Location Tw0 – A Novel Excerpt

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Roland sat up in bed, not sure what had awakened him.  Had it been a noise or just a sense that something was wrong?  He tried chiding himself, but his heart continued to pound, and his dog whimpered in her sleep.  It was quiet enough in his bedroom to hear the whirring of his laptop on the desk across from his bed.  But the quiet didn’t reassure him; it actually made him more skittish.  Swearing to himself, Roland left the bed and went to his closet to retrieve the 9mm.

His mouth went dry when he discovered the empty box; it was missing.  The gun was missing – not his issued weapon.  That one was locked in its case beside his bed.  This was the unregistered gun he had confiscated from a crime scene years before.  He thought he might need it someday.  And now it was gone.

She had to be in the house somewhere.  The IP address of her last email had been one of his neighbors’.  That was what had sent him riding home on two wheels two days before with sirens blaring until he reached his own block.  He could feel his ear drums reverberating in time to the thudding of his heart.  The hair on his arms raised as a bead of sweat rolled from him armpit to his elbow.  She hadn’t appeared, however, so Roland had finally allowed himself to sleep.

“Tsk, tsk officer.  Doesn’t this gun belong in an evidence locker somewhere?”

He turned, and though he had seen her picture numerous times, she was unrecognizable.  The laughing brown eyes that had stared from snapshots were now icy steel.  Her hair was dark instead of the strawberry blond he was used to seeing.  And she was thinner, much thinner.  He watched her hands around the gun for some hint of shaking; shaking would indicate uncertainty.  Her hands were as steady as his had been trained to be.

“I thought it might come in handy one day,” he replied, unmoving.

“And so it has.  Did you bend the rules and beat the drug addict or rapist you confiscated this from?”

Roland nodded quietly.  “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Why not?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.  “He did do something wrong.  That means it was okay for you to do something wrong, correct?”

“Jane…”

“Shut up.  Nobody wants to hear you moralize.  Turn around.”

He didn’t move except to move his gaze from her hands to her face.

“Turn around, officer, and put your hands behind your head.”  She cocked the gun.  “Or don’t.”

Roland shakily turned and did as she asked, bile burning his tongue.

“Good boy.  Don’t worry. I know you were blinded by your own hurt, so I’ll be quicker.  And you don’t claim to believe in God, so I cannot hold you accountable for breaking the very morals you claim to believe.  Besides, you are not very smart.  You probably didn’t have a choice.”

Roland flinched at that last part.  He heard her footsteps, and then the end of the barrel pressed coldly against the base of his neck, where his brain stem felt as if it was pulsing.  “Please…..” He heard himself whisper.

“I’m not sorry,” she whispered back.

A loud, smoky explosion filled the room.  Then it was silent.

 

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Path – The First Murder

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Path – First Murder

“There’s a diner I like to go to for coffee very early in the morning,” Natasha began, crushing her half-smoked cigarette onto the table.  “It is very quiet there, and almost always empty.  I am not entirely sure how the owners stay in business.  But they are a shy old couple, and they do not follow Hollywood or gossip or any other type of privacy invasion, so they never knew who I was.  It was my private haven, and I went to great lengths to keep it that way.”

“I can understand that,” Celia said, nodding.  “I’m sure there was almost no place you could go and not be recognized and hounded.”

“Exactly,” Natasha pointed her unlit cigarette at Celia.  “This was very important to me.”  She waited for Celia to light it and then took a long drag before continuing.  “That is why I could not let anyone change things.”

“And your first victim, he changed things,” Celia finished Natasha’s thought.

“It was more than that, really.  Tom Hayles, had he been a complete stranger, would have been easy enough to tolerate.  I always dressed inconspicuously, and I never had my hair done or makeup on, so to most people I would not have seemed to be myself.  But Tom was a person from the past.”

Celia leaned forward slightly and rested her chin on her upturned palm.  “You already knew him?”

“Oh yes,” Natasha waved the smoke around as she gestured.  “He attended the private high school that my father insisted I attend. He was two years older, but still I knew him.  And he knew me.”

Natasha’s tone and slightly narrowed eyes betrayed her detached manner.  “And what did he think he knew?”

Smiling, Natasha flicked ash onto the floor.  “He thought I would worship him as the other girls did.  And he thought I was naïve.  He asked me to a school dance, and I said yes.  Of course, he was expelled before the dance actually took place.”

“Expelled? Why?”

“Before the dance, my father allowed me to meet him for a movie.  He had a car, but Father believed I was too young to ride with him.  Tom had some cigarettes and a bottle of vodka and suggested we go driving instead.  I had hoped until then that he might have an interest in me, but when he suggested the drive and the alcohol, I knew.  I knew what he was.”

“So he got you intoxicated, and then he…took advantage?”

“He underestimated me.  I had been sneaking a bit of Father’s vodka for years.  I was never intoxicated.  And he would probably say I humiliated him, the spoiled bastard.  In return he threatened to tell everyone that we had fucked.”  Natasha sighed.  “It was fortunate for me that drugs were discovered in his locker on Monday.”  She smiled at Celia.

“Yes, very lucky,” Celia smiled back.  “Where did you get-“

“Of course, no one ever really knew where the drugs came from.  You know how impulsive teenagers can be.  He was expelled, and he slinked off like a kicked dog.”

“Until you saw him in the diner.”

“He did not notice me, so I began to watch him.  He wore a suit that looked more expensive than it was.  I noticed that he spoke to a wife on one phone and a mistress on another.  He was the same as he had been. Of course, after several mornings he attempted to say hello.  A man like this cannot help himself.  Still too stupid to remember me, but I knew that my sanctuary wasn’t a sanctuary as long as he was there.  And one morning he would not be stupid.”

Celia watched as Natasha smoked in silence for a few minutes.  She had met with her enough times now to understand the undercurrent of anger in her eyes. Natasha was still cool, of course, but the slight hardening around the corners and the way her fingers gripped the cigarette made it clear that she was still angry remembering Tom.  Natasha would take her time telling the story, however, always the consummate actress.  Celia had learned to wait through the silence rather than probing.

“I followed him several times.  He was always on his phone, telling his mistress what he would like to do to her, telling his wife he could not be home for dinner.  The parking garage where he kept his car was older, with no cameras and very little activity.  It was easy to approach him and ask him for a light.  He never saw the gun.”

“Yes, the gun,” Celia noted.  “They were never able to trace it.”

“No.  I can thank my father for that.  He knew many things from living in Russia during the Cold War.”

“And you only used it once.”

“Of course.  To use the same gun again would connect people.  Only an idiot would use the gun more than once,” Natasha shrugged.  “I left the garage and went home.  The clothing was washed and taken to one of those charity drop-bins.  I did what many have done with the gun, I tossed it into the river.”

Path….an interview segment

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Another excerpt from the thriller manuscript I am writing

Celia read her notes as she handed the corrections officer her cell phone, purse, sunglasses, and briefcase.  After spreading her arms so that she could be checked for weapons, she nodded to the officer behind the glass and followed Ron through the heavy doors and down the hallway.  Checking the batteries on her recorder, Celia listened absently to Ron’s small talk, commenting during the proper pauses.  The inmates either ignored her, slept, or made half-hearted attempts at catcalls.  She had been there so often by now that no one gave her much notice anymore.

Tasha was brushing her hair when Celia walked into the interview room.  She nodded to Celia but didn’t stop, taking her hair layer by layer because the brush was too soft to go through her thick tresses.  Tasha had complained about it numerous times, but a real brush was “too dangerous,” she always said with a roll of her eyes.  Celia set up the recorder and opened her thick folder, and then she just read her notes, giving Tasha time to finish brushing.  They had an hour.  Sometimes Tasha talked the whole time; sometimes she did other things until she felt like talking, and Celia had learned not to be impatient.

“So,” Tasha said, taking the seat across from Celia. “How’s Bart?”

Cela chuckled.  She wasn’t sure when her social life had become part of their conversations, but Tasha seemed very interested in the men Celia saw and why she saw them. “I hear he’s fine.”

“Oh my, another one by the wayside.  You’re almost as ruthless as I am.”

“Well, I never had the chance to date Chip Rogers,” Celia said good-naturedly as she turned on the recorder.

“Men like him are why it is necessary to be ruthless, trust mer,” Tasha said dryly.

Celia had learned to pretend to laugh at these comments while listening closely.  Often, there was something substantial behind the humor.  “Oh really?  So he nothing like his romantic comedy persona then, I assume.”

“Are they ever?”  Tasha shifted in her seat.  “I know you don’t smoke, but…”

“You do,” Celia finished.  She pulled a pack of Tasha’s favorite brand out of her jacket pocket.  Tasha smiled and took the pack.  She pulled out a cigarette and held it out so that Celia could light it with a match from the small packet she hd in her other pocket.  “You know, I still can’t believe they let you smoke during our little visits.”

“They’ll do anything if you flash tit,” Tasha quipped, and Celia dropped her jaw in surprise.  “I’m kidding, hon.” She leaned forward.  “You have to blow them for that.”  Then Tasha sat back and laughed.

Celia didn’t probe because it was sometimes impossible to tell when Tasha was lying.  Besides, her earlier quip about men was much more interesting.  “So which man made you ruthless first?  Obviously not poor Chip.”

Tasha sighed with annoyance.  “Not that old song again.” She took a long drag, blew smoke to the right, away from Celia’s face, and flicked the cigarette against her chair.  “Everyone always thinks it’s dear old dad.”

“Well, he was your final victim, so you can understand my curiosity.”

“Are you saying all little girls whose daddies play in their panties end up murdering them?  It’d be a lonely world.” Narrowing her eyes at Celia, Tasha licked her lips.

Studying her notes, Celia continued.  “So no hanky panky with dad.  But again, he was your first victim.  Sexual abuse isn’t the only way to be abusive.”

“Daddy loved me, in his way.  He didn’t touch me, he didn’t beat me.  He loved me, loved my face, loved my talent, and especially loved the money and fame.  The more I mattered to everyone else, the more I mattered to him.” Tasha shrugged.  “Proud papa.”

“So then, why -”

“I didn’t specify what he was proud of,” Tasha said, crushing her half-smoked cigarette.  “He disappointed me.  So what happened with Bart?”

“He disappointed me,” Celia said dryly.

Tasha stilled for a moment, the pack of cigarettes in her hand.  Then she threw back her head and laughed.  “And that’s why I chose you,” she said, lighting another cigarette.  “At least you didn’t kill him.”

Path: Opening

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Path

Chapter 1

“Yes, yes I understand,” Celia’s voice was crisp and just impatient enough. “I got it, John. Look, the flight attendant is walking this way. Cell phones have to be off now.” Without waiting for his answer, she swiped off the call and turned the phone off before dropping it into her briefcase. Then she pulled out the brown envelope before sliding the briefcase under the seat in front of her. After smiling and nodding at the flight attendant as he passed, Celia laid her head back against the seat and closed her eyes. She’d been on enough flights to know they were still 15 minutes from takeoff, so a power nap before they were in the air would energize her. The flight was going to be turbulent; sleep once they took off would be impossible.

Celia had been flying on a regular basis for the better part of a dozen years, and she still hated turbulent flights. The smaller planes were the worst, bouncing over air pockets while she sat strapped into her seat, helpless to do anything but wait. It wasn’t fear, it was the lack of control, her therapist had said years before. Celia smiled at the memory of the woman with the soothing voice who asked the probing questions. That had seemed like a lifetime ago.

It didn’t help that 9/11 had happened the same year Celia had begun her regular travel. No one wanted to board a plane after that. And yet flying away from New York had been a comfort to Celia. She’d proven her mettle interviewing experts and smaller political figures while the rest of the press waited for a chance to interview a grieving family member or broken emergency worker. Not Celia. She felt utterly incompetent in those situations, but she was cool in a detached disaster or an analysis of a tragedy. That was why anytime there was an eruption or tsunami or a plant whose negligence resulted in a terrible explosion, Celia was there interviewing scientists and asking shareholders tough questions. She was relentless, and it had made her famous and comfortably wealthy.

Her body felt it when the plane began to accelerate, and she woke up instinctively. Looking out the window, she watched the stationary planes replaced by the long runway, and then she felt weightless for just a moment when the plane’s wheels left the ground. It was a perfect liftoff considering the weather, and after just a bit of shuddering, the plane made it through the first layer of clouds.

Once she felt them leveling out, Celia opened the envelope whose contents had had her curious since that morning. There was no return address, but the postmark was distinctive, and the writing was in an elaborate script that looked vaguely familiar. However, her preparations for the trip had been so hurried, she had not allowed herself to open it until she could sit still. Swiftly tearing the flap open, she pulled out two pieces of linen stationary that smelled faintly of lavender. The date was written in the top right-hand corner, along with the name of the author: Tasha Bronlow.

Natasha Bronlow was the daughter of a Russian immigrant and an English woman whose lineage allegedly included some sort of minor royalty. Her beauty and height had attracted the attention of model agencies when she was barely into puberty, and her aloof nature had captivated the public and producers alike. Unlike many models turned actresses, Tasha had proven to be extremely talented. Even the harshest critics marveled at how completely she embraced and portrayed a variety of characters, and by the time she was thirty, several awards graced the antique cabinet that had been photographed in many magazines. However, Tasha herself had remained an enigma, despite the very few brief interviews she had given and the paparazzi’s aggressive attempts to catch her unaware. She was like old Hollywood in a way – beautiful, detached, and a complete mystery.

Until July 18, 2007. That was the day detectives arrested her at her home in Greenwich, CT for the murder of five people. Five victims, seemingly unrelated, had been tied back to Tasha Bronlow, the final victim being her father, whom she shot in the head while he slept before slitting his throat. The public was shocked and fascinated and hungry for a tell all story, a movie, a crime special…anything to satisfy the curiosity they had always had about the famed actress.

They weren’t to be satisfied, however. Tasha remained virtually wordless throughout her arrest, arraignment, trial, and conviction. She did not take the stand, she did not give interviews, and her attorneys said almost nothing. It was rumored she had spent a good portion of her fortune keeping them quiet and keeping the press out of the courtroom. As soon as the verdict had been read, the jurors had been whisked away, and none of them had made the typical talk show rounds. Eventually even the most dogged reporters had stopped trying to gain access to her death row cell in Delaware, where two if the victims were murdered, including her father.

Celia had never followed the case closely. It was not the type of story she reported, and she was not enamored with Hollywood’s elite in the way some of her colleagues were. So it was more than surprising to see Tasha’s name at the top of the letter. For a reason she couldn’t explain, Celia bent forward a bit and glanced at the other passengers before beginning to read the fluid script.

Dear Ms. Brockwell:

I am sure you are somewhat surprised to receive correspondence from me. I will therefore come to the point. As I am sure you are aware, my last appeal was denied, and so it seems that my execution will take place soon. I loathe the vultures of the press and have declined to give them a single breadcrumb of my story. However, I have followed you and your career closely for quite a few years, and I have immense respect for you.

I understand that you prefer to maintain a distance from the stories on which you report. This, in my opinion, has been one of the reasons you excel. However, I would like to grant one authentic telling of my story before I am executed by the state of Delaware, and I would you to conduct that series of interviews.

Celia let out a long exhale and looked around the cabin again. Tasha Bronlow wanted her to conduct not just one interview, but a series? Why? Her story would need to be personal and compelling. Celia’s strength was a straightforward and thorough analysis of fact. How could she tell this kind of story? The story of a mysterious actress who essentially butchered five people, including her aging father? Ridiculous, but Celia couldn’t resist continuing to read.

I am sure you are puzzled by my request, but I believe you to be the only one who can correctly tell my story. I ask that you consider my request, as I would very much like to meet you and speak with you.

I do have parameters that I would like to be followed during the interview process. I understand that you will likely need to tell your superiors of our correspondence. However, they are not to leak this series of interviews, no matter how badly they crave the publicity. I do not want this story released until after my execution. This will not be a sordid retelling of the crimes’ physical details. All of those were available during the trial. I ask for the utmost discretion and that no details be released until the series is finished. I have included an outline and tentative calendar, which of course can be adjusted to accommodate your prior engagements.

The letter closed with contact details for her lead attorney, along with procedures for drawing up a contract. The second page of the letter contained her outline and tentative calendar. If Celia took the story, she would have three months to conduct the interviews. It wasn’t a lot of time.

For the remainder of the two hour flight, Celia reread Tasha’s letter and considered her request. Why did this elusive actress turned serial killer choose Celia the fact-finder to tell her story? This was a woman famous for her uber-dramatic roles; it would have made more sense for her to choose a reporter who took a more emotional approach. And, quite frankly, Celia wasn’t sure she could do it justice.

However, the reporter in her could hardly resist. It would be the crime story of the century, and she would be the only reporter who would ever be given true access into the actress’ life. By the time the plane touched down In Washington, Celia knew she would be contacting the attorney to move forward. She couldn’t turned away the opportunity to interview the nation’s most beautiful psychopath.

Words from the Warehouse

I have combined three thinkingten entries on this particular post.  They are part of a continuing story about Eric and Beth…..a story I have not told from the beginning yet.  Enjoy.

Beth laughed to herself a bit nervously as she parked her car.  It wasn’t dawn yet, but she could see the foreshadowing along the horizon.  He had chosen a waterfront warehouse because it was…prosaic.  And he knew Beth would think so as well.  Unfinished business, that is what he had said on the phone, his accent thicker than she remembered.  Meeting him was probably not wise, but after all this time, curiosity had clouded her judgment.

What makes a sociopath exactly?  After reading several books and studying the subject at length, Beth still felt as if there was a crucial piece missing from her understanding.  Movie and television portrayals were so two dimensional and predictable.  And one cannot interact with a television screen.  But he was not only a sociopath, but a highly intelligent one.  It was too good an opportunity to dismiss.  And despite the coldness in his voice on the few occasions when she had poked a bit too closely at the hornet’s nest, Beth felt certain he would not harm her….physically.  And the other types of harm had already been done.

Eric wasn’t yet at the designated meeting place, but then she had known he would not be.  It was not in his nature to be the one waiting; that was Beth’s job.  It stung a bit, this knowledge that he again had her waiting, but she was not really surprised.  He would control the outcome. That would be essential.  Especially since Beth knew that her understanding of who he was – and wasn’t – had surprised him.  He did not like surprises.  She wasn’t certain how long he would have her wait, so she took out her iPod and placed one of the buds into her left ear.  And then, instinctively, Beth scrolled down to the song that made the most sense.

Depeche Mode: Enjoy the Silence

“Hello belle,” I heard the voice before I saw him.  He was standing casually at the corner of the warehouse, smiling just slightly.  And even though I knew to be guarded, I was struck again by his presence, and it surprised me.

He wasn’t all that intimidating or even overly handsome, objectively speaking.  About six feet tall, lean build, not muscular, his brown/gray hair cut very close and slightly receding.  His ever-present sunglasses were perched on his somewhat sharp nose.  Just the hint of unshaven jaw line, something he knew I liked.  And yet I always felt something in my heart drop to my stomach when I saw him.  For a moment – and only a moment – I felt that familiar ping-pong in my chest.  Then I remembered what had brought me here, and my gaze became as cool and detached as his was.

“Hello Eric, and my name is Beth.”  I walked past him into the empty warehouse and sat down on a discarded wooden box.  “So why am I here again?”

He walked in and pulled an old folding table over next to me.  Leaning against it, he lit a cigarette.  For a few minutes neither of us spoke.  I wrinkled my nose at the smell of the smoke even though he was polite enough to blow it away from me.  “Ah yes,” he smiled, “You do not appreciate this habit.  I had forgotten.”  He dropped the cigarette onto the floor and extinguished it with the toe of his shoe.

“Very charming, as always,” I remarked.  “But you didn’t forget.  And I have other places to be today.”

I saw the flash then.  That bit of ice from his eyes that managed to make me shudder for just a second or two before he recovered himself and smiled again.  He stood then and offered me his arm.  “Walk with me.  The fog on the water is lovely.”

“Eric, I am not walking with you.  I am not riding with you.  I am only here out of curiosity.  You will say what you need to say, and I will go about my day….and my life.  And you will not be in it.  Neither will the rest of them.”

At this, his smile disappeared, and he grabbed my arm, pulling me up roughly to face him.  “I am afraid that is not how this day will go for you, belle.  And as for the others, you have nothing to say to them, nor will you.  Because you will not be leaving this waterfront.”  He paused and chuckled a bit at my expression.  “I’m disappointed, Beth, that you did not see this coming.  Did you really think that I would let you live?”

There were small alleys between each of the old warehouses.  Most of them had been piled with assorted junk items, or chains had been attached to the side of neighboring buildings to prevent entrance.  After a short walk with Eric, during which he held fast to Beth’s arm, they stopped in front of a somewhat smaller cinderblock warehouse. One of Eric’s cars, an old Jeep, was parked in between it and the next building and the restrictive chain hung from the building’s side wall.

Beth looked around and tried to wrench away from Eric.  “I’m not going in there.  If you do something to me, you’re going to have to do it out here.  Not like a coward inside that building where no one can see or hear.”

“Interesting idea, belle,” Eric answered, his hand grasping her more forcefully.  “But I am afraid that you are going to spend some time with me.  Some private time.  You told me it was what you wanted.  Remember? You wanted it to be our secret.”  He took a small key out of his pocket.  “I need some company.  And if I cannot spend time with you, I will have to find someone else with whom to spend my time.”

And then Beth froze.  Because she knew what he meant.  And she allowed Eric to lead her through the rusted door.  She was surprised to see a light hanging overhead, along with a small table.  On the table were a basket and a bottle of wine.  Noticing her expression Eric laughed.

“I would have preferred a pleasant picnic under a beautiful tree, perhaps an old oak.  I know how you admire those.  But you have made that impossible.  I did want to romance you belle, but you wanted it to be on your terms.  And you wanted to control the circumstances.  Unfortunate, actually, that it had to be that way.”

“My terms,” Beth spat, now able to pull away from his arm.  “God you’re an arrogant bastard aren’t you?  Narcissistic.  But not nearly as intelligent as you thought, apparently.  If you had chosen better you could have kept your pathetic little self-aggrandizing charade going.”

“I’d like to make this a pleasant day.  Do you think I wanted this? “He pulled out a metal chair and motioned for her to sit.  “And bravo, Beth.  You have been coached very well.  But your new teacher doesn’t know you’re here.  So perhaps neither of you is as intelligent as you think either.”