“Tinderbox”, coming soon to a mind near you
an erotic novel
The police commissioner lifted the thirty-three-page report as if attempting to guess its weight. After hoisting it in an exaggerated fashion a few times, he tossed it aside.
“I had no idea you were going to give me a book to read. I haven’t got time to…” He paused and locked eyes with me. “Can you hit the highlights?”
“Miss., not Mrs. And, I prefer Angel,” I said, being careful not to break his stare. “I suppose I could. What I’ve provided includes staggering statistical data I believe you’ll find valuable–”
“I’ll give you five minutes.” He glanced at his watch and then looked up. “Begin.”
You’re a fucking dick.
“Over a twenty-to month period, twenty-two women were blindfolded, abducted, sexually abused, and then released. Although there were many similarities between the crimes, one in particular stood out as being undisputable. The–”
“Women are abducted every day, Mrs. Devoe.” A complacent look washed over him. “I have no interest in petrifying this city with the claim of a serial–”
“Tinder. Each one of them not only had a Tinder profile, but they’d gone to meet their prospective Tinder date when they were abducted.”
I was sure the reference to the social media dating site would garner his attention. Instead, he glanced at his watch.
I wanted to punch him in the throat. Women were going to die. I was sure of it. If he’d take the time to read the report I’d prepared, he’d be as convinced as I was. Getting him to do so, however, was going to be impossible.
He extending three fingers and let out a sigh.
He didn’t respect me or value my report, that much was clear. Maybe it was that I didn’t appear to be even close to my age. Seeming to be 10 years younger might be a benefit at 50, but at 28, it was frustrating.
I scooted to the edge of my seat’s cushion. “In November, the pattern of blindfolding, abducting, and abusing simply stopped. As indicated in my report, there was a two-month lull that followed the last abduction. Then, from January until today, six women went missing. I have reason to believe–”
He pushed his chair away from the desk and stood. “Again, Mrs. Devoe. I’m sure your report is thorough, but I have zero interest in–”
“He’s going to kill them,” I said dryly. “I’m sure of it. In fact, I believe that today should be–”
He looked at me and then shook his head lightly.
“Kill them?” He cocked his head to the side, clearly mocking me. “And, your opinion is based on?”
I wagged my finger toward the document I’d provided. “It’s in the report.”
He sat down. “Humor me.”
“It’s numbers based. Adding the day of their birthday to the respective numerical month, and then–”
“Stop!” he raised his hand. “I haven’t got time for some theoretical horseshit. And, your time’s up.”
“Commissioner Gibbons, please. If you can give me ten more minutes, I’ll be able to–”
“Mrs. Devoe. We get 500 tips a month on crimes that have already been committed. Roughly one half of one percent of those materialize. Ouija board predictions don’t carry much weight with me.”
“What’s your background?” He arched an eyebrow. “Criminal psychology?”
You smug bastard.
“I don’t think my degree–”
“Criminal Justice? Sociology?”
“Commissioner Gibbons, the reason I demanded to see you was–”
“What’s your background, Mrs. Devoe?”
Sooner or later, I was going to have to tell him. An unintentional sigh escaped me. “Mathematics.”
He spit out a laugh, reached for the report, and then stood. “Mrs. Devoe. I appreciate you taking the time to prepare this report. I really do. But–”
His office door swung open. “Commissioner Gibbons, we have a situation at the—oh, sorry, Sir. I wasn’t aware you were busy.”
I glanced at the man who had barged into the office. He was dressed in a wrinkled suit that didn’t fit him very well, and wore a slight growth of beard. His bulbous nose and unkempt hair left me wondering if he spent more time drinking than solving crimes.
He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.
The commissioner looked at him and then at me. “Mrs. Devoe, I had twenty-one years of experience before I became commissioner. Thirteen as a detective, five as a lieutenant, and three as a captain. I’m sure there are mathematical solutions to many things, but–”
“Her name is Sheri Anderson, commissioner. She’s a college sophomore.” I stood, reached for my bag, and then met his gaze. “Even if you don’t read the report, try to remember her name. She’ll be the first.”
Cheap suit cleared his throat. “Sir?”
“Belrap, we’re about finished here. Give. me a minute,” the commissioner said.
“Sir we’ve got a body in Belmont Park. She was left on a park bench with a note tied around her neck.”
“I’ll be done in a moment, Belrap,” the commissioner barked.
“Her name,” Cheap Suit said. “Is Sheri Anderson.”
I spun around. Cheap Suit’s eyes darted back and forth between me and the commissioner.
My heart thrashed against my ribs. My theory was spot-on.
“Close the door behind you, Belrap.”
“Close the door.”
I turned to face the commissioner and swallowed hard.
“Have a seat, Mrs. Devoe.”
“Angel,” I said. “I prefer Angel.”
“How many more?” he asked.
“Five,” I said. “There’ll be five more, at least.”
“Son-of-a-fucking-bitch,” he fumed.
“Unless we catch him,” I said. “But we don’t have much time.”
He opened the report and began to thumb through the pages. “How much?” he asked without looking up. “How much time?”
There’s a right way to make an Italian sub, and countless wrong ways. The right way included capicola, pepperoni, Genoa salami, and provolone cheese. After toasting the sandwich until the cheese begins to bubble, the oil, vegetables and spices should be added.
Not using fresh bread, or using other meats and cheeses ruins what is quite possibly the best sandwich to ever exist.
I was seated my favorite late-night establishment, a family owned deli. Large glass coolers filled with various meats and cheeses lined one side of the shop. Adjacent the coolers, a glass wall that allowed patrons a view of the street and passersby a look inside the deli. Eight tables positioned along the floor-to-ceiling window afforded twenty-four potential customers a taste of the perfect Italian sub.
I was halfway finished with mine when he glared at me the first time.
I took another bite, broke his horrid gaze, and looked out the window. The city slowed down at night, but never came to a complete stop. It was 11:00 on a Tuesday night, and a steady stream of people walked past the window on their way home, to one of the many local bars, or on their way to a late meal.
A woman caught her shoe on the sidewalk just outside the window, stumbled like a newborn giraffe, and almost fell. After checking her heel for damage, she realized I was watching, and met my gaze.
I swallowed my food, grinned, and waved.
She shook her head, and then rushed to catch up with her friends.
With slight reluctance, I turned toward the display cooler.
He was still staring.
I often came late at night, because obtaining a table during the day was a disastrous mess that could potentially require at least an hour of waiting.
I glanced over each shoulder. Short of the man behind the counter and me, the deli was empty. I looked at my watch.
They didn’t close for thirteen minutes.
I took another bite and turned toward the window. Savoring the flavor of each individual ingredient, I chewed slowly while watching his reflection in the glass.
He glanced at the clock on the wall and then glared.
I struggled to swallow and wiped my hands on my napkin.
“Take the rest of it with you,” he said, his voice conveying his anger. “It’s time to close.”
I looked at my watch. It wasn’t closing time. It was eleven minutes before the hour. He was a new employee, and I realized he had no idea that I came in no less than five times a week for a late-night sandwich.
Without turning toward him, I offered my solution. “I’ll be done in two more bites.”
“Take it and go,” he snarled. “I’ve got to clean this place up.”
“You can start if you like,” I said. “I’ll clean up after myself.”
He pushed himself away from the glass case, walked from behind the counter, and then up to my table.
He folded his arms in front of his chest and exhaled hot breath all over me and my sandwich in one angry huff. “It’s time to lock up.”
Tall, lean, and Italian, he appeared to be in his mid-twenties. His long hair was held down by the net he was required to wear over it, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was one of the reasons he was so angry.
If I had to wear a hair net it would irritate me, no doubt. I told myself to be compassionate because of the hairnet, but my mouth had gone dry, and I was distracted from clear thoughts. As I reached for my drink, he scooped up the uneaten portion of my sandwich and walked toward the trashcan.
Don’t you dare.
He met my gaze, tossed it in the trash, and opened the door.
I let out a sigh. It was over, at least for now. I stood, walked toward him, and paused before I walked through the door. Standing-nose-to-nose with him, I peered into his eyes.
I imagined someone bashing his skull in with a baseball bat as he locked the back door to the deli, leaving him in the alley in a pool of his own blood.
While his heart beat its last few dozen beats, I wondered if he’d realize the end was imminent. That his time on earth was limited. I further wondered, upon his realization that death was near, if he’d regret how he’d lived his life. If he’d wish he’d done thing differently.
He looked away.
I stepped past him and onto the sidewalk.
As he turned the lock on the door, his eyes met mine.
It was at that precise moment that I decided I didn’t like him.
I was cursed at birth by being born a girl, but that was only the beginning. When I was ten, I was labeled a mathematical genius. Then, at sixteen, I was formally diagnosed as having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. A woman genius who couldn’t stand seeing anything out of order.
I was predestined to fail.
I could hide my disorder for short periods of time, but I couldn’t mask my intellect – at least not when applying for a job. Being intelligent and a woman didn’t open any doors or make me a valuable commodity like one might naturally think. Instead, it caused potential employers to view me as interesting.
Similar to a carnival attraction. That kind of interesting.
Something cool to look at or talk about, but nothing they’d want to litter their day-to-day life with.
Freelance work suited me just fine, though.
“Short of filing a report, the police offered no assistance,” he said. “So, I hired a private investigator. It’s been two months and he’s offered nothing useful. I have my doubts anything will materialize with him. Based on Mr. Mendoza’s recommendation, I’m hoping you can assist me.”
I needed to get out of his den before I started rearranging books. I shifted my eyes away from the ornate shelves and tried to focus on him, but it wasn’t easy to stay fixated.
Yes, his books were that fucked up.
He was a judge, and the father of a girl who had been abducted, held captive for two weeks, and then released.
His position as the senior circuit judge, when combined with how many times his daughter ran away as a child, caused the media – and the police – to question the validity of her claim.
Ironically, it was the third such case I had been graced with in six weeks, which was sufficient to convince me not only that his daughter’s claim was valid, but that there would be enough data available for me to begin my search for consistencies.
And, consistencies were clues.
“As I stated when we spoke on the phone, I make no assurances,” I said flatly. “I charge by the job – not the hour – and we must reach an agreement on what the objective is before I’ll agree to take the case.”
He turned his palms up and spread them wide. “I want his name and address, that’s all.”
My focus had gone back to the books. There was no order whatsoever to the placement of them. Size, title, author, subject matter, genre, nothing. Trying to figure it out was driving me insane.
There had to be a pattern. No one in their right mind would randomly place two hundred books on a shelf.
After a few seconds of hesitation, I met his gaze. “Vengeance is not justice, your honor. I’ll agree to work on the case, as long as the objective is to provide the information to the police.”
He relaxed against the back of his tufted leather chair. “To both of us?”
I shook my head. “To the police.”
“Would you consider giving me his name and–”
I couldn’t sit there any longer. The books were slowly suffocating me. I stood and let out a sigh. “The information goes to the police. Take it or leave it.”
“You’re ridiculous to deal with, Mrs. Devoe.” He stood. “But I have no alternative. With reluctance, I’ll agree. You initially said $10,000. Does that price remain accurate.”
“Half of the payment is due when you want me to start, and the other half upon reaching the objective.” I offered my hand. “Miss Devoe. But, please, call me Angel.”
He shook my hand. “You’ll accept a personal check?”
He reached into his drawer. “Make it out to you?”
My eyes went to the bookshelf. There had to be something I wasn’t seeing. Somehow, it made sense to him, but to me, it was an unorganized disaster.
I gazed blankly at the books and hoped something would come to mind. “Angel Devoe.”
“How long do you think it will be before you know anything?”
I looked at him. He was holding a check.
“A few weeks,” I said. “But I’ll need to meet with your daughter before I get started.”
“That might be difficult,” he said.
“She’s in Cincinnati.”
“Is she available for a face-to-face meeting?”
“Make it $12,500.” I shrugged. “I’ll take a trip to Cincinnati.”
He signed another check and handed it to me with a smile. “I hope this works out, Mrs.” He grinned. “Angel.”
“So do I, your honor.”
I took one last mental picture of the books, turned away, and vowed to either figure it out, or fix it when I came back for my final payment.
The two police officers talked quietly to Camillo as I waited patiently a few feet behind them. After the taller of the two men shook his hand, they both turned toward me.
“Excuse me,” the tall one said as he walked past.
I stepped aside and nodded. “Certainly.”
“Adrian,” Camillo said. He tried unsuccessfully to force a smile. “The usual?”
The skin beneath his eyes was discolored and dark. He looked awful, and I wondered if the police he was talking to had anything to do with his state of being.
“Yes, please.” I reached for my wallet. “Is everything okay?”
He pulled a roll of salami from the cooler and began unwrapping it. he looked right at me. “You didn’t hear?”
He shaved off eight thin slices of the Genoa and then paused. “Franky. My nephew. He worked two nights, while Tony was off for vacation.”
“What about him?”
They…” His jaw got tight, and he turned away. After a few seconds, he looked at me again. “The sons-of-bitches…they killed him.”
I gasped. “Who killed him?”
“Thugs,” he said. “Behind the store. In the alley.”
“He worked here?”
“Franky,” he said, raising his hand high over his head. “Tall, thin. He was here this week. Monday and Tuesday. At night.”
“Oh. I had no idea that was his name. I was in Tuesday and he was here. I’m so sorry.”
He wrapped the salami and put it in the cooler. As he reached for the capicola, he nodded. “It was Tuesday when…”
He set the meat aside and shook his head. “They beat him to death with a stick. For no reason. The deposit was on the ground when they found him. They didn’t even take the money.”
“That’s awful,” I said. “If it wasn’t a robbery, why?”
At that instant, it clicked.
I was angry with him about tossing away my uneaten sandwich. I had imagined someone beating him to death with a baseball bat. I found it horrifying to think that my grizzly thoughts had been administered by someone. It wasn’t the first time something similar had happened and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
The most recent incident had happened six months prior. I imagined running over the irritating man who panhandled beneath the 33nd street bridge, only to find out a few days later that someone had done just that.
The article in the newspaper said someone ran over him repeatedly, breaking many bones, but not killing him. He died of internal bleeding on the way to the hospital, while being transported in the ambulance.
There were many other occurrences throughout my life when I had similar visions, only to have them come true later.
It was frightening and intriguing at the same time, but I couldn’t tell Camillo about it. He wouldn’t understand.
No one would.
“When did you leave?” he asked.
He handed me the sandwich. “When did he leave?”
I hadn’t realized he finished making it. I swallowed heavily, and took it from his grasp. “What?”
“On Tuesday,” he said. “When did you leave?”
“It was at closing time.”
“Was anyone else here?”
I shook my head. “No. Just me.”
He motioned toward the street. “Did you walk home?”
I swallowed again, and nodded. “I did.”
“You didn’t see anything?”
“I’m so sorry, no.” I handed him a $10.00 bill. “He locked the door behind me when I left.”
He held out my change.
I motioned toward the tip jaw. “I hope they catch whoever did this.”
“So do I.” He pushed the bills into the jar. “Enough about that. How’s the search for the perfect woman going?”
I waved my hand toward him and grinned. “Nothing yet, but I’m hopeful.”
“You deserve the best.”
I didn’t agree, but I nodded nonetheless. “Thank you.”
The premonitions started when I was young, maybe nine or ten years old. The one thing that had always bothered me about them was that they were never visions about anything appealing.
They were always violent.
Sometimes much worse than others.
I gazed blankly out the window and wished they’d simply stop, but I realized wishes such as that never materialized.
At least not for me.
I cringed at the thought of my previous night’s premonition.
If it came true, I pitied the victim and her family.
But the thought of it occurring was oddly arousing.