Mystery and Crime Fiction posted July 21, 2013 Chapters:  ...40 41 -42- 43... 

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A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road

Nama Moon

by Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY: The FBI has sent their top profiler to Granite Mountin to assist the local authorities in capturing a serial killer preying on elderly parishioners of St. Matilde's Catholic Church. The FBI's first order of business is to identify and remove a leak in the Sheriff's Department. Detective Skeets Epstien, a member of the Granite Mountain Homicide Division, is on his way to a clandestine meeting with the local television News Anchor, Danika Martin, who revealed publicly she had inside information on the case. 


Detective Epstein parked his Oldsmobile in the shadow of an industrial-sized dumpster. He'd spotted the pearl gray Mercedes near the entrance to McGuffin's, and chose to park at the opposite end of the pub's parking lot. He grabbed a file folder, tucked it away and exited the car.

Two women in a conspiratorial huddle blocked his progress. One of them was a stocky brunette with a spiked hairdo and glass-shattering voice. She flipped the screen of her iPhone and exclaimed with pride, "Here's the little rascal after his first haircut. He shook the whole way home, then peed on the carpet the minute I let him out of his crate..."

Skeets did a quick detour and prayed the women wouldn't see him. The brunette was a pub regular who'd made several clumsy attempts at seduction. He let out his breath once he passed without their notice.

News Anchor Danika Martin's car came into view. She'd parked it on an angle, forcing the cars on either side to give it a wider berth. An otherwise pristine surface was marred by a decal on the rear bumper that read: I'm Being #Followed.

Dammit, I said to keep it low-key, Danika.

Skeets shook his head in disapproval. He wobbled between ditching the reporter or proceeding with his mission. In the end, it was his grumbling stomach that won the toss.

The smell of grilled meat drew him into the pub's murky interior like the gong of a bell. He ignored the bartender's grin and made his way to the last booth. Danika looked over the top of her menu, lifted her wrist to eye level and stared at her watch.

"Twelve minutes less for you to make your pitch, Detective."

Skeets sat facing the kitchen and placed the file folder out of sight. He took a napkin off the table and quickly covered the evidence of his expansive midriff. "I'm sorry you had to wait."

A waitress approached the table, and Skeets glanced up. "I'll be paying for both of us, Patty. Could you bring me a coke with double the ice? By the time you get back, we'll be ready to order."

Danika laid the menu face down on the table. Her lips twisted in contempt. "I normally avoid places like this. I can feel the grease in the air congealing on my skin. Do they have a decent salad, here?"

"Wouldn't know about that, but they have a kick-ass chili. Or is that not your thing, either?"

"Grew up in Texas. I like my chili full of meat and spicy."

"I can attest to the fact it is both."

Patty returned with the coke, took their order and hurried off to take care of a large group anxious to settle their tabs.

Skeets placed his menu with the others in the oval tin that also held condiments and napkin-wrapped flatware. He spread open one of the bundles.

"Have you noticed the trend for restaurants to allow only basic utensils? The only time I get a spoon is when I order soup. What's that all about?"

"You might consider upgrading your restaurant choices, Detective," the reporter quipped. "That isn't a problem in the places I frequent."

"Really? Well, you must write down the names of those places. That way, I can be sure to avoid them."

Their eyes locked. Steel met steel, and Danika broke first. "Let's get down to business, shall we? What have you got for me and what do you want in return?"

"By now you are aware another murder has taken place. What I'd like to know is how you're going to present the situation to the public?"

"And I should share that with you... why?"

"We're willing to keep you in the loop if you'll refrain from reporting certain details."

"I have a responsibility to my public, Detective. This community is at risk due to a perverted serial killer," Danika leaned forward and planted her elbows on the table. "The people at greatest risk are elderly, vulnerable citizens. They watch television news more than the average viewer. I've earned their trust, and I won't let them down."

Patty appeared, and after settling their plates, stepped back and wiped her hands across her apron. She directed a smile at Skeets and asked, "Can I bring you anything else?"

"Another coke when you get a chance, Patty."

"Sure thing." Her smile disappeared when she addressed Danika, "ready for a refill?"

Lifting her water glass in the air, Danika remarked, "Have you got anything besides city water? Perrier or Voss, perhaps?"

"We have seltzer water. Will that do?"

"Forget it, I'll stick with this. Bring me fresh slices of lemon, please. And I don't want the heel of the lemon this time. I want thin slices from the center of the fruit."

"Of course." Danika scrutinized her chili with suspicion, oblivious to the chill in Patty's voice.

"The service is fast; I'll grant you that," Danika remarked. "Well, here goes." She chewed thoughtfully for a full minute and then set down her spoon. "Shoot. That's the best chili I've had in a long time." She looked at Skeets with newfound respect.

"You said WE earlier. Does that mean Sheriff Oleson knows about our little tete-a-tete?"

"Yes, he does. In fact, Derek was the one who discovered you and Officer Newstead had, shall we say, a special arrangement. Said officer has been removed from the Task Force. Your inside source is officially dried up, Ms. Martin."

"Oh dear. You refer to him as Officer Newstead. Sounds like he's been demoted." She dug to the bottom of her soup bowl and shoved its contents around with vigor. "I warned Paul that talking with me might lead to something like that. He wouldn't listen. He claimed the Sheriff had it in for him anyway."

"That's bull crap. Besides, it's not Newstead I'm here to discuss." Skeets placed the manilla folder on the table between them, and rapped his knuckles against it in a syncopated rhythm. "This file's contents are for your eyes only. I'll give it to you on the condition you avoid broadcasting the highlighted sections until our department gives you the green light." Danika's hand shot forward, but Skeets was faster. He whisked the file from sight then picked up his sandwich to enjoy the last few bites.

Danika's anger blew over him in palpable waves, but he showed no interest in anything but devouring his meal. Patty, seeing he was finished, came over and cleared his plate. "Another coke, Detective?" She was all sugar to him, and he knew it was partly an act to irritate the snobby blonde sitting across from him. "No, thanks, Patty. I'll take the check, though."

"Sure thing. Be right back with that." She did a stiff half turn and addressed Danika. "Would you like to take your chili home?"

Danika shoved the bowl aside. "No. Take it away, please."

Patty was barely out of earshot before Danika hissed, "Cut to the chase, Detective."

Skeets opened the file folder and placed it back on the table. An 8X10 photograph of Dresden Stredwick III, lay atop the contents. Danika retrieved reading glasses from her purse,  pulled the file closer and studied it.

"I know this man," she said. "He's an FBI profiler." Danika jerked upright. A predatory gleam enhanced the cool blue of her eyes. "Matthew Buell told me he planned to contact the FBI. Hinted he'd attended college with one of the Bureau chiefs. Looks like he called on an old friend."

"Sheriff Oleson plans to work closely with the FBI. We're grateful for any help they can give us. But we don't totally agree on some aspects of how to approach this case."

"I'm listening, Detective."

"We're following a significant lead. One that has the potential to muddy up the case due to its highly emotional nature."

"Are you referring to the pedophile angle, or the fact that Father Brian is a viable suspect in these murders?"

"Father Brian has solid alibis. The pedophile angle, however, is a promising direction of inquiry at this time."

Patty chose that moment to drop off their change. "See you on burger-and-a-pint night, Skeets?

"Working extra-long hours right now, Patty. I'll be back when things settle down."

Danika's knowing grin irritated him. "You can get that smug look off your face. If we did happen to be doing the dirty together, at least she won't lose her job as a result of it."

"Collateral damage, Detective. My conscience is clear." She pulled her purse onto her lap and removed a compact. Flipping it open, she stared into the mirror. "I need to be at the network station in twenty minutes to prepare for the evening news." She snapped the compact closed and faced forward. "What will it take for me to walk out of here with your file in my purse?"

"Beneath the photo is a preliminary autopsy report on Fritz Buell. We're asking for your assurance the two areas marked with an asterisk are kept concealed for the time being."

Danika scanned the report. She appeared genuinely shocked by what she read. "Gouged out  eyeballs and signs of anal penetration. Does Matthew know about this?"

"He knows about the mutilation but not the rape."

"I see your concern. But don't you think the public should be warned this person is obviously demented and of even greater danger? That's what my editor is going to say, and I'd be inclined to agree with her."

Skeets slid the file out of her reach. "Here's what the press rarely grasps. Panicked citizens add up to guns pulled from boxes hidden in closets and used against imaginary intruders like neighbors checking on them or delivery people. They tend to shoot first and ask later."

"I'll agree to your conditions in exchange for an exclusive interview with Dresden Stredwick and first access to the murderer."

Skeets lifted the file and held it out for her to take. "I can't promise to deliver the profiler, but when we catch the bastard doing these murders, you can pick his brain all you want."

"You have a deal." Danika snatched the file and bowed it in order to fit it into her purse. She slid from the booth to the floor and made ready to leave, but Skeets wasn't finished with her. His leg blocked her exit.

"One last thing, Ms. Martin. If you even hint this case is related to a pedophile priest, our office will alert Bishop McClaren, and your news station will be facing a lawsuit by the Catholic Church for pernicious slander. Further, we will categorically deny knowledge of any of the details in that file if released without our permission."

"I said we had a deal, Detective." She stepped over his leg and bent to whisper in his ear. Her breath was hot against his skin. "Matthew Buell's private investigator has been making friends inside the coroner's office. You've just confirmed information I got three hours ago."


Book of the Month contest entry


Cast of characters:
Fritz Buell: Elderly homicide victim.
Matthew Buell: Fritz's wealthy son.
Detective Skeets Epstein: Homicide detective with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department.
Danika Martin: Television News Anchor
Sheriff Derek Oleson: Granite Mountain's Sheriff
Dresden Stredwick, III: FBI profiler

Doing the dirty: Slant for having sex
Profiler: Specialized criminologist
tete-a-tete: A private conversation between two people.

Sioux term: NAMA (nah-mah) - conceal.

Big thanks to donkeyoatey for use of his superb artwork yet again.
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