Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
I sat in the front seat of the van with George who drove smoothly through the many curving paths of the Saratoga woods. As we got closer to town, my thoughts were about Eric. I had been eager to call him ever since we left the city and my intuition had been needling me that Eric might be that special person I had been hoping to meet. Now that I’m on my way to calling him, my nerves are firing off like a machine gun, and my fingers are tingling with reverberations. Would he be mad that we didn’t go to his aunt’s house as he arranged? I sensed not. Especially not after I tell him how Stetson chased us all the way to Russian Hill. Wouldn’t he be glad we didn’t bring the danger directly to her? If the creep had caught us, he might have put us under arrest for some reason, maybe for what happened at the hospital. Looking back now, I know I did the right thing by coming here. No one knows where we are, and George is right, we need to keep our location a secret.
“Haley, what are you going to say to Eric tonight?” asked Jeanne.
Her question startled me. “I’m not sure,” I said.
“Well, tell him for me, I said thanks for all the help,” Jeanne said. “It would have been a lot scarier situation if he hadn’t been there.”
“That goes for me, too,” said Krista. “I wouldn’t be so calm now if he hadn’t loaned us his van to escape the whole scene. I think I would’ve gone crazy if he hadn’t been there to take charge of what we needed to do and get us away from my apartment.”
“What I want to know is who trashed our apartment, and why us? Was that The Creep harassing us some more?” Jeanne wondered aloud.
“I hope not. But worse than that,” Krista said as she twirled an elastic around her hair and put it up in a short ponytail, “it could have been the work of the Serial Killer and some others. You don’t think he’s been murdering those other girls by himself, do you?”
“Maybe he is after us. Mrs. Hamlin was a sweet and loveable old woman. I’d consider us sweet and loveable young girls. We are about the same age as the other victims. It could be us he’s after,” said Jeanne with a tremble in her voice.
In the rear view mirror, I saw how her smile had changed to a downturn frown. “What could the Serial Killer want with us?” I said. “With so much damage, it must have been a bunch of hired men.”
“He’s been killing girls up the street from us,” said Krista, “why come to our building? You and Jeanne have an apartment that faces the street where you could easily call for help from the windows. Unlike mine that’s at the back of the building. You also have a grocery store and a pharmacy right across the street. There would’ve been a lot of people to hear your cries for help.”
“I would have been screaming and throwing things at the window. A window breaking always catches people’s attention,” added Jeanne. “Maybe this has something to do with Mrs. Johnson. Haley, squeeze Mrs. Johnson in your call.”
“Right. I’ll ask Eric to tell her we’re safe. It would be dreadful if she heard about Mrs. Hamlin on the news. Oh my gosh, she might have heard about it already. She’ll be so worried about us.”
George turned right off of Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road. “Here we are. There are a lot of treasures to be discovered in these shops. Please try not to worry so much now. Mattie and I intend to keep you safe,” he said and he twisted the right end of his mustache again. “Haley and I will be back after her call.”
I watched as my two best friends and Aunt Mattie got out of the van. They closed the door behind them and waved good-bye to us. George drove ahead and turned left toward the Los Gatos Roasting Company. At about the same time every day the aroma of coffee beans floated around the neighboring stores. We were there at the right moment as the rich aroma floated through our car’s window and helped me to calm down from the impact of the day. That part of our day was over, I hoped. I thanked God we didn’t have to face it alone.
“Haley, I suggest that you take one step at a time, then things will be smoother. Don’t worry. After you update Eric about what happened, he’ll understand the continued need for secrecy,” said George.
“When will I be able to see him again?”
“Soon. Mattie and I will work it out. I promise. You both need to trust us. And what’s more, you are not going to lose him. He doesn’t want to lose you either, Haley.”
I looked at George for a moment and then turned away. How did he know? My heart filled with longing. It had felt good to be in Eric’s arms. I wished he could have held me longer. What could I say to let him know how I felt about him without sounding foolish, or scaring him off? Something in the back of my mind nagged at me, Let him take the lead.
Blinking back tears I stared out the window. If it had been a rainy day, I would have been crying along with the raindrops. I was tired, and so much scary stuff had happened. Where is my life going?
Quick memories flashed through my mind. Eric’s face as he knelt in front of me at the hospital and dressed the cuts on my knees, and how he looked when the creep put out his arm and blocked me from Mrs. Johnson’s bedside. The pain must’ve shown immediately on my face. Eric fought for me, he defended me, and he wanted to protect me…
George’s voice brought me back to the moment. He had parked in front of a glass paned door with Celeste’s Fine Italian Food, written on it. “Let’s go inside, Haley, my very good friend, Giuseppe, owns this place. We met in the service a long time ago. You’ll like him.” There was gentleness in his face and once again, his eyes seemed to twinkle.
As we stepped inside, the aroma of rich meat sauces enveloped my senses. “Oh, it smells so delicious in here. I might get hungry all over again.”
A man with the shape of a thin bowling pin, and a receding hairline of wavy black hair, approached us. He, too, had a mustache, but a black one. Giuseppe was shorter than George, he stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall, wore a black suit, a stiff white shirt, and a black bow tie. In his hands, he held menus and he moved with ease between the tables covered with wine glasses and dripping candles. Grape ivy framed the entrances and the corners of the dining area.
George waved his arm in greeting. “Giuseppe, this is my niece, Haley.”
Giuseppe smiled big and opened his arms to greet me. “Ah, Welcome Haley. I am so very glad to meet you.”
I leaned forward and accepted his hug.
“Please, come and sit down. What can I get for you tonight? We have lasagna, manicotti, eggplant, and three delicious sauces for spaghetti and the biggest meatballs in town. Are you hungry? Would you like some wine?”
“Thank you, Giuseppe, but not this time,” said George. “We’ve had an unusually early evening meal tonight, but we are here to ask a favor. May we use your telephone?”
“Certainly! Whatever you need is my pleasure to provide! Come into my office,” he said and led us to a back room. In a wood paneled room, a well polished rosewood roll top desk sat in one corner. A matching swivel chair faced us. Behind it stood a graceful replica of a stork carrying a lampshade. A comfortable floral couch in muted autumn tones was positioned against the wall opposite near a corner window. The room had the ambience more like a sitting room than an office. A wedding picture of Giuseppe and his bride hung in a beautiful gilded frame over the couch.
“Your wife is lovely,” I couldn’t help saying.
“Thank you. Thank you. Celeste is busy in the kitchen now. She will look forward to meeting you, Haley. Oh! Be careful when you lean back in that chair, it can be scary when you are not used to it,” he warned and smiled. “I will be with the guests in front.”
“I’ll be out front with Giuseppe, Haley.” George leaned over to me and said, “Remember, make the call short.”
I quickly dialed the number Eric gave me and he answered before the second ring.
“Eric, it’s Haley.”
“Oh my God, are you okay? Where are you calling from?”
“We’re all okay. I drove to my aunt’s house and she and her friend, George are going to take care of us. But I have to tell you this first, we can’t talk long because your phone line might be tapped. George promised me that I could call you from somewhere else tomorrow.”
“Tell me where I can meet you,” said Eric.
“I can’t do that. I’m too far away and my aunt and George have advised me to keep our location a secret for now.”
“Tell me, what happened. Then I’ll share some of what’s happened here.”
“I’ll try to make it short,” I said. “The Creep spotted us and chased us all the way to and down Lombard Street. We hid in someone’s driveway and ducked out of sight. Then I headed for the freeway. It was all a narrow escape, Eric. I drove in a panic but I didn’t do any damage to your car. Oh, and I just realized a few minutes ago that while we were trying to get away from him, we probably drove right by your aunt’s house. Please tell her we are so thankful that she was willing to take us in,” I added. “If I had gone to her house, I would have led Stetson right to her front door.”
“You’re right. But how did he find you in the first place?”
“It was weird. He spotted us as I crossed over Bush at Powell and he was sitting in a cab. He chased us in a taxi cab!”
“I’m really glad you got away. I can’t wait to see you again, Haley. I have so much to tell you,” said Eric.
“I feel the same way and I can’t wait to see you.” I paused here but decided to keep talking. “Tell me, quick, what’s happened there with you?” I asked. And then before he could reply, I added, “Oh, George said that he’ll have your van in your aunt’s driveway by tomorrow morning.”
“Whoa! That won’t be a good idea,” said Eric. “Driving my van back here tonight is not an option right now. Your picture is on the front page of the Chronicle. A photographer took a random picture trying to show residents leaving the building and he caught you, Jeanne, and Krista about to open the door of my van.”
“That’s definitely unwanted publicity,” I said.
“The problem is more than that. My license plate number is easy to read in this photo. Stetson might already have men watching for you driving my van. So it’s not a good idea for anyone to be driving it.
“I’ll tell George and he’ll work something out,” I said.
“Stay where you are and be safe Haley. I want to see you again, and soon, but your safety needs to come first.”
“Eric, I can’t thank you enough for how wonderful you’ve been. Ever since I met you, you have been helping and protecting me, and my friends. Oh, I’ve got to ask you right now, how Mrs. Johnson is doing? Can you call her, or go see her and secretly let her know we’re all okay? We don’t want her to hear about Mrs. Hamlin on the news. She’ll be terrified and more worried about us.”
“Sure, the Chief and I will take care of that. When do you think I’ll be able to see you?”
“George said he’s working on that, so I’ll think it’ll be soon.” I fidgeted with the spiral telephone cord and paused, “Eric, I’ll be calling you tomorrow. Though I don’t know what time.”
“I’ll come back here after work tomorrow, but don’t hang up yet. There’s more bad news.”
“What else could be more dreadful than what’s happened?” I asked.
“The place where you’ve been living has now been nicknamed The Murder Building. The Serial Killer has murdered three more people there.
A gasp escaped me and goosebumps rose on my arms. “Who?”
“A mother and her two young girls, in the apartment next to Krista’s. The killer did the same to them as they did to Mrs. Hamlin.”
“Oh no! Those sweet little girls and their mother? I brought them some cookies… that Mrs. Johnson baked.” Haley’s voice had trailed off.
“I can understand how hard this is to hear, Haley. Fontino and his men are working hard to solve these killings. Chief Mullins and I are going to team up with him to help.”
I couldn’t hold back the emotions of dread, fear, sadness, and loss. The feelings all came out of me in sobs. “This is all horrible. Everyone I care about is in danger.”
“Haley, it would be better if you didn’t come back for a while. Keep that hiding place. It will be up to you to call me. I can be here after work to get your call or a message. I’ll be waiting.”
“Eric,” I’m counting on George to keep his promises. My aunt trusts him with her life, and at the moment I don’t have a choice, but I feel that I can trust him, too.”
I saw George peek in at the door. “I’ve got to go right now. I’ll call tomorrow!” I said quickly and hung up. I hoped George had not heard any of my conversation. I had more to say to Eric, but not tonight. I had said, and heard enough.
George and I waved good-by to Giuseppe as we went out the back entrance. In the van I filled him in on some of what I learned. “George, we could all be found just by the license plate number. How will you get Eric’s van back to him now?”
“It might have been a problem, but now that you’ve told me it won’t be. I will have the license plate changed before we move the car. Thanks for the tip though,” said George and he smiled. “You’ve got a great admirer there haven’t you?”
“You were right. Eric does care for me. He’s also very worried about all of us. Fontino and his men found three more bodies in our building today, George. Two little girls and their mother, who lived in the apartment next to Krista’s. All of us, Mrs. Johnson, Krista, Jeanne and I, knew them.” I put my hands up to cover my face as the tears rolled down uncontrollably. George folded his arms around me. Then a meek wail came through, “We’ll never be able to live there again.”
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California