Sixteen chapters.
Sixteen writers.
One thriller.

To see all the chapters and writers, click here.

Previously: A tall man with crocodile skin boots is found dead in the Sonoma Plaza duck pond. Sheriff’s Detective Zach Brown is awakened and told that a second victim has been found with a single word written on an arm. This time it’s “Sebastopol.”

Chapter 3: The Missing Phone


Brown started in Healdsburg. He didn’t know why but he walked first to the gazebo where the bands set up and played for the summer concerts. He’d brought a date here last year. They’d listened to New Orleans jazz and drunk Lagunitas. But life went on. Until it didn’t, he thought.

As far as plazas go, it wasn’t a bad place to find and kill someone. There were a lot of trees to obscure witness sight lines. Just two bars on the fringes where a late-night boozehound smoking on the sidewalk might have spotted or heard something.

But other than that, it was jar-headed and counted on luck. That no young lovers were cuddling on a bench. That a cruiser wasn’t making the rounds, which, this being the posh center of posh Healdsburg, was more than likely. That no old man had bedded down for the night under a nearby tree, although, this being the posh center of posh Healdsburg, that was unlikely.

So it was a thrill on top of a thrill for their killer. Which troubled Brown. That they had a serial operator was obvious. One who liked games and had started with some sort of a playbook already in place. But this one had stone nerves, too, operating out in such public locations here and again in Sonoma. He wasn’t just daring cops. He was daring anyone in the wide open world.

Brown drove to Sonoma with that on his mind. Every time he wanted a cigarette he switched radio stations. By the time he arrived at the plaza he felt like a transmission tower.

On the way to the duck pond he stepped in some fresh droppings and cursed. It made him wonder again at the lack of disturbance at the scenes. In Healdsburg, they’d combed the site where Matilda Pismo was found and had come up with nothing but fifteen Camel Wide cigarette butts that had been ground into the dirt at the base of a redwood. And here? Well, the area around the pond was already messy – ducks and mud and a thousand children’s shoe prints – but even with that, they’d seen no signs that Wally Spittleheimer had been dragged into the water. It was hard to imagine how else he would have ended up in there. He was an awfully big man to hold down and drown. And if there is one thing serial killers usually do, it’s repeat themselves. Pismo’s autopsy had shown that she was stabbed with a hypodermic between the third and fourth rib. Brown was betting that that was Wally’s fate, too.

But how do you sneak up on a 6-foot-5 taxidermist from Lake County, stick a six-inch needle through his chest into his heart, roll up his sleeves, write in red Sharpie on his arm, drag him into the pond, and leave no signs of a struggle? Brown shook his head. They were still waiting for the examiner, but it had surely happened at night, in which case the question was, how late and what was Wally doing here? Meeting his killer? Brown thought about it and then, after first making sure no one was looking, tossed a penny at a duck.

Two hours later, after narrowly avoiding a head-on with a texting driver on Highway 12, and after resisting the urge to pull a U-turn in his black Mustang GT to make an arrest, Brown was in Sebastopol.

“If this gets out, this little game our perp is playing on our vics’ arms, I will write ‘I did it’ on your forehead and stick the Sharpie in your eye,” he said to the detectives gathered in the chief’s office.

There were three of them – two from the Sheriff’s Office and one from the Sebastopol Police Department – besides him and the chief. And he could see they were on edge and eager at the same time. Who wouldn’t be? Big cases like this don’t come along too often.

“How are we going to alert citizens?” the chief said. “If we are next, and it sure looks that way, I don’t want anyone wandering around the plaza or Ives Park and getting killed because they don’t know. If people find out we knew he was coming here and didn’t warn ‘em, we’re toast. I’m toast.”

Brown’s cell phone rang.


“Zach, we got his cell phone records. He made a call at two – in the morning.”

“Really. To who? Whom, I mean.”


“Or is it, ‘Who?’ Forget it, just tell me, okay?”

“Sonoma State. Some shrink professor, Simone Bishop, in the psychology department. No message, though. Strange, right?”

“Get all the numbers from his phone, get who they are,” Brown said, feeling the case turn.

“That’s the thing, boss, we can’t find it. He had a holster on his belt, but it’s empty. They’re dragging the pond again, but nothing so far.”

Next Time (May 3): “I Pray Sic” by Press Democrat Copy Editor Heather Chavez. Police Reporter Sandra Cordero receives a package that leads to the biggest story of her life.

Jeremy Hay is a staff writer at The Press Democrat. He is also working on a novel that involves redevelopment money. Read more of his stories here. 




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