Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
A newsboy rushed around the lobby and dropped a copy of The San Francisco Examiner onto the coffee table. The morning headline caught my attention right away. I pulled off the front section, leaving the rest for the others to read. Eric, sitting next to me, straightened up the page and together, we silently read the article Third Neighborhood Killing in Three Weeks.
“Oh, my God!” I left the newspaper in Eric’s hands and rushed over to the nurses’ station. “Where’s a television I can use? I need to watch the news.”
“We have a television in the nurses’ lounge. Since you’re Eric’s friend, you can go in there. It’s around the corner to the left,” she pointed.
“Thanks,” said Eric who had come up behind me. “I know the way.”
Some of the nurses I had watched in action all night were now in their street clothes, and a few ER doctors were there as well. Eric and I stood at the back of the room. Jeanne and Krista came to stand next to me. The smooth voice of the KABC morning news anchor gave his report in a rapid pace.
“Early this morning, in response to a missing persons report, the body of a young woman was discovered in an apartment building located in the area of Bush and Jones Streets. The SFPD has linked this incident with two other murders in the neighbor. Friends from work, who were concerned that their friend had not attended a meeting on time, called the police to investigate.”
“Oh no! That’s just two blocks from where we live!” Jeanne sounded almost hysterical. She put her hands over her mouth to stifle another outburst. Two nurses screeched back their chairs and came over to calm her.
“Listen! There’s more news!” someone said.
The camera panned over to a podium set up in front of City Hall. The Chief of Police, Michael Logan, addressed the crowd. “We have not disclosed the victim’s identity pending notification of next of kin. At this time, we believe that this is the work of a serial killer. Every police officer on leave, has been called back to assist in the investigation of these three crimes. We urge that residents everywhere in this city, and in the immediate areas of these crimes, take precautions for their safety. Lock your doors, and windows, do not go out by yourselves, and do not answer your door to anyone you don’t know well.” He paused for the instructions to sink in. “With the public’s cooperation, we hope to solve these cases within the next 48 hours. I am assigning Commander James Stetson, who has been working as the Night Commander in the neighborhood of the most recent incident, to take charge of this investigation. I’ll let him advise you further.”
Chief Logan stepped aside. In a maddening silence, I watched the creep from last night approach the podium.
“That’s the one!” Jeanne said as she pointed at the screen. “That’s the cop that came to our apartment last night!” Her hand trembled, and I saw her lips tremble as if she was about to cry. A nurse in white guided her to an armchair, offered her a drink of water, and patted her on the back.
Krista, usually a chatterbox, sat down at a table in front of us, speechless. She nodded in agreement with Jeanne.
I looked at Eric, then at everyone around me. We all waited for the words from this man of authority. I felt weak. Now I knew what it felt like to be helpless. I didn’t know what my next step would be. I didn’t want this man moving into our lives.
Eric and I glanced at each other with disbelief when Commander James Stetson smiled at the reporters in the front row before he spoke.
“Ladies and Gentlemen. The SFPD gives you our promise to work with diligence to find and stop this Serial Killer. We hope to restore the safety of your neighborhood within the next 48 hours. If anyone out there has any clues to share about unusual situations, or of strangers lingering in your neighborhood, please, do not hesitate to call our department. The number is EXbrook 5-2345. I assure you, your information will be kept confidential. We thank you, and please, take precautions, and have a good day.”
The creep turned and faced the Chief of Police. They posed for pictures. As reporters called out more questions, another officer stepped in. “That is all we have for now. Thank you for coming.”
The four of us went back to the lobby that seemed to be our home base now. Eric indicated that we should all sit down.
Jeanne mumbled, “He assures us! He wants us to trust him. No way! I should have swung that baseball bat at him last night!”
“What are we all going to do, Hayley? The girl killed last night lived two short blocks from us.” said Krista. Now she took on the habit of rubbing her knuckles like Jeanne.
“I don’t know. I need some time to think,” I said.
“Well I don’t want to go back to the apartment alone,” said Jeanne. “But, I need some fresh clothes. And you do, too, Haley. You’re starting to look like a stranger. The good kind, of course. Sorry. It’s me and my big mouth.”
Eric interjected, “I think we all need some breakfast while we work this out. Let’s say I go get some donuts from heaven, four sick green coffees, and hot chocolate peanuts?”
We looked at him stunned. Then his sense of humor – sunk in. “I’ll take all three,” said Jeanne. Eric had a talent to lighten our mood.
“I wonder if there’s any news about Mrs. Johnson’s condition,” I said. Although, it was only half an excuse to get away. I needed a moment by myself.
The young nurse I met the day before was on duty again. Her ID tag visible this time. Denise Matthews. She smiled at me. “Mrs. Johnson is sleeping now. We’ll call you when she wakes, Hayley.”
Two dozen donuts sat in a pink bakery box on the table. Jeanne and Krista, with sugared fingers, were reaching for their second donut. “Here, I saved you these. Per Jeanne, these are your favorites?” said Eric. He handed me a paper plate with one glazed and one cake donut.
“Thanks.” I sat down.
“There are napkins here,” said Jeanne handing me one.
“I have something to tell you all,” said Eric. “But first, how is Mrs. Johnson, Hayley? Any change?”
“No, but the nurse called Denise said she would call me when there is. I’ll just wait here as planned. What are the rest of you doing today?”
Jeanne answered first. “Well, you aren’t expected at work because I told them last night that you probably wouldn’t be there, and they said, ‘Under the circumstances,’ it would be fine.”
Krista piped in, “I don’t have to be anywhere for the next three days. I took sick leave like Jeanne.”
“Both Jeanne and Krista work in the teletype section of the regional office E. I. duPont deNemours,” I offered.
“That’s where you work as well, right?” said Eric.
“I work for the District Manager on the third floor.”
“Jeanne, what kind of responsibilities do you and Krista have in the order department?” said Eric.
“It’s a secret,” Jeanne blurted, “we sell chemicals that make bombs.”
I bit my tongue. Had she lost her senses? We all had signed confidentiality agreements. ”Stop talking, Jeanne. There are a lot of people around here,” I said.
She stopped chewing. Then said, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you Hayley. Because you, my roommate, are involved with what happened to Mrs. Johnson, I got easy time off to be around to help out.” She looked at us and added, “I’m around helping, aren’t I?”
“I’d say we all have enough on our plates, pardon the pun,” said Eric, and he gestured quotation marks in the air. Once again, he made us laugh. “As I said a moment ago, I have some things I want to share with you.” He eyed each one of us to capture our attention. “Each of you, have been threatened, and though the incidents seem small, they are creating big problems.”
“We also have no one official to go to for help.” I said.
“The scenarios you’ve experienced can disclose some clues,” Eric stopped to take a sip of coffee.
“Meanwhile,” I added, “we have to watch out for each other. Since we don’t know who we can trust, we can only trust each other to solve our problems.”
“There’s the matter of your slashed tires,” Eric looked at Jeanne, and then me. “And, the phony police report about disturbing the peace. What exactly were these cops trying to accomplish by doing that?”
“It’s harassment to keep us quiet,” said Jeanne, “but I sure as heck don’t know what about.”
At this point, I inserted what had been in the back of my mind. I whispered, “For all of us to remain safe, we should stay away from our apartment. Krista, you’re included. We need to go where no one will know where we are.”
“I agree with Hayley,” said Eric. “It might be weeks, before the serial killer is caught. But, I’m volunteering to hang in with you, being your outside contact. That is, until all this is over.”
Eric’s serious tone brought us back to reality. We did have an overwhelming amount of details to sort out. I looked at him and thought of how comfortable we had all become with his friendship. Then, I realized, that when all this is over, I would still want to be close friends with him.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California