(Note: I have no idea why my site is still so messed up.)
It was a little past 8:30 in the evening when Jamal popped his head into the conference room. “I finished the analysis, just as you asked, sir.”
“Thanks, Jamal, let’s see what you’ve got.”
Mitch, sitting next to S., had been trying to recall all the details he could from the days when there were victims and his well was empty. The tenor of the conversation had shifted from suspecting Mitch to who might be trying to set him up.
Chavez looked at the report and then handed it to Alexis and said, “Between Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn, two things are clear, you couldn’t have killed six of the victims and you need to get out more.”
“That’s why I hang out with her,” Mitch said, nodding towards S., “She gets me out in the real world. You said six.”
“Yes, presumably you were passed out for the first two victims in New York, and you didn’t seem to do anything on social media while you were in Italy. Any idea what ATM might mean?”
“ATM? Automated Teller Machine? Why do you ask?”
“There is one detail we’ve not told you about. The killer had carved the initials ATM in the victims, usually around the shoulder, but not always in the same place.”
“Those aren’t my initials.”
“We know, but I thought maybe you had a nickname that most people wouldn’t know about. Something that ties the crime to you. A signature, if you will.”
“Actually, I do, now that you mention it. I write a blog.”
“We know about your blog.”
“No, I mean I write another blog, it is called Angry Travel Mongerer.”
Jamal said, “I read that, it is hilarious.”
“Who knows that it is your blog?”
“As far as I know, Kate, but that is all. She wasn’t in Italy and I’m confident she isn’t here, now.”
“Perhaps she told someone?”
“I doubt it, but if you asked I’m sure she would tell you.”
“What about fan mail?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have any fans who are stalking you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know or you don’t think you do?”
“Kate handles all the fan mail. She sorts it into bags by last name.”
Chavez wrote down a note and asked, “So she opens the mail, does she respond?”
“No, she doesn’t open it. I’ve only ever read three of my fan letters. It was quite a few years ago and all three were glowing. I figured that if I kept reading them, it would go to my head. I told her to save them and I’d look at them when I’m old and living alone with a half dozen cats.”
S. looked at him, “So, what are you saying?”
“It was before I finally got the nerve to ask you out.”
“Good answer, but you really should answer someone who takes the time to write you.”
“Yes, I probably should, but I do answer Tweets and such, as best I can.”
Chavez broke in, “We’re going to need to see those letters. I’m guessing our killer may be in the mix.”
“You think someone, upset that I didn’t return a letter, has gone on an international killing spree to get back at me?”
“I don’t know.”
“It would make a good novel.”
Everyone gave Mitch a dirty look. He said, “Sorry, I’m always thinking about writing.”
Chavez said, “I think we have everything we need. I appreciate you coming down and I’m sorry about how we introduced ourselves.”
Mitch took their business cards and promised to call if he thought of anything else.
Mitch put his key card in the door and the muffled click sent a wave of anxiety through him. Someone had been watching and listening to them and though the bugs were all removed, it was still unnerving. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel sick and a little frightened. I should call her parents.”
“I need a shower,” Mitch said as he doubled checked to make sure the door was locked behind them.
S. closed the curtains and sat down on the couch, she put her face in her hands and started to weep. Mitch wrapped his arm around her, “I’m so sorry about Anne Marie.”
“She was such a bright kid…funny…and the best pain in the butt I’ve ever known. I can’t imagine what it will be like without her.”
“You know, there is someone out there that has it in for me, which means you’re not safe.”
“That thought had crossed my mind, but what do we do?”
“We could take off to someplace remote, at least for a while, while Chavez and his people hunt him down.”
“He could follow us.”
“Yes, but if we picked a remote enough spot, the F.B.I. could keep an eye on anyone who goes there, too. They would probably be alone and it might actually help them…”
Mitch’s phone interrupted him and he looked at the screen, the number was blocked, and he said, “Hello?”
A dark computer altered voice said, “So, you’ve been let go by the F.B.I.?”
“Who is this?”
“You’ll find out, soon enough. It seems I didn’t do a good enough job of weaving my web.”
“Apparently not. You mind letting me know what I’ve done to incur your wrath?”
“I like that, ‘incur my wrath’, very poetic. Always the writer, eh Mitch?”
“Yes, I guess so. Did you have a point to make?”
“Though my plan didn’t work, there are still plenty of people on my list, people who are much closer to you, who might have to pay for your sins.”
“Might unless I do what?”
“Do you know where the Galena Diner is?”
“No idea, Illinois?”
“Google it and I’ll meet you there in one hour. Don’t call your new Fed buddies or the cops, or I’ll simply fade into the night and continue working down my list.”
“Galena Diner, got it.”
“Oh and don’t say anything to your little girl friend or I’ll make her pay.”
“You really should have led with that. She’s right here already knows where we’re meeting.”
There was silence for a moment, “Okay, well then I’ll meet you at the Roadway Diner in an hour.”
“I don’t have a car, so I’ll have to grab a cab. You got any problem with me telling the cabbie where I’m going?”
“Have him drop you off a couple of blocks away and then walk.”
“Got it, no cops, nobody knows, I’ll be there in an hour,” Mitch said and set the phone down.
S. asked, “Was that him?”
“Let’s call Agent Chavez.”
“Give me a moment to think. He said not to tell you or call the cops and with what they said about the bugs he put in the room, my gut tells me he would knows if I broke any of the rules.”
“What do we do?”
“If it were my character, and I was writing this as a novel, I’d lure the hero away to get to his girl.”
“You think it’s a trick?”
“It might be, but we need to play by his rules.”
“I’m coming with you.”
Mitch pointed at her and raised his voice, “Don’t even think it, you will do EXACTLY what I say, you won’t deviate from my plan one bit.”
“Why are you so angry?”
“I’m not angry, I’m frightened. I scared for you, for me, for everyone in my life that I give a damn about. You’re a strong, independent, smart woman and I love that about you, but you need to trust me, you need to do what I say, you need to be someplace where I don’t have to worry about you. I’ve loved you for most my life and now, when you are more than just an idle dream, I’m not going to lose you.”
Mitch grabbed her, and kissed her hard. “Do you get it? Do you promise you’ll do what I say, because I’m not messing around.”
S. looked at him and asked, “You love me?”
“Yes! But you’re missing the point. I need to go find this psycho and put an end to this, but I don’t know his next move, so you need to focus on being safe. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, what do you want me to do?”
Mitch picked up the phone on the desk and rang the front desk. “Hello, may I speak with the manager, quickly, it is rather urgent.”
“Yes, this is Cheryl, the night manager.”
“Cheryl, I’m sure you’ve heard about the excitement earlier today, the F.B.I. and all?”
“Yes, is everything okay sir?”
“Maybe not, I need you to do something for me, because I fear my friend may be in danger.”
“Do you want me to call the police?”
“No! I want you to, from your office, discretely check if there are any more rooms available, on different floors.”
“Just a moment…yes, we have plenty of rooms.”
“I’d like to have four of them. Can you do that without letting anyone know and then bring the four key cards to my room?”
“Can you do it quickly, this is important.”
“I’ll be right up, sir.”
“One more thing, I need to make sure that the rooms can’t be traced to me, can you put them under another name?”
“I’ll let you pick. I hope we will only need them for one night. You may charge my card for all four, but please don’t tell anyone about the extra rooms.”
“I’ll be right up, it should only take a few minutes.”
S. asked, “What are the rooms for?”
“They’re for you. When they arrive, leave your purse and everything here, who knows if he has somehow tagged our stuff. Here are the cards for our F.B.I. friends. Once you’re in the new room, I’m going to meet him, but I can’t tell you where.”
“After I’ve gone, call the F.B.I. and tell them what’s happened and get them to come to the new room. Trust me, I have a plan. Will you promise to stay in the room until I call?”
Waiting at the coffee house down the street from Mitch’s hotel, Paul watched his laptop screen and the cab stand. A beeping let him know that Mitch had just used his credit card. He pulled up the screen and saw a massive charge at the hotel. He thought, What are you up to, Mitch?
Some quick math and he realized that four rooms had just been added to the bill. Well played, Mitch, stash the girl away so I can’t find her. That is why there is always a back-up plan.
Paul packed up his computer and waited for Mitch to leave. When he saw the cab pull away with his nemesis, he waited for five more minutes and headed to his car.
S. hated not being in control, but she made a promise and now stood by the phone with the cards lined up and ready. Mitch had decided she should wait five minutes to call. He hadn’t explained why, but as the seconds ticked away, she tried to decide which number to dial first.
S. chose Alexis’ business card, because she wasn’t technically an F.B.I. agent. “Hello, Alexis, Mitch just got a call from the killer. He has left to go meet him.”
“He wouldn’t tell me, but he thinks it might be a ploy to get him away from the room.”
“Stay there and lock the door.”
“I’m safe, I’ve moved to a different room.”
“Are you coming?”
“Yes, which room?”
“Mitch said to check our room first, then give me a call and I’ll tell you where I’m at.”
“We’re on our way.”
S. hung up and turned on the TV. The noise bothered her, so she turned it off. The quiet was worse. She wished she had her phone, but Mitch had made her leave it downstairs. Then she realized the problem, how would Alexis call her.
She called Alexis back and said, “I just realized, I don’t have my phone. Mitch said the killer might be tracking it.”
“That was smart. How will I find you?”
“How long will it take for you to get here?”
The thought of fifteen minutes alone frightened her, but the reality of their day sent a panic through her entire body. Her muscles tightened and she slumped to the floor and started to cry.
“Don’t worry, I’m on my way, I’m out the door now. Just hang tight.”
“You don’t understand,” she said, the sobs growing.
“Tell me, while I drive over.”
“He’s gone out there, somewhere and I don’t know where he is, what is going to happen. For all I know I’m never going to see Mitch again.”
“Don’t talk like that, we’ll find him.”
“I never told him. He said it and I just froze. I’ve never told anyone, but that’s because I’ve gone my entire life without ever wanting to and now…what if…”
“I’m in the car, hold tight, I’ll be there before you know it.”
Crying and barely able to cope she said, “Come here first, I’m in 1203, please, come here first.”
“I will, were on our way.”
It hadn’t taken very long to get to the diner.
The Roadway diner was old, but Mitch assumed they must have good food, because half the booths were full. He took one in the corner, where he could see the door. The waitress, a bubbly brunette, brought him some coffee and pie.
Mitch wasn’t hungry, but figured it might be some time before he got to eat again. He pulled the Moleskin out and flipped to the pages reserved for his life ToDo list. There were quite a few items left to be done.
It was one of those times in life, when a person is in a tight spot, that they make weighty promises with all the intention of carrying them through, if only given a chance. Mitch thought about S. and how she must be terrified sitting alone in the room.
He went back to the list and read each one. The one’s he had finished, made him smile, and the one left undone wiped it away.
He put it away and started to focus. If his stalker was punctual, he would be there in the next fifteen minutes. There was something nagging at him, something from that night with the woman, before the Stelvio Pass, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. The sound of the little bell above the dinner door made him look up.
A man walked through, alone. He couldn’t believe it and hopped to his feet, “Paul, Paul Lemstock , is that you?”
The man was startled and looked at Mitch with a confused look. Mitch climbed out of the booth and went up to him hand extended.
“You may not remember me, but we had a class together at Iowa State University about a billion years ago.”
“It’s okay, it has been a lot of years, but I’ve followed your career. You’ve been kicking butt since you went to M.I.T. I see
you on the cover of tech magazines.”
“Yes, well, I’ve just retired,” Paul said, not really knowing what to do with himself.
“Life is funny, you know. I was just thinking about you.”
Paul looked worried, “You were?”
“Yeah, let me show you something,” Mitch said and headed back to his booth. “I need to be quick, I’m meeting someone here. I owe you an apology.”
Mitch flipped open his Moleskin and pointed to number 27 B at the bottom of the page. “You see, here, just below Larry, I already said I was sorry to him.”
“Oh, just a guy from high school, but that’s not important. We had a class together and one day, you raised your hand to answer a question. The teacher called on you and you gave a brilliant, albeit long winded answer. Then I did something that I’ve regretted since, I mocked you and everyone laughed. It was really mean of me and I should of said I was sorry back then, but I never got around to it. You were obviously the brightest guy in class and I was just a joker trying to get by and hit on girls. I meant to find you over the years, but once you were a billionaire, I sort of lost my nerve.”
“That was a long time ago. I’m sorry I don’t know that I even remember the class,” he lied.
“Well, the point is, I’m sorry. I was a real jerk.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Mitch stuck out his hand and said, “Thanks, I really appreciate it,” then lowered his voice. “I’ve gotten myself into a little situation here and I’d love to talk more, but it is entirely possible that a psycho is coming here to shoot me or something.”
“You’re the writer.”
“I’ve read your books, but I guess I had forgotten that we had that class together.”
“I’d love to catch up. Tell you what, here is my number, if I’m not dead, you want to have lunch tomorrow? I have a friend with a boat. He’ll be glad to let me use it. I’d love to hear what you are planning for retirement. What do geniuses do when they retire?”
“Sure, I guess we could get together,” Paul said, shaking Mitch’s hand and still seeming a little shell shocked.
“You’d better go. I don’t know how this psycho will react if he sees me talking with someone. He is paranoid.”
“Okay…take care…I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Hopefully, I’ll be around to answer,” Mitch said with a smile and added, “I’m really glad to finally get to run into you. Take care Paul.”
Mitch watched Paul meander up to the counter, he seemed unsure of what he wanted to do. He bought some donuts and walked out with barely a glance back.. Mitch crossed twenty seven B off of his list and dug into his pie. His appetite had returned.
When the hour had passed, he ordered a burger and fries and waited for another hour before calling a cab to head back to the hotel.
S. threw her arms around him and cried. “Thank God, you’re back.”
Once there, he spent the next hour filling in Chavez, Alexis, Jamal and Nancy on all the details and then listened to a lengthy lecture on how stupid he was to have gone off to meet the guy. Mitch promised to call them the next time the killer called, but they didn’t believe him and set up surveillance on the new rooms’ phones and his cell.
When they finally left, Mitch picked another one of the rooms and he and S. settled in and tried to sleep.
Paul was stunned. He walk into his house and sat down at his computer desk and starred into the cold blue screensaver that washed across all the screens. The can of Pepsi, to which he had grown so close didn’t ask what was wrong. He threw it against the wall.
“I’m sorry, Pepsi,” he said and went and picked up his friend. He set him back on the desk. “You’ll never believe what happened.”
Pepsi said, “It must not have been good, you’ve never thrown me before.”
“I know, I’m sorry. It was just so strange.”
“Didn’t he show up?”
“He did, but he recognized me and then he…”
“What did he do? It’s okay, you can tell your buddy Sergeant Pepsi. I won’t tell anyone.”
“I know, you’re a good friend. He apologized for college.”
“What an asshole.”
“What do you mean?”
“Who the fuck does he think he is? Does he think he can just apologize for the lifetime of shame you’ve carried around with you, because of him? I mean, really, the nerve.”
“He was actually really nice about it.”
“Oh, so he’s off the hook, then? You disgust me.”
“Don’t be like that. It’s just that, well, I don’t no what to do, now. He asked me to have lunch with him on his friend’s boat.”
“Lunch?! Are you kidding me? Is that supposed to make it better?”
“You’re right, but what should I do?”
“Have you gone soft on me, soldier?”
“I’m just so tired.”
“Then wake the fuck up and stop him and his kind.”
“What do you mean?”
“Bullies, he needs to be exposed and I think it is time to make another video.”
There was seismic shift in Paul’s mood and he began planning how he might shoot Mitch’s confession.
The next morning Alexis tracked them down and brought bagels. S. was worried about leaving the room and Mitch didn’t blame her.
Mitch left for an hour and did some shopping. When he came back, she was still talking with Alexis. “Here I bought some things.
I got you pepper spray and a taser. That should slow down anyone who is up to no good.”
“What about you?”
“I’ve got a taser, too,” Mitch said with a reassuring smile. “You know the guy I ran into at the diner, I told you about him last night.”
“Yes, the friend from college.”
Mitch hadn’t mentioned the nature of how he knew Paul and said, “Yes, that’s the one. I’m going meet him for lunch. Do you mind?”
“No, I think I’ll just stay here and sleep. All of this has wiped me out.”
Mitch turned to Alexis, “Do you think she’ll be safe?”
“Yes, but I’m more worried about you. He is still out there, somewhere.”
“I think he’s lost his nerve, or why wouldn’t have showed up last night.”
Alexis shook her head, “You have no idea what is going on in his mind.”
“If he calls, you’ll be the first to know. Here is the name of the boat I’ll be on, we’ll be out of harms way for the afternoon. So you can relax and keep an eye on sleepy over there.”
Mitch sat on the edge of the couch and leaned over to give S. a kiss. “I’ll be fine,” he said, sliding a note behind her pillow.
She looked into his eyes and whispered, “You better, because, I love you, too.”
It was a moment he wished he could savor, but he had to leave, and his gut told him it was best not to linger.
Mitch didn’t have a lot of time, so he picked up a couple of orders of Fettuccine Alfredo and French bread, plus some fruit and a couple of good bottles of wine. He stowed the food in the galley and then went up on deck to wait for Paul.
The sun and low wind, made it a beautiful fall day. Unseasonably warm, it was a perfect day to take the boat out. The docks were busy. People working on their boats, or simply relaxing on deck, while a few people were getting ready to go fishing.
Mitch had been out on the Shy Kitty, half a dozen times. His buddy, also an author, was happy to lend it to him when he called.
The last time they had taken her out, was the day before he ran into S. It seemed like years of life had passed since then. He felt old.
“Ahoy Paul, over here.”
Paul, carrying a satchel, “Pulled a bottle of wine out and said, Captain, permission to come aboard.”
“Permission granted. It’s good to see you. I figured we’d head out and enjoy the beautiful weather. I can’t wait to hear how you came up with all those clever inventions that made you the darling of the tech world.”
“I look forward to hearing how you come up with all those clever villains.”
Mitch took the bottle of wine and said, “Have a seat, I’ll find us a good spot in the great blue sea…well ocean.”
Paul smiled, “Sea or ocean, poetic license.”
“I’m glad you understand.”
Mitch waited until Paul was settled and then cast off the lines.
Paul sat on deck and watch the shore and other boats fade away. He reveled in what was to come. He had his camera in his bag and after they got settled, well out to sea, where nobody would interrupt the shoot, he would make his move.
The salt air was refreshing and he chatted easily, as if they were life long friends. It would make the final scene so much better. He imagined Mitch begging for his life.
There were still some details to work out. He was sure he could handle the boat, as it was similar to one he had a few years, ago. Before he posted Mitch’s confession, he would need to decide if it was best to leave the country for good. He was sure that eventually the F.B.I. would get curious about him, just because they had lunch. They would notice he was in Italy and New York at the same time and start to wonder if it was more than a coincidence.
A few seagulls loitered about and Paul bent over to check to see if his gear was ready to go. He sat back up and screamed as he hit the floor.
Mitch stood over Paul with the taser. He watch him violently shake and then rolled him over and forced his arms behind his back. Mitch slapped a pair of handcuffs on him and rolled him back over. He duct taped him to the chair and stood him back up.
“Let’s see what you have in the bag, old friend.”
Still trembling, Paul cried, “What are you doing?”
“Look, you brought your own taser, and some duct tape, oh and a lovely camera.”
Paul was struggling to answer and Mitch punched him in the face. “You bastard.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You killed Anne Marie.”
“I’m crazy, you stupid fuck, you follow me around Italy and kill that poor waiter and what about my drinking buddy?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
“I was pretty drunk, but I remember seeing you in Italy and then once back in New York. I didn’t put it all together until the F.B.I. found the tech you put in my room, but I was 99% sure it would be you who walked in the diner. Was this all over that joke back at school?”
“Nobody laughs at me and gets away with it,”
“What sort of sick fuck carries that around with them their whole lives?”
“You might be interested to know, but I really did feel badly about the comment. Last night’s apology was real, but today, you pay for Anne Marie and the others.”
“I remember reading a number of years ago that you bought a boat to get over your fear of sharks,” Mitch said as he pulled a bucket of chum out and started to toss bits of fish over the side.
“What are you doing,” Paul asked, clearly shaken.
“I’m inviting some guests to our little lunch.”
Mitch saw him break. It happened much more quickly than he imagined it would. Paul didn’t try to hide his fear, act brave or defiant, he just started to tremble, “Please don’t. I’m sorry. Don’t do this, please.”
Mitch took out the camera and turned it on. “I’m here with Paul, billionaire tech genius and mass murderer. Say hello, Paul.”
Paul looked at the bucket of chum and then into the camera, but said nothing.
Mitch told the story of how he had humiliated Paul in college and then apologized again. “Now, for our viewers at home, why don’t you explain how it made you feel.”
“It made me feel small and stupid.”
“But you aren’t stupid, quite the contrary, you are a genius.”
“I know you are tied up and I’m not sure if this will be admissible in a court of law, but why don’t you tell us how you planned to get back at me after all these years.”
Paul, more than anything, had been lonely, he started talking, explaining in great detail how he had seen Mitch at lunch and decided to take revenge by framing him for the murders. He talked for an hour, breaking down a couple of times. When he finished describing how he had killed Anne Marie, Mitch asked, “Is that everything?”
Paul looked away and said, “Yes.”
Mitch turned off the camera. He threw some more chum over the side.
Paul screamed, “What are you doing, I’ve confessed, you can’t kill me, please.”
“Technically, I won’t be the one killing you.”
“Please, God no, don’t do it, I’m so sorry.”
Mitch looked at him and said, “You deserve to be torn to pieces.”
Paul hung his head, “Maybe, but please, I’m begging, take me back.”
Mitch returned to the helm and was about to head back to shore. Something was bothering him. He went back down and turned on the camera, “Why did you bring the camera, today?”
Paul looked down, “I was planning on filming you as I made you admit how much of a bully you were.”
“Filming isn’t your signature, though, is it?”
There was a pause and then he said, “No, it was ATM.”
“I think it was, though, wasn’t it. Are you the Video Killer, too?”
Paul looked into the camera and said only, “Yes.”
Mitch hit stop and set the camera down. Rage over took him and he pulled Paul and the chair to the edge of the boat, “You sick fuck, you crazy sick bastard.”
“No, don’t please, please, no, don’t. I’ll do anything.”