Murderville: The Coldest Case–Episode 2

Cracking Open a Cold One

Rena Neri’s morning had been hectic, her lunch had been odd, and her afternoon was looking to be boring. It was practically dead in the library and after the day she’d already had, Rena couldn’t bear it. It was the perfect excuse to call Pam Bendixen and tell her all about her lunch date with Christabelle Calder.

The first time Rena checked out Pam’s books, they instantly recognized each other as a kindred spirit. Pam was checking out a few true crime books and Rena’s obsession with that genre, particularly in regard to cold cases (there was something fascinating about going over clues in cases that hadn’t been solved), prevented her from keeping her mouth shut. From that first exchange, a friendship had been born and it was through that friendship that Pam decided Rena needed a romantic relationship. Rena had told her that it was the curse of married people, always looking to recruit single people into the cult, but really, Rena was ready for a nice, stable relationship. She’d tired of casual dating and relationships filled with drama and no promise.

Sequestered in her office, pretending to be going over next month’s new releases, Rena called her friend. Pam had been insistent about Rena going out with Christabelle, thinking Rena’s cold case hobby and Christabelle’s profession would provide a decent starting place. She’d warned Rena that Christabelle would be reluctant, citing her painful divorce, and asked Rena to be patient, which she was. Pam assured her that Christabelle was a woman worth waiting for. When Pam finally sent word that Christabelle had agreed to a lunch date, Rena jumped at the opportunity before the woman changed her mind. Maybe this wouldn’t be a match made in Heaven, but the mystery of the woman had Rena so intrigued she didn’t want to miss out on the chance to get to know her.

“Rena! I didn’t think I’d hear from you until later tonight,” Pam exclaimed. “How did it go?”

“Hello to you too, Pam,” Rena said, shaking her head at her friend’s excitement.

“Yes, yes, hello,” Pam said. “I hope that you calling me in the middle of the afternoon doesn’t mean that the date was a disaster and you hate me.”

Rena laughed.

“No, the library is dead right now, so I thought I’d kill time by calling you.”

“Thanks.” Pam paused, but only for a quick breath before she prompted, “So?”

“It wasn’t a disaster,” Rena said. “But it was interesting.”

“Interesting,” Pam repeated, sounding disappointed. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“No, it was fine. The date was fine. I guess,” Rena said, failing at conveying her mixed emotions. The date was fine, just really odd. She felt like she hadn’t gotten a chance to make any kind of impression on Christabelle, other than rude. As soon as Jerry Cooley sat down, Rena paid more attention to him than her date and she felt awful about that.

“Yeah, this is sounding anything but fine,” Pam said, and Rena could picture her frowning. “This sounds like it was terrible and you’re trying to soften the blow.”

“It wasn’t terrible! It was just…” She floundered for a second. “To be perfectly honest, I kind of want a do over,” Rena said with a sigh, sitting back in her chair and staring at her favorite water stain on her office ceiling. She thought it looked like a dragon most of the time.

“Oh no. What happened?”

Rena recounted the events of the lunch date, explaining how everything had been going smoothly and then got derailed by the man with the newspaper.

Pam let out a loud sigh.

“Oh, you met Jerry Cooley.”

“You know him?”

“If you go to Dillman’s and eat at the counter enough, you know him,” Pam said. And then she added, “I can’t believe Christabelle didn’t know the details of his story.”

“She said she didn’t. Do you?”

“Of course I know about Marybeth Cooley,” Pam said. “I grew up over by the park where she disappeared. Parents used that story as a way to keep us out of the woods and away from that creek back there. It never worked. If anything, the curiosity made us more keen to go back there. We used to spend afternoons in those woods looking for her bones or her ghost.”

“Her ghost?”

“Oh, you know how kids are. Every town has a Bloody Mary. Usually more than one. Marybeth Cooley became one of ours. The kids in our neighborhood believed that if you went in the woods and said her name three times, she’d appear behind you and slit your throat.”

Rena laughed, and it sounded more nervous than she liked. She knew the kind of story Pam was talking about. The kids in the neighborhood she lived in had something similar, but it involved an old woman, an abandoned building, and a being stabbed in the heart with a large nail.

“Nobody I knew ever had the guts to say her name three times while we were in there and I never heard of any kids getting their throats cut, so I’m pretty sure it was all just a rumor.”

“Yeah, seems like,” Rena said with a chuckle.

“So, aside from a special guest appearance by Jerry Cooley, what did you think of Christabelle?”

Rena thought about it for a second.

“At a glance, I like her,” she said. “She seems interesting. She’s funny. I love her hair. She’s…I wouldn’t call her pretty, but she’s got a style, a look that I find very attractive.”

Pam giggled, sounding like a teenager.

“I would like to get to know her better,” Rena said slowly, considering. “Even if she doesn’t want to pursue anything romantic with me, which after today’s lunch date I wouldn’t blame her, it was so weird. But even if it were only as friends, I could live with that. She seems like a fun person to hang around with.”

“That’s the kind of optimism I like to hear,” Pam said. “I’m expecting her to call me with her feedback on the date. And I’m going to make sure I ask how her nosy, private investigator self doesn’t know Jerry Cooley’s story. But if she’s on the same page as you, wanting to get to know you better, can I give her your phone number?”

“Absolutely,” Rena said without hesitation, hoping she sounded more excited than desperate.

“Yay!” Pam giggled again and Rena laughed along with her. “I’m so excited about this. Okay. I’ll let her know and hopefully, she’ll be giving you a call.”

“Hopefully.”

The two women said their goodbyes and Rena set about actually doing her work for the afternoon, all the while both Christabelle Calder and Marybeth Cooley bounced around in the back of her mind. Both people intrigued her.

Come four o’clock, Rena’s work was finished, but her day was not. She still had an hour left of her shift and nothing much to do. Sticking her cell phone in her pocket (in case Pam or Christabelle decided to get in touch), Rena left her office and made her way down to the periodicals room. Years ago, the back issues of the Munsterville Courier were on microfiche. An extensive fundraising campaign led to the digitalization of all of the back issues of the newspaper, an involved project that took over a year to do.  It was worth it, though. It was so much easier to find and read old newspaper articles this way.

Only Penny LaGrand, the daytime periodicals clerk, was there. The older gentlemen who filled the room in the morning to read the daily copies of the various papers the library subscribed to were long gone, off to spend their afternoon at cafes and coffee shops and restaurants all over town, drinking coffee, eating pie, and talking about how right they were and how things were better back in their day. People looking to borrow movies in the afternoons weren’t as regular and this particular afternoon, it seemed no one was in the mood. Penny glanced up from the entertainment gossip magazine she was reading and when she realized that Rena wasn’t there on official business (or at least any business that involved her), she went right back to it. Penny was forty-four going on twenty-two and while she was good at her job, she wasn’t exactly invested in it. She got her work done to get it done because as soon as she got it done, she was free to do whatever she wanted, which was usually reading romance novels or trashy magazines.

Rena went to the digital newspaper archive and quickly found the issues from around the time Marybeth Cooley disappeared, including a copy of the one that Jerry Cooley carried with him. The details in that first article were much the same as what Mr. Cooley had told them: Marybeth had been with friends in the park, had gotten upset at being teased, was taken into the woods, and then never seen again. The police were conducting a search, but it was hampered by the parents reporting Marybeth’s disappearance late in the evening and a series of severe storms coming through the area at the same time. Due to the weather and lack of light, the police couldn’t begin their search of the woods until the following morning and by then, any potential evidence had all been washed away. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the creek that cut through those woods on its way to Lake Munster, already swollen from snowmelt, had flooded out from the rain. The spot where Nannette Sullivan had said the two of them had been standing didn’t exist when the police conducted their search.

Subsequent articles highlighted the fruitless search for Marybeth Cooley as well as floated speculation all over the place. Rumors swirled as to what had happened to the good girl who lived on Violet Way with her parents and her younger brother Jerry. She was a model student, attended church with her family every Sunday, was never in trouble, the teenager every parent wished they had. The newspaper articles made the girl out to be a saint. That was something Rena noticed about missing persons: an asshole never went missing.

Naturally, suspicion fell on the friends that Marybeth had been with that day. Two of them, Dwight Harmon and Butch Taylor, were from well-to-do families, considered to be a bit rowdy, but boys would be boys, especially when they have money. Nannette Sullivan was also from a good family but had a reputation in school as being rather mean. One unnamed classmate was quoted in the paper as saying, “You never want to cross Nan. You don’t want to get on her bad side. You won’t like it there, for sure.” The fourth friend, Jimmie DuPage, was a known troublemaker, always in trouble at school and with the local police. Nannette, Butch, and Dwight all defended him, saying they were trying to help Jimmie stay straight, that’s why they were hanging out together, and that Jimmie had nothing to do with Marybeth going missing. Still, there was strong speculation that either one, two, or all of the four friends, either accidentally or on purpose, killed Marybeth Cooley in the woods and buried her body there.

And then there wasn’t.

***

Rena digs deeper into the Marybeth Cooley case while waiting for Christabelle to call. Become a patron for as little as $1 an episode to get all the details!

Bad (Sleeping) Habits

Every year I get a new planner because I like to feel like I have my life together. Yes, it’s an illusion, but I get to personalize the planner anyway I want to, so it’s all good.

In this year’s planner, I put a habit tracker. There are a few goals that I have for the year and I thought the habit tracker would be useful for them. One is one of my half-assed resolutions. I want to read at least 5 days a week. I color those days with light blue.

I also want to increase the duration of my workouts. I try to exercise at least 10 minutes most days. Those days are purple. Fifteen minute days are pink. Twenty minute days are red.

And I also want to be more consistent with my sleep schedule. The days I’m in bed, lights off, TV off, phone off before 12:30 AM are dark blue.

Now the thing is I track my sleep and my workouts in my phone. But the habit tracker gives me a different kind of visual record. I can see everything all at once, color coded and easy to interpret.

In January, I read every day except for two. I worked out every day except for four and most of those workouts were at least fifteen minutes. Filling in those squares really motivated me to keep filling them out.

The same could not be said for my sleep goal.

I didn’t make it to bed before 12:30 AM nearly half of the month. I couldn’t get a streak going longer than four days. And there are too many times that I stayed up too late two nights in a row.

Sleep has always been a challenge for me. It’s gotten worse in the last few years. And my bad habits are surprisingly resistant to the slightly self-competitive nature of the habit tracker. I like besting myself. I like creating long streaks and then trying to break them. Hell, I’m well on my way to hitting 1,000 straight days on Duolingo for the second time.

But when it comes to my sleep habits, I just can’t seem to find the groove.

Of course I’m not giving up on the habit tracker just yet. I think that in this case, with this goal, it just needs a little more time.

Rest assured, I’ll put my bad sleep habits to bed.

 

No, I’m not apologizing for that.

Turning 40

Is turning 40 still a big deal? I guess for some people it is. I know I’m excited about it, which is kind of the wrong reaction. There’s still that stigma of 40 being old. It’s an age that women especially deny. I never quite understood that. I’ve earned every year.

It’s possible that because I never thought I’d live this long I am so chill with it. I figured that I’d do myself in at some point, either as the result of my depression or a fiery explosion of my own creation, most likely some sort of car accident because I’ve had far too many close calls. Or I insisted on petting something that I shouldn’t. That’ll probably be the way I go. Anyway. Getting to 40 seemed like an impossibility. I figured I’d biff it long before then.

But I didn’t and now I’m here. Granted, I’m not in the place I probably should be, not the one I want to be. I have failed at so much shit and have achieved none of the milestones I should have. And yet…I feel okay. I’m not depressed (and I’m usually clawing out of a winter depression during my birthday). I’m not down on what I haven’t done. I’m not bummed with getting older (honestly, I still feel 25…that’s probably part of my problem). I’m just kind of enjoying the moment.

A moment that I probably should have planned something super cool for to celebrate, but my long-term planning skills suck, so never mind.

Honestly, I’m rather looking forward to seeing what my forties brings. Since I haven’t done all of the things that I’m supposed to do, I won’t be doing the next things that I’m supposed to do. There’s an unplanned feel to it that I’m rather enjoying.

Here’s to hoping that it’s a good time.

Cheers.

2020 Half-Assed Resolutions

My 2019 resolutions were mostly done successfully. As you can see, still not dead, and 2019 was a better time than 2018, so we’re calling that a win. Book ’em, Danno is happening. I cleaned out my craft drawer, but I have no memory of doing it. It was either me or clutter elves, but either way, it got done. As for my art…I hung up one piece. Okay, I didn’t do something with all of the pieces I created in 2018, but I did do something with one of them and since these are half-assed resolutions, that totally counts.

2020 is a big year for half-assed resolutions. New decade and I’ll be 40. Gotta make these good.

1. Don’t get dead.

2. Have a good time.

3. Clean out my sewing drawer. I have to come to accept that I’m not sewing very much right now and that I don’t need all of the fabric and scraps that I’ve accumulated. Other people could put that stuff to better use and in the now, not in the metaphorical future.

4. Read consistently. I do read, but I’m a sporadic reader. Meaning, I can go all week without reading and then read half a book on a Sunday. As nice as spending a Sunday that way is, I’d like to read more throughout the week as well. I’m going to aim for at least 5 days a week. And since this is half-assed, the bar of how much to read on those nights is set on the floor.

5. Self-care. I am crap at self-care. I tend to wait until I’m about to fall off the ledge before I take the step back and go, “Hey, self. We should probably take a breather.” I’d like to make it more of a regular thing. Even if I could just take one day a month to assess and ask myself the necessary questions that gauge my well-being that would be great. I can work on addressing the answers for my 2021 half-assed resolutions.

Okay. Let’s get this new decade started.

Have a Bad Day

I woke up from a dead sleep at 4am with an anxiety attack. It had something to do with the day job, an insignificant thing that my broke-ass brain decided was a much bigger issue and decided to flail about it despite my repeated attempts at logic and reason. It took almost two hours for me to get back to sleep and even then, I ended up having fitful anxiety dreams.

This set the tone for my day. It colored everything I did. How I interacted with other people and dealt with them, how I went about my writing and my day job shift. When I finished my exercises in the morning (because I made myself do them), I sat on the floor with my head in my hands for twenty minutes, inert. I knew that it was going to be a day. I was going to be out of sorts.

And you know what?

I let myself have a bad day.

There’s this idea that bad days should be avoided at all costs. Do whatever you can to not have one. Don’t let that one moment ruin your twenty-fours hours. Change your attitude, change your perspective, other people have it worse, don’t let it get you down.

Granted, no one wants to have a bad day, but I think so much of that is because people don’t like dealing with other people having a bad day. It makes them uncomfortable. It’s awkward. They don’t know what to say or what to do. So, they tell you not to have one so they don’t have to deal with it. Which perpetuates this idea that bad days are some kind of failing. To have one means you’re not fighting hard enough to be happy and therefore not burden the other people in your life with your unpleasant, unkempt shit.

In the past, I would have struggled to turn my frown upside down and that struggle would have made my bad day worse. I would have pushed and everything I touched would have gone to instant shit. Like the Midas touch, only crappy. Instead, I knew from the minute I woke up with that anxiety attack that I was going to have a bad day and I accepted it. I didn’t wallow in it. I didn’t take it out on anyone else. I just acknowledged that this was the day that I was having and it was okay. I was allowed.

The result?

My day wasn’t great, but it didn’t get worse. It was bearable. I was more productive than I thought I’d be because I didn’t push myself. I gave myself an out for everything on my schedule. I forced nothing. I took nothing personally and I ate comfort food for dinner. I let myself be, I had my bad day, and I didn’t make anyone else uncomfortable in the process. My day ended up being grey instead of black.

And it ended better than it started.

Two bowls of cereal have that power.

The Purge, But for My Stuff

Image by drewplaysdrums from pixbayAt the day job, sometimes we get projects. My first project involved going through the mess of empty DVD cases we have (they’re used for the collection of movies, TV shows, and games we have to loan out), weeding out the bad ones, and organizing the rest. It took a couple of weeks, but I got it done.

For an organizer like me, the project was great. For a pack rat like me, it was a challenge.

I’m the person that will hang onto the most random, useless things just in case. I will attempt to salvage things that can’t or shouldn’t be salvaged. It was tricky for me to get through that part of the project, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Then I brought it home.

I have a several To Do Lists. I have the writing To Do List of Doom. I have daily/weekly To Do Lists. And I have the To Do List of the Year. Stuff that needs to be done, but I don’t have a time limit on them. It covers things like getting new glasses (when I have the money), getting a tattoo cover-up (when I have the money), finishing sewing projects, transferring pictures from my phone to my computer. Stuff like that.

Many of the items currently sitting on that list involve getting rid of things. Cleaning out my writing drawer, cleaning out art drawer, cleaning out my make-up, cleaning out my nail polish, cleaning out my bookcases, cleaning out my email folders. Purging. Getting rid of that which no longer serves me.

This past week I brought my work home with me, so to speak. I’ve started going through my To Do List of the Year, accomplishing a couple of smaller tasks before setting my sights on the things that need to go. I’ve cleaned out all of my email folders. (Who the hell saves four year old coupon offers? Me. That’s who.) I’ve thrown out some nail polish. The make-up is next.

You see, not only do I have to seize these productive moods, but I also have to go with the pitch it flow. I’ve been throwing things out for two weeks now. I’m in the rhythm. I can carry that rhythm to moisturizer I’m never going to use and I know I’m never going to use. It’s okay for me to get rid of those things and create that much needed space.

I need to lighten my load, so to speak.

So if anyone needs any barely used eyeshadow, let me know. I might have your shade.

“I Have a Blood Pressure Situation.”

“If I ever let myself go…SPLAT!” -Frank Burns, M*A*S*H

Turns out that Frank Burns and I have that in common. A blood pressure situation, that is.

My blood pressure was fine in my twenties, back when I smoked and live on fast food and Hot Pockets. Then I quit smoking and started eating better, cooking actual meals, eating fast food only sometimes, and giving up Hot Pockets all together.

And my blood pressure started running a little high.

I will go to my grave pissed about that.

That grudge is probably one of the reasons why my blood pressure has recently gotten worse.

I would wager that my health problems over the past couple of years are probably a contributing factor as well. Stress can play hell with the blood pressure and even though I’m a year removed from that situation, it’s not hard to believe that some effects might still linger. I mean, it did take forever for my hair to start to grow back.

And frankly, my diet hasn’t been the greatest lately.

Though I haven’t gone back to Hot Pockets, and fast food is still an occasional thing, a little analysis of my diet has shown that sodium has still crept in and is probably the main culprit from my blood pressure situation getting worse.

Someone pointed out that age might also be a contributing factor and to them I say –That negativity is not helping.

So this month, I’m monitoring my sodium intake by logging all of my food (which I hate) and making some dietary changes in an attempt to reduce my saltiness. (In this case the literal. The figurative is just a personality quirk.) Maybe, possibly, perhaps a little less sodium will make a big difference.

I’m also going back to exercising first thing in the morning. Yes, I exercise most days of the week and exercise is good for the blood pressure, but I think going back to morning workouts will give this whole lifestyle tweak an extra boost. And I need a boost right now.

Hopefully, all of this will be enough to get my blood pressure back to reasonable levels.

I’d like to avoid a splat situation.