Carl Travers arrived at work Friday morning at the Central City bus station. Travers had worked the 5:00 a.m. shift for 17 years. He had seen it all: people peeing in the garbage can, used condoms in the bus bay, hypodermic needles outside the reception door. So, it didn’t faze him – not one bit – to see a handwritten note taped to the door with a violent nod to a childhood song.
The wheels on the bus go round and round
Push to the ground
Don’t make a sound
The wheels on the bus will run you down
All through the town
At the top of the paper was a large black 5.
He read it and shook his head. The note was written on a lined yellow piece of note paper. “Some drunk had a little fun last night. Coulda been a lot worse.” He unlocked the door, crumpled the paper and threw it in the garbage can behind the ticket counter.
Travers worked a ten-hour shift, glad that someone called out. He could use the overtime. At 3:00 p.m., his replacement came in. He gathered his things and headed home. He hit the drive-thru – he was not much of a cook, and happily sunk into the couch of his one-bedroom apartment. He was glad his wife was away, visiting her sister.
He didn’t have to work the next day, so he played video games most of the night. Then he went to the kitchen for a snack. He came back and sat on the couch with a soda, a bag of Doritos, and a bottle of spray cheese. His wife would’ve had a fit. He turned on the t.v. in time for the 11:00 news. He was mid-spray when he saw the newscaster standing outside his bus station, now closed.
The last bus of the evening, the 10:05, was heading through town when the driver lost control of the vehicle. The bus went through a red light, hit a pedestrian and a utility pole. The pedestrian, three passengers, and the driver were all killed. The other passengers on the bus have told police that the driver shouted that he had no brakes right before the crash.
Travers dropped the can of soda to the floor.
Pricilla Powers unlocked the Southside bus station at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. She went to bed early last night and had not seen the news. As she unlocked the door, she noticed a yellow piece of paper taped to the front. At 73, Cilla’s eyesight was not what it used to be. She figured it was an advertisement and didn’t bother to read it. She dropped it on the table in the break room when she put her lunch in the fridge.
Most people in the city bought their tickets online or used the app on their phone. Therefore, only one attendant was on at each station. Cilla worked until noontime. At her age, she had no interest in a full 8-hour shift. She certainly never signed up for overtime. Her replacement, John, usually ate a sandwich at the desk. So, for seventeen hours, the note stayed in the breakroom at Southside bus station, unread.
At 10:05 p.m., after the last bus pulled out of the station, John went into the breakroom to use the restroom and get a soda from the vending machine before leaving. He noticed the note on the table and read it.
The doors on the bus go open and shut
Bruise and cut
Rip your gut
The doors on the bus will eat you up
All through the town
John laughed. He wondered which one of his co-workers was having a bad day. He was meeting friends at a local bar. He tossed the note back on the table as he walked out of the break room, the door shutting behind him.
John had his phone with him at the bar, but all his close friends were with him, so he didn’t look at it until they left when the bar closed at 2:00 a.m. As he and his friends walked out into the dark alley behind the bar, he saw the news alert. A freak accident had occurred on a bus from the South Side station at 10:25 p.m. The bus doors had malfunctioned and closed on a passenger getting off the bus. The bus driver and several passengers tried to open the doors. They were unable to do so before the victim suffocated.
John read the alert again. He couldn’t believe that happened at the place he worked. He had a nagging feeling about the accident, but after a night of heavy drinking and some Molly, he couldn’t remember what it was.
He’d think about it tomorrow. He took a taxi home and went to bed.
John’s alarm woke him up at 9:00 a.m. the next day. He was not surprised he had a hangover. He was, however, surprised that he was actually going to drag himself to work. Luckily, the bus station opened at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. He grabbed a Poptart and washed it down with a beer – hair of the dog and all that.
He was in the shower washing off the grime from the previous night when he got a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something. He couldn’t figure it out, but the feeling was strong. He would call his friend Rick on the way to work and see if he knew what it was. Something must have happened at the bar last night.
After drying off and getting dressed, he grabbed his cell phone and remembered getting a news alert last night. He clicked on the app to see the updated news that a 62-year old Roger Wallace was the victim killed in the tragic bus accident last night.
John’s heartrate doubled, as did his headache. The bus accident. He remembered now. The doors on the bus killed Roger Wallace. Just like the note said. He ran the four blocks to work, his temples threatening to explode in his head. He unlocked the door and ran straight to the break room, ignoring several customers shouting after him, as he let the door shut and lock behind him. He stopped in the breakroom and spied the yellow paper still on the table. He was afraid to move, afraid to touch it. His hand started shaking. Maybe he dreamt it. Maybe it was just a note someone tossed on the table reminding them to pick up milk on the way home from work. Maybe he was just losing his freakin’ mind.
He inched closer to the table. He couldn’t hear the people banging on the door shouting to let them in or they would miss their bus. He didn’t hear Stella, the bus driver, unlock the door and walk into the break room behind him.
“John, what the hell’s going on? Why didn’t you let those people in? I’m going to be behind schedule now.” John turned to his coworker, his face ashen, still holding the paper which was now shaking in his hands. Stella took the paper and read it. Her skin paled to an unnatural color. She walked to the phone in the corner and called her supervisor. “I think you better get over here right now. And bring the cops with you.”
On the same morning, across town at the Westside bus station, Chelsea arrived at 9:30 a.m. She went in the back door so the passengers at the front didn’t see her. She managed the timesheets for the employees of all five bus stations in the city. It wasn’t a hard task, but she couldn’t do it while waiting on customers or answering their questions.
She had been the manager at the station for three months and she wanted to do a good job. She hoped to climb the ranks and one day become the regional manager for the city. At 9:58 a.m., she made her way up front and unlocked the door.
She was surprised to see that only a couple of people were outside waiting for her. Sunday mornings were typically slow, but not that slow. She went out to the parking area to see if there was any construction or police vehicles blocking the way to the station. The roads were clear.
She turned to walk back in when she saw the note taped to the door.
The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep
Watch your feet
You better leap
The horn on the bus will make you weep
All through the town
Chelsea had not heard about the note at South Station. She only knew there was a malfunction on one of the buses.
Carl Travers had not remembered the note he tossed out at the bus station the day of the accident that killed his coworker and three others.
So, Chelsea had no idea how important this particular note was. But she felt a responsibility to keep anything unusual so she could share it with her boss. Thinking it was written as a joke by a disgruntled employee, she took it down and brought it into her office. She had a file of things like this. She would keep it in case it needed to be reported to HR.
Brent Plant came into her office to say ‘hi’ before his shift. Brent gave Chelsea the creeps. He was always looking at her, then looking away when she noticed. She wasn’t sure if he was just shy or a perv but she didn’t want to find out.
“Hi Brent, heading out?”
“Yup, just wanted to check on ya before I left.” He stood there, waiting.
“Oh, ok. Well, thanks, everything’s fine. Have a good day.”
He stood, unmoving, still staring.
Chelsea closed the folder on her desk and looked straight at Brent. “Anything else?”
“Nope, that’s it. Catch ya later.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes after him. She went to the front to help the few passengers that had come in while she was out back. “Let’s get you folks tickets and you can board the bus anytime.”
Half an hour later, Brent and his passengers were backing out of the terminal. Chelsea looked up out of the plate glass window at the side of the station as he drove by. Brent smiled at her and tooted the horn twice – beep beep. It was the last sound she heard before the terror that took place in front of her eyes.
Chelsea heard a whoosh and saw the entire bus engulfed in flames. The smell of burning rubber and gasoline filled the station and stung her eyes. Loud explosions of shattered glass rang out in succession as the bus windows blew out.
Coughing, Chelsea ducked behind the reception desk. She slowly lifted herself back to standing as she saw the frame of the bus, flames lapping out the missing windows. She didn’t need to ask the firefighters if there were any survivors when they arrived 10 minutes later.
Detective Mitchell Ritter gave Chelsea a cup of water from the breakroom while he waited for her to retrieve the note from her desk. She showed no emotion. He knew she was still in shock. He read the note and asked her if she could answer a few questions. She nodded.
She didn’t have much information and Ritter was getting into his car when his cell rang. It was another detective from his precinct. He answered on the second ring. “Hey Liz, what’s up?” He paused while he listened to her story. “Are you serious? You know what that means? We may have a serial killer on our hands.”
Detectives were dispatched to each of the five bus stations in the city. All staff were contacted and asked to come in. By the time everyone was interviewed, and all stations had been inspected, it was almost 5:30 p.m.
The five detectives met back at the precinct to share the information they had gathered. They ordered takeout and let their families know they wouldn’t be home that night. They had until 5:00 a.m. the next morning before the bus stations opened. Less than 12 hours.
Each of the stations were being watched by police and K-9 units. The teams kept their distance, hoping to easily catch the perp. A command center was set up with computer forensic analysts, CSI teams, and every available detective. It was all hands-on deck.
This maniac would kill again the next day and by now he would have to be an idiot not to know the police were involved. The bus fire was all over the news. There were police cars at every bus station. Some of the employees had talked to the press.
Ritter knew it was unlikely that the perp would just walk up to the bus station and tape another note to the door. There was only one way to prevent him from continuing this murderous spree. They had to figure out who he was.
Police had gone through the security cameras outside each bus station for the overnight hours. What they found was concerning. A different person had taped each of the letters to the bus station doors. Probably homeless people or men coming out of a bar at closing time. Either way, it would take longer to find these people than they had. And if the perp was smart enough to do that, he was smart enough to select someone who would not remember his face.
Detective Ritter shared the information with the rest of the team. “This just got a whole lot worse folks. We aren’t dealing with a simpleton. He was smart enough to avoid being seen on surveillance. He was smart enough to plan this out at least a week ago. We know he has mechanical skills by the way he’s rigged the busses.”
“It appears he’s using these notes as a countdown. 5-4-3. We can only assume that day 1, two days from now, has some significance for him. We are looking for someone who lives in the city with an automotive background. He clearly has some personal vendetta against busses or bus drivers.” Ritter looked each person in the eye as he spoke, his glare intense.
“He probably suffered a recent personal loss that triggered him to start his killing spree. He could have started his countdown at any time. Why did he start with 5? Because day 1 has significance.”
He spoke directly to the analysts. “Use those parameters and check hospital records. Look at family members who lost a loved one in the last two weeks. We are likely looking at a white male between 20-30 years old. He’s probably a loner with no family or support system. Maybe someone who grew up in foster care or with a relative. Check juvenile records. This person has not had an easy life.”
At 4:35 a.m. Monday, a call came into the police department. The bus attendant at the Northside station called in a panic. Someone had left a note on her windshield. It was hard for the 911 operator to understand her. What she could make out was, “…he knows where I live. I quit! I quit!”
Police were dispatched to her house and retrieved the newest note.
The driver on the bus says “move on back”
Slice and hack
Break your back
The driver on the bus will cut no slack
All through the town
Ritter got the call and went back to the police station. He had sent everyone home at midnight and told them to get some sleep. Most of them would return at 6:00 a.m. to continue searching for this madman. He posted the new note to the board next to the others. The first note was hard to read. It had been retrieved from the garbage bin at the bus station. No one ever said police work was sexy.
Mechanics had been called in yesterday to check the buses. Every bus had been cleared. The engine, doors, mechanical and electrical connections, and tires were all fine. The busses were all being guarded by a security company the town had called in for help. There was no way this guy was getting on or near any bus or bus station in the city.
So why was Ritter so unsettled? He read the note again. Break your back. He called the mechanic in charge of inspecting the busses. He told him to send his crew back out and look for any type of device that could be implanted in a seat of the bus. “Be careful. There could be some type of trigger or booby trap. Wear protective gear.”
This perp was prepared. He was organized and he planned ahead. Ritter needed to think like this guy. And to do that he needed to know who he was. He went to the analyst department. Some of the best minds in the city were gathered here. Granted, they were a little nerdy and looked like they just left a comic-con convention, but they knew their way around a computer.
“Listen up guys, and ladies,” he corrected seeing several women look up at him. “You are our best hope at finding this guy. We can’t go after him if we don’t know who he is. What have you got for me?”
The head of the team, Deke Johnson, was standing at a large computer screen at the front of the room. On the screen were pictures of three men, with their name, address, work information, and age underneath each image.
Deke looked up. He looked weary and unshaven. “Deke, have you gone home?” Ritter asked.
Deke shook his head. “Not yet. Look, I was just coming to get you. We’ve narrowed it down to three main suspects. Each of them fits the profile. They all have lost someone in the last few weeks. They all have mechanical experience. They’re the right age, all loners.”
Ritter looked up at the images again. “Does tomorrows date have significance to any of them?”
Deke looked back at one of the members of his team. “Andy, bring it up.”
With the tap of the keyboard, two of the images disappeared from the large screen. They were replaced by one large picture.
“Franklin Bell. Goes by Frankie to the few friends he has.” Deke turned back to Ritter.
“What’s his story?”
“His mom died 2 weeks ago from pancreatic cancer. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day of his brother’s death, ten years ago.”
“And how did his brother die?” Ritter was not surprised by the answer.
“He was hit by a bus. The driver’s name was Hazel Harper.”
“Send his information to each detective. I want to know everything about this guy. And send an unmarked car to Ms. Harper’s home. Make sure she’s alright and have an officer stay outside her building tonight, in case he shows up.” Ritter walked back to the rest of the team and relayed the information. He dispatched each detective to a place Frankie might be: home, work, his ex-girlfriend’s house, and his brother’s grave at the local cemetery. There was no sign of him anywhere.
Two hours later, the head mechanic called Ritter. Nothing had been found in any of the bus seats.
“Damn it!” Ritter said. “What is this guy up to?”
Kelley forced herself to get onto the bus and sit in the driver’s seat. She was a bus driver out of the Northside station. She hadn’t slept at all last night. The police had met with the transportation staff and told them all to be alert and report anything suspicious. She knew three of the five stations in the city had already been attacked. Only two were left: Midtown and Northside.
She noticed that the ticket attendant, hadn’t shown up to work today. Kelley didn’t blame her. If she had any choice, she wouldn’t have shown up either. But when you’re a single mom with three kids, your choices are limited. She tried to reassure herself that all the attacks had been at night and she would end her shift in time to pick up her youngest from kindergarten.
She pulled out of the station with only a few riders. They probably didn’t have any choice either. Toward the end of the morning, Kelley started to feel a little better. Nothing had happened so far and she reassured herself that the police had been watching the bus stations. She knew the busses had been checked out and everything was fine. She just needed to get through today.
Right before lunch, Kelley saw the police lights flash behind her. She could feel the sweat bead on her forehead as she and the eight passengers on the bus watched in silent fear as he approached. The cop stood at her door and tapped it with his knuckles.
For just a moment, she considered not opening the door and speeding away. She didn’t want to know what he had to say. His stern look told her it wasn’t good news. It took all the courage she had to open the door.
“Ma’am, I need you to follow me.”
Frankie looked at the black 2003 Crown Victoria he had stolen from the used car lot behind the gas station. He had a feeling the police were a little too busy right now to spend much effort on a tracking down a piece of crap car. That is if the owner even bothered to call it in. He’d probably just add the loss to the price of another car. Some unsuspecting shmuck would pick up the tab.
Frankie couldn’t believe how easily his plan had come together. The car resembled the real thing. He had ordered police decal stickers for each side of the car off the internet. He got the blue lights that sat on the dashboard at a pawnshop for next to nothing. He wore a suit and tie like every t.v. detective he ever saw. All he needed was a confident attitude to sell this.
He got in the car and looked at the black and white picture in the passenger’s seat. “This is all for you buddy.” Minutes later, he pulled up behind a bus out of the Northside station. He purposely waited to use this station and this bus route. It was the closest to the edge of the city and was a short ride from his planned destination.
After he pulled the bus over on a quiet road that headed out of town, he approached and tapped on the door. “Ma’am, I need you to follow me. We have evidence to show that an attack on a bus from Midtown is in progress. We need to get you somewhere safe and out of sight. Turn off your radio and ask everyone to turn off cell phones. We think the perp may try to contact you.” Frankie could see everyone quickly reaching for their phones to obey. The pretty bus driver turned off the two-way radio and nodded. She reached into her purse and turned off her own cell phone.
“Good. Now stay calm. There’s a place to hide you about ten minutes from here. Everything is going to be alright. Just breathe. You’re doing great. We’re going to keep you safe.” He smiled at her and saw her shoulders relax. Yeah, she bought it.
He got back in his “cruiser” and pulled up and passed the bus, slowing down to allow everyone to see his official looking car. After all, he worked hard on it. These fine people should have the opportunity to appreciate it.
The bus followed him as he turned left five miles out of town, down a dirt road. He pulled into a large metal warehouse, the bus close behind, like a fly into a spider’s web. He got out of the car and walked up to the driver’s side of the bus. The echo of his boots in the 3,000 square foot space was muffled by the sawdust on the floor. Huge machines filled the warehouse. He doubted his guests even realized where they were. Not many people knew about this place. He had worked here in high school. Not much had changed. The owner still kept all the keys to the equipment in his office. The lock to the warehouse was easy to pick.
He took a deep breath and filled his lungs with the distinctive smell of cut lumber. He smiled up at the bus driver and she opened her window. “See that space right there?” He pointed in front of his car toward a custom-made parking spot at the far end of the building. Two flatbed trailers used to haul equipment flanked each side of the space, which was just wide enough for a bus. He had measured last night and moved the trucks accordingly.
“I’m going to pull off to the side. I want you to pull in to that space. I know it’s a tight fit and you won’t be able to get out, but you’re safe. We want you out of sight. I’m waiting for two other police officers to arrive in our police van to take you home. Is everyone o.k?”
Nine heads bobbed up and down in unison. The bus driver pulled into the spot slowly and turned the bus off. Frankie knew her brain was overloaded with fear. She was overwhelmed by her surroundings. So, the metal beams and casing of the machine she just pulled under didn’t stand out in her mind as dangerous.
“Great. This will all be over soon folks. I promise. Stay nice and quiet and keep those cell phones off. I’m going to secure the building. I’ll be right back.” Frankie pulled his car off to the side. He watched the bus slide slowly into the space. When he was sure the bus door couldn’t open, he parked behind the bus. Now they had nowhere to go.
He pretended to be on his cell phone when he saw the passengers turn their heads to watch him. He got out of his car and walked to the front of the bus. He looked up at the metal monstrosity that surrounded it. The sawmill had always been his favorite machine to run. It was the most powerful of all the tools used in cutting lumber. When the logs were brought to the warehouse, they still looked like trees. They were large, and long, and still had bark. It was the sawmill that changed all that.
The sawmill was over a ton of raw power. A long metal blade moved forward and seamlessly sliced through each log, making it unrecognizable from its original form. This particular sawmill pushed its horizontal blade forward for the length of the support beams underneath it. The same beams that he had covered with plywood last night. The same beams the bus had just driven over and sat on currently.
He turned the key and hit the button on the sawmill. It chugged to life quickly and loudly. Before his victims had time to calculate their surroundings and realize what was happening, the blade pushed forward. It sliced through the metal of the bus with a high-pitched, earsplitting sound that only metal on metal can make. Frankie never even heard their screams.
Ritter left Frankie’s house in the afternoon. The CSI team hadn’t found anything that would point to what Frankie had planned for tomorrow. He climbed back into his police car and pounded his fist against the dashboard. “What are you planning Frankie?” As he started to pull out of the driveway, his cell phone rang. A Northside bus had been reported missing. There was no response from the bus driver, who couldn’t be reached on the radio or her cell. They were using GPS to locate the bus.
Ritter knew they would find the bus but found it unlikely its passengers would be alive. Frankie was escalating and now his focus would be on his grand finale tomorrow. He thought for a moment. “I need to stop thinking like a cop and start thinking like Frankie Bell.”
“If I had a vendetta against someone, I would go after that person. So why hasn’t he done that?”
Liz called with an update on Hazel Harper, who recalled her accident. Hazel said the young boy ran in front of the bus, chasing a ball. She didn’t have time to stop. According to the police report, neighbors had seen it happen and corroborated her story. She was so heartbroken that she quit her job the day after the accident. She also never drove again. She moved to the West Coast several years ago.
What was the point of killing several innocent people? Ritter wondered. More importantly, what was Frankie planning next?
Tuesday morning, Ritter woke with a start. He had dreamt that he found the missing bus in the woods. When he boarded the bus, all the passengers were skeletons, bugs crawling out of their eye sockets.
He got out of bed and went to the bathroom to wash up. He looked in the mirror and saw an old man with wrinkles and dark circles under his eyes. He wondered how much longer he could do this job. He had lost his family because of the harsh hours and the demands of the job. He became so immersed in his cases that he couldn’t focus on anything else.
His wife had taken their daughter when she was thirteen and moved to Vermont. She said the city was too dangerous a place to raise kids. As a cop’s wife, she knew better than most. She also said she was tired of being a single parent. That had stung. Mostly, because he knew she was right.
He looked around his apartment, with empty takeout boxes filling the garbage can. A picture of his daughter at her high school prom was on the wall. She had graduated college last year. He hadn’t been invited. Ritter figured her stepdad had gone.
It was a lousy thing to become so obsessed over something that you couldn’t see past yourself. Then one day, you opened your eyes and realized you were all alone in the world. Ritter snapped his head up with realization. “I’m such an idiot. I’ve been looking in the wrong place all along.”
He called the precinct. It was 6:00 a.m. and so far, there had been no notes left at any of the bus stations, just as he expected. His next call was to Deke, hoping he was already up. Deke answered on the first ring. “Deke, this whole thing has been a diversion. He wants all of us focusing on the bus stations to keep us occupied and out of the way.”
“What are you talking about? Have you gotten any sleep, man?” Deke asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m actually very clear right now. This little vendetta hasn’t been about getting revenge on a surrogate bus driver. This is all about family.”
“Still not following you, Mitch.”
“Frankie lost his brother when he was twelve. Right after that, his parents divorced and his dad took off. His mother was the only family he had left and she just died. This guy is alone in the world. Do you have any idea how painful that is?”
“So, what are you thinking? He’s going to go after a family member of the bus driver who killed his brother?”
“That’s exactly what I’m thinking. Find out what family Ms. Harper has and if any of them still live in the city.”
Henry Harper was leaving campus when he received another text from his mother. She had called yesterday and told him not to use any of the city busses. She told him what was going on and begged him to find another way to get to and from school.
She had texted three times today to check on him. It was getting annoying. He knew about his mom’s accident ten years ago. That’s why they moved to California. But he grew up here in the city, and it would always be his home. His mom wasn’t thrilled when he decided to attend college here, but she understood.
He knew why she was worried, but he was an adult now. He could take care of himself, without having his mother check in on him every ten minutes. He texted her back just the same. I’m fine. I’m grabbing a cab home. Stop worrying. I’ll call you tonight. He put his hand up to hail a cab and was surprised when the first one he saw pulled over. This was his lucky day.
Ritter got the news that Ms. Harper had a brother and sister-in-law who lived in the city. Her son, Henry was living with them while he attended college. Ritter wasn’t wasting time sending someone over there. He was going to talk to them himself. He would stay there all day if he had to. He was sure this was Frankie’s true target.
He arrived at the home of Hank Harper just after 11:00 a.m. When Hank opened the door, Ritter identified himself and asked if he was aware of the brutal bus attacks in the city. He replied that his sister had called him and asked him to take Henry to college until the man was found.
“And did you do that?” Ritter asked.
“My wife did. I was supposed to pick him up but he only had one morning class today and I had a doctor’s appointment. He promised he wouldn’t take the bus so he probably took a cab.” Hank checked his watch. “Actually, he should have been here by now. His class ended at ten.”
“Could you call him on his cell and see where he is?”
“Sure, is there something you’re not telling me Detective?”
Ritter stared at the man for a heartbeat. How do you tell someone they may never see their loved one again?
“Call me Hank. My name is Henry but no one has ever called me that.”
“Is your nephew named after you?”
Hank blushed as he picked up his phone and tried to call Henry. “Yeah. He never had a dad growing up. I tried to look out for him. It was hard when Hazel moved away but I understood. We’re thrilled to have him staying with us now.” He held up the phone. “It went to voicemail. Please, Detective Ritter. What’s going on? Is Henry in danger?”
Frankie was glad this was almost over. He was ready to rest. It had taken him longer to spray paint the sedan yellow than he had thought and he hadn’t gotten much sleep. It would all be worth it though. Today was the day.
Henry hopped in the back seat of the cab and told the driver his destination. He pulled out his cell and started texting his uncle that he was on his way home. He had stayed after class to talk to his professor about a paper that was due next week. He didn’t want his uncle calling his mom because he was a few minutes late. She would probably freak out and make him fly home.
He continued to focus on his phone, checking email and his social media accounts. A ding on his phone alerted him that his text hadn’t gone through. That was weird. He tried to resend it and stared at the phone, waiting for a response. It came back with the same message.
He looked up and noticed for the first time that the cab was heading in the wrong direction. It took him almost a half hour to get to school taking the bus. A straight shot in the taxi should take less than 15 minutes. He had already been riding for at least 10 and this was nowhere near his uncle’s house.
He sat up and spoke to the driver. “Excuse me. You must not have heard me. You’re going the wrong way.”
The cab driver did not speak, did not turn around.
“Hey! What are you doing? You’re going the wrong way. Let me out!”
Silence from the front seat.
Henry started to panic. He tried to open the door. It would not open. He tried to call the police. His phone would not work. He tried to wind down the windows to no avail. He looked out the window and was terrified to realize that the windows were tinted so no one could see him banging on them, his face pressed against the glass, screaming for help.
He reached forward and banged on the divider between him and the driver. The driver ignored him. What the hell was going on? Henry sat up straight, breathing hard. Oh no. His mother was right.
Ritter called the college to verify that Henry’s class had gotten out at the scheduled time. The teacher even verified that Henry was there and stayed a few minutes late to ask questions about an assignment.
He called Deke. “The accident that killed Cole Bell. Where did it happen?”
Henry open and closed his eyes slowly. He was so tired and had a brutal headache. He heard a voice that sounded miles away. “Wake up sleepyhead.” He opened his eyes again, even though they felt like lead weights. Bloodshot green eyes stared back at him.
Frankie laughed with glee and smacked Henry gently on the side of his face. “There you are. Welcome back buddy. Sorry about the nap. It was just a little carbon monoxide piped into the back seat. You’ll be fine.” He laughed maniacally. “Fine being a relative word, am I right? Let’s just say carbon monoxide poisoning won’t be what kills you.” More laughing.
Henry looked around frantically. He tried to run but couldn’t move. Could the gas have made him immobile? He looked down and noticed the rope wrapped around him. He came to a little more and felt the rough bark with his hands. Jesus, he was tied to a tree!
He had never been to this place but he knew instinctively where he was. His mom had told him about it. It used to be a park when the elementary school was here. The school had closed down years ago when a new one was built a few miles away. Apparently, the park had been abandoned as well. Henry searched his brain to remember this maniac’s name. It came to him and he said it aloud. “Frankie.”
Frankie’s face turned to pure joy. He came up so close to Henry their noses were almost touching. “You know who I am and where you are. Isn’t that sweet? Did your dear mother tell you all about me and my brother? Did she tell you that she ran down an innocent child and blamed it on him? Did she tell you that I saw the whole thing? That I saw her massacre my little brother?” He was talking faster now, spit coming out with each word, pelting Henry in the face.
Henry stayed very still and looked down at the ground. Frankie stepped back and straightened up. He tilted his head to each side and Henry could hear the vertebrae cracking as he did.
“I’m so sorry to have lost my temper.” Frankie’s face took on a serene expression. “This isn’t about you. This is about your dear mother. And I have a gift for her. See that.” Frankie pointed to the cab. “My cell phone is set up in the windshield of the cab. And I’m going to turn it on. Then I’m going to drive that car right through you. Right into this large tree.”
Frankie looked up at the tree and back at Henry. “What kind of tree do you think this is? Oak, maple? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that after you’re gone, I’m going to send your mom a nice little video of the whole thing. Isn’t that thoughtful of me? It’s ok. You don’t have to thank me.”
Henry didn’t speak as tears ran down his face. He was breathing hard now but trying to stay quiet to keep from agitating this psycho further.
“Any last thoughts? No. You can speak right into the camera. I lied before. I don’t have to turn it on. Its already running. I didn’t want to miss a single moment. Want to wave goodbye to mommy?”
At that Henry burst out sobbing. “Please don’t do this. I didn’t do anything to you. I was just a kid myself. I’m sorry. Please, you don’t have to do this.”
Frankie turned to face the cab and spoke to the camera phone. “Well there ya have it folks. Last words. Seems like a wasted opportunity to me but whatever.”
Through blurred eyes, Henry watched Frankie walk with purpose back to the cab. He got in and waved at Henry and then backed up about 80 feet. Plenty of room to end his life. Henry closed his eyes. He had never been a religious person, but he began to pray. He wouldn’t open his eyes, no matter what. He wouldn’t give this guy the pleasure. More importantly, he wouldn’t do that to his mom. It would be too much for her to see the terror in his eyes.
Henry heard Frankie put the car in park and rev the engine. Now, Henry knew, he was just toying with him. He kept his eyes squeezed shut. Then he heard another voice.
“Turn it off Frankie. It’s over!”
Henry opened his eyes and saw a man with a gun walking toward the car. He came from the tree line from behind the car.
“Frankie, this won’t bring your brother back. What happened to Cole was awful, but it was an accident and Henry had nothing to do with it.”
Frankie revved the engine again but stayed in park.
The man with the gun walked toward the side of the car. He was almost to the driver’s side window. With his eyes still on Frankie, he spoke to Henry. “Henry, my name is Detective Ritter. Just stay calm. Are you ok?”
Henry replied in the affirmative.
Frankie couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the detective using almost the same exact words and tactics as he had at the lumber mill.
“Frankie, I’m only going to tell you this one more time. Turn off the car and put your hands on the dashboard.”
Henry looked right at Frankie. He shuddered as he saw a new expression come over Frankie’s face- determination. He watched helplessly as Frankie put the car in drive and step on the gas. Several shots went off, bang, bang, bang-bang-bang. “I love you Momma!” Henry shouted as the yellow blur came straight at him. He closed his eyes and dropped his head as he waited for death. He hoped it would be quick and painless.
Seconds went by and Henry realized something pivotal had changed. It was silent, except for the sound of the officer’s boots walking toward him. The evil feeling gripping his chest and lungs, making it hard to breathe was gone. He opened his eyes to see the yellow cab, stopped dead, not six feet in front of him. Two tires and the windshield were shot out. Frankie’s body slouched over the steering wheel.
Henry’s eyes and mouth agape as the man who saved his life approached the car. He watched him lean the body back, his gun still aimed at Frankie. He saw him check for a pulse before dropping the body back onto the steering wheel. He looked up at Henry and nodded. It was over.
Detective Ritter had seen a lot of dead bodies so he knew what dead looked like. Right now, it looked like Frankie Bell. He went around to the passenger’s side and reached in through what was left of the shattered window. He picked up a black and white photo on the seat. It was a picture of a family. A mom, dad, and two little boys, all smiling. Below it in pen was written: Don Brenda Frankie and Cole 1998.
He heard the ambulance and other police cars arrive as he looked at Henry Harper and nodded. Henry understood and nodded back. He handed the picture to Liz as another police officer went to untie Henry. “Liz looked quizzically at him. Why are you giving it to me? It’s your case.”
Not anymore. I’m retired. Liz watched him in awe as he walked back into the woods to retrieve his car. He was going home. Once in the car, he sighed and felt himself relax for the first time in a very long time. He looked at the scene, the blue and red lights, people rushing to take care of the victim.
He turned his head and did not look back as he said, “Detective Ritter, signing off.”