preload preload preload preload preload preload
0 Comments | Dec 07, 2010

Web of Murder

spider-web-raindrops-970457-gaAnna thrust her key into the apartment door lock, turning it with a crisp clicking sound that reverberated through the dark empty hallway. She was still breathing heavily from climbing the stairs to her fourth-floor Manhattan walk-up. It didn’t help that she had stopped at the store on her way home from work, and was carrying a bag of groceries in addition to her backpack. She pushed open the heavy steel door with a creek, while dexterously guiding Max the cat to one side with her Reebock-clad right foot. It wouldn’t do to have him slipping out into the hallway, as none of the sixteen cats currently living in the building were allowed there according to their owners’ leases. Kicking the door shut with a thud behind her, she dropped the backpack in the corner and set the Gristede’s bag on the kitchen counter. As soon as the bag hit the counter, Max leaped up next to it and stared inquisitively at Anna. She picked him up in one arm and turned to lock the three huge deadbolts that kept New York out of her small apartment. She then walked to the apartment’s sole window, looking for a moment past the fire escape landing and onto Riverside Drive just as a hard rain began to pelt the street and the people below.

“Wow, Max. Guess we dodged that bullet, huh?” she said, rubbing the cat’s head with slow affectionate strokes.

It was a Friday and past six thirty already, meaning that most of the city was on its way home for the start of another steamy August weekend. It had grown steadily hotter and more humid throughout the past week, and the downpour commencing outside was the expected denouement of a cycle that repeated itself with uncanny predictability each summer in the city. There would be one or two dry pleasant days, followed by a period of progressively increasing heat and mugginess. This would lead to a day or two of stifling tropical weather – insufferable particularly in non-air-conditioned apartments like Anna’s. Finally, it would rain like hell for a day or two, clearing the air and reinitiating the cycle. It looked as though it would rain hard all night and probably much of tomorrow, which meant she might as well stay in tonight and hope to salvage the second half of the weekend. Matt was out of town until the day after tomorrow anyway, and she wasn’t much for going out to dinner or sitting in a movie theater by herself. He had said he’d be landing at LaGuardia around four on Sunday, which meant they’d at least be able to get together for dinner that night.

“Looks like it’s you and me, kid – you, me, the microwave, and the TV,” she said, peering down into Max’s expressionless orange face. The cat meowed once and jumped from her arms onto the windowsill, where he sat also gazing out at the darkening clouds and the downpour. Even though the rain was already beating hard on the flaking black paint of the fire escape, Anna opened the window a few inches in a largely futile attempt to create some ventilation in the stifling studio apartment. She walked back across the room, glancing once more at the front door to ensure that she hadn’t missed a lock. In New York you weren’t paranoid, just prudent. She pulled open the refrigerator door and reached for one of the brown bottles in the back. Opening the freezer door above, she glanced dishearteningly at the choices – Lean Cuisine® turkey slices or Swedish meatballs. Why didn’t I pick up something to eat while I was at the grocery store? Nothing in the bag but toiletries and other useless stuff. The fridge was an old, non-frost-free model, and the inexorably encroaching glacier of ice had consumed all but the most central core of the freezer, leaving just enough room for a couple of meals-for-one and a quart container of Hagen Daaz® Dolce de Lecce.

“Sam Adams®, Lean Cuisine®, Hagen Daaz®,” Anna murmured to herself, taking inventory as she tore the strip off one end of the turkey dinner box. “What more could a city girl ask for?”

Max leaped again onto the counter and peered intently at the small rock-hard, plastic-coated dinner.

“Don’t even think about it,” Anna said to him as she slid the plastic tray into the microwave. As the carousel inside began slowly rotating the dinner to the accompaniment of a loud ventilation fan, she picked up the remote from her small oak coffee table and punched the ON button. In response, the television offered only a featureless pattern of snow and the hiss of white noise.

“Oh for Christ’s sake – not again,” she uttered in a low plaintive voice. Cable service had been very sporadic over the past two weeks, due, she assumed, to the incessant construction occurring at the end of her block. “I refuse to spend Friday night in New York City reading a goddamned book.”

She hit the MUTE button on the remote and tossed it onto the couch. Crossing the room to a small desk by the fire escape window, she pushed the power switch on her computer. “A wild night of web surfing and frozen turkey,” she said to no one in particular, as Max curled his tail around her ankle and emitted a contented purring sound. Wondering which would be ready first – the turkey or the PC – she stood in the window watching a low line of thick black clouds roll in across the Hudson River. In a moment she would later recall as singularly portentous, the microwave buzzer and computer ready-chime went off at almost exactly the same instant. Less than a second later, the low rumble of distant thunder vibrated the walls of the apartment.

Peeling the clear plastic cover from her now-steaming turkey dinner, Anna deposited the contents onto a plate, grabbed a fork, and walked back to her computer desk. Nudging Max from the chair, she sat down, put the plate to one side, and reached for the mouse. Clicking the email icon, she blew gently on a forkful of turkey as the computer opened her new messages.

“Hmmm, nine messages since this morning.” She read down the list of titles “Spam…spam…spam…” she muttered, referring to the incessant electronic junkmail that filled her inbox each day. All junk…except for the next to last one, which bore the laconic exhortation “Check This Out.” Matt had sent it at around eleven that morning. She deleted all the unwanted messages, and then sat for a moment contemplating “Check This Out” before clicking on the link. She sat waiting for the message to open, nibbling on another piece of turkey.

There were just a couple of short sentences from Matt, and an attached hyperlink.

Hey Cutie – Give this a look. I think you’ll like it. See you Sunday night. H&K, Matt

“OK, what the hell,” she said, tearing off a small piece of meat and offering it to Max, “It’s not like we have anything else going on at the moment, now do we?”

She clicked on the link and sat back waiting, listening as the rain continued to beat on her window and fire escape, punctuated by the occasional rumble of thunder. The storm continued to intensify, and Anna desperately hoped her modem line stayed up; she was rapidly running out of things to do.

Welcome to Camelot!

appeared on the screen of the web site’s home page. In addition to some splashy graphics that took forever to download, the page contained a single paragraph explaining what the site was all about.

Camelot is a new on-line community that allows members to post a web-cam feed for viewing by all other site members. There is no cost for this service. You simply agree to provide your own web-cam feed in exchange for viewing those of others. If you’d like a FREE TRIAL, click here for a list of available sample web-cams that are currently active. You can watch any of our trial feeds for up to ten days before hooking up your own cam.

She clicked on the indicated link as she took the last bite of now-cold turkey and set the gravy-covered plate on the floor, much to Max’s approval. Fortunately the modem delays tonight weren’t too bad (since everyone else has a life, she thought, and isn’t spending their Friday night at home on-line). She waited as the list of sample web-cams slowly slid into view.

Brenda’s Cubicle                 about Broadband/Dial-up

Skippy’s Dog Bowl              about Broadband/Dial-up

Ron’s Fridge Cam                about Broadband/Dial-up

Rick’s Shower Cam             about Broadband/Dial-up

The Cow Barn                     about Broadband/Dial-up

“Well there’s an eclectic assortment,” Anna observed, pondering the selections for a moment. The list was accompanied by the usual array of banner ads that flashed and danced in an attempt to attract her attention. The page also included a summary announcement at the bottom.

We of course have many more web-cams for your viewing pleasure. These samples have been randomly selected to give you a feel for what we’re all about. Click here if you’d like to join and hook up your live feed now. If you’re not ready to hook up just yet, but want to check out the samples, click on any of those above. Happy watching!

“Pretty obvious choice, wouldn’t you agree?” she said to Max, who was lying now on top of the monitor, his tail twitching. She clicked on the about link following the Rick’s Shower Cam option, then got up to retrieve another beer from the refrigerator. Back at the desk, she twisted the top off the condensation-covered bottle, and watched impatiently as the web-cam description slowly scrolled down the screen. “We have got to get a cable modem in this place,” she said, pushing the cat’s tail from in front of the screen, and wiping a small bead of perspiration from her forehead. “Right after we get a damned air conditioner.”

Welcome to Rick’s Shower Cam! What can I say? I have plenty of visitors, many of whom sleep over, and none of whom know that I have a camera above my shower. I think that about says it all! Enjoy!

Enter Rick’s Shower Cam

“Should we be concerned,” Anna said to Max’s expressionless face, “that the new boyfriend is emailing us web links to a strange guy’s shower? She and Matt had only been going out for a month or so, and the nascent relationship still offered plenty of opportunity for surprises. Maybe he saw the actual sample list and just considers it good fun, she thought. Or, more likely, he just found out about the site, but never took the time to look at the trial page. Yeah, he’s a busy guy — it’s probably that second thing.

Anna clicked on the link and sat back, taking a long thoughtful swig from the beer bottle. Since her web access was by phone line, the video image was not real-time. It refreshed only every second or so, certainly not theater-quality, but adequate to get the gist of what was happening. For the moment though, it didn’t matter a bit, since the image now appearing on her screen was of nothing but an empty shower stall. The camera was mounted in a bird’s-eye position, peering down from what must have been the upper corner of the bathroom. The view mainly comprised the altogether ordinary corner shower, with its white ceramic tiles and full-length glass walls on the two outer sides, as well as a small area of the floor immediately in front of the stall door. Anna watched as the image refreshed half a dozen times with no changes whatsoever.

“That’s it,” she said to Max in disgust, “we’re going out tomorrow and buying a DVD player.” She got up and walked to the couch, staring for a moment at the incessant snow that continued to paint her still-muted television. “Hmmm,” she mused, turning back to the computer, watching as two more quick refreshes of the shower cam continued to elicit no activity. “What do you think, kiddo? Shall we have a look at Skippy’s dog bowl?” Max responded with only a low insouciant mewing sound and occasionally flicked the tip of his tail in front of the screen. She reached for the mouse and was about to jump back to the web-cam menu when the screen refreshed once more and a shadow appeared in the lower left corner of the picture. Another refresh produced a foot, and ten seconds later she was looking at a top-down view of what appeared to be a middle-aged blond woman wearing a dark blue bathrobe and hair tied on top of her head. As Anna watched, the woman opened the glass shower door, reached in, and turned on the water.

Anna wasn’t sure whether or not the web-cam service provided sound with the video, or whether, for that matter, Rick had bothered to install a microphone in his bathroom. In neither case did it really matter though, since her speakers had been broken for months. The silent picture became momentarily hazier as the quickly heating shower created a cloud of steam that inexorably made its way toward the ceiling, and hence the camera. Another moment passed and Anna watched as the woman reappeared on the screen, removed her robe, and hung it on a hook before stepping into the shower and closing the door behind her.

“Great,” said Anna, leaning back in her chair and lifting the bottle to her mouth, “Now we’re sitting at home on a Friday night watching a woman take a shower – a woman who a) we don’t know, and b) doesn’t know we’re watching her. Jesus, my therapist could do a dissertation on this one.” Still, despite her somewhat conflicting feelings of discomfort, Anna found she could not look away from the grainy slow-moving image that was unfolding on her screen. Tossing off the final suds at the bottom of her second beer, she made another quick trip to the refrigerator, returning just in time to see a new shadow appear in the lower left corner of the image. As she sat back down and twisted off the fresh bottle top, Max emitted another imploring sound as he hopped down from the monitor and into Anna’s lap.

“Yeah, I know,” she said stroking the cat’s head, “we’re a couple of sicko voyeurs, but it beats watching the snow on TV, or being out in the rain. If you’ve got any better alternatives, I’m all ears.” As if in acknowledgment, the storm’s intensity rose another notch, and rain began blowing in through the open fire escape window. Anna got up for a moment and pulled the window down as more thunder rolled across the city. She sat back down just in time to see the woman in the shower turn toward the new arrival and raise one hand in an ambiguous motion that might have indicated surprise or recognition. The second person had not yet entered the camera’s field of view, but the woman apparently had no concerns about the newcomer seeing her in the shower. This thought was corroborated when the woman reached out and opened the shower door, still gesturing to the unseen visitor in an animated way that suggested annoyance or agitation, but certainly not modesty.

“Well, hold on…” Anna said. “Perhaps we’ve stumbled onto something here after all.” As the blonde continued standing in the open shower doorway, the steam drifted outward, enveloping the man who now slowly entered the frame. The foreshortening caused by the camera’s high angle made it difficult to judge height, but he was clearly tall, probably over six feet. He was fully clothed, in what appeared to be jeans and a tee shirt. His hair was very black and must have been quite long, as it looked to be pulled back in a short ponytail. Again, it was hard to tell from the picture quality, but the man made few discernible movements for the first minute or so, whereas the woman continued gesturing with seemingly increasing intensity. After another few seconds of this seemingly one-sided exchange, the woman reached out and began to pull the shower door closed again. As she did so, Anna was surprised to see the man suddenly step forward and grasp the door, holding it open against the woman’s considerable effort.

Even with the complete absence of sound, Anna could now clearly tell that the couple was engaged in an extremely heated altercation. The hand gestures, on both their parts, became more frequent and extreme, and at one point the woman, who now appeared quite desperate, tried using both hands to pull the shower door closed. As she struggled with increasing ferocity to pull the door to, the man firmly grasped her hands and wrenched them both free of the handle at the same instant. This had the effect of eliminating all the support with which the woman had been bracing herself against the presumably slippery shower floor. As her wet hands came free of the door handle, they also slipped through the man’s hands, and she lurched violently sideways against the glass wall of the stall, causing it to burst outward with the force of her impact. The man reached into the shower in what seemed an attempt to stop the woman’s fall, but succeeded only in sliding his right forearm along a piercing glass shard still hanging from the top of the wall enclosure. He withdrew his arm instantly, clutching it tightly and grabbing a towel from someplace off-camera to stem the blood flow.

From what Anna could see in the grainy image, no amount of toweling was going to help the woman. She had fallen backwards through the splintered glass of the shower wall, and her wet nude body now lay face-up with a massive triangular shard protruding upward through her midsection, nearly cutting her in half. Although it was difficult to be sure with the slowly refreshing screen, it looked to Anna’s horrified gaze as though the woman continued struggling to extricate herself for another thirty seconds or so before all of her motion finally stopped. The man stood looking down at the woman and the rapidly spreading river of blood, both in the shower stall and on the surrounding bathroom floor. It seemed to Anna that he had no idea what he ought to do next. He seemed, indeed, transfixed by the hypnotic swirl of blood as it spiraled down the drain with the still-running water. But after a few more seconds of staring downward and squeezing the towel around his arm, he did something that caused her such a start she dropped her half-full beer bottle onto the hardwood floor with a resounding clunk. He slowly turned his head around and upward, staring directly into the camera lens.

Anna shrieked, thrust her chair back from the desk, and punched the computer’s main power switch, all in one panicked motion. As she simultaneously attempted to grab for the fallen beer bottle, its contents spilled out, frothing on the apartment’s hardwood floor. Max responded to the commotion by leaping from Anna’s lap onto the back of the couch.

“HOLY SHIT…what in the FUCK was that?!” she whispered to herself as she walked, slightly shaking, across the apartment for paper towels to clean up the beer. As she knelt to sop up the spill, she continued mumbling to herself. “If this is Matt’s idiotic idea of a joke…” She could still feel her heart pounding violently in her chest. As she crawled under the desk to reach the last puddles of beer, Max chose that moment to jump down from the couch back onto the seat, landing, by sheer luck, on the remote that Anna had tossed there earlier. As his foot touched the mute button, the hissing from the TV came on so loudly and suddenly that Anna jerked upward, cracking her head on the underside of the desk. “FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!” she screamed, as the cat ran for cover under the couch. She crawled from beneath the desk, still cursing and rubbing her head, and turned off the television. Throwing the beer-soaked paper towels in the trash bucket, she took another bottle from the refrigerator and slowly approached the computer desk again as the rain continued to pound the street outside her window.

Anna stood for a long minute behind her desk chair, staring down at the blank screen. She raised the beer to her lips and pondered for a moment what she had just witnessed. It was some kind of hoax, like one of those performance art things she thought. In which case, they would replay it each time a person logs on to the site. She hesitated another moment before tentatively reaching out and pushing the power button to restart the machine. “So when I log back on, there’ll be just an empty shower stall…just an empty shower stall…” she said quietly to Max, now back at her ankles. As the computer rebooted, she stepped to the window and looked down again at the rain-slicked street.  One lone brave soul made his way down the sidewalk, umbrella-less, collar pulled up against the driving storm.

Again the computer’s synthesized opening chord pulled her from her momentary reverie. She sat back down at the desk and hesitantly replicated the sequence of clicks that had gotten her to the original list of sample web-cam links. She stared at the list and took a deep breath before clicking again on the Rick’s Shower Cam link. Anna sat in rapt anticipation as the first camera scan slowly painted her screen. There, as before, lay the unmoving body, legs in the shower stall, torso and arms outside, the same two-foot triangle of glass thrusting upward from her abdomen like a cathedral spire. The body now had a distinct whiteness to it, and the surrounding bathroom floor remained awash in blood. Oddly though, the man had made no effort to turn off the shower, so there was almost no blood at all on the stall floor, and the still steamy water continued to rain down on the dead woman’s outstretched legs. There was no sign of the man, or of any movement at all, save for the running water.

Anna sat transfixed by the dead woman’s image, her gaze riveted to the screen as it continued to refresh with hypnotic regularity. The rain was coming down now in torrents against her apartment window, and it suddenly occurred to Anna that the storm was providing a perfectly appropriate soundtrack to accompany the silent scene on her monitor. As she stared at the horrific image, another lightning bolt momentarily lit the street outside, accompanied by more rolling thunder. At this point, she noticed a curious thing that had eluded her gaze before. At precisely the same instant that lightning had flashed outside her window, there appeared a small but discernible flicker of brightness on the video image as well, as if the same lightning were coming through an unseen window in the dead woman’s bathroom. It was an especially disconcerting effect though, because unlike the instantaneous flash that accompanied the lightning outside her window, the increased brightness on the screen remained for a full second – the duration of a single shot of the shower. This meant that the flash must have occurred just as the latest camera view was being scanned. With the following image, the brightness returned to its normal level.

“Jesus, Max, it’s here in the city someplace,” Anna said, getting up from her chair again and walking back to the window. She stared outside into the slick wet darkness for a moment that felt like eternity. “So what now?” she asked the empty apartment. Max only responded with a low meow as he climbed back on top of the monitor. She thought first of looking on the Camelot website for a phone number she could call to corroborate her rapidly waning hoax theory. There was none – only a feedback email address. Like anyone’s gonna’ respond to that on a Friday night she thought, flipping back to the still unchanged web-cam image. Her next idea was to try reaching Matt. It seemed far-fetched, but he might not be above involving Anna in some extremely elaborate practical joke. She called his cell phone number, but got only the answering service, and hung up without leaving a message.

OK then – plan C – call the cops. Only what the hell do I tell them? She ran through the story in her mind…web site, apparent murder (accident?)…a dead woman…no clue as to where (well, maybe here in the city someplace)…Even to her it sounded like the rantings of some drunk getting an early start on the weekend. Unsure of what else to do, she nevertheless made the call to the Thirty-Third Precinct emergency line. They listened courteously, took down her name, address and phone number, and tried to be encouraging, without really committing to do much of anything. We have plenty of other crimes, ma’am – ones where we actually know the location, they didn’t say, but didn’t need to. She thanked them and flicked off her cell phone.

As she stood, still staring out of her apartmenspider-web-raindrops-970457-gat window, a curious image leapt into her mind. She remembered an old Jimmy Stewart movie, some Hitchcock thing, in which Jimmy had seen a murder from his apartment window. Only there had been no question about location in that one – it had been right across the courtyard from his apartment. And then had come that jarring moment when Raymond Burr turned and looked old Jimmy right in the eye. But our hero had done something about it, hadn’t he? He’d sent his girlfriend (what was her name again?) over there to scope out the situation. And then hadn’t Raymond ended up coming by to pay Jimmy a little visit? Well, no danger of any visits here, she thought. I mean, it’s not like Mr. Ponytail has any idea who (if anyone) was watching through the camera. He does, however, appear to know that there is a camera, now doesn’t he? Which means the whole thing must have been an accident, right? Who on earth commits a murder when they know they’re on camera? Except doesn’t passion sometimes get the better of common sense?

Anna walked to the couch and sat down heavily, fighting the urge to stare back over her shoulder at the computer screen with its incessantly refreshing image of the dead blonde. A myriad of confusing and conflicting thoughts raced through her head. Hey, here’s another one, Anna girl – could someone who didn’t already know about the camera have suddenly discovered it at that moment? Seems like he’d have had a lot of other things on his mind just about then, don’t you think? So if he already knew the camera was there, wouldn’t he have to be our Rick guy? The intro says no one else knows but Rick. And besides, whoever the man was, he can’t possibly know whether or not someone was watching the web site…can he?

Another thought then occurred to Anna and she walked back to the desk and sat down. Presumably, if someone were going to hook up a web-cam feed, they’d have to do it through their own computer. Anna was no technical guru, and so she wasn’t sure whether to regard the thought now forming in her mind as really ridiculous or really scary. She grabbed her computer mouse and scrolled backwards a couple of screens to the page that provided a link for those ready to hook up their own web-cam feeds. She paused for a moment before clicking on the Click here if you’d like to join and hook up your live feed now link.

Even though she didn’t totally understand the instructions that appeared on the screen, a couple of the specifics nevertheless made her pulse rise ever so slightly:

To connect your web-cam feed:

A) Connect camera output to your PC using the VGA or SVGA video ports

B) Enter your IP address in the indicated space below

C) Check each of the following features that you would like to enable:

o Enable audio (camera must be microphone equipped)

o Enable high bandwidth transmission

o Provide IP addresses of all viewers

o Enable real-time chat with viewers

If she was being offered these feature choices, then it followed that Rick had been as well. Anna didn’t know what an IP address was, but the word “address” made her wonder. Could Rick figure out who was watching his web-cam? What if he’s searching for an address right this minute? Maybe the longer someone’s on-line, the easier they are to track. That’s how it works when the cops trace a phone call, right? What’s it been since the…accident? Fifteen minutes…maybe twenty. There’s a thought…

She sat for a few more seconds, staring intently at the blood-covered bathroom floor and the impaled dead body before clicking off her browser and disconnecting the phone/modem connection. She left the computer on however, and walked back to sit again on the couch. She fidgeted with the TV’s remote one more time, and was pleasantly surprised when a picture appeared on the screen rather than snow. “Well, there’s a pleasant development,” she said as Max stared silently at her from his new perch on top of the coffee table. “Watching a movie’s got to be better than our evening so far, right, furball?” Max offered no response, but jumped nimbly from the coffee table to Anna’s lap. “One thing’s for sure – we won’t be taking any showers tonight.” She pointed the remote at the TV, turned up the volume, and flicked ahead a couple of channels before getting back up from the couch and walking to the kitchen in search of chips or other munchies. She selected a bag from an upper shelf and turned back toward the TV just as the phone rang.

Ah, that’ll be boyfriend Matt, calling to wish me good night, she thought. We’ll make sure he knows what we think of his emailed entertainment selections. She reached for the remote, hit the mute button, then picked up the phone from its cradle next to the refrigerator. “Hello, darlin’…How’s Cleveland?” she said in a voice that had calmed a fair bit in the ensuing five minutes.

“I wouldn’t know, beautiful – I’m not there,” replied a deep and unfamiliar voice. “I just called to say that you’re a very nosy girl, Anna…”

She screamed and threw the phone to the floor. Backing up in jerky steps away from the kitchen, her heels caught on the living room rug and she fell sprawling backward against the TV stand. She remained sitting there, shaking violently, watching in horror as the handset continued spinning slowly on the kitchen floor. As she stared at the phone, it slowed to a stop and lay with the earpiece aimed accusingly in her direction. From ten feet away, she could clearly hear the voice at the other end of the line. “Anna, be a good girl and pick up the phone …”

She crawled slowly toward the kitchen on her hands and knees, reaching for the phone with her violently shaking right hand. “I don’t know who you are,” she said into the receiver, doing her best to sound firm, though her voice still trembled discernibly. “But you can tell Matt that he sucks, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I go near him again,” she said, clinging vainly to the hope that this was all somehow just a cruel joke.

“I’m sure he’ll be sorry to hear that you feel that way,” said the voice, “I just called to explain to you what you saw tonight.”

“Who is this, and how in the hell did you get my number?” screamed Anna into the phone, feigning a measure of assertiveness that she in no way actually felt at the moment.

“Oh c’mon, Anna, give me a little credit. I’m not an idiot,” the voice continued. “You have so much information on the web I could have found you on the moon.”

“I saw you! I saw what you did to that girl!” Anna screamed, losing what little composure she had mustered to this point.

“You have no idea what you saw,” the voice said. “That’s why I called.”

“I saw the whole thing! I know what you look like, you murdering bastard!” Anna had now managed to stand again, and was gathering a bit more bravery with each passing minute.

“Yes, I know,” said the voice, “and that’s a problem we’re going to need to discuss.” The relative calm with which this total stranger discussed the events Anna had witnessed earlier was unnerving, and her voice wavered as she tried to talk.

“So tell me whatever it is you called to say, and then hang the fuck up so I can call the police,” Anna said loudly. She reached into the refrigerator for another beer, but found no more. She slammed the door, cursing silently to herself.

“It might interest you to know that what you saw tonight was only half the action. The woman is…was… Erica – cheating bitch and former fiancé. The other casualty of the evening, who you fortunately were not observing as I snapped his fucking little neck, was none other than your web host, Rick. Are you beginning to get the picture, darlin’?”

“Yeah, let me see if I got this right,” replied Anna, beginning to sound almost mocking. “You followed your girlfriend to Rick’s apartment where you found the two of them screwing around, and so you killed them both. That pretty much it?”

“You summarize nicely,” he said. “But you left out a few little details. Like how sloppy Erica was about covering up her extra-curricular activities, and how careless Rick was with who he told about his little voyeuristic web site hobby. And while we’re talking about fucking up, you, my dear, should think twice before spying on a computer consultant again.”

“So you got my number from my web connection…” she replied uncertainly.

“Welcome to the information age, Anna…Oh, and not just your number – your address too. And, if I want to get really creative, your social security number, credit history, driving record, you name it…”

“YOU SON OF A BITCH!” she yelled into the phone. “I know where you are too…I saw the lightning…You’re in the…city.”

“Well well,” the man said, mockingly “you are a little rocket scientist after all. Storm’s covering the whole tri-state region, baby. Last time I checked, that was maybe thirty or forty million people, give or take. I, on the other hand, know your street address right down to the color of that front door of yours…fourth floor, isn’t it? Tell you what. How’s about you and I come to a little agreement? Save us both a lot of trouble. I promise not to spend the rest of my life messing with you…or maybe paying you a little visit like I did Erica here. In return, you promise not to get all bent out of shape and moralistic about avenging a couple of low-life cheating shits who you never met anyway. Fair enough, darling?”

“So I should do nothing at all after witnessing a double murder…”

“Oh c’mon, Anna – grow up. All you witnessed was an unfortunate shower accident – happens all the time. Hell, if cheap-ass Rick hadn’t had such a rundown apartment, the landlord might’ve even sprung for a shower with shatterproof glass. It’s a law, you know. They’re all supposed to be that way now. Guess that’s what she gets for slumming around.”

“Good to see you’re all broken up about this,” Anna replied. In the brief silence that followed, a low, more distant roll of thunder echoed outside her window. A half-second later she heard the same thunder through the phone receiver. “You’re not leaving me many options here…”

“Yeah, well I like to keep things simple, you know. Besides, I’ve got a couple more of your fellow viewers to call here in a minute. So here’s the deal – first, you’re going to say nothing about this to anyone…ever, including Matt, whoever he is. And second, you are going to erase any evidence of your little video excursion from your PC. How’s that sound?”

“Sounds like blackmail, actually.”

“Oh that’s such a harsh word, Anna. I prefer to think of it as a mutually beneficial business arrangement between two new friends, one of whom happens to have a bit of a tactical advantage over the other.”

“You have a real way with words, asshole…” was all she could think of in response. “Anyway, I’m sure an arrogant bastard like you left plenty of clues around the apartment. Even without my help, I expect I’ll still be reading about you in the papers within a week or two. Of course, once they have your ass in jail, you can look forward to some supporting testimony from me.”

I guess that’s a chance I’ll just have to take, but thanks for the warning. Oh hey, I’ve gotta’ run. I have a little cleaning up to do – I’m sure you understand. You have a good night though. It was real nice chatting with you…”

There was a sharp click and then a dial tone in Anna’s ear that sounded louder than anything she‘d ever heard. She slowly returned the phone to its cradle on the wall and walked back to the couch, falling heavily onto the cushions. Max immediately jumped up and onto her lap where she stroked his soft head, staring absently at the blank TV screen. She slept fitfully that night, waking frequently as the rain blew in sheets against the front wall of the apartment. When she woke late on Saturday morning it had slowed to a steady drizzle that promised to keep her inside for another day. She turned on the coffee maker, then walked to the couch, turning on the TV to the local news channel just as the morning anchor was wrapping up his lead story…

“…are searching for whoever is responsible for a grisly double murder discovered tonight on New York’s upper west side. Police are asking anyone with information about this incident to call them right away at 1-800-467-2278. Your confidentiality is guaranteed.”

Anna muted the TV, absently watching as the phone number scrolled slowly by along the bottom of the screen, crying quietly to herself as she gently stroked Max’s head. She wondered if the local precinct cops would make the connection between the crime and her call the previous evening – wondered what she would say if they came asking questions. Max just sat on the couch by her side, purring contentedly, and after a moment Anna got back up, poured a cup of coffee, and walked to the front window where she stood gazing out on the wet city morning, and listening as the last traces of thunder rumbled far in the distance.

Leave a Reply

* Required
** Your Email is never shared