Sixteen chapters.
Sixteen writers.
One thriller.

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Previously: The killer accuses Sandra of being a shill for the cops.

Chapter 13 – Death Watch


“The phone is active!” Roberto Nunez announced to the team assembled at the upstairs violent crimes investigations unit. “Another text. This one says ‘A-Y-O-R today 5.’ Who knows what that means?”

Detective Zach Brown looked at the befuddled faces in the conference room. It was Officer Ransom who hazarded the first guess. “At Your Own Risk?” she offered, more asking than telling.

Detective Rusty McCaughn blurted, “O-M-G! The killer is going to call today at 5 o’clock.” Brown gave him a disapproving glare.

“Are we really catching a break here?” Brown wondered aloud. “OK, we know when he’s going to call Cordero again. That’s good news, right? It’s still a long shot, but we can post some rapid-response teams along the main corridors in the county and try to nab this guy.”

“How’s this going to work?” Ransom asked. “Nothing says he needs to be in the county when he makes the call – or that he’s even going to call from Spittleheimer’s phone.”

Brown suddenly realized his tunnel vision. “We have to get a ‘tap & trace‘ for Cordero’s phone, just in case he uses a different phone. Call Judge Roberts’ chambers. It’s Thursday, so she’s the duty judge for warrants.”

Brown felt pretty confident Judge Roberts would grant his warrant to tap Sandra’s telephone and trace the incoming calls. She was the second former dean of Empire College of Law to win the bench in as many county elections. For some reason, it seemed to Brown the academic types were just more predictable than the typical lawyers that vied for those spots. He was not disappointed. Judge Roberts signed the warrant later that day – but the judge sent the detective a clear message by writing in pen on the warrant, “Expires midnight, Friday.” If the killer didn’t call Sandra within the next 36 hours, Brown would have to go back to the judge – on a Saturday.

Despite all the inner turmoil about what could go wrong, teams were deployed strategically in the county and at 5 p.m., Brown actually felt rewarded to hear Nunez say, “Well, he’s nothing if not punctual.” Spittleheimer’s phone was active and on the grid.

Barely over a whisper, McCaughn quoted the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes (quoting Shakespeare), “The game is afoot.” Nobody could have guessed how prophetic that statement was.

“What? Annadel? Are you kidding me?” Nunez practically shouted at the operator. He swung his head toward his colleagues. “He’s somewhere in the state park.”

Brown turned to a nearby county map and put his finger on the words “Annadel State Park.” Nestled along the southeastern edge of Santa Rosa, the popular haven featured 5,100 acres of hilly, forested parkland, most of it accessible only by bike, foot or horseback. “Can they pinpoint a location?” he asked.

“In there?” McCaughn asked. “That’s like finding a needle in a stack of needles.”

“There’s still a chance if she can keep him on the line long enough,” said Brown. “Keep Henry 1 headed for downtown and move up the Highway 12 east team.”

“Whatever you say.”

Half a minute later, Nunez raised a hand. “He’s ended the call. It’s over.”

The after-analysis painted a pretty clear picture of what happened. The conversation with Sandra lasted 51 seconds. In that time Henry 1, the Sheriff’s helicopter, flew the length of Runway 14 at the Charles M. Schultz Airport before it was considered futile to fly any further. Those 5,119 feet made little difference. The cell tower technicians were able to triangulate the source of the transmission in the park – the dam at Lake Ilsanjo. From there the killer could have walked – or even mountain biked – in a dozen different directions, all downhill and all under the cover of trees. It would have made little difference if Henry 1 had been directly overhead.

The detectives listened once more to the phone call and the killer’s final words, “You failed, You failed a lot of people.”

“I guess he’s mad now, boss,” said Nunez.

McCaughn quipped, “We can still hope for a little luck at Annadel. I see it now. Killer breaks leg. Killer is eaten by mountain lions. Sonoma County is safe once again, except from mountain lions.”

“Enough,” said Brown. “Let’s make sure we get some people over to Windsor, just in case. Who’s playing the free concert there tonight?” Brown was hoping it would at least be a type of music he enjoyed, not some hick, country music band. Everyone knew Zach Brown loathed country music.

“Relax, it’s an R&B/Motown band,” said McCaughn. Then he looked more carefully at the schedule on the website. “Uh, boss, you’re not going to believe this but the name of the band is ‘Cold Blood.’”

“There is no God,” Brown muttered to himself. At this point he hoped that the killer really would fall down, break a leg and get consumed by a mountain lion.

Despite its name, the band put on a good show. Cold Blood took advantage of an unusually warm August night and kept playing well past 8 p.m. Brown would have enjoyed it much more if he didn’t want all these people to leave and go lock themselves in their homes. Barricading the doors and cocking handguns. You just can’t be too careful when a psychopath with a needle full of adrenaline is running around.

Next time (June 6): “Face-off,” by Press Democrat Staff Writer Martin Espinoza. Sandra confronts Brown.

Our guest writer, John Hendrickson, practices consumer law in Santa Rosa. He grew up in Cotati, joined the Marines at age 17 and went on to study at Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and UC Hastings College of Law. His version of Chapter 13 was judged tops among our readers’ submissions.




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