Misguided Justice

Oliver laid on the ground feeling his lifeblood flowing out of his body. Elizabeth stood over top of him grinning. The small 9mm pistol was only visible due to its silencer. “What’s the matter?” she asked with a smirk, “Surprised?”

Oliver tried to draw in a breath, but the bullet had entered his chest, and he found it difficult to get air. The burning pain in his back and the warmth of the ever-increasing blood pool beneath him told Oliver some part of the bullet had managed to escape from his body. He gasped, “Yes.”

Elizabeth’s laugh sounded demonic. “What, did you think I was some trophy girlfriend? Did you think I was nothing more than a turophile and wine connoisseur? You type of men are all alike. You’re vain, self-centered, and you think every beautiful woman thinks just like you do.”

Oliver was not sure if he understood Elizabeth. Perhaps it was a growing pain throughout his body and the slowly darkening room. He gasped out, “What, are, you, talking about?”

Elizabeth squatted down next to Oliver’s head. The smell of lilacs and roses he had enjoyed just a few moments earlier entered his nostrils that were now desperate for air. She grabbed his chin in her hand, “Come on, you’re at death’s door. Don’t play stupid with me. Don’t you remember a woman named Sharon?”

Oliver attempted to shake his head no. Elizabeth released his face. A painful slap met the left side of his face. The stinging effect brought him back into the fading world. A white flash of pain enveloped his mind. Instinctively he drew in his breath and nearly passed out from the agony. The room spun, and Oliver thought he saw Elizabeth standing up. She now stood over him like a hawk over its prey.

“You’re an idiot. Do you think denying killing my sister will get you off the hook? You’re dead already. You’re just too stupid to realize it. It was your company that put the pipeline through my sister’s neighborhood, even though everyone warned it could cause a catastrophic explosion if there were ever a leak. It was your company that paid off the politicians to make the pipeline happen. It was your company that tried to cover up the explosion that killed my sister. Did you think nobody would figure out that terrorists weren’t in the middle of Kansas?”

Oliver forced the words from his mouth. At first, he coughed up a mouthful of blood from his throat, and then he finally managed to get the words out, “Not me.”

“What do you mean it’s not you. Of course, it is. You’re Oliver Church. We’re inside your Manhattan condo. You’re the CEO of EcoGas. You’re to blame for the death of hundreds, including my sister.”

Oliver gasped, “No, not CEO. That’s my brother, Owen.”

Elizabeth shrugged, “What’s difference does it make. You’re just as complicit.”

Oliver shook his head, and the world spun. He stopped and focused on talking past the pain. “No, I fought my brother on the pipeline.  I don’t own any shares in his company. I work for United Nations Environment Programme.”

“Oh, God,” said Elizabeth.  Oliver closed his eyes and tried to keep breathing. He felt Elizabeth put a pillow under his head. A few moments later she carefully rolled his body over on its side and laid him back down on a soothing cold compress. “What have I done?”

Oliver spoke through the darkness, “I forgive you.”

“Don’t you leave me,” begged Elizabeth.

Oliver tried to speak, but could only mouth 911.

“What?” asked Elizabeth.

Darkness, and then light met Oliver as the pain, and the room slipped away.

“Oh my God,” said Elizabeth as she stood and paced. “What have I done? Oliver, please speak to me,” but Elizabeth knew he would not answer. She had heard the death rattle. Elizabeth prayed she was wrong. In desperation, Elizabeth grabbed a mirror off a nearby table and put it next to Oliver’s lips. No air passed from them. Elizabeth dropped the mirror, paced the condo, and spoke to herself, “What have I done? All I wanted was justice, and now I’m a murderer just like Owen. In fact, I’m worse than Oliver’s brother. His brother wanted money, I wanted to kill. What have I become?”

A dark voice inside Elizabeth’s mind spoke, You know what you have to do. You’ve killed an innocent man. Tears flowed down Elizabeth’s cheeks, and she nodded to the empty room. The voice was right. Only violence could stop her violence. She had to hate her hate. Elizabeth raised her trembling hand towards her mouth. In a moment it would be over. She would pay for Oliver’s death, and then peace.

No,  said a voice somewhere inside. You’re forgiven. Elizabeth looked down at Oliver’s body, had he said something? That was right, he had forgiven her, but how did that change anything? No, came a thought from inside her. I forgive you. Inside her memories, she could hear her Sunday School teacher telling her stories of Jesus and his forgiveness.

“This is stupid,” said Elizabeth to Oliver’s corpse. “I took your life, and I need to face justice.”

Then face it, came another thought.

Elizabeth looked down at the gun in her hand. She thought for a moment longer and then threw the weapon across the room.  Elizabeth reached into her pocket, got her cell phone, and dialed 911. “I need to report a murder,” she said to the operator. After giving the address, Elizabeth sat down in a nearby chair and looked at Oliver’s ashen body. “Thank you, for forgiving me.” Then, Elizabeth closed her eyes in prayer and waited for the police.


Dictionary.com word of the Day – Turophile

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Rescued or Lost

Mason laid on the Caribbean beach. How many days had it been? He could not remember. It seemed like yesterday that he was driving his cabin cruiser along the calm Gulf waters when he hit the unseen reef. No, thought Mason, that wasn’t a reef. The sea was shallow, and that was a sunken ship. Think man, don’t go off the deep end. Use your training and experience.

It had been Mason’s years in the Navy that helped him survive the sudden gutting of his ship’s keel. The damage opened a fatal hole along the bottom of “My Valentine.” Mason barely had time to get his inflatable in the water and his emergency kit he on board. Unfortunately, he had not bothered to test his emergency equipment recently. The battery was weak inside the emergency GPS signal device. Mason was not sure anyone even saw the signal before the gadget died out.

He had three days worth of water. Six if he rationed it, and he did ration it. The small key he laid stranded on had appeared after two days at sea. Paddling with one oar Mason beached the air raft and laid in the warm sand. At first, the island felt like salvation, but it didn’t take long for him to realize it was little more than a large sandy mound with some stray sawgrass that grew in clumps. There was no water or food.

The weather was favorable, too favorable. Without rain, Mason slowly baked in the sun day by day. He had managed to fashion his raft into a lean-to for shade, but he had to get out and move around. Mason stretched his water supply to six days as planned. His food supply ran out in five days. For another two days, he was able to catch the smaller fish swimming in the shallows against the island. Waterproof matches and sawgrass made for a quick flash fire to put some heat on the fishes’ flesh before he ate it.

However, it had been two days since he had any fresh water. Eight days, I’ve been gone eight days, thought Mason. Why haven’t there been any search planes? I’m such a fool for not checking my equipment. Mason spoke in a slurred speech from his swollen tongue, “You idiot.” The self-chastisement did little to make him feel better.

A warm breeze blew over him in the hot sun. The same warm air that had heated his body for eight long days. Mason felt roasted alive. He crawled back to his lean-to and closed his eyes. The sound of a small engine began to fill his mind. Mason smiled and enjoyed the dream of being rescued, but the tone changed pitch. “Plane!” Mason slurred out to no one.

With his last ounces of strength, Mason grabbed the semaphore flags and forced himself to run towards the beach. At least these don’t need batteries, he thought. Mason rushed beyond the edge of the beach and into the shallows towards the sound of the plane. He began waving the flags over and over above his head.

The prop plane came into view. It was a seaplane with Coast Guard colors. It circled Mason and wiggled its wings. Mason began to signal N-C to tell them he was in distress. The plane circled and then wiggled its wings once more.

The aircraft changed patterns and appeared to be looking for a place to land. Mason threw the flags in the air and jumped as best he could in the shallows. The promised rescue made him forget his body’s weakness. Maybe it was just adrenaline making him feel healthy again, but he was not concerned, he was saved.

The sharp pain that tore at his calf was the first moment Mason noticed the small shark attached to his leg. He yelled and beat on the fish. It let go and swam off. Mason immediately made for the shore. He arrived in only a few steps. Blood profusely poured from his leg. He pulled the belt from his shorts and did his best to create a quick tourniquet, but the strength he had earlier quickly vanished. Mason fell back and closed his eyes. He was so close to being rescued, but it would soon be over.

“Hey buddy, wake up.”

Mason opened his eyes to see a Coast Guardsman hovering over him with an IV bag in his hand. He felt something in his arm.

“There you are. Hang in there. Help is on the way.”

Mason nodded and closed his eyes.

“Hey, come back to me, don’t give up.”

Mason smiled, nodded his head, and let the darkness form around him.

Mason opened his eyes. He was in a small hospital. The cream steel walls and the movement indicated the hospital was inside a ship. He heard footsteps and looked to his left. A young woman in a uniform smiled and said, “There you are. Everyone has been taking odds on when you would wake up. You may still feel tired. That’s from the morphine for the shark bite. You’re lucky. You only lost a couple of inches of muscle.”

Mason laid there and tried to remember. Shark,  he thought to himself, I’ve been bitten by a shark.

“I’ll be right back.” said the woman.

Mason nodded and closed his eyes. In the distance, he could hear her holler, “Tell John he won the pool!”

A thought entered Mason’s head. This ship is so much warmer than I thought it would be. I wonder why they don’t keep it colder? He tried to open his eyes again, but his eyelids felt too heavy to lift. An odd thought entered into his mind; I hope my rescue isn’t just a dream.

Mason clenched his fist around something. Is that sand or linen?  The thought vanished from his mind as he allowed his body to float away with the euphoria and exhaustion.


Dictionary.com word of the day- Semaphore

The Blame Game

Sweat beaded on Hank’s forehead. He clasped his hands together. They felt clammy. He had never had sweaty palms before. Hank knew he had done nothing wrong, but he also knew that the truth made no difference. Denise’s stare seemed to cut through his soul. Her coal black eyes looked as dead as they were dark.

Lewis and George sat to his right. Their arms were crossed, their brows furrowed, and their lips were curled down in disapproval. To his left Lori and Rachel sat. Lori drummed her fingers on the boardroom table, feigning impatience. Rachel refused to look Hank in the eye.

Hank had been to these blamestorming sessions before. However, he had always been on the other side of the table. So this is what it feels like, Hank thought. Should I even try to defend myself?

“Well?” Denise’s voice was impatient.

Hank cleared his throat. His speech was deliberate, “Well, Denise, I’m not sure why I’m here.”

Lori jumped in with a condescending tone, “You’re here because somebody in your department dropped the ball. A bug in our software caused the assembly line robots to go out of control at our clients’ sites. They’re looking at several million dollars in damage, and one death. The lawsuits should be arriving on our doorstep at any moment. Is there something about that you can’t comprehend?”

“Well, yea,” said Hank. “I’m familiar with the robots suddenly getting stuck in a loop and smashing everything within their reach, but my team doesn’t work on that code.”

Lori rolled her eyes, and everyone jumped as George’s hand slapped the wooden table. All eyes looked in George’s direction, and he responded with his voice raised. “Really? That’s your excuse? Your team had to run this code to test their part of the software. Why didn’t you catch this bug during your testing?”

“Wasn’t it your team that wrote the bug?” Hank asked George.

Denise jumped in. “Hank, in case you’ve forgotten, we’re a team. Our success depends on everyone backing each other up. If you’ve forgotten that maybe it’s time you start considering other options.”

There it is, thought Hank. They’re hoping I’ll hang myself. I can’t let this happen. I have a family to support. Maybe it’s time to start pushing back on some people.

“Denise, I’ve been in my job longer than anyone else at this table, including you. I’m well aware we are a team, and you’re right, my team should have caught this bug.”

George piped in, “Good, I’m glad you see it our way.”

Hank pointed his index finger at George, and said, “One moment, I wasn’t finished. If my team had been involved, we would’ve caught this problem. I talked with my lead developer, and it turns out George’s team made some changes that were sent to the clients without first being tested by our team.”

Denise clasped her hands together and rested them under her chin. Her eyes shot over to George. Everyone else, including Hank, crossed their arms and glared at George. “Well?” asked Denise.

George stammered. Fear filled his eyes, and he absent-mindedly reached down and fiddled with his pen. The right corner of Hank’s lip curled up despite his best effort. He had saved himself and his team. Now it was George’s turn to sweat in their little blame game.

“Well yea,” George finally managed to say. “We did push a bug fix through without everyone testing it, but that code change couldn’t have caused the disaster.”

“What makes you so sure?” asked Denise.

Hank could see George’s forehead glistening under the fluorescent lights. George squirmed, sighed, and then said, “My lead developer told me it didn’t.”

Denise put her arms down and leaned in, “Does she know what did cause it?”

George looked down at the table, “Um, not yet.”

Rachel finally spoke up, “George, you do know a man was crushed by one of the robots. He had a wife and two kids and was their only source of income. How could you sit there and let Hank take the blame?”

George’s brows furrowed, “Who said it isn’t his fault? What if something else caused the failure?”

Hank knew his job was on the line. More than that, his very reputation could be destroyed if he didn’t speak back up. “George, stop trying to deflect the blame. Your team wrote the code that killed someone. We all know that. To make matters worse, you didn’t thoroughly test your bug fix, and now we could be sued out of existence. We could all lose our jobs because of a screw up that you won’t take responsibility for.”

Denise chimed in, “I think we have what we need. Everyone is dismissed, except George.” The team stood to leave, and George and Denise remained seated. The group began to exit when Denise spoke up.

“Hank.”

Hank stopped in his tracks and fear shot up his back. Maybe he wasn’t going to escape the blamestorm after all.

“Good job,” said Denise.

Hank smiled, nodded, walked out of the meeting room, and closed the door behind him.


Dictionary.com word of the day – blamestorming

Dividing the Truth from a Lie

“Come on, honey. It isn’t as dramatic as all that.” Charles was poised with his back against the wall. Charlene stood there with tears falling down her cheeks. In her right hand was a large Shun chef’s knife. It had been part of a kit that was given to them as a wedding gift five years earlier. In Charlene’s left hand was a pair of women’s pink lace panties that did not belong to her.

Parts of Charlene’s long auburn hair stuck to her wet cheeks. Anger and grief had changed her normal porcelain skin to a bright red. Her blue eyes flashed, and she screamed. “Don’t honey me! I find these under my bed, our bed, and you tell me it isn’t that dramatic? Do you think I’m afraid to use this knife?” Her right arm swung quickly through the air.  Years of aerobics and other exercise regimes had made her body firm and quick. Charles tried to press himself into the wall as he felt the tip of the knife barely touch his polo shirt that was loosely hanging off his body. “Who is she?” demanded Charlene.

Charles held up his hands, “She was a mistake, it was a long time ago.”

“How long?”

“Six months ago, when you went to visit your parents.”

“Do you think six months is a long time? How many women have you been sleeping with?” Charlene held the tip of the knife up to Charles’ throat and in a blink of an eye pulled back her arm. Charles trembled inside. Years of desk work had taken him from the muscular man he used to be to a flabby desk jockey. Charlene was faster and possibly stronger than him.

Charles stood there fearful. Instead of calming her down he was making it worse. He had forgotten about Sophia’s lingerie the night she left. They had spent two days together in bed. Her olive skin, raven hair, and lustful needs were everything Charlene was not. Sure, he had cheated, but it was over as quickly as it started. Sophia wanted “serviced.” There were no expectations. In Charles’ mind, there was no harm and no foul. At least not until today.

“Please,” pleaded Charles, “lower the knife, and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

Charlene took two steps back and lowered her knife. Charles sighed and took a step forward. Charlene’s blade shot up in front of her, “I didn’t tell you that you could move.”

Charles nodded, stepped back against the wall, and Charlene lowered her knife. He took a deep breath and spoke slowly and quietly, “Honey.” Charlene’s knife came up in front of her. “Sorry,” said Charles. “Charlene, it was a mistake. Sophia from work dropped by and was distraught over some family matters. I had drunk a couple of beers before she showed up. I had no idea she would be here. The next thing I know, I’m hugging her and telling her everything will be okay, and then we have our clothes off. It was over before it started.”

“Don’t try to Disneyfy this. I didn’t find her panties under the couch, I found them under our bed. How could it be a moment of passion if the clothes came off in the living room? Her panties ended up under the bed, stuck between two boxes of winter clothes.”

Charles knew he was in trouble. “I have no idea. Maybe I found them and threw them under the bed. I honestly can’t remember.”

“Give me your phone.”

“What?”

Charlene raised the knife again, “I said, give me your cell phone out of your pants’ pocket.”

Charles nodded, reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Charlene dropped the panties and quickly swiped the phone from Charles’ trembling hand. “Password,” demanded Charlene.

“5563” responded Charles.

Charles prayed he had deleted his text history, although he was sure the past two days were still present. Charlene began to scroll, and her voice became angrier as she read off the first few names, “Who are Michelle, Denise, Chloe, and here is Sophia again. You were texting her today?” Her hand shook as she opened the text. A semi-nude photo of Sophia appeared on the screen. Charlene dropped the phone and began to sob.

Charles saw his chance. He ran up behind Charlene and wrapped his arms around her biceps and chest. “Honey, calm down. This whole thing isn’t worth you going crazy.”

Charlene mumbled through her sobs, “You’re right.” With a swift motion, Charlene’s forearm rose and came down. The knife easily sliced through Charles’ khaki pants, into one side of his thigh and out the other. Charles released Charlene and stumbled as he retreated towards the wall. He stopped and looked down. Blood was beginning to soak his pant, but the knife did not hurt as badly as he thought it would. In fact, it barely hurt at all.

Charles reached down and pulled the knife out. A sharp flash of pain filled his mind, but then quickly disappeared. The warm flow of blood down his leg felt good, even soothing. His eyelids narrowed, he raised the knife in front of him, and fear flashed across Charlene’s face. “Well,” said Charles with a half-smile. “How the tides have turned. You stupid witch, you couldn’t just leave well enough alone, or even just leave. You had to go all crazy on me, but now it’s my turn. Maybe I’ll stab you in the chest and claim self-defense. Better yet, why don’t I just divorce you for spousal abuse and leave you destitute. Then you can watch me romp around town with my girlfriends.”

Charles started to feel a little dizzy. The sides of the room seemed to be getting dimmer. He noticed Charlene had crossed her arms and was grinning. Why is she smiling? He thought. Charles felt light-headed, stepped back into the wall and slid down to the floor. That is when he realized he was sitting in a large pool of his blood. She must have hit an artery, thought Charles. Then the entire room went black.

Charlene was smiling as she reached down and picked up the phone off the floor. She counted off another sixty seconds before calling 911. A woman on the other line answered.  Charlene spoke quickly, “This is Charlene McMurray. I need the police and an ambulance. My husband tried to attack me with a knife when I found out he was cheating on me.”

“Are you alright ma’am. Where is your husband?”

“He stabbed himself when we wrestled for the knife. He’s lost a lot of blood. Please hurry.”

“I’m dispatching them now.”

Charlene hung up the phone, tossed the panties on the bed, and ambled towards the living room to wait for the police.


Dictionary.com’s word of the day – Disneyfy

Bad Luck

Chatzkel sat on the side of the road in the hot Sonoma desert. His car’s radiator hose spewed steam like a small geyser. Saguaro cacti dotted the landscape along with prickly pears and other succulents. Chatzkel looked up towards heaven, “Why?  Why did you put me on this earth?  Oy vey, everything I touch seems to fail. Why do I seem to be so cursed?”

Chatzkel sighed and looked up and down the two-lane highway. He had walked a hundred yards in either direction in hopes of gaining a cell signal. Unfortunately, his efforts only resulted in more sweat, greater thirst, and no sign that any part of civilization had ever heard of the piece of blacktop.

He looked up to the heavens once more. “Why? Why have you made me such a schlimazel? Nothing ever goes right for me. Do you remember that fantastic job you blessed me with? It was wonderful. Then came that fateful night. I didn’t put that dolly in the shadows of the walkway next to the wall of stage switches, but there it laid. Nobody even cared that I broke my leg. They were more concerned with the lights suddenly going out on stage during the rock concert. How does that happen at the exact time a singer is jumping from a platform? I suppose I should be grateful that he only fractured his spine and didn’t break his neck. Still, you allowed the blame to fall on me, God. Now here I am trying to get to Tuscon for a job interview, and my car breaks down. Why have you cursed me with such bad luck?

In the distance, Chatzkel heard the rumble of a semi. A large black Peterbilt appeared on the horizon. Chatzkel stood next to his car and waved his arms furiously. The truck began to gear down as the distance grew shorter between the two. The truck driver stopped on the shoulder just past Chatzkel’s car. Chatzkel watched as a rotund man made his way out of the cab. He had a thick black beard that contrasted sharply with his gray balding scalp. His green eyes seem to pierce straight through Chatzkel.

“Run into some bad luck?” asked the trucker.

Chatzkel stuck out his hand, “Yes, My name is Chatzkel, but everyone calls me Chaz. My radiator hose cracked.”

The truck driver shook his hand. “Call me Lou. Don’t you have any duct tape?” The trucker released his grip.

“No.”

Lou continued talking as they walked over to his car. “You should never go anywhere without duct tape, especially the desert. How much water do you have?”

“None, I drank all my water.”

Lou continued mumbling as he stuck his head under the hood. “Should always have extra water.” The steam had receded, and Lou tried to touch the hose but quickly pulled his hand back.

Chatzkel spoke up, “Can you call for help, or give me a ride somewhere?”

Lou shook his head and laughed. Without saying another word he walked over to his cab and opened a lower storage compartment. The trucker pulled out a roll of silver duct tape and came back over to the car. In just a few seconds he had the cracked hose taped up. Lou shot Chatzkel a disapproving look and returned to his cab. He walked back a minute later with a jug of water and poured it into the radiator’s thirsty reservoir.

He capped the tank and turned back to Chatzkel, “That should keep you going until you get to the next town. Check your fluids there and by some radiator fluid if you need it. Don’t leave town without duct tape and extra water.”

Lou made his way back towards his semi. Chatzkel followed behind and said, “I want to thank you. I’ve had nothing but bad luck my whole life. You’re a real Godsend.”

“Not a problem, just remember, duct tape and water.”

Chatzkel turned to leave when the sound of a rattle froze him in his tracks. Just inside the shade of the rig’s trailer was a six-foot-long diamondback rattlesnake. Lou cursed, climb up into his cab and emerged with a snub-nosed .38 revolver. He pointed toward Chatzkel and the snake and let loose a shot. The bullet went clean through the snake’s head, hit the asphalt, and ricocheted into Chatzkel’s thigh.

Chatzkel collapsed on the road. Lou cursed and ran over to check on Chatzkel. “I am so sorry. I ain’t never had that happen before. I didn’t know a bullet could even do that after going through a snake’s head. Lou drugged Chatzkel over to his car and placed him inside. He started his engine and cranked up the air conditioner. “Now you stay right here. I’m going up the road just a few miles, and I’ll bring back the sheriff and some help.”

Chatzkel started to feel woozy. Sharp pain brought the world back into focus for a moment.

“Don’t touch that tourniquet,” said Lou. “I promise I’ll be back in less than thirty minutes. You stay in this cool car until then.”

The air temperature had begun to drop below the heat outside. Chatzkel nodded. He tried to stay focus and watched Lou run to his rig. Both diesel stacks blew jet black smoke as the trucker floored his semi and willed it up the road as fast as he could make it go.

Chatzkel looked up to heaven. “Okay, maybe I am a schlimazel, but you sent me help. Thank you for your mercy. At least I have my air conditioner.”

Although the bleeding has stopped, the throbbing of his leg and the blood loss sent waves of dizziness and nausea over his body. He did not want to fall asleep for fear he would not wake up. For five minutes he battled his own body. Chatzkel was desperate to find something else to focus his attention.

He had no idea how long the car had been hissing. Chatzkel had been looking down muttering what he would say to the recruiter about missing his interview. Looking up he saw steam once more escaping from under the hood. Chatzkel took a deep breath and shook his head. Perhaps it was better this way. Chatzkel reached down to the seat’s controls, reclined his chair and closed his eyes. He would survive, or he would not, but at least he would get some rest. Then Chatzkel’s world went peacefully dark.


Dictionary.com word of the day: Schlimazel

Broken Lives

David stared at the computer screen. His mind was shattered, and his heart was broken. Tears trailed down his cheeks. Had it been a year since Susan’s death? “Why?” he asked out loud to the empty room. He knew nobody was there answer him. Just like there were no answers to his wife’s murder.

The website Justice for Susan had been created by a group of helpful web developers to pull together clues about the fateful day of Susan’s murder. On the day of her death, David was away at his office, and Susan was home working in their bedroom. She was a freelance web developer for various companies. According to the police, the attacker walked into the house through the unlocked front door.

The front door was never locked. It was one of the perks of living in a gated community in an otherwise rural area. The perpetrator made his way up the stairs towards the bedrooms. The police believed Susan heard the footsteps at some point and walked to the bedroom’s doorway. The attacker fired two shots. The first bullet hit Susan in the shoulder, and the second passed through the drywall and embedded itself in the far bedroom wall. She staggered back, and the attacker kept coming. One more bullet hole embedded in a stud over the bed showed the only other projectile to miss. The rest of the ammunition landed in Susan’s body.

Nothing was taken. David found his wife’s bloody body contorted on the floor when he arrived home. The rust color stain in the carpet still testified to that fateful moment.

“Why shut the website down?” David stood up and began pacing. The website was instrumental in finding new clues. The police said they were closing in on the killer. What would happen now?

David had gotten to know the community of developers that maintained the Justice for Susan website. Many of them had worked with his wife. They were now a family and often communicated with one another. That link would soon be broken when the website shut down. This site had not only been a cache of clues; it had become a lifeline to David’s sanity. Many of the developers had contacted David to help him through his loss. Over the past year, others had heard of his plight and joined the website. Some wanted to be sleuths, and others were people who had lost a family member unexpectedly.

David picked up the phone and tapped in the often used phone number. Charles’ familiar voice answered on the other end. “Charles Wallace.”

David continued his pacing. “Charles, this is David.”

“Hi, what’s going on?”

David leaned up against the wall and stared at the notice in his email. “I just wanted to know why you are taking down the website.”

There was a pause for a few seconds, and then Charles said, “Who said I was taking down the website?”

David pushed off the wall and sat down in his chair. “I assume you did. I have an email saying the website for Susan is being shut down in a few days.”

“Oh, yes. I didn’t realize the email had already gone out. To be honest, David, after a year I just felt like we’ve done all we can do. After all, this site doesn’t run for free, and the donations have slowed down.”

David’s eyebrows crinkled, “I don’t understand. Just last week Denise said she received a check for several thousand dollars to keep the website running.”

“Yeah, well, that fell through.”

“It was a bad check?”

Charles’ voice seemed to have a touch of glee in it. “Something like that. I’m sorry, but we all have work to do, and most of us agree it’s time to move on. I have talked with the police on an almost weekly basis, and they have more than enough clues to solve the crime.”

David started tapping his desk with his left index finger. “What do you mean? How can you possibly know if they have enough clues.”

Charles’ sarcasm dripped through the earpiece of the phone, “David, I thought you of all people would have figured this out by now. She was your wife after all.”

The room began to spin, and David grabbed his desk with his left hand. “You killed her?”

An audible chuckle cut through his hearing, and then Charles said, “You’re taking the fun out of it. It’s not worth my time to have to spell it out. Normally, I would have just walked away, but since I’m no longer anywhere you can find me I thought I would be merciful. I like you David, and I liked Susan. That’s why I picked you both.”

David’s left hand clinched into a fist, and he slammed it down on the desk. The keyboard skipped for a moment, and trinkets tumbled over. “I will find you.”

Charles laughed. “No, no you won’t. You had a year. I gave you every chance in the world. I created a whole community to find me, and nobody figured it out.”

“But, why? Why us, why Susan?”

“David, one day you will understand what an honor it was for me to choose you. I only pick the best a brightest. I bring a little suffering into their lives and make them better for it.”

David pulled in long breaths of air and tried to stop the room from spinning. “We will find you.”

Charles paused for a moment, and then answered, “Perhaps. If anyone can find me, you might be the one. I hope you do; I like you, David.”

David started to respond, but pulled the phone away and hung up. He began to dial the detective who was assigned to Susan’s case but stopped mid-dial. There would be time for that. A smile crept across his face. Charles had made David better in the last year. David had taught himself web development as well as deep search skills. During that time he had found another community. This community worked independently of Charles’ little group. Now that he knew who the killer was they could comb the globe to find him.

Susan would get justice, and so would Charles’ other victims, if there were more. Finishing his post to his international brotherhood of sleuths, David dialed the detective’s number. It was only a matter of time now, and that fact replaced David’s rage with a sense of peace.


 

Two People but One Soul

Heather stood at six feet tall. Her firm, silky legs accented the expensive black ball gown that hung over her perfectly proportioned body. Heather’s Nordic blond hair fell over her shoulders in large, natural curls. Her steel-blue eyes were both beautiful and piercing. Anyone who dared to look her way struggled to maintain eye contact. Heather was a runway model whether she was working or not.

Larry stood next to her. At five feet seven inches, he was noticeably shorter. Larry had thinning black hair and his tuxedo appeared a bit shabby, despite his best efforts to maintain some demeanor. The couple juxtaposed one another, and yet they held each other tightly as the camera flashes danced in front of their eyes. They released each other, the flashes ceased, and Heather gently smoothed out his coat as Larry tugged at the fabric that had bunched up between them. Afterward, they once more pulled each other tightly and smiled for more photographs.

Heather had come across many suitors in her life. The career of a supermodel always put beautiful women in front of rich and powerful men. In the beginning, she found it exciting. Heather would occasionally join a sponsor on his yacht for a cocktail party, or if she was seriously considering dating someone, she might join him for dinner. Over time, Heather found all the men to be of the same mindset. They were only interested in their conquest. She was just another trophy for the men to display. The rich and powerful wanted beautiful women to conquer, not to love.

Before long, the yachts, parties, and Michelin Star restaurants grew stale. Heather needed a vacation, and so she went home to see her parents and the friends that knew her when she was gangly and wore braces. Heather’s parents had invited Larry over one evening as a thank you for his hard work in their local hardware store. Nobody ever thought the couple would be attracted to each other. After all, Heather was a rarefied beauty. Even her dad would joke about the possible origins of her surprising genetics. Larry was, well, Larry.

The two had grown up together. Heather had been what people used to call a “Tom Boy.” She loved baseball, football, hunting, and fishing. She would tag along with Larry and a couple of the other boys in the neighborhood. Heather was just one of the guys, until the age where boys and girls begin to notice differences. Sure, she still was part of the “gang,” but over the years the boys became shyer as she developed.

In the end, only Larry would bother to invite her fishing. She loved their time sitting by the pond. They would talk about their dreams. Heather wanted to see the world. Larry did as well, but he was raised by a single mother who had health issues. Even back in high school, Larry knew he would never see much beyond the small town of his youth. Heather’s parents gave him a job at their hardware store after high school. Larry took college courses online when he was not helping take care of his mother or working at the store.

That fateful dinner Larry and Heather took up right where they had left off. It was as if she had never left. She shared with Larry and her parents some of the exotic places she had traveled to do fashion shows and even some photo shoots. Larry discussed working at the hardware store, his mother’s death, and where he hoped to visit one day. After the meal, the two walked a mile down the old dirt trail they used to hike as kids. They stopped at the edge of their favorite pond. Heather was so happy to be back in blue jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes. She could tell Larry liked the way she looked, but he never leered at her as most men would.

They reached the pond’s edge, and Heather asked, “Why haven’t you found yourself a girlfriend?”

Larry shrugged, looked her in the eye, and suddenly blushed and looked away. “I’ve never met any other girls like you. I mean, none of the other women like to fish, hunt, or get dirt under their nails. I reckon if I could find somebody like that I’d marry her in a minute.”

Heather gently lifted his eyes up to face her, and said, “Do you mean fishing, hunting, and playing in the dirt are what you find attractive about me?”

Larry shrugged and blushed again, but he did not turn away. “I mean, you’re pretty and all that, but you know, we all get old. Heck, my hair’s starting to fall out. None of us are immune to our body’s aging. I like a beautiful woman as much as the next guy, but there’s got to be more there. Somewhere down the road, we’ll get old and not look so good. ”

“If you liked what we used to do so much, why didn’t you ever ask me out?”

Larry gently removed his chin from her hand and bent over to pick up a pebble. He skipped it across the calm emerald pond and then answered. “To be honest, I always assumed you were out of my league. You’re a beautiful woman, smart, and great at fishing to boot. I’m just me.”

“So if I weren’t beautiful you would have asked me out?”

Larry looked into her eyes, and she noticed tears attempting to form around the edges of his brown eyes. “I know, it’s stupid.”

Heather pulled him close and hugged him tightly, “No, it’s beautiful.” She pushed him back, pulled him back in and surprised Larry with a kiss. She let go of his lips and said, “Come with me.”

“Where?”

“To my next fashion show. It’s in France. I’ll pay for everything. We’ll get a two bedroom suite.”

“I don’t know. I’m not used to that kind of life.”

“That’s why I want you there. Besides, you taught me how to fish. Now it’s my turn. I want to show you the parts of the world we dreamed about as kids.”

Larry sighed and then held Heather tightly in his arms.

Heather and Larry stood there before the flashes until she feared they might go blind. Heather held up her left hand and showed off the engagement ring that Larry’s grandmother once wore. An entertainment journalist stuck a microphone in front of Heather’s face. “Tell us, why Larry? ”

Heather smiled, looked into the camera and said, “Because he loves me.”


 

Guilty as Sin

Owen felt the leather of the old winged chair press against his bare back. The dry, cracked leather bit against his flesh. He pushed himself harder into the uncomfortable piece of furniture. The dilapidated one bedroom apartment sat almost completely dark in the dusk of the day. The distinct smell of black mold emanated from underneath the threadbare carpet. Smoke stained walls, once white, added to the dirt and darkness that surrounded Owen. An empty bottle of Jack Daniels laid on the floor beside him.

In his left hand, he held a bottle of sleeping pills. Owen had truthfully told the doctor he had not been sleeping, but he did not intend to use the prescription for a good night’s sleep. He was going to take an eternal nap. Own placed the pill bottle in his lap and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket with his other hand.  He scrolled through his contacts and found Daisy’s phone number. She answered on the third ring.

“Owen?”

Owen pulled the pill bottle from between his legs and rolled it against his thigh as he spoke. “I just called to say I’m sorry. I knew I was playing with fire when I went to lunch with Fay. She was vulnerable and lonely. I should have said no that day, but the work hours had been so long, and I just wanted a break. No, that’s an excuse. I’m guilty. I’m guilty of betraying your trust, our vows. I deserve what’s coming to me.”

Daisy’s voice was tense. “Honey, I told you I forgive you. You’ve never been that sort of husband. I just wanted us to spend some time apart. I can forgive you, but the healing takes time. I still love you.”

Tears began to stream down Owen’s face. He could no longer hold back the sadness in his voice. “No, I don’t deserve to be forgiven. I don’t deserve you and the kids. When we were young, we had so many dreams, so many goals. Do you remember? Our kids were going to grow up with one family, just like we did. Now, we’re just another broken family. I blew it.”

Daisy’s voice rose in panic, “Owen, what are you doing?”

“The only thing I can to bring some sense of honor back. I just called to say goodbye.”

“How is giving up honorable?”

“I’m guilty as sin. There’s only one recourse for the kind of pain I’ve caused. No divorce, no custody battles, just a clean break from this world so you can move on.”

Daisy’s voice trembled, “No, no! Don’t you dare. Weren’t you listening? I ‘ve already forgiven you.”

Owen placed the bottle between his thighs again and twisted off the cap. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness. I don’t deserve the kids or any of it. I deserve to die in his hell hole I found to stay in.”

“Don’t you dare. I won’t forgive you if you harm yourself. It was a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, but what you’re about to do isn’t a mistake. It’s giving up. If you do this, you’re abandoning us, and that’s worse than anything you ever did with Fay.”

Owen held the cap between his fingers. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“If you do this you’re hurting me forever. Is that what you want to do to me? Do you want to hurt me now?”

Owen stopped playing with the lid. “No, but can’t you see? I deserve this.”

Daisy’s voice was firm, “No, you don’t. You need to listen to me. The only person you hurt was me. If you do this, you’ll hurt the kids too.  Don’t give into your shame. We can come back from this together.”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’re just saying this because you think you have to stop me.”

Owen could hear Daisy’s frustrated sigh before she responded. “Don’t be so stupid. You know I love you, and I know you love me. Otherwise, why would you be calling, or think about killing yourself?”

Daisy’s words cut into Owen’s heart. Kill himself. He was no murderer, but then his shame reminded him he was no adulterer until he was. Daisy’s voice cut through his darkness.

“Honey, I want you to come home. I didn’t ask you to leave so you would do this. Just promise me, you won’t hurt yourself. Come home, and we’ll get some counseling. Just somebody to help us work this all out. Please, don’t hurt yourself.”

Owen sighed and put down the bottle cap. “I don’t deserve to come home.”

Daisy’s voice cracked, “Of course you don’t, but that is what forgiveness is all about. It isn’t deserved, it’s given. It’s part of love. I love you, and I forgive you. You made a mistake. You don’t want to make that same mistake again, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Then come home. Don’t be a coward. If you love me, you’ll forget whatever you are planning and come home.”

Owen sighed and dropped his head. Daisy was right. Inside he could feel shame begin to darken his mind once more. Fighting against the oppression, he pushed his way out of the old chair before the darkness could press him further into it. The bottle and cap fell to the floor and the pills scattered. Owen took a step towards the wall and turned on the light. A dark shadow appeared to shoot across the room and was gone.

Daisy’s voice was anxious and trembling. “Are you there?”

“Yeah, honey. I’m here. You’re right, as usual. I’m no coward, and I want to fight for you and the kids. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but I want to make this work. Let me get my stuff together, and I’ll be home soon.”

Daisy’s voice calmed, “I love you, honey.”

“I love you too.”


 

Alone at Last

“Where are we?” asked Lucy as she stared at her phone’s screen.

Jeff quipped, “We’re parked near the edge of a cliff above the ocean,” and continued pressing virtual buttons on his phone’s GPS app.

Lucy sighed. Jeff could be so impulsive sometimes. All she had wanted to do was take a short drive next to the ocean and then find the quaint town of Cambria, but Jeff had other plans. He could not wait until they arrived at their inn to enjoy some intimate contact. When they drove up to the desolate plateau overlooking the Pacific he had other things on his mind than returning to Highway One.

Lucy had to admit, the opportunity to be alone and outside was too much for them to pass up. By the time the two of them had finally finished with one another, the sun was almost below the water. That is when Jeff realized he could not remember how they had arrived at their location.

Jeff lowered his smartphone, “Look; I assumed that the GPS would get us out of here. It never dawned on me that they wouldn’t have this place on a map.”

Lucy’s phone showed only a green blob. No matter how close or how far she zoomed in there were no details. The sun had dropped below the waterline, and the stars had begun to appear. She lowered her phone in defeat.

“I vote we just go for it,” said Jeff. “After all, it isn’t like I don’t have headlights. I know where the cliffs are, I’ll go in the opposite direction.”

Lucy crossed her arms, as much from cold as the annoyance. Her paper-thin white t-shirt could not stop the chilly evening breeze from cutting into her, and Lucy’s bare legs sticking out from her short shorts did nothing to improve her situation.  She stared at Jeff, trying her best to give him the most concerned expression she knew how to make. “Look, I say we spend the night and leave when we have daylight. There are trail snacks in the Jeep, and we can sleep in the vehicle tonight.”

Jeff grunted and then sighed. He lowered his head and shook it.  “I’m cold,” protested Lucy. “You can do what you want. I’m getting in the Jeep.”

Lucy was tired, sore, and did not care for Jeff’s machismo. He might think he was scoring points by pretending to rescue them, but in truth, he had gotten them into their predicament. She reached over the back of the seat and grabbed her jacket and his. Reclining in the passenger seat, she covered herself with the coats and closed her eyes. The world went peacefully dark as she gave into her exhaustion.

A low rumble of thunder woke Lucy. As the world began to flood her mind, she realized the sound was not the weather. She opened her eyes to a blinding light flooding into the front windshield. Lucy held up her hands to spare her eyes. She turned her head to the left to see Jeff in the same position as herself. He must have crawled into the Jeep and fallen asleep at some point after she did. His eyes were now wide open. A look of fear and anxiety filled his face. Above the thunder, she thought she could hear a voice, but the noise was too thunderous to tell what was being said.

All at once, the lights flooding the windshield ceased and the din of the helicopter faded away. The Jeep remained lit up through its glass. A tap on the driver’s and passenger’s glass occurred at the same time. Lucy and Jeff could see the tips of guns pointed towards them through the glass. The doors opened, and they both raised their hands and exited. A man in camouflage spun Lucy around and frisked her. Although, she was sure the extra groping had not been necessary. “Clear,” said the handsy man.

“Clear,” came a voice from the other side of the Jeep.

Lucy turned around and read “McClaskey” sewn into the stranger’s uniform. “Mr. McClaskey, what do you think you’re doing? We were only sleeping.”

“You’re sleeping inside restricted federal lands.”  McClaskey lowered his weapon. Another man brought McClaskey Lucy’s wallet from out of the vehicle. She watched as he pulled out a smartphone and took a photo of her driver’s license. “Would you like to tell me what you were doing here?”

Lucy crossed her arms, “That’s none of your business.”

“Ma’am, this is my business. That’s why I’m here. Now, let’s try again. Why were you here today?”

Lucy tightened her lips and creased her brow. She did not have to talk, but she did not want to push things too far. More than anything, Lucy wanted to find their hotel, and then crawl into bed and go to sleep. Finally, she relaxed and said, “If you must know, we are on our way up to Cambria. We stopped to have a picnic. Time got away from us, and we decided to wait until morning to try to find out way back.”

McClaskey smiled. “A picnic. Is that what it’s called these days?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Lucy, may I call you Lucy?”

She nodded.

“Lucy, you tripped our motion trackers. We’ve had a drone over you since you first parked your car watching everything you did. We’re just trying to figure out what your intentions are.”

Lucy could feel her face flush. “Well, if you watched us you know what our intentions are.”

“Yes, ma’am. We just needed to be sure what we saw is what you had intended.”

“Why else would we do that?”

McClaskey smirked, “Trust me, you two aren’t the first, but next time wait for the hotel.”

“Gladly.”

“Okay, as soon as your boyfriend is freed up you can follow me out. I’ll take you back to Highway One. Just for the record, a half mile south on PCH is a small dirt road that ends in an overlook of the ocean. Only military people use it on the weekends. In case you decide to ever come up here for another picnic.”

Lucy rolled her eyes and let herself back in the vehicle. Jeff joined her back inside. He started up the Jeep and fell in line behind McClaskey’s vehicle.

Jeff glanced over at Lucy, “I guess we got lucky with this one. It was worth it though.”

Lucy looked over at Jeff, and he had a sly smile broadly spread across his face. She sighed and said, “Don’t talk to me.”


 

Alone in the Woods

Billy stood behind an old oak tree relieving himself in the forest. The cool, dry air of the passing cold front had been a welcomed change from the hot, humid day. The campfire was just within Billy’s view. He watched Lauran sit there by the fire. She had bleached blond hair that hung in tight wet curls with droplets of water that fell from their tips. Lauran had gotten caught in the storm that Billy had avoided by hovering in his tent.

After the storm passed over, Billy was able to recover his campfire. Lauran appeared out of the woods thirty minutes later. Her hollow gray eyes penetrated Billy’s heart with sadness when he looked into them.

Billy muttered to himself about lousy timing and attempted to hurry up his business with the tree. He was not sure where Lauran had been, but he knew she needed help and could not stay alone out in the woods. His small two-man tent might feel a bit too personal, but he would have to convince her he would keep her safe. The campsite was only a half a mile from the road. He would take her to authorities in the morning so she could get checked out and call a loved one.

Billy finished and walked back to his campsite. “I’m sorry, ” he said. “I was not expecting company and had a few beers before you arrived.”

“Oh,” responded Lauran. “are you upset about something?”

“What? No, it’s not like that.” Billy pulled up a log he intended to burn later and sat across from Lauran at the fire. “Why would you think that?”

Lauran shrugged, “I don’t know. Jerry used to drink when he was mad. Unfortunately, he’d just get angrier.”

Billy pointed at Lauran with a stick he had just picked up. “Who’s Jerry? ”

“He was my boyfriend.”

“Does he always take you hiking dressed like that?”

“What’s wrong with the way I’m dressed?”

“Most people don’t wear a sundress to hike in.” Jerry tossed the stick back on to the muddy ground.

Lauran looked down, picked up a stick and drew an arrow on the ground as she spoke. “Well, I needed to get away from him in a hurry. Jerry doesn’t mean to be angry. He’s had a hard life. Jerry grew up without a father, and his mother’s boyfriends would beat him. She kicked Billy out on his seventeenth birthday. He’s a hard worker, but it’s tough to hold a job when you never even finished high school. I guess all his hardship made him a hard man.”

Billy sat quietly and listened. He was concerned Jerry might be nearby. “Is he looking for you?”

Lauran shook her head. “Not anymore. I was finally able to escape.”

“Then why are you in the woods?”

Lauran shrugged, “I’m just trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go now.”

Billy nodded his head. He noticed her playing with a silver heart-shaped locket. Lauran looked up from her twiddling fingers and said, “Jerry gave me this locket. He worked two months to save up the money. What makes a man love someone so deeply and hold on to so much hate?”

Billy picked up a nearby twig, looked up at Lauran and shrugged, “I don’t know. Maybe he couldn’t let go of his pain. You know, forgive his mom or those boyfriends.”

“But he became just like those men.”

Billy nodded, “That’s how hate usually works. It grows inside until it twists you into the very people you despised. I hope Jerry can get some help before he hurts somebody.”

Lauran let go of the locket, and a tear trickled down her cheek. “He already hurt me, but I’ve forgiven him. Besides, I won’t have to worry about him anymore.”

Billy asked, “Does he live nearby?”

Lauran shook her head, “Oh no, he’s at least fifty miles away.”

“How did you end up here then?”

“Jerry brought me up here.” Lauran was about to continue to story, and Billy held up his hand.

“Excuse me. I’m afraid I need to get rid of some more beer.”

Lauran gave a slight smile and looked away. Billy got up and felt a bit awkward as he rushed to the tree. His bladder was not in a joking or social mood. As he finished watering the tree he looked around its trunk to look at his beautiful but sad new friend. To his surprise, she had disappeared.  Billy quickly zipped up and rushed back to the campfire.

He looked down and noticed three equally spaced arrows leading out of his campsite. Billy picked up his flashlight and began to walk where the arrows were pointing, but stopped. What if this is a trap?  Billy considered the fact that Jerry could still be with her, but why would they lead him away from his campsite? He was just as vulnerable by the campfire.

Billy grabbed his taclight and hunting knife and left the camp. There were no footprints on the trail. Billy backtracked and walked the perimeter of his temporary shelter, but the only tracks he could find were his own. Intent on solving this mystery he prepared to follow the arrows once more. Billy checked his right pocket to confirm his cellphone was there. Pulling it out he found the signal a solid four bars, just as it had been earlier in the evening.

The trek through the woods was treacherous even with the flashlight. Ruts, roots, and mud made for slippery walking. Fifty yards from his tent something caught his heel and Billy went sprawling into the mud. He picked the taclight off the ground and wiped the dirt away from it. Looking back, Billy instinctively jerked his leg away from the pale human hand sticking stiffly out of the mud. He backpedaled on his hands and feet ten more feet before stopping to catch his breath. Billy reached in and pulled out his phone. He called authorities for help.

Rangers and the state police arrived thirty minutes later. They found Billy leaning up against a tree. He was muddy and pale, but he did not leave the body. A ranger took a shovel and began to expose the corpse slowly. As the mud started to clear strands of bleach blond hair began to stick up in small places out of the mud. Billy watched as the ranger reached down and pulled up a silver heart-shaped locket.

A nearby state policewoman grabbed Billy as his knees buckled.

“Are you going to make it?” she asked.

Billy forced himself to stand up. “Yeah,” he said in a shaky voice. “I think the guy inside that locket killed her. His name is Jerry.”

The ranger walked over, “How do you know?”

Billy pointed towards the body, “That’s what she told me.”

The ranger looked over his shoulder at the corpse and back at Billy. “I doubt it. She’s been dead at least a couple of weeks.”

The policewoman gently took Billy by the shoulder. “Why don’t we get you out of here. I think you’ve been through enough.”

Billy wiggled free of the officer’s grip. “Just promise me you’ll follow-up on that locket.”

“Don’t worry, we’re going to follow every lead.” the officer responded.

Billy nodded, and the two of them started the half a mile trek to the road.