Monday, July 1, 2024

Deadly Drafts - CH 2



Sheila Talbot drummed the steering wheel of her lime Volkswagen. She chewed her fingernails ragged. Nervous tension pulled her body in fifty different directions. She took the manila envelope from her passenger seat and threw it down again. The whole thing seemed too good to be true. What kind of whackadoodle criminal sends a syllabus of their crimes to a reporter? But then the jewelry store… 

The opening lilt of Light My Fire nearly shot Sheila into low earth orbit. Hand pressing her heart, Sheila swiped her phone from the dash. "Unlisted." Sweat beaded her forehead as she pulled her voice recorder from the cup-holder. The recorder's red light blinking, Sheila jabbed "Call Answer." 

"Sheila Talbot. Bakersville Independent Police reporter." 

"You weren't at the jeweler's." A cigar-and-whiskey voice rattled through the phone. "I saw your sore thumb of a car in the library parking lot when we were arrested, but you didn't come in. You didn't ask any questions. You didn't report." 

"The fuck is this?" Sheila could hardly draw breath. She looked through her car windows, checked her mirrors. The parking lot of the Bakersville Police station sat empty save her. Growing dusk heightened her solitude. Every windblown leaf screeched like a banshee across the lot. She pushed a gnarl of red hair past her ear. Convinced she could feel the sniper’s laser on her forehead, Sheila ducked deep into her seat. 

"You know who this is. I am one of the so-called 'Bakersville Irregulars.' Why were you not at the jewelers? Did you not receive my post?" 

Sheila shuttled Captain Beefy Burger wrappers from shotgun and again took the manila envelope. A packet of stapled photocopies peeked from its open flap. "I have it right here, but—" 

"Shut up." The voice popped a phlegmy firework. "You have one last chance. You're a newspaper reporter, right? Do your fucking job. Report. You'll be the Truman Capote of the 21st Century. Unless you prefer obituaries and police blotters." 

"You're asking me to be accessory to a crime." Sheila drew a heavy breath to steel her nerve. "You shot a fucking kid. That sure as hell wasn't in any story." 

"My associate's finger slipped. A boorish, unfortunate accident." 

"What if I tell you to fuck off and die?" 

His laugh roared through the phone, a perversion of joy which shredded the soft tissue of Sheila's heart. "Ah, you make me laugh. Your window of opportunity is about to slam shut. In another week, we'll be gone. And a better reporter will sniff out your story. You can book your ticket to the top of the Times Bestseller List or sit in your neon green Karmann Ghia, surrounded fast food wrappers, wearing a frayed 'Spacehog' shirt and watching life pass you by." 

Shelia tore the car door and pushed out into fading dusk. Her chest heaved, cold sweat prickling across her brow. "Where...the fuck are you?" A hot ball of acid surged through her chest. Her head swung from side to side, curls bouncing.  Her ears whined the high frequency of panic. 

"This is your only chance, Miss Talbot." 

The phone line went dead. She peered around her—police station, high school, empty parking lots—but the dark refused to divulge its secrets. Sheila crept back toward the car. Her feet barely brushed the blacktop. She leaned palms to the low roof of her car, trying to slow her gulping breaths. 

She'd crouched to her driver seat, fully intending to race home and dull the dark voice with her Hitachi and some XBox when Police Chief Hardcastle finally emerged from the station. His 6-foot-5 frame practically filled the double doors. Beside him strode a pixie of a woman in a bright teal skirtsuit. Was that the Library Director? Why was she at the police station with the Chief? The three perps had been picked up at the library, but… 

A double-shot of adrenaline drowned Sheila's better judgment. Recalling days anchoring the high school 4x100, Sheila grasped her digital voice recorder, slammed shut her car door and sprinted toward her prize-winning story.


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