The scheming killer is back, still fixated on the young woman reporter.
But this time he isn’t prepared for how his murders will put her in harm’s way.
Chapter 1 – Backfire
By JEREMY HAY
A car backfired going past him on Columbus Avenue, and though he didn’t flinch, Zach Brown’s mind turned back, as if on cue, to the explosions in the Santa Rosa Plaza’s garage and then beyond them to the dead bodies in the small town squares.
A cop with an unsolved case is like a guy on a date whose car won’t start. When the case is four homicides and a twisted, taunting killer, it’s worse. It’s a guy who doesn’t have jumper cables, doesn’t know a carburetor from a starter and doesn’t have a Triple A card. It had been a long year, Brown thought, and it was only getting longer.
The bar at the bottom of Kearny Street had a windowless steel door, and when he pulled it open something that he supposed was music assaulted him.
A linebacker-sized bouncer with tattooed sleeves gave him a once over and Brown went past him and stopped, looking around. When he couldn’t hear well, he couldn’t see so well either, and right now, with the music what it was, everybody’s face was a blur.
Does Sandra Cordero listen to this stuff, he wondered. She had always struck him as a city girl, and he hadn’t been surprised when she moved here to The Chronicle. She was a good reporter, as far as reporters go, better than The Chronicle, but San Francisco would fit her better than Wine Country.
He finally fastened on a guy sitting alone and nursing a drink at a table in the corner.
“Mark? Mark Pointer?”
The man had close shaved brown hair and eyes that even in the dim light of a lousy bar Brown could see were blue.
Mark Pointer stood. He was Brown’s height but much thinner, the detective had to admit. His hand, as he extended it, was long with protruding knuckles. And he had a nice smile, Brown thought, noticing the other man was drinking a soda.
“Thanks for meeting me, ” Brown said. “Lemme get a beer. Can I get you one?”
Pointer shook his head and waited until Brown nodded and left before sitting back down.
“He a regular here, the guy with the Coke in the corner?” Brown asked the bartender, putting his badge on the counter.
“Seen him a couple of times. Always on his own,” the bartender said.
Brown sat down across from Pointer and took a long sip on his IPA, wishing for the forty-seven thousandth time that he could light a cigarette and let the smoke solve his problems for ten seconds.
“You don’t drink?” he said.
“Not a fan,” said Pointer.
“Oh, sorry about that,” said Brown, hitting his ale again. “Does this…?”
“No. I know I’m in the minority,” the other man said. “And I’m happy to be. You want to pollute your body, go right ahead. You’ll pay the price.”
In the past year, Brown had interviewed fourteen people who had intersected with Sandra’s life – nearly all, as with this character, on his own time. Not one had told him he was polluting his body. Go with it, he thought, at once weary and curious.
“You’re pretty committed, huh?” he said.
“I know what’s good for a person. Booze isn’t. Drugs either, in case you’re wondering.”
“Well, good for you. But I’d be practically be out of business if everyone was like you.”
Pointer laughed. A straight shooter’s laugh, Brown thought, surprised.
“We all serve a purpose,” Pointer said.
“You have a history? Are you in recovery, I mean?”
“You could say, but not in the way you mean.”
Brown raised an eyebrow and waited. Waiting was the best interviewing technique ever.
“I’m recovering from what was done to me. The drugs that were done to me. My parents,” Pointer added, as if it was the punchline. “You know, one of those ADHD kids. Like every kid, when you think about it. But some parents, my parents, they just found it easier to dole out the pills.”
“And they didn’t work?”
“They made me not me. How would you like to experience that?”
“I wouldn’t,” said Brown, feeling honest.
“So when was the last time you and Sandra Cordero talked?” Brown said, figuring it was worth a shot to try and rattle him. But Pointer didn’t blink.
“My God, years. Not since college. I heard from friends about what happened in Sonoma, though. Terrible.”
“But good for Sandra, too, despite it all, don’t you think?”
“For Sandra? Well, never thought about it that way. How do you figure that, Mark? May I call you Mark?”
“Absolutely, detective. Be right back.”
With Pointer in the men’s room, Brown’s mind wandered.
A red-headed woman bumped the table with her hip as she swayed past on heels. She ran the hand that wasn’t holding her drink through her red hair and Brown felt a stab of longing. It had been four years, eight months since Elsie left him – “It’s me or your freaking case,” she’d said. He hadn’t answered right away and then the door had slammed.
Now it was another case. But it was the same. Although on the emotional front, this one was the most complicated ever. It had put him together with Abby. He’d always be grateful for that. She’d been a rock this last year. Sure, she was motivated. It was her best friend who’d been forced into dealing with a killer. But she was the first woman he’d been with who he could comfortably talk over the details of a case with, and she, in turn, had prodded him when he felt like putting it aside.
“C’mon, Zach,” she’d say, “catch the killer. Isn’t that what you do?”
He’d needed that. Because this case had eaten at his confidence. Brown had never felt so helpless, in charge of an investigation that was always a step behind. It had taken him months to find Pointer. This off-key, rejected former admirer was the first person Brown had started looking for – “ It’s got to be him, the weirdo,” Abby had said. But Pointer had moved several times, changed jobs and started using his middle name, and then dropped completely out of sight.
Now Brown had found him and he had an unexpectedly nice smile. The detective wondered whether Abby had been way, way off. Still, there was something about the man, smile and laugh notwithstanding.
“Everything alright, detective? You don’t look too well.” Pointer sat back down and drained his soda.
“It’s been a long day. So what do you do? It’s consulting or something, isn’t that it?”
“That kind of thing,” said Pointer. “I’ve been casting about for something new, actually.”
“I thought you studied journalism. Isn’t that how you and Sandra met?”
“Well, yes, but that’s no line of work for an honest man, is it?”
Brown couldn’t help but laugh. “Why’s that?”
“Well, you can’t tell the truth, can you? You can never report the real story. You know that, you’re a cop. Isn’t there always more to the story?”
“Point taken, Mr. Pointer. But what about with Sandra. What about that case? What was the more to that story?”
“Well, let’s see. For one thing, she moved to a bigger paper. Don’t you think that had something to do with it? All that experience she gained on a big story like that. Plus, you know what they say, whatever doesn’t kill you…”
Jeremy Hay has been a Press Democrat reporter since 2001 and is working on a novel that, oddly enough, involves redevelopment agencies. Read more of his stories here.
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Edited by ROBERT DIGITALE and FREDERICK WEISEL
A PROJECT OF SONOMA WRITERS
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