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Delve into the hard work of Sami, a handi-capable investigative crime reporter, who’s well on her way to solving a string of seemingly unrelated murders. Her path takes her deep into darkness, one victim at a time, leading Sami to question her own morality.
The bodies are piling up; she just learned about another young woman. Sami records the address and gathers her composure, quickly heading out to investigate the scene before the police arrive. Her anonymous source tips her off to the whereabouts of the murdered victims, sometimes hours before the police are even contacted. Sami has no way of knowing if her source is someone in the know, or if He or She is the killer.
As Sami meticulously scours her notes on each murder victim, she struggles to find something in common, something that ties the women together, a pattern. She has difficulty believing that there could be a serial killer in her own back yard.
Could this be the front-page story that leads to a promotion? Might her published words lead to national recognition, to syndication? Can Sami survive her own demons in the process, or will her investigation expose her, driving her to madness and despair?
Halfway across the country in the small town of Hay Springs, in northwestern Nebraska, a text message came through to a young girl. Sitting with a couple of friends in the town’s only fast-food restaurant, Claire checked her phone. Pulling out a second phone, she opened her email and sent off a template message. It asked the most basic, mundane of questions. Claire personalized the message with their CotD logo and addressed Sami by the name of the email address she had used, PreciousPants.
Claire went and finished the last of her first dinner with her friends; which consisted of six small pieces of chicken, a small fry, and a chocolate shake before checking her email. It was the first thing that Claire and her friends did when school was over, they walked across the street and got some food. It was a bonus for her, actually. She went there to be picked up by her mom instead of taking the bus home, and to hang out with her friends; the early dinner was just in case her mom cooked something that she didn’t like. Her meal was actually a late lunch or possibly an emergency dinner, as their school lunches were too pitiful to pay for. The food was bad, and besides, it was actually cheaper to eat here than buy a sad lunch at school. She was saving for a new media server anyway, so at the end of each week she added from three to five dollars to her savings.
Looking down at her cell there was no response yet, so it would be off for home. She would check again when she got back, and then again tomorrow before school. Claire never pulled out her second phone in front of her mom, she would not understand. If she didn’t have enough information to work with, or if her reply did not arrive in time, she would just push it off another week. No biggie, she thought, calculus came first anyways. Smiling at her friends she waved goodbye and took her tray to the trash to continue looking through the large windows for her mom.
Claire was standing for a little over a minute before she pulled up. With a final wave to her friends, she walked out the door and jumped in. Reaching for her seat belt, she fastened it and smiled.
“Yes, two, possibly three, and I love you too,” were Claire’s usual responses to her mom’s usual questions.
“You know that creeps me out. You really have to stop doing that,” her mom scolded.
Claire knew that bothered her mom, but if she didn’t ask the same questions each time she picked her up after school, she wouldn’t’ do it. A large smile slowly moved onto her face before she turned and looked out the window one last time at her friends.
The ride home was boring, as usual. It took them from ten to thirty minutes to get home, based on traffic and whether or not they made all the red lights. Living in the suburbs absolutely sucked for moving around town, but the amenities were refreshing. A few years ago, they lived in the country, which was totally opposite from where Claire found herself at the present. Moving to their new house introduced her to homemade ice cream, roller skating, a much larger school than she had ever been a part of before, and oh yes, traffic!
“Thanks for picking me up,” Claire blurted out as she ran inside.
The you’re welcome was implied, as it had not been allowed to be said. Her mom smiled and shook her head before closing the car door and heading up the stairs. Clicking the button on her key fob she locked her car and as she took the last step into the house, she pushed the button to close the garage door.
“Dinners on the table, Pumpkin. I have a late meeting to sign into, I can’t miss it,” she yelled before taking the first door on her right and going down into her office in the basement.
Claire was already munching on her bowl of macaroni and cheese in her bedroom when she heard her mom’s message grow distant and quiet. Another night of uninterrupted studying and computer fun-joy, she thought.
She sat on her bed, propped up with several oversized pillows and her back against the wall enjoying her second dinner. Both of her feet dangled over the edge of her bed, moving to and fro to a dumb jingle that was stuck in her head. Looking around she saw what others might think of as a gypsy campground hoarder’s office space, but Claire only saw Einstein’s desk; she laughed when the thought of his quote of a cluttered desk popped into her head.
Her bed was situated perpendicular against the main wall, with the headboard resting against the side of the corner, maximizing the limited space that was available to her. Opposite her small twin bed was her workspace. Two white plastic molded tables measuring a length of six feet each were jammed together to provide ample space for all the items needed for today’s student’s work and play life balance. The tables were against the opposite corner and took up most of the wall space from right to left. There were two wooden shelves on the wall above the tables. The lower one was a foot in width, the one above it was half that, but each was as long as the tables were. Off to the far left was a window that was as high as the table stood and went up to a foot below the ceiling.
Claire looked at the desk surface in amazement; it was indeed cluttered, but it provided everything she needed. The left table had two computer towers, one silver and one black on the left side. To the right of those were a single flat screen monitor pushed to the back of the table, allowing the front space enough room for a laptop to be used. Papers and books littered the rest of the available table’s surface. On top of each tower were its keyboard and mouse, respectively. The single monitor in the back was shared between them and was connected to whatever tower she needed to use at the time.
Underneath the table was a smoky gray cabinet with a vertical row of flashing green lights. It was about a foot and a half tall and approximately eight inches or so deep. Written in white out above the lights was the word, Monty. This was her computer server rack. It held all of her electronic data that she cared about. It also doubled as her media server, organizing all her music and movies so she could watch them around the house, streaming the content to different devices; it was her most prized possession.
The table on the right held a larger, newer looking tower and three very large flat screen monitors setup adjacent to each other. The center monitor faced the viewer head-on, with the two sides angled slightly away. A single screensaver appeared on all monitors, allowing a small blue ball to change sizes, shapes, and colors, bouncing smoothly from one monitor to the next; this was her fun computer, it was where she did everything fun. There were assorted books and papers stacked here and there on the left and right sides of the second table, but the center was devoid of all clutter, consisting of a large ergonomic keyboard and mouse, both of which were backlit with red lighting.
Underneath the right side of the table was a two-drawer locking filing cabinet with a traditional look. The top drawer was half the size of the bottom. They were similar in appearance, but there were other subtle differences. First off, the entire cabinet was painted white. It was not a professional paint job, but the matt finish did do it justice; Claire did not slop the hog, as her mother might say. She was actually proud that Claire had taken initiative to find a perfect white paint, that she chose a matt finish, and that she did it all in the garage to minimize the mess. Another difference was that she had actually put in a separate lock with a different key so each drawer could be secured individually. The smaller drawer on top wasn’t accessed often, but when it was, times were generally bad.
Behind everything on the two tables was the largest natural cork bulletin board known to humanity! It rested on the table and stretched upward to the lower shelving from one end of the tables to the other. Her mom had it custom made to fit the space. It was Claire’s second favorite possession. Not all of it was visible or used in day-to-day activities, but she made good use of what was available. Most of the surfaces in Claire’s room were covered in white, devoid of color; the plastic molded tables, the walls, the ceiling, the shelving, the trim around the window, the sheer curtain that gently hung in front of it, the molding around the room, they were all white.
On the wall to the left of the window, also white in color was a large six by ten-foot dry erase board. Even the tray at the bottom that held assorted markers and an eraser was white. it stretched from her headboard to the window, centered neatly, half a foot away from both sides. There were things that were not white, mainly her computers, the server towers, assorted books, and the like. Her electronics were various shades of gray; even the laminate flooring ranged from light to dark gray.
None of that bothered Claire. As she looked at the two tables, she marveled in the way that they mirrored the two hemispheres of the brain. The left table was considered to be adept at tasks that involved language, logic, analytical thinking. The right was better at expressive and creative tasks; basically, the left side represented school, and the right fun. This also lent to the explanation of how her chairs were setup. Her two chairs in front of the tables were also in contrast to the main white color of Claire’s room, both being black. The more comfortable of the two was used the most, was more enjoyable, and therefor belonged to the right side for gaming and fun, whereas the simpler of the two, or the plain chair, being also less comfortable, belonged to the left, to deadlines, homework, and lengthy academic papers.
With a sign of satisfaction, or agreement in looking around and rethinking her color scheme, yet again, she got up and took her empty dish over to her left table. Sitting down she took her monitor cable and connected it to the desktop tower on the right, positioned the keyboard and mouse for use, and booted up her computer. Reaching to her right she grabbed her calculus book and opened it to today’s assignments. Claire had about four hours to complete what she thought would take her around twenty minutes; might as well get it done now, she thought, as her cell phone vibrated her message alert.
Reaching for her phone, Claire stopped when she noticed the keyboard and mouse on the right table turn on and slowly blink red. Instead, she got up and sat down at the right desk and moved the mouse to activate her computer’s password screen. Thirty-seven characters later, her center screen displayed a message:
Please follow security process.
Claire reached underneath her table and felt for her keys. Taking the one on the right she walked over to her server tower and unlocked it. Opening the door she saw two buttons, a red button and a green button. She pushed the red button and closed the door and again locked it. Replacing the key underneath her desk, she waited for the monitor to display her new message:
Welcome back, Claire.
Across town and into the early evening, a kid wearing an oversized red sweatshirt with the outline of a pug pushed the door open and walked inside holding a well-used black Plan B, sporting pastel Spitfire Bigheads. The man smiled, placed his board on the floor in front of him, and made his way to order his coffee.
“Can I help you?” the young female barista asked.
“I would like a large, half-whole milk, one quarter 1%, one quarter non-fat, extra hot, split quad shots, no foam latte, with whip, 2 packets of Splenda, 1 sugar in the raw, a touch of vanilla syrup and 3 short shakes of cinnamon please,” the kid said smiling.
“All right. One large coffee with cream coming right up,” she said laughing.
He returned her smile and went over to check out the bulletin board. Stopping short of the wall with only his feet, he balanced himself moving his board slowly left and right. Reaching up to the bulletin board, he pulled down a business card and took a picture of it before throwing it in the trash can below. Easy money, he thought as he rocked and spun his board around. He made his way back to the counter, tapped his credit card to pay, and smiled as he left with his coffee.
“Do you know how hard it was for me to memorize that order?” he said over his shoulder.
“See you at school tomorrow, Chaz,” she replied.
Chaz turned left and went a few blocks before speeding up to jump a curb. Upon his successful completion, he stopped and texted the business card to WilG.
Sami sat in her car on yet another stakeout, bored out of her mind. It was afternoon now, and try as she might, Sami couldn’t help to feel a little tired, and possibly, in need of a nap. She spent her time taking notes and watching patients and employees alike come and go. Beside her on the passenger seat were at least three different types of chips, a bag of pretzels, and a bag of snack-size candy bars. On the floorboard was the remnants of her lunch from the Olive Garden. Looking down at the large bag full of goodies, she remembered her dinner with James. To sum it up, she would say the food was good, and the company was great. She learned a lot from James and his experiences at Physio, and even more about her choices for dinner.
Moving her snacks away from her, she placed her bowl of soup and her lunch in their place. What she was eating today for lunch was far different from what she enjoyed for her dinner with James. She was having gnocchi soup, a small salad, and their tour of Italy, without breadsticks. Thinking on whether or not she missed the breadsticks, she did miss them, but chose a slightly lower calorie lunch; I know right, she thought, or IKR, if she was sending text messages or emails.
Writing more notes between taking soup breaks, Sami wrote down that Nick did not appear to be working today. She didn’t know if he was off if he had changed his schedule or if he didn’t’ show up. Another two sips of soup, and she decided to go and find out. Replacing the cover on her gnocchi, she placed it safely on the passenger floorboard, took her cell phone, her keys, and got out.
Sporting her unusually large and heavy looking metal cane, she stood beside her car door and mashed the button to lock her car. Step after step, she slowly walked towards the front door, milking it by exaggerating her condition, and continuing to watch who came and left. It took an eternity for her to get there, during which several people stopped to hold the door for her, until deciding that she was taking too long, and moving on, thinking that someone else would hold it for her instead. Sami thought that was funny, and a few times, she slowed down when someone was standing by the door. Sami laughed inside at this; she dare not laugh for someone trying to help her to see.
Finally, Sami was close enough for someone to help her by holding the door. She smiled and nodded, as she passed the young man with a cast on his arm. Moving slowly inside, she approached the main desk. Before she got there, two different employees made beelines to intercept her. Sami spoke to the first person to approach before they went into their company’s script.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to reach Nick. He was a referral for me; is he in today?”
Tom looked around to verify Nick had not come in today, before turning to her and telling the nice lady he had switched his schedule.
“I was just checking that he had not changed his mind, but Nick took today off. Is there anything that I can assist with?” he kindly asked.
“Oh, no. It’s all right. I’ll come back Friday to see him,” she finished.
“Well, if it’s important, he’ll be back in tomorrow, sometime in the afternoon, I think. I can check for you if you like, Miss?” he asked.
“No worries. I’ll just come back tomorrow. Thank you for your time, young man,” she said, turning around and walking to the door.
He moved to her side, easily beating her to the door, and held it until she was through. Have a good day, she heard over her shoulder as she kept walking to her car. There was her answer. If you changed your schedule, Nick, what are you doing, she thought? Getting situated in her car, she chose to take her soup and salad home, and started to attack Italy.
It was just shy of four in the morning and Tamara was leaning against the door, waiting for the shop to open. She had been here for over twenty minutes because she wanted to make sure she would be first for the goodies. Moments later the exterior lights came on and a small Korean man walked to the front door. He turned the closed sign over to open, he pulled on a short metal chain turning on a bright red neon sign, and he reached to unlock the door. She smiled as she went inside and followed the man to the glass display case full of pastries.
Perusing all the goodies, she decides to go with quality for her, and quantity for Earl.
“I’ll have two of each the chocolate ones in front, and from the tray on the right, three each of those crème filled ones. After that, I’ll take a dozen glazed please,” she sleepily said.
Smiling back, the man who’s name she could not easily pronounce no matter how many times she tried, nodded, and smiled. Taking a sip of his coffee, he took a tissue and started packing her order. The smell of vanilla wafted past the counter and hovered gently in the air in front of her.
“I don’t suppose I could have one of those, could I?” Tamara said as she looked at the man’s coffee.
“Sure thing, I’ll grab you a large cup in a few,” he said with a soft accent.
Her smile was payment enough, he charged her for three dozen donuts and gave her a cup of his fresh brewed pot of vanilla shortbread coffee, free of charge.
“Thank you very much for the donuts, and the coffee!” she said smiling as she juggled her goods and held open the door.
“Thanks for stopping by!” he replied, smiling large enough for both of them.
Managing to get the hatchback of her Toyota open without incident, she placed the boxes of donuts behind her back seat, side by side. Closing the door, she grabbed her coffee and sipped on it as she sat down in the driver’s seat. She was headed across town to her favorite bowling alley, Strike Ten. If she was asked about why she liked going there instead of the smaller, older place not two streets away from her house, she would give you her official response. It was the closest professional sanctioned lanes, and the newest, blending technology with nostalgia; it was an overall pleasurable experience bowling there. What she really thought was, well it was newer, it was larger, and it offered today’s technology with the nostalgia of yesterday. It was hard being a semi-professional bowler, and a stellar influencer, she thought smiling.
Tamara’s opinions were carefully crafted for today’s brand of social media; being a semi-professional bowler with a ranking not quite yet good enough to go pro, she had to be cautious. It was O.K. to be outspoken, to have opinions, she just had to be cautious. Thinking of her donuts and enjoying her coffee as she drove, she didn’t notice the headlights turn on and follow her as she left the bakery’s parking lot.
With being as cautious as she was about how she was portrayed in the media, and given her safe driving record, and even her skills at checking her mirrors when she drove to always know what vehicles were around her; she paid no attention to the same pair of headlights following behind her, all the way to her destination. In her defense, it was early, and she was hungry.
Looking down at her donuts, Tamara quickly sorted through them. She took one dozen for her friend Earl, one for her, and left the last dozen for later in her car. When she walked in, she would make sure to hand him the plain glazed ones, keeping the box of crème-filled for herself. The last sips of her coffee were as good as the first, but alas, it was the end of her hot, caffeinated vanilla goodness. Leaving the empty cup in the back besides the extra donuts, she closed the hatch and walked to the front door.
Standing in front of the door, with the business hours clearly posted for all to see, Tamara dialed a cell number and waited. After a brief conversation with Earl, he told her he would be right there, and ended the call.
“Now you know I can’t pass up a dozen of America’s greatest glazed! Come on in, Tamara!” Earl said, accepting his bribe with pride.
Sami woke up half rested, and fully sure that she was already behind in today’s goals. It was already late in the afternoon, and she still didn’t feel rested. Panic set in. Sitting straight up in her bed, she could not remember the last time she bought milk, eggs, coffee? Coffee?! All right. Tonight, on the way home, no matter when that was, I’m stopping to get some basics, she thought. What if there was a run on toilet paper? What if it showed? Was it the first of the month, where all the old people were buying up all the good things? These thoughts flooded her mind. She needed coffee!
Taking a deep calming breath, Sami got out of bed. Picking out today’s clothes, she remembered her ‘leakproof undies,’ as she was now calling them, and dressed accordingly. Walking slowly into her kitchen, she refilled the reservoir on her coffee maker with filtered water from her refrigerator, and happily waited for her coffee to finish abusing the coconut-flavored pod-twice, before adding the goodies to her cup. Taking it over to her kitchen table, she then booted up her laptop.
Sami didn’t know why she didn’t start the laptop first, put in a pod, sit, wait, and tidy everything up before starting to work; she blamed not enough caffeine present in her blood to help her think properly; something she was going to correct right now, She thought, as she sipped on her coffee. Standing up abruptly, she remembered her earlier thoughts. Taking another sip of her coffee, she took her cup with her over to the refrigerator and opened the door. Glancing around at all the barren real estate, she assessed her situation. Three eggs, an almost full half gallon of expired milk, and half a roll of toilet paper. Toilet paper, in the refrigerator? Seriously? I’m losing my friggin’ mind, she thought.
Taking the toilet paper, she shook her head, and sadly closed the door. Sami stood staring at the toilet paper, and decided to never mention this to anybody, before throwing it away in the trash. Thinking she was behind; Sami skipped her usual news sites and went straight into her email. She started the app, then went to the bathroom. Nothing gets things moving like caffeine, she thought, closing the door, and putting on the fan.
With nothing in her inbox that she cared to read, in particular, nothing from CotD, she quickly closed her app and logged out. After her screen was black, she closed her laptop, and for whatever reason, she disconnected her power supply, and carried it into her bedroom. Placing it under the middle of the bed, she headed to Physio. Sami didn’t know why she had the urge to hide her laptop, she just did. Forgoing her coffee because she was late, she grabbed a loaf of bread, an unusually light jar of peanut butter, and a plastic knife, putting them into a plastic bag before leaving.
Pulling into the parking lot, it was already half full. Circling the lot to find a good place to watch the front door, she passed a taco truck. Here’s your sign, she said out loud. It was obvious that the extra vehicles were for the impromptu visit from the lunch truck. Finding the best spot possible, she pulled in and parked. Sami had not been on the right side, not this far over, anyway. Having not eaten breakfast, and with it being nearly lunch, she decided to keep the food she brought for an emergency and go get some tacos.
Sami had a general rule when it came to eating out; the prettier face, the higher it was up on her list, and the more she wanted it. Walking slowly over to the taco truck with the help from her cane, she read the side for the menu. The reasoning behind it, was that when she was younger, she used to hunt. Preferring a bow to her 12-gauge shot Mossberg, she went each year around the holidays and did what she could to have fresh game for her special meal. After her illness took over, she lost her ability to easily go out in the woods, so now she chose to enjoy her nature this way.
The line was long, and by the overall amount of people present, Sami assured herself that indeed, there was no way all these people worked here. Being a part of the crowd, Sami took this time to mingle and look around for people she might know. She didn’t see anyone she was investigating, and no one she knew as a friend. Waiting her turn patiently, and frequently shifting her weight from foot to foot, she was finally able to place her order.
“Two lamb tacos, hold the guacamole please,” she said.
Throughout my life, I have had numerus surgeries requiring physical therapy. The people that I was lucky to have known cared immensely for my recovery; without them, I would not be able to do what I can today.
Broken tib/fibs and torn Achilles tendons are no fun at all!
Just finished editing, so I’m awaiting feedback.