Authors: Duncan Whitehead
SAINT PATRICK’S DAY
THE GORDONSTON LADIES DOG WALKING CLUB - PART THREE
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As Always, For Keira…But Also Now For Ashley
I would like to thank the following for their time, patience, help and understanding during the writing of the final book in the Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club trilogy: Sarah Jose, Gissell ‘Gigi’ Whitehead, Ashley Pozna, Lilian Whitehead, Robert ‘Boston’ Petite, Sabrina Blake, Daniel Banks, Robert Peel, Gay Rahn, Ian and Christine Whitehead, Donald and Joan Calder, Keira Whitehead and all the readers who enjoyed the first two books so much that I just had to write a third.
Present Day, March 17
, Saint Patrick’s Day, Savannah 0800 hrs.
From his vantage point on the roof of the Union Bank Building, he could see the parade turning onto Bay Street. The procession, led by four officers of the Savannah Police Department motorcycle division, who sped in front of the crawling parade, lights flashing and their sirens blaring, was the signal to the excited crowd that the parade was approaching. The long stream of floats, cars, marching bands and representatives of police, firefighting departments, military units, schools and colleges; many dressed in kilts of assorted tartans, led by bagpipers and drummers, was now only minutes away. He could sense the crowd’s anticipation and excitement, and he had never seen so much green in his entire life.
Both sides of the procession route were filled with revelers; many dressed in green hats, green jackets, green t-shirts, or a combination of all three. It was as if a sea of green had flooded the city streets. Everyone, it seemed, dressed in the color associated with the Irish and Ireland. He estimated that there must be over one hundred thousand people on this part of the parade route alone, and his estimation was probably low.
He had read that Savannah’s celebration was the second largest Saint Patrick’s Day gathering in the United States, something he had found to be odd considering that the city itself had no real Irish feel about it. From what he had seen and heard so far, the event reminded of him Mardi Gras in New Orleans, an excuse for a party, and, of course, a drink and a reason to get drunk. He had also read that the festivities lasted several days, with Irish themed celebrations and events dominating the historic city for a week. The parade itself would be shown live on local television channels. Many of the visitors and parade watchers would have arrived a few days before the actual procession, drinking, partying, and enjoying life and all things Irish well into the early hours.
Reaching into his duffel bag, he retrieved a pair of binoculars. Through them, he could now clearly see the procession approaching. The open-topped car, which he could see was a Mustang, carried the mayor and his wife. It would be the third car in line that would be heading the parade. The car following the mayor’s vehicle would be that of the city’s police chief. Again, that would be an opened topped vehicle, and the car behind his would carry the previous chief of police who had retired last year.
Apart from the officers on motorcycles, who now ensured that the road ahead was clear of encroaching spectators, the parade was led by the St. Patrick’s Day Grand Marshall. He would walk the route on foot, followed closely by the preceding year’s marshal.
He had accessed the roof of the unoccupied bank building three hours previously. As he had been told it would be, the door was unlocked and the building deserted. It was the perfect position; if his only reason to be in Savannah that day were to just watch the parade, he would have had the best seat in the house. No one had seen him enter the building and he was more than confident he could not be spotted from the streets below, or from any of the other buildings that lined the route along Bay Street.
Numerous food trucks and stalls had invaded Savannah to cater to the million or so people who would witness the parade. The smell of barbecued pork, deep-fried turkey legs, and other fast food filled the air, causing a rumbling in his stomach. However, he did not allow his hunger to distract him.
After placing the binoculars on the ground, he raised his rifle to his shoulder and lay prone on the building’s roof. He adjusted the telescopic sight of his weapon and scanned the crowd; he focused his sights on an attractive girl, dressed in shorts and a tight green tee shirt and wearing a collection of green beads around her neck. She was cheering and was obviously enjoying herself. His gaze lingered on her before he shifted the weapon and set his sights on the third vehicle, which was now within shooting range of his high-powered .308 sniper rifle, fitted with an ACC sound suppressor.
He could see that his target was smiling and waving at the excited crowds that lined both sides of the sidewalk. He did not feel any sadness, remorse, or pity for his victim. It was purely business and nothing personal.
The driver of the mayor’s car, probably a local government employee or an eager volunteer, remained focused on his task, ensuring that the car did not exceed ten miles per hour. He did not appear to be distracted by the crowd, which was a good thing. The last thing he needed was the driver, once the shot had been fired, to careen into the sidewalk and innocent bystanders. He had one target only, no one else needed to die today.
The target was now in perfect range. He could press the trigger at any time, confident that the bullet would enter his victim’s forehead, resulting in immediate death. He once again shifted the weapon, this time his sights trained on the mayor’s wife. She was attractive, there was no disputing it. Stunning even, and she seemed to be reveling in the attention she was receiving. Like her husband, she was smiling and waving to the crowd, as well as dispensing green beads from a bag placed in her lap. The crowd seemed desperate to catch the cheap plastic trinkets.
He moved his weapon again, this time his sights trained on the chief of police. He looked odd in his uniform, out of place. He appeared to be uncomfortable being in the spotlight, as if the whole parade was an enormous chore for him and if he could, he would be anywhere else than sitting in front of hundreds of thousands of cheering people. It also appeared that he was preoccupied and maybe even a little nervous.
Again, shifting the weapon, he took aim at the former police chief. He was sitting alone, as was the current chief, in his open topped car. It seemed that only the mayor had the privilege of having his wife accompany him in the parade. The former chief looked far more comfortable with the proceedings than his successor. He appeared how a police chief should look--confident, authoritative, and relaxed.
He took a deep breath and retrained the telescopic sight of the rifle onto the mayor. He could now hear the music of a marching band in the distance, probably a few places behind the politician and further back in the procession. He steadied himself and exhaled.
He had planned his escape earlier. By the time anyone realized what had happened, he would be long gone. Even if the police were able to work out where the kill shot had come from, he would already be half way to Miami.
What a crowd, he thought, an amazing sight, and this was just a small part of the parade route. Visitors just for the day, both locals and tourists who just happened to have planned their vacation on Savannah’s busiest day of the year. No matter, this would be one Saint Patrick’s Day none of them would forget.
Once again, he scanned the crowd with the telescopic lens of his rifle. He paused as he spotted a couple he estimated to be in their fifties; the man was dressed in a blue business suit, not the popular green that others wore, while the woman wore a blue, flowered-patterned dress. Moving the sights once more, he rested his view on an older looking woman on the opposite side of the street. She appeared to be alone, and unlike others in the crowd, did not seem to be enjoying the parade. It seemed that she was scowling at the procession as it passed by, seething with apparent anger. He couldn’t help but notice that her anger seemed to be directed at the mayor’s vehicle.
Scanning the crowd one last time through the sights of his weapon, he spotted a middle-aged couple holding hands. Both men were laughing and dressed entirely in green, including matching green trousers. They appeared to be enjoying the parade and it looked as though they were trying to get the attention of the police chief as he drove by. The chief, however, continued to seem uncomfortable with the proceedings and the attention he was receiving.
He rubbed his right eye, adjusted his baseball cap, and tucked the butt of the rifle into his shoulder. Maybe he would grab a turkey leg before he left the city, they smelled delicious. Finding his target, he took a deep breath before he gently pressed on the trigger… and fired.
Three Months before St Patrick’s Day
Cindy Mopper sat motionless and silent on her sofa. Opposite the old lady, as it had been for the past three days, was an unopened box that had been placed on the coffee table. She stared hard at the cardboard container strapped together with brown packing tape. Cindy took a deep breath.
It had been three years. Three years since that fateful day. The day her best friend Carla Zipp had died in her arms, poisoned by
. Poisoned by Billy Malphrus with a lethal concoction meant for Cindy. It had also been three years since he had died, killed in the parking lot of a Piggly Wiggly. He was hit by Betty Jenkins while she was taking a driving lesson. No doubt, thought Cindy, while he was planning how to spend the inheritance he was sure to receive. The hatred she felt for her nephew had not abated. Even in death, she despised him. She hoped he was not only rotting, but also burning in hell. Cindy had never felt so betrayed, so angry, so used, and so disappointed.
It had also been three years since
had married. The whore and the man Cindy loved. Mr. and Mrs. Elliott Miller. No. Scratch that, Mayor and Mrs. Elliott Miller. Of course, she had attended the wedding. Of course, she had put on a brave and false smile. She had wished the happy couple the best of luck, and laughed, danced, drank champagne and worn her brightest and newest dress. It had been one of the few times her scowl had vanished albeit temporarily, replaced only by a look of anguish and a flooding of tears once she had returned home. She had been alone, apart from Paddy and Walter, who watched helplessly as their mistress sobbed uncontrollably. Depressed and miserable beyond comprehension, heartbroken and hurt, she had cried well into the night.
Cindy could only guess what her neighbors said about her. In fact, the whole of Savannah no doubt discussed Cindy Mopper and the events that had occurred three years previously. Often, she would catch strangers glancing at her, whispering and then turning away. She was t
woman; the woman who should have died, the woman who had been tricked and conned by her own nephew. She hardly ventured from her home, only at night as her neighbors slept, and early in the morning before they had risen. The park. The park where she would routinely let Walter and Paddy roam unleashed to play. Not as sprightly as they once were, they were still playful and healthy despite being kept inside the house all day. The early morning and late evening runs in the park were the only times they could expend the energy that dogs seem to hold in, until of course, let loose to play. Twice a day, Cindy would venture from her home, her head usually covered by a scarf. She rarely, if ever, encountered another soul, and if she did, she certainly did not pass the time of day (or night) with them.
As Walter and Paddy roamed the park, sniffing and following the scents of other dogs, exploring, and playfully chasing squirrels or each other, she would sit at the table.
picnic table, the table where she and her friends had spent so much of their time gossiping, laughing, drinking and enjoying life. Now, she would sit alone, just staring at the Miller house. Sometimes she would close her eyes and remember fun times, before Thelma’s cancer had forced her into bedridden exile. A time when the Miller’s large white house was alive and full of positive energy, dinner parties, talk of political aspirations, talk of dogs, and of course good old fashioned home-cooked southern food. How she missed Thelma, still, after all these years. She had been one of the funniest, kindness, thoughtful, and caring women Cindy ever had the pleasure to know. Poor Thelma. What would she think? How would she feel if she knew that the tramp, the whore, the gold-digging, the brainless, but the oh-so-beautiful, Kelly Hudd was now Kelly Miller?
Thelma had told her, after the prognosis that her cancer was terminal was confirmed, that after she died, she wanted Elliott to be happy, to marry again, to find a woman who would care for and look after him. Thelma had told Cindy this more than once. Of course, Cindy just knew Thelma meant her. She was the one who was to care for Elliott; she would be the one who would be his rock, his shoulder to cry on, his lover, and partner for life. Maybe Elliott was happy, because maybe Kelly did care for him, and maybe Thelma was up there smiling down on her husband and his new wife. Cindy doubted it. No, Thelma wouldn’t want Elliott to be
Often, Cindy would reminisce about her other friends, especially Carla. The tragic Carla Zipp, who had come to be her best friend, and who she also had once planned to kill. Thoughts of Carla would flood Cindy’s head. She had been a gorgeous woman, unlucky in love but blessed by beauty, stricken down in her prime by a glass of arsenic-laced lemonade.
How they had all once enjoyed life, walking their dogs, or more specifically, allowing their dogs to do whatever they wanted while they…lived. They had been living. They had been alive. Heidi, Carla, Thelma and Cindy – The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club. What was it Elliott used to say? Eight legs, four cocktails, and let’s not forget the dogs! Walter, Paddy, Biscuits and Grits and Fuchsl. Loyal animals, three of which had lost the ones they loved the most. They must be confused and sad, Cindy was sure. Poor dogs, forced to live with strangers; poor Biscuit and Grits, now had to share their home with Schmitty, who Cindy was positive would be bullying the poor frail and defenseless poodles.
Cindy no longer enjoyed the park. It was a necessity, just for Walter and Paddy to do their business, which Cindy did not pick up, bag, and discard in the correct receptacle, which sat just yards from her. How many letters had she written in the past to residents who had refused to scoop? Now here she was, probably the biggest culprit of them all. But she did not care. No one saw. No one else really cared. Not anymore.
Many times Cindy would think of Heidi, The Gordonston Ladies Dog Walking Club’s unelected and unofficial leader. She could, if she had cared to of course, visit Heidi, maybe say hello. Maybe ask her to come walking. But Cindy never did. It was just too much, and though she considered Heidi to be one her closest and oldest friends, indeed a good friend. She knew that, in the back of her mind or even at the front of it, Heidi would be pitying her. She believed everyone did. The duped and jilted Cindy Mopper, the Witch of Gordonston, the mean old lady who had a pile of money, no one to spend it on, and not a soul on the planet to share it with. A bitter and twisted shell of a woman engulfed by hatred and filled with anger. No. Her loneliness and self-inflicted exile from the world was a blessing. What did she have to live for? She had no life, not anymore. Cindy Mopper was a hate-filled woman, where once she had been kind and caring. She had planned a murder and the people she loved had betrayed her. The Witch of Gordonston, that’s what they called her, the kids. She knew it, she could hear them in the afternoons as they walked past her home. “That’s where the murder was,” they would say, “There’s a witch in that house, she talks to her dogs and eats children.” She had heard them, but she didn’t care.
On her coffee table it sat. The box. It had arrived three days previously, addressed to her and accompanied by a note.
Dear Mrs. Mopper,
Please find with this letter possessions belonging to your late nephew, Billy. Before visiting you, he had stayed with me and left some of his things in my apartment. I had forgotten about them, you know, just piled up in a cupboard gathering dust. But I am getting married, and I am moving out of my apartment, I came across these few things while packing and I thought you should have them. I found your address and I hope you are still living at the same place. I was sorry to hear that Billy had died.
Kevin. Kevin had been Billy’s friend. Cindy recalled Billy mentioning him a few times. According to Billy, Kevin was training to become a doctor; he also helped starving children in Africa and diseased unfortunates in India. Cindy now doubted that. Kevin was probably a drug addict, or drug dealer…. probably a thief and a liar like Billy. Cindy despised Kevin as she despised everyone, even though she had never met him and despite the fact he had been kind and thoughtful enough, unaware of Billy’s attempt to murder his aunt, to forward his possessions to her.
So there sat the box containing the last possessions of Billy Malphrus. Cindy had burned everything else. His clothes, his shoes, his sneakers, his passport, and his birth certificate. Even his toiletries had not escaped the pyre she built. Not one photograph of Billy remained in her home, those also thrown into the flames, along with the postcards and letters he had sent her. She had smiled, albeit briefly, as the glowing ashes and embers of the bonfire had ascended into the night sky. It was a symbolic burning, a cleansing and a purging of Billy Malphrus from her home and life.
For three years there had been no trace of that boy in her home. He had not existed, not to Cindy anyway, and that was just fine with her.
But now he was back. Well, some of him at least. His
. What those things were, she did not know, nor did she really care. Probably dirty old socks or forged ID’s, stolen checkbooks, fake credit cards, and other tools he no doubt used to cheat and con people. The police had told her what Billy really was--a despicable man with scant regard for anyone but himself. She should burn that box. Throw it in the yard and pour gasoline over it.
For some reason, Cindy had not destroyed the box, nor simply thrown it unopened into the trash. No. It had sat for three days on her coffee table taunting her, mocking her, daring her to open it.
, it was telling her,
open me and smell Billy’s dirty socks. Open me and discover more secrets about the boy you loved but who wanted you dead. Find letters he wrote about you and read for yourself how much he despised you. Hated you. Wanted you dead and buried so he could claim your money and your home. Read about his greed. Discover more about the boy who, along with Kelly Hudd, ruined your life, because it is all in me. I promise it is, dare you open me?
Be brave old woman and discover how he used you for money, how he lied to you, how every charitable penny you ever sent him went to fund his travelling and his deceit. Discover how the money you sent him, in good faith, out of the kindest of your heart, to help impoverished children, dying and hungry Africans, or sickly Indians was only helping and assisting Billy Malphrus. No one else, just him. He loathed you and inside me is more proof that he despised you. I dare you to open me. You foolish stupid old woman, open me.
The box mocked her. It had for three days. She should destroy it. She knew she should.
Cindy sighed and rose from the sofa. She walked to her bureau and retrieved a pair of scissors. Standing over the box, trembling, she steadied herself and took a deep breath. She would open it. She was ready to find out more, if indeed there was more; more details about how Billy had tricked her, lied to her…she would open his damn box.