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 9 – Hatching a Plot
By LINDA C. McCABE
Tom Kenner threw the newspaper down on his kitchen table.
“Son of a – ” he stopped himself before he began a tirade.
Pollak and Cruz looked up from their morning coffees and stared at him.
“What is it?” asked Pollak.
Kenner put a finger to his lips and then pointed at the headline: “Terror at Winery Gala.”
“Let’s head outside. The morning is getting away from us and we’ve got clients’ orders that need filling,” he said as he cocked his head toward the door.
Snatching the newspaper and grabbing a few large baskets, he headed outside and strode between rows of heirloom tomato plants until the men were about a quarter mile from the house.
“Can we talk now?” asked Pollak. “Or do we need to walk all the way to Bodega Bay?”
Kenner glared at him. “I admit, for the thousandth time that I’m paranoid. I had the cops crawling around my house. Who knows? While they were searching for clues on Tyler’s murder, they could have planted listening devices and we would never know it.” He thrust baskets at them before he began picking tomatoes. “I will never talk freely in that house again.”
“Okay, Tom, I understand,” said Pollak. “There is no one else around, no cars, no nothing. Talk to us, what’s in the paper that got you so upset?”
“Do you remember the kook who was killing people in the town squares last year?”
“Sort of. I don’t really pay attention to the news,” said Pollak.
Cruz nodded. “I remember. The victims had town names scrawled on their arms.”
“Exactly,” said Kenner. “That goddamned psycho is back. He was the one who killed Tyler.”
“Damn,” said Cruz. “That’s what the message on Tyler’s arm meant.”
“Yeah, and that bastard has our money and our dope. I want it back,” said Kenner. “Besides, we owe it to Tyler.”
Kenner unfolded the paper and pointed at a picture of Sandra Cordero. “This reporter foiled the killer’s plans. He’s got it bad for her. I want you to go online and get me her private phone number. You know the stalker websites.”
“Gotcha,” said Cruz.
“Then I’ll give her a call and set up a time to meet. We nab her, and then the sicko will come to us.”
Sandra Cordero fumed as she drove in a long line of slow-moving cars on southbound 101. “Why are we being delayed?”
Abby sat in the passenger side and shook her head. “I don’t know, maybe there was an accident up ahead. Hang on, there’s no traffic on the northbound side. Oh wait, now I see it. There’s a fender bender on the shoulder.”
“Six lanes away? Are you kidding me?” Sandra slapped her steering wheel. “Come on people. Drive. If there isn’t any broken glass in your lane, then just drive!”
She looked over at Abby and cracked a smile.
Abby laughed. “People can be stupid, but I’m glad to see you’re feeling normal enough to grouse about traffic.”
Sandra nodded. She was trying to ignore the reality that a killer was obsessed with her. The moment of levity was shattered with the ringing of her cell phone. An unfamiliar number flashed on the center audio console. She hesitated as to whether or not she should take the call.
By the third ring, she had talked herself into adopting the veneer of a professional and ignore the desire to let it roll over to voice mail. She pressed the touch screen and answered the call. “Hello, Sandra Cordero speaking.”
“Hello Sandra,” said a gravelly sounding male voice. “I have a tip for you.”
“Am I on speaker phone?” asked the man.
“You are on a hands free device in my car. I’m driving, and following our state laws regarding cell phone use. Go ahead, tell me why you called.”
“Are you alone?”
Sandra looked over at Abby and put a finger to her lips. “Yes, talk to me.”
“I know how to find the killer.”
A chill ran down her spine. “Why are you calling me and not the toll free hotline?”
“I thought you were a reporter,” said the man. “Don’t you want this scoop?”
Sandra bit her lip. He had found her weakness. “I’ve almost died a few times due to this story. Why don’t you give your information to law enforcement?”
There was a pause before the man answered. “I’m a grower for the dispensaries. I don’t trust cops. It might be legal in California for compassionate use, but that doesn’t mean growers aren’t harassed by the DEA and even our local DA.”
“So how do we find the killer?”
“Not over the phone. It’s too risky. I need to talk to you in person.”
Abby was shaking her head and mouthing the word “No.”
“I don’t think so,” said Sandra. “I don’t know you from Adam’s off ox and I’m not going to put myself at risk again.”
“Off ox,” she said through gritted teeth. “It’s an old expression meaning I don’t know you, so I don’t trust you.”
“I knew those guys who were murdered,” said the man, his voice cracking. “I’m scared that I might be next. I don’t trust the cops. I trust you.”
Sandra sighed. “Where did you want to meet?”
“The Gran Fondo is coming up. There are thousands of people around. There’s safety in numbers.”
“Where do we meet?”
“The race starts at the Finley Center. I’ll text you that morning with a safe place to meet along the route. Thanks, Sandra, you’re a lifesaver.”
“Maybe he can help us catch this guy before someone else dies,” said Abby. “But there is no way you are going there alone. I’m going with you.”
Kenner got out of his car and walked over to the trashcan near Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa. He buried the cheap pre-paid cell phone beneath several layers of garbage. He removed his gloves once he started up his car. As he left Montgomery Village, plans swirled in his mind as to how his team was going to abduct Ms. Cordero.
Linda C. McCabe is the author of Quest of the Warrior Maiden, an epic historic fantasy set in the time of Charlemagne. She has had opinion/editorials published in the Press Democrat and the Los Angeles Times, as well as essays published in several of the Redwood Writers’ anthologies. She lives in Windsor with her college sweetheart and teenage son.
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