his trousers and came in. “Hello Mr. Redman, I’m Max Genardi. Can we talk somewhere we’re not being stalked by wildlife?” After taking a moment to observe the mannerisms and temperament of his lead character, Sam pointed to his kitchen. He poured coffee as the investigator opened a notebook. “Mr. Redman, I work with Detective Maria Follana. She mentioned that you were overheard discussing my activities. Where did you get an idea that I frequent the ladies?”
Where could he have heard that? Crap, my call to Herb. Lana must have heard that - and it got to Max somehow.
“I’m writing a murder mystery, Detective. I found your name on the township site. I posed ‘Max’ as the lead detective. I didn’t use a last name.” He looked around. “I guess the walls have ears.”
“Nothing to be concerned about, Mr. Redman,” Max responded as he eased. “Maybe change the name in your final version. This is a small town and people talk.” He stood, ready to leave.
“Will do, detective.” Sam raised a hand. “Oh, one thing, Max.” He went to the kitchen drawer and pulled a steak knife. “If you were going to kill someone. Would you use one of these? Where would you put the body?”
Max turned red and walked to Sam. He looked at the weapon and sighed. “Mr. Redman. If I killed someone, they’d never find the body.” He shook some cat fur from his trousers. “Now have a good day and maybe pick a safer hobby. You’re getting into dangerous territory.” He stared into Sam’s eyes. “I’ll see myself out.”
Next morning, Lana finished the Sudoku in minutes, read through the comics, then opened to the Local News.
“Good morning, Lana. What’s new with the world?” Sam said as he entered the kitchen and bee-lined for the coffee pot.
“Just flipping through the paper, Sam. You know, once you cleared up the mysterious murder references, life has slowed to a crawl.” She laughed. “You’re more intriguing as a psychopath.”
“Thanks. It’s nice to know that my dark side appeals to you.”
He popped two slices of bread into the toaster and poured coffee into his Tasmanian Devil mug. “I wonder how Herb is doing. I haven’t called him in a few days.”
“Hmmm. A teacher has been reported missing,” she read. “Miss Teresa Barkley of 86 Bramblewood Court left Flowers Elementary on Tuesday and hasn’t been seen by colleagues since.”
“Miss Barkley… Miss Barkley,” Sam repeated. “Where have I heard that name?”
“Such a pretty woman, too,” replied Lana. “See Sam?”
He glanced at the photo. “Holy shit!”
“What’s the matter?”
“I saw her Tuesday afternoon.” He turned to Lana. “Maybe that’s just a coincidence.”
Lana continued with the article. “A neighborhood resident reported a stranger observing her house. He described a man in his sixties driving a blue car.”
Sam went pale. Lana studied her husband. “Christ, Sam. Was that you?”
“I have to discuss this with Herb.” He reached for Lana’s hand, but she pulled back. “Sam, did you really kill someone?”
Ka-chung! The toaster caused them both to jump.
“Of course not,” he replied. “But I might know who did.” He stood and reached for his keys. “Oh, and if the cops - or a detective - calls, tell them I went out for the day.”
Commissioner Allbright walked into the morning meeting of on-duty personnel. Sergeant Simpson was reviewing the active cases. When the Barkley disappearance came up, he stepped to the front and asked Simpson for the floor.
“Officers, detectives, this Barkley case is more than a missing teacher. County police contacted me and said that Miss Barkley has been under investigation as part of a region-wide prostitution ring.” He leaned on the podium. “Apparently, this involves prominent locals. The only lead we have is that blue car and that sixty-year old man observing the house. Let’s find this guy and bring him in for questioning.”
Max sat stunned. He walked back to his chair and waited until Maria left the adjacent desk. He dialed Sam’s home number. After a few rings, Lana answered. “Hi. This is Detective Max Genardi from the township police. Can I speak to Sam?”
Lana was silent for a few seconds. “He went out for the day, Detective.” She took a breath. “Can I take a message?”
“Tell him Detective Genardi wants to continue our conversation from the other day.”
“Ok, Detective.” She hung up then immediately dialed her husband.
Sam pulled the phone and saw his home number appear. He drove to the shoulder and answered.
“Sam. The police called - Detective Genardi. He said he wanted to continue the conversation from the other day.”
“Shit,” replied Sam. “Look Lana, I didn’t kill that woman - but Genardi may have.” He saw a state trooper car approaching in the distance. “Just don’t give Max Genardi any information. I think he’s a bad guy, Lana.”
He pulled out as the policeman followed, seeming to study Sam. A red Firebird barreled by in the outer lane. The officer activated his lights and took off. Sam loosened his grip on the steering wheel and continued towards the woods. He exited the Parkway and reentered Northbound. After a mile, he pulled onto the shoulder and found the opening for Herb’s forest neighborhood. His cell rang again as he pulled off. 856-555-5600 it read. He answered, then immediately disconnected. Boy, that was dumb.
He opened his laptop. Just enough signal to connect. He Googled 856-555-5600. Crap, the township police.
Sam’s GPS position noted, Max drove home and pulled his car into the garage. He closed the door and popped the trunk. He lined the bottom with bubble wrap then walked to his deep freeze and opened it. Teresa Barkley stared back, now a frozen ex-hooker.
He shook the sand from a beach blanket and placed it in the trunk. Lifting Teresa, he laid her on Greetings from Ocean City and wrapped her tight. He added paving blocks to make sure she didn’t slide around, slammed the lid, pressed the garage opener, and drove out of his driveway, peeking for nosey neighbors.
Sam told Herb that his fictional victim had become real. He described his meeting with Max and the subsequent calls this morning. “And Max knows that I followed him to Miss Barkley’s. I’m in it deep Herb. What do I do?”
Herb scratched his chin. “Does he know where you are now?”
“I don’t think so. He called and I answered but I hung up right away.”
“Let me see your phone.” Sam handed it to Herb after entering the PIN. He looked at the settings. “Jeez, Sam. Your GPS is turned on. He may be tracking you down right now.”
Sam paced as Herb stared at the cell. “OK, here’s what we do. We let him come here and see what he does. We’ll hide in the clearing when we hear his car.” Herb looked at Sam’s Prius. “In the meantime, put your cell in the front seat. It will look like you left it. He won’t be able to call you.”
Max cranked up Springsteen as he motored down the AC Expressway. He pulled onto the southbound Garden State Parkway and tracked Sam’s GPS position. He drove into a rest area and planned his approach: take the next exit, head Northbound, and pull onto the shoulder after about a mile. He reentered the Parkway.
Stopping on the northbound shoulder, he saw the opening in the guardrail. He waited until there was no traffic in either direction and turned onto the dirt trail leading to Herb’s. He drove in, and spotting Sam’s car, drew his Glock and looked around. No activity. Pulling his cell he dialed Sam’s number. He heard a ring near Sam’s car.
Max approached and glanced into the window. He opened the driver’s side door, grabbed the cell, and turned it on. Seeing the PIN prompt, he flung the phone into the bushes and leaned against the car, thinking.
“Shit, what do we do now, Herb?”
“Let’s just wait,” he said. “Let’s see what he does.”
Max leaned into the Prius and pulled the trunk latch. He opened the lid and saw the blanket Sam had selected for the fake murder. He pulled his car up to Sam’s and popped the trunk. Moving the paving blocks, he lifted Miss Barkley’s wrapped corpse and laid it on the ground. He pulled Sam’s blanket and rewrapped his victim. Looking around to assure continued privacy, he lifted the dead woman, placed her into Sam’s trunk, added the pavers, slammed the lid, and, using a handkerchief, wiped his prints from all surface areas. Max tossed his blanket into his trunk.
“The bastard,” Sam whispered. “What do we do now?”
Herb removed his shirt and pants revealing his commando approach to undergarments. He assumed a four-legged stance and ran towards Max growling. The detective dropped his gun on seeing the charging animal and ran from the clearing. He didn’t stop until he reached the Parkway, half a mile away.
Herb waved Sam to the car. “Open the trunk.” Herb pulled Miss Barkley, laid her on the ground, removed Sam’s blanket, and placed it behind a shrub.
He nodded towards Max’s car and Sam opened the trunk. He rewrapped her in Max’s blanket, positioned the pavers, and closed up. Wiping all contacted areas as Max had done, the men withdrew. “Now let’s get out of here before he comes back,” Herb said. He pointed to his Harley, and the men drove off using a path previously unknown to Sam.
Max walked back to the clearing, stopping every hundred yards or so to collect his breath and look out for the creature. Sam’s car was still there - and the creature wasn’t. He retrieved his gun, slid into his car, closed all windows, locked all doors and sped out.
Sam and Max drove to the casino and gambled for an hour. Sam won fifty bucks and had to be dragged from the slots when Herb was ready to leave. They returned by the same route they had used before. Max’s car was gone.
Herb found Sam’s blanket and the men walked into his hut. He started a fire and tossed it onto the flames. “Wanna beer, Sam?” Herb called out while stoking the fire.
“No thanks, Herb. I just want to go home.” He walked next to Herb and crouched. “Herb, you’re a true pal. Thanks.”
His friend smiled and turned to Sam. “Any time.” He laughed. “Just don’t plan to kill anyone else in the future.”
Sam pulled onto his street in the 10 p.m. darkness. He went to check his cell then remembered Max had thrown it into the bushes. He saw a police cruiser outside his house. Crap, Max must have turned me in. I wonder if he knows what’s in his trunk. He pulled into the driveway. Immediately an officer came out of the house, and one left the cruiser. “Sam Redman?” called one officer. “You’re wanted in the disappearance of Miss Teresa Barkley.”
Lana ran out. “Sam, tell them you didn’t kill her.”
“Don’t say anything, Sam,” called out Will Harrison, Sam’s lawyer. Lana had phoned Will earlier when the police first arrived. “Officer, my client will be glad to answer questions - tomorrow, if needed.”
Patrolman Wilson stepped next to Sam. “We were instructed to take him in tonight. Hands behind you, Mr. Redman. We’d also like to see what’s in your trunk.”
“You’ll need a search warrant, officer,” said Will.
“Then we’ll impound the car - for now.” The officer read Sam his rights, handcuffed him, and placed him in the backseat of the police car.
“I’ll be right over, Sam,” Will called out. “In the meantime, don’t say anything.”
The police station was only a mile from Sam’s house. He was lead into an interrogation room. Max Genardi leaned against a wall as Sam passed. Sam glared at Max as the detective smiled.
Sam accepted a cup of hot, terrible coffee which he struggled to hold while cuffed. Max walked in, nodded to the officer assigned as guard, and told him to step outside. When the officer left, Max smiled at Sam as he turned off the mic. “So, Mr. Redman. We understand you were staking out Miss Barkley’s house shortly before she disappeared. Why were you doing that?”
He studied Max. How can this guy be so cool after killing someone? “I have nothing to say without my attorney.”
Sitting next to Sam, he put his arm on his shoulder. “Sam, my man, you stirred up a pile of shit.” He leaned, lips next to Sam’s ear. “There’s a lot of folks who knew Miss Barkley, if you get what I mean.” He paused. “You know, no one else saw me at Barkley’s. You’re going to make a nice fall guy. Cooperate with us - you know - tell a nice tale but leave names out, and I’ll see if we can’t get you a lighter sentence.”
Maria arrived after being called by Angela and Lana. She stood at the one-way glass and watched Max whispering to Sam. Will Harrison arrived and entered the interrogation room, causing Max to stand, turn on the mic, and leave the room. He was surprised to see Maria. “Hi, Maria. I can handle this. Go home and get some sleep.”
“I’m familiar with this case, Max. I want to see what’s going on.”
He studied her, then shrugged. “Whatever.” He signaled the officer to reenter the room.
He turned, faced the glass, and spoke to her. “This guy acts guilty as hell. I’m sure we’ll find Miss Barkley soon.”
Sunlight shone through a small ceiling level window. Under questioning, Sam told of his novel and the plan to spice it up with lurid details. He admitted to bring outside of Miss Barkley’s house. He said he was following a john, but didn’t mention Max by name.
Maria spoke with Max as he left the interrogation room. “He acted strange, that’s for sure, but there isn’t even proof that Miss Barkley met with foul play.” She stared at Sam through the glass. “He appears to be such a goof. Do you really think he did her in?”
Patrolman Wilson walked up with a warrant. “Here you are, Detective. We can search his car.”
Max knocked on the interrogation room door and spoke to the officer. The officer, Sam, and Will Harrison came out. “Follow us,” Max called out as they headed to the garage. Forming a semi-circle around Sam’s trunk, Wilson signaled the garage attendant who popped the trunk. Nothing there. Max stepped forward and leaned into the trunk, almost falling in. He felt the floor mat. No cold, no moisture.
He looked at Sam who shrugged. “What were you expecting to find?” Sam asked.
Will Harrison exhaled and smiled. “Is my client free to go? You don’t seem to have anything on him.”
Max slammed the trunk causing a thump that made everyone in the garage jump. Maria called over Wilson. “Search the car, top to bottom, and let me know if you find anything.” Maria, Max, Sam, and Will left the garage. She looked at Max then turned to Will. “Your client is free to go, Mr. Harrison - for now. If there’s anything else, Detective Genardi or I will be in touch.”
Will and Sam started to walk towards Will’s car when an officer approached Max. “Detective, you may have something wrong with your car. There’s a drip coming from the trunk.”
Sam turned to Max. “You should check on that, detective. Those small leaks become big problems eventually.”
Max walked to his car. A small puddle had formed on the ground underneath. Maria bent over and ran her hand over the liquid. “Looks like water, Max,” she said. “Maybe somethings leaking from inside.”
“I’ll check it later, Maria. It’s been a long night.” He unlocked the door and slid into the front seat.
“Max, you forgot your coat and it looks like rain,” Maria shouted. “Get your coat.”
Maria waved Patrolman Wilson over. “Nothing suspicious about the car, Detective,” he said.
She pulled him aside. “Detective Genardi is leaving. Follow him from a distance - in an unmarked car. If you see him do anything suspicious, call me on my cell.”
Max pulled into his driveway, pressing the garage opener remote. He tapped the steering wheel waiting for the door to lift. He looked around for any life on the street and spotted Wilson in an unmarked. He pulled into the garage, closed the door, and opened the trunk. Teresa Barkley lay dripping like molten ice cream. Slapping himself on the head, he cursed himself for being outwitted by an amateur writer of all things. He looked at the deep freeze, but instead closed the trunk, opened the garage and pulled out of his driveway. He turned right, away from Wilson.
The patrolman started his engine and followed, relaying his position to Maria. Max drove slowly, allowing Wilson to keep track. He timed a yellow light and pulled sharply left as yellow changed to red. He left Wilson stuck at the light.
Angela, with Maria sitting low and riding shotgun, pulled behind after he crossed Delaware Avenue. “Now, Angela, when he stops and gets out, I want you to pull over and stay out of sight.”
Max stopped at a storage shed. Maria waved Angela behind a dumpster. She left the car and peeked around the container. Max looked around for any activity. Satisfied, he wedged the shed door open, returned to his car, popped his trunk, and removed Miss Barkley, slinging her over his shoulder like a side of beef. Halfway to the shed, he heard “Stop, Max!”
He froze, then turned. “Put her down, Max,” Maria called out as she walked towards him, aimed her Glock and called for backup. Max knelt and placed Teresa on the ground. “Now slowly remove your gun and toss it away.” Max complied. Maria stood before Max with Teresa staring at the seagulls overhead. “Why, Max?”
He glared at Ms. Barkley. “She had enough with tricks and was going to spill to the police. I tried to reason with her, but she wouldn’t hear it. She was going to fuck over a lot of people, Maria - myself included.” He looked at his victim. “Dumb bitch. She had a good thing going.”
Wilson drove up with other backup following. He walked to the two and studied Miss Barkley. “Oh, my God,” he whispered.
“Cuff Detective Genardi and take him to the station. Book him for murder.”
Angela drove home after dropping Maria at the station. Sam was downing a large whiskey and water when she called Lana. She explained what happened after Sam was released. Maria had asked her to drive around and follow Max. She said Wilson would be a decoy.
“Angela, you saved the day,” Lana responded.
Her sister choked up. “Hey, you’re my kid sister. I have to watch out for you - and Sam too, I guess.”
“I’ll tell him what you did,” she said. “You know, Sam isn’t all that bad.”
Angela laughed. “I know.” She raised her voice. “But don’t let him know that I know he’s OK. It would spoil the fun.”