Authors: Jack Kilborn
John held him firm, Rebekah hunched beside him. Her eyes were venom, and it was her foot that pinned down Aaron’s chest.
Aaron tried to twist and thrash, but he had no leverage. A burst of precious air escaped his lungs, bubbling violently up through his field of vision in an endless stream.
This crazy cult was going to murder him.
He reached out his hand, grasping at Rebekah’s father. He could not allow this.
Mark caught his wrist, held it tight…and pushed Aaron deeper into the mud.
Aaron screamed, sucked in a breath. The water tasted sour and burned the inside his lungs as if they’d inhaled fire instead. He pried at John’s fingers with his free hand, and a moment of clarity flashed through the chaotic panic in his mind.
This was not John the Baptist. He’d seen this man before. He was a servant of Rebekah’s father.
The crowd by the river. They’d all been Mark’s servants.
And through the weighty distortion of the water, he could hear them cheering.
The following four stories were all written for the magazine Woman’s World. Every week it publishes a 1000 word mini mystery, in the tradition of Donald Sobol. The story provides the clues to solve the crime, then the solution is explained. I wrote four of these for Woman’s World before finally selling one. This one was a reject, but was later published in the magazine Twisted Tongue. Can you solve the mystery?
It was a textbook kidnapping, or so they thought…
illionaire David Morgan didn’t look anything like he did on television. His distinguished face appeared worn and tired, and his piercing blue eyes were bloodshot from lack of sleep.
“I just want her to be okay,” he said, for the hundredth time.
Detective Starker patted his should.
“I know, Mr. Morgan. The kidnapper said he’ll call with your wife’s location.”
Morgan’s eyes released another tear.
“Are you sure they have the money?” he asked.
Starker thought back to the money drop, and his insides burned. One million dollars in unmarked bills, left in a suitcase in a parked car. The kidnapper had warned the police that any attempts to stop him or track him would result in the death of Celia Morgan, David’s young wife.
Nonetheless, Starker had made sure there was a tiny transmitter in the suitcase, housed in the lining and impossible to detect.
But at the money drop, Starker had watched the kidnapper transfer the cash into a large plastic bag, leaving the suitcase and the tracking device behind in the parking garage, leaving the authorities with no way to find him.
Now Celia’s only hope was that the kidnapper was a man of his word, and would reveal her location.
“What if he doesn’t call?” Morgan asked, voice trembling. “When Margaret, my first wife, passed away, I never thought I’d love again. I couldn’t bear…”
His words were lost to another crying spell. Starker gave the millionaire another pat on the back.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Morgan. We’ll get her. Let’s go over your list of enemies again.”
“Enemies? I told you before. I’m the CEO of one of the largest manufacturing companies on the planet. I’ve been in this business for forty years. I have more enemies than there are names in the Manhattan phonebook.”
“Does anyone stand out? Someone who felt you wronged them? Someone wanting money from you?”
“You saw the list. Everyone on it hates me. I told you before, Detective, that line of investigation is hopeless.”
“How about around your home? Fired any of the help lately? Landscapers? Maids? Chauffeurs?”
“Celia handles all of that. Wait—I did have to fire the pool cleaner a month ago. I came home from work early and found him in our living room, watching television. Fired him on the spot.”
“What was his name?”
“I don’t remember. Celia will know…oh dear…”
The mention of his wife’s name brought fresh tears. Starker felt awful for the man.
“Where did you meet Celia, Mr. Morgan?”
“She…she was one of my house cleaners. I pretty much ignored her for the first few weeks she worked for me. But she always had a kind word, a bright thing to say. Soon, I began to linger before going to the office, chatting with her over morning coffee. I know she’s barely a third of my age, but she makes me feel young.”
The phone rang, startling Starker. He nodded at Morgan to pick it up.
“Hello? Is she okay? Where is she?”
Starker, listening in on an extension, wrote down the address for the storage facility where the kidnapper claimed he’d left Celia Morgan.
“Let’s move,” Starker told his people.
Super Value Storage was across town, but Starker arrived in record time. He led his team, and the anxious David Morgan, to storage locker 116. It was a large sized unit, used for storing furniture, and the door had a combination lock on it. One of the cops used the bolt cutters, and Starker raised the door, a chemical stinging his eyes and making him squint.
He shone his flashlight inside, revealing a terrified-looking Celia Morgan.
She sat in the dark, tied to an office chair, a gag in her pretty mouth. Behind her were two empty buckets of something called sodium bisulfate, and a large empty cardboard box that had BROMINE written on the side.
David Morgan rushed to his wife, white granules crunching under his feet.
“Mr. Morgan!” Starker shouted. “Don’t touch anything until we’ve collected evidence!”
Starker stepped in, snapping on a pair of latex gloves, removing the gag from Celia’s perfectly made-up face. She was a strong one—her mascara hadn’t even run. He then used a utility knife to cut the clothesline that securely bound her, careful to leave the knots for the crime lab to analyze.
“Celia, my love!”
David Morgan embraced his wife, and she kissed his cheek.
“I’m okay, David. He didn’t hurt me.”
Starker motioned for his team to come in, and he reached overhead and fumbled with the bare bulb hanging overhead, burning his fingers before eventually finding the pull cord and bathing the area in light.
“Did you have a chance to see your kidnapper?” Starker asked the woman.
“No. I’m sorry. I never saw his face,” she said, her clear blue eyes drilling into him. “I’ve been sitting here in the dark for hours.”
“Hours?” Starker repeated.
Starker gave Morgan a final pat on the back, and then separated the married couple.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Morgan, but I’m going to have to arrest your wife…as an accomplice in her own kidnapping.”
How did Starker know?
Celia’s make up was perfect. If she’d been in that room for hours, locked up with chemicals that made Starker’s eyes sting, her own eyes would have been red she would have been crying. Plus, when Starker reached up to turn on the light, the bulb was hot, meaning it had recently been on. Thus, Celia had just gotten there, and was lying to them. Since bromine and sodium bisulfate are pool cleaning chemicals, Starker suspected Celia was in on the scheme with the pool cleaner Morgan had fired a month previously.
Another Woman’s World rejection. Though these are short, fast reads, they took a bit of thought to produce. They were a fun exercise in the mystery tradition of seeding clues.
The heist was flawless, except for one large detail…
arty had been watching them for over a month. The Richardsons were an attractive young couple, wealthy by chance—they had rich parents on both sides. Five nights a week they prowled the town, dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry. Sometimes to the theater. Sometimes to a five star restaurant. But they enjoyed riverboat gambling the most.
Mrs. Richardson’s weakness was hundred dollar slots. She could go through ten thousand dollars an hour. For Mr. Richardson, the allure of blackjack proved irresistible. He was what casino folks called a ‘whale,’ betting more money on a single hand than Marty earned in the last three years—and Marty held down two jobs and couldn’t even afford a car. By day, Marty drove a school bus. At night, he cleaned casino ashtrays and emptied trash cans.
But if Marty’s plan worked out, he’d never work another shift at either job.
Marty had seen the Richardsons gamble many times, reckless in the way the very rich tended to be. Mostly, they lost. But sometimes they won, and won big. When they did, they took their spoils in cash. On those big win days, the casino sent an armed escort with the Richardsons, to make sure they arrived home safely.
Marty watched, and waited, polishing slot machines and vacuuming gaudy plush carpeting. He was biding his time until the Richardsons hit it big, because the next time they did, he would relieve them of their winnings.
Marty had followed them all around town, many times. He’d made frequent, secret visits to their house. In the past four weeks, Marty had learned a great deal about the Richardsons.
He knew they had an electric fence, but he had a plan to deal with the electric fence. He knew they had a dog, but he had a plan to deal with the dog. He knew they had a burglar alarm, but he had a plan to deal with the burglar alarm. He knew they had a safe, but he had a plan to deal with the safe. He even had a way to deal with the Richardsons themselves, if they woke up during the robbery. Marty had a gun, and would use it if he had to.
Marty had planned every tiny detail.
All Marty needed was for the Richardsons to win big, and that night, it happened. Mrs. Richardson hit the Double Diamond Jackpot—a cool half a million dollars.
The Richardsons celebrated, cheering and laughing. The casino manager came by to congratulate them both. The couple left with two satchels full of cash, accompanied by two armed guards.
The Richardsons lived exactly 6.3 miles away from the riverboat. They always took the same route, but just to be sure they didn’t deviate from their routine, Marty kept them in sight. He tailed them up to their estate and parked across the street. Once the Richardsons were through their electric fence, the armed guards waved farewell and drove away.
Which left Marty alone to do his work.
He kept his tools in a large satchel under his seat. After setting the parking brake, he grabbed the bag and exited his vehicle through the rear door.
The electrified gate crackled in the night air. From the bag, Marty removed some heavy rubber gloves and galoshes. Rubber didn’t conduct electricity, and Marty climbed over the fence safely.
The mansion stood three stories high, boasting dozens of rooms. Marty located the five bullhorns attached to the outside of the building. Any unauthorized person trying to get in through a door or window would trigger these sirens. He filled each bullhorn with a can of aerosol insulating foam—the kind homeowners use in their attics to reduce drafts. The foam filled every crack and crevice, quickly hardening into a solid material. The sirens would still go off, but they wouldn’t be any louder than a whisper.
With the alarm system beaten, Marty located the living room window and pushed a plumber’s plunger onto the surface. Using a diamond edged tool, he cut around the plunger until he could remove the glass.
When he had a hole in the window, he took a thermos from his bag and shook out a ball of raw hamburger.
Scruffy, the Richardson’s harmless but noisy pug, came running into the room. Before the dog could begin barking, Marty stuck his hand through the hole in the window, holding the hamburger. Mixed in with the meat were sleeping pills.
The dog gobbled up the treat, then stared at Marty, waiting for more. Marty gave the dog a rawhide bone. Scruffy chewed for five full minutes, then closed his eyes and began to snore harmlessly.
Marty felt for the latch and opened the window. He listened closely for the Richardsons, hearing a TV in another part of the house.
The safe, Marty knew from his many reconnaissance visits, was behind a large painted portrait of Mrs. Richardson. Marty crept up to it in the darkness, removing a cordless drill and a feather pillow from his bag. Unzipping the pillow, he placed the drill inside until just the large bit protruded, and then began drilling the safe, the sound muffled by the feathers.