Officer Rudy Kramer drew his pistol, a nine-millimeter that, as always, was set to fire—a round in the chamber, fifteen in the magazine, and the safety off. Then he took a deep breath and a long hard swallow that first sent his prominent Adam’s apple down, and then back up again.

His heart, thumping against the inside of his chest, was a metronome on steroids.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

There was no backup to call.

No snarling K-9 to send.

No tear gas.

No SWAT unit.

To make matters worse he couldn’t find his flashlight.

Like it or not, the time had come and there was no alternative.

He had to go it alone.

So Rudy, a highly-decorated veteran cop who was just shy of his fiftieth birthday, started the search slowly, carefully, and methodically, clearing each of the rooms precisely as he’d been taught in the academy.

Five down.

So far, so good.

Only two rooms remained, including that room.

The one where—

He heard a sound and stopped dead still, holding his breath.

A beat passed and he heard it again.

Clunk.

The noise came from down the hallway.

The kitchen.

His heart picked up the pace.

BumpBumpBumpBump

Clunk.

He aimed the barrel of his pistol down the dark corridor.

Watching.

Waiting.

Clunk. Clunk.

Ice cubes dropping into the plastic bin.

He exhaled, slowly.

His heart downshifted a gear.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

Next came a low hummm and a soft whirrrr.

The refrigerator’s compressor.

The kitchen would have to wait until after he checked the room where “IT” happened.

Unable to put it off any longer, Rudy turned and moved slowly across the hardwood toward the open door of “that” room.

With each step the old floorboards sounded off with a faint and screechy creak.

A lone drop of sweat slalomed its way down his backbone until it dipped beneath the waistband of his favorite boxers, the red plaid pair he’d received as a birthday gift from his wife Ruth, the love of his life since they’d first met in high school.

He paused, cocking his head to one side, listening.

Adrenaline dialed his senses to hyper-alert.

He detected the individual scents of the dust motes that danced in the moonlight spilling through each windowpane.

He sensed his own blood streaming and spewing through even the tiniest vessels within his body.

His eardrums pounded inside his head, begging to hear the slightest of sounds, like those of those stinky dust particles as they spiraled and sailed their way to the oak flooring until they landed with the collective volley of hundreds of earsplitting thuds.

Still, in spite of the cacophony of “house” noises that assaulted his hearing, the absolute quiet inside the house was absolutely deafening and quite maddening, to say the least.

And there was that constant hammering of the antique mantle clock. The battering and grindings of tiny gears and cogs and wheels as they worked against one another.

Tick … Tick … Tick …

Outside, a brutal December nor’easter pushed and pulled on the leafless, gangly limbs of the old Hackberry in the side yard.

The corner streetlamp backlit the tree’s gnarled appendages, sending its dark shadow in through the windows to wave and sway on the interior walls, including the one spattered with splotchy-red stains and, well, that other stuff. The stuff he didn’t want to think about.

The Hackberry’s tiniest branches and twigs scraped and scratched against the exterior of the house—dozens of skeletal fingers strumming a clapboard harp. The eerie display reminded Rudy of a maestro’s arms and hands as he brings his orchestra toward a final crescendo.

Same song and show every night.

Every single night of his miserable life.

Night after night after lonely night.

Whir, click, clunk, scrape, tick, scratch, and the bump of his grief-induced heartbeat.

The macabre concerto had repeated each night since his beautiful wife, a once loving woman who’s mind gradually overflowed with depression and psychosis, used his service weapon, the same gun he held in his sweaty hand right now, to scatter the parts of her that once contained her memories, thoughts, silent prayers, and dreams of growing old together, all over the walls of that room.

He could no longer bear to watch the shadows dance.

The music had reached the coda.

It was time for the maestro’s finale.

The fat lady was singing her ass off.

He raised the gun and pressed the barrel against the roof of his mouth.

Whir, click, clunk, scrape, tick, bump, thud … BANG!

. . . . . . . . .

Tick … Tick … Tick …

0200 hrs.

Wispy fog

Whirling, swirling.

Streetlight.

A lone bat.

Looping, swooping.

Night sounds.

Frogs, crickets.

Train whistle, far away.

Radio crackles in still, night air.

Prowler complaint.

Noise outside window.

“I’ll take it.”

“10-4.”

“Backup?”

“Negative.”

Front porch light.

Shadows.

Moth.

Flittering and fluttering.

Flower bed.

Weeds.

Dried and crispy.

Slight breeze.

Leaves ticking, clicking across weathered porch floor.

Wooden swing.

Rusted chain.

Crooked.

Front entrance.

Paint, peeling.

Loose knob.

A knock.

Door swings inward.

Slowly.

Just a crack.

And a creak.

Tiny face, crinkled with days long since passed.

“I heard them again, Officer.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Damp, anxious eyes.

Faded gray with time.

“They were at the window, like before.”

“I’ll check around back.”

“You’re too kind.”

“I wish my Bill was still here.”

“I know.”

“He’s been gone ten years this week.”

“A good man.”

“Thank you.”

“Coffee?”

“It’s fresh.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Two sugars and a little cream, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Be right back.”

Outside.

Flashlight.

Waiting.

Neighbor’s house, dark.

Furnace, humming.

Rattles, then stops.

Quiet.

Two minutes pass.

Kitchen window.

Brightly lit.

Darting here and there.

Full coffee pot.

Silver tray.

Cookies.

Cups.

Saucers.

Spoons.

For two.

Screen door.

Spring, squeaking.

Thump.

“Everything’s okay.”

“Yes, I do feel better now.”

“Thank you.”

Warm smells.

Vanilla.

Fresh bread.

Pumpkin spice.

“It’s just with Bill gone …”

“I know.”

A downward glance.

Wall clock tick-tocking.

A sigh.

A tear.

Silence.

Tick, tick, tick.

“Would you mind if I sat for a minute?”

A sniffle.

“I’m tired, and really shouldn’t drive.”

“After all, how would that look?”

“A cop asleep at the wheel.”

A smile.

Relief.

Just like last night.

And the night before.

And the night before.

At 0200,

Ten years after her Bill passed away.


TODAY’S MYSTERY SHOPPER’S CORNER

Since the holiday season is nearly here, I’ve decided to feature a few fun items for your mystery shopping needs and wants. I’ll post these regularly throughout the remaining weeks of 2018.

So, for day six of MSC, especially for those of you who’re shopping for writer friends who enjoy a bit of research and/or relaxation, here are my picks. By the way, someone asked why I post all Amazon links for the books I recommend. The answer is that they work well for and with this site, but by all means feel free to purchase books anywhere you like. But why not here by simply clicking the links I provide?

First up, a Thin Blue Line Mug.


Thin Blue Line Unisex Crew Socks.


Gnome Police Statue. I have one in my office and you’ve seen him, Sergeant G. Nome, in many of my blog and Facebook posts. (Statue ONLY – fingerprinting supplies, book, drug testing kit, etc. not included).

 


Handcuff Necklace


Kendra Elliot is a longtime sponsor and supporter of the Writers’ Police Academy. I’m a fan.


Also a longtime sponsor and supporter of the WPA is Melinda Leigh. Again, I’m a fan.

 

He’s here.

Arrived on the train.

On the rails running through my mind.

Can’t stop it.

I’ve tried.

 

The rumbling.

Huffing.

Puffing.

Steam and smoke.

Wish it would stop.

 

Heart pounding.

Can’t breathe.

He’s here.

Again.

Heart, thumping.

 

The incessant scratching,

Clawing,

Digging.

At the inside of my skull.

He wants out.

 

I can’t let him.

I won’t!

Eyes open.

Can’t sleep.

Leave me alone.

 

Please!

Darkness.

Moonlight.

Tick-tocking clock.

Night sounds.

 

Refrigerator whirs.

Air conditioner hums.

Tick, tick, tick.

Heart, racing.

Thumping.

Owl hoots.

Cricket chirps.

Tick, tick, tick.

Thump, thump, thump.

Then …

 

Silence.

Steamy, wispy tendrils

Steam, rising upward,

Like gnarled fingers

From a tomb.

 

A scream!

From inside?

Him, or me?

He’s there.

Here.

 

In front of me.

Behind.

Over there.

No, over there.

Laughing.

 

Maniacal laughing.

Mocking me.

Taunting me.

Killing me,

From within.

 

Bullets.

Blood.

Twitching.

Quivering.

A wounded animal.

 

A dying animal.

Flowers.

Roses.

Prayers.

Damp soil.

 

A grave.

Open.

For him, or me?

Tears.

Sorrow.

 

But …

He shot first.

I did what I had to do.

People say

You’re a monster.

 

Evil, they say.

You didn’t have to do it.

Easy for them to say.

Because

They weren’t there.

 

Me?

I just wanted to live.

Wife.

Children

For them.

Anxiety.

Fear.

Depression.

Can’t sleep.

He’s coming.

 

The train is on its way.

Always on its way.

Why every night?

Every day?

I only killed him once.

 

Why does he kill me every day?


* If you are in a crisis please seek help. You cannot do this alone. Call 911, go to your nearest emergency room, talk to your doctor, or call 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). Whatever you do, please talk to somebody.

If you plan to attend the 2018 Writers’ Police Academy, please do drop in on U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Mike Roche’s presentation on PTSD. It’s an eye-opener.

Standing ankle deep in black, slimy swamp muck, Sgt. William “Billy” Franks paused to catch his breath and to look over his shoulder, for the umpteenth time.

Nothing moving, not even a leaf. Good.

The humid jungle was also silent. Even better.

They were still a ways behind him, he hoped. But they were coming. He knew so because every hair on the back of his neck was standing at attention, and the neck-hair test had never been wrong before. Not ever.

Unfortunately, he was confident it wouldn’t be wrong this time, either.

Sgt. Franks was parched. His lips and throat as dry as desert sand, a reminder of the last time he’d been in a serious battle, fighting to survive. Hard to believe that conflict beneath a blazing Iraqi sun had been only a week ago.

He just couldn’t seem to steer clear of trouble no matter how hard he tried.

No time to think about it, though.

Not now.

The setting sun had already begun to paint the surrounding landscape in various shades of gray and black. Giant shadows crept slowly across the forest floor, feeding on splotches of light along the way.

Night was coming as fast as they were.

Finding clean water to drink would have to wait.

It was time to move on.

He’d fought the enemy—the entire outfit—all afternoon, before finally escaping into the jungle where he’d been running for hours.

The sergeant’s hair was caked with mud and his camouflaged BDU’s were wet and filthy. His rifle, thankfully, was dry. He was exhausted and unsure how much longer he could continue.

They were relentless in their pursuit, and he was sure they were closing in.

He had to find the strength to keep moving.

Suddenly he heard a voice from beyond the vines and thick, lush plants to his left. He dove for cover behind a moss-covered log. Something large and long slithered away through the undergrowth covering the forest floor.

He heard it again. This time the voice seemed closer.

The sergeant, knowing his options were now few, took a quick peek over the rotting tree. He saw someone standing in a clearing just beyond the treeline.

They called out again.

“Billy, it’s time to wash up for dinner!”

Sgt. Billy Franks, knowing it would not be in his best interest to dilly-dally, stood and used his hands to brush the dirt from his knees. Then he stepped from the small patch of woods into his backyard where his mother stood waiting. He whispered to himself, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be a cowboy.”

Glancing back over his shoulder he saw a Native American standing in the shadows—his next adversary appeared ready for battle.

The warrior locked eyes with Billy for a second and then faded into the forest. A drumbeat began to thump from a place deep in the woods.

“Tomorrow, Chief, right after I’ve had my Fruit Loops and orange juice, it’s you and me. Because those woods aren’t big enough for both of us.”

Shouldering the stick he used as a pretend rifle, Billy marched toward his mother, wishing he were five again because being six was really hard work.

 

A black cat, perched atop an empty moss-coated, concrete flower urn, watched the goings-on at the graveside service of the recently deceased Romey J. Wellington. At the hired clergyman’s first mention of ashes and dust, the aloof animal opened its mouth to yawn and then licked away an imaginary something on its right forepaw.

An approaching evening storm dropped small dust- and debris-filled whirlwinds in advance of the soon-to-arrive roiling and boiling black clouds and jagged bursts of bright white electricity. The exhalations of the impending cloudburst puffed and fluffed the cat’s silky fur, first one way then another.

One more lackadaisical yawn.

Romey J. Wellington’s family, five sons and three daughters (his wife went on to her reward some fifteen years earlier) sat beneath a green funeral tent. There were no tears or outward signs of grief from the motley group of faux mourners—not a peep or a meek weep—as the highly-vocal preacher raised his hands high and began to pray in a booming voice so loud that it could, well … raise the dead.

Instead, the eldest son looked at his wristwatch. The youngest daughter, Roweena, who would turn thirty-four in a few weeks, used her thumbs to navigate various screens on her cellphone. The others watched the sky, looked at their shoes, picked lint from their clothing, and cracked their knuckles. Anything to avoid looking at the old man’s walnut casket with its two solid brass handles and strategically placed matching do-dads.

“Oh, Lord, please be with this family in their time of sorrow. Their hearts are heavy and they—” Stopping the reverend just as he was gearing up to properly send Mr. Wellington to his reward, the storm announced it’s arrival with an earthshaking BOOM! The middle daughter screamed. An honest to goodness “scared the hell out of me” scream.

The cat casually tip-toed over to the tent and claimed a spot on the fake grass rug near the head-end of the coffin. It made eye contact with the preacher who, after giving everyone a second or two to gather themselves, continued his homily. “Dear Lord, Romey Wellington was a kind man whose generosity was—” BOOM!

The bottom opened up and raindrops the size of Gummy Bears began to savagely pound the tent’s emerald green canvas top that had begun to undulate up and down in unison with the harsh and hurricane-like winds. Lightening flickered and zigged and zagged across the dark sky. Tent poles rattled against anything and everything nearby, and they tugged at the metal stakes the workers pounded into the red clay a few hours earlier.

The cat turned to look at the men and women seated in the metal folding chairs. It walked over, rubbing its body across the shins of all eight plus their respective spouses, if any. Then it returned to its place beside the coffin.

Wellington’s children had voted, eight to zero, for murder when the old man announced his decision to donate his entire fortune to the church, leaving them, his own flesh and blood, without as much as a dime. It had been quite easy to locate someone, a meth addict who needed to keep his high going, who’d “done the deed” for a few hundred dollars.

A cool million to the church … Puhleeze.

Suddenly a streak of lightning ripped downward, startling the family again. Brother number three announced to no one in particular that the bolt of electrical energy sounded extremely close.

The cat ducked as a second lightning bolt struck the canvas tent dead center, with a deafening explosion and an unbelievably searing heat.

The blast instantly claimed the lives of the eight mourners and their beneficiaries, the only people who could’ve stood between the church and Wellington’s fortune.

When the smoke cleared, the priest slyly winked at the cat, placed one hand on Romey J. Wellington’s eight-thousand dollar hand-rubbed casket, and said, “Amen.”

 

Sometimes we catch calls that grab us by the gut and then pull and tug until our emotions are ripped out by their roots. This was one of those calls.

I Want To Go Home

“I want to go home. I want to go home. I. Want. To. Go. Home.”

“Those are the only words she’s spoken in years, Officer.”

“The last time we saw her she was wearing a blue nightgown. She was ready for bed.”

“Yes, all the doors were locked. Well, with the exception of the front door. That’s the one visitors use. But it’s monitored.”

“Please hurry. It’s really cold out. And she’s terrified of the dark.”

“No, she hasn’t had a visitor in over a year. Even her daughter stopped coming by.”

“I suppose we’d searched for an hour or so before we called you.”

Radio crackles.

“No, sir. Nothing yet.”

“Yes, sir. The dogs are on the way.”

Another crackle.

“It’s starting to snow.”

Twenty officers.

As many civilian volunteers.

More on the way.

Two dogs—Bloodhounds.

The best in the business.

Snowing hard, sideways.

Missing for several hours.

Temperatures dip to zero, and then a bit below.

Command post. Hot coffee.

Warmth for frigid hands and numb toes.

Radio crackles.

“I’ve found her …”

Fence. Chain-link.

Litter, scattered about.

Dumpster.

The old woman, nearly ninety.

In the snow.

No shoes.

Blue nightgown.

Glasses half on, half off.

Blue lights flittering and dancing among falling pieces of frozen lace.

Snowflakes on a wrinkled face.

A smile?

“I guess she finally made it home.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Benson Trucant never liked the beach, with its roaring and roiling surf and constant sizzle of undulating sea foam.

The place was absolutely maddening.

And that salty air, thick with the disgusting odor of sun-baked rotting kelp and decaying crustaceans, practically turned his sensitive stomach inside out.

White-capped breakers slapping the soft sand with the precision and timing of a metronome—a sound that never failed to send jolts of electricity dancing and darting across his hypersensitive nerve endings.

Pigeons, seagulls, and plovers pecked and plucked fiddler crabs from their hidey-holes, screeching and shrieking as they fought over the tasty bottom feeders. If he had his way each of those useless creatures would disappear from the earth.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

Trucant, the owner of a small town hardware store, couldn’t imagine enduring another day of that unholy dissonance.

From his vantage point he spied a small, wooden trawler chugging northward between the setting sun and a channel marker. He imagined the boat’s outriggers creaking and groaning against the weight of massive waterlogged nets laden with sea bass and perch.

More of those dang screeching gulls diving in the wake, searching for bait remnants tossed overboard by the ship’s crew.

Trucant wanted to wave his arms and yell. He wanted to catch the eye of the boat’s bearded captain and his crew. He wanted to holler and jump up and down. Fire a flare gun. Build a fire to send smoke signals. Throw a rock. Hell, anything to alert the crew to his presence.

But all the trying on earth wouldn’t help him, because rigor mortis had Benson Trucant’s arms pinned tightly to the wet sand beneath him.

A massive dose of oleander into his salad did the trick, and the next thing he knew his wife of eighteen years and her “lover-of-the-week” dumped him there among a hearty stand of sea oats.

Death wasn’t as he’d expected. Not at all. There were no bright lights or long tunnels. No joyous reunions with long lost loved ones.

Just rigor mortis and the overwhelming desire to blink.

His mouth seemed to be locked open, so he tried to scream … again.

Not a sound.

In fact, the only thing that came from his mouth was a tiny crab seeking a bit of sunshine after enjoying its evening meal.

Sizzle, slap, shriek, screech.

 

Factory
Massive, abandoned
Machinery, steel dinosaurs
Tangled debris.

Rust.

New Picture (1)

Rats
Shadows, graffiti
Glass, jagged shards
Footsteps echo.

Cold.

New Picture (2)

Hallway
Leather, squeaking
Keys rattle, jingle
Nervous, anxious.

Fear.

New Picture (4)

There
Hanging, swinging
Rope, rafter, neck
Boy, dead.

Twelve.

New Picture (7)

Shoes
One on
Other on floor.

The choking game.

*Top photo is mine. The rest are by Sunday K. Kaminski

A time-battered shed.

Front door, askew.

One rusted hinge.

Open slightly.

Wedge of sunlight,

On plank flooring.

Beretta in hand.

“I heard a shot, but I was too scared to look. Is he in there?”

“Stay back, please.”

Standing to side of doorway. Breathing heavy.

“Frank?”

No answer.

Heart pounding.

“Frank. I’m here to help. You okay?”

Silence.

Flies buzzing, darting in and out.

Deep breath.

Quick peek.

Maglight low.

Head high.

Minimum target.

Blood spatter.

Lots of it.

Tissue on ceiling.

Sitting on floor.

Shotgun in lap, upright.

“Frank, you okay?”

Useless words.

“Is Daddy all right?”

“Go back in the house. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Hand over mouth, sobbing. “Okay.”

Squeeze through door.

Flashlight aimed toward ceiling.

Holster weapon.

Friends since high school.

Twenty years, or more.

No face.

“Why, Frank? Great kids. Great wife. Nice house. Good job. Wonderful life.”

Silence.

Key radio mic.

“Send M.E. and paramedics. No particular order.”

Doesn’t matter.

BUT …

Chest moves, slightly.

Then, a wet breath … from somewhere.

A finger twitches.

“Frank?”

Another jerky, unbelievable breath.

“Hold on Frank. Help’s on the way!”

Frantically grab radio.

“Tell paramedics to hurry. Victim is alive. Repeat. Victim is alive.”

Sit down.

Holding Frank’s hand.

Sirens getting closer.

“Hey Frank. Remember when we …”

Lady Luck

“Whoa, young fellow,” said Rufus Robinson, whose midsection had just been pummeled by the appropriately-sized head of a lad no more than ten-years-old.

The youngster, out of breath, red-faced, wide-eyed, and clearly wound up about something, backed up a step and ran a hand across his short, wiry, blond hair. “I’m sure sorry, mister,” he said. But I just won three whole dollars from that old game in the drug store.” He pointed at the entrance to Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium. “I gotta go give my mama the money so she can buy medicine for my brother. He needs it real bad.”

Without another word the boy sprinted away, clutching a small paper sack, leaving Robinson, the head teller at the downtown branch of the Fidelity Savings Bank, watching him run at full gallup until he was nothing more than a dot on the horizon.

The next day, at precisely ten o’clock, his usual mid-morning break time, Rufus Robinson set out on his customary ten-minute walk. Along the way he passed Frank’s Florist, Guy’s Grocery, Paul’s Pawn, and Connie’s Candles.

The sun was warm on his face, and the absolutely delicious scents of jasmine and honeysuckle hung heavy in the humid morning air. He turned the corner and saw, predictably, the widow Wanda Williams pinning her plus-size unmentionables to the clothes line in the back yard of the duplex she owned and shared with her tenant, Willie Wilkins.

The widow Williams saw Robinson and wiggled a knot of stubby fingers at him. Robinson shouted a “Morning, Ms. Williams” in her direction and, without missing a step, he crossed the street and headed due west. He began to whistle an old Cole Porter tune, “Cherry Pies Ought To Be You,” a song that had been stuck in his head since hearing it on his AM radio well over a week ago.

With five minutes left on his break, Rufus Robinson was about to pass by the last business on his route, Jones’ Rx and Lunch Emporium, when suddenly he heard a clatter and bang of commotion and then the two front doors flew open. And, just as it happened a day earlier, the boy, whose head felt as hard as a lump of granite when it slammed into the banker’s soft belly, burst from the drug store and out into the street. He clutched a small paper bag clutched tightly in his hand and excitement beaming on his dirt-smudged face. Robinson once again watched the boy run until he was nothing more than a memory.

lady luck

The bank teller decided to see for himself, without delay, the so-called “lucky” machine that had twice bestowed much-needed riches on the young man and his family. He pulled open one of the two front doors and was met by cool, conditioned air. Looking around the place, first to the foot powders and then to the lunch counter, he didn’t see the gambling machine, so he asked an elderly clerk where it could be found.

The counter attendant, an elderly man with a tussled mane of thick white hair and a long and heavily-waxed handlebar mustache, raised his eyebrows, a gesture that formed deep wrinkles into his forehead, much like grooves carved into wet beach sand. “You must be thinking about Lady Luck,” he said.

“They gave her the name because she was built and painted up to look like a dance hall queen. But that dang thing, a slot machine, was anything but lucky, and it hasn’t been here for … I’d say forty years, or more.”

The man used a somewhat soiled towel to wipe the surface of the bar top, concentrating his effort on a particularly stubborn dried glob of chocolate syrup. He set the cloth aside and continued to talk while using a fingernail to pick and scrape at the spilled, pesky fountain flavoring. “My father,” he said, “ran the business back then and decided have Lady Luck taken out the day a little boy won three dollars and was so excited he ran right out the front door and into the street where the east-west trolley hit and killed him graveyard dead. They say nickels were scattered everywhere and bystanders were more concerned with grabbing them than helping the kid. Anyway, come to find out, the boy had a sick baby brother at home and he was in a hurry to get there so he could give his mother the money to buy medicine. Hell, my old man would’ve given them what they needed, for free. A real shame is what it was.”

The druggist picked up a duster and swiped the feathers across the tops of a grouping of upside-down soda glasses. “By the way, mister, what made you ask about that old slot machine?”

Rufus Robinson, not hearing the question, turned and walked to the front door where he paused for a second, watching the commotion in the street. A small crowd of looky-loos circled the body of a young boy while several ruffians pushed and shoved one another, fighting over what Robinson knew to be three dollars … all nickels.

“Lady Luck, my ass,” thought Rufus Robinson.