A Bucket of Teamwork

MillieAnne Lowe:

An Exceptional Story to Share!

Originally posted on Storyshucker:

Several summers ago for work, I attended a week-long team-building conference held on a college campus. Attendees were divided into groups of five and members of each group were to collaborate on various projects for the duration of the conference. Small assignments began on day one and we were informed that the conference would culminate with a day-long special teamwork exercise. On the last day of the conference a project unique to each group would be assigned and required to be accomplished by day’s end.

“To demonstrate how your group has become a solid team.” the instructor explained with an evil grin.

Groans echoed through the classroom. My group’s leader was the most vocal.

None of the five in my group had met before the conference. In fact, we each came from a different state and attended the conference for various reasons. My group leader made it clear that he…

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The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 33

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

“Your girlfriend, she’s a beaut, eh?” asked the cab driver.

“That’s right. All 5’2″, with blonde curls, and eyes of blue,” boasted Steele.

“Well, any guy with a beautiful girl waiting for him is a lucky guy,” said the cabbie as he unknowingly drove the Serial Killer from his latest murder scene.

“You got it right. Today, my luck is definitely tops,” Steele said as his eyes combed through the people strolling by. The cab picked up speed as they moved through the mixed neighborhood of residences and shops. Through the back window of the cab, he spotted a blond hair young man who looked quite like himself. A petite blonde with bouncing blonde curls had her arm in his as they laughed and jay walked across the street. That’s what Marilyn and I would look like if…

His thoughts and the cab came to a halt when the cabbie yelled, “Holy Crap!” The cab driver jammed on his brakes and the car screeched to a halt, but not before hitting an old man in a dark overcoat. Steele saw the surprised look on the old man’s face and heard the thump when the cab hit him on the left side.

“Where the hell did this guy come from?” yelled the cabbie as he jumped out and ran to the front of his car. People who had been window-shopping or dining in the nearby restaurants and bars, came running out to see what had happened.

“Is the old man still alive?” someone asked.

“Let’s hope so. He looks pretty old,” someone in the midst of the gathering crowd said. “He went down quick though, I saw the cab hit him.”

Still seated in the back of the cab, Steele heard several people yell, “Call for an ambulance.”  Two young Chinese boys ran past Steele’s window toward the phone booth in front of the Victoria Station restaurant. They fought each other for the small space in the red wood framed telephone booth which was a replica of the one in London. He continued watching the people of various nationalities coming out of buildings, shops, and restaurants to see what happened. They were like ants drawn to honey. Then, with a start, he realized that the old man looked like Alicia’s grandfather at the barn on the night of the hurricanes. Shivers moved up Steele’s arms and then he broke himself away from the memory.

Residents in the neighborhood stuck their heads out their windows. The cab driver stood along with the others who made a ring around the man who lay still on the ground. “This isn’t a hit and run, Man. But where are the cops?” complained a short man with a thick beard and no hair on his head. Steele noticed that this guy favored turtle-neck shirts as well.

Right at that moment, Steele thought he saw the old man move his arms, “Hey, look!” a young female voice in the crowd said, “The ole guy is alive.” The crowd shifted and people moved closer for a better look. Some other person now, in a dark suit, seemed to be examining and talking to the crumpled figure.

Steele slid out of the taxicab unnoticed. Time for another quick departure. He pulled the knitted cap down over his ears just as the 30 Stockton bus pulled up to its spot. A few quick steps brought him in line with the others waiting to board the bus.

On the landing next to the bus driver, Steele dropped his coins in and turned to the back of the bus. A hand tapped his arm. “Just a moment, Sir. You need a dime to go with that nickel. Not a penny.”

“Sorry, man, guess my mind wandered elsewhere.” Steele’s fingers slid by his switchblade as he scrounged in his right pocket for a dime.”Here you go,” and he watched the thin shiny silver coin clink back and forth down the chute to join his nickel.

In the dim lighting of the bus, Steele melded with the other late night travelers. The front and back doors of the bus hissed as they closed and the bus continued on its route. Steele sat down next to a dusty and rain streaked window where he caught a broken image of himself. The simplest disguises make the best ones. His gaze shifted to the other passengers on board. Three Chinese women chatted away in their native language. One of them sat on the end of a long bench seat, and the other two sat together at a right angle of her. All three of them wore floral headscarves. Steele knew they had seen him coming down the aisle but now, they paid no attention to his presence.

An old stubbled face drunk sputtered spit and obscene words as his head bounced against his chest on the bumpy ride. His black threadbare jacket showed stains that never received a proper washing. A black woman sat down behind him and quickly realized her mistake. She held her hand over her mouth and pinched her nose. Then she gagged at the reek of old vomit and stale alcohol that permeated the air around them.

Lady, move to another seat. Steele watched her as her eyes shifted from one passenger to another. When her eyes landed on him, Steele faked a coughing fit, hoping to distract her from remembering his face, and his tactic seemed to work. The woman looked away and stared out her window. Steele watched her fidget in her seat, scrutinizing every street sign.

As soon as Steele saw the sign for Clay Street, he knew Sacramento Street was next. He pulled on the thin rope above the window to signal the driver for the next stop. The black woman had a transfer ticket in her hand, and she did the same. Several more buzzes went off. Both Chinese women who sat side by side pulled on the cord several times. “Get up now, Mae. Or we will leave you behind. Then you will not be in Chinatown anymore. You will end up in Union Square. Come on, get up! No, no, Macy’s is not open now, Mae. Hurry up,” her friends urged.

When Steele got off the bus, he turned left and headed toward the stairs leading to the top side of the tunnel. He pulled the short collar of his jacket higher and realized he missed his navy blue neck scarf. He pulled the fabric of his turtleneck up and hunched over. He knew that in this Chinese residential area, a Caucasian spotted in their neighborhood, would be suspect. Steele turned his head a bit to the left and caught sight of the black woman waiting at another corner to board the 55 Sacramento bus.

Turning left on the landing, he caught the scent of stale urine and he thought of the dirty drunk on the bus. The driver should have kicked the bum off right away. A few more steps brought him out and over to the top center of the Stockton Street tunnel. Leaning over the thick white arched edge of the tunnel, he saw how the buses trailed its trolleys for power. A few cars sped up to roar through the tunnel. When they had passed, the quiet returned and the cool air brought a soothing sense of calm.

A short hike over a deep-scored sidewalk and Steele had made it to Bush Street. He turned right, walked a few yards, then paused in the door well of a specialty shop for women. He knew from previous signs in the discreet window display, that they sold made-to-order undergarments for women with disabilities.

Steele’s eyes searched up and down the street and the tension in his body increased… I’m one block away from the Murder Building. The City might use that nickname on a street map someday. Great for the tourist industry. Nice honor for me. That’s my biggest murder site.

In contrast to the congestion on the streets this morning, the corner of Bush and Powell looked like a different place. No uniformed cops were in sight as he moved on the right side of the street. He stayed close to the windows and hid in the dark door wells.

Across from the Murder Building and his own apartment building next door, a few reporters stood in front of the grocery store. He could hear them arguing and speculating about the capture of the Serial Killer. Their voices echoed up and down the quiet streets. Steele saw a few curtains drop close as he looked up. Scared. The people here are all scared. They should be, I am dangerous.

No one seemed to notice Steele cross the street, slip his key into the front door of his building and disappear from the lobby. Maybe even the cops are too afraid to run across the Serial Killer. Maybe they rather someone else is killed than to have to confront me.

On the second floor, his next-door neighbor shuffled toward him. He carried an empty wastebasket in his arms. His slippered feet made a flopping sound on the carpeted floor. “Finally,” the old man wearing spectacles said, “The garbage chute is unstuck!” He nodded to Steele before he pushed open his door and said, “Good-night, young one.” Steele had smiled back and nodded at the old man before closing his door as well. It’s no wonder why they can’t catch me, everyone trusts me. Hey you, out there, I’m right next door to where I slit little Sweetie Pie’s neck.

The building had a flip-flop layout of the building next door where he and some other of Stetson’s men had destroyed the girls’ apartment. Steele recalled how easy it was for him to give instructions to the men helping him. He knew exactly which way to direct them.

Steele looked at his kitchen clock. It read 11:15. It is getting late, but that works for me. He took off the knitted cap and trashed it. He used a wooden hanger and held up his leather jacket under a bare light bulb. He checked it for bloodstains. Using a dampened kitchen towel, he scrubbed out some suspicious looking stains. After a few minutes, he turned the jacket over a couple of times under the light bulb again then deemed it clean of any potential evidence. Steele stripped and tossed everything else he wore into a brown paper bag and stepped into his shower. I’ll be especially clean for you, Marilyn. Are you in your nightclothes yet?

When he finished with his shower, he admired himself in the bureau mirror. I’m going to surprise you, Marilyn. And I’m going to love you until you’re out of your mind.

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 32

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

The music of laughter, toasts, and clinking glasses floated out the open windows of Alioto’s upstairs dining room. Mario Barla, the manager of the world renown seafood restaurant, stood in a dark corner of the room observing his well dressed guests, seated at candle lit tables. One of Mario’s great pleasures is to be credited for the excellent service offered his guests, and so each evening, he also watches with the vastness of an eagle’s eye, his staff as they wait on their patrons. The first unusual event of the evening had been the quick departure of the guests from the center table. The group that he suspected to be FBI Agents had order aperitifs. All seemed well as they enjoyed their drinks until a quick moving rumor floating from newcomers coming up the stairs reached their ears. The person Mario deemed the lead agent had used the slightest nod and a slight flick of his index finger to signal his men to leave. According to a code, the team retrieved their overcoats and left by the same stairs they had used earlier. The last of the group to leave tucked three twenty dollar bills under his drink, and left without comment to anyone.

“Mister Barla. What’s going on?” asked a young waiter. “They just got here. Their drinks have hardly been touched.”

The impeccably dressed manager in a black silk suit and bow tie pulled the waiter aside and whispered.”Stephen, in this business you need to have a sharp eye and tight lips. Capisce? Something terrible has happened up by the turntable and your guests departed because of it. I suspect that they were all FBI Agents.”

“How could you tell?” asked Stephen in the same quiet tone of voice.

“Listen to me. You need experienced eyes like mine. I know where to look.” He patted the young waiter on the side of his arm and said, “Start looking at things without being seen. You can learn a lot when you know what to look for.” Mario tilted his head upwards with the air of the more intelligent class. He added, “There is much you can learn if you know how. For an example, a quick sliding look across the front side of a gentleman’s coat while he is unbuttoning it might reveal a slight bulge, and the constant lift under the arm might be hiding a holstered gun. I practiced this technique when I waited on guests as you do now. Someday, you will have experienced eyes, too,” he added with a smile. “Now go. Clear that empty table and take the money to the cashier. You can keep the change for your tip.”

Mario watched the smiling young server head for the cashier’s desk. To his own delight he saw the movements of Stephen’s shifting eyes travel from guests to guest, scrutinizing men in sport coats and jackets. Stephen had put to practice what he had just been taught. Mario chuckled to himself, Soon this young man will be trying to solve crimes.

 

FBI Agent Robert Parker and his team traveled back to the cable car turntable saying no more than, “Excuse me, please,” as they slid through groups of people going in the opposite direction. Their authoritative voices captured the attention of those on the lookout for trouble. “Don’t they look like the FBI? Did you see their matching overcoats and ties?” said a tourist.

Parker and two other agents, Sanders and Bronson, approached the crowd hovering around the turntable. They badged their way up to a small group of men hovering low to the ground by the cement planter near the path to Fisherman’s Wharf. Presenting their badges to the people pushing against them for a look at the victim, they asserted themselves, “FBI, stand back.”

The cable car engineers nodded to each other when one of them read a walleted identification and badge. They stepped aside and relinquished their positions to the agents who looked like men of strength and had the firm voices of authority. “I’m glad you’re here, man. What do you want us to do next?”

 

Agent Parker squatted down next to Jake who still had his hand over the victim’s bloody neck. “Who found this man?” asked Agent Parker.

“I spotted him,” said Jake. “I thought he was a drunk who had passed out.”

Behind them came loud voices ordering people to stand back. Detective Vincent Fontino, and his two top men, Detectives Marino and Scully, along with more police had arrived. They barged their way through to where Agent Parker tried to study the lethal wounds inflicted on the yet unidentified man.

Fontino squatted down next to Parker. He identified himself, “I’m Detective Vincent Fontino, SFPD, who are you, sir?”

I am Special Agent Robert Parker, FBI out of New York. My team and I were in the area when we heard the rumor of a death here.

Fontino nodded his head in affirmation, leaned closer for a look at the victim and pursed his lips. “Who discovered the body?”

Jake answered, “I did. I am Jake Henderson, the conductor for the cable car standing behind us. In my last check before pulling out, I thought I spotted a drunk passed out over here. I tapped him on the shoulder and rolled him over. That’s when I saw all this blood.”

In the background, police officers raised their voices, telling the crowd, “Move back even further.”

“This poor man tried to say something before he died in my arms,” said Jake. “I leaned close to his face but I couldn’t figure out what he tried to say.”

“What did it sound like?” asked Fontino as he eyed his men and signaled with his arm for more quiet.

“It sound like he said, “Save…arilyn. Save somebody… I couldn’t make out the name..and then he died right here in my arms. I couldn’t do anything to help him…” Jake’s voice trailed off.  Fontino saw Jake shudder as he recalled that moment of death.

The 5′ 6″ handsome but overweight detective, in charge of investigation of all the recent murders in the great city of San Francisco, took in a deep breath and let it out. His mind searched for the right words to comfort this caring old man. Fontino shook his head in acknowledgement of the sadness Jake expressed. In the small amount of lighting from the lamppost, he could see that the conductor still held the dead man’s body as if protecting him somehow. Tears glistened down Jake’s aged lined face, spurring Fontino’s thoughts to the many tearful faces of the grieving survivors he had encounter in the last few weeks. The burning anger inside him grew and he felt his temper about to explode.

Agent Parker pushed on his knees to a standing position and offered Fontino a hand to get up. “I had planned to come see you tomorrow. My men and I are working on a case that led us here from New York.”

“Excuse me. Excuse me.” The urgency in the voice of the man trying to push through officials caught their attention.

“Who are you and what’s your business?” demanded Detective Scully.

“I am the owner of the restaurant across the street – the Buena Vista Cafe. My name is Allen Aherne.”

Agent Parker spoke up. “Let this man through. I know him.”

“How’s that?” asked Fontino.

“I remember him,” said Parker to Fontino. Then he turned to cafe owner. “Mr. Aherne. I’m FBI Agent Robert Parker. I had dinner at your place tonight.”

“I think I can identify your dead guy there,” Allen said as he pointed toward the body in Jake’s arm.

“I think we both know who it is,” said Parker.

As Allen moved forward, Parker brought out his left arm to block him. Fontino tried to pull Allen back. But both men were not quick enough. The horror that spread across Allen’s face confirmed his recognition.

“Oh, my God. I was afraid… I prayed it would not be him. It is Jim Stetson. I’ve known him for years. He is a police officer for the SFPD.”

“What makes you so sure this is him,” tested Fontino.

“His face and neck… it’s a mess, but I know those clothes and his haircut.” Allen choked, “We go to the same barber.” Allen turned his head away. An FBI Agent offered an arm, and the sobbing owner of one of the city’s great landmarks grabbed onto it as he crumbled at the knees.

“It seems all three of us know this man,” said Fontino. “Let’s not say any more until we get him down to the morgue.”Mr. Aherne, please do not share with anyone that you can identify the victim. We have to keep the information confidential. This is a murder investigation. Do you understand what I just said?”

“Yes. Yes, I do,” said Allen standing up straight now. “I’ll get my assistants to close up and I’ll meet you down at the station.”

“One of my men will come with you. He’ll drive you down to police headquarters and bring you to my office. We don’t want anything to happen to you,” said Fontino.

Allen’s jaw dropped. “You think I might be in danger?”

Both Fontino and Parker nodded their heads in agreement.

“Yeah, okay. Whatever you say,” said Allen with a trembling voice. He headed back to the cafe. Officer John Vickers acknowledged Fontino’s nod. “I’ll take care of him, sir,” and followed Allen through the unknowing crowd.

Fontino said aloud with frustration, “Where’s the ambulance? Did anyone call an ambulance?

“We changed the order and called the Coroner, boss,” replied an officer setting up bright orange traffic cones to cordon off the scene.

Blaring sirens and flashing red and white lights of an Emergency Medical Technicians’ van came to a quick halt. Two men carrying a stretcher approached Detective Fontino. “Why are you here? The Coroner and his men are supposed to be here.”

“The Coroner’s men are working overtime with pick-ups tonight. We’re here to help out,” said a technician whose name tag said Zachery. “It’s been a horrific day, sir,” he added.

“Don’t I know it,” said Fontino with sarcasm. Then he quickly added, “Man, I’m sorry. I’m starting to lose it.”

“All of us feel that way, sir.”

“Okay, but first, wait for the forensics team to take pictures. Deliver the body to the Coroner Gregory Simpson, and tell him that per my orders, he is to take charge of this body and report to me right away. Do you know who I am?”

“Yes, sir. You’re Detective Fontino, in charge of the…”

“Okay, all right, all right. I just wanted to make sure. Tell Gregory that this is double stat urgent.”

Stepping close to Parker, Fontino said in a low voice, “Thank you for coming here with your support. As you can see, this city’s resources are falling apart tonight.”

“What can I do to help right now?” asked Parker.

“How about an update from the time you met this victim. Come in my car down to headquarters. We can talk on the way there.”

“I’ll leave instructions for my team to be of assistance. We’ll hunt down this crazy slicer together.”

 

In the car, Detective Fontino found the details Parker shared were as fascinating as a hit movie. He absorbed the details of bank robberies fortified with bombings, and savored the clues that dragged Parker and his team across the states.

When they arrived at Police Headquarters, new reporters swarmed around them at the entrance. “We have no comments at this time,” said Detective Fontino. “We have a few leads, but as you know, we can’t share that information without ruining the case,” he said with a slight smile and a subtle wink of his right eye, the only charm he had ever given the press. He knew that at this high-tension time across the whole city, he had to keep a softness in their news devouring hearts or they would eat him alive in seconds.

Flashbulbs flared from cameras and the disappointed news hounds dispersed to the telephone booths to make their reports. One of Fontino’s men whispered in his ear. “The Police Commissioner is on the phone for you.”

Fontino nodded and said to Parker. “Meet me in my office. There’s a phone call I have to take.”

Ten minutes later, Fontino came through the door of his office so hard the door banged against the wall. He threw his overcoat on the credenza behind his desk. His two most trusted men, Marino and Scully, stood behind Agent Parker on either side of the cracked frosted glass door.

“Thank you, Agent Parker for sharing what you know and your offer of assistance. I just got the ramrod from the Police Commissioner. My whole department is in jeopardy of dismissal. I can use all the brain power I can get.” He paused and picked up a pencil. Twirling it between the fingers on one hand he said, “As you’ve seen, the city is filled with tension. People are scared.” He pulled out a stack of file folders from his lower desk drawer. The murders attributed to the Serial Killer have escalated. This collection,” he held up the folders, “are my murder files from just the last two weeks.” Fontino paused and looked around the room. No one said anything in response. “Now, with or without motive, this killer slices anyone he pleases. That is, if we are assuming correctly, that Stetson’s murder occurred while tracking down the Serial Killer.”

Fontino put the files away and sat down at his desk. “Parker, here’s a detail you didn’t know about Stetson. Chief of Police, Michael Logan, demoted and suspended him from his duties this morning. The specific reasons have not been disclosed, and maybe never will be shared. The Commissioner wants this matter kept as private as possible. Let me think… the Commissioner said, ‘I don’t want the public to have any more, police shenanigans to laugh about.'”

Detectives Marino and Scully shifted in their stance. Detective Fontino saw the understanding look on Parker’s face and continued. “The Chief of Police is fuming, too. One of the big questions is, Why, why was this cop having dinner with a suspected criminal?”

The lead detective dug in his desk drawer and poured out two Aspirins. He rubbed his brows with the palms of his hands. “Many of the men in the force already know about this. Stetson, an ass of a jerk, loved showing off his authority to women, and he loved making men squirm and do his dirty work. I think his brain was wired to collect information to use as leverage and profit.”

“You mean he blackmailed his own men?” asked Parker.

“Yeah. I’ve seen him do it from a distance, but I didn’t have any proof and none of the men involved wanted to step forward to testify against him.” Fontino tossed his pencil back on his desk. “We’ve all been hoping that one of the higher ups would do something about him. But this, this isn’t what we hoped for. And, the timing is terrible,” Fontino yelled. “Stetson’s death complicates all our investigations.”

Fontino swiveled left and right in his chair. “There’s always someone who is going to leak information or start rumors, then the media will have a rip roaring time citing dissatisfaction. Who’s going to believe that cops want to protect the city when they’re corrupt among themselves?”

Agent Parker nodded in agreement. “I understand your predicament. You will have my full cooperation. In the morning I will contact the regional office to qualify this case for additional support.”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. “Boss, it’s me, Pete.” Fontino nodded and Marino opened the door. “That owner of the cafe, Allen Aherne, is here to speak with you.”

“That’s good. Show him in, Pete.”

Fontino turned to the three men in the room. “So, while we hear what Allen has to say, my other men are questioning his staff about seeing Stetson tonight. Parker, I want you to sit in on my questioning. After that we’ll have him work with a police artist and see what we get.”

“Then I’ll take a look to make sure we are thinking about the same person,” said Parker as he stood up and rolled his shoulders. “My hunch, is that Stetson’s dinner guest is the Serial Killer, and I’m almost sure that this is the same man I’ve been hunting for across the states.”

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 31

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

George made two right turns and found Mattie, Jeanne, and Krista waiting for them in front of the Wooden Horse Toy Store, their arms loaded with purchases. “We bought some old favorites and some new board games that you’ll like, Haley,” said Jeanne.

Haley waited for them to put their packages behind the second row of seats before she spoke. “Well, I talked with Eric and I’m feeling really good about it,” said Haley. “The guilt of not calling him right away was killing me.”

“So, was he mad at first, or just happy to hear from you? Did you tell him how much we appreciate him? Com’on, Haley…We want all the details,” said Jeanne from behind George’s seat. “Where did you go to make your phone call?”

George came to Haley’s rescue, “I took her to my friend’s restaurant. It’s called Celeste’s Fine Italian Food. Giuseppe, the owner, and I have known each other for years. You’ll like him, Jeanne. We can go there for dinner tomorrow night,” he added.

Just then, an arm thrust a folded newspaper through the car window and let it land on George’s lap. “Thought you’d like your copy of the evening paper, George.”

“Thanks, Chester. I almost forgot.” George tucked the newspaper into the side slot of his car door. He had a good idea what the front page story would be tonight. With a quick look at Haley, he said, “Let’s go home girls. You’re all exhausted. Did that ice cream make your day any better?”

“Oh, Haley. I have an ice cream sandwich for you in this carton. Here,” said Jeanne and passed a striped pink and brown carton forward.

“Thank you, Jeanne.”

“Better eat it right away,” said Mattie. “It might be melting already.”

“You’re going to love it, Haley,” said Krista. “I’m having the same thing. It’s filled with Mocha Almond Fudge.”

“Who would have thought that after what we’ve gone through that we would be winding down with ice cream tonight?” said Haley. Neither one of her friends said a word. Her humor had fallen flat. She quietly finished the treat they bought her as they approached Pierce Road.

 

The sounds of leaves and twigs crinkling under their tires danced through the open windows of the van. They signaled to Haley that she was close to home.

Krista broke the silence. “When will you be talking with Eric again, Haley?”

Jeanne interjected, “Did he tell you he was crazy in love with you and couldn’t wait to see you again?”

Turning around in the passenger seat Haley spoke with calmness. “Eric said that he had been crazy with worry about us and that he was so glad to hear we were safe. He wanted to know where we were, but I explained why we had to keep that a secret.”

“That was per my advice,” said George.

Haley continued, not giving anyone a chance to make a big deal about keeping a secret from Eric. “I told him we were all so thankful he was there to help us at the hospital, and that we all realize how much more trouble we could’ve been in if he hadn’t helped us get away from the apartment building.” Haley paused, deciding to leave out the part about three more deaths in their building. “Oh, one more thing, I told him that George plans to drop off his van at his aunt’s house tonight. Otherwise, there are no plans for the next call. I guess it just depends on what we find out in the news reports.”

“I wonder what our friends are going to think when they don’t see us at work,” said Jeanne. “Oh my God, what are they going to think when they come to visit us at the apartment and find it destroyed?” Jeanne said as an afterthought.

“They must already know our apartment’s destroyed,” said Krista. “It’s in the newspaper that our apartment building is otherwise known as The Murder Building.”

“How did you find that out?” asked Haley.

“I read it in the evening paper at the drugstore.”

“How could you keep that news from us,” asked Jeanne.

“I’m tired, Jeanne. And, I’m tired of being scared. I can’t stop thinking about how we found Mrs. Hamlin laying on the floor dead. Can’t you understand?” Krista broke down in tears. Her hands covered her face as she sobbed, “I tried to contain myself so you wouldn’t lose your happy spirit. She loved me, and now I just want to disappear and die.”

Jeanne climbed over Mattie’s legs to squeeze in next to Krista. She held her best friend tight.

Even in the dark, Haley saw tears welling up in Jeanne’s eyes. “I am so sorry I’ve been such a big mouth,” said Jeanne.”

“Jeanne, I think that’s your way of hiding that you’re still scared, too,” said Haley.

“I’ve never seen girls loving each other so much. We’re going to be okay, right, George?”

“Yes. We are all going to be okay, and we’re home now.” The tires crunched on gravel as he pulled up in front of their cabin. “A good night’s rest will strengthen us for tomorrow. Girls, there’s one more thing Mattie and I want to share with you. We’ve arranged for certain friends to provide continued protection while you’re here, so try to put those worries aside and get some sleep.”

“Someone’s watching over us like in the spy movies?” said Jeanne.

Everyone laughed and shook their heads in disbelief of her humor as they got out of the van.

“If there is anything you need, please let me know,” said Mattie.

“Ditto that for me, girls,” said George.

Krista wiped away her remaining tears with the back of her hand. “You both have been the answers to prayers. This beautiful home and your loving ways are more than anyone could have hoped for.”

“Talking about comforts, I can’t wait to crawl in bed,” said Jeanne. “Com’on Krista. It’s so quiet around here, I bet we could hear the ants snoring.”

“Sure, they’re all under your bed, Jeanne,” snapped Krista.

“Sleep as long as you like,” Mattie said. “Breakfast is when you want it. George and I are going to spoil you girls for a while.”

“I can handle some spoiling,” said Jeanne, and she hugged Mattie goodnight. “And George, I’m looking forward to knowing you. Thanks again for the trip into town tonight.” She turned and took the stairs two at a time.

“Ditto that for me, too,” said Krista with a meek smile. “Good night.”

Haley moseyed up the stairs behind them but halfway up she turned and came back down. “Aunt Mattie, George, I’m so glad to be here again. It’s wonderful,” she said and hugged them both. “Thank you.”

“You always have a home here, Haley. We’ll see you in the morning. Get some good sleep tonight,” said her aunt.

 

Mattie and George settled down on giant floor pillows in front of the fire in the living room. “Doesn’t it feel wonderful to have them here, George? I think it makes this house feel full and even happier,” said Mattie.

“Yep, it’s full of laughter, and a lot of worries. I hope they’ll be able to adjust. They’re used to an 8 to 5 routine, five days a week. Now, they’ll have nothing to do.”

“Oh, it’ll be six weeks before they get bored with this town. Then they will want to drive to Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Carmel. Jeanne will be boy crazy for a while. I think Krista will find something unique to do, but I don’t know about Haley. She loved her job with her boss at DuPont, and now that she has a crush on Eric, who has a good job in San Francisco, anything can happen with her. Oh dear,” she sighed, “at least we’ll have them all together here for about six weeks.” She turned over, nosed her nose to his and hugged him tight. “Me? I’m here to stay with you.”

“Yep. Like Krista said, “Ditto that for me, too.” They chuckled and turned over toward the fire and fell asleep watching the embers fall through the grate.

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 30

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

By the light offered by the lamp posts Steele moved with stealth into the crowd gathered at the head of the cable car. A knitted watch cap lying on the ground underneath a bench caught his eye. He looked around to see if anyone was looking for it. Everyone faced toward where Stetson’s body laid. Steele picked up the cap, shook the leaves out of it, and put it on. His body tensed with alert as he spotted the man who had been eating dinner at an adjoining table. In quick steps the man headed right for him. But he slowed down as he got closer, and without a pause he glided pass Steele without showing any recognition. Damn if the simplest things don’t make the best disguises.

In the dark Steele felt confident as a stranger. That was one of the charms of being a tourist in San Francisco. Striking up conversations with strangers in public places had a safety rope. When ready to move on, strangers would just say, “Good-bye, have a wonderful day,” and be gone. Tonight, Steele stopped in the midst of a family group or a couple to pipe in a joke, or add a flattering comment.

The bold voice of a young teenager caused an unpleasant reaction from the crowd. “Hey you guys, I just heard that a man’s hurt over behind this cable car and that there’s blood all over the place.” He paused, then added, “The guy must be dead.”

Steele watched heads turn toward the speaker who didn’t look old enough to shave. He heard several women gasp. As the rumors flitted from one group of people to another, he also heard young children starting to cry.

“Get down from there,” said a sailor dressed in his blues and a white cap. He rushed toward the teenager and pulled the kid off the cable car. Holding the scared teen by the collar of his car coat, the sailor held him close face to face. “The people who raised you, raised a fool. You’re scaring people.”

 

Tingling feelings of pleasure traveled up Steele’s arms as he continued to watch the crowd’s reaction to what he had done. He cupped his hands together as if to blow on them for warmth, but his true purpose was to hide a wicked smile. Killing Stetson has its unexpected pleasures.

More voices from newcomers to the turn table popped around. The sounds of panic beneath what they said, kept the tingling sensations moving up Steele’s arms. “What’s happened? Is that true? Are we safe? Should we get off the cable car?”

 

Steele right hand slid into his right pants pocket to feel the smooth and cool finish of his switchblade. With an itch to have some more excitement he started down the asphalt path leading down to Fisherman’s Wharf. He joined a group of giggling girls with their cousins and blended in with them, talking about the great sea food at Alioto’s.

Joking around for a few minutes, Steele won an invitation to join the group for dinner. The taller one of the group with thick brown hair and football shoulders said, “Hey man, why don’t you come with us to Alioto’s for dinner. You’ve been there before so you can clue us in on what to order.”

“Sure, I can do that,” said Steele with a big grin. At that moment, one of the girls said, “Here comes trouble, Jannie. It’s your little brother.”

“Jannie, Jannie!” a young boy yelled as he ran down the path and crashed into her. He pulled on her coat sleeve. “Mom says you need to come back, now. Someone’s dead,” he said and paused to catch his breath. “We heard there is blood all over the place.”

“Oh Nicky, don’t exaggerate,” Jannie said as her shoulders slumped. She brushed her long blonde hair back over her shoulders, and Steele saw that her dimpled smile had disappeared.

“I don’t want to go back. I’ve been looking forward to dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. You, Mom, and Dad are okay, right?”

“Yeah, but Mom’s real scared,” said Nicky.

The two teenage girls eyed Steele, their friends, and then looked back at each other. The one with the longer hair said, “Jannie, let’s go back. I’ve never seen a dead body before.”

“No way, Katie. I’ll go back because my mom’s worried, not because of any dead body. What kind of friend are you?”

“The curious kind,” said Katie.

“I’m curious, too,” interjected Nicky pulling on his sister’s coat again. “Let’s get back quick or I might miss it.”

“Okay. Let’s go back now,” said Katie. “Seafood doesn’t sound so good to me anymore.”

Without a word of apology to Steele or their other friends, the girls grabbed Nicky by the shoulders and ran back toward the cable car. Steele and the others followed. Staying close to the girls, they weaved through a maze of people until Jannie found her parents.

“Here they are, Henry,” announced Jannie’s mother as she wrapped her arms around them. “Oh thank God you girls came back!”

She cuffed Nicky’s ear. “And you, Nicky. You weren’t suppose to run off like that,” scolded his mother.

“Yeah,” said Henry as he put his arm over his son’s shoulder.

“Dad, Dad. Take me over to see the dead body,” urged Nicky.

“Son, listen to me,” he bent over and said in a low voice, “A dead body is terrible to look at.”

“But I’ve never seen a real dead body before, Dad. Just on TV.”

“We’ve got to respect the dead, son. They are not objects for us to get thrills. If the rumors are true, that someone died  horrible death. You’ll always wish that you hadn’t seen him because it will be a sight you’ll never forget.”

“Gee, Dad. You take all the fun out of this. It’s gruesome stuff I can tell my friends when I get back to school.” Nicky crossed his arms and pouted.

Henry patted Nicky’s head and pulled him close. Whispering in his son’s ear, he said, “I don’t want to scare mother and the girls, Nicky. But, that serial killer we heard about on the radio this morning might still be around here watching us. Stay here next to me, son. If this cable car doesn’t leave soon, you can help me hail a taxi cab back to the hotel.”

Nicky’s eyes went wide in awe as he stared up into his dad’s face.  His father had just trusted him with a big secret, and said he could be of help, too. He nodded to his dad that he understood. They moved closer to where mother and the girls stood.

 

“Hey guys, I’m going to get something to drink. It’s been a long wait. Are you still going to dinner down at the Wharf?”

“Nah,” we’re going to stick with Jannie and her family. We all know each other from school back in Iowa. Come back and see what we’re going to do next,” said one of the other cousins. “We always have fun hanging out with them.”

“Okay,” said Steele and fist bumped the kid before he turned around and left. He pretended to be heading toward the Buena Vista Cafe but made a quick left turn on Beach Street. Good planning, Steele. Here comes the owner of the cafe.

A yellow cab came up beside him trying to maneuver between tourists on the street. Steele knocked on the driver’s window. “I need a ride,” said Steele when the cabbie rolled down his window.

“Sorry, mister. I’ve got a fare waiting for a pick-up,” said the cab driver tipping back his cap to see Steele better.

“Here, this will make up for it. Right?” Steele handed over a hundred dollar bill.

“Well, no one else is going to beat that tonight. Get in,” replied the cab driver.

Steele scooted over to the right side of the cab and sat back. “Take me over to Bush and Mason Street,” he instructed as his thoughts were of the petite blonde hostess he met at lunch at Lefty O’Doul’s. “I’ve got a sweet girl waiting for me.”

Copyright 2015 Millieanne Lowe, Orange County, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 29

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

Stetson fired his gun and the sound of it echoed across the park. If anyone had heard or spotted the tiny flash, it would have been hard to see the two men fighting at the far end of the pier as they were on the dead end side of the round house. Stetson had felt his gun firing high. If only he had cat eyes and been able to see in the dark, he would have seen Steele’s leg coming to knock the gun out of his hand. Then the Serial Killer would be dead now. Stetson swore as he felt Steele coming at him again. A fist hit his jaw and he felt as if his teeth were about to fall out. Still, nothing was more important than living long enough to kill Steele.

Bending down Stetson scrambled for his gun as it slid across the cement ground toward the opening in the pier wall. The gun hit the foot of the slot and slid backwards to the underside of a fisherman’s bench instead. A kick in the ribs brought blinding pain. “I don’t do business with losers,” jeered Steele.

As Steele’s leg swung toward him again, Stetson grabbed  his ankle and twisted his foot. That brought his opponent down to the ground. They rolled on the ground behind the bench, each man trying to beat the other to death.

Stetson’s fist struck out for Steele’s face but Steele saw it coming and moved. Stetson’s knuckles scraped against the ground and he swore as the pain radiated through his hand and up his arm. He put his weight on top of Steele and leaned on his left arm across the killer’s chest as he reached for the gun tucked in the back of his waist. Steele crossed his legs like a pretzel, did a sit-up and then rolled backwards up to his shoulders, throwing Stetson off to the side. Steele sprang to his feet, and drew out a flashing switchblade. Before Stetson could back off, Steele lunged forward and stabbed Stetson under his ribs and twisted the blade. “See if you can stand the pain, you looser!”

 

Steele watched as Stetson, looking stunned, buckle at the knees. Steele stabbed him a second time. “Just making sure you make it to hell, pal.”

Satisfied, the killer stood up, wiped the sharp blade on the backside of his jeans, closed it, and stashed it in his pants pocket.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t your throat I sliced,” said Steele. “Now you can die a slow death.” He turned and ran into the darkness toward the bath house. Steele had a plan. As soon as he made it passed the bleachers, he would change his pace to a casual walk. Then he would mingle with the crowd surrounding the cable car turn table. Soon afterwards, he would be on his way to Marilyn’s apartment on Bush Street.

 

Stetson felt the burning pain where Steele had stabbed him twice. Rolling onto his right side, Stetson pulled out a handkerchief from his back pants pocket and pressed it hard against is wound. It wasn’t going to be enough to stop the bleeding, but he had to try to get to some help. He crawled over to the fisherman bench, reached under it, and retrieved his gun. Steele’s running footsteps faded in the increasing distance.

“Watch out. I’m no looser and I don’t give up easy,” mumbled Stetson. Using his elbow to press against the wound, his hands pushed down on the cement seat. And with stifled grunts of pain Stetson managed to stand up. He spotted Steele’s navy blue neck scarf on the ground. Leaning on the back of the bench for balance, he lifted it up with the toe of his shoe. With his left hand he shook out the dirt and debris. Swinging it in the air several times, he doubled it in half, and then once again. Stetson stuffed it inside his windbreaker to pad his wounds and soak up the blood. At a snail’s pace, the fingers of his hand  moved the zipper head higher to keep the scarf in place. A scattered thought came to mind – Wouldn’t it be a surprise when Steele saw his neck scarf again?

His head hurt with every movement. God, another pair of hands to hold my head would be real nice. Hunched over, Stetson headed back to the cable car turnaround where he knew Steele would try to get lost in the crowd. He muttered obscenities as he weighed his chances of saving Marilyn from harm. If only there had been a phone booth built on the pier for emergencies, he could call the police and have them save Marilyn. Save Marilyn…that became his mantra through his pain as he quickened his stumbling steps.

 

Out of breath, Steele slowed down. He had run the length of the pier which was about a half mile, and made his distance to the bleachers beyond the bath house. He felt confident he was free of Stetson. If no one else went down to the end of the pier in this heavy fog, a tourist or fisherman would not find Stetson’s body until the morning.

He combed his blond hair with his fingers and smoothed down his jacket, then sensed that something was missing. His neck scarf. He patted his jacket pockets, nothing was there. Should he go back to find his scarf? Nah, he thought. Whoever finds it will think a tourist had lost it because an elegant Paris label had been sewn in.

As he came closer to the crowd, he did one more check. His hands felt up and down the outside of his leather jacket searching for wet spots of blood. He felt none. He then felt secure and did not look back. Although, if he had, he might have seen a slow moving, hunched over man with a gun in his hand, following him.

Steele stepped into the crowd of people who stood around the turn table. They were waiting for the grip man and his team to finish turning the cable car around. He found a senior couple chatting with their grandchildren, and started a conversation with them. When he became bored with their chatter, Steele squeezed in with another group. They were talking about getting souvenirs down the way in Fisherman’s Wharf. Steele caught  sight of blonde hair and smiling faces, sneaking glances at him. This was much more interesting. He moved along to join them in their laughter.

The wait for the cable car to be ready for the next load of passengers took a while. In the midst of laughter after he had shared a great joke, Steele turned around and saw Stetson’s pale and pained face. Their eyes locked. Steele made the first move. He walked over to Stetson’s right side, put his arms over the crippled man’s shoulders and said, “Hey, pal! Where’ve you been? I thought you’d gone home in a taxi.” Steele slid his hand down Stetson’s right arm and with quiet force removed the gun from his enemy’s grip. “Com’on over here and get in line with me. We’ll be boarding soon,” he said.

Smiling, Steele patted his friend’s shoulder in a warm and friendly manner. Squeezing Stetson’s shoulders hard, he forced him toward the back end of the cable car. Stetson made a move to reach for his other gun, but Steele blocked his arm and said, “Keep quiet and you might live a little longer.”

Over by the front of the line a teenage boy pointed at them. “There’s those two drunk guys again, Dad.”

“I see them son, let’s keep our distance,” responded the father. They turned their backs on the killer and the wounded cop and redirected their attention to the cable car.

The men working the turntable locked it into place. The  grip man jumped on board and attached his gear to the rumbling cable beneath the ground. He rang the bell hanging over his head to signal the conductor that he was ready for passengers to come aboard. Upon hearing the bell, people who were cold, and tired of standing around, boarded without a further sign from the grip man.

A low roar of excitement filled the air. Some passengers, the older men and women, headed for the inside of the cable car where they could see out the windows and be a lot warmer. Other passengers, bundle in warm clothing, caps and gloves, raced for the limited number of seats on the outside bench. Those who missed getting a seat grabbed their spot on a lower step next to a pole.

The cable car wobbled as people continued to climb on board. Every seat and every inch of standing room inside the cable car disappeared. These were the people who stood and grumbled in the cold for 45 minutes waiting for the cable car to appear over the hill and get turned around. Now they cheered, laughed, and called out to each other, “Over here! I saved you a seat with me, over here!”

Steele watched and waited for the moment when everyone’s attention focused on finding a seat. Poking the gun into Stetson’s side, he turned the weakened man sideways. Stetson tried to pry himself loose of his grip. Steele pocketed the gun and snapped open his switchblade. He pointed the tip underneath Stetson’s jaw. “This is it, man. End of the line,” he said and jabbed the blade upwards and ripped across Stetson’s throat.

He felt Stetson’s body jerk, and saw the eyes widened for a moment. Stetson gurgled as if on cue and began sliding to the ground. “Hey man,” Steele said, “If you’re going to be sick, let’s move over there.” Steele hefted Stetson’s half dead weight over to the a cement planter. Leaning Stetson against a short wall next to a hedge, he turned and walked away.

Within three minutes Steele rejoined the laughing group of girls he had spoken with before. His reformation back to wholesome, good-looking guy, was smooth, as always. He had avoided a major part of the blood spurt, wiped clean his blade, and stashed it back into his pocket. With his arms crossed and hands tucked under his elbows, he smiled to get their attention. “What are you girls going to buy at Fisherman’s Wharf?” His white teeth attested to his good-guy personality and the girls chatted with him non-stop. Steele found their trust in him, an unbelievable phenomenon. Especially with stories of the Serial Killer in the news day and night. The thought made him even happier than getting rid of Stetson.

“Which restaurant are we headed for? I’m starving!” yelled one person to another in their group. Amid the ensuing banter of which place to go, Steele chimed in, “Alioto’s the best!” and continued to walk in step with the girls as if he were part of their group all along.

 

Stetson knew he was dying. He struggled to move and fell to the ground. That’s when Jake, the disgruntled white bearded cable car conductor, spotted him. He had just apologized, “Sorry folks, the car’s full. You’ll have to wait for the next one.” The disappointed group moaned and stepped back to huddle together at the beginning of the new line.

“This can’t be another drunk,” the conductor mumbled to himself. He walked up to the dark mound by the planter. “Hey Mister, get up or you’ll be…” As he got closer, he faced the horror of the Serial Killer’s work. A ghastly cut across the throat bled profusely. Jake pulled out his handkerchief and covered it. He tried with both hands to stop the bleeding as he called out, “Someone, quick! Call for the police and an ambulance.”

Right away, men in the crowd left their families to see what had happened. “Oh my Lord,” the conductor said. “Please help this man. There is so much blood everywhere.”

The grip man noticed that his conductor had not rung the bell in response to his signal. Holding onto one of the white poles, he swung out and yelled into the darkness, “Jake! What’s holding you up, man?”

A shaky voice emanating from the crowd of men said, “Someone’s hurt. Get an ambulance and the police. Hurry!”

The grip man and his assistants ran toward the conductor to see for themselves what the problem was. They backed off in shock. One of the two assistants held back the crowd gathering toward them. The other ran into the wood shack, turned off the radio, and called the police for help.

The tourists who had boarded, unaware of what had happened, complained. “What’s the matter? What’s the hold-up now? We’re cold out here, can we get going soon?” The questions grabbed more attention to the assistants.

“Why is the grip man bent down over there? Did someone have a heart attack?”

In his final moments of consciousness, Stetson knew he had lost the battle with Steele. Sensing the close attention from the conductor, he moaned, making the slightest noise.

The conductor leaned closer, “What did you say, man? How can I help you?”

Stetson’s lips moved and all he could say was, “…arilyn. Save …arilyn.”

Then his very bad day ended in a very bad way.

“The ambulance should be here any minute now,” said someone from the crowd.

Jake shook his head, “I don’t think it’s going to help. I think this man just died.”

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California

James Langston Hughes 113th Birthday Celebration

On Google Doodle today I was led to discover this link: http://www.redhotjazz.com/hughes.html  I found it a fascinating and inspiring read and thought you might also enjoy learning about this Black American writer and poet.

Hughes’ work and his life was controversial for many reasons. One of the quotes that impressed me was when Hughes argued, “no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.” His statment made me look quickly at myself…I have been afraid of writing the things I could for fear of offending certain people, and this has held me back, maybe, from being all that I can be as a writer. I am now in the stages of finding out more about myself and what I dare to write, J. Langston Hughes has inspired me. I hope you find his life and writing inspiring, too.

MillieAnne Lowe