Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cross-Country Trip (FFF #35)

It's Friday Flash Fiction time again. This week's sentence comes to us courtesy of Flannery Alden. My entry this week is my attempt at a Cornell Woolrich type story. It's a bit long-ish, and could definitely have been longer. Hope you enjoy.

Cross-Country Trip

"I don't disagree with you, but you have to admit, this puts me in a delicate position." The man who called himself Alex sipped his drink and flashed a dazzling smile at Meghan. "You see, if I tell you I'm not, you'll be disappointed. But if I tell you I am, you'll no doubt call the police."

Meghan reached out and touched his arm. "Then let's leave it a mystery, shall we? I simply adore mysteries."

The band struck up a swinging tune behind them and the dance floor quickly transformed into a mass of swirling dressed and flailing limbs. It was a typical Friday night at El Mocambo. Meghan often stopped off for a quick cocktail in hopes of finding Mr. Right.

She spotted Alex right away as he was just her type: tall, dark, and handsome. It wasn't too long before he came over and bought her a drink. There was an air of danger around him that Meghan liked.

"Well," she said, "I hate to be a wet blanket, but I should be getting home. I have to get up early for work tomorrow."

"But it's Saturday."

"They're doing their twice a year inventory. All the girls have to be there. It's so boring."

"Let me walk you home."

She blushed and thanked him. Alex slipped some money out of his pocket and laid it on the bar. His hands were large and strong and Meghan couldn't help notice how nicely manicured his fingernails were. He offered her his arm and they left the revelers to their bacchanalian delights.

Outside, the sun had nearly finished dipping below the horizon. In the distance, the sky glowed red as if it had applied rouge before going out to meet its beau. Meghan's apartment wasn't far away, so they walked slowly, hand in hand, enjoying each other's company.

"I had a lovely time," said Meghan.

"Me too. May I call on you again sometime?"

"I'd like that very much," said Meghan. "You know, you really do look like him."

Alex leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. He turned and walked away. Meghan felt a warm glow growing inside her as she reached for her keys. She slid the key into the lock and suddenly a hand wrapped her waist and another covered her mouth. She dropped her purse and tried to scream, but only a muffled noise came out. The hands dragged her into the alley next to her building and roughly threw her to the ground.

Meghan rolled over and saw Alex. He said, "I really wish you hadn't recognized me. Like I said, this puts me in a delicate position."

He was on her before she could scream, his rough hands squeezing her neck. She dug her fingernails into his hands and struggled, but she couldn't break his grasp. She thought, "He seemed so nice", and her world went dark.

***



"Honey, I'm home."

Suzie looked up from her knitting and said, "I'm in the living room, dear."

Her husband hung up his hat and coat on the hooks by the stairs. He came into the living room and kissed the top of her head. The smell of his cologne made her smile. "I've got some bad news," he said.

Suzie put down her knitting. "We're moving again."

Her husband nodded. She looked at her flower print sofa, wood coffee table, and felt the familiar disappointment again.

"That's the third time this year."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I guess that's just the life of an efficiency expert. Once I get one office in order, they send me to the next one."

"But do we have to move to each new city? I just got to know the neighbors. Mrs. Gunther is such a nice woman."

"I'm sorry," he said. "I'll make it up to you somehow. I promise."

Suzie sighed. "Once we get settled, I want you to talk to your supervisor and ask him to stop moving us around so much. We barely get unpacked and it's time to move again. We shouldn't have to live like this. I want you to promise me you'll talk to him. Will you do that?"

Her husband promised.

"Good. Where are we going this time, Alex?"

"St. Louis."

***

The morning sun shone brightly off the streets. It rained overnight, leaving the asphalt a shimmering black gem. Agent Campbell pulled his car in front of the two-story brick apartment house. The local police were already there. Once word got to him that they found another strangled body, he told them not to touch anything.

"Agent Campbell, FBI." He flashed his badge at the young patrolman who stood by the yellow caution tape. Campbell ducked under the line and felt the pinch in his back again as he straightened up.

The scene was well preserved. Only a handful of local LEOs hovered around the body, taking pictures and notes. Caucasian female, mid-20's, medium height and build with brown hair. Even with her face bloated by death and exposure, she was a looker. Campbell shook his head. Her type always fell for the wrong guy instead of the cop.

"Got an ID on the vic?"

An overweight detective in a brown suit looked over at Campbell, who flashed his badge again. "Name's Meghan Hume. She lives in the adjacent building. Found her purse on the front steps."

Cambpell saw the red hand prints on her neck. Large, masculine hands just like the others. "Strangled?"

"ME's on his way, but yeah, looks that way to me. Why the feds interested in this?"

Campbell squatted beside the body. Her necklace and earrings were still on. "Anything in the purse?"

"Typical lady stuff," said the detective. "And about $50 cash, so it wasn't a robbery."

Campbell stood up. "You heard the story of Flatbush Frank?"

"Ex mob tough. Killed a cop last year, then disappeared. He's dropped at least five more bodies since then."

"Six," said Campbell. "The cop in New York, one in Albany, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and now here. I've been tracking him ever since the first. Every time I get close, he drops another body and vanishes. This is the first time I've been in the city when he did it, though."

Campbell reached into his pocket, pulled out a cigarette, and lit it. He offered one to the detective who shook his head. It was only a matter of time before Flatbush Frank went down. Campbell took a drag and slowly exhaled. He was the Bureau's rising young star and this would cement his reputation. By this time next year, he'd have his pick of cases.

A uniformed officer approached them and said, "Detective Frazier? I just finished talking to the landlady. She said Miss Hume lived alone, but usually went out for drinks on Friday nights. She figured it was someplace close because she'd always walk home."

Frazier said, "Get a picture and start canvassing the nearby bars and clubs."

Campbell handed his card to the detective. "Give me a call if you turn up anything. I'll have my office send over a picture of Frank. If anyone remembers seeing our girl, maybe someone will recognize him too."

***

Suize taped another box shut and carried it into the hallway and placed it with the six others she'd done this morning. All the packing was becoming tiresome. She just recovered from the last move, and now they had to move again. She really wished Alex would talk to his boss and convince him to stop moving them around so much.

Suzie wiped a forearm across her head and exhaled deeply. Alex would be getting home soon. He went out early this morning to get their train tickets to St. Louis and arrange for movers to ship the rest of their belongings in a few days. There was a knock at the door.

"Mrs. Delacroix? I'm Agent Campbell with the FBI." The man showed her his badge. "I was wondering if your husband was home."

Suzie shook her head. "I'm sorry, Alex just stepped out for a few minutes. He should be back soon. Would you like to come inside and wait for him, Agent Campbell, wasn't it?"

The FBI man removed his hat and said, "Thank you, Mrs. Delacroix."

Campbell stepped inside and noticed the boxes. "Are you folks moving?"

"Yes," said Suzie. "My husband has to move a lot for work. We're off to St. Louis this evening."

"What does your husband do?"

"He's some kind of efficiency expert," she said. "Whatever that is. We've moved quite a lot in the last year. Would you like something to drink? Some tea? Some lemonade, perhaps?"

"Lemonade sounds fine," said Campbell.



Agent Campbell sat on a sofa decorated in a blue and green flower print. Knickknacks and mementos were still on the walls, so the wife probably hadn't been packing long. She seemed a nice type, not the typical broad who goes for hoods. Kind of mousey.

The front door opened and Campbell stood. In walked Flatbush Frank, or Alex Delacroix, as he was calling himself these days. Frank/Alex froze and stared hard at Campbell. He made him as a cop right away.

"Suzie knows nothing. I'd like to keep it that way."

Campbell started to say something, but Suzie walked in carrying a silver tray with two glasses of lemonade on it. He simply nodded. Suzie said, "Alex! This is Agent Campbell with the FBI."

Alex shook Campbell's hand. "Nice to meet you. What can I do for you? I think I'm all paid up on my taxes."

Campbell fake smiled at the joke. "Nothing like that. I'm afraid a girl's gone missing. A Miss Meghan Hume."

Campbell showed them Meghan's photo. Alex showed no sign of recognition. He was cool as a cucumber. Suzie stood next to her husband and said, "She certainly is pretty."

"I've never seen her before," said Alex.

"That's unfortunate for you," said Campbell. "We have several eyewitnesses who saw you talk to Miss Hume late last night at El Mocambo."

"Alex?" said Suzie.

The skin along Alex's jaw got tight as he clenched his teeth. A distant fire started to grow behind his eyes. "Can I see that photo again? Ah, yes. Now I see it. Her hair is much shorter these days. She's a secretary down on the third floor or something. Some of the boys took me out last night for a going away party and she must have been there."

"I'd like you to come down to the station with me," said Campbell. "Help us establish a time line for last night."

"I can't," said Alex. "As you can see, we're packing. We have to get everything ready to catch the 6:00 train to St. Louis."

"Oh, that's fine, dear," said Suzie. "You go along and I can finish up packing."

"Thank you, Mrs. Delacroix," said Campbell. "This way we don't have to bother you after you move. You get get all this business behind you."

There was no way out for Alex. He was boxed in tight. Campbell felt sorry for Mrs. Delacroix. She'd have to learn what kind of a lout her husband was from the papers, but there was nothing he could do about it. The families of Meghan Hume and the others need to know the man who killed their loved ones didn't get away.

"All right," said Alex. He hugged his wife and gave her a long, passionate kiss on the lips. "I love you. Goodbye, sweetheart."

Campbell opened the door and let Alex/Frank go in front of him. He said, "Thank you for that. Suzie's a good girl. She deserves better than me."

They walked down the step and Campbell pointed the direction to his car. "Why'd you do it, Frank?"

Frank stopped walking and looked Campbell dead in the eye. "That cop in Flatbush was self-preservation. He caught me ripping off a pharmacy. I couldn't let Suzie know I was a hood, and not an office manager like she thought. I used the name Alex Delacroix when we met, so she wouldn't know my reputation. She never knew who or what I was really. The others were pretty much the same story. Somebody would recognize me in the new city, so I had to get away. You were looking for me. The folks back home were looking for me. I just wanted Suzie and me to be able to start over somewhere."

Campbell nodded. "The things we do for love."

Frank looked down at his shoes and continued walking. Then he gave Campbell a shove and took off. Campbell flipped over the railing and into the bushes that lined the street. He felt something in his back pop and a familiar numbness crept down his leg. "Not this time," he said as he drew his weapon. He sat up and fired three times, hitting Frank squarely in the back.

Frank bounced off one of the parked cars lining the street and flopped to the sidewalk. Suzie rushed down the front steps, past the fallen Campbell, and knelt beside her husband. "Alex! Oh, Alex!"

Campbell leaned back into the shrubbery. He almost fell for it. That Frank or Alex or whatever his name was was one charming bastard.

7 comments:

Cormac Brown said...

Psst, spell check in the column, "The scene was well preserved."

PipeTobacco said...

I like the character development. To me, your story and mine have developed along a similar path... but yours is much more fully fleshed out than mine. Excellent job!


PipeTobacco
http://frumpyprofessor.blogspot.com

Flannery Alden said...

Nice! I really liked your story. As always, the characters are 3D and believable.

Crybbe666 said...

Yes, it is the characters that make this stand out - instantly identifiable, perfectly believable conversations and developed to a point where we know just enough about them to make the story complete. Really, really liked this.

WellesFan said...

Thanks, gang. I read a review of a Cornell Woolrich biography while trying to figure out what to do with the sentence and this just came to me. Like Nicole, I couldn't stop writing. There could be a whole book in Campbell's chase of Alex/Frank.

Nicole E. Hirschi aka CJT said...

Its good to know that I'm not the only one who just went with it. Your story was great and the suspense held me through to the end. I for one would like you extend this into something more.

Go for it!

Joyce said...

This is great. The characters do make it shine. You really feel like you get to know each and every one, just enough backstory too. Really enjoyed this.