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 8 – Showdown
By CRISSI LANGWELL
Inhaling the sweet scent of lavender that lined the top of the parking lot, Sandra, Brown, and Abby made their way up the dusty trail toward the tents of the Matanzas Creek Winery gala. As they walked, the sounds of music and laughter mingled with anxieties swirling through Sandra’s head. Brown had filled her in on the latest murder the night before, the words “RED HARVEST” carving into her thoughts as she digested the details he shared. On instinct, she lightly touched her cell phone in her purse. She wobbled slightly on the uneven path, stepping carefully so her heels didn’t sink into the dirt. Brown caught her by the elbow just as she almost lost her footing.
“Careful,” he cautioned.
“Thanks,” she said. “I guess I’m just not used to getting all dressed up.” They had all traded in their usual casual attire for elegant evening wear. Abby had chosen a sexy red number that accentuated her every curve. Brown was dressed smartly in a tux with a white pocket square and shiny silver cuff links. Sandra had decided on a black evening gown, intent on blending in with the crowd. But she couldn’t help noticing Brown’s eyes sweep over her.
“Not bad for an ink-stained wretch,” he said, and she smiled.
They paused at the entrance of the main tent. Once their names were highlighted on the list, they were able to pass through to find their table. Sandra immediately reached for her wine glass, figuring that maybe a little alcohol would help her to loosen up and enjoy herself for at least one evening. She held her glass up as one of the attendants came by, and was rewarded with a splash of Pinot Noir. Sandra sipped it, thankful for the earthy flavor that warmed her tongue.
“So, what was that piece of information you hinted at in the car?” Sandra asked, turning to Abby.
“Well, our old Professor, Dianna Lede, told me that back when Pointer was just creepy old Gerald, he apparently turned in a really impressive Master’s project – one that, if we are correct about who our killer is, could have been the starting gun toward a murderous path.”
“So? What was the topic?” Sandra asked. Both she and Brown leaned in to hear Abby over the chatter of the room.
“Pointer wrote a rambling portrait of a serial killer on death row at San Quentin. Somehow he managed to get an exclusive interview with this killer, some guy named Marcel James Howland. Gerald supposedly intended for it to be published in a magazine. However, it was left unpublished, and forgotten about until now,” Abby said. “I’m telling you, all the pieces fit – his weird creepiness, his attraction to Sandra, and now we know he’s talked with a serial killer and probably learned a lot of his secrets.”
“This is definitely interesting news,” Brown noted. “Did the professor tell you any of the details of the paper?” he asked.
Sandra’s phone rang from inside her purse before Abby could answer. She pulled it out, and her hand trembled when she saw the familiar number.
“It’s him,” she said, looking at Brown. He motioned for her to answer it.
“You look beautiful in black,” the voice said on the other end of the line. Sandra looked around, but only saw a crowd of laughing faces.
“Where are you?” she asked, still scanning the crowd.
“Don’t worry, you’ll never find me. I brought my car phone to the party. And I left a gift for you in one of the cars of the parking lot. You and your friends might want to get out of there, and fast,” he told her.
“What did you leave in one of the cars?” she asked, forming the question so Brown knew what the killer was saying.
“Just a bomb.”
From the table, Sandra could see through the opening of the tent, noting the crowd that was still mingling around the cars in the parking lot. If she couldn’t get them to leave the area, they would all die from the blast. Her mind swept back a year ago when the killer had made a similar threat, holding Abby captive and threatening to blow her up with the rest of the parking garage. He hadn’t been bluffing then, even though they’d managed to reach Abby just in time. But if they hadn’t… Sandra shuddered, glancing at her friend now, beautiful in her red gown, even as she stared back at Sandra with a quizzical look on her face.
“Stay here,” she mouthed to Abby. Grabbing Brown’s hand, she kicked off her shoes and raced with him into the parking lot.
“If you set off that bomb, you’ll kill me too,” she told the killer, doing her best to hide the breathlessness in her voice. “Is that what you want?”
“You’re lying! I saw you go inside!”
“No, I’m not. I went back to the car to get my shawl. Are you going to kill me, too?”
Brown separated from Sandra and started ushering people out of the parking lot.
“Start walking,” the killer ordered her. “You have sixty seconds, or I will blow you up with everyone else.”
“You need to give me more time than that. I have heels strapped on, and I can’t move that fast.” She lied, watching as Brown cleared the lot.
“Forty-five seconds,” the killer said.
“So which car did you leave it in?” she asked him, trying to stall even longer. “Is it the red Lexus IS250 in the third row?”
“Keep moving,” he said.
“I am. It just takes time. Maybe it’s the white Toyota Rav4 in the second row,” she mused, her pace quickening as Brown reached her side. The parking lot was empty as they ran from it, hiking up a hill behind the winery’s gift shop.
With a click, the line was disconnected. A second later, a loud explosion blasted from the parking lot. While far enough away, Sandra flew to the ground as the earth shook below her, protecting her head from any possible objects flying through the air. She could hear screams from the crowd inside the tent. Brown reached for her hand, pulling her up. Together, they ran toward Abby. Sandra was afraid she was wrong, that the killer had tricked her and placed the bomb inside the tent. But to her relief, the enclosure was still intact, the laughter and music replaced with panic and tears.
Brown called in to the station as they moved back toward the parking lot. Still barefoot, Sandra could see several cars on fire in the fifth row, one reduced to a black, smoldering skeleton. Their own car sat untouched in the seventh row. Sandra noted how close the killer had been to them.
“Good job, Cordero,” Brown said once he got off the phone. “Without your quick thinking this could have been a lot worse. You really kept your wits about you.”
“I was terrified!” Sandra admitted. “I kept thinking about when Abby was kidnapped, how he knew where I was and what I was doing. And this time he told me something weird, how he brought his car phone to the party. What do you think that means?”
Crissi Langwell grew up in Sonoma County and lives in Petaluma with her husband and their blended family. She writes about families and local entertainment for the Press Democrat, and is a member of Redwood Writers. Her debut novel, ‘A Symphony of Cicadas’ was published March, 2013, and she is currently working on the sequel. Find out more at Crissi’s website, crissilangwell.com.
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