Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 1

An Interesting First Date

January was a dead time in Munsterville. Figuratively speaking, of course. Once the chaos of the holidays had subsided, the capitalistic boom of Christmas and the drunken celebration of the new year passing in a colorful blur, folks settled in for the lull before the blip that was Valentine’s Day and then the eventual spring thaw or Easter, whichever came first. The last three weeks of January, the 70,000 odd citizens of the industrial city went about their daily lives like ants accustomed to freezing windchills, perpetually slushy streets, random slick spots, and a blanket of snow that had covered the ground for so long that grass was only a memory.

In other words, it was boring, and no one was immune to it.

Christabelle Calder definitely wasn’t. As a private investigator, those three weeks in January never failed to be the worst of her employment. The post-holiday haze that faded into a return to normalcy typically left her with little to do until just before Valentine’s Day, when suddenly everyone thought their significant other was unfaithful. She was lucky to land a job during these weeks and that’s what she told herself over and over after her late breakfast meeting with her newest clients, a couple by the name of Windom, who were convinced that their neighbors were running a drug den. They wanted Christabelle to get proof they could go to the cops with because they didn’t want to look nosy or crazy. That’s why they had to meet at a diner instead of at their house; they didn’t want to their neighbors to know that they suspected anything. Which was perfectly understandable. What wasn’t understandable was that the couple both called in late to work to have this meeting with her and both wore dark sunglasses and constantly looked around the diner like they were expecting to be outed as spies or something. Christabelle took the job because she needed the job, both for the money and for the entertainment.

When the Windoms finished giving her all of the details (more than Christabelle could ever want or need) and left, Christabelle finished her pancake breakfast in leisure and then drove out to their neighborhood to check out the digs. It was an upscale neighborhood, not quite as ritzy as the communities out by Lake Munster and the golf course, but money enough to have a swath of McMansions running along neatly plowed streets, not a sign of slush or of a pothole. No doubt expertly manicured lawns and maintained flowerbeds lurked under the inches of snow. At a glance, she very much doubted these neighbors were drug dealers, but if they were, it’d be a nice twist. If they weren’t, well, she couldn’t wait to find out what they really did. In Munsterville, it could be anything.

Driving back to her own lower middle class, slightly unkempt neighborhood, Christabelle pulled into her driveway to find her own neighbor, Pam Bendixen, waiting on her doorstep. The woman was bundled up against the winter wind, pacing on the small slab of concrete to keep warm, her blonde hair peeking out from underneath her cap, the puffy coat she wore adding to her already curvy figure. Christabelle shook her head. The woman had the tenacity of a small dog.

“Where have you been?” Pam exclaimed as Christabelle got out of her car. She bounced in place on the doorstep. “It’s almost noon.”

“I had to meet a client,” Christabelle said, tromping through the yard along the path she’d made to the front door from repeated trips and a laziness that prevented her from using her shoveled walks. Pam scooched over on the stoop so Christabelle had room and stood right behind her as she unlocked the door.

“You’re going to be late,” Pam said.

Christabelle opened her front door and Pam followed right behind her, giving her no chance to brush her off.

“I’m not supposed to meet her until one,” Christabelle said. She took off her coat and hung it up on the rack next to the door. Pam did likewise but left her scarf and beanie on.

“Yes, but you’ll want to freshen up, maybe change your clothes.”

Christabelle stopped in the middle of the living room and looked down at her outfit: jeans, boots, and a blue and green flannel shirt.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“You can’t meet Rena wearing that.”

Christabelle looked at Pam, confused. “Why not?”

“It’s a lunch date, Christabelle,” Pam said, exasperated. “You need to put some effort into it.”

“I’ll show up and be my charming self,” Christabelle said.

“You’d be more charming in a different shirt.”

Christabelle sighed. “I was working this morning. If I can meet a client wearing this, then I can meet Rena wearing this. And if I’m not mistaken, you said that she’s working today, too, that’s why this is a lunch date.”

“Rena is a librarian,” Pam said. “She’ll already be looking nice. It’s part of their dress code.”

“It’s not my fault private investigators have a different dress code.”

“Ugh!” Pam threw up her hands. Christabelle couldn’t hide her smirk.

Ever since Pam had decided to set Christabelle up on a blind date with her friend Rena Neri, Pam had been insistent, pestering, and all around bothersome about playing matchmaker. Christabelle had successfully put off meeting the woman until after the holidays, but when Pam threatened to make a Valentine’s Day mission out of it, Christabelle relented. She decided that if Pam wasn’t going to give up, then the least Christabelle could do for herself was minimize her embarrassment. No doubt any idea Pam would have cooked up for Valentine’s Day would have been a humiliating ordeal, even if that wasn’t her intention.

“Pam, I feel like it’s important to present myself exactly as I am,” Christabelle said. “The women I date need to know exactly what they’re getting into up front. I’m a private investigator. I keep weird hours. I sometimes do less than admirable things. And I’m usually in jeans and whatever clean shirt I can find. It’s who I am.”

“Yes, I know that. And I appreciate that. But,” Pam made a helpless gesture, “can’t you at least be you in a slightly dressier shirt?”

Pam looked at her with pleading eyes. It was pitiful and hit Christabelle in the stupid soft spot usually reserved for animals and Girl Scouts selling cookies. Christabelle sighed.

“Yeah, I suppose.”

Pam grinned broadly, bouncing a little on her feet. Anyone else might think she was the one going on the date. Or had money on its success.

“Okay. I’ll wait right here while you change.”

Christabelle was going to argue, but she knew it wouldn’t do her any good. Instead, she retreated to her bedroom. Opening the closet, she looked inside for something that might get Pam off her back. Christabelle wasn’t one for fashion. Considering her figure was to the boyish side, most clothes that she did like ended up looking wrong on her, hanging where they should have hugged. As a result, she stuck to the simplest jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and flannels, resorting to power suits or slacks with a nice blouse when she absolutely had to be dressy. Christabelle liked make-up better. She noticed that Pam didn’t make any comments about that. Since her meeting with a client was early this morning, Christabelle opted for a quick, neutral face, but she was just as inclined to go for bright lipstick and wildly-colored eye shadow. She liked to be creative and sometimes that meant adding a little extra flare. The pink stripes in her blonde hair could vouch for that.

Digging through her closet, Christabelle finally settled on a red v-neck sweater. It was nice, but not too nice for a lunch. It looked casual enough that it wouldn’t look like she was trying, but it would also fit Pam’s requirement to look like she was making an effort.

Or at least she hoped it would. She was in no mood to put on a fashion show and Pam could be quite difficult to please sometimes.

Christabelle quickly changed into the sweater and regarded herself in the mirror. Her make-up was still intact and the ponytail she’d pulled her hair into this morning was still in good shape, the escaped pieces looking casual and artfully messy instead of looking like her hair rebelling, which was what it was actually doing. She left the bedroom feeling pretty good about herself.

“Okay, what do you think?” Christabelle asked as she walked back into the living room.

Pam regarded her critically and then looked at her watch.

“Well, it’ll have to do,” she said. “You’re going to be late.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“You really need to take me shopping with you one day,” Pam said.

“I think I disappoint you enough as it is,” Christabelle said.

“Oh, nonsense.” Pam grabbed Christabelle’s coat from the rack and handed it to her. “Here. You better get going.”

“Pam, I’m not meeting her until one.”

“And with the lunchtime traffic it will take you twenty minutes to get across town and that will get you there,” Pam checked her watch again, “about twenty minutes early. Which is good.”

“I’m not sitting in the parking lot of Dillman’s for twenty minutes like a weirdo.”

“Why not?” Pam asked, grabbing her coat from the rack and putting it on. “Isn’t that what you do for a living?”

“Ha ha. I’m getting paid then.”

“You’ll be getting paid for this, too,” Pam said. “You’ll be starting a wonderful new relationship today.”

Christabelle didn’t argue; that really would make her late. It would also be pointless because Pam wasn’t backing down from this. She was certain that Christabelle and Rena would make the perfect couple and she wasn’t about to change her mind. Christabelle wondered how Drew dealt with his wife when she got an idea in her head.

But then she remembered that Drew was very much the same way. Arguments in that house (if those two ever did argue) had to have been epic.

Christabelle followed Pam out of the house, locking the door behind herself. As Pam trudged across Christabelle’s and Mr. Santos’s yards to her own house, Christabelle obediently got in her car. Pam stood on her stoop and watched as she pulled out of her driveway. She didn’t go inside until after Christabelle started down the street. If Christabelle had any idea of circling the block and coming back home (which she did), that put an end to it. Pam would be back at her house before she shut off the car.

Dillman’s was a popular lunch counter in Munsterville. It started in the ‘50s as a real lunch counter with no indoor option, only a walk-up window. It became a popular place for workers and high school students (they had open campus back then) to grab a quick burger and a lemonade, both signatures of the counter, their recipes highly guarded secrets. After a fire in the ‘70s, Old Man Dillman, then very old, decided to add an indoor seating area that featured a counter with stools and a line of booths against the wall, though the walk-up window remained the more popular option.

Christabelle wasn’t surprised to find the small lot still nearly full and the line for the walk-up window stretching down the shoveled sidewalk. The dead of winter had no effect on Dillman’s. She found a spot and parked, noting that, as she had told Pam, she had about twenty minutes to wait until she met her…date. It had been a while since she’d had one, keeping busy through work and hanging out with friends. After her divorce, Christabelle hadn’t been too inclined to hop back into the social scene. The divorce was rough; healing took a while. A long while. When she finally felt like she was ready, she realized that she didn’t know what the hell she was doing anymore.

Of course, that didn’t deter Pam. She decided that all Christabelle needed was a push and then she shoved.

Christabelle watched the door as she waited, looking for Rena Neri. Pam had showed Christabelle a picture of her date and she had no doubt that she’d recognize her. Christabelle’s gift with faces aside, Rena was a beautiful woman with a face hard to forget. Christabelle at least had to hand it to Pam for attempting to matchmake her with a lovely looking woman.

A couple of minutes before one, with no Rena in sight, Christabelle got out of her car and started walking to the front door. She was tired of waiting and ruminating. If Rena was late, she could find Christabelle inside. And if Rena no-showed, she’d still get lunch.

A little roller skate of a car pulled into the lot, cruising slowly between Christabelle and the front door. Just the glimpse through the driver’s side window was enough to tell her that her date had arrived. She made her way to the door to wait while Rena parked.

Christabelle watched as Rena Neri got out of her car and hustled across the parking lot, her long coat hanging open and flapping in the wind. She looked taller than Christabelle and she was definitely curvier, her hips filling out her black slacks and her bosom stretching the blue and cream striped shirt she wore. A bold gold necklace bounced with every step.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Rena said as she met Christabelle at the door. Her beautiful smile was only rivaled by her gorgeous dark eyes. Her black hair was swept up in a bun, putting her gold hoop earrings on full display. “Sorry I’m late. Somebody just had to check out twenty books before I left, and my other clerk was running late.” She held out her hand to Christabelle. “I’m Rena Neri.”

“Christabelle Calder.” Rena’s hand was cold, but soft. Christabelle was starting to wish that she’d taken some of Pam’s advice and put a little more effort into her appearance. Rena was stunning and Christabelle couldn’t compete with an old shoe. “Aren’t you cold?”

“You’d think that,” Rena said with a little laugh. “But my anxiety has me sweating. Shall we go in?”

Christabelle stumbled under the influence of Rena’s beaming smile, but still managed to get the door and hold it open for Rena. The diner was fairly crowded, but the two of them managed to find a couple of stools together at the counter. In seconds, menus were tossed in front of them by a waitress who was busy but didn’t look stressed. She’d probably been doing this for twenty years; busy was the norm for her. The menus were a single sheet of laminated paper with the offerings on only one side. Christabelle didn’t even bother to look at it; Rena, however, looked it over carefully.

“What are you getting?” Rena asked.

“My usual. A burger and a lemonade.”

“Hmm.”

Christabelle looked at her curiously. “Haven’t you ever been to Dillman’s?”

Rena glanced at Christabelle, blushing as she shook her head.

“No.”

Christabelle could only stare at her date for a moment. She’d never known anyone from Munsterville who hadn’t been to Dillman’s. Even vegans showed up for the lemonade.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” she finally said.

“No,” Rena said, sounding like she was admitting a most horrible truth. “I moved here about three years ago. I grew up in Chicago, actually.”

“I’m still baffled,” Christabelle said with a laugh, shaking her head. “First that someone from Chicago would move to Munsterville and second that you’ve been here three years and still haven’t been to Dillman’s. The people you know here have done you a disservice.”

“Oh, people have been telling me to come here since I first got here,” Rena said. “I kept putting it off and forgetting about it.”

“Well, you’re going to find out how badly you’ve cheated yourself these past three years,” Christabelle said. “You like burgers?”

“Yeah.”

Christabelle took the menu from her and Rena gave her a curious look. The waitress working the counter came back their way and Christabelle ordered for both of them, a burger and a lemonade apiece.

“Trust me,” Christabelle said to Rena’s inquiring look. “I’m not normally this forward about food, but if you want the traditional Dillman’s experience, this is how you do it.”

“I’ll trust you on that.”

The two of them chatted as they waited for their food, Rena explaining that it was a lack of librarian jobs around Chicago that led her to Munsterville (“I go where the work is”) and Christabelle explaining that her natural nosiness led her to being a private investigator.

“It’s pretty boring work, really,” she said. “I don’t get shot at nearly as much as the TV shows would have you believe. I’ve also never been tangled up in any spy stuff or complicated drug running plots.”

Rena giggled and then went serious.

“Wait. What do you mean you haven’t been shot at nearly as much?”

Christabelle laughed. “Only about once a year and usually by some guy I’m busting for cheating who’s such a lousy shot that he couldn’t hit the side of the world. I’ve never come close to actually being shot. It’s a little scary having a few rounds go over your head, though.”

“You know,” Rena said after a second, “I used to think that being a librarian could be a little dull. I’m going to remember that nobody is shooting at me while I’m shelving books the next time I wish for a little excitement.”

“Hey, it’s Murderville. Anything can happen.”

Rena laughed.

The man sitting on the other side of Rena cleared off his stool just as the waitress brought them their food and the two women dug in. Christabelle ate at Dillman’s at least once a week, usually using the window instead of sitting inside. Her odd hours and late nights made her less of a cook and more of a takeout guru. Dillman’s was a quick and tasty burger to grab on the run.

“You’re right,” Rena said after sampling her burger and lemonade. “I regret waiting this long to come here. I’m going to have to work overtime to make up for it.”

Christabelle chuckled. “Told ya.”

An older gentleman came in and sat on the stool a couple of places down from Rena. It was hard not to notice him. He looked like he hadn’t slept in years, his face haggard, the circles under his eyes permanent. If he told Christabelle that he was pushing eighty, she’d believe it. Going by the yellow newspaper he placed carefully on the counter when he sat down, he might have been around ninety. But he wasn’t. He was only around sixty, if Christabelle remembered right.

Rena looked quizzically at Christabelle as he ordered nothing more than a coffee.

“You know him?” Rena asked Christabelle in a low voice.

“Yeah,” Christabelle said. “Well, I know of him. It’s Jerry Cooley.”

“That newspaper must be fifty years old, if it’s a day,” Rena said. “Why does he carry it around?”

Christabelle sighed. Anyone who ever ate inside Dillman’s knew Jerry Cooley’s story because he told it to anyone who’d listen. Since Christabelle usually used the window, she only had the basic gist of it, which she relayed to Rena.

“His sister went missing years ago. He carries that newspaper around as a conversation starter, trying to keep her memory alive, hoping to get new information.”

“Well, what happened?” Rena asked, clearly intrigued.

Christabelle could only shrug. “She disappeared from a park or something. Never seen again.”

“That’s it?” Rena asked, disappointed.

Again, Christabelle shrugged. “It’s all I know. You’d have to ask him.”

Before Christabelle knew what was happening, Rena nodded, turned, leaned over to Jerry Cooley, and tapped him gently on the arm.

“Excuse me.”

***

Want to find out the details of Marybeth Cooley’s disappearance? Become a patron and get the whole story for as little as $1 an episode!

I Think I’m Okay

Back in May, I wrote a post admitting that I was in a pretty serious depressive episode. Admitting it out loud was an important step for me to start to work on getting myself back to normal.

Or as normal as I can be.

I’m writing this post to say that I think I’m okay. I say “I think” because I don’t want to jinx it. It hasn’t been an easy climb out of the ol’ depression well. I’ve slipped a few times, including a major meltdown at the beginning of June. But I bounced back from it pretty quickly, which is a sign that I’m doing better. Another sign I’m doing better? PMS isn’t a doom trigger anymore. Adding a shit ton of hormones to a fucked up brain chemistry somehow doesn’t mix well. Who knew? And while PMS still isn’t pleasant, it’s back to what I consider normal.

Functioning has gotten easier, too. It’s easier to stick to my sleep schedule. I’m making better food choices. I’m exercising regularly and it’s easier for me to exercise (except for whatever the hell is going on with my right knee; it needs to accept that we’re doing this and stop being a pain). I’ve kept my work goals reasonable so I’m not frustrating myself on the days when I do struggle. But getting my work done has gotten easier. I feel like I can finally THINK now. I have the energy to deal with things in a reasonable time frame; I’m not always putting them off. Leaving the house no longer overwhelms me. And I’m more forgiving of myself on the days when things don’t go as planned.

Overall, I feel better.

How did I do this? The hard way, of course. I went back to the very basics of dealing with depression that my therapist taught me ages ago when I was first diagnosed. Exercising regularly, keeping my sleep schedule, doing something creative, going through my day the best I could, and journaling.

When I first went to therapy when I was 21 (holy shit that was like 18 years ago), my therapist correctly dragged my ass by saying that I haven a terrible tendency of keeping everything inside. I do not vent. I stress myself and don’t release the stress. I do not express my emotions well or enough. Now, this is because I’m not a very expressive person when it comes to the “negative” emotions, but it was also reinforced by my parents who didn’t tolerate expression of “negative” emotions well, particularly anger. Both of them have wicked tempers, but got real pissy if their kids were ever mad, particularly with them. Wild.

Anyway, my therapist encouraged journaling because it was a safe way to express my emotions. No one else would have to deal with what I was feeling so I wouldn’t have to deal with their reactions to what I was feeling and subsequently their feelings. Journaling is a one-on-one feelings things. It’s a way for me to examine my emotional mess without splattering anyone else.

I’ve been journaling on the reg since I was 22. I’ve put a lot of crazy on a lot of pages. And a lot of it has been anger and frustration and irritation that I would otherwise turn inward on myself. Shit that pissed me off that I was in no position to confront or change. Obsessive thoughts that I would otherwise ruminate about until they drove me mad. Journaling took that all out of my head, put it on the page, and let me look at it and deal with it.

There’s been a lot of picking things apart in those pages lately. A lot of facing up to some nasty truths and a lot of looking at things I’d rather not look at it.

But it’s been for the best. And the years of practice I’ve had of dealing with my hellscape of a brain this way has actually made doing it comforting. I feel like I’ve expressed some of the puss of an infection that was rotting away my insides. The abscess is healing.

Now all I gotta do is not pick at the scab.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 7

The Phantom Returns

Velvet and Otis jumped to their feet at the same time, chairs shrieking and clattering.

The man just stood there, wearing all black, his face uncovered, framed by dark hair and shining pale white in the glare of the light. He stared right at the camera. Daring them.

Velvet had no doubt in her mind who it was or what he was doing. He’d come back to get them, pure and simple. She knew that the papers speculated the killer might have been looking for something the night before, and maybe he had been. But right now, all he was looking at was them.

At least it felt that way. Velvet felt his stare right through the screen even though she knew he couldn’t see her.

“I think we’re getting fired tonight,” Otis said, reaching for the phone on the desk, keeping an eye on the figure on the monitor.

“I’m good with that,” Velvet said, sounding as breathless as she felt, eyes fixated on the man on the screen.

Velvet heard him punch the numbers on the phone over her heartbeat pounding in her ears. This was the most terrifying stare down she’d ever been part of and that was saying something considering the guy wasn’t even in the building with her, let alone the same room. Worse, the longer Velvet stared, the more the man looked vaguely familiar, and that only added to her terror. She was barely aware of the click of the phone’s cutoff.

“The phone’s dead,” Otis told Velvet as he gently replaced the receiver.

A noise escaped her, something like a low, keening moan, and she leaned forward, bracing herself on the desk, eyes never leaving the monitor. This wasn’t happening. Trapped in a warehouse by a murderer and no phone or gun. Not that she knew how to shoot a gun, but Otis probably did. She would have felt a little bit better if Otis were armed. This was like a horror movie.

Velvet shook her head. If she got murdered in this warehouse, she’d never hear the end of it from her parents.

“I just wanted a normal night at work,” she complained. “This week is shit.”

“Where’s your cell phone?” Otis asked, businesslike as always. It should have been more comforting, but Velvet’s fear was whipping through her like an out of control roller coaster and it was taking everything for her not to burst into tears or laugh hysterically.

“In my car,” Velvet whispered, like the guy standing in the parking lot might hear her. “Mr. Kobel doesn’t let us have our cell phones in the building, remember? That son of a bitch. He probably just doomed us both. Probably did it on purpose, that asshole. That stupid mother-”

“Okay,” Otis said, cutting her off. Probably for the best. Velvet was working her way up to one hell of a rant. He took a deep breath and held out his hand. “Give me your keys.”

For the first time since the man appeared, Velvet looked away from the monitor long enough to look at Otis like he was crazy. He didn’t look like he’d lost his mind, but she was pretty sure he had.

“Do what?”

“Give me your keys,” Otis repeated. “I’ll go down there and get your phone.”

“Otis, the killer is standing right there,” Velvet said. She reached over to tap on the monitor to emphasize her point. The man moved just as she did, and Velvet jerked her hand away like he tried to grab her through the screen.

The two of them watched as he walked along the backside of the building and disappeared around the southwest corner.

“He’s going back to the crime scene,” Otis muttered and then louder, “Quick, Velvet, your keys. Now’s the time.”

###

Now IS the time! Only one more episode left after this. Don’t be caught unaware! Check out Murderville or Patreon and get in the know!

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 6

Speculation

Otis Gorski sat at his kitchen table, eating a peanut butter sandwich, drinking a glass of chocolate milk, looking at that morning’s paper, and stewing in his own juices.

He should have quit last night when Kobel threatened to fire him. He should have just walked away right then, left that pompous twit holding the bag with the two detectives standing right there. Boy, how would that have looked? Not so pretty. Especially since Kobel would have been left scrambling for someone to fill in for him. Velvet couldn’t work alone. Wouldn’t work alone. She’d raise a holy fit if Kobel tried to make her, probably get herself fired for her mouth. Otis didn’t want to put her in that position.

Velvet wasn’t what stopped him from quitting, though she did factor in some. Otis could never leave her hanging high and dry like that. But mostly, it was his pride that kept him from quitting right there. It felt like losing and Otis never liked to lose. There was dignity in retiring that he’d be denied if he quit in a huff. Kobel would probably take a victory lap if he did that.

On page four of the paper was a short blurb about the crime scene being disturbed. The same speculation the detectives had put forth the night before, about the crime scene either having been ransacked by souvenir hunters or perhaps the killer coming back to look for something, was mentioned, as well as a recap of Simon Sidney’s murder, though not much was added. In conclusion, the whole incident was downplayed quite spectacularly.

For some reason, this disappointed Otis.

Probably because he’d so enjoyed Kobel’s name showing up multiple times in the initial newspaper report of the murder. This little blurb didn’t do enough to reflect badly on a man who threatened to fire Otis and Velvet for doing their job and calling the police. He couldn’t help but take that personally even though he knew on a logical level that the paper wasn’t there to serve his personal vendettas.

Velvet should think about leaving, too, Otis thought. She’s got a degree. She can get a good job with it. No need for her to hang around that warehouse rotting for that disrespectful jerk.

Otis flipped the page and reached for his glass of chocolate milk. Empty. He stood up to get a refill. The change in his pocket jingled and Otis remembered the coin he’d found on his rounds the night of the murder. The one he was going to show the detectives because he thought one of them might have lost it. The one he was going to keep if one of them didn’t lose it. The one that was still in his pocket, mingled with his ordinary quarters and nickels. The one he’d forgotten all about.

Otis glanced down at the paper.

The police speculated that maybe the killer had returned to the scene to look for something.

Otis took the coin out of his pocket and looked it over. He frowned and shook his head.

“No. That’s not right. I found this inside the warehouse. The killer wasn’t in there.”

Still.

Otis’s fingers closed around the coin.

“It belongs to somebody.”

###

Who does it belong to? Check out Murderville or Patreon to read along and find out.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 5

Back to the Dumpsters

Velvet arrived at work that night toting bits and pieces of gossip in her head, all of it juicy, but none of it definitive. She put her cell phone and her purse in her glove box, locked her car, and hurried against the whipping autumn wind to the backdoor. Once inside The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road, Velvet quickly navigated the maze to the security room, not pausing to think about what might be lurking in or around that new crate (or the other side of that wall). She found the atmosphere in the security room an odd mix of boiling and icy.

Cami and Trey sat hunched in their chairs while Otis stood behind them, arms folded across his thin chest, absolutely fuming.

“Hey, guys, how’s it going?” Velvet asked hesitantly, looking around the room as she spoke, trying to figure out what the hell had happened.

“Otis is in a mood,” Trey said, getting to his feet.

“He’s always in a mood,” Velvet said, casting a glance at Otis, who was definitely in a mood.

Cami stood up, too.

“Where are you going?” Otis asked, his voice gruffer than usual. “You still got ten minutes.”

“I’ll take the cut,” Trey said, scooching past Velvet to get out of the door. Cami followed right behind him.

Velvet stared at Otis, who stared back. She listened for Trey and Cami to clock out, gave them a second to flee, and then walked back out of the security room to clock in. Otis followed her. The two of them clocked in and went back in the security room to start their shift.

“What did you do?” Velvet asked.

“I didn’t do anything. It’s what Kobel did,” Otis said, sitting heavily in his chair, the damn thing screaming like an overacting victim in a cheap horror movie.

“What did Mr. Kobel do?” Velvet asked, sitting down in her own chair a little more delicately. It still squeaked horrendously.

“Left a message for us.”

Otis sat back in his chair, ignoring the noise, and glared at the monitors. Velvet stared at him for a moment, waiting. With a roll of her eyes, she prompted him, speaking slowly, enunciating every word.

“What is the message, Otis?”

“He said that the next time we need to call the police, we’re supposed to call him first,” Otis said.

Velvet waited and when Otis said nothing more, she picked apart the sentence, looking for the insult.

“So?” she said.

“So?” Otis scoffed. “I’m not deferring my judgment and my responsibilities to that man.”

“It’s his warehouse, Otis,” Velvet said, shaking her head at Otis’s wounded pride.

“And it’s my job.”

“I thought you were retiring.”

“And until I do, this is still my job.”

Otis shut down, going into full pout mode, his whole posture a frown. Velvet sighed, and leaned back in her chair, looking up at the monitors. Why did men have to be so impossible?

Normally, Otis would have walked the first round, but he was in such a fiercely foul mope over his job and retirement that he didn’t even make an attempt to get out of the chair when Velvet told him it was time. So, she walked the first round, her own mood souring over Otis’s behavior and his impending retirement (which she was still not sure he’d actually be able to go through with, but was afraid that he would), her brain rolling over the bits of gossip she’d acquired during the day in an attempt to keep the dark shadow of fear at bay. Because against all logic, Velvet was a little afraid. The killer was long gone. Those shadows were just shadows and those noises were just noises. There was nothing to be afraid of. Yet she was. Just a little.

Velvet completed that round in record time, coming back to the security room to find that Otis’s mood hadn’t improved

“It’s going to be a long night,” she said as she sat down.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you’re in full grump,” Velvet said. “You’re no fun when you’re in full grump.”

Otis grumped loudly in reply. “I’m not here to have fun.”

“Yeah, but it’s only when you’re in full grump that it makes it impossible for me to have fun.”

Otis ignored her. Velvet reached over and gave him a nudge.

“You’re not really going to retire, Otis. Right?”

“My mind is made up, Velvet, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.”

Velvet crossed her arms in a huff. “You’re a real pain, Otis.”

“Well, you won’t have to put up with me for much longer.”

“But I want to put up with you.” Velvet paused. “Except when you’re being a grump.”

Otis didn’t respond.

Velvet left him be for a bit. Her eyes drifted over the monitors in a pattern, starting at the top and working across, then down and across again, back and forth. It was a soothing sort of thing, even if she did end up suffering from eyestrain after a couple of hours. But it was also an easy way to pass the time. It didn’t require much thought.

“I’m going to walk rounds.”

Velvet jumped, her chair squeaking loudly and preventing her from pretending that she hadn’t. Otis looked over at her with a raised eyebrow before his own chair squealed as he got up.

“So nice of you to participate,” Velvet said. “I was wondering since you were retiring if you were going to walk rounds at all.”

“I always do my job,” Otis said, deadly serious.

“Really? You didn’t walk the first round.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“I never have to!”

“I’ll be back.”

Otis stalked out of the security room, flashlight in hand and radio on his belt.

“Maybe it would be better if that old grouch did retire,” Velvet muttered to herself, knowing full well she didn’t really mean it.

She went back to the monitors, watching Otis disappear and reappear as he walked through the maze. Something on another monitor caught her eye. It moved quickly, but Velvet was a little quicker, seeing it before it vanished.

A shadow in the parking lot.

###

Trouble has returned. Or has it? The only way to know is to read. Check out Murderville or Patreon to find out how.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 4

Official Gossip

The Munsterville Courier was a marvel of a modern newspaper. No matter how late a story broke, they always seemed to have it first thing in the morning, usually on the front page. And not just online. In the physical copy, too.

Simon Sidney’s murder was no different.

Otis sat at his kitchen table, eating a peanut butter sandwich, drinking a glass of chocolate milk, and reading about what he’d already experienced, which was splashed in glorious fashion all over the front page. He was somewhat relieved that his and Velvet’s names were kept out of the press and a little more than tickled that Manfred Kobel’s was splattered all over it. Just out of spite, he hoped some rumors about the man started.

And judging by the way the article was written, they would.

The article highlighted that the body was found at The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road, a warehouse that Mr. Kobel was thinking of selling, possibly to the victim, something that Otis didn’t know. He reckoned that none of the other security guards knew it either. And none of them probably would have known until the day the warehouse was sold and they were all fired. Otis realized it was very likely that Simon Sidney’s death saved all of their jobs, at least until Kobel could find another buyer. Not that it mattered much to Otis. He was retiring.

The paper also went into great detail about the business deals and steals of the two men. There was also something else about Simon Sidney’s estranged wife and his connection to a dead woman found at The End Of and the late Winchester Harmon, but that didn’t interest him. He preferred the parts that drug Manfred Kobel through the mud.

It served the man right. Otis didn’t believe in Karma, but in this case, he was willing to make an exception. If Kobel was going to insult Otis’s work, then he could be insulted, too. Being seen as a shady businessman and a murder suspect in the court of public opinion was much better than any name Otis could think to call the man.

Otis finished the paper and his peanut butter sandwich, only pausing here and there to read a few shorter blurbs of other stories that caught his eye. When he got up to get another peanut butter sandwich, he got his checkbook, too.

As he ate, Otis looked over his finances. Growing up poor had taught him two things: be frugal and be meticulous with money. Otis only bought things when he was sure he could afford them, which was why he drove a car nearly twenty years old; he wasn’t sure that he could afford any of those pricey new ones. He bought a house, the one he still lived in, but it was an investment when he bought it all those years ago and he’d been good about taking care of it, even if it wasn’t as up-to-date and fancy as some of the others in the neighborhood. Take the kitchen for example. The stove was over twenty years old and one of the knobs was gone and sometimes it shocked you if you were touching the sink at the same time, but it still worked just as well as when he’d bought it from a rummage sale about fifteen years ago. The table came from his grandmother’s basement and despite a couple of nicks was still in good shape. The wood paneling and the floor were new-ish; he’d redone them both about five years ago. The place might be well-worn and lived-in, but it was a good house.

He’d tried to pass on some of his wisdom to Velvet, though she seemed to have a pretty good head on her shoulders when it came to money. She didn’t wait to get married to buy a house and she was in no hurry to buy a new car even though the one she drove was paid for. He couldn’t convince her to spend less on clothes or make-up, though.

Otis had one hundred thousand dollars in his checking account. He also had savings accounts pushing two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, thanks to steady deposits and interest. Otis frowned. He wasn’t sure that’d be enough. He probably should have started investing in CDs or bonds or something, but Otis didn’t really trust that sort of thing. He wasn’t even sure about the savings account, but the bank had proven solid over the decades he’d used them. He still kept about ten thousand dollars in cash in the house, though. Just for emergencies. Thinking critically about his money situation, Otis decided that he could afford to retire if he really had to, though he might have to splurge on fewer name brands during grocery shopping trips just to be safe.

When he stood up to return his checkbook to its proper place and to get another glass of chocolate milk, the jingling in his pocket caught his attention. It wasn’t an unusual sound by any means, but it reminded Otis of what was actually in there.

Digging into his pocket, Otis found the coin and pulled it out. He sat down at the table again, checkbook and milk forgotten as he examined the coin, turning it over and over in his hands. It wasn’t any American or Canadian currency he knew. Didn’t look like the English money he’d seen either. There was a bird on one side, sort of like an eagle, and there was star and crescent on the other side. It was strange. And it didn’t look like it’d ever been used, like most currency, nor did it have that look of being a forgotten lucky charm. This had been cared for, the silver gleamed in the morning sunlight spilling into the kitchen. This was important.

###

But why is it important? The only way to find out is to keep reading. And to keep reading, check out Murderville or Patreon.