Authors: Anthony Thomas
Twist of Justice
Chief Dexter Pate loosened his tie, brown with pink and green psychedelic swirls, and leaned back in his chair. Captain Davis scribbled on his notepad as Pate
asked me questions. I was thinking about that tie. Pate must have bought it in the 1970s and still thought it was hip.
“Detective Jackson, did you punch the Assistant District Attorney Dave Robinson in the face in court today?”
I didn’t answer right away. Captain Davis never looked up at me. He just kept writing. The chief was waiting for my answer. I held him out a little bit longer. The captain looked at me.
“Jared, I want to remind you that you can answer these questions. And please be truthful. This is not a criminal procedure but an administrative procedure. You have already been read the Garrity Rights and you waived them. Now I am only going to ask one more time. Did you…”
“Yes, sir! I punched him in his face and it felt good doing it. I mean, C’mon! He just let a pedophile go free because he didn’t use the evidence I presented.” Both of them stared at me.
“Okay! Chief, I apologize
but I worked by butt off trying to nail that guy and put him in prison where he belongs. But now, instead of him making car tags, he is coloring books and planting tulips at Bryce Mental Hospital.”
Chief Pate sat up in straight in his chair. “Detective Jackson, you do understand that you can be terminated for this type of behavior, correct?”
I looked him in the eye and nodded. I never liked him anyway. Since he threw his hat in the ring to run for Sheriff, he had
He micromanaged everybody. He was bad enough before, but now it was backfiring on him. Everybody felt it. Arrogant wasn’t the word. Self-satisfied was more like it.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“OK! I’m going to review all of this—including your personnel folder—and make my decision tomorrow. In the meantime, you can try and influence my decision by impressing your chain of command tonight by going over to Judge Middlebrooks’. He wanted to talk with you as well. He is expecting you to show up at 9:00 PM sharp. And remember, anything else tonight and you will be looking for another job.”
I got up and walked out. I was glad to get out of that office. I still had my badge and gun but tomorrow might be different. I really didn’t care anymore. I decided I would go home and run on the treadmill and throw the free weights around to burn off steam before going to see the judge.
I’d wanted to go private investigator for about a year now. My last partner had quit the force and started a little agency. He asked me to join him many times when we talked over my frustrations, but I always said, “Not right now, but soon.”
This night, I believed
was finally here. I’m 43, 6’3 and weigh 255. Maybe it is time to get out of politics. Yes, I said politics
After all, that is what policing has come to. Hasn’t it?
I checked out a mirror. Some people say I look like Terry Crews, the actor and former defensive end. After all, I had played football too. Maybe I could bust into the Hollywood scene. Nah--I loved being a cop. It was just that lately it was starting to disgust me on many levels. Well,
the Chief would solve that problem for me tomorrow if he decided to fire me.
* * *
On my drive to Judge Middlebrooks’ house, I called my girlfriend Charlotte and left a message that I would call her later tonight when I was done meeting with the judge.
I let my window down at nose level to allow fresh air to circulate and restore my energy. The air was moist but cool with drizzles of rain pelting the windshield. It was dark. There was nothing around me but this shiny wet two-lane highway and a yellow right curve road sign.
That was a gunshot! I jumped in my seat. I stopped my car in the middle of the road. I didn’t know where that shot came from but I wasn’t about to just drive up on whoever was shooting. Was someone hunting--at this time of night? I saw a clearing up ahead just before the curve and pulled off the road unto it. But, it sounded almost like a firecracker. I hoped that it was, but my better instinct said no. I had an uneasy feeling in my gut. I knew it was a gunshot. I served 10 years in the Army with the 5
Special Forces Group and had been a police officer now for close to 8 years and it was no doubt in my mind. That was definitely a gunshot.
I grabbed my Glock .45 from the console and racked a round in the chamber. Wherever that shot came from, I wanted to be ready.
I let my driver window down further to listen and stay watchful of anything that didn’t look friendly. I eased my car back on the road. Just as I negotiated the curve, I saw a car pulled off to the side of the road with the lights off. I stopped. I didn’t want to get any closer until I knew for sure that someone knew my location in case I needed backup. I called 911 and gave the dispatcher my name and badge number, and a brief description of the car from what I could see in the dark from about 500 feet and I told the person on the line about the gunshot and that I was on Alabama route 298, west of Highway 11.
“10-4 Detective Jackson, units have been dispatched to your location, be safe,” she replied. I hung up, and pulled onto the side of the road and shut my car off and took the keys out of the ignition. I clenched my .45 and grabbed my badge from the sun visor. I got out of the car slowly and left the door ajar. Fortunately had I turned the headlamps off before getting out. I didn’t want to be seen as an easy target in case the person who fired the shot was still around.
I eased my way up to the black Mercedes Benz, looking through the windows as I made my way up to the driver side door. To my surprise, nobody was there. I heard rustling somewhere, an animal escaping into the darkness. Then I realized someone was getting away! I quickly moved around to the other side of the car and just as I stepped off into the grass, I tripped over a body on the ground. I now knew why I heard a gunshot. I quickly got up but it was quiet. No more rustling, no bugs making noise, and no scared animals running. All was quiet and I knew better than to go off in a blind search in the dark.
I stayed low near the car so that I wouldn’t be in silhouette. I took a close look at the person lying on the ground. She was probably in her 40’s, blonde, and from the gold bracelet and diamond rings she was wearing, she appeared to be one of those rich white ladies who spend their waking hours shopping and reading fashion magazines.
I pulled out my cell phone to call 911 again. I paused when I saw amber lights in the distance. As they got closer, I examined the scene again, mentally taking in every detail I could before it became swamped with crime scene units and the news media I’m sure had their sources as well.
I walked to the other side of the car and realized I didn’t have a flashlight on me. I quickly holstered my gun and held my hands out with my badge facing the headlights of the patrol car. Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore were still fresh on a lot of people’s minds. Everybody was mad about cops shooting black people and I hoped that had nothing to do with this. Some white nut might want to turn the tide by taking out a black cop just for good measure. The patrol car stopped and two young white officers got out with their guns drawn. I tensed up.
“I’m a police officer, here is my badge.”
The first officer looked at my badge and ID and recognized me. “Detective Jackson,” he sighed and holstered his weapon. He turned and faced the other officer, “He’s one of us!”
The other officer holstered his weapon and walked up closer to his partner and me. I was glad to see it was Chad Caddis, an officer I trained when he was a rookie. Chad introduced me to the other officer, a serious-looking kid with straight brown hair and brown eyes. We shook hands and quickly got back to business.
“Chad, we have a dead body on the ground on the other side of the car and a suspect who ran into the woods as I came up about five minutes ago.”
“Okay, Detective,” he looked at his partner, “Turn on the spotlight and shine it into the woods.”
Chad called in the license plate and then we walked over to the body to wait for the response from dispatch. He aimed his flashlight at the victim’s face. She was pretty. He lowered the light slowly to her torso. There was blood all over her that seemed to come from the small red hole in the center of her chest.
“Yep, there’s no doubt she was shot, detective, and with a small caliber round at close range it seems.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, “I did not check for any identification because of the unknown subject in the woods.”
“So detective, what brings you out this way?” he asked as he started looking around I suppose for the woman’s purse.
I knew the drill. Chad was following protocol, asking questions because he had to do the Police Report. “I was going to visit Judge Middlebrooks at his home but I think I got lost somehow.”
He nodded with a smirk, “It wouldn’t have anything to do with you punching out the District attorney in court today, would it?” I gave him my best I-don’t-know shoulder lift. He knew it was bullshit.
“Yep detective, you missed your turn about three miles back. You should have turned left on Highway 11 and then got on route 71 North.”
I glanced over at the other officer. Chad looked also. “He’s my trainee.”
“Got anything, Bill?”
“No sir, nothing so far.”
“Ok, go ahead and shine your light over here by Chad and me so we can secure this scene.”
The Dispatcher came over the radio. “Headquarters to Papa 294!”
Chad keyed his handheld radio mic, “Papa 294; go ahead.”
“Papa 294, the 10-28 you requested information on, comes back to a Julia Middlebrooks.”
The mention of her name startled us all and then we looked at the body. Chad looked at me and then reluctantly spoke into the mic again.
“Papa 294 to headquarters, do we have anymore 10-18 on this subject and also a description?”
“Standby Papa 294.” A few seconds passed and the dispatch was back on the air.
“Headquarters to Papa 294, that is affirmative. Subject is Julia Middlebrooks, Date of Birth 04/01/72 with blonde hair and blue eyes, 5’2” in height and 127 in weight. The address on file is 4750 Country Club Lane, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.”
“10-4 Headquarters,” said Chad somberly, “that subject is going to be our 10-89.”
It seemed like the dispatcher took a minute to digest the reply and came back on somberly, “10-4, I will notify homicide and the CSU’s and change the call sign to 10-92.”
Police 10 codes are used to keep the nosey ear hustlers such as the media and private citizens who have scanners, from knowing what we are talking about. 10-89 is for dead body and 10-92 is the code for murder.
It did not take long for the word to spread. There were five reporters, two helicopters, and a few onlookers who probably were asleep until they saw all the flashing lights and heard the helicopter circling in the air. K9 units were already in the woods searching for the unsub, which is cop shorthand for “unknown subject.” The scene got chaotic quickly and my biggest concern was trying to keep everybody including other officers from trampling over evidence until CSU arrived.
Once CSU arrived, they put up a shelter over the body and started collecting evidence from the crime scene. I couldn’t help but wonder if our unsub was still out in those woods watching us. I figured he might be gone with the helicopters circling the area with that bright spotlight they use. Still I was not sure.
* * *
Chief Pate walked under the yellow crime scene tape after speaking with Bill
who was logging everyone’s name at the scene. He spoke with Chad first and I saw Chad point him over to me.
“Detective, what do we have so far?” he said buttoning his suit jacket.
I assumed he needed something to go on before he did his press conference. Since he had
put his hat in the ring for Sheriff, this was going to be a high profile crime.
“Chief, so far we have the body of a woman that has been shot in the chest. Her assailant ran off in the woods. K9 units are on the trail as we speak, but it does not look like a robbery gone badly.”
“That’s pretty thin Detective,” he said, a little disappointed. The way he gritted his teeth, it looked like he wanted to fire me right then and there. But he had to smile for the cameras.
He turned to face the reporters who were all hurling questions at him at once. They got quiet when he began to speak.
“Ladies and Gentleman, a short while ago, one of my officers discovered a body and at this point, we are still working the crime scene for more information. I will provide you more details in the morning in the City Hall Conference room. Thank you and have a good night.” He then got back in his car and drove away.
The other officers at the crime scene tape started expanding the tape as an encouragement for the reporters to leave. They all got the message except Charlotte Reed. She was a news hound and beautiful too I might say. She and I were going together, but we tried to keep everything professional. Charlotte had the warmest personality. Her big brown eyes, smooth cocoa skin,
and sexy frame could influence a man to do what she wanted him to do even if it meant he would get hurt in the process. We met at Johnny’s in Central Plaza after I had just testified in court on a murder a few months back. I bought her a hotdog, all the way, with mustard, ketchup, onions, relish, and sauerkraut. We had a few dates and I really liked her. Smart as she was she had a gentle way about her. I might have been falling in love. That was a real romantic hot dog.
When it came to work, Charlotte did her job efficiently. I knew she was waiting to hit me up for some questions. She looked at me and I looked at her and gave her the call me signal with my thumb and little finger to my head. She then left with the others. The helicopters still circled the area, which I didn’t mind because we needed the spotlight to help the K9 units.
It started to rain. I knew once the rain fell the dogs would lose whatever scent they had of the suspect and the integrity of the crime scene would be ruined. Officers hurried to gather what evidence they could and the Medical Examiner recovered the body.
The rain covered the parcel of ground where the body lay. I recalled all the events taking place from the moment of the gunshot to the time I tripped and discovered the body in case I might have missed something. My mind was blank. I had almost forgotten the incident at the courthouse that brought me here in search of the judge. The vibration of my cell phone released me from my deep thoughts.
I figured it might be the chief with his great expectations for me in the morning before he does a press conference. I looked at the number but didn’t recognize it. I answered.
“Hello,” I said. I waited on a response. Often we detectives get calls from citizens who see our numbers on Crime Stoppers and believe they have information that can help us solve crimes. The phone was silent. I said, “Hello?” a couple of more times and then gave my name.
“Hello,” this is Detective Jackson, are you there?”
A cold shiver raced down my spine to the end of my toes at the robotic voice on the other end.
“I’m here, all right, Detective. The Reaper. This is just the first. Many more to come, Detective Jackson.
The rain pounded her windshield. Charlotte Reed opened the door of her Nissan Maxima and deployed her umbrella. She quickly closed her door and ran up to the front porch of her parents’ house. They lived 10 minutes outside of the city and had been in the same house since Charlotte was born. She had been staying with them since she had lost her apartment due to the tornado that had ripped through parts of Tuscaloosa four years before.
Since then she had been able to save her money and in turn help her parents. She planned to buy a home as soon as she saved enough but both her parents were of the age that she felt she needed to be near them. Her dad, Jimmy Earl, still went out in the mornings to get eggs from the hens, slop the hogs, and tended to his meager crops in the field. Her mother, Ruthie Lee, still made sure he had a hot meal for breakfast and dinner and kept the house clean. The elder Reeds never missed a Sunday at church.
was sitting on the porch as she came up shaking the rain from her umbrella and her coat.
“Girl, you go’n catch a cold in that mess out there.”
“I know ma, I know,” she replied as she closed her umbrella. “Did I get any calls while I was out?”
“No, not a one today,” she said fanning herself with a paper church fan.
“What--you s’pecting that bald-headed, handsome detective to call? I forgot his name.”
“Maaa!” Charlotte smiled. Just thinking about Jared made her smile, and she knew her mother’s teasing was her way of bringing up a subject they had discussed many times.
“Honey look, I might be old but I sure ain’t blind, at least not yet anyways, and besides, I hope you two do get together,” she snapped, rolling her eyes at Charlotte. “Besides, your daddy and I are in our late 60’s and would like to see all of our grandchildren someday.”
“Momma, I’m not ready for any children; I still got things in my life I want to do and kids will just hold me back,” she said. “And besides, you already got grandchildren; remember Sandy is married to a preacher and living in New Jersey?”
They looked at each other and started laughing. It was the same old conversation.
“I left your plate in the microwave, girl, now get out of my face.”
“Ooh, I am so hungry, Momma, thank you.”
“You welcome, child,” Ruthie said shaking her head. “Somebody got to feed your skinny self.”
Charlotte kissed her mom on the cheek and told her she loved her.
“Uh huh, I love you too baby girl, don’t wake your daddy up; this my quiet time.” Ruthie said, turning her head so that her daughter would not see the worry in her eyes. She continued to fan herself, harder now, to help her fight back tears.
Charlotte went into the kitchen and opened the microwave. She pulled out a plate of fried chicken, collard greens with green peppers cut up in them, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, and cornbread. As much as she wanted to devour all of it, she knew that going to sleep on that heavy a meal at this time of night would not be a good idea. She put two chicken wings onto a napkin grabbed a coke from the fridge and joined her mother back out on the porch. She checked her cell phone for any missed calls. There were none. She leaned back in the swing set next to her mother to eat.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as the raindrops bounced off the tin roof of the chicken coop.
“This is some good sleeping weather here, Momma,” said Charlotte with chicken in her mouth.
“Hush up now girl, GOD is doing his work.”
“This is some good chicken too.”
Charlotte wanted to ask her mom why she wasn’t in bed, but decided against it. It was better to just sit in the quiet and listen to the rain.
“I have something to tell you and I don’t want you to tell nobody else, you hear?”
Charlotte stopped eating and looked up, all ears. Her mother looked at her.
“What is it, Momma?”
“I really don’t want you to tell nobody, you promise?”
“Momma, you scaring me, what is it? Are you ok? Is Dad ok? What?”
“Promise me, ok?”
“Ok, Momma, I promise,” sensing something so terrible she began tearing up.
“You remember that check-up appointment you took me to last month?”
Tears rolled down Charlotte’s face in anticipation of what her mother was about to say.
“Yes momma, I do.”
“The doctor ran some test on a lump he found under my breast.”
Charlotte covered her mouth, “Oh God, Momma!”
“Shhh! Don’t wake your daddy.”
“But nothing, now listen.”
She grabbed Charlotte’s hand.
“I have some more tests to do before it can be confirmed but I wanted you to be aware of this just in case…” she paused.
“Just in case what, Momma?”
“Just in case, your daddy needs you to help take care of him.”
She held onto her mother’s hand tightly and laid her head on her mother’s lap like she had so many times as a little girl.
She looked out into the sky as the heavy rain poured, unaware that her phone was vibrating, alerting her of an incoming call.
* * *
I looked at the caller ID. The number was anonymous. I tapped the call back button. Damn, Nothing. I knew it would be a long shot but it was the only shot I had. I quickly called dispatch and gave them the number and told them to contact the wireless service provider and see if we could triangulate where the call came from. I hoped that we could trace the number to the serial number of the phone, and then to the store of purchase and find out who bought it and if they have surveillance cameras. It was thin also but worth a shot.
“Well, well, how’s it going, Jared?”
I turned to see the last person in the world I would ever want at my funeral. I couldn’t stand him and I’m sure the feeling was mutual. Detective Harry Burncutt got out of his unmarked car and walked over to me, buttoning his coat.
“I’m headed over to Judge Middlebrooks,” I said, “Later!”
I started walking to my car.
“Now that’s a coincidence, I was just told to go do that myself.”
I turned around.
“Burncutt, what the hell you want?”
He put his hands up in front of him.
“Hey! Whoa, compadre,” He gestured surrender with his hands.
“I just wanted to touch base with you before I head over to the judge’s house.”
He lowered his hands and put them in his pockets.
“And besides, I just got a call from Capt. Davis and he wanted me to relay a message to you.”
My shit-o-meter was going haywire. I gritted my teeth.
“What’s the message?”
“I’m in charge of this case and I, that is, we will inform him about his wife’s demise.”
He crossed his arms. “I would assume it’s because you are a hothead with a conflict of interest and the department doesn’t need any more… uhm….bad publicity.”
“We?” I asked.
“Oh I forgot to introduce you to my new partner Detective Cheryl Glass. She is sitting in the car.”
She got out the driver side and stood beside the car. I guessed her to be about 5’6, short brown hair and fair skinned. Her boyish appearance gave me the impression she wanted to prove herself better than any man. She extended her hand in greeting and spoke with a high level of confidence in her voice.
“Pleased to meet you detective, I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
I snapped my eyes at Burncutt.
Son of a bitch!
“I’m sure you have.”
His smile was like a hyena about to eat a lame lion.
“Well now that we are all acquainted, and you now know that I’m running the show, I need to know everything you know.”
I wanted to kick his teeth to the back of his head and beat that smile right off his face, but I needed to be in on this case because whoever it was that killed Mrs. Middlebrooks needed me in the game and not this clown.
“Ok Burncutt,” it’s your case but now I need to let you know something.”
I paused to let his confidence level get real high before I cut him down.
“Your killer just called me.”
“Wh-what do you mean the killer just called you?”
“Just what I said, He just called me and told me that he’s not through and that this murder is one of many more to come.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said, looking knowingly at Detective Glass.
“Dispatch has everything I know and I really don’t give a shit if you believe me or not!”
I got in my car and drove off. It felt good to put that bastard in check. Now he needed me.
I looked at the time. 11:00pm. I dialed Charlotte’s number. She didn’t pick up. I assumed she probably got tired of waiting and went to bed. That sounded like a good idea about right now. Crime scenes drain a lot of energy from a person. I figured a good hot shower and a late night snack would help prepare me for the morning meeting. The chief probably ordered the captain to give the assignment to Burncutt. I didn’t mind at all. However, I couldn’t wait to see their faces in the morning after Burncutt told them about the killer calling me. It was a small personal victory that was short-lived. There was a killer out there somewhere who directly called me disguising his voice and threatening to kill again.
I had to get this bastard. I tried Charlotte’s number again. She picked up.
I heard sadness in her voice.
“Hi Charlotte, are you ok?”
It sounded like she was fighting tears. “Oh yes, yes, I’m ok. What’s up?”
She tried to hide her crying by pretending to have a cold.
“Hey if it’s a bad time, I could call you back later.”
“Oh no-no,” it’s alright, I’m glad you called.
“I’m here, Charlotte.”
“How about lunch tomorrow at Johnny’s, is that ok with you?”
“That would be fine Charlotte. Besides, you have to be at the press conference in the morning. I looked at my watch. It was after midnight. “And we need our sleep.”
“Ok baby, I’ll see you there.”
She hung up before I could kiss or say “Ok. Bye.”
Something was wrong, but I respected her privacy. I liked Charlotte and I wanted to always be there for her if she needed me. I placed my phone in the console and turned the radio up to catch the news. 92.9 WTUG was playing the quiet storm. Peabo Bryson’s “
Can You Stop the Rain from Falling
,” was playing. How ironic I thought considering my windshield wipers were working fast and hard to clear the pounding rain from my windshield.
I was concerned for Charlotte but my focus was on this case. Whoever this guy was, he was very bold.
The morning came fast. I woke up to the Isley Brothers song, “Voyage to Atlantis,” playing on the radio. I always kept the alarm clock set for the radio to wake me up so I could catch some of the Tom Joyner Morning Show. Tom Joyner is a civil rights activist and along with Sybil Wilkes and Comedian J. Anthony Brown, they bring News, Entertainment, and Good wholesome fun to every household. They bring news and entertainment to radio every weekday morning. As Tom was giving out the lucky numbers for his yearly Fantastic Voyage cruise, I got up and stretched, loosening my joints up for some calisthenics exercises, hoping to strike it lucky for the umpteenth time. After I was done, I turned on the coffee pot and then went into the bathroom and started the shower. My face felt like an SOS pad. After I showered and shaved, I put on my black Ralph Lauren knockoff Polo shirt with the embroidered badge, my 511 Khaki pants, and my black low quarter tactical boots. I poured myself a cup of coffee and turned on the TV to see if anything about the murder last night made the headlines. It did.
ABC 33/40 was running the story. I turned the volume on the radio down and used the remote to turn the TV volume up.
“Police need your help on the murder of Julia Middlebrooks whom is the wife of District Judge Robert Middlebrooks. Her body was discovered last night next to her car on Alabama route 298. Police are not releasing any details at this time. A press conference is scheduled today at 10:00 AM at the City Hall Conference room. Officials are asking anyone with information about this crime to call Crime Stoppers at (205) 41-CRIME again the number is (205) 412-7463.”
I turned the volume down. The way I looked at it, the story was well handled, and would not create a public panic.
I finished my coffee and put the cup in the sink along with the other dirty dishes I had been promising myself I would wash. I turned the coffee pot off and grabbed my keys off the counter.
The rain had slacked up some but was still falling and made it difficult to get anywhere in the city fast. I didn’t mind it much. Driving in the rain is everyday stuff in Alabama. I started to run everything through my head again.
Why the judge’s wife? Could it be somebody out for revenge and mistook Julia Middlebrooks for her husband? Why did they not rob her, with all that Jewelry?
And—the big one--why call me?
I checked my phone and saw that I forgot to leave it on charge last night. Thoughts ran through my mind. Had he tried to contact me again? How could I have been so careless?
I plugged the dead phone into the charger. The phone came to life. There were notifications of couple of missed calls and one voicemail. I felt a knot in my stomach. I looked at the list of missed calls. One was from Burncutt and the other was from Captain Davis. I smiled. This day should be very interesting.
I tapped the icon for voicemail to listen to the message.
“Detective Jackson, this is Capt. Steve Davis. Give me a call once you get this message. The time is 7:00 AM.”
I looked at my watch. It was now 8:50 AM. I dialed the number.
“Homicide Division, Capt. Davis?”
“Hello Capt., Detective Jackson returning your call?”
“Detective Jackson, I need to see you in my office when you get here.”
“Ok Capt., I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m at the mercy of the weather and over cautious drivers.”
“Alright, I will see you soon.”
He hung up.
Yep, this was definitely going to be an interesting day.
* * * *
9:00 AM. Lakeview Lane was quiet except for the rain hammering the pavement. Lakeview Lane was an upscale neighborhood where mostly doctors, lawyers, and retirees lived. The kids were already at school and some adults were at their place of practice. It was common to see service trucks parked at people’s homes during the day. Nobody thought twice about seeing a pest control truck in the driveway of 1114 Lakeview Lane.
The man got out of the truck and walked up to ring the doorbell. He was a nondescript little man, but muscular, with oddly bushy blonde hair and a moustache and beard in a sandy red color.
Sheila Durham peeped through the living room blinds. It puzzled her to see a pest control truck at her house on a Tuesday. The usual schedule was once a month and on Fridays.
He must be lost
, she thought. She opened the door.
“Can I help you?”
The Reaper was stunned by woman’s beauty. She was a redhead about 5’6” and 125 lbs. She wore black stretch pants and an orange workout shirt that was already drenched in sweat.
“Yes ma’am, I’m with Billy’s Pest Control and I’m giving out flyers to promote our business.”
“Well we already have Orkin but thanks any—“
“Yes ma’am, I understand,” he interrupted. “I just want to give you this flyer and also see if you were aware of that dead garden snake in your driveway?”
She gasped. “Oh, my God! Where-where is it?”
“Right there in front of my truck and it looks like it was headed toward the front door.”
He paused to let his words sink in to her. She looked at where he pointed to and saw the flattened snake lying in front of his tires.
“Eek—can you take it away with you when you leave, please?”
Now the game was set.
“Yes ma’am, and since he was a little one, would you like me to quickly check around inside your house just in case his parents may have somehow got inside?” Sound polite, he thought. Sound helpful.
“OH YES! Please do.” She was buying it.
She stepped to the side still cringing at his words and looking around her feet. She had completely forgotten about working out or even checking his credentials.
She closed the door behind them.
She didn’t have time to react. The Reaper made his move. He dropped the clipboard of fliers and grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her tight so she couldn’t move. In one swift motion, he pulled the ball peen hammer from his tool belt and hit her hard in the top of her head and released her motionless body to collapse to the floor. She was dead.
He picked up his clip board and strode out the front door, got in his truck and drove away. Piece of cake. When he had reached US Hwy 82, he drove east. He removed the mustache, beard, and wig he was wearing and placed them in a bag next to him on the seat. Without his disguise, he was quite handsome and fair to look upon. He pulled out his new disposable phone and sent a text message.
* * *
Charlotte always hugged her mom before she went to work. Today was different. She wanted to do so much more, but she managed to keep things natural. She kissed her on the cheek.
Jimmie Earl was reading the morning paper.
“Folks done lost they minds these days,” he said. He sipped his coffee.
Ruthie placed Jimmie’s plate of bacon, eggs, and pancakes in front of him.
“Why you say that, honey?” Ruthie said, pouring the syrup on his pancakes.
He pointed to the paper.
“This killin’ that happened in town last night to that white lady.”
They both looked at Charlotte.
“You doing this story also?” he asked. He picked up a fork full of eggs and shoved them in his mouth.
She nodded after putting a delicate bite of eggs in her mouth. Her daddy would eat that whole plate of food, while she would just take an egg and maybe a little dry toast with her coffee.
“There really wasn’t much to go on last night, I was waiting for Jared to--” she caught herself and looked at her mother, who had a knowing smile on her face.
“Jared and I are going to have lunch today. Perhaps he may know more by then. Besides, I write exclusively. I am not your run of the mill reporter. I am Charlotte Reed, the Exclusive Crime Columnist.”
Her dad looked at her over his eyeglasses.
“That’s my girl!”
He smiled and finished the last of his pancakes.
“Well, baby, you be careful in that weather now, you hear? Folks drive crazy nowadays too.”
“I will, Daddy”. She kissed him on the cheek.
“I’ll walk you out,” said Ruthie.
When they had stepped out on the porch, Charlotte hugged Ruthie tight and kissed her on the cheek.
“I love you, Momma.”
“I love you too, Charlotte.”
They both wiped their eyes.
“Now go tell that man you love him too!”
Charlotte thought about that. “Bye, Mom!”
The heavy traffic quickly released her thoughts from her mother. Cars had come to a standstill on Hwy 69. Charlotte picked up her phone to call her editor.
“Hey, Charles, it looks like I’m going to be late. I think they might have a fender bender on highway 69.”
“Hey, we could use a by-story to print also. See what you can get and I will see when you get here,” he said and hung up.
It was still raining. Hard.
“I’ll get what I can from inside my car,” she said to the silent phone.
Traffic was at snail speed but she was getting close to the amber and blue lights of the emergency vehicles.
It was just as she thought--a small fender bender. Silver Mercedes C-Class had hit an older model Toyota Camry in the rear and the driver saw dollar signs in his eyes. She had seen that man in the Mercedes before, she thought. She wondered if he was a doctor. She noticed that he got in the passenger side of the police car and the officer sped off with lights and siren blasting. She pushed it all to the back of her mind and concentrated on getting to her desk. She had an hour before the press conference.
She finally made it to work and was sitting at her desk. She attempted to clean all the cluttered papers off her desk but heard her name called.
She looked up and saw that it was her editor.
He walked over. His glasses were as thick as two coke bottles pressed together. He wore a bow tie and a sleeveless sweater over a button down shirt. He was Jewish, in his mid-50’s, and had a receding hairline that he tried to cover by combing as many strands from the sides up and over it as humanly possible. Charlotte was used to it. It was his thing.
Charlotte was about to explain why she didn’t have his by-story when he dropped a bombshell on her.
“Charlotte, I sent Jerry Ellis to cover the press conference.”
Charlotte was pissed off at the audacity of Charles taking her off something big and giving it to an amateur.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because, you have a new assignment and here is the address. The Police and all the other news stations are already there. I need you to cover this. It might be connected to the murder last night.”
Charlotte stood up from her desk and grabbed the piece of paper from Charles.
1114 Lakeview Lane was about 10 minutes away across Lake Tuscaloosa. This perked her interest.
“What’s the name of the victim?” she asked.
“Mrs. Nancy Durham,” he said.
A sudden jolt of coldness ran through her.
“She wouldn’t happen to have a husband named Dr Peter Durham would she?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Do you know them?”
She paused before answering.
“He is my mother’s doctor, and I believe he was the driver of a silver Mercedes that was involved in that accident that held me up on highway 69.”
“Records do show that he does drive a Silver Mercedes C-Class.”
Charlotte grabbed her purse and keys and headed quickly to her car.
She rushed to her car without using the umbrella, even though it was still raining pretty hard. She drove out of the parking lot and headed North on highway 69.
She pressed #2 to speed dial Jared’s number and waited for him to pick up.
“Come on Jared, pick up the phone!”
I told Charlotte I’d meet her at the scene and hung up. I placed my phone on the console. Everybody was rolling on the call to Lakeview Drive. A neighbor had phoned the police after discovering Sheila Durham’s lifeless body. My phone was buzzing. A delayed text message had just come through. Probably the weather had something to do with it, I thought. I raised the phone to eye level, at the same time keeping my focus on the road. Traffic was light but the roads were still wet. I opened the message screen and felt a knot in my stomach.
“1114 Lakeview Drive.”
It was signed
The caller ID showed ANONYMOUS as the caller.
I threw the phone on the passenger seat. I was five minutes from there.
I saw the news helicopter hovering in the distance.
When I pulled in, I flashed my credentials to the officer at the crime scene tape and gave him my name for his log. Captain Davis, Burncutt, and Detective Glass were standing at the front door with a white male who was crying profusely.
“Gentleman let’s go inside,” said the captain. “Detective Glass, I need you stay with the husband, Dr. Durham, here.”
“Yes sir,” she replied.
We walked inside. The metallic smell of blood filled the room. The body lay in a clump against the sofa facing the seat cushion with her arms loosely hanging to her sides. It was easy to tell the blood all over her had come from the hole in the top of her head. The Captain pointed to a hammer on the floor that had blood on it.
“We believe this to be the murder weapon,” he said.
I examined the hammer without touching it.
“Have the CSU techs looked out in the garage for—,” Burncutt cut me off.
Detective Jackson, we already searched the garage, and the hammer does not appear to belong to the husband and nor was he around when this happened.”
“Now look!” said the captain. “You two are working on this thing together! Okay? And I don’t want to hear any more of this bickering. We have a killer out there and we need to get him.”