In this case, I spread the setting across several jobs I'd held in 1986!
On Tuesday, I realized that I needed some automated help. I turned on Trum's comp and began the matchup. Once I had it in
the memory bank, I expected to add the last report for a quick scan.
My intestines announced that I hadn't eaten since
breakfast, so I had a collation at noon. I had become impatient for the report on the last murder.
It was Wednesday
the twentysecond when the lack of a police report finally got to me. I told Mark that I would have to start circumventing
official boundaries. For some subterfuge, I needed some help. I called my mother in Wilkes-Barre to get the team together.
Keith and Joe volunteered to take the five-hour trip.
Keith and Joe arrived Friday night. I had used an inside
contact to get the police report.
"Here's when we go to work," I announced as they arrived at Mark's apartment.
"This is the last murder report. I want you to read off my list of articles found on and around the body, and I'll compare
them to the police report on the last murder."
Keith read the first article audibly, then Joe on the second report,
and I looked for the article on the last. We wasted Friday night trying to find a nexus.
I was quite irritable
on Saturday morning when I met Mark at the breakfast table. His eyes apologized.
"As much as I'd like to help you,
buddy, I can't seem to add to the investigation in progress," I confessed.
"Perhaps I can apprise you better
today," Mark replied softly. "At last I have the day off."
"It still doesn't help me after I've
culled through every angle and come up with nothing."
"Nonsense, George. Have a croissant."
croissant? Oh, yeah, there was an empty bag near Breck, as I recall it was a croissant bag."
George. Breck didn't like croissants!"
"Did it occur to you that the murder transpired Saturday night instead
of Sunday morning?"
"Wait a minute. What does THAT have to do with croissants?"
Why else would someone forget a croissant bag? Where does you company get them,?"
"Ultimately from a bakery
in the suburbs called Vide France, which makes French bread and croissants."
"By any chance, are they open
"Yes, but not to the public. Vide France sells to retail. The bakery just opened in Pittsburgh this
year to relieve the pressure from the Philadelphia division," Mark informed.
"I suggest we four pay a visit
to this bakery tonight when supposedly no one is around."
"I guess so. It's all we have to go on, and my hide
depends upon it."
"I knew you'd say that," I concluded with a backslap.
A closer look at those same bedroom windows
The gloaming atmosphere greeted us. We changed to standard time that evening, so darkenss came earlier than the usual time.
Soon I could detect no lights in the bakery. We slipped up to the garage door, and, with a little luck, unlatched the door.
"Keep the flashlights near the floor," I commanded. The balmy scent of the bakery alerted me. We were at the
receiving dock. Pallets of boxes flanked us on either side -- some brown, some white, some had their size marked. A swinging
door led me to the main room of the bakery, probably a packing area. Large freezers occupied one side, open containers of
boxes on the shelves of movable tables fronted tens of bread racks. There was even an unused conveyor belt in the corner.
Other swinging doors led to the other rooms. Each one led to three different areas, so my three companions followed each
way while I charged forward into a lunchroom and a locked door!
Obviously these must be the offices, I thought.
Then a deafening crash proclaimed on of my pals in trouble. I scurried back into the packing room and silhouetted a figure
sallying into the receiving dock. By the time I ran the twentyfive-meter dash into the dock, such a canter became bootless;
I saw no one athwart me.
Halfway along the dock aroused a forklift. Before I'd finished gathering my wits,
steel prongs assailed me at two meters a second. They were half a meter from me when I leapt away from the stack behind me.
A grinding noise preceded the rattle of the entire rack behind me. The driverless forklift tried to push the rack
aside and manged to tilt it. Instinctively I ran for cover. An overheated motor became odiferous as the rack fell atop the
forklift. I felt the displaced air push against my face and hair.
To avoid a conflagation, I turned off the motor.
My adversary had long gone, so I followed my flashlight back into the packing area.
"Come on, guys. It's best
we get out of here fast," I ordered. I noticed Mark and Joe were comforting Keith just outside the door leading toward
the ovens. I pushed open the door, and hot molasses had just missed Keith. I saw that a precarious perch atop a step ladder
had held the boiling mixture ready for the first person to push open the swinging door. I retreated from the mess, and went
to mollify Keith's understandable behavior.
My hand settled on his shoulder. Wordlessly I sympathized with my little
buddy. We hied out the receiving dock and into Mark's car. I suspected that the croissant bag had been a false clue. With
Mark at the wheel, I settled into cerebration.
Monday morning brought crisp autumnal weather. Mark took over
his newly acquired position as assistant to the president while I searched for lunatics locally. A group, called the Pittsburgh
Employment Coalition, protested the outflow of jobs by leaving gory presents on the doorsteps of the major institutions, the
perceived offenders. I had doubts about this lead because no other firm had had any such trouble. In reality, I hoped to
find out why they had singled out Cantaloop Bank.
On Wednesday I received the inside financial reports, to no avail.
There was just no nexus. I began to think that we'd suprised some thieves at the Vide France bakery and nothing more. I
found that theory strange because the newspapers reported nothing about it. I couldn't find the telephone number of the bakery
in the book.
Finally, on Thursday, I took some action and called the Vide France bakery in Philadelphia. I talked with
the manager who assured me that no such bakery existed in Pittsburgh. I mentioned the cookie bags, and found out they were
I called Mark later that afternoon at his office. He wasn't in, but he soon returned my call.
glad you called, George. I found some funny things happening to the books."
"Let me guess -- peculation."
"How did you know?"
"The Vide France bakery is as phony as a three-dollar bill. They have no bakery
"I'll meet you there in an hour. I want to be there when we get this whole thing settled,"
Keith, Joe and I had waited in Mark's apartment some three hours before I panicked. When I fruitlessly called him three times,
we three took a bus to downtown Pittsburgh. My worst fears awaited us in Mark's office. Signs of a struggle ran a path from
the desk to the door. A Vide France cookie bag mocked us as it lay alongside the desk. The poltroons had kidnapped Mark!
Also near the desk lay Mark's carkeys. I knew our next move; His car could take us back to the bakery.
In the benighted
hills overlooking the bakery, we scanned for signs of life. There was a distinct smell of bread. Light beams coruscated
through the cracks in the warehouse. I could not validate my theory that the bakery was a sham. I needed more proof for
the authorities to believe me.
Friday morning I combed through the books. I had to discover what Mark was going
to tell me. By the afternoon, I had uncovered several shipments of bread and croissants to people who did not use them.
Was the bakery a front for some illegality? Then I noticed everything had begun right before Lesley Lee left one year ago.
I had found the probable provenance!
Once again, I dug into Lee's background. Interestingly he had listed religion
as an avocation and that he had spent five years in a bakery before he came to Cantaloop. Trum confirmed my suspicion, and
a glance at the calendar told me that we had to move that night!
We took my Renault and returned to the bakery. Joe, Keith and I approached it cautiously. We sneaked into the same garage
door, and it opened rather easily. Chanting diffused throughout the bakery. I sent Joe to call for help while I thought
of a ruse.
"First, we have to see just what is going on here," I whispered as we peered through the double
doors leading to the packing area. Keith and I gasped at the scene. A cult of females had gathered into a circle facing
the wall on our side. Fearing discovery, Keith and I looked for a way around the room. A second swinging set led to the
same room, but we found a third next to a refigerator.
Candlelight revealed ovens and more packing space. We ducked
into another room on the other side of the main room. As I peered through the window of the swinging doors, I saw the only
male in the cult, standing next to us, just beyond the door leading to the cultroom. We went farther back to get around him.
Air conditioning greeted us in the croissant room. We groped to the next set of doors, which led to the mixing room.
out of the portholes, we had a better position of the center of the circle. A gigantic white sheet covered what appeared
to be a box about two meters by one meter. Then we saw the male join the women in a chant. From the words of the chants,
I guessed this was a fertility cult, celebrating the harvest. What would fertility have to do with the assassinations of
Such an opprobrious scene left us aghast. I suggested that Keith leave to greet the authorities instead of watching what
I anticipated to be a gang rape.
There are two points of reference to Matthew Shepard on this story and sketch. The little, blond guy was nine at the time
I drew it. One is that I drew Keith so small that he is approximately Matt's height at adulthood. (The real Keith I used
for the character was also 21 at the time.) Two, we're about to witness a gang rape. It is heterosexual; I never gave thought
to gay characters at the time. Nonetheless, the irony is chilling!
If I were to choose this picture for the
cover of the story, I'd have to colorize it. Is Ted Turner available?
As the sudorific odor stenched in my nostrils, we discovered the reason for the chant -- Mark hung bound to a bed. Such an
opprobrious scene left us aghast. I suggested that Keith leave to greet the authorities instead of watching what I anticipated
to be a gang rape.
Mark hung unconsciously as they soothed his bound wrists and ankles. Using a vial of ammonia, they
revived him rather roughly. Mark winced as they were about to lower his body. Two women pulled Keith into the room.
virgin," the sole male of the cult announced. One of the women examined Keith.
"We have a young virgin with
a defiant look. Perhaps if we plucked out those hazel eyes and the recalcitrant tongue, we'll have more cooperation."
I knew a surprise attack was useless. They were probably looking for someone else in the bakery. I spun around for
a hiding place. Outside light suggested the maintenance room, so I slipped into the shadows in the eerie light from the outside.
I groped to the way out, but the door would not budge, so I looked for a closet. A few turns put me in a pantry, then a
light followed me into the room.
"Put that light out!" commanded one woman. "Do you want someone outside
to see us?"
I had thought I was safe until I heard their locking the door of the room! Diehard that I am, I knew
I was trapped.
I tiptoed up to the door in time to hear one voice say, "Come on, we just captured another one for
My mind outraced my gut action of despair. First, I looked for a telephone in the maintenance room,
but the grey light revealed none. Standing between escape and me, the glass door had one lock. I decided that to break out
would be easier than to break in. A pair of pliers broke the latch, but as I escaped I heard a booming, "There's another
Self-preservation took over when I sprinted from the four pursuers. Some two hundred meters away
lay woods, which meant that the next minute and a half would drag. Fortunately, I did not have time to contemplate whether
Joe had called the police before the cult had caught him. The thought of arrant rogues' raping my friends while I watched
drove me ruthlessly toward cover. Low brush forced me to jump into the woods, yet my action helped me dodge a whizzing object.
Once under cover, I began a complex backtrack, which led me into the industrial park behind the buildings which faced
the front of the bakery. My mind drifted back to the bakery and what was happening there.
As I copying this scene from my original script, I was tempted to change it in light of cellphones. My character would NOT
be carrying one in 1986, so I kept that scene.
Then the police arrived. I scrambled to the police car in front of the bakery.
"Officers! The cult is in the
back of the bakery."
Apparently, they didn't quite understand. I ducked through the shattered door whence I had
come only minutes earlier. I passed the ovens and returned to the packing room when I found Joe, lying dazed but unhurt,
in front of the swinging door. "Where's Mark?" I asked.
I helped Joe up, and we soon saw Mark in a cataleptic
state. I found the vial with some ammonia still in it. Mark's nose reddened as I waved the scent. He opened his eyes and
asked weakly, "Where am I?"
I grabbed an amice to cover his bottom, and I put my denim jacket on him. I took
my pocketknife and released Mark from the bed.
Joe had found Mark's clothes. "It's amazing," he remarked.
"They even had his suit on a hanger!"
"They wanted his corpse to look nice," I replied acrimoniously.
By this time, Mark was dishabilled in his underwear. Some officers had been observing our antics. I turned to them
asked if they had caught all the cult, particularly the ringleader. Lesley Lee and his cohorts had ingeniously fled in too
many different directions for the police to capture all the leaders.
"Great", I said disgustedly. "They're
still at large. At lease they won't be raping anyone tonight."
"Maybe they will," Joe interrupted.
"Keith's gone with them.!"
A wan flash accompanied my gulp. I swallowed hard again as I realized that
indeed Keith was missing. I turned to Joe.
"Tell me what happened after you called the police."
I didn't call them!"
The leader of the patrol stepped forward. "A burglar alarm
I slapped my head. "You mean my breaking out of the maintenance room set off a burglar alarm?"
"I'm afraid so, George," Joe confirmed. "I heard it go off right after they'd nabbed me. They struck
me, and I fell near those swinging doors. I heard them abduct Keith."
I became ambivalent about my actions. By
setting off the burglar alarm, I saved us enough to extricate Joe and Mark from this mess at the possible cost of Keith's
Crestfallen, I stared at the concrete floor. Litter stared back, but a book of matches caught my eye. Azure letters
on white read "Lee's Steakhouse". I picked the book up and turned to Mark.
"Where is this steakhouse?"
"On Danzig Road, about five kilometers from here", Mark replied, now fully dressed.
"By any wild
guess, did Lee leave Cantaloop Bank to go into business for himself?"
"You're right! I remember that from
the rumors around the office. He opened a store around August last year!"
"Is it still open?"
went out of business a month ago. It's for sale."
"Did the steakhouse close right after the first death?"
Mark's eyes lit up. "Yes, and it went up for sale two weeks ago, after the second death!"
I suggest we follow my conjecture to Lee's Steakhouse!"
An even scarier scene from October 1996!
My Renault pulled up to a clearing near the steakhouse. Mark look incongruous in his suit, compared to our "suits"
of denim jackets and jeans. Mark had to sit in the back because he was the smallest, so hamstering in and out wrinkled the
crispness of his clothes.
The autumnal atmosphere had its own crispness. Brown weeds lined the foreground of a scene
of denuded trees. Multicolored foliage hid the covered ground. The darkness of the moonless night honed our hearing to the
howling wind. The weakened sun had shone in a clear sky only a few hours ago.
The police had reluctantly followed us.
I had suggested they stay behind five minutes until I could test my deduction. It had taken both Mark and me to convince
them that we could find the rest of the cult. The arid leaves crinkled under our feet as we tried to creep to the abandoned
building furtively. I could not see any vehicles, but Lee could have hidden them in the back.
Flickering light confirmed
my surmise. I could see twenty meters away that four shiftless scoundrels shadowed the darkness. Did they come there to
finish their ritual?
I signaled my support to move in. My first concern was to rescue Keith. I slipped to the locked
I took a skeleton key and turned it, hoping not to set off another burglar alarm. The latch slide back,
and Joe and I slipped inside.
It was warmer in the diningroom than outside, but it was still fresh, maybe ten degrees
(50F). We were at the counter when we heard them speak.
"If we kill him, the others will still know what we were
"No, that's not what I said," Lee protested, still wearing his wizard's outfit. "I said
we should mutilate him. Then we should escape."
"Why do you want to mutilate him?"
easy," Lee snickered. "It's a fate worse than death!"
"I still say a knife in the heart would be
much easier. It takes time to pluck out eyes and a tongue."
By this time, I had found my way to the drive-in side
of the steakhouse. Keith lay in a wretched mass under a silver metal table. I found a butcher knife, put my left hand on
the nape of his neck, and whispered, "Hi, buddy. I'll have you loose in a minute."
Keith had heard my approach
and had tensed considerably. My sentence assauged his fear, and his body relaxed. I unblindfolded him, and his hazel eyes
thanked me. I ungagged him, cut his body bonds, and sat him up. Joe whispered from his position, "They're coming back!"
as I unbounded Keith's wrists. I gave Keith the knife to unbind his ankles while I contemplated an impromptu diversion.
|An even scarier scene from October 2016
|Krol and Cahill meet Drumpf!
Alas, I had forgotten to delay the police, for at that moment they were at the front door! Joe hadn't time to get to the
door when Lee spied the cops.
"Quickly, out the back!" boomed the command. I was in the backroom in a flash,
but Mark and I were a few seconds too late. My heart sank because I knew my Renault couldn't race after them. Fortunately,
I heard Lee's car refuse to start. Mark stood by me at the backdoor as we located the whirr. He was still grinning while
he wiped his hands in a handkerchief.
"I hope you didn't soil your suit," I remarked with a backslap. Keith
joined us, and we loped toward the disabled car. By the time we three had reached the vehicle, Lee and his cohorts were gone.
"Look," Keith shouted, "There goes Lee!"
We turned toward Keith's indication just in time
to see Lee run into a warehouse. After a ten-second sprint, I was there first. Lee had not time to lock the door, so I
slipped inside cautiously. My wariness served me well, for a few columns of crates crashed down on the floor five meters
ahead of my position.
"Are you all right, George?" a concerned voice called out behind me.
A mechanical noise aborted my next sentence. Some fifty meters ahead, rollers sqeaked as metal met metal.
Outside light began streaming into the warehouse, making it easier for me to approach the source.
Overriding the din,
a horsepowered engine started in the warehouse. I saw Lee take off on a Honda all-terrain vehicle. Exhaust greeted me at
the spot by the time I had reached it. There was enough dim light for me to see other Hondas. I hopped on the closest one
and started it. Accompanying revs testified that my friends were following my lead. It was a good move, for the doors began
to close soon after we had blasted off.
I ducked my head unnecessarily as I sped out, but Keith and Mark had to do so
to avoid decapitation. I spied Lee some fifty meters ahead when I heard the doors hit the concrete floor.
were almost caught up to me, but even at a hundred kilometers an hour, Lee was leaving us behind. Then sixty meters ahead,
Lee disappeared briefly until I saw him enter a glade. I accelerated to one hundred twenty, keeping pace with Lee and trying
to follow his path in the shadows. It was easier for Keith and Mark to follow in my path, because they were within twenty
meters, enough to copy the three-wheeled tracks.
By this time, I had entered the glade. I pushed to one hundred forty
because I could see the branches I had to duck more clearly. Lee curved off the path into the glade, so I veered after him.
The fall weather made the chase easier, because the underbrush gave little resistance. Furthermore, Keith and Mark flanked
my Honda, forcing Lee to keep going straight. We sped uphill on a gain, because Lee had not accelerated before he ran up
the hill. I apprached within thirty meters when I saw the top of the hill. Self-preservation forced me to decelerate when
I could not see the other side of the hill.
All three of us slackened as we saw Lee become airborne. Apparently he did
not know we were running up a cliff, a lethal error. We sidled enough to halt at the edge of the scree while Lee plummeted
toward a grove. It was too dark to see the impact, but the collision engenedered a fireball. A half-second later, we heard
the explosion some two hundred meters away. So much for mutilation and death!
We sped back to get the forest service
to keep the fire from spreading. The dry leaves made it a difficult task, but a cloudburst turned the tide an hour later.
"How did you figure out what Lee was doing?" Mark asked me as we sat at his kitchen table."
"I knew that Lee must have been embezzling funds to get a business started and left. What bothered me was why he
stopped last year. The danger -- that someone else would discover it -- surfaced soon afterwards. I began to suspect that
Lee had to be behind the murders, but far enough behind to be well hidden. It was a case why three murders happened, what
was the nexus. I had to be careful before I was sure that they were related."
"Okay, but what role did the
cookie bag play in the theory?" Mark asked.
"Actually, it was a lucky break. We ran off on a wild goose chase,
and it proved fruitful. I'd guess that the bag just happened to be there at the scene of the third murder. It surely wasn't
there at the previous two. A cookie bag played a critical role to solve this mystery. Lee used the Vide France ruse to keep
tabs on his successors, and it was ingenious. However, Lee failed to understand the significance of the bag to an outsider.
Thus, Leon Trum gets the credit for bringing me in to interpret the clues. Who knows how far this cult would have gone before
an egregious error betrayed it?"
"I know what you mean, Mark gulped. "I was to be the fourth victim."
"I'm glad to save you; you're worth it," I replied warmly.
"Well, guys," Keith added. "I
don't know about you, but I'm ready to ge back to Wilkes-Barre."
"Same here," Joe added.
I concluded. "We are leaving Pittsburgh tomorrow. I must get back to State College before someone steals my desk job."
We all laughed at that remark. We soon retired because it was 1 A.M. A new month, November, had begun, the case was
closed, and a new adventure awaited me in State College.
(Note: The Case of the Deluded Delinquents")