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imma argiro

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Mind Duels--Chapter 1
Friday, April 13, 2012  7:02:00 AM

by imma argiro



Mystery/Suspense
We've posted the first chapter our our mystery book, Mind Duels for readers to enjoy,

Chapter 1

 

     A sadistic grin crossed his face as strokes from the fountain pen continued to smear the white canvas.

 

Dear Chief:

Voices in my head that want her dead,

All her troubles have come to an end.

With the light of God her sins will expire,

A knife through her heart will end her desires…

 

     His brow furrowed as he remained pensive, slowly replaying the images in his mind one frame at a time. A sinister look crossed his face, and he felt a deep inner gratification. Satisfied, he then slowly rose from his seat ready to surrender to a good night’s rest.

 

Tic ...Toc…Tic…Toc…Tic…Toc…

 

     Exuding a cool persona, shielded behind his shades, Jack sprinted out of the front door slamming its solidness firmly shut. Still gripping the door’s handle, a strong resonance streamed throughout his entire body. This unwelcome sensation lasted only a split second, before Jack locked the front door and deposited the key into his left pocket.

     Unexpectedly, a chilly fall crept onto the citizens of Somerset, New Jersey. As Jack stepped into the open, he noticed the sun’s rays had already cast shadows, but welcomed its radiating heat beaming down on the back of his neck. He took several deep breaths filling his lungs with the morning’s crisp air. It was a picture perfect day for his morning jog, and Jack had just missed the hustle and bustle of commuters driving to work and children waiting for school buses.

     A black ominous shadow was nearly covered by Jack’s next footstep. Harboring an irreverent presence, its sudden loud mournful cries cranked Jack’s neck high into the sky. It emerged without any warning, something evil, which would prey on the unsuspecting.

     A raven perched itself high on a tree branch leaving him temporarily immobilized by its contemptuous piercing glare. Jack was left gazing helplessly into the bright blue sky trying hopelessly to come to terms with his past. Caught in a daze, he quickly rebuked himself. Jack Trempton continued with his light stretching, pausing briefly to absorb the morning’s beauty before beginning with his lengthy jog. He took immense pride in his physique much like his hey-days in college; Jack’s motto had always been a healthy heart equals a healthy mind.

     Much time had elapsed from his glory days and at thirty eight, he still maintained a youthful appearance. Just eclipsing the six foot mark, Jack stood tall with a muscular build and a well chiseled chest. Jack often broke free from his hectic schedule and set sail during the summer months giving him a healthy tan. Although he often remained unaware, many young women were mesmerized by his good looks and charming personality.

     He felt beads of perspiration forming as he brushed back a mass of black wavy hair which cascaded slightly over his forehead, softening his sharp angular features. Jack’s agility and speed allowed him to speedily capture several streets before reaching the park’s entrance. It was his preferred route, although a couple of other accesses to the park existed. Except for a few of the park’s small inhabitants, the park remained

virtually sound asleep.

     His senses deepened, allured by the beauty of the transitional seasons. The leaves instead of being uniform and unvaried were dressed in beautiful variegated russets and gold tones. Scattered indiscriminately, they covered the park’s surface like a picturesque hand-woven blanket. It was a splendid time of the year to experience such a stunning masterpiece of nature, unequalled in richness by any other season. Jack’s nimble strides propelled him briskly across the terrain. He got a rush hearing the crisp crunching sounds of the lifeless leaves underfoot. Justice didn’t serve well as nature’s twisted irony baffled Jack’s sense of logic and sound reasoning. Leaves had always fascinated him by their ability to transform into more vibrant and colorful tones, whereas roses simply continue to shrivel withering into obscurity.

     Pausing briefly to catch his breath, Jack supported himself against a tree trunk. Tilting his head slightly, a bright smile lit Jack’s face. The squirrels were dancing gracefully from branch to branch without missing a beat. They lived in harmonious cohabitation with a wide variety of bird species whose melodies filled the air with beautiful songs. Although, Jack’s favorite was observing the ducks swimming rhythmically downstream,

while at the same time being enchanted by the sounds of rushing water.

     Jack picked up a little bit of speed before reaching an incline. His heart rate accelerated from this exertion, and he breathed a sigh of relief having reached peak, although this was short lived. Oh no, thought Jack. Renewed anxiety set in upon spotting Sandy approaching like a speeding bullet. A quick flashback of the previous week caused Jack to quickly brace himself, just as Sandy’s paws came thundering up against his chest. Her tail wagged exultantly from side to side.

     “Hey girl, you’re looking bright and cheerful this morning,” exclaimed Jack trying to be a good sport, while continuing to stroke her gingerly behind the ears. Sandy was a friendly tricolored German Shepherd with a lot of spunk and great zeal for life.

     Brad finally caught up to his dog. “Sorry Jack, I hope she hasn’t soiled your shirt. Sandy just becomes terribly excited every time she sees you,” apologized Brad somewhat flushed.

     “Ha -- you mean this old rag,” teased Jack with a light chuckle.

     “I guess with the nice weather, you’ll continue to jog for the next little while,” commented Brad while Sandy sniffed the ground near him.

     “You bet, there’s no better way to begin my day,” conceded Jack.

     “In a few months, it’ll be much more difficult tracking through the park, especially with snow knee-deep.” Brad turned his gaze towards the bottom of the valley.

     “Yeah, but I’m sure Sandy will be up for the challenge,” reassured Jack.

     Out of the corner of his eye he watched his dog’s attention drawn to a dainty brown squirrel, which darted up an elm tree. She stretched her front legs up the tree desperately trying to reach it, while barking non-stop. Jack and Brad laughed bemused by her vain efforts. Brad whistled loudly a few times, but grew increasingly frustrated by her disobedience.

     “Sandy come!” Disappointed, Brad decided to take a firmer stance. He jogged over and tugged at Sandy’s brown leather collar. “Go fetch girl,” Brad tossed the frisbee high into the sky.

     Sandy’s attention reverted back to the flying object spinning dizzily out of control. Particles of dust and grass flew up in the air as Sandy sped off to intercept her target. Her body became air-borne leaving Jack to admire her brilliance in co-ordination. Her launch had been deadly accurate; the swirling frisbee came

to an abrupt halt clenched between Sandy’s jaws. She sped back to her master anticipating another toss.

     “Good girl,” Brad acknowledged petting Sandy’s head. He waved the frisbee high above his head and watched her excitedly bounce up and down, before tossing it to Jack.

     “Wow, she’s impressive. Have you ever considered entering her in a dog show?”

     Jack unleashed all his power into the frisbee sending it soaring towards the clouds. In this instance, out of sight didn’t mean out of mind, Sandy continued in hot pursuit. She sprung forward, reaching full speed after only a few strides.

     “Actually, I entered her in a local show two months ago and she finished first,” Brad beamed radiantly. Brad was a much smaller man in both height and stature. In his mid-forties, he sported a moustache and a thinning hair line.

     The bright frisbee lay stark on the pale sand, just shy of the meandering river. It lay immediately in front of Sandy just begging to be sent soaring back into flight. Oddly enough, Sandy acted indifferently, apparently distracted by some unknown force. She repeatedly circled around it, but dared not

touch it.

     Jack glanced at his Swiss watch, and was surprised by his tardiness, “Well, I should be heading home.”

     “Take care, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Brad admired Jack’s speed.

     Jack be swift; Jack be quick, thought Jack as he tracked back.

     Brad looked around, but oddly enough his dog had vanished much like the flying frisbee. His heart sank. “Sandy, Sandy!” shouted Brad at the top of his lungs. He immediately rushed towards the hill, instinctively fearing something was amiss.

     Sandy remained in a fixed stance behaving rather uneasy; her back legs trembled uncontrollably. She sniffed the air aggressively while continuously twitching her nose. Brad held a confused look. Oddly, Sandy remained motionless adjacent to the river bed. Without any warning, she became riled and began

barking aggressively, leaving Brad totally perplexed. “Let’s go!” he commanded sternly wondering what the hell she was barking at. But before he could even flinch, Sandy began to dig furiously. Brad immediately took cover and stepped backwards as a sand storm ensued. “Hey, cut that out!” It was very disturbing, not to mention disheartening observing his dog’s erratic behavior. Within seconds she managed to unearth a

mound of dirt. Brad made the mistake of trying to pull her away.

     “Errr…” A flash of a full set of teeth jolted him back.

     “Easy girl,” Brad shielded himself wondering if his dog had gone completely mad. He cautiously backtracked towards the river feeling quite anxious. Inadvertently, he strode too close to the river bed and suddenly felt his feet sinking into the wet sand. “Whoa,” Brad quickly steadied himself nearly taking a

plunge.

     The softness of the ground made it much trickier to regain control, and during early spring this feat would have been unimaginable, not to mention treacherous. The river-bank swelled into a raging torrent and one could easily be swept underneath the powerful current.

 

     Jack reached for the water dispenser to pour himself a tall glass of ice-cold water. He chugged it down quickly. “Ahhh,” sighed Jack. It felt refreshing flowing down his overheated body and he then waved the glass across his forehead appreciating its coldness. Satisfied, he placed the glass on the Venetian granite countertop.

     He rewound his answering machine and was surprised to see there were no new messages. Jack wondered if John was still planning to join him for dinner.

     It was evident that Jack took pride in decorating his home. The theme of gold and brown tones carried into the living room. The room was bright and lively as the morning sunshine flooded through a large bay window. He turned on the high definition TV while enjoying his morning fix. It was hooked up to the state of the art surround sound system creating a dynamic 3-dimensional effect. The total impact was so inspiring that it

cast Jack into a fantasy dream-like state. Many mornings, he found himself dozed off on his favorite buttery soft brown leather recliner. After listening to the morning news, Jack sprung from his seat and stepped into the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

     Even though Jack had a hectic schedule, he still managed to find some downtime. He recalled one day in particular. A large crowd was poised in front of the pet store, and Jack’s curiosity lured him in that direction. Now in the thick of the crowd, he observed her attracting a lot of attention. She constantly repeated ‘good mornin’’ to all the passer-bys, immediately captivating Jack’s heart. Being a bachelor, he was determined

on gaining a friend. He received a crash course on her diet, and gladly left with a new friend. The six foot enclosure was placed next to the bay window giving his friend a panoramic view. Feeling a touch guilty seeing her enclosed in a steel cage, Jack relieved his conscience by letting her fly freely while at home.

     Clothed in a dazzling display of beautiful bright colors, Tara was predominantly green, with a sunshine yellow head, and had a dab of red splashed on both wings. After only a couple of months, she became really fond of Jack. She unmistakably recognized the sounds of Jack’s footsteps upon his arrival. They were unique, much like a set of fingerprints.

     Perched smartly on the Manzanite wood next to her latch, Tara anticipated liberation. Upon seeing him, she would shrill Jack swift; Jack quick. Jack’s laughter echoed emphatically upon hearing his darling little friend. She thrived on their friendship and all the affection thrown her way, and became increasingly jealous during the presence of visitors. Cautiously, Tara would smartly perch herself on his shoulder keeping everyone at bay, but while alone she felt less threatened and would settle herself on the top of a chair opposite him.

     Jack finished his breakfast and headed upstairs. Although a little shocking at first, a cold shower felt really invigorating, giving him a much needed boost for the day.

     As he stepped outside, Jack didn’t notice its ominous shadow. Overhead, it silently kept watch. He slid into the driver’s seat of his sporty 2006 BMW convertible, and cruised along Maple Avenue. Driving mostly on local streets, he rarely experienced the thrill of greater speeds possible only on highways. It was a short pleasant drive to work with surrounding areas still remaining untouched. The area was marked by gently rolling hills covered in thick luscious grass. Rock gardens and flower beds provided interesting highlight

points, while spruce and maple trees accentuated the landscape. Jack never grew tired of this route, since it was not only the shortest but also the most breath-taking. The morning traffic was congested more than usual. Jack continued to travel east on Bramgate Drive, then steered smoothly, handling a sharp right turn on Mount Pleasant Lane, leading him into Fernheight’s Security Depot.

     “Good mornin’ sir -- may I please see your security pass?” asked the spectacled patrol officer in a heavy southern drawl. “Thank you Mr. Trempton and would you please place your hand up to ---” Jack’s hand was already against the digital scanner confirming his identity. “Thank you sir,” responded David embarrassed.

     Jack drove through the open gate and parked in his reserved space.

 

     Brad was still gasping for air as he stared at Sandy in disbelief. “What the hell has gotten into you?” he cursed.

     Trembling, covered in wet sand, Sandy slowly crawled back and let forth a succession of yowls. Suddenly, Brad turned around with a look of dismay, “Jesus Christ! What …” Slowly, but surely, everything was beginning to make sense. It still remained indiscernible, obscured by much sand. He tried to take a closer look, but the stench was unbearable. Brad nearly gagged. Hurriedly, he backed away. Glancing over to his left,

Sandy looked very apprehensive. She whimpered while remaining crouched over in a low stance. “It’s okay girl, it’s okay,” he petted her gently trying to calm her down.

     Brad frantically reached into his pocket barely controlling his trembling hand as he dialed 911. “Damn static, just my bloody luck.” Unable to connect, he once again fumbled with the keypad. “Come on, come on. Unbelievable -- why is this happening?” He desperately raced uphill to reach higher ground.

     “He-hello,” Brad’s nervousness was clearly evident. The words stuttered from his nerve rattled jaws.

     “Hello -- sir, please calm down. What’s wrong?” the voice at the other end keenly sensed his distress.

     “There’s something … there seems to be … well I just happened …,” his incoherent rambling continued unabated until a firm voice interrupted him at the other end.

     “Is someone in trouble?” the dispatcher awaited a reply, but was just left hanging in suspended animation.      “Is someone in trouble?” she repeated hoping to prompt a timely response. She was beginning to lose her patience. Finally after a lengthy wait, Brad’s voice eclipsed the line’s static.

     “No, my dog started acting crazy. Then she went totally berserk,” muttered Brad.

     “Did she attack someone?” her voice sounded shaky.

     “No, Sandy would never hurt anyone,” the inflection in his voice emphasized this point.

     “Please sir, take a moment and relax,” she suggested.

     Brad remained jittery, and barely managed to whisper. “There’s a corpse at Stetson Highland Park by the riverbed.”

     “I’m dispatching the police immediately. In the meantime, please try to remain calm. I’ll remain on the line with you,” she reassured. The conversation was mostly one-sided, since Brad was too distressed to say much of anything, and instead paced about nervously.

     Shortly afterwards, and much to his relief he could hear the wailing sirens approaching closer and closer. Brad saw four uniformed officers standing on the hill-top. They soon spotted him. Two of the officers quickly descended the hill encircling the partially unearthed figure. But they were careful not to approach too closely, fearing they could destroy vital evidence. Brad finished his phone conversation as the other two officers

headed towards him.

     “Are you Brad?” a burly officer asked in a husky tone while pulling out a pad of paper from his back pocket.

     “Yes,” responded Brad rather timidly, already feeling drained.

     “Can I see some ID? ”The younger officer wearing shades seemed rather anxious to unravel the mystery cut in,

      “Please tell us what happened?”

     “We were tossing the frisbee.”

     The older officer scouted the area, “Sorry, but is there someone else?”

      “I usually bump into Jack while exercising my dog. She’s quite fond of him, and was enjoying retrieving the frisbee. But he left before she began acting strangely,” explained Brad.

     “Do you come to the park often?” the older officer continued to probe.

     “Yes, it gives my dog a chance to keep fit,” Brad was overwhelmed by the whole situation.

     “Well, she has certainly gotten her exercise today. Have you noticed anything unusual lately?” The officer detected a strained look on Brad’s face.

     “No. I usually come early morning around eight, while the park is still fairly quiet,” explained Brad.

     “Do you usually come alone?” there seemed to be no end to his voracious appetite for answers.

     An eerie feeling that he was a potential suspect was setting in. “Not always. Sometimes, my wife joins me for a morning stroll. We live just a couple of blocks from here,” indicated Brad. The officer continued to ask Brad numerous questions, before handing back his ID.

     “You are free to go now, but we may need to contact you later.”

     “No problem,” Brad made off quickly still overwhelmed by the whole situation.

     The other officers were to section off the area with yellow tape. Brad heard one of them stating that the park would be closed pending an investigation. Just a few feet away another officer was busy calling the coroner’s office. A special team would be assigned to the murder investigation.

     “For the last time stand back,” an exasperated officer pleaded with onlookers. The crowd was eventually ordered to leave the park.

    

     Jack walked through Fernheights’s corridor, his clean shaven reflection shot back at him from the granite floor. The lobby was spacious with light streaming through the domed glass ceiling. He admired the cascading motion from the twin waterfalls.

     He pushed the button and rode the elevator to the third floor. The delightful aroma of fresh coffee saturated the air as Jack stepped into his suite.

     “Good morning Samantha,” greeted Jack.

     “Good morning Jack, I’ve just prepared some fresh coffee.” She gazed into his dazzling emerald eyes.

     “Thanks.” Samantha was a real beauty; she had the ability to make men’s hearts beat just a little quicker. Jack’s mind was often distracted by her presence. He really wanted to get to know her better, but thought it best not to mix business with pleasure.

      Samantha had been the receptionist at Fernheights for over three years landing her job not only for her talents, but also for her warm personality. She was looking forward to dancing at her favorite local night-club, La Cabana, later that evening.

     “Good morning, Samantha,” acknowledged Yvonne.

     “Good morning,” responded Samantha.

     “Did you retrieve the files I requested?” Yvonne asked while walking towards her desk.

     “Yes, they’re on your desk,” Samantha snubbed her nose as Yvonne walked away. There goes Miss Prissy, never even bothered to ask how my weekend was or how I was doing ,thought Samantha. Samantha was bored from the same routine. Lately, she had other career aspirations in mind, and the title of Office Manager had a much nicer ring. Soon I plan to stand in your shoes, Samantha smiled slyly. As Office Manager, Yvonne Wright hadn’t a clue her job was being coveted, nor was she aware of Samantha’s true feelings.

    Jack settled back in his leather recliner enjoying the soft music playing in the background. He flicked on his computer and a high pitched voice prompted him which files needed to be retrieved. His computer was connected to a giant wall-size screen impressing clients with visual presentations. As Marketing Director, conferences were often conducted in his office.

     As Jack’s eyes remained glued to the flat screen, Scott Matheson, the Executive Director at Fernheights, walked into his office. In his late fifties, tall, rugged looking, and topped off with a husky build, Scott could be quite intimidating.

     “Good morning Jack, how was your weekend?” asked Scott, startling Jack.

     “Good morning, my weekend was blasé,” Jack confessed. “Luckily, it gave me the opportunity to nearly wrap up Tormac’s file.”

     “Well, I’ve just reviewed it and your ideas are exceptional. Would you be able to finalize everything today and drop it by my office later?” there was a trace of urgency in his voice.

     “Sure, I just need to make some minor revisions,” responded Jack confidently.

     Over the last couple of months, Jack poured his heart and soul into the project. Drawing his ideas on paper was not within Jack’s realm. He counted on Henri Levine, a graphic artist to capture his ideas on paper. Over the years, they had become good friends. Jack had introduced Yvonne to Henri, and they had hit it off from day one.

    Scott was about to make a call when Jack knocked on his door. “Please come in,” invited Scott.

     “Here you go,” Jack handed him the file.

     The mall was being transformed from a mid range to a high end market. “The skylights will certainly brighten things considerably,” noted Scott.

      “New prominent retailers have already jumped on board,” Jack stated enthusiastically.

     Scott’s euphoria was in full display. “Very well done, well done indeed,” commended his boss.

 

     A police officer kept watch at the top of the hill. He escorted the forensic team to the body, which now lay partially exposed at the bottom of the valley near the river.

     Tim pulled out his Nikon and snapped some shots of the crime scene. Careful not to destroy any vital evidence, each of Tim’s steps were carefully calculated. He noted the dog’s imprints all over the sand.

     “Too bad they’re not human prints, or we might have a good lead to go on,” Tim said mordantly.

     Anne shot him back a quick glance. “I don’t think it’s going to be that easy,” she scoffed.

     Tim was a seasoned veteran who left nothing to chance, but analyzed everything in minute detail. He couldn’t help but wonder if the dog had destroyed any clues, while at the same time realizing that if it wasn’t for Sandy the body would still be buried deep beneath the sand. Time was an important factor, and with each passing moment crucial evidence would be lost forever.

     Tim paused momentarily noting the unusual positioning of the head; the victim’s head lay perpendicular to the running water. He frowned while pondering this for a brief moment. “Did you guys notice something odd?” he quizzed.

     “Like what?” Anne looked puzzled.

     “Look how the body has been positioned.” Anne and Mike stared dumbfounded.

     “I’m not sure I follow,” Mike cut in.

     “Perhaps, the water spilling over the head is symbolic to that of a religious ceremony,” Tim conjectured.

      “Oh,” Anne paused. “I never even thought about that, but you might be onto something,” she reasoned.

     Tim continued shooting photographs while Anne and Mike hauled a dozen different tools and set them down on the sand. They fervently swiped their nets over the corpse to collect insects. Different insect colonization and larvae would provide the team with vital clues. It would help determine whether the

body had been transported after death, and how long she’d been dead.

     Mike raised the glass and examined the contents; he was quite knowledgeable about insects and confidently identified them as skuttle flies. With careful strides, they closed in from different angles trying to determine how to unearth the corpse without disturbing it. Experience told them they would remain at the crime scene for at least several hours. It was now just shortly after 1:00.

     Anne held the trowel-like tool trying to unearth some of the sand away from the face. She placed a sample into a tube to be brought for testing. The body had been wrapped in a cloth, which was quickly deteriorating. Dropping the trowel back into a pail, she reached for a soft nylon brush and gently brushed the

sand away from the forehead. Clusters of hair covered the face, although the sand made it difficult to decipher the victim’s hair color. Anne noted the bloated greenish color of the victim’s face indicative that the victim had been buried recently.

     Right next to her, Mike quietly toiled with knees already buried in sand. “I think I’ve found something,” he announced excitedly. Anne stopped in her tracks.

     “Yeah, she’s holding something, but it’s hard to tell with all this dirt.” Tim squinted unable to make out the object.

     “Here use this brush, we don’t want anything destroyed,” offered Anne. With steady hands, Mike diligently brushed for what seemed like eternity.

     Three sets of eyes stared with equal intensity. “Gees, that almost looks like some sort of twig,” Anne surmised.

     After several more careful strokes, it stood in plain view. What once had been a bright lively red rose was now shriveled into a brownish–wine color.

     Momentarily, they all remained pensive, before a bewildered expression took hold of them. Mike was simply revolted, “One thing is for damn sure; whoever we’re dealing with is one deranged whacko.” He couldn’t understand how someone could take another person’s life and then have the audacity to leave a love object behind. Anne could not help but notice Mike’s exasperated expression.

     “I can’t put aside this nagging feeling that this is just the beginning. If he’s psychotic, there’ll be more brutal slayings,” forewarned Tim. “We’ll need to handle it carefully,” he advised.

     “Use these tweezers,” suggested Anne. Carefully, Mike lifted the rose and placed it into a cardboard box.

     “Jesus Christ!” yelled Tim clearly frustrated, he bolted up and flung his arms in the air. A grimaced expression enhanced his weathered face revealing his apparent disgust.

     Anne and Mike studied the opening. With the opposite end of the tweezers, Mike gently lifted the seared blouse. The incision measured over two inches.

     “Is the killer trying to make a point, or was he simply enraged?” Tim looked puzzled.

     “Maybe both,” Mike’s mind drifted weighing different scenarios.

     The skies seemed to shift; overcast replaced the blue horizon.

     “The forecast is calling for rain later this afternoon. We need to move quickly,” Mike interjected.

     In unison, they moved back to the corpse. Miraculously, the body remained in a relatively preserved state. Judging by the fact the body was still quite discernible, it must have been buried fairly recently. The decomposition process had been significantly reduced by the very dry summer, leaving the body

fairly intact.

     Her hands were clasped together. Anne took over Tim’s previous position. She gently feathered away traces of debris around the fingers. An odd mystified feeling swept throughout her. She could not explain it, but somehow instinctively knew they would uncover something. Her hands were in full display,

and they waited until Tim snapped more close-up photos. Anne carefully lifted the victim’s left hand. An ivory rosary dangled from the corpse’s clutched fingers. Her intuition proved correct. Weird, thought Anne, how the hell did I pick that up?

     All three of them were baffled by this latest discovery and hadn’t even noticed the officer descending the steep hill. The maggots had been thriving on her flesh nearly reducing her hands to mere bones. As grains of sand fell off, sparkles of bright colors beamed from her diamond ring. It was impossible to miss the nails; they had grown long, curly, and pointed. They were intertwined around the rosary clutching it tightly. As

Anne fumbled to unravel the rosary it accidentally caught onto one of the victim’s finger nails. Anne cringed. “Damn unbelievable!” Feeling guilty, she cursed loudly. “Crap – the entire nail has just snapped off.”

     “Umm, place it in here and we’ll place the ring in this other plastic bag,” Mike held open a plastic bag.

     “It looks like you guys could sure use a break,” stated the officer. “I’m going for coffee. What can I get you guys?”

     Mike and Tim turned to Anne. “A coffee with cream, please.”

     “Cream, double sugar for me,” answered Mike.

     “Black coffee for me and a chocolate donut,” Tim said half laughing. “Well if anyone cares for the perfect recipe for a pot belly, it’s the following: one pot belly equals two too many donuts,” Tim joked, lightening the mood.

     “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the officer stated.

     A few drops of rain fell and they tried to unearth the remaining dirt as quickly as possible. The face could still be discerned, although it had decomposed slightly leaving darkened sockets. The body was clothed in full length sleeves and ankle length pants concealing any other markings or disfigurements. Mike wondered if she was fully intact. Two feet of sand had already been removed around the perimeter of the body, exposing considerable moisture close to the earth’s base. This was natural due to the close proximity to the river.

     With all their combined experience none of them had seen anything quite like this before. The murderer not only made a point of marking his victim, but sure went through a lot of trouble burying her. Why not just dump her body? Perhaps, it was some sort of sacred ritual? It was still early in the investigation, and for now there were far too many questions and no answers.

     The officer returned with their coffees, and one donut.

     They removed their gloves and masks. Anne felt the strain in her legs; it was strenuous tucking her six foot frame for so long. “Damn, I think I have a kink in my leg,” she complained momentarily losing her balance.

     “This donut is mouth watering,” hints of chocolate glaze were smeared around Tim’s mouth. A smirk flashed across his partners’ faces.

     Thunder erupted from the ominous skies. Moments later, a lightning bolt shot perilously close to them.

     “It’s going to start pouring any minute,” Mike frantically stated the obvious. “There’s not enough time to retrieve the body,” Anne panicked.

     “Damn! We have no choice, but to cover her up again,” just the thought disturbed Tim.

     “We better hurry up,” Anne added. They partially refilled the shallow grave; the rain intensified. Pressed for time, they laid a tarp over the burial area. It began pouring.

     They made a quick break for the hill. Rain pelted down against their fatigued bodies. It was difficult for them to breathe against the heavy rainfall, suffocating the air supply from within them. An officer tried offering them umbrellas, but the gale winds created havoc with them. The incline was slick and treacherous causing them to slide, but some force guided them safely to the hill’s peak. Another greater peril was now in their midst, and ultimately fate would play out its hand. Their lives were in real jeopardy and the enemy literally unstoppable. They could only run as there was nowhere to hide. Haphazardly, they navigated their way blindly relying mostly on instinct. The sky became brightly illuminated by a multitude of lightning flashes, followed by deafening bolts of thunder. Fearing the worst, they quickened their pace hoping to avert a possible tragedy. They had lost sight of one another, but no one dared to look back. A dark eerie silence followed.

 

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