My ongoing project Free Will & Spilt Blood has exceeded the 1/3 of revisions, thanks to my amazing mentor and editor, Heather Cashman http://heathercashman.com/home/


I may be missing out on 2017 NaNoWriMo, but I have been working on these characters and story since 2013.  Thank you everyone who has helped me along the way.  Still cannot claim victory but on the right path.

Fatal Introductions Chapter 22

Proving yourself, innocent was easier than proving yourself sane.  Vincent was learning that hard lesson as he sat detained in the special cell.  Suffering the sight of the two demons loosened the confident consultants view on reality.  Surely, he had attended church when convenient but he honestly did not believe in half the sermons.  A moment was all it took to rattle him to the point he doubted every lesson life had taught him.  The fear in his eyes did not dissipate. Long after the encounter, he still wished he had not witnessed the darkness.

The room was kept bright.  He would scream if the lights were turned off or even down until they rectified the situation.  Soon the guards would joke about how the state should bill him directly for the power.  Craving his freedom and proof he was within his senses he would laugh along with them.  The worst part of proving he was sane was his defense attorney purposely making him appear to have lost his mind.  An insane client meant he did not get a loss on his career statistics.  Proving incompetence did not sit well with Vincent.  An argument could be made that his ramblings after the incident in the cell with Antonio was enough proof.

Wicked eyes, those damn wicked eyes were everywhere.  He would look in the mirror and see them.  When eating his food, they were there.  No part of Vincent’s life did the fear they would return not touch.  His arms were bound, as a precaution to him causing further harm to himself.  Bloody fingers were enough proof he was capable.  He was made even more defenseless against the hooded figure if it returned.

All Vincent could do with his days was to sit back and wait.  Wait for the fate of the remainder of his days.  It was clear the conviction meant he was no longer with the job that provided him with so much joy.  Even if proven insane, the company would not bring him back.  They would have less credibility in front of their clients if he was their face in business deals.  Cutting the convict loose before his retrial was a solid fiscal decision made by managers.  Firing one of their own meant an increase in workload but it also meant less heads to feed. They congratulated themselves for making smart decisions.

Solitary in a padded cell gave Vincent plenty of time for self reflection.  Death was not in his future but it may have well had been.  Eat, drink, use the bathroom, and sleep the days away, overlapped on top of each other without any change.  Yesterday it seemed like he had seen the images, though in reality it had been a week.  He needed to be free. A passing guard caught his attention.  “Can you let me outside for a few minutes?”  The air might do some good.  It definitely would be a change.

The guard stopped a bit irritated that his own routine had been interrupted.  “Can’t you just stay there and keep your mouth shut?”  This holding area normally could be ignored, now, thanks to Vincent it had to be added.  Until a proper evaluation of Vincent could be performed he was to stay where he could do no harm to anyone, including himself.  He was a pure burden who did not even bring any entertainment or conversation to the guards.  He only increased their trouble.

“Just five minutes, please,” he tried to act humble.  In his core, he had been a salesman.  Every person had a point where they could be sold a product.  The product here was fresh air.  The important point of the sale was showing the guard the humility of someone who was obedient to his commands.  He had to appeal to his sense of control.

“I am not losing my job for you to see the moonlight.”  It was the first time anyone told Vincent any clue about the time.  Being sheltered, added to his loss of mental awareness.  The trouble with the days passing this way wasn’t the confinement; it was the thoughts drifting toward what if they were correct what if he truly had lost his mind? The way the guards treated him did not help deter those thoughts.  “When the shrink comes in tomorrow you can ask him for some outside time.”

“You don’t have to wait that long.”  A soft whisper turned into quiet echoes surrounding Vincent.  He was sure he had lost his mind, the question was no longer if, but when did it happen?  Echoing both male and female voices old and young, the statement repeated.  “You don’t have to wait that long.”

Reflecting the sound from every direction made it difficult for the former consultant to pin down the source.  His head jerked in every direction possible as he tried to catch the person who was speaking.  “You are not real! Leave me alone.”  When he realized he had directed the statement to no one he felt more solidified in the insanity theory. “That’s it Vincent threatening voices only you hear will prove you are not crazy.”

“You know I am real.”  The dozens of voices replied.  Their tone was calm but firm in their belief.  They were real.  In the room, the only one doubting their existence was Vincent.  His ears were convinced otherwise.  “You have seen me. Do you not trust your eyes?”  The voices seemed soothing.  Taking his side was convincing Vincent that they should be trusted.  “I can get you out of here.  I require a small thing in return.”   Darkness started to take over the room.  It had not become hard. The elimination of power eliminated the lights.

The moment was a reminder of the episode that earned Vincent this room.  Needing to get away to regain his sanity the consultant was open for negotiations.  This was a test of his nerves.  The darker the room became the more he wanted to scream.  “Okay it is dark enough.  You have the upper hand no need to keep doing this.”  Experience should have cautioned him not to give up the advantage in the upcoming negotiations.  Fear directed him otherwise.

Eyes formed as two flames burst in the darkness.  The explosion of fire eventually shrinking down to the shape Vincent had been haunted by when he closed his eyes.  Those eyes not only burned in the air, they had permanently scorched into Vincent’s memory.  Whispering, “They are real.”  It was the first time Vincent had to sell to himself.  Portions of his logic still did not believe his eyes.  Burning eyes soon illuminated the face.  Shadowed by the hood, Vincent did not need the complete face to know the man would be considered handsome, if he had not been so creepy.  Doubt fought visual proof as his mind rallied to place back into reality.  Reality reminded the prisoner, he was being evaluated for psychotic concerns.  Evaluators were going to get proof one way or another, as Vincent pushed with his legs to the corner, nudging a pillow up with his legs to shield.

All those tormented voices gave their attention on the deal. Presenting a calmer tone they tried to calm their mark.  Very few times in Vincent’s life had ever recorded where he had not had the upper hand in any dealings.  “What if I promise I can get you out of this cell?”  Sounds did not project from the mouth moving in the firelight.  Forked tongue darted out between each word but did nothing to form the sounds.  The noises confused Vincent.  He could not place them from a single source.  An idea they were all in his head could not be dismissed by the logic.  “Would fresh air be worth something you cannot even see? Something you will not miss while on this earth?”

Half fearful, half weary Vincent joked. “Sounds like you want me to make a deal with the devil.” Vincent had not spent a minute in any church or even in prayer in over a decade.  Still even in his line of work the ‘deals with a devil’ meant they were giving up too much.  As a consultant, Vincent used the phrase when he reviewed employee management relations.  Especially when unions made it easier to convince his clients that a larger profit could be kept by moving jobs elsewhere, the phrase seemed to play into his hands.

“Have you ever seen proof there is a devil?”  The question delivered by mocking voices.  They toyed with the consultant’s logic.  “You are a smart man.  You know those things are just stories. Look into your mind.”

“What do you want from me?”  Vincent was dry, for the first time in a deal he did not know what the other side wanted or needed to hear.  He had no numbers to bend.  There were no examples to give.  He was purchasing his freedom without knowing the true cost.

“When the time comes we want you to take my place.”  The voices switched from singular to plural references from voice to voice.  Vincent still felt he was negotiating with a single entity.

“Sounds simple, are you sure you can get me out of here?” Doubts filled the conversation.  Freedom meant lawyers, and all the right things, forms, and fines paid.  Those were just to take care of the psychotic episode it did not consider the murder conviction.  Limits on the creature’s power could not be surmised.  Vincent was used to observing and making accurate guesses about the abilities of people and machines.  So far, the only thing this hooded figure proved capable of was terrorizing him.

“Do we have a deal?”  The voices turned to a pure feminine form.  In Vincent’s mind females were not capable of harming him.  Without realizing it, Vincent dropped his guard.

“How do I even know you can deliver?”  His defenses lowered, Vincent tried to regain his own leverage.  Confidence started to outweigh the fear.  The softer voices started the ease.  Reality of knowing there was no proof he was witnessing was real, allowed him to try to gain the advantage again. “I don’t even think you are real.”  Soft laughs responded to his words. “You give me proof and you have my word we have a deal.”  He had nothing to lose as he spoke the words.  Proof meant he was free, though he suspected, it was all an episode in his head.

A wide smile revealed sharp teeth as the fire of its eyes added to the terror of rows of jagged teeth.  “Proof means deal correct?”

“Yes, proof means we have a deal.”  Stalling was usually the tactic of someone about to cave into his demands.  That flaw revealed this was all in his troubled mind.

Sharp teeth lead the face as the creature opened its mouth and lunged at the seated prey.  Despite the pillow shield, it did not seem slowed even a little.  Widening to swallow its prey whole the shadowy creature engulfed the consultant.  Despite screams of terror the attack was successful.  The prisoner was gone. The lights and room had a distinct sulfur smell as the guards rushed in.  When Vincent disappeared, and could not be accounted for, the guards sprung to life.  Camera revealed him there and with a second he pushed off into the corner and disappeared.  A psychiatric review of the man watching the camera, and a technical review of the equipment would soon follow any report the shift filed.

Screaming as the creature swallowed him whole; Vincent did not even realize he had made it out.  Seated behind the steering wheel of a small sedan, Vincent received his proof.  He was still bound in the restraining jacket from the padded cell.  The surrealistic moment could not even be registered by his thoughts.  “Is this proof?”   The voices echoed to him from the entirety of the car.

“Yes, we have a deal as long as you get me out of these.” Restraining against his bonds, he pressed them outward to highlight them.  When it was apparent the subject of his stipulation, they disappeared.  Vincent stretched his arms. Muscles had tightened in the short time he had been restrained.  When the task was done, he reached down to the ignition of the vehicle.   It was a miracle, the keys were already in.  With a turn of the ignition the sedan started. The engine noise had never sounded better to Vincent in his life.  He was still formulating a plan as to his destination.  Right now, the choice of not here seemed to be the perfect start.

Getting out of the parking lot became even more of a priority when he noticed he was parked next to a row of police cars.  The deal put him out next to city hall.  Had he negotiated a better deal, Vincent would have chosen a different location.  Maybe an island far away from anywhere in northeast Ohio would be worth what he traded.  The act was done.  He would have to compensate for the shortfall it caused.  Vincent obeyed every traffic laws for the first time in almost a dozen years.  He had grown comfortable making a violation or a few since the years he first earned his license.  There was no reason to draw attention repeating those mistakes.  Fear and shock had kept him hostage the last couple of weeks, today he broke free.

Driving down the strip of local shops and two-story buildings the escaped convict focused on blending in. Just a typical drive, late at night, was what he needed to project.  In his core Vincent was a salesman, all he had to do was to sell.  The first refusal to his pitch came in the form of a patrol car at an intersection.  Red lights last forever.  All Vincent could do was hope.  The street lights of the city let out a soft yellow glow.  A soft glow illuminated the details of the man’s face.  The light provided enough for a petite female officer to know exactly who he was looking at.

Extended time to study gave the patrol officer a chance to look over the only other car at the intersection.  Late enough that anyone out would draw some interest. the officer did not need to hear the next thing out of his radio to gain his attention. ‘All patrols be on the lookout for a white male.  Description is as follows: Five feet eleven inches tall, one hundred and fifty pounds, blue eyes, brown hair.  Suspect likely to be wearing jail issued clothes and goes by the name Vincent Crosby.  Suspect is considered dangerous.’ 

The call sounded like a checklist as far as the face was concerned to the officer.  She had no idea on the height and weight but the face matched perfectly.  Picking up her hand radio she called immediately for help in dealing with the threat.  “This is seventeen, suspect travelling north on Lake.  Assistance requested.”

It had been awhile since the officer had to respond to a truly dangerous threat.  She knew what needed to be done.  Standard procedures encouraged initial instincts.  It would begin with slowly trailing the suspect’s car.  State law meant she would not have to wait to call in the license plate of the car for others to catch.

Vincent had never been an escaped convict.  Until a few weeks ago he was not even a convict.  Ignorance due to lack of experience still did not prevent him from recognizing that he was being followed.  The approach of the police car meant he had caught unwanted attention.  Confident, he would escape, prevented him from worrying.  Vincent made a deal.

Another police car driven by the patrol sergeant joined in the slow pursuit.  Slow pursuit meant a block could be set up if the escapee’s destination could be determined.  Three other patrol cars were running on roads parallel to the duo.  The nine officers should be enough to handle Vincent.  Clemmons knew who he was from firsthand experience; he brought the man in first time.  It amazed him. the man was frozen in the shock of his actions at the bar.  Remorse seemed to stay with the man all through the trial.  Fate seemed to be leaning him toward life in prison, not driving to get away.

The way this suburb was set up all centered around a lake in the center of town.  Roads ran parallel to the lake in all four directions. The layout made the trap easier to be set.  Residences that lined the streets stayed Clemmons’ hand.  He wanted to spring his trap but not at the risk of an innocent bystander.  Vincent did not appear to be a threat to the masses. Clemmons did not think about taking a risk.  Protecting the town sometimes meant even from those in blue. Unintentional consequences created victims if it was not guarded against.

Vincent had never felt alive as he pressed on the gas pedal.  He was not going to become a prisoner again.  The confidence of his deal meant he could get away.  He had been promised freedom.  He was feeling it now.  Being restrained for days just amplified the feeling of freedom.  Vincent knew he was never going to be bound again.  He drove faster as the lights and sirens came alive from the two police cars.  He was in the moment of his life.

Clemmons and the other cars gave chase.  The roads started ending into each other the further the race went.  Soon they were on the main road heading toward the canal lock.  Vincent had run out of residential safety.  Clemmons sped to get even with the sedan.  The lower cylinder car did not have the power and speed to win this race.  The lack of speed did not diminish Vincent’s desire for freedom.

Aggression inspired the escaping convict to try to push the officer off into the canal.  It was his only chance.  Jerking the wheel sharply to the right, the car responded by scraping into Clemmons’ car. Defensive driving courses had taught the old policeman how to handle situations like this.  Clemmons was not aware he would ever need to use those skills.  Today, he would have to update his life’s resume.

The cars scraped for another few yards before Clemmons slowed down.  Vincent did not notice as he swung hard again on the wheel.  The result placed the small sedan parallel in front of the police cruiser. Clemmons seized the moment and pinned the car against a tree.  The chase had ended.  The moment of freedom that he had prematurely celebrated from his cell had ended.  The impact into the tree had jammed his door close.  It was over.  The deal had not been fulfilled.

Police in the chase surrounded the pinned vehicle.  Pistols drawn, they were awaiting the instructions from Clemmons.  The excitement had shaken him up but not to the point he could not do his job.  The stroll from his cruiser to the sedan was slow but confident.  He leaned down to the shattered passenger window.  Propping his arm on the opening that once housed the window he shined the flashlight directly into Vincent’s face.   Clearing his throat and calming his nerves, Clemmons finally addressed the escaping convict.  “What were you thinking?”

“I had to get out of there.  You don’t understand, that place was making me crazy.”  Pleading his case, he could tell the officer did not care.

“Well, the good news is you are going to get your wish.”  Clemmons kept the flashlight in his face.  “You have proven you can escape that cell so we will have to send you up state to a more secure facility.  They will be able to keep you there safe and sound for years to come.  I hope you enjoyed your freedom.”


Photo Credit Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com)


Fatal Introductions Chapter 18

Barberton grill 1

Every relationship starts getting serious.  One of the key indicators was to meet each other’s friends.  Harold was up first.  He had planned to gain even more trust from Sienna by introducing Antonio to her at a bar.  The laid back meeting place was to help things go right and drown out if things went wrong.  Antonio always seemed to be at home in a bar.  Sienna was not a bar person but Harold would be there for her.  Besides she had the night off.  A night where Sienna could unwind was rare, and she was going to enjoy it. 

The relationship was a fake.  Harold knew he had to make it real in appearance.  Trust was the only way to gain access to the camera monitors.  As minor as it seemed, the building he was targeting was essential for shipping the inventory all over the country.  It would also be another fire that a public relations guru could not make disappear without explanation.

Following the first fire, a company spokesman immediately reacted.  Successfully diverting the blame for leaving the building in a state where it could catch fire.  The focus was shifted to the heroics of the police force saving the homeless man from death.  A well funded legal team ensured the investigation did not ruin the company name.  Harold hated watching the company act like they had the politicians in their pocket.  He wondered if they did.  The effort and risk he took yielded no rewards.  The next target had to be located in a highly populated area.  It would have to be a blaze that was not simply extinguished.  The fire would be fueled by the inventory to create a sore the company could not easily explain away.  Black smoke from burning rubber would beacon all eyes to the company that ruined his life.

Sienna would be a casualty of the financial fallout.  He had grown attached to her but not enough to keep from reaching his goal.  Any act he did and was caught doing would be traced back to her.  Perception was reality in the court of public opinion.  The sentence would be handed down to her family.  It was a sacrifice Harold was willing to make.  He felt the least he could do was to take her out to a nice dinner and drinks.  When this was all over he may even want to date her without ulterior motives.  Surely she could understand the need for such a sacrifice, Harold justified. 

Sienna had dressed like a real person she thought.  It was a chance for her to get out in a dress.  The fit was a little bit snugger since last time she wore it.  Quite some time had passed since she was able to justify wearing date clothes.  If it was not going to be tonight, what major event would have to happen for her to pull them out of her closet?  Debating with herself had become one of Sienna’s past times.  The usual answer was the least attractive one.  Tonight, she was bucking the trend.  She was choosing to feel the most attractive.  The kids were with a babysitter so tonight it was time to have real adult fun.  Harold had brought that back into her life.  She did not want to say anything and chase him away, even though, she was falling for him.  It had been so long since she reached this point with anyone, that it scared her on how he would react. 

Antonio was running a bit late, giving Harold time to show his getaway place to his date.  Times where she would send him a message were answered from this very bar he said almost proudly.  He did not include the part where it was the safe haven after Jess left him.  Calling the regulars and bartender by name and getting a return of the salutation, made Harold appear to be important.  He at least felt that way.  It was nice to see her guy was popular.  Part of the single mother wished it was not in a bar.  Confidence was not lacking from him here though.  That part impressed her. 

Bar scenes were abandoned far into her past, Sienna barely remembered them.  She whispered a joke to Harold she figured it would be a man who drove her back to one.  Shared laughs were part of the bonding of their relationship.  It had been a long time since she allowed her guard down enough to risk forming that bond.  Even her children were noticing the change in her demeanor.  The smile she carried had been permanent for the last few times she had talked with him.  It had been awhile since she had called herself anyone’s girlfriend. Harold was going to change that.

Drinks flowed as the wait for Antonio drug on.  Her rule of a two drink maximum had already been broken.  The words started flowing more as the wall of niceties were drowned away.  The volume of her voice was getting loud enough to compete with the growing background noise of the jukebox.  Smiling was a new constant as the jokes between her and Harold revealed a genuine chemistry.  Then in one quick flashback the laughter was cut.  Memories from work rarely were happy.  The memory of the slender but somewhat tall man approaching the table was a work memory.  Fears were realized when Harold rose to greet him.

“Antonio, this is the woman who has been stealing my time.”  Harold announced proudly as he pointed toward Sienna.  Those words created a nightmare scenario.  Antonio was the man, who more than likely was the murderer from the other day.  She had already given his description to the police.  Part of her wondered if she should sneak away and call the police. 

“Nice to meet you Sienna,” Antonio presented his hand for the greeting.  Holding it in place awaiting the seated woman, Harold’s friend wanted to make a good first impression.  Her tension was not hard for him to sense.  One of Antonio’s natural gifts was to understand other’s feelings with a few hints.  A few drunken nights Harold told him he missed his calling.  The occupations he stated how it would help ranged from poker ace to psychologist.  “Harold has told me so much about you.”

Reluctantly Sienna offered her hand back.  Her line of work must have already been known if Harold mentioned much about her.  “Nice to meet you, too,” the tone was a little more flat than his greeting.  Acting was never her strong suit.  Her kids made sure she was well aware of that fact.

“Do I know you?”  The bit of familiarity struck Antonio quickly.  He knew exactly where he had seen the security guard before.  Several times their paths seemed to cross. one in recent enough memory where she would remember.  “I swear you look familiar.”  Tension had developed the moment their eyes met.  Antonio was just adding to it by bringing the question up. 

“I agree you do look a bit familiar.  Do you work at Stanley?”  Sienna caught the misdirection of tension and shifted it back to him.  She knew he was not an employee, but mentioning where she had seen him might make him uncomfortable.  She honestly wanted the tension to reside entirely with their dinner companion.  A confession of why he was at the location of the murder might give her clarity on what to tell Harold.

“I used to.” Anger mixed into the answer.  “Moved on to better things,” Antonio was trying to make himself sound better.  He had experienced the judgment of people when they heard of a lost job.  Pride was struck when they cast their eyes.  The reasons for the job loss never seemed to matter.  Unemployment was a status that people immediately inserted into a stranger’s character. 

Tension doubled in the air as Antonio took his seat.  It almost knocked Harold over.  Girlfriend and friend were the two assets of his life.  Both the plan and the cover relied on the two sitting at the table.  Harold would have to cut the tension to save the separate relationships.  “Sienna works for their central security.”  Fake pride was a smokescreen to subdue her.  Antonio would follow his lead he hoped.  There was too much at stake for him to chase her away. 

“Must be a nice job,” Antonio picked up on Harold’s lead.  “When I worked there we never ran into them, but we knew they were there.”  Wounded pride shrank.  “I have to admit it is work I could not do.  Staring at the same screen for hours would put me to sleep.”

“There are days.” Harold interrupted her intent.  For the sake of the evening she would move forward with the conversation.  Wary that she might be having dinner with a killer Sienna kept her guard up.  No matter what she was doing she would keep a watchful eye on their dinner guest.  “You learn to make a game of it, craving every little movement.”

“I bet.”  It was not hard to see that Harold’s romantic interest was not going to trust him.  All the sidekick could do was to play the small talk game.  It may be a form of communication, but all he was doing was making noise with the other two.  Antonio wondered which of his acts of defiance was caught on camera. 

Her patrol revealed Antonio’s victim.  Media went wild when the police reported the body.  Sienna kept her mouth shut about what she had seen.  The attention on the News would put a spotlight on her that she did not want.  Harold was the only person she had informed.  One thing she did not mention was a description of the man she witnessed fleeing.  If she had discussed that with him this meeting might have never take place.  Their relationship might not be strong enough yet for her to cause legal problems for his friends.  As much as Sienna wanted to do the right thing Harold might be her future.

“What was that murdered body found on your guy’s property all about?”  Antonio wanted to play off what he did know.  There were few brief moments he could recall about that night.  After the news announcement there was a bit of wonder if Harold had anything to do with it.  Antonio was well aware of Harold’s stance on taking a life, but part of him wondered if he had broken that yet.  They had a mission and some of his partner’s convictions were getting in the way. Still, there was a moment where Harold had ventured away by himself.

Sienna could not believe the guy she had just met was fishing for inside information.  The report she gave the cops was not public knowledge as far as she was concerned.  There was a line she did not want to cross and become one of ‘those’ girlfriends, but Harold’s friend was not winning her over.  “I was actually stuck behind the cameras that night.  No one tells me anything.” 

Harold chimed in.   He knew they were there that night and caught a break by not going through with their plans.  “Don’t worry. I am sure with all the hassle that would ensue; you got a break not hearing anything.”

Conversations can provide entertainment or information.  They can carry reassurances or humor.  The trio’s talk was nervous attempt at killing time.  The laughs were few and far between.  Forced interest was a prevalent cloud.  Antonio had started off on a bad side of Sienna and did nothing to change her opinion.  Interrogating the security guard, provided no real information for Antonio.  It was a waste of an evening. 

Sliding his chair away from the table, Antonio prepared to depart.  “The evening has been fun, but I am afraid, I am getting too old to stay up much later.  You two have fun and be safe.”  He was younger than Harold but Antonio was well aware of his status.  The longer the third wheel stayed the longer his friend had to entertain him.  Nothing was truly gained for him from the meeting. He had plans of his own that required his focus and energy.

“Are you sure you have to go?”  Feigned concern would earn Sienna points.  She liked Harold.  His friend’s approval meant nothing in the grand scheme.  She invested a lot into this relationship.  Faking sympathy for someone he cared about was not that much more of an investment.

“I am afraid I must.”  Maybe Harold was deceived but Antonio knew the ploy she was playing.  He was not wanted there.  They needed her as an unknowing accomplice. Money was running low. An outside motivation from personal justice was driving Antonio.  Harold had not yet reached the level of desperation where he could partner with Antonio’s other schemes.  The forces out in the city were darker than his blue collar life could currently comprehend.  Antonio was ready to be a tutor. The student was not yet ready to accept the lesson. Slamming his last twenty dollar bill on the table, “you two have a drink on me as payment for the company.” 

Harold rose to his feet.  “I appreciate it. Are you sure you cannot stay?”  Sienna was not happy in the delay.  The option had already been presented and turned down.  She just wanted him gone. She craved have alone time with her possible love.

“Really, you two have a good night.  I will look you up tomorrow man.”  The departure was a game.  Sienna had played it well.  She displayed a care for his friend’s company when there wasn’t any.  He knew Harold was smart enough to see it as well.  A final verdict Antonio issued was that Sienna would be no problem to their plans. 

As his friend departed through the door, Harold returned his attention to his date.  She was anxious and ready to ambush him with all the questions she had been holding back.  “How long have you two been friends?”  The opening question was pretty harmless.  It would take a little stealth to work up to the actions of the other night. 

Harold had been ready.  The spotlight had clearly hit him the moment the two people left in his world met.  “We have been friends for over a decade, ever since I taught him how to steal a pop from the machine at our old work place.”  Bragging about ripping off his former and her current company, made Harold feel a little empowered.  He spent the next few minutes relaying the story, and how stingy the break room machines were.  Even after they had been paid, they still had to be shaken to pay out their end of the bargain.

A long detailed explanation did not dissuade her from her goal.  After a few more harmless questions she struck straight to the point.  “Did you hang out with him a few nights ago?”  The thought of the murder and Antonio at the scene, made her pray Harold had not been involved.   

Immediately a fear that they had been spotted and identified put Harold at unease.  If she placed him at the place of a potential crime, he would never be able to use her.  The access Sienna’s job provided him would be closed off.  All the effort placed in earning the trust would be wasted.  “No,” hiding the defensive tone was hard. “I told you I was home and went straight to bed.”  Showing her the text messages they exchanged that night as proof.

The bar seemed to enclose on Harold as he felt the sudden judgment.   If he failed to convince her, all was going to be lost.  Something in particular seemed to draw a judging look on him.  It was a face he swore he had seen before but could not place where.  The woman was enjoying her drink as she was writing notes with her quill pen.  He had to be drunk Harold justified.  No one used quill pens anymore.  He had to deflect the questions back to Sienna.  Whatever she knew he had to dig out, He wanted to confront and disarm it.  “Why what did he do?”  Ignorance played in his tone.   Pride was taken in the ability to portray a clueless man, when it came to these types of conversations.  Jess had helped him perfect the art when they were married.

“I am just curious.”  Sienna was not as good as playing ignorant.  Telling her partner that his friend was a murderer would place a strain on their future.  Still she wondered if he would be strong enough to handle the truth.  Truth would eventually come out.  Would she be punished for hiding it from him?

“There is more to it isn’t there?”  Harold felt compelled to call out her lie.  It would be the only way to get to what she truly knew.  “You have seen him before with your work haven’t you?” 

Saying anything would have been the way to avoid this confrontation.  She lacked the foresight to know that.  The struggle in her mind was larger than she perceived it would be.  How much would be lost if she spoke the truth?  How much respect would she lose?  The fear of going back to being alone was trumping all other emotions.  She did not want to lose her man.  The bar was full of women who would gladly take him off her hands.  One particular woman caught Sienna’s eyes, the reddish haired woman with that stupid pen.  The woman’s face was familiar, and even though the city was pretty big, familiar faces crossed paths often.  Still Sienna could not place where.  The intrigue did not take her prisoner as she turned to her man.  “I was curious how much time you two spend together.”


A sight that was not common enough for the rest of the worker’s at the shelter, was the young college girls on the serving line. The two girls were both owners of flawless faces, painted more for a night out than serving the poor.  Their hair must have taken hours of time. Men who had been without real food for days were more distracted by the two girls then they were finally beating starvation.  Holidays brought an influx of volunteers but not usually during this time of year.  There were no holidays close enough to guilt the young, obviously rich girls to the shelter.  They were either doing the act out of kindness or because it was to be closer to someone else in the volunteer staff.  Antonio could sense things like that at any distance.  It was a common act with people their age.

The shorter blonde was visibly unhappy to be there.  She looked to be out of her element by not being in charge.  It added to her discomfort.  Not to the point however where she would be a suitable candidate to recruit.  He needed desperation.  The darker haired companion invading a coworker’s personal space would never let her leave anyway.  While the two young girls were pleasant to his eyes, they were not conducive to his plans.  

Long bench seating provided an excuse to slam his tray and body down next to someone and start a conversation.  Antonio could almost smell desperation levels on anyone.  What got in his way were personal morals the person may have.  He felt his job in finding the right partner, was to find someone who he could persuade away from those moral obstructions.  He prided himself on never being stopped by those morals.  Some targets took longer than others. 

Part of the free meal that was received was hearing a sermon.  For most it was a small price to pay for a meal that was not from a dumpster.  Antonio used the sermons to gauge his potential targets by how well they were paying attention.  He wanted someone who was either too intent or too disinterested.  Too intent meant they were at a point where they had hit rock bottom if he could reach them they would be easy to manipulate.  He could use one last crime as a means to a better life.  If the target was not interested, it was due to the belief they did not think the sermon applied to them.  Their luck had been down for so long that they no longer believed anyone was looking out for them.  It was sort of a game to him to find the right ones. 

Judith and Marie could not be more opposite than the two girls in the serving line.  Both had experienced real life.  Scars of wisdom had covered their faces.  Their hair had dulled a little bit from the time they were the serving line girl’s age.  The roads life had lead them on, ultimately, ended up in this shelter.  Misery bonds friends quickly, and the two had become inseparable, even though they were opposites.

Marie was listening intent to the sermon.  Each word drilled a permanent look of attention on her face.  Latching onto the message as if it were meant entirely for her, she had become a focus of Antonio.  He was immediately sold on the duo when he noticed the disdain Judith recoiled with every moment she heard a word over the slurping of her soup.

Antonio became the snake moving silently weaving through the forest of people.  Sitting across from the women they immediately had the sense not to talk to him.  His words came out so seductive to changing their lives, they had no choice but to listen.  “How would you like to change your lives for good?”


store streets

Marie sighed a bit of relief as she was finally brave enough to fund her redemption.  Each handful placed into the bag was a step closer to climbing out of the gutter.  It amazed the former clerk that a store would keep this much cash at its location.  The other troubling part was that for as much money that was kept on location, there was no real security in place.  It was the blessing she had hoped and prayed for all those times.  The ease of the moment assured her conscious that this was meant to be. 

Judith did not believe in the answered prayer theory.  She bought into the naïve owner theory.  It amazed her that such carelessness would have been taken in handling someone’s assets.  Having never spent much time around a business that produced money she could only speculate one would take better care.  The small store had existed only a short time, and from what she could tell, its main item was lottery tickets.  No inventory seemed to be that attractive even to slip in a pocket.  The target made the older woman feel insecure about the safety and ease of the cash.  Feeling the store had another purpose, could not be easily dismissed.  Despite Antonio’s explanation of immigrant owners Judith had been around long enough to know something was not right.

Shadows seemed to have become Antonio’s comfort zone.  While the women did the work, he hid in them.  Even an easy mark needed a lookout to make sure schemes went smoothly.  Whether the scheme was to turn a good natured woman into a thief or a good hearted man into a murderer, it always helped if there was no interference.  Antonio was there to prevent the interference of wealth changing hands.  The women’s lives would be changed forever after this.  It would not hurt that he got a boost from it as well.  Bringing Harold down this path seemed impossible but he was not going to give up.  Profit was to be made now that the doors had been opened.  Greed had a way of trumping desperation.  Antonio was leading the desperate away from their shadows. 

Whipping the money into the bag at a faster pace, Judith felt the growing sense of impending doom.  They had to hurry and get the deed done quickly.  She had a trust in Antonio but it was not enough to overthrow her growing suspicion.  Something was going to happen, even though they had taken precautions, it would not be enough to deter the bad.  Every change of light, every flicker of a bulb on the flashlights grew the unnerving feeling.  It was becoming well fed at the buffet of Judith’s worry.  The creaking in the floor originated at Marie’s feet.  The money was not going into the bag fast enough.

A hand flew up quickly from Antonio.  He needed all the movement to stop as a familiar feeling had crossed him.  New accomplishes did not catch the signal right away.  Annoyance replaced the worry for a moment as he repeated the action.  Finally, the rookies to crime caught the meaning.  Their muscles tensed as all movement stopped.  Sound of each breath magnified.  A threat to his profit and safety had made itself known. 

Painted glass flew as it shattered.  The projectiles sliced the skin of Antonio’s cheek.  Pain did not follow the trickles of his blood.  A warning gave him enough time to lower his head out of the brick’s way.  It was a distraction to the trio as soon after the soft thud of six shots chased in the open window.  A suppressed flash meant the gunman was not a minor thug.  Familiar noises can trigger memories, this time it triggered another robbery gone bad.  The party that looked over the other shop a few streets down apparently also watched over this place.  Silenced pistol shots had created a memory that Antonio had hoped never to repeat.  To his dismay, he was reliving that moment now. 

Concern for his two minions disappeared the second the window shattered.  Escaping became his only purpose.  Survival outweighed the need to keep the two women alive.  He knew he made the right decision when his legs pushed him past the two slumping bodies.  He almost tripped over Judith.  Painful desperation had caused her hand to lurch forward.  She had survived on the street for a long time. Sadly, she was going to die when she tried to leave it. 

The groans of pain from Marie let Antonio know both women were still alive.  Two deaths would not be added to his tally today.  Their passing truly would not have bothered him.  Real damage would come if it became his reputation that partnering with him would lead to certain death.  Bleeding to death may be in their future that blood would not be on his hands.  The crime’s lookout could live with knowing that.  A quick kick of his leg freed him from Judith’s dying clutch. 

Springing to his feet Antonio once again was upright.  Silenced shots no longer were a threat as the flashing of sirens replaced them.  Silent alarms must have informed a monitoring company that the store was being robbed.  Whoever was the guardian of these neighborhoods would have to wait for his justice later.  The police were calling dibs on bringing Antonio in. 

Reaching the back door, he noticed the familiar red and blue lights shine through the cracks around the door frame.  He had no choice he would have to find a place to hide.  An opportunity to escape would have to present itself.  Antonio felt too important to go down by a petty break in and robbery. 

Clemmons was the first one in the door. Within a breath behind him followed his back up.  With weapons raised, their arms crossed with flashlights to make the light parallel to the barrels.  Nerves stayed focused as the possibility of an armed bandit became a real possibility.  Two bodies with non lethal shots in their shoulders were on the floor.  Writhing in pain on the floor in a growing pool of blood, it was not hard to know they were part of the original crime gone wrong.  The lack of a gun meant there was at least one other person to find. 

Nights like tonight made time go by fast for the officers.  A bit of adrenaline hit Clemmons when he noticed the two women.  Robberies were one thing but the area seemed to have more than its share of bodies the last few days.  Securing the scene was a priority. They could get paramedics in to look at the women’s injuries as soon as it was safe.  Each minute the search took lowered the women’s chances for survival a percentage.

Ever since the first statement about Antonio that the veteran officer took he had painted an appearance in his mind.  Vision of what the man’s appearance would be had occupied Clemmons.  When the flashlight shined on the hiding man, Clemmons knew he had met the man.  There was no real place for him to hide; Antonio had hoped the injured women would have distracted the officers.  Any delay in the police search would have created the cloak Antonio could use to make his escape.  That cloak never shrouded the look out.

“Get on the ground and keep your hands visible.”  The stories had created a bias Clemmons could not hide.  He could not blame bad decisions on the man who was getting in the prone position in front of him.  It was very clear that Antonio was a catalyst. 

Judith looked at Marie.  The women had gone this route to get out of the gutter.  They had placed a lot of trust in Antonio’s promise that he would get them out of the shelter.  Neither woman could have imagined they would replace the shelter or street with prison.   She let out a painful grunt as she had a moment of clarity that the recruiter to the life of crime kept his promise.


Thanks to Rick Rupert for the excellent photography for this chapter.  Contact him at Rupertrick@gmail.com to inquire about his work.


Fatal Introductions Chapter 17

Poor maintenance kept the lights flickering as they should have been replaced long ago.  The strobe effect of the lights allowed the shadows to dance with gloom.  It was an especially late night for the high paid errand runner. Even without the lights playing their game with his imagination he kept a wary almost frightened vision of everything around him.  Kristopher hated late nights. After his last stop to a southern city near the capital, he had no choice.  When he returned, it was already way past his normal departure time.

Cool night air had made his breath create a vapor from the warm breath.  He had a dozen keys on his key chain.  Being an older model car to avoid attention two of the keys belonged to the automobile.  Those two seemed to hide on the ring that held all dozen together.  It always caused a delay in leaving for anywhere.  Every time he was delayed, he thought of getting them a separate key chain.  That thought was quickly dismissed as it would create another item for him to lose. 

Hooded sweatshirts were practical in two ways.  On nights like this, they provided the extra warmth needed to get from the building to his car.  It also proved a camouflage of his wealth when he travelled to less trustworthy locations.  Problems arose only when he had to look more professional.  Tonight, he was pulling every bit of warmth out of the sweatshirt.  He guessed with some of their business it was probably a good thing they had no larger finger print.


“I am telling you, hitting the parked cars is a smart move.”  Antonio was adamant in his target selection.  Holding tight to a can of gas he was ready to spring when Harold gave the word.  “It is close to their offices. It won’t harm anyone. And it will create a discomfort for all those who work in the nearby office.  The same people who had no problem putting us on the street.”

Clear lines in Harold’s mind could not trace how it would hurt the company with the fire in a parking lot.  The damage would be minimal.  It would not even cost much funds to repair what was destroyed by the fire.  Structural design made it impossible to destroy in a simple fire. “So you want to burn something that will be hard to burn?”

“No, I want to destroy it.”  Antonio snapped back. “Just like they destroyed our life, piece by piece chipped away.”

“With one can of gas?”  Harold had a bigger idea of how to hurt the company.  This plan seemed to have more risk than reward for minimal damage.

“No with this,” Antonio peeled back his jacket.  The revealing of three sticks of dynamite taped together with a long fuse. 

“Okay, I guess you are dedicated.”  The sight was startling.  “Where did you get those?”  Still the shock having never been this close to explosive, Harold was stammering over his words.  Somehow, the dynamite placed a level on their actions that Harold had not realized.  He knew they were going to after Stanley Tire and Rubber with everything they had.  They wanted to make a stand. The thought of crossing into terrorism was a step Harold did not think he would take.  It was amazing those brownish red sticks represented a reality of the situation.  A reality where the News would not dismiss their actions as accidents was harnessed in those sticks.

“Do you really want to know?”  Antonio was a man of means with connections Harold did not know about.  Harold knew how much Antonio’s life shadowed his.  Harold was told Antonio’s wife took his kids shortly after Jess took Harold’s.  The layoffs hit them both the same day.  And the jobs they applied for were always the same. Antonio was essential in the plans they made up until this moment.  Still there was so much Harold did not know about his friend.  He did not know the criminal side.  He did not know the side of Antonio that fed into other schemes. 

“No, I guess you handled logistics before I even thought of them.  As long as you can keep that supply line open I don’t need to know.”  Harold resigned to the fact he had to trust others to do their jobs.  It was hard not doing and planning every part.  He knew the job he was capable of doing.  Leading his movement was the first real leadership Harold had ever done.  Even in his family, Jess for the most part, made the hard decisions.

“Don’t worry I got your back.”  Slapping Harold on the shoulder, Antonio was ready to move forward.  “Now let’s go get on the front page.”


Factory 3

Sharp eyes had taken over monitoring the cameras.  Sienna was beginning her shift and complacency had not yet set in for the day.   The other shift was still present and her supervisor still had not hid in the back office.  She had unloaded her lunch into the refrigerator and took up the better chair.

Eight incredibly boring hours awaited her.  There were always two chairs in the computer room. The padded one stolen from an office cubicle, and the cheap folding chair, bought to satisfy the contract.  Sienna had been in the company long enough to know the good chair.  She knew how to get it, when to arrive and who to talk to get the chair secured.  It usually cost her a homemade treat but it was well worth the cost.

Images shifted over the eight screens.  Each screen representing a property under their eyes.  Cameras were always recording.  The eight screens changed views in a timely manner.  Rotating along their preprogrammed routes the view scanned along the paths to give the on shift officer an eye almost everywhere.  Along with the alarms and other prevention techniques gave many possibilities for an issue to happen.  Unfortunately for the late night shift those possibilities never paid off.

The alarms misfiring made watching the abandoned factories a necessity.  Missing one alarm that turned out to be a real incident would mean finding new employment.  Leniency was not something that described any action from her supervisor.  The whole point of her job was to watch over, to know what alarms were real and which ones were fake.

Coffee was the only thing that could get her through the later hours, she needed to keep her mug full.  Sienna feared the day where the caffeine no longer affected her. Once again, the shift prior did not make a pot.  Courtesy was not a daily occurrence in the workplace.  Sienna figured there were others still around that could cover watching the cameras while she made another pot.  Being one of the older guards she knew more about making coffee than the prior shift.  Coffee she could drink, and not just try to get down to deliver caffeine.

Sizzling as the last few drops finished the brewing process and fell into the pot.  Sienna was about to finally get her first mug.  Anticipation over something so trivial, gave her pause to wonder what her life had become.  She whispered to herself that her kids were right, she became lame.  Just when she was ready to harvest a cup the shift supervisor pulled her away to go over some instructions. Sienna mumbled about how it is always something.  She just wanted the one thing before she gave the company one hundred percent of her effort.

Disappointment and frustration hit her in the face the moment she returned.  The previous shift officer was filling his thermos with the entire pot.   “Thank you for making a pot, now I don’t have to stop at home.”  The short man from the previous shift announced, not sure who left the pot full.  Sienna wanted to raise a fuss.  It would not have done her any good the man was already heading out the door.  She would have to keep her lips shut on yet another travesty at work.  Everyone had things they kept bottled up she justified.  Sienna thought the late shift had more things they had to accept because they were not the star employees.  They were not in the spotlight unless things went wrong.  Blame was easy to pass to them.  The office workers barely ever saw any of the late shifts.  They were simply names to the ones who made decisions.

Part of her memory made the single mother wonder if she was the only one who knew how to do anything.  She did the cooking and cleaning at home.  She did the laundry.  She helped with homework.  At work, Sienna made sure the supplies were stacked.  Coffee seemed to be only made by her hand.  If there were extra tasks to the guards to accomplish they were left for her.  The whole process was tiring.  With the coffee finally made again, she sat down to drink her reward.

Slowly the day was starting as the hot coffee hit the back of her throat.  The caffeine fix did not cheer her up past the frustration of the shift, the coworkers, or her children’s dismissal of her contributions to their lives.  She was thankful that she at least had Harold.  Sending him a quick text message over her phone would brighten her day.  He always knew when to reply.  It was not what he said, it was the fact he replied at all, no matter the time was what she needed.  To be thought of by anyone would be a welcomed change. 

The screens in front of her had distracted her from her phone.  Daily patterns told her the parking deck should be empty this time of night.  Instead, there was a young man in a hooded sweatshirt taking a long time at a car.  Sienna wondered, should she call the police or if this would give her an opportunity to get away from the prison that was the security room.  If the man truly was a thief stealing the car, he would probably be gone by the time she got there anyway.  There seemed to be no real danger.  Besides she wanted to get away for a bit.  “Hey watch the monitors I am going to check out lot three.”  She did not give her boss an option, Sienna was going.


Finally finding the key Kristopher breathed a heavy sigh of relief.  Air around him turned into an even heavier cloud of steam.  The cloud of relief meant he could finally go home.  Days like today were ones he would think about when he started to love his job.  They would be a reminder of the bad that went with the good.  A heavy payday might make him forget days like today, but it would have to be an amazing amount to get his mind clear of this memory.  Turning the key the door became unlocked, and Kristopher took one last deep breath before getting ready to get in.  The cloud of fresh steam moved to join another cloud slightly behind him. 

Before he could react the knife tip burst through his sweat shirt.  His heart instantly pierced the messenger’s muscles contracted, arching him back. Yancey caught Kristopher before the body hit the ground.  Blood soaked a circular pattern in the sweatshirt turning the grey material crimson.  The urges had been met.  Kristopher had paid the price for his role in poisoning the weaker willed.

Yancey could go into work now without them harassing him. The only thing he had left to do was place the body into the car behind the driver seat to delay any watching eyes.  When the urges subsided, he had a great sense of accomplishment.  Yancey could not help it.  He had justified the mental disorder that his ancestors suffered were genetic, and it was just smarter to give into it.  Shutting the door of the car, he closed the memory of the kill.


The plan would be to place the gasoline fire on the top floor and the dynamite on the bottom floor.  A fire would draw attention while they lit the explosive, and then ran away.  Harold was quite proud of his plan even if it was made in haste.  Since Antonio had more experience with explosives he would have him find the main support column to target.  Harold wanted nothing but rubble left.  If they were going to make a statement they were going to make it loud.

He started the walk up the ramps with the gasoline in hand.  A pocket started to vibrate and chime loudly, informing Harold of the text message.  The buzzing of his phone would have attracted anyone within ear shot.  Only one person would text him at this hour, and she was too essential to the next step to ignore.  Harold sent a quick reply.  Sienna’s trust was too vital to be lost on a missed text.  Today’s message would be loud but the plan she was providing intelligence vital to the next major step.

Harold reached the top without another message being sent or received.  He assumed that work must have taken her attention away.  The plan called for him to pour the fuel along the decorative walls along their base.  The fire would then appear from the outside as bigger than it was.  There was one problem to his plan.

Harold noticed right away the car sitting on the deck.  Moving closer to investigate, it struck Harold odd that anyone would still be at work.  He assumed the car would be empty.  Most likely it was left overnight by some worker who had other plans.  As he closed the distance the old phrase that went along with ‘assuming’ hit him hard. It hit hard enough to knock his plan out. 

There sat someone on the driver side.  Signs of wear and tear on the car hinted that the person was probably living in the car.  Harold knew what it was like to have to struggle and live in your car.  The last decade had been rough on him.  An instant kinship was bonded with the man sitting in the driver seat.  The plan would have to be cancelled.

When he reached Antonio, Harold broke the bad news.  “We have to postpone it man.  Not that it isn’t a good plan, I just am not sure we can do it without casualties.”  Harold relayed about the man in the car.

“Just tell him to leave.”  Antonio had thought of all the details prior to this obstacle.  He had taken ownership of the plan before he sold it to Harold.  The fact that a homeless man was the reason for cancelling it, made him irate.

“If we show him our face, he will go to the authorities the second the fire starts. That is if he makes it out before the explosion.  If not we are murderers.  Are you ready to be a murderer?”  Harold’s temper was growing to match his partner-in-crime’s anger.

“Fine, but one day we may have to weigh what is an acceptable loss.”  Getting ready to walk out with Harold he stopped a moment.  “Hey I am going to get the dynamite, you go get the car.  No need to waste anything.”  Antonio disappeared into the shadows.  As Harold headed to where they staged the car.


Any gasoline the late shift used would always be questioned.  It was a cost that management hated to justify.  Sienna justified it by keeping her sanity.  Justification and truth were two things she could not report.  Reporting this expenditure would be wrapped around possible trespassing.  She had been taking notes already.  Any report of the incident would take some time to write.  That time would be more time away from the monitors.  Days that broke up monotony were rare, Sienna cherished how long she could drag this out.

The blue jean jacketed man ran out the entrance of the parking deck.  Sienna could not recognize him or the object he was carrying.  Something struck her imagination that it was dynamite but she dismissed the thought.  Who would blow up the parking deck at night?  It would be a waste of time.  The thin man looked to be slightly younger than Harold, but had similar features. 

People who lived on the street would sometimes take refuge in the stairwell.  The rushing man most likely had been scared away from doing the same thing.  Sienna felt a bit of pity if the story described his purpose for being there.  He only was wearing a jacket.  Tonight might be okay if he could find shelter but it was going to get worse.  Lake effect snow in northeast Ohio made the next few months deadly.  Sienna was not going to pursue the man. She would pray he would find shelter. 

It took a few minutes for her to get to the top floor.  The car was still in the same place.  She could tell the hooded sweatshirt man had slipped into the car.  Sienna did not truly care if he parked there overnight but had to by law give him warning.  Checking the activity off the procedure list meant she had done everything within the limits of her job.  Sienna had a bit of sympathy but not at risking her family’s income. 

She parked her vehicle with the headlights aimed directly into the side of the older car.  The light would provide better illumination than any hand held flashlight.  Plus, keeping the truck running meant keeping the heater running.  Sienna hated being cold, she even stated she would rather burn in a fire than ever freeze to death.

Closing the distance, Kristopher’s unblinking eye caught her sight first.  A haunting look on his face scared the security guard.  She stumbled backwards a bit before going back to the truck.  There was not a need to look down at the growing blood stain to know he was dead.  The question on whether to call the police earlier was answered.  The mundane shift went from routine to one which could never be forgotten.

A memory of the man running had become a more important vision in her mind.  The blue jean jacketed man was to be the killer.  He was dressed for just a short time, time enough to become a murderer. He would not need anything heavier.  The running was probably to get away before he was noticed.  Details of his face were becoming clear.  When the police arrived she would make sure they got an accurate description. The dead man would have his justice. Sienna felt she already solved the man’s death.  The police just needed to pick up the killer.

Once again thank you to the photography of Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com)

Fatal Introductions Chapter 14

Once Again thanks again to my amazing photographer Rick Rupert (rupertrick@gmail.com) for the photos to go with this chapter.


Some drinks are to forget some are to celebrate.  The beer raised in Harold’s hand was the latter of the two.  This beer was to celebrate.  He now had a plan.  Harold knew the residue of many years of the chemicals used to process the products had left a permanent hazard in the warehouse.  Placing a fire in a former plant, would be a bigger impact.  The chemicals that had left a presence for the century of use would burn.  The flames would release the poisonous gases.  Environmental concerns long hidden would be brought to the public spotlight. 

The frosted mug held the liquid reward.  There would be no connection that linked Harold to the fire.  Other than a driving under the influence conviction, he had no other crimes.  He wasn’t the only person out of work thanks to the relocation.  If detectives used that as a reason, after a decade of the move they would have to question almost a couple thousand. 

The beer tasted better than it had ever before.  He was planning the perfect crime.

As mastermind, Harold was not done planning.  Stanley Tire and Rubber would never be done suffering.  The price Harold had paid meant they were never going to be even.  Every missed birthday had no dollar amount.  The time the business stole, not to mention the loyalty taken were just a down payment on his demise.  

 He wanted the company dead.  It wouldn’t even be murder.  It would be self-defense.  The company had cost Harold his life.  If allowed to live, how many more lives would it claim?  How many more loyalties would be betrayed?  he needed to set an example for others going through the same thing.  Not just his former employer was trading loyalty for profit.  War on the working man had been declared. 

Antonio and Harold spent many days in this bar, watching the spreading epidemic.  Jobs went away, crime increased.  The increase struck Harold’s friends and family. 

Antonio introduced him to so many people who were also suffering.  Antonio was ‘good people’ trying to help those down on their luck by buying them a beer and giving them advice.  Harold had heard enough, it all traced back to the lost jobs a decade ago. 

A perfect plan would take time, and allies.  Not too many allies were to be trusted.  Too much trust in the wrong person and the names of Harold and Antonio would be sold to the cops faster than the potential reward money could be spent.  They needed to recruit carefully from the suffering masses.  Antonio would be key for that.  He had a way of finding out people’s motivation, or helping them find it. 

Harold and Antonio had seen enough. There was a shrinking area where they could find a good use of their time.  Every year the opportunities to apply their experience fell into the ocean arriving at a different shore.   The fire was inevitable both men concurred.  If they did not strike the match, someone else would.  Harold needed to be involved, he was a natural leader.  The fact he gave up so much meant he had the biggest stake in revenge.  There was no doubt that others could claim the same thing, but Antonio felt they needed to claim the lead. 

Getting ahead of the others, would place them ahead on getting followers.  Antonio convinced Harold the news would report them as terrorists, but the history books would remember them as heroes.  Implying when it was done, everyone would understand.  Tasks heroes undertook were not smooth or easy.  Antonio was the perfect sidekick.  He kept Harold focused, his plan staffed, and acted as a cheerleader when surrender would appear easier.  He was there for suggestions when a block in planning was reached.  Antonio even carried the lighter they would use to start their worker’s revolution. 

The fire would involve one of the followers that Harold wanted to keep in the dark.  The man was not a friend, simply someone who was within earshot when the two planned the strike.  He was not an employee that was laid off from the tire plant.  The third wheel was someone who recently lost his job and needed the payback.  Harold knew, the larger the group the more the chances were for the plan to slip.  The mastermind really did not have a choice.  Exclusion meant there was nothing holding him back from telling the authorities when the fire hit the news.  There was another reason. 

Harold knew the kid at the bar who had just begun his downward spiral was like looking back in time. He was witnessing himself when he had it all.  The revenge would keep the kid from wasting a decade.  Destruction would give him a purpose.

Harold moved to the back booth.  He learned it prevented too many eyes from being cast in suspicion.  Privacy in public was not too hard to come by.  Clientele in this bar wanted to keep mostly to themselves.  Still there would be reward money from the fire.  Reward money that may be attractive to an unemployed family man.  Harold could not blame anyone.  If it meant keeping Jess and the kids he would do the same.  He would tell anyone and everyone to earn enough to keep them. 

Shadow covered back booths kept those who did not wish to be detected hidden.  Mood is a product of environment.  The environment was a somber one.  Since the plant packed its last job and shipped it across the shore, the duo had occupied the booth more than they occupied their own bed.  A revolution takes time and planning.  It also takes deliberate and timely action.  Like a game of chess, the next move was crucial.  Strategy in both was never about the previous decision it was about the next.  Bold action that drew the attention of those hoping to see the company that betrayed them suffers.  Eyes scanned the list of assets still held by Stanley Tire and Rubber. 

A human victim was never in the plans. They just wanted their former employer to suffer.  “There should not be outside casualties in this war.  We need to be careful.  Only those who wronged us should suffer.”

“You just said it yourself, this is a war.  War is going to have casualties outside of just us.  There will be crossfire in any war.  We cannot start an action with the fear that we are making a mistake.  End results have to matter more than the sacrifice.”  Being the perfect sidekick was Antonio’s calling.

A battle between Antonio’s words and the guilt of harming another, raged in Harold’s thoughts.  Guilt was an emotion that was easily washed away by the bottle.  The thought was how many bottles in the future would he need for innocents?  “Is it worth it?”  The question was aimed toward his drinking companion, but was intended for himself.  “Are we doing the right thing?  We need to be cautious for sure.”

“You are ignoring that when we started this, we said we would see it through.”   With a raised glass Antonio pointed it toward Harold.  Each syllable accentuated with the waiving of the glass.  The ice cubes and whiskey swirled as he waived them.  “That means we will have to spill a little blood along the way.”

“Don’t you think this will take away from the message?”  The thought a casualty would draw sympathy in the news and their story would be lost.  Harold was not callous against the man it was not taken into account. 

“I think the more that die, it will help us.”  Antonio remarked before chasing the drink down his throat in one long pull.  A quick cough drowned out the next sentence.  Recovery took a few seconds.  “Think of the press coverage.  It would be national.  The word would be out that we struck a major blow with a small fire.”

“We would be murderers!”  Harold countered returning the pointing with his beer bottle.  The scruff stubble of his face added shadows to his serious tone.

“We would give their lives purpose.  Some people are made to be victims to draw a spotlight on a cause.  They will highlight our cause.”  Antonio had filled his brain with liquid courage, even sober he would have stood on this.  He strongly believed eventually a life would have to lost for their cause.

“It isn’t time yet.”  Harold was gaining the courage to counter Antonio’s logic.  “A death would also bring a spotlight to us.  We are not ready to face the authorities.” 

Antonio sunk back into his seat.  “I guess you have a point. For now, we will make sure that no blood is shed.  When will we know it is time to have casualties?”

“When there is no other choice.  I feel every death is a mark against us.”  Harold took another swallow of beer.  He had to chase the thought of going beyond punishing those that started this.  The thought some innocent soul would be caught up in his plans haunted him every night.  Murderer was a label he shivered at earning.  The only harm he meant to cause was something that leads to the path of his end goal.

            Antonio appreciated the new found determination.  He had watched as the mastermind went from doubt to headstrong leader.   The candor that came from Harold’s lips was words that any follower needed to hear.  Change was coming and Antonio was glad to be part of it.  He lived his life inspiring others to change.  Now he was the man in the background watching the inspiration take hold.  “So what is our next move?”

            Harold took another drink of his beer.  Tipping the bottle back, he reached a level of clarity.  The thought of his victim was replaced with the next step.  “The next step will see how close we can get to an active work site.” 

            “Active work sites will have people watching.”  The warning was meant to bring thought to the earlier statement about no innocent casualties.

            Harold repressed a burp.  “You have a point.  We will have to get a crew and make sure they are trained.” Thinking on the task, he figured they would be facing cameras, guards, and maybe alarms.  Someone on the inside could save them both.  “I think it is time we make some friends.”


            Sirens and flashing lights were getting old for the veteran officer.  He wished at times he had accepted the detective job when it was offered.  He chose to serve his community on the front lines as a patrolman.  The third shift patrol leader meant he spent the good part of the night watching over the city streets for the after effects of alcohol.  There would be drunk drivers, arguments that turned heated and other public disturbances that were fueled by strong drink.  Every once in a while, some local company would need an alarm answered, Clemmons was the one who would pick up the answer.


Stanley Tire and Rubber had taken most of their jobs overseas.  The small crew that was left was to manage the sales and other income generating portions of the company.  Environmental cleanup costs meant it was cheaper to keep the abandoned factors.  A few security guards watching cameras was fiscally smarter, than turning the abandoned buildings into something.

Sienna had taken this night watch shift of the monitors.  The only shift she was able to secure was third.  This meant she had to leave her kids under the watch of her oldest while she went to work.  She appreciated the fact she could be there during the day at the cost of a good sleep.  The income was pretty decent for not falling asleep as the cameras spent the entire eight hours not changing.  When they did show activity it was usually a rodent. 

It was easy money.  She needed something in her life to go easy.  Sienna had spent the majority of her family’s life without a partner. Without someone to share the costs, share the struggles or share the responsibilities life was difficult.  She raised her family to be as resilient as she had been, mostly by example.  The thought of dating had always ended poorly.  Friends kept pushing the issue of her finding a man.  Sienna was waiting for the right one.  She doubted anyone would ever be the right one.

The alert came through on the computer console with a flashing light.  If Sienna had been a new hire she would have been nervous.  She remembered those days well.  She was a veteran now.  Situations like the alarm did not scare her.  She knew to call the police and have them respond to whatever building the alarm originated from.  It had happened more and more as the company had relocated over a decade ago.  The amount of homeless that were taking shelter in the cold winter had triggered many alarms. 


The police officer stepped out of his patrol car and into the area caught by the camera.  A nod to the camera was Clemmons way of showing his face to the monitoring personnel.  Using his access key, Clemmons entered the door and headed to another camera’s view.  The flashlight highlighted areas for Clemmons and Sienna at the console as he checked for the source of the alarm.  The area was mostly open old industrial shelves present many hiding places that Clemmons needed to verify were harmless.

There were no signs that would cause Clemmons to think something was wrong His gut taught him never to overlook any situation.  A lazy approach could mean opening himself to harm.  Precautions could save him from the criminal element.  Criminals were not the only threat to a patrol officer.  Sometimes a startled homeless man could be in places like this.  Like the man in the fire, the homeless made their way into abandoned buildings to avoid the weather.  Unaware of alarms, they just wanted to find a warm place.  Clemmons had heard stories where the trespasser would be startled lashing out.

Turning the corner, the overhead light flickered.  Changing lighting created the effects of movement in Clemmons’ peripheral vision.   Dancing shadows were enough to trigger motion detectors.  To avoid a return trip in a few hours after the alarm was reset, Clemmons wanted to make sure the area was clear.  Experience had taught him that taking a short cut meant he would be back in this same location later. 

Highlighted by the flashlight the skeleton of the industrial giant haunted the officer.  The ribs of metal shelving once held inventory to be distributed.  Now it held just dirt.   Clemmons could still hear the hum of machines and workers toiling their shifts.  He remembered as a boy how this place was part of the life blood of the industrial north.  The company made quality tires here once.  Clemmons remembered when it turned sweat into a paycheck for many neighbors.

When he was satisfied the building was truly empty, Clemmons made his way to the door.  Notes had to be taken for the end of his shift when the paperwork was filed.  The cold night air was going to be common for a few more days.  That always led to more calls, more notes.

  When he wore a rookie uniform there would be no doubt he would kick the man out if one was caught.  Now decades of service had softened him with wisdom.  Unintended consequences can sometimes happen when someone who is desperate loses a safe place.  Clemmons watched as an evicted man turned to mugging or theft as a means to try to regain some form of value.  Not all crime was a result of circumstances but circumstances created some crime. 

Tonight he would not be tested.  The question would go unanswered another day about the type of man he became.  A short call back to the dispatch would end his commitment.  The city was changing.  The result was something Clemmons would fear unless hope returned. 


Clemmons made his way to where the call originated.  It was courtesy to do a face to face meeting with those who were concerned enough to call the police.  Late night security guards usually were the other face.  Part of the bonus as well as the problem of the midnight shift was that few people were awake.  His mentor once taught him there were two people up on third shift, those who were trying to get into trouble, and those trying to prevent it.  Clemmons never agreed with that statement, but it was pretty obvious that many did.  If they did not, he would not have to answer so many calls.

Sienna met the officer at the door.  He was a bit older, handsome, but older.  Judging anyone who came to this door at night was a tool to break the routine.  It was a quiet game to play in her mind.  People watching taken to the extreme. 

“Are you the one who called?”

“Yeah, had to, my supervisor is asleep so he couldn’t do it.”

“Well there is nothing to worry about.  Probably an animal or two scurrying through the building.  I am sure an exterminator can take care of it.”

“Maybe the rats are what is keeping the building standing?”  the comedy was wasted; Clemmons did his best to present a professional appearance.  What he deemed as professional at least.  That included no laughs when answering the calls to the public.

“hmm, still might want them to call an exterminator.”   Clemmons closed his notepad. 

“Are you going to be the one who always comes when we call?”

“We try to do a rotation, but I am a hands on kinda guy, so there is a good chance it will be me.”

“Good, it is always good to know who has your back.”

Clemmons did not say a word.  He loved security officers but their job and his duty varied wildly from each other.  They had a purpose, but Clemmons felt he had a calling.  A calling to protect his community, that meant his duty was to everyone.  Most of the security detail’s loyalties extended to those they were assigned to observe.  Clemmons did not want to look down to them, but he was not going to feed the theory they were all part of the same blue line. 

“I hope we don’t run into each other like this a lot then.  I think it will create more paperwork for us both.”

Finally, a smile from Clemmons.  “Have a good night ma’am.”



The morning light silhouetted the church.  Yancey did not really care for the view.  He felt wondered if he should enter to say his prayer or if God could hear his request on the steps.  A lot of his wonder was spent on did he even belong to the church now.  There was no denying it, he was a killer, even worse a serial killer. 

The last kill troubled him more than the others.  Normally instinct helped him through the task.  He had never remembered the task pulling a spirit from a body.  How was that even possible? 

Gore or blood was never a worry.  They occupied his dreams but he had grown a bit of callousness to them.  The spirit made the last kill unsettling.it erased all doubt in his mind about a soul, or spirit.  That is why the church he stood before now raised more questions.  The lessons learned in this building provided a faith, but he had never applied it to a real world equivalent.  He went to church because it was the right thing to do.  It was how he was raised, he never failed to follow the lesson into adulthood.

There was a change to his perception now.  A horror with the realization that each drop of blood spilled would have real consequence.  In the back of his mind there was always a fear, now he witnessed true proof. 

He no longer felt good enough to enter the sanctuary.  His past deeds were a mocking of the teachings he paid attention here.  Urges and an internal drive would have never let him stay clean.  He felt weak for it.  All he could do was ask for forgiveness of others.

“Lord please, I know I have given into sin but please hear my prayer.  Please understand I cherish you and your words always and I understand the penalty I must face.  I wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness but cannot promise to keep from committing the deed again.  I ask that I alone face the punishment of my actions and allow my son to prosper, and achieve his destiny to the fullest.  In your name I pray.

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Interruption of thought.  Something was too close to him someone, no it was definitely a something, stood on the banks of the lake looking toward the church. 

The Church was not the target of the thing’s gaze; it was his opponent.  He could feel the ancient rivalry.  Yancey did not know why but he wanted to kill in a brutal manner the handsome man across the street.  The prayer was forgotten even though the words were instinct.  The prayer talks of forgiveness, the man across the street deserved none.

“You will not win.  They will turn on you.  You still have to play by the mortals’ rules.”

With the smell of sulfur, the handsome being was gone.  Bringing more questions to Yancey’s perception of reality once he left.

Fatal Introductions Chapter 13

Thank You to Rick Rupert, photographer, for the amazing photos.

resevoir 2

Despite fishing not allowed, the fish swimming in the reservoir still were not safe.  The lake supplied the drinking water for the entire city making it off limits.  Unlike the lake in the city center, this was off the beaten path.  Despite all those barriers, many risked a brush with the law.  There was an increased chance against the fish who were not used to the sport fishermen.

“Things have changed; your role has to be increased.”  A hat covered the handsome features of the man as he monitored the floating orb in the water.

“I am performing my role.  I do not think you know how well I am achieving my purpose.” 

Antonio usually enjoyed fishing.  The mortal shell he inhabited seemed to be at ease when he was sitting next to the dam waiting for his bait to snag something.  There were no problems here.  Fewer and fewer mortals seemed to find a way to unwind in nature.  The nightmares of his spirit seemed to forget the nightmares of the burning pits when he was on the banks.

It took a lot of work to escape the torment of the pit.  When his superiors had a problem with his performance on the surface, like now, there was a threat of being returned.  Punishment for taking a valuable empty body and not producing a benefit to his kindred.  Corruptors were the lowest creatures to be allowed out of the pits.  Antonio was not even allowed to address his grievances with the fallen angels that spawned him. 

So much was demanded from them.  The only reward was not being sent back.  Tormentors made the pits so miserable for their kin that the spirits would do anything to avoid them. 

Hatred had Built up, it needed directed to a target.  Those with free will were the easiest target.  Even if the demons were created with sympathy they would hold none for those who knew what was right and still let selfishness motivate them.

That was all that Antonio truly was, a physical representation to encourage selfishness.  The hatred stirred so strongly within Antonio that today he could not enjoy fishing.  He was being asked to do more.  Why wasn’t he created as a higher being?  Why wasn’t he a tormentor?  The hatred churned.

“What more can be asked of me?”

“Do I sense you are forgetting your place?  Are you becoming homesick?”

“You know I am not.  I am not sure what more I can do?”

“Look around, this area is dying.” 

“That is why there are so many of us in these cities.”

“But you are not doing your part to diminish hope.”

“My former coworkers are slowly destroying themselves.  There are hundreds of them lost in a bottle.”  Antonio caught his bobber move in the corner of his eye.  It could be the breeze but he needed to give it more attention.  “Within a few days they will be susceptible to our bait.  When they have lost the last drop of hope free will is clouded with desperation.  Desperation leads to trading their souls.  That desperation leads to your success.”

“I know how the system works.  What I don’t understand is why you are not capitalizing on the rippling of despair outside of those from the factory.  This city has been hit with a loss of jobs and yet no one is whispering to their greed.  Only the weakest have fallen.  You cannot rest on your laurels.  Too many of us need your assistance.”  The forked tongue escaped from out of the shadow.  “Mortals are not fish; you cannot always wait for them to take the bait.  You have to take the bait and shove it down their throats until their souls choke on it.”

“Isn’t that how my brother attracted his demise?  Has his spirit returned to the pits?”

“He is no more.”

The fishing was forgotten for a moment.   Antonio was bewildered by the impossibility.  Death in this world placed the spirit elsewhere.  He and his family were predestined to return to Hell.  Mortals chose through their actions where they ended up after their bodies expired.  “What do you mean he is no more?  You have to mean his spirit has not been found yet.  I know we cannot cross barriers put up by faith, but there has always been a way to escape the traps.”

“He is not trapped.  Our masters knew where he was.  Now they assure us he is no more.”  Casting his line near Antonio’s.  He was claiming the fish that his companion was stalking.  “He has been destroyed.”

“How is our destruction even possible?”

The senior demon had no answer.

“Did he disappoint our master?”

“It is unknown.  I do know that if you do not want to suffer the same fate, you will break the hope.  You must create terror, and remove the safety of community.  When they cannot run to each other they will run to us.”

“Any suggestions on how I can do that to your satisfaction?”

“Do you know why the reservoir is wide open and people still drink the water that comes from it?”

“So you want me to do something to the water?”

“No I want you to hear me.  They trust in each other.  They trust that someone will take the water from here and make sure it is kept safe.  They take comfort in knowing their neighbors who works in the building across from the Dam will protect them from evil men.  A strong community has faith in each other.”

“I believe I am following you.”

“That faith and trust are lost when it is one of their own who is plotting against them.  Chisel the faith but turning one or two at a time.  Appeal to the greed of some to poison the community.  Smash the safety of their faith, and many more will make the wrong choice when at critical moments.”  The rod bent as the senior demon’s bobber disappeared.  A short fight with the unseen fish.  The Bluegill crested the water and was pulled to the bank.  “You bait the mortals and we will reel them in.”


“I don’t know what you have done, but please don’t bring us down with you.” 

Yancey was struck.  He had been careful in his actions.  He alone would suffer the consequences of his deeds.  No sin goes unpunished, even his own.  His wife and son, did not deserve to pay for his sins.  “What do you think I have done?  I work and come home to you both.”

“I have seen the blood on your clothes.  I am your wife. I would have known if it was your blood from an injury.”

“Please do not ask me about what I do at work.  It is better if you don’t speculate.  It is best if you don’t know.  Too many nights of sleep have been lost because I do know.”

“Turn yourself in.  It is guilt keeping you awake.”

“What do you think I am?  A monster?  Why would I turn myself in?”  He did not want to lie, but confessions would serve no purpose.  Urges needed silenced.  Confessing to her his delicate wife would just create worry.

Worry that she not only married a murderer but also he would tell her of what he had seen.  Stories of the reality of pure evil. Ignorance and suspicion were better than revealing the reality of hellish creatures he dispatched.  Their existence proved that behind the safety of not knowing was the truth.  Truth that people were always hunted.  Truth that death was not the end.

“I will never do anything to hurt you.  You two are my family.  I could not hurt a soul.  The blood was probably from work.  Accidents happen.”

A sadness occupied her face.  Yancey could tell his insecurity was obvious to her.  She feigned belief in his words.  “I trust you, I always have and always will.  I was blessed when I met you.  We were blessed when we became a family.  I know you will do nothing to disturb this trust.”

He leaned down and kissed her forehead.   Guilt gnawed at him.  He had lied to his wife.  Lying was a sin and no sin goes unpunished.


Clemmons loved his hometown.  It had its problems but they were problems that made it stronger.  The dark clouds always seemed to lurk, but the rays of sunshine made up for the darkness.  Times were tough while they were awaiting one of those rays of sunlight.  Jobs took an exodus and took the life out of the factories.  Their carcasses created a haunted look.  Where once production ruled now a graveyard of old buildings were all that was left.  Clemmons did not need to look at old photos to see the same buildings in their prime, which made their current state all the more haunting.

A security officer at some off location had called the police when they noticed someone walking around in the former factory.  The last job had transitioned.  The building was still standing.  Filled with materials, the building was a purgatory of sorts for supplies that the executives did not know how to handle.  The leftover materials and machinery still held value so they had to be monitored.  Late shift officers can get bored and their eyes play tricks when they watch the cameras for too long.  It usually leads to a call to the police department to have a police patrol check.

factory street

Driving down the rows, Clemmons imagined the bustle of the buildings. The raw supplies being converted to finished tires.  It was only a few months ago but the lack of maintenance made the buildings appear desolate for centuries.  The overcast sky added to the ominous presence of trouble.

In an instant after turning the corner, Clemmons found the source of the complaint.  He exited the patrol car and headed toward the seated man.

“A little early to be hitting the bottle, isn’t it?”

“Not if you started when it was late and you never stopped.”  Harold sat there, bottle in hand.

“What are you doing here?  You know you are trespassing, right?”  Clemmons knew to be calm but stern with drunks.  The way the man looked at the building it was obvious he had a connection to it.

“I am just planning my next step.”  Harold offered to share his bottle.  Clemmons raised his hand to decline.  “When I worked here life seemed so simple.  Then it crashed.  Was hoping that sitting by my old workplace would rekindle the confidence I had when I worked here.”  Another sip, “But it is locked away.”

“Let me get you home.  I think you need to sleep this off.”  There was no reason to punish a man who was down on his luck.  Clemmons never wanted to add needlessly to troubles.  If someone was hurting another or his city, then all bets were off, he would become that person’s worst nightmare, but this was not the time.  There was no harm being administered here.

“This used to be my home.”  The bottle was empty now.  “Well second home at least.  Then they evicted me, they evicted all of us.”

“Things will get better.  Part of the magic of this place is how quick we recover.”

“The only magic here is that jobs are disappearing.”  If Clemmons was not a cop, there was a good chance Harold would have thrown the bottle at the building.  The grip made the action pretty obvious. 

“Nothing is new.  We have all tread this path before.”

“With all due respect officer, quit trying to be the silver lining.  I just want to wallow in the cloud of my self-pity.”

Clemmons chuckled, “Well, let’s get your wallowing butt home.”

“I am done here anyways.  I think I know exactly what I need to do next.”



Photos Presented By Rick Rupert (Rupertrick@gmail.com), special thanks once again for the high quality photographs.