The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 37

Copyright 2015, MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California

Stunned by Aunt Robin’s cry for help and the telephone call from George, Eric dialed the Chief. “Chief, Robin’s in danger. Meet me outside. You drive.”

“Got’cha.”

As he grabbed his jacket, Eric instructed his assistant, “Howie, you’re in charge. It’s a personal emergency. I’ve got the walkie talkie with me.” He ran out the bay doors and into a red sedan with the gold seal of California blazing on the front passenger door.

Fire Chief Greg Mullins flipped on flashing lights as Eric climbed in. “Tell me what’s happening.”

Eric held up his hand. “In a minute.” Static buzzed from the walkie-talkie, a dispatcher answered and Eric gave him the message. “This is Captain Eric Mahoney. Make this a double urgent relay to Detective Fontino. He is to meet me at my Aunt Robin’s house on Russian Hill right away. Yes, he knows the location. Tell him Robin needs us now. Over and out.”

As their car sped down the street, Eric took a few deep breaths. “My heart’s running in a race. I don’t know why but for some reason I felt the urge to telephone my aunt. She spoke in such a low voice. Then when she cried for help, the line went dead.”

“Okay, I’ve got’cha, but now try to calm down.”

“Chief, I don’t know what’s going on, but we’ve got to get there quick.”

“Hold on,” said the Chief in an even tone. “We’ll be there soon.”

Eric hung onto the dashboard as they made a right turn onto Hyde Street. “Thank God I’ve got the key to her house.”

“And, that she’s got a driveway for us to park,” added the Chief.

“What if we can’t get to Robin’s fast enough. God, if only we could fly like birds.”

“You don’t think birds can have heart attacks? Stay calm, Eric. We’re almost there.”

Eric’s teeth bit the inside of his lower lip as he prayed for his aunt’s safety. He did not want her to be a victim of the Serial Killer. He turned toward his closest friend, “If the fiend has changed his victim location, I pray it will not be in my aunt’s neighborhood.”

His heart kept trying to break out of its muscle restraints, Eric also had wild thoughts spinning through his mind. What if it is the Serial Killer there? He might have already harmed her. But what if he’s still there? What will I do? From what I’ve seen him do, he’s strong. Can I hope to beat him, capture him, or kill him? He has a rage, big-time, and he has a non-stop lust for killing. He’ll kill everyone and everything in his way, like how he killed that little dog. Eric shifted in his seat. His whole body alert to the danger potential. If he has hurt Aunt Robin, will I have the strength through rage to kill him?

The walkie-talkie buzzed and the dispatcher relayed a message from Detective Fontino. “Detective Fontino, Special FBI Agent Parker, and their men are on their way.”

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 36

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California

“I think I know who that woman might be,” said a voice from the staircase.

Startled, George and Mattie froze. Then seeing Haley come down the stairs in her nightgown, George fired two quick questions, “Who is she? How do you know?”

“It’s only a guess from what I heard you say. Do you remember anything else?”

“Yes, although some of the details of the visions repeat themselves and blend with new details in my recall.” George paced back and forth in the living room as he spoke. “I’m in a dimly lit cavern and a dark figure is moving closer to the woman. Her eyes are opened wide with terror.”

“What do you think is happening? Is she about to die?” Mattie spoke in a panic. “George, what are we going to do?”

George jabbed one of the couch pillows with his fist. “Unlike the other visions I’ve had, tonight I’ve tapped into someone’s immediate need. Bits and pieces still come to mind but there’s not enough information to determine what to do or where to start.”

“I know what you haven’t said, George,” interjected Mattie. “You think it has to do with the Serial Killer who is terrorizing everyone on Nob Hill.”

“You’re right, Mattie. And, here’s something else I’ve just recalled. A strong wind storm is swirling things around and I hear a specific and unusual noise, too.”

“Is it like a train coming before a hurricane? What does it sound like,” said Haley. She moved over to the couch with Mattie and they sat down, clasping each other’s hands.

George snapped his fingers and rushed over to the floor radio. “I knew I’d heard that sound before.” He turned the small black knob on the right side of the smooth rosewood panel. “It sounds like this,” he said and paused. “It is the sound we hear when we turn on a radio.”

The three of them listened with intense interest. “It is static mixed with the electrical whining noises. This always happens when the radio tubes are warming up.”

“What you’ve described is chaotic,” said Mattie. “Strange noises amid turbulence, a flashing knife blade that almost gets you, a girl screaming, and a terrified woman lying on a rock in the dark. George, you’ve tapped in on the minds of the Serial Killer’s victims.”

“Whatever the reason you’ve connected with them, I believe they are still alive,” said Haley. “We’ve got to do something quick.”

“I agree, but how am I going to find her?” said George waving his arms and looking upwards toward the ceiling.

“Didn’t you say, ‘Pictures, red paint, twinkling lights, a bridge, paper chaos, and sharp knives?” asked Haley. “I think one of the two women you connected with is Eric’s aunt, Robin. Eric had said that one of the treasures of living on Russian Hill is the beautiful view of the sparkling lights on the Bay Bridge at night.”

“Oh, and she’s an artist,” added Mattie. “The red paint and paper chaos might be from that.”

“We’ve got to warn Eric and get to his aunt right away,” said George.

Haley stood and said, “I’ll get you Eric’s phone numbers and go change my clothes.”

“You’re going with me?” said George.

“Most definitely,” said Haley closing the closet door. She slapped a piece of paper in George’s hand. “I’ll be five minutes.”

When Haley disappeared from the top of the stairs, George pulled Mattie into the kitchen. He whispered, “As soon as we leave, call Joe and Norm. Tell them, Red apples. They’ll watch the house and protect you until I get back. Got that?”

“Yes,” Mattie said. “I’ll fill a thermos and pack what you’ll need.”

“I’ve got some other packing to do as well.”

“You think you need to, George?”

“Don’t worry. You haven’t forgotten my specialty, have you? I’ll be fine. And even if all is well at Robin’s house, I may decide to stay a bit longer in that city. Keep us in your prayers, will you?” George kissed Mattie’s forehead and headed for the kitchen wall telephone.

 

Eric picked up the call at the first ring. “Captain Mahoney.”

“Eric. This is George. A friend of Haley’s Aunt Mattie. Listen with care, please. You don’t know me, but I sense that your Aunt Robin is in danger. I sometimes have a psychic ability to receive visions and from what I’ve seen tonight, Haley and I were motivated to warn you. We are coming to your aunt’s house. Eric, we want to be on hand to help if needed.”

George heard a heavy sigh. “Your hunches or visions are correct,” said Eric. “I just got off the phone with my aunt. She called out for help. I’m leaving now. I’ll see you there.”

 

Standing at his gun cabinet hidden behind one of the pantry walls, George slid on his shoulder holster and tucked in his handgun. He picked out one of the five powerful rifles poised in readiness and he picked out the ammunition he needed.

George heard Haley’s quiet footsteps too late. He cursed himself for letting down his guard as he snapped the secret panel shut and turned. Haley’s eyes were wide and her hands trembled.

“Eric’s on his way to Robin’s house,” said George. “I told him we were on our way as well.” He shifted his rifle to his other hand, and patted her on the shoulder. “The unknown can make us worry more than we need to, Haley. We’re doing what we need to do now. I know it’ll be hard for you, but let’s try to stay calm.”

Mattie came into the kitchen carrying a tall thermos and two shoulder bags. “Here’s a change of clothes, for both of you. Haley, you and George might be staying there longer than you expect.”

Haley’s trembling hands took the overnight bag from Mattie. The thought of staying for more than a few hours deepened the seriousness of the situation. George saw how she tried to hide her fears in her response, “Aunt Mattie, you think of everything.” She kissed her aunt’s cheek and gave her a big squeeze. “You be careful, too.” She turned and rushed through the front door and down the porch steps, her breath making small white puffs in the darkness of the woods.

George accepted the tall thermos of coffee and his shoulder bag. When Mattie’s arms slipped under his elbows to hug him he felt her fingers touched the leather holster. He watched her as she leaned back and eyed the rifle he held in his other hand.

Then as they looked looking into each other’s eyes, Mattie said softly, “Whatever is out there signals a great danger. Be careful.”

George held Mattie with his lean and strong arms close and tight. His kiss, though short, was loving and deep. Then he let go and bounded out of the cabin to his van.

 

“Here’s the hot coffee,” he said as he handed the thermos to Haley. “The collapsible cups are in the glove box. Cream and sugar packs are there, too.” He paused when he saw her cold and scared face. To distract her, he said, “Those clothes look good you and they’ll keep you warm Haley. You know how San Francisco’s chilly at night.”

She nodded and he saw a small smile.

He backed out of his van’s cab and went to open the van’s hatch. Haley turned to watch him tuck his rifle in place and then cover it with a tarp. The hatch snapped close.

George slipped into his leather seat, locked his door, and turned the key. The roar of the powerful engine filled the cab. The van rolled forward crunching gravel like teeth grinding candy.

“Thank you for not making me stay behind. I want to be there to help in any way I can.”

“I understand what you mean, Haley.”

“How long before we get to Aunt Robin’s?”

“Thirty to forty minutes. Maybe even faster as its late now. You can catch a nap if you want.”

“I couldn’t. I’m worried and excited at the same time. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Eric’s aunt, and I’m in shock that I will be seeing Eric again so soon. I had myself psyched out for a long duration without any contact with him.”

“Aye, I can understand those feelings, too,” said George.

The next few minutes passed in silence, until Haley said, “From what you’ve described, I am afraid for his aunt. She’s all alone. Jeannie, Krista, and I were going to stay with her tonight.”

George acknowledged her concern with a nod of his head. Haley yawned, scooted down in her seat, and used the hood on her jacket as a pillow. “This thick jacket feels so comfortable, I could …”

“Fall asleep,” said George, finishing the sentence for her. The steady hum of the road and her exhaustion from the lack of sleep over the last two days had finally captured her.

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 35

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, Oceanside, California

Deep into the thicket of the Saratoga Hills frogs and crickets sang in harmony by the creek. The soft glow from the remaining embers in the fireplace of Robin’s home created shadows all around the living room. Haley, Jeanne, and Krista had fallen asleep exhausted upstairs in their shared bedroom.

George and Mattie had fallen asleep in front of the fireplace with their arms about each other. A grunt from George broke the silence and woke Mattie. She watched in surprise as his right leg kicked out and his right arm came up in the air as if to defend himself.

“Wake up, George. You’re having a bad dream,” she whispered in his ear. As she brought down his arm with a gentle touch, she asked, “Are you fighting someone?”

He didn’t respond.

“Say something, George. Stop staring at the ceiling. Look at me.”

“I’m attempting to recapture the remnants of a dream I had.”

Mattie understood what he meant and patted his arm. “It must’ve have been a bad dream. Your brows were knit together and the furrows on your forehead were so deep, I could grow rice there.”

“You do make waking up a joy, dear. But yes, the dream was dark, scary, and frustrating. More so for the two women in it though,” he said. “Two things are bothering me. I heard a young girl screaming, and then saw a woman struggling and she seemed unable to speak.”

When he stood and offered Mattie a hand to get up, his tall figure reminded Mattie how special he was. “No one around this area is as tall, lean, and strong as you are,” she said as she stood and put her arms around him, and held him close.

“You feed me right,” said George. He tussled her hair, and kissed the top of her head. “Now, getting back to what I saw. The visions I had don’t make any sense. At times, I stood right next to the woman lying on the slab of rock, unable to move. I couldn’t make out what was causing the terror in her eyes.”

“Were you fighting against someone right before you woke up? You jerked your leg up and then your arm shot out like this,” she imitated how his arm rose up in a right angle.

“I don’t remember fighting or moving. I just watched and listened.”

“What did you see?” asked Mattie.

“It’s confusing. Because what I can remember comes back in broken parts, and not in an order as I experienced them. There’s more coming back. Strong gusts of wind blew against my back and the chill in the cavern-like place made me feel a stinging on my skin. Nothing there felt good. The woman on a slab of rock wasn’t moving but I sensed her struggle against something that seemed to be holding her arms and legs in place. She seemed terrified of something near her but no one else was around, just me.”

“I hope,” said Mattie, “she woke up from the dream when you did.”

George paced back and forth in the living room, combing his fingers through his short grey hair and then stroking his mustache. “I don’t think that’s it. Tonight, I tapped into someone’s horrible experience. Do you remember me telling you, Mattie, about tasting evil?”

“Did that happen again in this dream?”

“Yes, it did.”

“Goose bumps always rise on my arms when I’m scared. I’m scared now.” She rubbed her arms. “George, I remember how you described feeling surrounded by evil, and how you could smell a distinct odor and even taste it.”

“Yes, and when the smell of evil became stronger, the woman’s fear heightened. Tonight, I tried to escape the stench invading me through my pores. The taste of it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Not even in any war zone. I wanted out of the dream,” he said as he brushed the top of his hands. “I don’t know why I had any part of this.”

Mattie took his hands in hers. “You’re trembling, George. When you were trying to get away from the evil, is that when I woke you?”

“No, not yet – I’m recalling other things now. I see stars twinkling over a city covered with lights, a dense fog lays over the ocean like a blanket, and a partial outline of a bridge. It has no lights on it. I can’t figure out if it is the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge. What can you make of these details?”

“I think,” said Mattie, “the young girl and the woman are having a huge nightmare. And because you were up-close at times, I’d say this woman is someone you know, or, it may be someone you’re about to meet. Nonetheless, they are both in great danger, George. Both of them need your help right away.”

“I agree. But how…whoa!” Mattie watched George shy to his right. His hand covered the left side of his face.

“That felt like cold blade of fine steel that just passed my face,” said George. “Good grief. I hear the voice of the young girl calling for help again. Her arm is reaching out to me. Pieces of torn pictures, and newspaper are swirling around a room. The lamp has fallen over, and scissors are flying against a wall. I’m trying, but I can’t reach her hand.” Then George stopped talking.

“Why did you stop? You were trying to grab her hand. What happened?”

“My mind went blank. Perhaps I’ll recall more details later,” said George. He sat down on the sofa with her.

“You look tired. Lay back and close your eyes. I’ll go make some tea,” said Mattie.

George did as she suggested. But as she turned toward the kitchen, George grabbed her wrist. “No, don’t go. I see something else.”

“What is it?”

“A young girl with blonde hair has her arms tied to a post now. She’s crying, she’s scared, and struggling to get loose. She’s the one screaming for help.”

“George, you’re seeing two separate nightmares. Do we know anyone who looks like these two people?”

“About a half dozen friends in town,” George said and paused. “There’s more, Mattie. I see paint splattering and dripping everywhere. It’s all red.”

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Low, Oceanside, California

The Serial Killer of Bush Street Part 34

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, San Diego County, California

Alone, after her nephew, Eric, and his friend, Fire Chief Greg Mullins, had gone back to work, Robin stood by the television rubbing her forehead and twisting the channel selector one way, and then the other. “That’s the same stuff you told me this morning,” said Robin to no one but the television. “Well at least there have been no new murders by the Serial Killer,” she added. Plopping down on the couch, her fingers flipped through the evening newspaper. Her mind buzzed with noise, and her head began to ache again. The newspaper’s flag, The Examiner, and headlines referring to the serial killer became a blur. The television news reporter’s voice droned in the background.

Robin pinched the bridge of her nose and blinked her eyes. She wasn’t seeing what she was looking at. Tossing the paper aside, she headed toward the kitchen but moved slower than she expected. What’s wrong? It’s too early to be so tired. It must be boredom. Has the Serial Killer killed anyone else since this morning? She grabbed a glass from the kitchen cupboard and turned on the faucet, and at the same time turned the brown knob on her counter-top radio. The signal for the classical radio station KABL sizzled with static then became clear. The music of Stravinski’s “Rite of Spring” usually lifted her spirits, but tonight, the rhythm felt faster than usual. The string section played as if it were in a race, and the volume increased on its own, rising in decibels, hurting her eardrums. Robin’s hands flew to her temples and her fingers felt her head throbbing. She reached out with her right hand and snapped the radio off. The recurring visions of debris swirling like a cyclone returned. Sharp and bright bolts of lightning penetrated the scene. This time though, the background lighting changed from a deep amber to a dark and murky red. If anyone knew I have these awful visions, they might think I’m crazy. Icy cold silver flashes passed the left side of her face. Robin shuddered. Quit spooking yourself. Go paint a picture.

A quick sputtering of static sparked from the radio. “What is going on around here?” She patted the top of the radio. “Are your radio tubes about to burst?”

The quietness of no answer prompt more humor from her. She spoke aloud to herself, “Dear Lord, my favorite radio might be heading for the junkyard. Maybe you can help Ernie, the local fix-it man, to make it better?”

As she headed back to the living room, she realized the absence of pain, but when thoughts of the serial killer invaded her mind again, Has he killed again? Where is he?, the headache pain re-emerged. Robin held her temples and stomped the floor in protest, “Darn, it’s an addiction. I can’t get him off my mind.”

A blinding light flashed across Robin’s eyes and the muscles of her knees softened. As she fell, she grabbed the edge of the sink. Keep the eyes open and breathe in deep. Oh, it’s time to call the doctor about this. Robin slid to the floor. Her fingers clung to the tile edge of the sink as she waited for the fog in her mind to clear, then she pulled herself up straight again. Thanks for the help, Lord.

Taking small sips of water, she encouraged herself. There’s nothing wrong with you, Robin. You’re just exhausted from preparing for visitors. Go to bed now. “Besides,” she spoke out loud again, “if you can’t stand, then you can’t paint.”

Feeling better, Robin went around the house checking all its locks. “You know, Lord, it’s been a long and disappointing day. A full house full of female company would have been nice. Maybe sometime soon? But thanks for all those other blessings.”

Before climbing up the stairs, Robin looked into her studio and saw everything in good order. Clean paintbrushes stood in jars and holders and the sketches she drew of her neighbors lay on her desk. A blank canvas waited on the easel for her next creative touch. Then she thought of Fire Chief Greg Mullins. Why didn’t Eric bring him around  long time ago? They seemed such close friends. “The next time he comes to visit, he’ll get a tour of this studio. Maybe he’ll have an interest in my art.” That Fire Chief, has a spark of light in his eyes when he talks with me. And his wink, combined with his smile, is out of this world. “That’s what’s missing, Lord. How about another dose of the Chief’s flirtation? It would make for a better day.”

Robin held onto the handrail for steadiness as she climbed the carpeted steps. She pushed off her flats, and lay back on her down pillows. The soft hum of the overhead fan lulled her into a deep sleep.

The sky became dark and the stars, like pinpricks, populated the sky above Robin’s Russian Hill home. In her bedroom, however, a different kind of darkness crept into Robin’s consciousness. In her mind’s eye, a vision of small items swirled around.  Thin knotted yellow ribbons fluttered back and forth in the wind and then burst apart going every which way. Bright silver flashes passed by and she felt the coolness of them as they landed with a thump on her pillow. The same radio static she had heard down in the kitchen weaved non-stop through the chaos of the scene. Low moans of dread and shrieks of terror spiked through the darkness that enveloped her. Then the sweetness of quiet ebbed in like a gentle flow of water into a pond.

The serenity did not last long. Robin’s heart jumped as her bed shook. It seemed like the first jolt of an earthquake. But she knew that particular thump to be the prelude to a personal and terrifying event. She had felt this shaking before. No, no, no! No more bad dreams! Robin struggled to wake up as darkness covered the swirling scene. She tried to move her arms and found no response. Once again, she was a captive of the shadows she could not decipher. Hooded in dark robes, the faceless shadowy figures glided closer. As Robin struggled to wake, her breaths became rapid, and her heart pounded. But no matter how hard she tried, her efforts were all on the inside of her mind. Her arms, legs, and head – her whole body lay dead still. This is not insanity. This is a nightmare.

Robin tried calling for help, but her lips could not move. Once before, half way out of a nightmare she heard herself expelling guttural sounds of what she had been trying to say. “Jesus, help me!”

Even knowing that the nightmare would end in its own time, the panic continued to race through Robin’s body. What does the Devil of Darkness want? Does he want me to die of a heart attack in my sleep? Oh, God! Help me! Once again, Robin struggled to voice the name of Jesus. No sounds came out. She felt the strain on her vocal cords. Her hands tried to reach her throat to soothe the pain, but her body parts lay still. She couldn’t speak and couldn’t move. In her mind’s eye, she saw dark shadows moving toward her in the threatening murky red area where she lay. Then, cold and bony hands gripped her ankles and were dragging her toward the diagonal corner of the bed. It was a pit of darkness. She had been there before. Robin wanted to dig her fingers into the bed sheets to stop them, but she couldn’t move them either. She couldn’t save herself from the descent into the blackest parts of the darkness. Jesus, Jesus, save me…!

 

The sharp ring of Robin’s telephone broke through her nightmare. She rolled over to reach it but knocked it off the bedside table and its receiver fell off its cradle. Still frightened, she choked out the words, “Help me.”

Robin’s mind drifted between the nightmare and present time. Through a hazy vision, she stared at the telephone on the floor by her bed. Did she hear Eric’s voice? “Help me! I need you. They’re pulling me down.” She paused to catch her breath. “It’s the darkness. Oh God. Please, help me…”

Tears streaked down Robin’s face staining the satin cover of her comforter as she rolled onto her back. The Sacred Cross on the wall over her bed was the last conscious vision she remembered.

Copyright 2015 MillieAnne Lowe, San Diego County, California

 

A Bucket of Teamwork

An Exceptional Story to Share!

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