by Mr. Z
Beginning of a mysteryl, a WhoDunIt Award winner. Published by Absolutely Amazing Books.
|Homicide in the Headlines (2018)
Terry groaned as he reached for the phone ringing on his desk. Someone with a sick sense of humor had put it out of his reach. He climbed on top of his desk and pulled the phone to him before sitting back down. He cursed himself as he knocked over a photograph of a pretty brunette. “Sorry about that,” Terry said to the photograph as he set it upright. He picked up the receiver for the phone.
“Hello,” he said trying to get comfortable in his specially-made chair, “City Times, copy editing. How can I help you?”
“I’m helping you,” a voice distorted by a machine replied. Terry listened as the person chuckled at the other end.
Terry took a deep breath. “Well I certainly appreciate that. How are you going to help me?”
“I’ve got a killer of a story,” the distorted voice said while laughing.
“Excellent. We are always looking for good stories. What’s this one about?”
“No, no, no,” the voice said in a taunting manner. “You have to work for it.”
“Okay,” Terry said drawing out the word. “And how am I going to do that?”
“There’s an abandon shopping center on Highway 41. Look around back. You’ll find your story.” The voice hung up.
Terry looked at the handset before setting it back on phone. He sat there, thinking how to handle the situation.
“Hey, didn’t I see you with Snow White?”
Terry groaned again; another voice he didn’t want to deal with. This one belonged to Ashford Zane, one of the paper’s top reporters and probably the practical joker who put Terry’s phone out of his reach. However, as far as Terry was concerned, Ashford was as welcomed as a hemorrhoid, a real pain in the ass.
“Now, which one are you,” Ashford said chuckling at his joke. “Is it Grumpy, Sleepy, Doc, Dopey, which one.”
Terry looked up at Ashford. “I’m the one who doesn’t like jokes about dwarfs. And I don’t like it when you put my phone at the edge of my desk so I can’t reach it, and then call me about some bogus news story, just so you can watch me struggle answering the phone.”
“Hey, I didn’t call you about a bogus story, although I would have if I thought of it. Also, it’s not my fault you’re only four feet tall.”
“Well it isn’t my fault either. It’s not like I choose it on my college application.”
“Listen half pint. Don’t give my any crap.”
Terry glared at Ashford. “Just leave the stuff on my desk alone.”
“Yeah, sure,” Ashford said as he walked past Terry, pressing Terry and his chair into the editor’s desk.
“Ashford,” called out a feminine voice. “Quit picking on Terry.”
Ashford turned to face the woman. “Diana. Come on. I’m just joking around with the runt. I’m not going to hurt him.”
Diana stood with her arms crossed. “Sometimes your jokes aren’t funny. Besides that, no one really appreciates your practical jokes; especially the one last week with the dead rattlesnake in women’s toilet.”
“Aw come on, that was funny. You should have seen you girls running out of there.”
“The snake was probably one of your relatives,” Terry mumbled to himself.
“You say something,” Ashford said challenging Terry.
“Yeah,” Terry replied. “If you didn’t call me, then who did? I got a strange phone call. Someone said there was a story behind the abandon shopping plaza on Highway 41.”
“What else did the caller say?” asked Diana.
“Nothing really,” Terry answered. “He just said there as a killer of a story out there. I thought it was Ashford and one of his practical jokes the way the guy was laughing.”
“Probably was a prank.” Ashford replied. “It’s not worth running out there. If there is a story, someone will call it in.”
“I don’t know,” Terry said. “If it isn’t a prank, then someone should check it out.”
“Ashford’s right,” Diana added. “It there is a news story, others will call it in. People are more likely to call the media about a crime or incident than they are to call the police.”
“Do you really think people are that sick?” Terry asked.
“Yeah, they are,” was Ashford’s response.
* * * * *
He giggled as he removed the sim card from the disposable phone. He made a mental note to throw them both away, possibly in the river near the railroad tracks. He wasn’t worried about anyone tracing the call, but if the police found the phone, they might be able to trace it back to where he bought it and when. He didn’t want to show up on any video recordings. He called a newspaper and it was the first time, so he knew they wouldn’t have any equipment set up for tracing phone calls. The police would go through phone records. They would find the number and probably be able to triangulate the signal to this area, which wasn’t a problem. He wanted them to find this place. How else would they find the dead girl’s body?
* * * * *
Woody Dumfries loved the interesting people he met while driving a taxi. Sure, there were some who gave him hassles, but as a retired boxer, Woody had no trouble getting those who stepped out of line to mind their manners. Twice, someone had tried to rob him. Both times, Woody gave them the money, let them out of the cab, called the police, and then chased the thieves down himself. He admits he was lucky. The first time the thief ran down an alley and Woody followed him in the taxi, knocking the thief down with the driver’s door. The second time the thief ran into a building and started up the stairs; but he slipped, fell down, and dropped the gun. He got up and took a swing at Woody, who immediately decked the thief, knocking him out cold. Still, Woody had learned to be careful and made it a point to check out fares before they got into his cab. He noticed a small man hailing a cab.
Woody pulled his taxi over to the curb. The short man jumped in. “Where to?” Woody asked.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Oh. Yeah. Ah, I need to go to an abandon shopping center on Highway 41.”
“The one across the highway from the museum?”
“I guess,” Terry answered. “All I know is some guy called and said there was a big story and it was behind an abandon shopping center on Highway 41.”
“Is that all,” said Woody.
“That’s all he said. I’m hoping it isn’t a waste of time.”
“You and me both,” Woody replied as he turned on the meter. He looked in the rearview mirror at the man in the back seat. “You should buckle up. The cops will give me a ticket if you don’t.”
“Sure, not a problem.” Terry grabbed the seatbelt and buckled in.
“So. You some kind of reporter?”
“I asked are you some kind of reporter?”
“Yeah, why do you ask?”
“You said something about a story at this shopping center. I know it’s been closed for a couple of years now. There’s no reason to go there; but you said there was a story there. Are they going to reopen the place?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Terry answered. “I was just told to go there and I would find a story.”
“So you are a reporter.”
“Yes, I work for the City Times.”
Woody picked up a newspaper lying next to him. “Read it all the time.”
“Thanks, appreciate the patronage.”
They pulled into the empty parking lot of the shopping center. Woody drove through the parking lot. “Nothing here.”
Terry pointed to side of the building. “It’s around back. At least, that’s what he said.”
“Some guy on the phone.”
Woody stopped the taxi. “Listen guy, you had better not by leading me on a wild goose chase or trying to set me up. I know you’re a midget, but how do I know you aren’t leading me someplace where I’m going to get robbed?”
Terry took out his identification for the newspaper and handed the driver forty dollars. “I’m not going to rob you. I work at a newspaper. This morning we got a phone call saying something happened out here, and I came here to investigate. That’s all.”
“Why didn’t you drive your own car?’
“I don’t have one. I don’t even have a driver’s license.”
“You don’t know how to drive.”
“I didn’t say that. Look, I live in the city and I find it easier and cheaper to use public transportation than to own a car. Please, just drive to the rear of the store and let’s see if there is anything back there.”
“Okay,” Woody replied as he drove around to the back. They slowly moved along the rear entrances of the deserted stores until they came to a pile of debris.
“You think this is it?” asked Woody.
“Don’t know,” Terry said as he slid out of the taxi. He hesitatingly walked to the pile. He quickly turned and ran back to the back to Woody.
“Call the police,” Terry shouted.
“Why? What’s wrong?”
Terry point to the debris. “There’s a dead girl over there. This is more than a story. It’s murder.”
* * * * *
From his vantage point, he could see the taxi pull around the shopping center and stop several feet from a debris pile. They weren’t the police, so who were they? He watch as a short individual got out of the vehicle, walked over to the debris, and ran back to the driver. But they didn’t leave. The short guy walked back over to debris pile and started taking pictures with his cell phone. What a ghoul. Within minutes, there were police vehicles with their blue lights flashing. Patrol officers began stretching yellow tape around the debris, using their vehicles as posts for the crime scene tape. He became delighted at the sight of news vans with TV cameras arrived, along with additional police cars. He was disappointed when the police put up a plastic tarp to prevent the press from getting pictures of the body he knew was down there. He went back to his blue pickup and reached into a cooler, pulling out a cold beer. This is better than the movies he thought as he took a long swig from the can he was holding.
* * * * *
Terry tried to think of a logical explanation why four police cruisers had their lights flashing while they secured the crime scene behind an abandon building. Who were they trying to warn? It did make it easy for the TV news crews and newspaper reporters to find them. Unfortunately for Terry, the City Times has sent Ashford to cover the story. The reporters were trying to find a position where they could get photos of the investigation. The police erected walls of blue plastic hiding the body and the crime scene from the eyes of the media.
Woody groaned as he sat back in the driver’s seat. “We could be here for hours before they move the body and take our statements. And I’m hungry. Hey, just so you know, I’m still running the meter. You’re going to owe me for waiting around here.”
“Are you kidding,” Terry exclaimed holding his hand out towards the blue tarp. “There’s a dead woman over there and you’re worried about getting paid.”
“I don’t blame you,” said a voice behind them.
Terry and Woody turned to face a man in chino slacks and a blue blazer. He had a detective’s shield on his belt.”
“I’m Detective Marshall. Nick Marshall. Need to talk to you about the body you found.”
“He found it,” Woody said pointing at Terry. “I’m just a taxi driver.”
Marshall turned his attention to Terry. “So, tell me what brought you out here?”
Terry pulled his hands out of his pockets. “Earlier today I got a phone call. The person at the other end told me there was a story out here behind an abandon shopping center. I got the taxi here to drive me out here, where I found the poor girl murdered, and I immediately called you.”
“How do you know she was murdered?”
“With all of the blood on her clothes and the fact she was laying on a pile of debris, I assumed she was.”
“Okay. What can you tell me about the person who called you?”
“Nothing,” Terry replied. “I spoke to him for only a few seconds. He told me to look here and I would find a story. I looked, and I found the girl. That’s it.”
“I think he used a machine to distort his voice. It didn’t sound normal.”
“Okay. So, why do you think he called you?”
“He didn’t call me,” Terry explained. “He called the paper. I just happened to answer the phone.”
“Do you have any idea who might have called you?”
“Did you know the victim?”
“So as a journalist, you get a phone call and decide to check it out, on your own without reporting it to anyone?”
“Report what?” Terry said with a hint of frustration. “I can’t call the police every time I get a strange phone call. You know how many nuts there are out there?”
The detective chuckled. “Yeah, I do. I’m a cop. I deal with them on a daily basis.”
“So do I,” Terry replied.
“Hey man,” interrupted Woody, “really, all we did was drive up and spot a dead girl. Then we called you. That’s it. Is it okay if we go now?”
“Sure,” answered Detective Marshall. “Just let me get your contact information and then you can go.