This is a short story in two installments I wrote while producing a weekly column for the Genesee County Herald newspaper in Michigan. Because the story is a suspense thriller, I wrote it for the Halloween season. It was an effort at writing something different. I also wanted to delve into fiction writing.
When it came out, a few readers thought the events had really happened, despite the disclaimer that it was a work of fiction. With that in mind, let me reiterate: this is a work of fiction. Nobody was harmed in the writing of this short story. All of the characters exist solely within my mind.
Here is it now for your reading pleasure. Enjoy.
The Wrong Victim
By Richard Zowie
Joseph Davidson sat on a beige couch, easily the cleanest one he’d ever sat on. In fact, the entire house looked so clean and tidy he wondered if this homeowner was the inspiration for his parents’ favorite show, Monk. The house looked immaculate, smelled of Pine Sol and bleach and made Joseph’s olfactory nerves think of a freshly-cleaned hotel room. Roaches, flies and other insects would die of boredom.
If the owner were there, perhaps Joseph could ask him. But if the owner showed up, that wouldn’t be good.
That was Joseph’s job: sitting on the couch and listening for sounds of the owner suddenly pulling up in his car.
Neither Joseph nor his friends Todd and Jeremy (they were walking around the house looking for money or anything of value could be stolen) knew this owner, but looking at the outside of the house and the fact that the owner drove a Cadillac Escallade, they figured he must have something of value. And it was just outside Thetford Township on Charco Road, which meant it was unlikely police would be patrolling.
And if the owner showed up, they had a backup plan.
Joseph shifted in his seat and hoped nobody would call him on his cell phone. Right now, the only sound he wanted was that of his two friends talking as they walked around the house and looked around (his phone had a tendency to slide out on his pocket, and he hated leaving it on vibrate). He took a quick peak out the window, holding the curtain open with a gloved left hand. All three of them wore rubber gloves so as to not leave fingerprints. Todd and Jeremy were also careful not to toss things around, as all the criminals on TV seemed to do when committing a burglary. They wanted to use this visit to case the inside of the house and save the full-blown burglary for a future visit.
As Todd and Jeremy argued about something, Joseph heard an engine approaching in the distance, about a quarter of a mile down the road. The headlights were on and he could see immediately it was the white Escallade.
“GUYS! He’s back! Let’s get out of here!” Joseph yelled.
His two friends ran into the living room. Todd was six feet tall, very burly with brown, moppy, seventies-style hair and brown eyes. He’d played football at Clio High School his freshman year before his lukewarm grades made that impossible. Jeremy, a freckled redhead, was shorter and skinnier. Joseph was Jeremy’s height but also had dark-brown hair that he kept very short, military style. He seldom smiled and was serious by nature, his blue eyes often lost in thought as he constantly pondered worst-case scenarios.
The three immediately ran out the back door that Jeremy, the brains, had spent five minutes successfully picking its lock. They ran to the thick wooded area behind the house, knowing if they could make it back there before the owner got out of his vehicle, they would probably be out of his earshot. Then, they’d walk through the woods to the next street over, Birch Street, and drive away in their black, eighties Chevy truck that they had parked behind an abandoned old house.
They ran through the woods, Joseph noting absently his jeans didn’t have that annoying bulge normally felt when he had his cell phone. And in five minutes they had gotten in the truck and were driving back to Clio.
“Did you guys see anything worth stealing?” Joseph asked. Their plan had been to use some of the funds to buy marijuana and see if someone would buy them a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Todd shook his head. “I think he keeps it in a safe somewhere. Or maybe it’s in his basement, but Jeremy wasn’t able to pick that lock.”
Jeremy laughed. “I’m not that good yet. It would take me about half an hour. If we weren’t concerned about noise, we could just break it down.”
Joseph thought of asking his girlfriend, Lisa, if she knew of a man who drove a Cadillac Escalade but worried about letting others know of their plans. Still, he should call her and tell her he wanted to go to the movies with her later. He reached into his pocket–
–and felt only a few coins and a cigarette lighter.
His eyes widened as he cursed out loud.
“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked.
“Guys, I think I left my cell phone at the guys house!” Joseph said, his face growing pale. “It must’ve popped out of my pocket on the sofa!”
Todd said nothing for a while as he drove. Finally, he spoke. “Well, we can’t exactly just go back right now.”
“What else can we do?” Joseph asked.
Todd pulled the truck over, pulled out his cell phone and called Joseph’s number.
Stanley Rike, having returned from a trip from the Premium Outlets to look for some new cookware for his kitchen, parked his Escalade in the driveway but knew immediately something wasn’t right. People had always thought of him as the intuitive type. Even when he had no evidence of something wrong, he’d still get a strong hunch, and that hunch almost always was right.
He did notice that the curtain in the front window looked slightly crooked and wasn’t nice and straight like he always preferred to leave it.
He sighed as he approached his front door, noting there were no unusual footprints.
A professional blogger, Rike didn’t like to leave his home unless he had somewhere to go. He had lived in Clio for 20 years but always felt like someday returning back home to the Upper Peninsula. He was originally from Newberry and was the grandson of Finnish immigrants (the original family surname had been Räikkönen). Clio was a nice little town, but the Lower Peninsula had never quite felt like home.
The problem was, Rike had far too much invested in his home.
Especially in the basement.
When Rike wasn’t blogging for a living (a job he made a great living doing), he liked to bring people to his home. They were people he’d seen on TV in Michigan who had simply, well, seemed unworthy of their own lives. If asked, Rike could not explain why he chose them, except that it was just a hunch. All he knew is that since each person was completely unconnected (they were of different genders, races, ideals), police probably would have a very difficult time tracing them to him. He would then take them to his house in his secluded neighborhood.
Rike entered his house, closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, opened his eyes.
It smelled like one or two heavy smokers had recently been in his house. Not smoking, but exhaling breath reminiscent of a recent cigarette. He could also smell someone who needed to take a bath.
And on the floor, he saw imprints on his carpet that were not his feet.
Rike saw nothing noticeably out of place but ran to check the door to his basement. Locked, but the knob had smudges on it suggesting someone had been grabbing on it.
He checked his backdoor and found it was unlocked. He always locked it before he left the house. Opening it, he saw three sets of footprints. They must’ve ran towards the woods.
Stanley Rike said nothing but sighed. What did they know? He had to find out.
“DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?” someone abruptly sang as they played guitar, the sound coming from the sofa.
Rike went to the sofa, lifted up a cushion and studied the black Verizon phone. The screen was lit with the picture of a young man with a seventies-style hair cut. Superimposed over his face was “Todd W”.
Rike pressed the green button and said, “Hello?”
“Can I have my phone back?” an annoyed young man asked. He tried to sound tough but instead amused Rike.
“W-w-why were you in my house?” Rike asked, deliberately sounding weak and passive.
“Don’t worry about it, just meet me in an hour–”
“I must insist you come to my house and ask for it,” Rike replied, hoping his voice sounded as though he’d soiled his pants. “I won’t call the p-p-police.” Of course he wouldn’t. If he spoke to the police they’d probably visit and ask questions and develop a case of sticky fingers like that annoying Vincent D’Onofrio cop on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.
The young man sighed. “If you give us a hard time, we might just have to beat up your pretty wifey.”
Rike said nothing at first as he realized this man and his friends were amateurs. An observant glance at the home would’ve easily revealed that Rike lived by myself. No wife. No girlfriends. No sisters. His parents were long gone, and he hadn’t seen or spoke to his younger brother Phil, a salesman, in about 10 years.
“I’ll be w-w-waiting for you,” Rike said.
“O-o-o-ok!” the man mocked as he hung up.
“We’re gonna WHAT?!” Jeremy asked.
“Exactly as I said,” Todd replied. “We’re going to go back and get the cell phone. If we leave it there, he may call the cops, and they could get us for breaking and entering, which means we could all go to jail. We get it, we threaten him and tell him if he keeps his mouth shut, he’ll never hear from us again. Problem solved.”
Joseph listened and frowned. “You REALLY think it’s going to be that easy, Todd?”
“Sure it will. You shoulda listened to that guy on the phone. It sounded like he was scared to death. He’s probably having to change his underwear right now. He reminded me of those kids we used to bully all the time. Piece of cake, guys.”
Rike made a quick trip to his basement and then sat down on the couch and waited. Hidden on his person was a cattle prod, and they would never see it coming. He’d done it many times against far more dangerous people. Thank God I’m far stronger than I look, he thought.
As Stanley Rike sat on the couch and kept glancing out the window to see if a vehicle with three young men had pulled up, he wondered. What did they know and had they told anyone? How would he dispose of the bodies?
He might even have to question them in that special soundproof room in the basement and start by removing body parts they’d miss.
Two weeks later, this article appeared in the Genesee County Herald:
Three Clio friends missing
By Kevin Reagan
Police say they still have no fresh leads in the disappearance of three young Clio adults.
Joseph Davidson, 21, Todd Williams, 22, and Jeremy Lundquist, 22 were reported missing two weeks ago.
According to police, the three were close friends who did everything together. Each had cell phones and on the day they were reported missing, October 13, Williams texted his girlfriend that he was driving with Davidson and Lundquist up to Mio to look for a hunting spot. The three planned to head up that direction in November during Deer Widows Weekend.
A Clio Police Department spokesman acknowledged the that Davidson, Williams and Lundquist all had criminal records consisting of several misdemeanors but declined comment on whether or not foul play is suspected. Several anonymous teachers at Clio Schools acknowledged that the trio had a lengthy history of disciplinary problems, beginning in elementary school…
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