A SCHEMING KILLER –
A REPORTER IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Previously: Sandra goes to Sonoma to meet her best friend Abby for drinks. Detective Brown follows her there to ask her how the killer may know her. Before Sandra can answer, Brown’s car is mysteriously set on fire.
Chapter 7 – Listening In
By ANA MANWARING
Muted French horns sounded from Sandra’s Muzetto bag under her barstool. Abby giggled, shining ringlets bouncing around her ears.
“What’s so funny?” Sandra asked. “Bartender,” she called, holding up two fingers.
“You on a fox hunt,” said Abby, eyes twinkling.
Sandra pulled her iPhone out of the bag and frowned. “Text notification. I don’t recognize the address. Speaking of texts, you’re better than I am at solving puzzles.”
“The next Katie Couric wants my help!” Abby giggled again and fished her iPad from her fringed bag.
“I’ll take whatever help you can give,” Sandra said and wiggled her eyebrows at Abby, “I’m scooping this one.” The drinks arrived. “I’m buying,” she said. The phone trilled. Her frown deepened. “I better read it.”
Abby clinked their glasses. “To your career, girlfriend.”
“Uh-huh,” Sandra hummed, distracted by the text. “Oh, my god! It’s him. The killer.” The blood drained from her face and she dropped her voice as she read, “Good story today. Loved the publicity. A gift—I spared that scrawny Copperfield clerk’s life. No bodies in Sebastopol’s Plaza this time.”
“Holy Moly! Sandi—he was going to kill that kid who works there. The sci-fi guy.”
Sandra bit her lip. Her fingers flew over the tiny on-screen keyboard. She tapped “send” and took a swig off her Lush Champagne. “I asked his name and what he wants.”
Both women glanced at the iPhone, Abby’s face registering shock. “You wrote to a murderer—a serial killer? Are you crazy? What if he decides to come after you? These texts, they remind me of the Zodiac—”
“—Duh, he’s playing us. He wants attention. Detective Brown wanted to know why he sent the phone to me. Well, I’m the crime beat reporter for the regional paper. Brown practically accused me of knowing this monster. What a—”
“—Well, I did feel a little sorry for him last night when the killer set his car on fire,” Abby said. “Sweet Mustang GT and all. But about the real creep, do you know him? Maybe one of those total losers from the journalism program. You remember that greasy wannabe—the one who said 9-11 was a government conspiracy?” She took a sip of her Mojito, made a face and flicked on the iPad. “Too sweet. So tell me again what that first message said.”
Sandra recounted the message.
“What does it mean? ‘I pray sic.’” Abby repeated. “Sic? That means: so or such. Or he’s siccing you onto something?” Abby scrunched her face in concentration and typed.
“It doesn’t make any sense. Sic means that a questionable reading of a text is what was intended—or a misspelling. ‘I prey?’”
“Or an industrial classification system used for statistical purposes. I’ve used it in business reports.” Abby’s voice turned serious.
“Abby, it’s got to be some sort of crossword, an anagram, or—a cipher. Look—” She pulled her notes from the bag. “If you line up the sentences in the first text, the last letter of each phrase spells B-E-G. This sick-o wants us to grovel?”
Sandra threw a twenty onto the bar. “Come on!” She called over her shoulder, but Abby already was on her heels as they dove out of the bistro and into Sandra’s Ford Focus.
“Check out what I found on the iPad,” Abby said while Sandra backed into a space in front of the bookstore. “The Hindu film we saw, ‘My Name is Kahn.’ Here’s an interview with that cute star. He says ‘let not anyone be hurt is all i pray (sic)’. I don’t guess it’s related, but, well, I hope we stop him.”
Sandra slammed her door and flew into Copperfield’s. The public space? she thought whirling around, taking in the layout. It’s all public—no, there used to be… She grabbed Abby and dragged her toward the back stairs, pointing. “A public board!”
The reporters searched the board. A couple of shoppers drifted toward them.
“Nothing. Events, classes, editing services. What—”
“—This!” Sandra pointed to a xeroxed flier.
Abby read, “‘Learn to play an instrument. Piano. Guitar. Harmonica. Accordion. Classes held in your town: Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sebastopol and more…’ I don’t understand.”
Sandra ripped the announcement down. “Abby, the tags have my cell number and these are the cities. Could it mean I ‘play’ (sic)?”
“I’ll take that Ms. Cordero,” an earth-mother in a purple maxi said, flashing a badge. “You’ll have to come with us.”
The shoppers ushered the stunned friends into the bookstore office.
“How did you know we’d be here?” Abby asked.
“We’re staking out the area. Your friend might be watching you,” the matronly cop replied.
“Why here?” Sandra demanded.
“You’d better talk to Detective Brown.” The younger plainclothes cop handed her a ringing phone.
“Brown,” a familiar voice said.
“Are you bugging my phone?” Sandra’s voice rose to a shrill.
“You found the clue?”
“No, the warrant’s for transmissions from the second victim’s cell. It’s our duty to monitor every text message our suspect sends.”
Ana Manwaring, www.anamanwaring.com, writes and teaches creative writing through Napa Valley College and privately in Sonoma County. She is a principal in JAM Manuscript Consulting. She’s branded cattle in Hollister, out-run maniacs on Calistoga Road, lived on houseboats, consulted brujos, visited every California mission, worked for a PI, and swum with dolphins, and she writes about it all. She’s finished Book 1 of The Hydra Effect, thrillers set against Mexico’s El Narco, and is writing a memoir of the years she lived in Mexico City.
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Edited by ROBERT DIGITALE
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