A SCHEMING KILLER –
A REPORTER IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Previously: Detectives confer on how they might benefit from reporter Sandra Cordero contacting the killer. Another body is discovered – this time at the Cotati Plaza.
Chapter 9 – Unwanted Eyes
By CHARLES MARKEE
Sandra ducked out of the PD building and drove down Mendocino Avenue to the Ridgway Swim Center, just minutes away. A lunch swim was the best way to handle the tension in her shoulders, as well as to ponder the killer’s riddles. The story deadlines hadn’t bothered her, but the three killings had, particularly the last one, a young Sonoma State student. As a reporter, she was normally an observer, but this time, trapped in the loop of communication between Detective Brown and the killer, she felt vulnerable and at the same time, responsible. Her last published piece saved a life. Now she had to unravel the ‘I pray sic’ riddle or he’d kill again.
She slowed at the huge landmark oak tree next to the Swim Center. Luckily, she was early enough to find a parking place right in front of the squat little blue building. With her sport bag and towel, Sandra hurried up the walkway. Every time she came, she was struck by its blueness. The painting contractor must have found a blue paint sale, she thought. She swiped her card at the front counter and turned down the hall to the change room. More blue here, and the wall trim tiles were the same color as her cobalt blue bathing suit.
Outside, three of the nine lap lanes were open. She sat on the pool edge at the end of a lane marked “medium” speed with her feet in the water. She pulled her swim cap on, tucking her hair in, then reached down and rinsed her goggles. The clear sky was marred only by a single vapor trail, like a white scratch in the pristine blue. The blue water, blue sky, blue buildings, blue everywhere, calmed her. The clock above the office window behind her read 11:50. Her goal was 30 laps in 30 minutes. Goggles on, she took a breath and slid into the water, enjoying the momentary pleasure of the cool immersion before she kicked off into her first lap.
By the time she reached the other side, she was in her zone, steady regular strokes and kick turns at each end. But her mind wouldn’t stop running through all the questions about the case. What does this guy want from me? Notoriety? And why me? He said I saved a life, so now I have to decode his impossible riddle or he’ll kill again. And why did he torch Brown’s car? That just seems arbitrarily malicious, unlike his calculated murders. Another kick turn. She counted fifteen, half way through.
She tried to clear her mind by focusing on the wobbly light patterns on the pool bottom, but thoughts, like an invasion, commandeered her head. No matter how bizarre it is, someone will die if I don’t figure out the riddle. Maybe ‘pray’ is the error and it should be ‘prey.’ No, that’s too simple and there’s no message. I just don’t get it. Maybe Abby can help me sort this out.
At the end of the lane, she stopped to look at the clock. 12:30. “Sh–,” she muttered. “I lost count of my laps.”
A middle-aged woman, brunette, looking fit in a two-piece suit walked up. “Share the lane?”
“It’s all yours. I’m out of here.” Sandra hoisted herself onto the pool edge and headed for the change room.
Ten minutes later, she was out the front door and half way to her car, when she pulled out her iPhone to call Abby. What she found was another text from the killer.
“You look good in your blue suit.”
Sandra froze, mid stride, and looked slowly around. He knew what she looked like—was stalking her. A wave of fear spread over her, leaving an icy lump in the pit of her stomach. She thought, He was—is—watching me. Where was he? He could have been in the lane next to me. Her panic changed to a flush of anger and she texted back.
“Solve I pray sic or more die.”
Her heart pounded in her ears. “I can’t.”
“Use the bookstore clue.”
“Cops were there. No clue.”
She fidgeted. No answer. She tossed her sport bag in the back seat and started to put her cell away when another text came.
“Clue Healdsburg, Sonoma, Sebastopol,?,?,?,?,?”
She texted back, “What?”
“Add Cotati. H,S,S,C,?,?,?,? Decoder mailed to you. You touched it.”
It didn’t make any sense. She texted again, “What?”
“Do your job. Save a life.”
As she got in her Focus, she decided not to swim there again until they caught the bastard. It gave her the creeps to think of him watching her in her bathing suit.
“Here’s the printout of Cordero’s text messages,” the sergeant said as he walked into Detective Brown’s office. “He seems to like your cop reporter friend.”
“Yeah. She called it in. He stalked her at the Ridgway Swim Center.”
On his way out the sergeant said, “Too bad we didn’t have surveillance on her.”
Staring out the window, Brown narrowed his eyes and thought, He does seem obsessed with her. That just may be the way to get him.
Charles Markee is the author of “Otherworld Tales: Irish the Demon Slayer,” a novel for pre-teens. Formerly a technical manager in Silicon Valley, he is a member of Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club, and he facilitates meetings for the North Bay chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Find more on his book at charlesmarkee.com.
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Edited by ROBERT DIGITALE
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