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.

Fourteen chapters.
Fourteen writers.
One thriller.

 

Click here to read Season One: The Sonoma Squares Murder Mystery.

PREVIOUSLY: Detective Brown questions Mark Pointer, a suspect in the Sonoma Squares killings.

Chapter 2 – Fear Factor

By DAN TAYLOR

Abby stood at the entrance of the newsroom and looked for the only familiar face she expected to find there. She scanned the desks, crowded together, most of them separated only by low partitions — “veal pens,” her own editor back home at the Business Journal called them.

This was bigger than most newsrooms, including the Journal’s compact little office. This was the big time. This was the Chron.

Abby’s best, and perhaps only, friend in the news business, rising cop reporter Sandra Cordero, had made it to a major metropolitan daily. But where was she?

The desks all looked alike, stacked with papers and files, with books crammed on shelves in the corners. A cranky older guy at a central cluster of desks — Abby recognized it as the copy desk — looked up. He scowled at her for a moment and went back to his screen, trying to make a headline fit the little box at the edge of his half-finished page.

Abby caught quick movement off to the left, by a post with a clock on it. She saw her friend raise a hand, and threaded her way through the desks to reach Sandra, who looked trim and professional in a new charcoal gray jacket and slacks, the pocket of her light blue blouse tagged with an in-house security badge.

“Not much like the North Bay Business Journal, is it?” Sandra asked.

“It’s about the same, really — the buzz, the clutter, the stench of stale coffee. Oh, it’s bigger, and there’s more people here. Well, there’s several hundred more people. And you’re in the heart of San Francisco.” Abby stopped for a big, loud sigh. “And you know what, Sandi?”

Sandra was smirking a little by now. “No, what?”

“I hate you. You made it to a metro, and I’m still plowing through the annual earning reports of companies that make office software for wineries.”

Abby perched on the edge of Sandra’s desk and faced her, frowning like a jealous guest at a kid’s birthday party.

Sandra’s face softened. “Hey, you know the first thing they had me do? Write my own obit.”

“Sure, that’s still routine for new hires at some papers.”

“Turns out I’m best-known for attracting an anonymous admirer who’s also a serial killer, and inspiring him to murder a few innocent people.” Sandra stopped, and looked away.

Abby had hoped that a year without a word from the Sonoma Squares Killer, as Sandra’s previous paper had dubbed him, would have left her friend feeling less guilty.

The killer got away, after nearly killing them both in a parking garage. Abby was sure that it had started back in journalism school, with the creepy grad student that kept trying to hang out with Sandra and Abby. Where was he now? But this wasn’t the time to share her hunch. This new job was supposed to be Sandra’s fresh start.

“Let’s get out of here for a few minutes,” Abby said.

“Sure, I can buy you a mojito.” Sandra stood and reached for her bag.

“Make it a mocha. It’s an hour’s drive back up to Santa Rosa, maybe two at this time of day.”

Less than ten minutes later, Sandra and Abby were walking down Market Street, breezing past the buskers and the beggars, trying not to make eye contact with any of them.

A tall, gaunt man in jeans, denim shirt and vest, with a guitar slung around his neck and a cowboy hat set upside down in front him on the sidewalk, hailed them in a hearty voice that sounded more like Sussex than San Francisco.

“Sandra, m’darlin’!”

“Oh hello, Rawley. Sorry, no time for a tune today. This is my friend, Abby. We’re headed for the Coffee Cellar. Need a shot? Espresso, I mean. I don’t want to contribute to your delinquency.” Sandra dropped a dollar in the hat.

Rawley grinned. “Thank you. All donations accepted. I’ll take care of my own shots.”

Sandra frowned. “Please do take care.”

As Sandra and Abby walked away, Abby said. “Definitely the upper crust of street guys. Love the English accent.”

Sandra laughed. “He’s really from Fresno. The women in Classified at the Chron told me. He’s kind of a legend around here.”

Seated in a corner of the coffee shop, the two friends were silent for a moment.

“You know, Sandi,” Abby began. “You’re not guilty. The murders weren’t your fault. You didn’t stab a gigantic taxidermist through the heart with a needle. You would have had to stand on a box to reach that high.”

“Not funny, Abs.”

“We both know what’s bothering you. The killer’s still out there, even though nobody’s heard from him.”

Sandra glared. “No help there from your new boyfriend.”

“Oh, so we’re back to Mr. Detective Brown, are we? Look, you found me locked in the trunk of my own car with a bomb, but Zach pulled me out.”

Abby stopped herself. She really didn’t want to drag Sandra back through all of those memories today. But obviously, a new job wasn’t enough to crowd out the images — the killer’s notes, the eerie text messages, the bodies found in parks where people were supposed to feel safe.

“I know,” Sandra said finally. “And I am grateful to Zach, but I envy you a little too, having somebody like him. And you’re jealous of my new job. But it’s still you and me, friends forever, right? Are you sure you can’t stay for an early dinner? The traffic might die down by then.”

“No, sorry. Got a date tonight with the detective,” Abby took a sip of coffee. “Hey, are you still coming up north next month for that winery thing, The Thirty Under Thirty Gala?”

“Gawd, yes. I guess so. Think they’ll have champagne?”

Abby laughed. “At a winery? What do you think? But it’s ‘sparkling wine,’ dear. Not made in France. Try to get it right. You’d never make it at the Business Journal, even if you’re about to be honored as one of the most dynamic young professional women with snarky attitudes in the North Bay.”

They both laughed.

After seeing Abby to her car, Sandra walked back to the newsroom and sat at her desk. She rifled through her stack of mail one more time. Still no new notes in red ink. She shivered a little.

Would she ever stop expecting the next note, and another round of terror?

TOMORROW: “Home Invasion,” by Santa Rosa author Frederick Weisel, co-editor of “Red Harvest”. A drug robbery ends in murder.

During a long career at The Press Democrat, Dan Taylor has played many roles – reporter, reviewer, editor, columnist. Now he writes feature stories and blogs with a focus primarily on local entertainment, arts and recreation.

 

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