Nancy smiled as she handed a short, middle aged lady a hard covered copy of 'Polar Diamonds'. As she let go of the book, she turned her head and stared at its strikingly, handsome author. Simon Black's jacket photo didn't do him justice.
Nancy watched the tall, chiselled author lean over the small, sparsely decorated table, and sign a book for the woman standing at the head of the line. Nancy sighed. He was more breathtaking than she had imagined.
He noticed the slender, twenty-one year old clerk's gaze. She resembled the provocative model on the cover of his previous book. He loved the way her long, red ponytail flicked from side to side as customers tried to distract her. His polite, pasted on smile grew into a wide grin as he handed the lady back her book.
Simon barely looked down as he signed another copy of his book, and handed it back to the thin man standing in front of him. The man turned and glanced at Nancy. "She is very alluring isn't she?"
"To bad she isn't a wee bit older."
Nancy's boss, Emily, stood behind the counter and worked the cash register. In front of it were stacks of Simon's new book. After inserting a customer's receipt next to the title page, she glanced at Nancy, grimaced and rocked her head back and forth.
The small, book store had barely opened. Inside, Simon's devoted fans were lined up from the back corner of the store to the door. Outside, the constantly growing line stretched to the end of the block. People were haphazardly parking their cars and racing to get in line. Vehicles with mostly out-of-province licence plates, lined the small, isolated community's main street along with the nearby side roads.
Nancy could hardly take her eyes away from the world famous, forty-year-old author. The infatuated, young woman straightened the long, faded, red smock that Emily had forced her to wear. She wrapped the smock's tie straps around her slender waist and drew them in as snug as she could, in order to help show off her gentle curves.
She desperately wanted to take off the smock. Hidden beneath it was her favourite dress. The only visible part of the short, sleeveless, black dress was it's straps and the partially open back. She looked down at the smock and bit her lower lip. 'How could I impress anyone in this ugly thing.' Then she smiled.
While making her way to the back of the store, Nancy squeezed past several customers. Ignoring their pleas for assistance, she slunk behind Simon as he opened yet another book awaiting his greatly, sought after signature.
Stretching out her right hand, she slowly glided her fingertips across his broad right shoulder. Her long, glossy, black fingernails almost matched his suit. They briefly disappeared under his shiny, well groomed, black hair at the back of his neck. His few grey hairs were barely noticeable. Her fingernails gradually reappeared as they slid down the contours of his left shoulder blade. Her shiny, black lips puffed out slightly as her smile widened.
After releasing a shallow sigh, she glanced at the counter. Some of the impatient customers that were standing in front of it were staring back at her. The hairs at the end of her long, dark red pony tail brushed against Simon's ear and cheek as she turned to go back to the counter.
Simon straightened his back a little and gazed at Nancy's long, fishnet covered legs, and the opening on the back of her dress, as she walked away. The fact that the attractive, young, willowy girl was almost half his age, only added to her appeal.
Looking forward, his grin relaxed into a polite smile. Before him stood a smiling, slightly curvy, but muscular woman in her early thirties, with short brown hair. Her well applied makeup tried its best to mask her tired, slightly weathered face. Despite the makeup, her puffy eyes indicated to Simon, that the woman had barely slept the night before.
In an excited voice, every part of the woman's body seemed to shiver as she blurted out, "I thought that I would never get a chance to meet you. This is the fifth time I've tried to get one of my books signed. I got to see you, but the lineups were so unreal. Last time, there were only a handful of people in front of me before you had to pack up and leave."
Without hesitation, Simon told her, "I have to agree, some of my book signings had gotten completely out of hand. My agent generally has me on a very tight and hectic schedule. I'm lucky if he factors in enough time for me to sign the first few hundred books."
"He has you run ragged. There were thousands at your Buffalo book signing last April. The arena was packed."
"Well, there is not enough room to do a reading and Q&A here. That gives me a little more time to spend with my fans." His smile slightly grew as he told her, "At least this time, you got here early." He released a gentle sigh before adding, "It's nice knowing that I don't have a plane waiting to whisk me away to another packed venue."
The woman tilted her head and stared into his dark brown eyes. "You are my all time favourite author. I have read all your books. I absolutely love them." Looking down at the book in her hand she quickly corrected herself. "Except for this one, but I am positive that I will love it too."
Simon looked at the nervous, fidgety woman as she tightly held a hardcovered copy of Polar Diamonds with both hands. Her closely clipped fingernails had fake diamonds imbedded in the red nail polish. The exposed ends of her fingertips had turned white from the pressure exerted on them. They came close to matching the sprawled diamonds pictured on the book's, blood red jacket.
Knowing that he had already spent too much time with her, and had to keep the line moving, Simon almost forced the book from her hands. "So I take it that you really like my books."
"Oh yes, I really love them." The woman stared at him with a huge, wide smile. "You know, your pictures don't do you justice. You are much better looking in real life."
Simon smiled, nodded and said, "Thank you." He used her receipt like a bookmark to open the book. With the tip of his pen hovering above the cover page, he asked her, "Now, who should I sign it to?"
The overly, excited woman almost started bouncing as she said, "Marion."
As he started to write one of his many pre-prepared lines in her book, he said, "Then Marion it is."
Marion was mesmerised by his smile as he scribbled his signature. As he handed the book back to her, she softly ran her fingers over the back of his hand and the large, gothic looking ring on his forefinger.
Not budging from the head of the line, she immediately opened her book and read the inscription. 'To Marion, one of my most devoted fans, Simon Black'. She slammed the book shut and glared at him. "One of? I am your most devoted fan, or at least I was 'til now."
She turned to the lady behind her. "That's the thanks I get. 'One of', I've been a lot more than just 'One of'."
Carrying the book in one hand, she erratically swung her arms as she stormed towards the exit. Simon looked at the stunningly, attractive lady that had been standing behind Marion. "I guess she has some issues."
The tall, chestnut brown haired woman smiled. Her subtle makeup, expensive jewellery and stylish, dark blue suit made her look out of place. In a calm voice, she tilted her head slightly and told him, "What was she thinking? Your eyes meet and you feel suddenly compelled to whisk her away on some exotic adventure. This isn't a scene from one of your novels. I tell you, some people are not quite grounded in reality."
A bit relieved with the alluring woman's calm, rational demeanor, Simon smiled and said "Very true."
She glanced over her shoulder and grinned as the frazzled woman stormed out of the store. "And I thought that I was your most devoted admirer." With a twisted, half smile on her face, she added, "I wonder what is worse, someone that is obsessed with books about love, betrayal, death and obsession, or those that live it."
The question stunned Simon. After a couple seconds, he smiled at the woman and said, "Those that live it have closure. Those obsessed by it don't."
The woman tilted her head and thought for a moment before responding, "You might be right."
As she started to turn away, Simon called out, "Didn't you want me to sign your book?"
The woman stopped, turned back around and politely smiled. "Of course. Of course I do." Her smile grew a bit wider as she added, "Make the dedication out to Cindy."
The book almost fell out of the woman's hand as she passed it to him. Despite her radiant beauty, the woman's strange question made Simon feel a bit uneasy. Fortunately for her, by the time his pen touched the cover page of her book, all he thought about was how pleasant she was compared to the frazzled woman before her.
As Cindy slowly walked away, she opened the book, stopped and read what he had written. 'To Cindy, the best fan any author could ever have, Simon Black'.
Simon watched as Cindy slowly closed the book and pressed it against her chest with both hands. Before leaving the book store she gracefully twirled around and dramatically blurted out, "Thank you. You have no idea what you and your books mean to me."
Simon turned to the man standing at the front of the line. The man raised his left hand and chuckled, "Hey, I really like your books, but I'm not crazy. You may be a good looking dude and all, but I'm not in love with you." The man shifted his eyes towards the door and softly added, "But, if you looked like her, I certainly might."
Cindy grinned and swayed her body back and forth as she exited the store. Simon released a cleansing sigh of relief and grinned. "Two in a row, that's enough for one day."
A few of the people standing in line started to chuckle. Others whispered to each other. Emily stood behind the counter and tried not to laugh as she rang in another sale of Polar Diamonds.
Outside of dodging numerous, flirtatious customers, Nancy found the rest of the morning and early afternoon frantic, but relatively uneventful. About three-thirty, Emily came up to her and said, "Things have calmed down a bit and I really need to step out for a while. Most of the people in line have already purchased their books. They seem to be behaving themselves. If you stay at the front of the store everything should be fine. I'll try not to be gone too long."
As Nancy went from one customer to another, an awkward looking man dressed in scruffy clothes vied for her attention. His clumsy but persistent demeanor made her feel uncomfortable. He repetitively interrupted her by asking questions about Simon Black. "Did he only come here to sign some books? Why was this store chosen? Who set it up? Does Simon have any other business in Blackett Hill? ...."
She tried to tune him out, but couldn't. Not knowing how to reply to his questions, she told him, "I don't know.", over and over again. Feeling bewildered, Nancy turned her back to the irritating man and tried to ignore him.
After Nancy dealt with a few more customers, she still felt uneasy. She stood on her toes in order to see over the aisles. Most of Simon's fans were standing in the line in front of him. She hardly saw anyone in the rest of the store. She relaxed her stance, closed her eyes, took a deep breath and smiled. The bothersome, awkward looking man was no where in sight.
The rest of the afternoon went smoothly. The long, slow moving line had made Simon's fans tired and sore. Some brought portable stools to sit on. Some stretched and ran-on-the-spot to help revive their aching arms, neck and legs. Others played games on their phones. However, most of them just stood in line, bought a book, read some of it, got it signed and left. Only a few strayed and browsed around the store.
At two minutes to five, Nancy went outside and asked the few dozen people that were patiently standing in line to come inside so she could shut the door. The door was barely closed before two smiling fans asked to leave.
A lady with a copy of Simon's book tucked under her arm, stood next to the counter and called out to her, "Miss, I know the store is technically closed, but can I still purchase a couple more items? It's going to be quite a while before I get to the front of the line."
Nancy looked at the woman and then at the unlocked door. "No problem. Some of these people haven't purchased their copies of Polar Diamonds yet."
Cupping her hands against the sides of her mouth like a megaphone, Nancy shouted out, "I need to lock the door for a couple minutes. If anyone needs to get out, please wait next to it so I can see you."
Before she got two steps away from the door, she heard someone knocking on it. She turned around and barely recognized Emily. The normally conservative, thirty-six year old woman had totally transformed herself into a socialite. Her face and hair were done up, and she was wearing gold, diamond imbedded jewellery, a short, thin strapped, black dress that greatly emphasised her cleavage, plus bright red lipstick and a pair of black pumps.
Emily waved her left hand at Nancy while she blurted out, "Go and help your customer, I'll let myself in." As she got out her keys, she added, "Sorry for being gone so long. I thought I'd be gone for only half an hour. I didn't mean to abandon you for this long."
As Nancy made her way to the counter, she said, "It's alright, I managed."
Emily saw a run in Nancy's stockings, her messy hair and a wide, dirty, triangular smudge across the back, lower part of her short dress. "I'm truly sorry. It will never happen again."
A couple of Simon's fans followed Emily into the store. As Emily started to zig-zag through the crowd towards Simon, Nancy asked her, "Should I lock the doors?"
"It's alright. With all the extra sales Simon has generated today, I think I can afford to pay you a little overtime."
Nancy raised her eyebrows and replied, "Time and a half, not just straight time?"
Emily stopped and waved her hand in the air. "No problem." After doing a rough head count of the people inside the store, she told her, "Get a roll of raffle tickets and start handing them out to the people in line. That way they can shop and not worry about losing their place in line."
Having spent hours in a slow moving line, the restless crowd dispersed throughout the store. Beforehand, not many of Simon's fans risked losing their place by getting out of line. After Nancy issued the tickets, they were everywhere. She was suddenly swarmed by needy customers.
She felt overwhelmed. She tried to tune out their voices, and focussed all her attention solely on one customer at a time. Some of the people vying for her attention became flustrated and began pacing in circles.
Their loud, desperate voices caught Emily's attention. She left Simon's side and went over to the small group of annoying people. It didn't take long for her to discover the reason for their abrasive demeanor.
After whispering a few words to Simon, Emily wedged open the door to the back room. She used two footstools and a wide roll of red ribbon to help block off the section past the employees washroom. Several grateful, queasy fans shook her hand in gratitude as they formed a line in front of the washroom.
Luckily for Nancy, most of Simon's fans ended up grabbing a few books to peruse through and returned to the line. Many of them discretely rummaged through their backpacks and oversized purses for any remaining drinks, food and snacks that they brought with them. Wrappers and crumbs littered the shelves and retail floor.
Between customers, a needy, portly, middle aged woman repetitively asked Nancy for her opinion on various authors. She wanted to find someone that wrote adventurous thrillers, simular to Simon Black's novels.
Three quarters of a hour after the store was supposed to close, there was barely enough room for a person to squeeze down the aisles. More people had entered the store then left. Between serving customers, Nancy was constantly ringing in purchases and issuing tickets.
Looking around the store as she rang in a customer, she asked the lady, "How did you know we were still open?"
The lady smiled and told her, "It's all over the media. A lot of people got lost and thought it was over. There was a huge bunch of us at the truck stop when we found out that the store was still open." The lady reached out and shook Nancy's hand. "Thank you." She stared at Nancy for a moment, then added, "You look a lot younger than the photos people posted of you on the internet."
Nancy tried to force herself to smile. "I hope they were taken before I became such a mess."
"Don't worry, they were and you looked gorgeous." The lady took out her phone a showed her a few of the pictures. One picture showed her back. The apron covered her front, but had left the back of her dress available to public view. Nancy was shocked. She didn't realize how provocative the dress made her appear.
A soft drizzle created shiny beads and thin stripes on the windows. Soon afterwards, the doormat started to get soggy. Water dripped from the brims of people's hats onto the books and magazines they were looking at. Soiled footprints along with the growing amount of garbage, made the aisles look grossly unkept. The mere sight of them upset Nancy.
The frazzled, young clerk did her best to look after the customers at the front of the store. After shutting the door to the back room, Emily spent most of her time standing next to Simon. Occasionally, she would call out a number. "Does anyone here have the last three digits, 1, 1, 7. If so, can you please come to the head of the line with your book."
Nancy saw Emily bend down, tap Simon on the shoulder and whisper something in his ear. She knelt to retrieve a book from a bottom shelf. While looking between the legs of the people standing in line, she noticed Emily discretely stroking the side of his leg. Simon reached down, caressed Emily's hand and whispered something back to her.
As she started to stand up, Nancy noticed someone wearing dark blue pants go into the back room. She stood up, turned to the portly lady that she was helping, gave her the book and said, "Excuse me, I have to find out what is going on in the back room."
The lady smiled as she raised and jiggled her hand. "No Problem." She opened the book and added, "This author sounded pretty good. I might give her a go."
Nancy went to the back room and looked around. No one was there. She saw an open box of garbage bags and a pair of scissors sitting on a box next to the door. Several improvised raincoats were lying on the floor next to it. A small dented box was wedged between the bottom of the self-locking emergency door and the doorframe.
She opened the door and peered outside. She sighed as she saw all the discarded garbage and cigarette butts that had been spewed over the area. "Pigs, they are nothing but filthy pigs."
She picked up the mangled box. Inside of it was an expensive, specially ordered book about the Brazilian military, that had arrived on Friday. The edges of the hardcovered book, along with two corners were badly pushed in. As she took the book out of the box, a thin stream of water poured out of it. She spread the pages apart and stood it on a shelf to dry. "I hope it's not totally destroyed."
Behind her, she heard the employees' washroom door shut. She turned around just in time to see the door to the retail floor close. Feeling vexed, she marched back to the counter.
Despite the small store's meagre inventory, some of the shelves were nearly empty. 'Emily was right. Simon's fans must have felt obligated to buy more than they came in for.'
The store was a mess. It was far beyond what Nancy could mentally handle. Something inside of her forced her to tie the corner of a garbage bag around her apron's strap. While picking up the garbage she tried to tidy up the shelves and baskets, and bring some degree of order to the store.
Nancy heard the door close and looked up at the clock. It was seven-fifty. The store was silent. She had been there for almost twelve hours with hardly any breaks. She was totally exhausted.
Nancy reached up, grabbed a shelf for support, and slowly got off her aching knees. She never saw Simon, Emily, or even the last few customers exit the store. Seeing no-one, she called out, "Is anyone here." There was no reply.
As she walked to the door, she stopped and gazed at her hazy reflection in the glass. Beyond her smeared makeup, she noticed her torn, twisted, bunched up stockings and how her scruffy pony tail was pointed almost sideways. The garbage bag dangling from her waist only added to her hideous appearance. Looking down, she saw how filthy her hands, forearms and knees were. "What was I thinking? I'm a complete mess."
Nancy untied her apron. The garbage bag fell to the floor. She took off her apron and dropped it on top of it. While staring at her reflection, she told herself, "He never saw how great I can look in this dress." She thought of the photo the lady showed her, then of Simon, and smiled. "However, something must've caught his attention."
Nancy couldn't stop herself from yawning. She could barely concentrate as she counted the cash in the till. After locking the register, she turned off the lights and yelled out, "I hope everyone is out, cause I'm locking the door."
The next morning Nancy arrived at the store wearing no makeup, a warm, pink sweater and blue jeans. She yawned as she unlocked the door. Even the cool, brisk walk to work wasn't enough to fully awaken her. "Thank god it's Sunday. At least I got to sleep in for a wee bit longer."
Her apron and the bag of trash were still on the floor where she left them. She put on the apron and dragged the quarter full garbage bag behind the counter. After she got the cash register set up, she looked at the filthy floors and said, "I hope I have time to clean this mess before anyone sees it."
She went to the back room and retrieved the mop and bucket, a sponge, plus a couple dry rags. She stuffed the rags in one of her apron's front pockets. The bucket still had plenty of water in it from the day before. As she swished the mop around, she noticed some soapy bubbles begin to form. "That's probably good enough."
She quickly scrubbed the dried coffee, pop and stubborn juice stains off the floor. While looking back at the wet floor, she sighed, "Why do people insist on bringing drinks into a book store. I bet they don't spill this much at home."
As she used the sponge to scrub some sticky, juice stains off a bottom shelf, she looked back at where she had mopped. There were streaks all over the floor. "That water must have been absolutely filthy. I have to change it and mop the floor all over again."
Nancy wrapped her right arm around the mop and used it to help her push the bucket into the back room. After turning the washroom's doorknob with her left hand, she leaned her right shoulder against the door. It didn't budge.
She let go of the mop and pushed the door as hard as she could. As it started to give way, she heard a thump. Looking down she saw a man's hand flop out of the crack in the doorway. It was covered in flakes of dry blood.
Nancy knelt down and tried to pull the stiff arm out as far as she could. With only half of the man's forearm out, she rolled up the blood stained sleeve of his jacket. After she undid the damp cuff of his shirt sleeve, she tried to check for a pulse. There wasn't any. As she released the cold dangling arm, she recognized the large, oval, gold ring on the forefinger. It had a large emerald in the middle and five smaller, elongated ones that were mounted in the shape of a cross on a black onyx setting. The cross was encircled by a band of small diamonds.
She covered her face with her hands and started to cry. "Simon, how could this happen to you of all people. Why now?"
After weeping for what seemed like hours, but were actually only a few minutes, she wiped the tears from her eyes. That was when she noticed the blood on her hands. Her tears had rehydrated the flakes of dry blood that had rubbed off Simon's hand, wrist and arm. She stood up and went to a small mirror next to the door. Streaks of his diluted blood ran down her cheeks and across her eyes.
She went to her locker, grabbed a wad of tissues and tried to wipe it off. Looking at the small, magnetic mirror on her locker's door, she noticed the red smudges on her face. Dabbing the tip of the wad into the bucket to moisten it, seemed to make it worse. As she tried to get the blood off her face, diluted droplets fell on her sweater and apron. She ended up tossing the wad of tissue into the bucket. As the initial shock wore off, she realized, "I have to call the police."
Officer Kelly looked at Nancy through the glass door. She noticed the dark, pink blotches on Nancy's cheeks and neck, along with the off-colour smudges on the arms and neck line of her pink sweater, plus several more spots on her apron. "Are you the person who called the police?"
Nancy's hands were shaking as she unlocked the door. "Yes, I found Simon Black's dead body in the employees' washroom. I was trying to get inside to empty the water bucket, but the door was stuck." She started to cry. "His body was blocking it."
Officer Kelly took out her pen and notepad and started to jot everything down. "Can you show me his body."
"Sure." Nancy used her sleeve to wipe away some of her tears as she started to walk towards the backroom. "Watch your step, The floor is still wet. I just mopped it."
The officer stopped to look around. "Why would you mop down a crime scene?"
Nancy shrugged her shoulders. "I didn't know anything about it at the time."
Officer Kelly saw the table at the back of the store. "What was going on in the store yesterday? I saw all the cars and the huge lineup in front of the store when I drove by it."
"Simon", Nancy stopped and took a couple cleansing breaths before continuing. "Simon Black was hosting the premiere book signing for his latest novel. We were very fortunate that he picked this store. Most successful authors launch their new books at one of the big book stores. If they plan on doing a reading, they usually rent halls, or small arenas."
The officer took out her pen and pad, and jotted down some notes. "So it was strange that he was even here at all?"
"Sure was. Blackett Hill is in the middle of nowhere. I'm surprised that so many of his fans were willing to drive so far to get here."
With a puzzled look on her face, Officer Kelly interrupted her. "How did they even find it? This place is only printed on a handful of local tourist maps."
Nancy sighed and shook her head. "Even out-of-towners know how to use a GPS. All it takes is one user to pin point a place, and voila, it's on their virtual map. My mother first noticed it on her GPS a couple weeks ago."
"Wouldn't that be about the same time as Simon Black's book debut would've been announced?"
Nancy's eyebrows sank as she responded. "Yes."
The officer turned and looked out the window. "His fans didn't all just appear first thing Saturday morning. Do you have any idea when they start arriving? You must have talked to some of them."
"Apparently, a lot of them arrived on Friday. The hotel was booked solid, and so was the campground just off the highway. Some people even slept in their vehicles."
Officer Kelly nodded her head. "I was wondering why the town was so busy the last couple days. I drove into town yesterday, saw the long line up at the restaurant and decided that a cheeseburger just wasn't worth the wait."
Officer Kelly used Nancy's locker mirror to peer inside the washroom. Bloody hand and foot prints along with splattered blood covered most of the lower half of the tiny room. "His body is sprawled on the floor between the toilet, pedestal sink and the door. There isn't much room in there."
"I know." Nancy tried to peek inside but couldn't see past the blood covered pedestal sink. "There is barely enough room for a toilet, sink and mirror."
"Do you have a hammer and some screwdrivers?"
Nancy retrieved a small tool box and handed it to her. Working through the narrow crack in the door, it took the officer a few minutes to tap the pins out of the door hinges. As she removed the door, Simon's stiff body shifted sideways. The back of his head got wedged between the door frame and the sink's pedestal.
The two women stared at the body. His open eyes stared up at them. The first thing Officer Kelly noticed was the caked blood surrounding a small hole under the back, left side of his jaw. She turned to Nancy and said, "His killer must have struck a major vein to spew this much blood."
Outside of a funeral home, this was the first time Officer Kelly had seen a dead body, let alone a murder victim. She turned slightly pale as she told the stunned clerk, "I'll have to seal off this store. Do me a favour and tape a large sign to the door saying that the store will be closed until further notice."
Standing just behind her, Nancy answered, "Sure, no problem. First, I need to call my manager and let her know not to come in this morning."
As Officer Kelly was talking to her superiors, Nancy went to the phone on the wall behind the counter and called her boss. "Hi, Emily, I'm sorry for calling you so early on a Sunday, but the police are sealing off the store."
"After opening up this morning, I discovered Simon's body in the washroom." Nancy wiped the tears away from her eyes. "It was horrible."
Emily rubbed her eyes and smeared even more mascara and eye makeup over her face. "What! What are you talking about?"
Nancy started to cry as she told her, "I saw him. He had a hole beneath his jaw. There was blood everywhere."
Emily sat up in bed and told her, "You just stay where you are. I'll be there in five minutes."
She stripped off the provocative black dress that she was still wearing. After grabbing a pair of jogging pants from under the bed, she put them on along with a sweater and the flip flops that she normally wore around the house. By the time Emily parked her car behind Officer Kelly's patrol car, the officer had finished taping off the entrance.
Emily's car windows didn't even have time to de-fog. She slammed her car door and ran towards Officer Kelly yelling, "Wait, wait, this is my store."
The officer raised her arm. "I'm sorry but this is now a crime scene."
Emily stopped directly in front of her. "At least tell me what happened."
"Your employee, Nancy Gamble, found a dead body in the washroom." Officer Kelly slowly rocked her head back and forth. "That is all I'm at liberty to tell you. I wouldn't have said that much, if it wasn't for the fact that I believe your employee had already told you everything that she knows."
"But I am responsible for everything that happens in that store."
The officer noticed Emily start to shiver. "Not now. How about you go home and warm up. This is now a police matter. I'll let you know when we are finished, and when you can reopen the store."
A police van parked in front of the book store. A tall, thin, middle aged man, along with two shorter younger men, plus a small Asian woman with a camera case, got out of it and stretched. After talking to Officer Kelly, the crime scene technicians discussed what supplies they needed to bring into the store. The photographer took out her camera and immediately started to take pictures and videos of the outside of the store and the surrounding area.
The coroner pulled his car behind the van. The short, broad, grey haired man grabbed his bag and got out. While the three technicians started to unload some of their equipment, the coroner and the tall, lead technician went inside. After they put on all their crime scene, protective apparel, Officer Kelly led the two men into the back room.
Dr. Frank MacKay, English Lookout's only coroner, squatted down to assess the body. He examined the small, round hole beneath the back of Simon's jaw, and looked around the tiny room. Seeing the amount of blood on Simon's suit, along with all the splatter and bloody foot and hand prints, he figured that he had bled to death. As he stood up, he noticed a smashed phone in the toilet.
His vibrating cell phone redirected his attention. After removing his gloves, he took out his phone and read his messages. The coroner started typing his reply as he told the lead technician, "This guy is definitely dead. I don't think that there is nothing else I really need to see here."
The technician glanced at the body. "So it was definitely a murder?"
The doctor continued to type as he answered back, "I don't see anything here that could've caused that wound, so it wasn't self inflected. That makes it a murder."
The technician looked at the stiff twisted corpse and the size of the washroom, and said, "This is going to be fun."
The doctor stopped typing, turned to the technician and told him, "There was a fatality at the highway construction near Hunter's Crossing. They got traffic blocked in both directions. Sorry to rush off, but I gotta go."
"What about the body?"
"Tell the detective that I can't make my final conclusions until after I get it back to the morgue. Get the photographer to take lots of pictures." Looking at the time, he added, "It will be at least another half an hour before they get here to remove the body."
Ten minutes later, Detective Douglas parked his car behind the police van. Officer Kelly held the door open for the stocky, slightly wrinkled, salt and pepper haired man. "You just missed the coroner."
"I know, he drove past me. I had to pull over in order to read his messages and email him back."
Jerking her head to one side, Officer Kelly directed the detective's attention to the young girl seated behind the counter. "That's Nancy Gamble. She's the one that found the body. Unfortunately, it was after she had mopped most of the retail floor. She even scrubbed a few of the shelves."
The detective looked around the store and noticed a camera in the corner. It had a wide lens, plus a clear view of both the checkout counter and the door. "Did you check the camera?"
The officer grinned. "This is a small town. In the three years I've been covering this part of the county, this is the first time the station had received a call from this town. I doubt that any of the cameras in this place have been properly maintained for years."
"So does the camera work or not?"
"Somewhat, but the pictures are too fuzzy to be used in court. The one that encompasses the rear exit is even worse."
"So the store has a back door?"
"There is a fire exit in the rear. Nancy informed me that the battery inside the emergency release arm has been dead for ages. She also told me that a lot of people were going in and out of it yesterday. Just look outside. The ground is covered in cigarette butts and garbage."
"Isn't the exit hitched up to an alarm system?"
"The two doors are linked together. They are either both off, or both on." Officer Kelly glanced at a young technician as he bent over to open a large case of equipment. "Like I said, this is a small town. People don't even lock their doors at night."
Detective Douglas peered through the window at the front of the store. A small crowd was starting to form across the street. "Do you live around here?"
"Nope, I just patrol this area."
As they walked to the back of the store, the detective asked her, "No partner?"
"Why, the people here basically police themselves, along with the surrounding area. The pot holes in the local roads help govern everyone's driving habits. However, since they started resurfacing the highway, I have been issuing a lot more speeding tickets."
The detective arched his back, lowered his eyebrows and looked at her. "What do you mean by police themselves?"
Officer Kelly smiled. "If someone hits his wife or gets out of line, they had better be ready to move out of town. They won't be able to buy a loaf of bread or even a toothpick here. The people here take shunning to a new level."
"But no violence?"
Officer Kelly shook her head. "None, I've never seen a town like it."
"That sounds a bit creepy."
"Maybe, but it works both ways. If anyone needs help, or finds themself in trouble, the entire town is there to support them. For example, after a storm last fall, a bunch of town folk got together and repaired a local farmer's dairy barn. He wasn't even one of them."
Detective Douglas shrugged his shoulders. "So they believe in the good neighbour policy." Spotting the table at the back of the store, he asked her. "Do you know what that was used for?"
Officer Kelly glanced at the table. "Apparently, the dead man was a famous author. He had a book signing here yesterday. I don't read much, but I've heard of him."
The detective looked around the small store. "Someone famous in this cubbyhole? Why here?"
"I asked Nancy Gamble, but she doesn't seem to know much about it. She told me that Emily, the lady that runs the store, might know more about it."
As Detective Douglas bent down in front of the washroom door, the tall technician turned towards him and said, "I'm finding all kinds of prints in here."
Officer Kelly spoke up. "Apparently there was a huge crowd in the store yesterday."
"I can believe it."
Standing on the toilet, the petit photographer snapped another picture. The flash made the detective look away as he inquired, "Any places where you didn't find any prints?"
"Only the doorknobs." The tech pointed to the detached door that was leaning against the lockers across from the washroom. I only found one set of prints on the outside knob. I believe they are from the young girl sitting behind the counter. Officer Kelly informed me that she opened it a bit and found the body."
"Is it safe for me to come in and inspect the body?"
After the photographer placed a piece of plastic on the toilet tank, she sat on it and said, "Just give me a couple more seconds." She carefully leaned forward and took several more shots of the toilet bowl, as she told him, "I need to get a better shot of his cell phone." 'Click, click, click.' "Okay, done, I think I've got everything in here."
The detective lifted her off the toilet with ease, turned and put her down outside the doorway. "Don't go anywhere. I want you to take pictures of the entire retail floor, including the table in the back corner."
Flashing a quick smile, she said, "No problem."
The technician stepped out of the washroom to give the detective more room. Detective Douglas knelt to get a closer look at the body. He noticed red and black smudge marks on the side of Simon's neck. There wasn't any gunpowder residue around the hole under the back, left side of Simon's jaw. "He wasn't shot. It looks like he was stabbed by a long, pointed object, about the diameter of a pen or pencil."
Simon's hands and sleeves were covered in dry blood. The front of his shirt and jacket were still soaked. "He must have struggled with the killer. Whoever did it must have been covered in blood."
Officer Kelly spoke up, "They probably left through the back exit. Nobody could've exited through the front door with that much blood on them without drawing some attention."
At the bottom of the toilet bowl was a smashed cell phone. "The water had a very faint pink hue. They must have tried to flush it into the sewer."
Officer Kelly released a soft chuckle. "That's stupid. There is no way it would go through the hole, and certainly not the trap."
"Who said killers are smart." Wearing his latex gloves, the detective reached in and retrieved the phone. A crude circle the size of a quarter was crushed into its face, and hundreds of fractures radiated from it. Looking at the back of the phone, he saw deformed stress marks. "They must've tried to smash it apart. Someone really wanted to put this phone out of commission."
Looking at its face a little closer, he noticed some fibres and other debris stuck between the cracks. The compartment holding the memory chip was slightly ajar. Using his pen knife, he carefully pried it open. The chip was missing. "The techs might still get something from it."
Bending down, he examined Simon's right hand. The tips of two of his fingers were severely scratched. "I guess he tried to call for help. Too bad his phone was broken."
Under large lamps, Dr. MacKay examined the large, naked, freshly washed corpse laying on the stainless steel table in front of him. He took pictures of every tattoo, bruise, and oddity on him, along with the interior of his ears and nose. By the time he was done, every square centimetre of Simon's body was digitally recorded in ultra high definition. "If I didn't know he wrote books for a living, I would've thought he was some kind of professional athlete."
Sitting on the doctor's desk chair, Detective Douglas looked at him and said, "He's a gym junky. He used his chiselled body and good looks to help him sell his books."
The doctor inserted a multi fingered, geared spreader into Simon's mouth and adjusted it so he could see inside. As he looked inside Simon's blue stained mouth, he casually asked the detective, "So when did he get the time to write them?"
"Maybe he didn't sleep."
As he looked under Simon's tongue, the doctor pointed to Simon's chest. "Did you notice the small cluster of small rectangular bruises on his chest?"
The detective walked over and looked at them. "Any guess on what caused them?"
"Not yet, but they are fresh."
Dr. MacKay used a wand with a small, adjustable camera at he end, to study the interior of Simon's mouth. The doctor's eyebrows almost came together, as he told Detective Douglas, "The murder weapon must have been quite long. It penetrated Mr. Black's neck, nicked an artery, then it was twisted upward and thrust through his tongue and upper mouth. I think it may have even reached his brain."
"That would mean a quick and sudden death."
"Not always. I believe most of the struggling was done after he was stabbed." The doctor pointed to the photos pinned to the cork board. "If he died instantly, there would be a large pool of blood instead of all the blood splatter. Depending how far it went in, it could've only affected his smell and speech. The killer was no brain surgeon."
"They seldom are."
The doctor did a stabbing action toward the detective's throat. "The killer went for Mr. Black's jugular. That is when he, or she, nicked his artery." Then the doctor placed his arm against his chest. "As Mr. Black was spurting out blood, they struggled. The killer probably got in too close." The doctor used his thumb to indicate a weapon and thrust it upwards. "That was when the weapon was twisted upward. The only thing the killer could do to finish the job, is push the weapon upward and hope to penetrate his brain."
"That makes sense. The washroom was quite small." The detective stared at the cork board. "Simon Black was a big man and that washroom was awfully small. If he thrashed about in there, the killer's body must be covered in bruises."
As the doctor took multiple swabs of every entrance and exit point the murder weapon made, he said, "That depends on how agile the killer was. Mr. Black wasn't expecting to be stabbed. If he wasn't a violent man by nature, his first instinct wouldn't be to fight back. He could've thrashed around in a feeble attempt to contain the bleeding."
"So you are telling me that he might've thought the stabbing was an accident, and hoped the killer would go out and seek help?"
"That's the only explanation I can think of for there not being two bodies in that room. Look at the size of Mr. Black's hands. All he had to do is grab the killers neck and squeeze. He must have known, and trusted the killer."
"That sort of makes sense. They went into that tiny room together." The detective looked at the doctor. "What if the killer left and came back? That would've given Simon Black the opportunity to try to call for help."
"But why return?"
"To make sure he's dead, and destroy his phone."
"So this poor sap could've been waiting for help that was never going to arrive." While studying the debris on the swabs, the doctor told the detective, "I'd wait until we get some tests back, but right now, I think the killer stabbed him with some kind of pen. It was probably new and filled with some type of blue gel ink."
The doctor passed a tube containing a swab to the detective. "See that small semi-clear clump at the bottom of the tube?"
The doctor turned to the detective. "Considering the ink I found inside his mouth, I believe it's the seal used to protect the tip of a new pen cartridge. I found it under his tongue."
While gazing at the small clump stuck to the swab, the detective replied, "You are sure it didn't come from something he ate?"
"Pretty sure." The doctor cracked a twisted smile. "I'm only surprised that the blood didn't wash it down his throat, or out of his mouth."
"It must've been an awfully long pen. It had to go all the way from bottom the left side of his jaw, through the back of his tongue and up to the right side of his brain. Figuring that the killer had to have something to grip onto, it must've been at least double the length of an ordinary pen."
The doctor looked at him and grinned. "He was killed in a book shop wasn't he? They must sell all sorts of novelty items there."
When Detective Douglas got back to his desk, he went on his computer and skimmed through the pictures of the retail floor. He isolated one that showed the novelty section of the store and sent them to the printer. "Sergeant, can you get the photo off the printer for me."
Sgt. Ryan coughed as he walked over to the printer. The sick, young sergeant glanced at the photo before handing it to the detective. "Here you go." Seeing an enlarged section of the same photo on the detective's computer monitor, the sergeant inquired, "What are you looking for?"
"A super long pen with blue gel ink." Looking up at him, the detective asked, "Do you feel up to going for a drive?"
The sergeant placed his arm in front of his mouth and coughed before answering, "Sure, where to?"
"To the middle of nowhere. A small town called Blackett Hill."
The leaves on the maple trees on the side of the highway were beginning to turn red. To break the silence, Sgt. Ryan turned to the detective and asked him, "So what team do you root for?"
Sgt. Ryan snickered and then started to cough. After wiping his runny nose with a tissue, he replied, "I pegged you as a Leafs fan."
"I used to follow Toronto, but the media is all over them. I've found that the Winnipeg fans are a little more mellow. Now I get to enjoy a game without all the hype."
Knowing that the sergeant was sick and was not likely to be driving, Doctor MacKay sent him a message instead of the detective. Sgt. Ryan pulled out his phone and read the text out loud. "The smeared blotches on Simon Black's neck were two different types of lipstick. The lab is trying to narrow down the colours and manufacturers."
"Simon was a very, good looking man. He must have had women climbing all over him."
Sgt. Ryan looked at the detective. "You said women. Maybe that's what killed him?"
Sgt. Ryan threw his head back and coughed into his arm. The detective glanced over at him. "I hope you don't give me your cold. I can't afford any time off." Looking at the road, he added, "Apparently the victim's a real bigwig in the writing community. The press has already started pressuring the captain for information about the case."
"Well, they will just have to wait until we have something solid to give them."
There was only a wooden, handpainted sign at the turn off leading to Blackett Hill. Most of the two lane side road followed the edge of a steep ravine. As they looped around a 'U' shaped bend, they could see the river below. After the road straightened, Detective Douglas looked at the sergeant. "I wonder how many people died going around that curve. It must be treacherous during the winter."
After the fifty minute drive was over, Detective Douglas pulled up in front of the book store. Sgt. Ryan turned and looked at him. "Is this town even on the map?"
Detective Douglas snickered. "Sure it is. Someone marked it on the large wall map back at the station. Outside of that, I highly doubt it."
Before the detective stepped on the sidewalk, his phone began to vibrate. After reading the message he turned to the sergeant. "There were a lot of dead blood cells in the water bucket. Much more than a few tissues could have soaked up."
"According to Officer Kelly's report, Nancy Gamble had blood on her hands, face and clothes. Maybe she washed some of it off in the bucket."
Detective Douglas turned towards the sergeant and told him, "Maybe Nancy forgot to tell Officer Kelly a few things." Looking at the store's door, he added, "And didn't think to inform me either."
After entering the book shop, they both walked over to the small aisle that contained all of the miscellaneous novelty items. Detective Douglas picked up an oversized pen in the shape of a crossbow bolt. "That is certainly long enough to go all the way into a person's brain."
While looking at the tip, the sergeant shook his head. "It can't be the murder weapon. The barbs on the arrow head would have deformed the edges of the hole in Simon Black's neck. Plus they would make it very hard to extract."
Detective Douglas mumbled, "The only other pen here that is long enough is in the shape of a feather. It's made of some kind of rubber, and is too flimsy to be the murder weapon."
Sgt. Ryan rolled the tip of the bolt back and forth on one of the metal book shelves. "Maybe the tip was removed?" Even after he broke the plastic barbs off, he continued to roll it back and forth to see how smooth he could make it. After examining the results, he showed the detective the tip. "With a little more effort, I could easily smooth the edges some more."
"That would still leave a somewhat distorted edge. The wound was completely smooth. Besides, it would leave plastic residue behind." After looking at several tags, the detective concluded, "That can't be the murder weapon. They all contain red ink."
While gathering the pieces he broke off and placing them in a plastic collection bag, the sergeant said, "So we came all this way for nothing?"
"Not quite. We still have to interview the locals. Maybe they saw someone leave through the back door."
Sgt. Ryan spoke up, "And Nancy Gamble."
Detective Douglas looked at him. "You can interview her. She is more your age. Maybe you can get some straight answers from her."
From the different shops' posted hours, the detective found out that almost everything in town closes at five o'clock on Saturdays. The only exceptions were the restaurant and gas station at the far end of town. The murder happened long after that.
A lot of the locals refused to answer the door. Before Detective Douglas knocked, he would hear activity inside, afterward nothing. From those that did answer, he found out that almost everyone had gone home for supper. None of the people living above the shops admitted seeing anything useful to the case. Most just wanted to complain about the crowd and all of the vehicles that were parked everywhere. While looking around the rear of the book store, Detective Douglas noticed a couple houses with an open view of the shop's back door.
As he stood there studying their angle of view, a short, heavy set woman came out of one of the houses and began waddling towards him. In almost a whisper, he mumbled, "Well maybe we just caught a break."
The middle aged woman stopped next to the neatly trimmed, chest high, row of bushes that divided the two properties. "So, did you catch the killer yet?" Before the detective could reply, the woman put her hands on her hips and blared out, "You Johnny-come-latelies can't expect us to do all the work for you."
The detective rested his hands on top of a bush and stared at her. "We are aware of how isolated this town is. Despite that, we do our very best to police it."
"While your best is still next to nothing. Where were you yesterday? That guy had no business coming here. He disrupted the entire town. It could take us weeks to clean up all the litter those out-of-towners spewed everywhere."
Detective Douglas took a deep breath before saying, "Are you talking about the man that was murdered?"
"Of course I am." A grin formed on the angry woman's face as she added, "I guess he found out that karma's a real bitch."
The detective looked up at the sky and rolled his eyes. "Did you see anyone exiting the book shop's back door yesterday?"
"Sure, a whole bunch of them." The woman shook her head. "There was one smoking party after another outside of it yesterday. You are suppose to be a cop. Just look around this place, those pigs had tossed their garbage everywhere."
"When was the last time you saw anyone out here?"
"It must have been around seven. I was busy and wasn't paying attention to the time. A couple men were having a heated dispute. They were poking each other in the chest and everything. Out-of-towners are always poking each other, so I didn't pay them too much attention. I guess they went back inside."
Detective Douglas remembered the bruises on Simon Black's Chest. "Was one of them tall with a muscular build?"
"Maybe, like I said, I wasn't paying that much attention to them. I do remember that the one doing most of the poking was a bit shorter and skinnier than the other."
"So they were the last people you saw?"
The woman glared at the detective's face. "I told you, I was cleaning up their garbage. I was too busy, and too mad to pay those pigs any attention."
Detective Douglas handed the woman his card, and told her, "Well thanks for your help."
She stuffed the card into her back pocket. As the woman started to turn and walk away, "At least you didn't throw it on the ground like the other pigs."
Something about the woman's face looked familiar. "Have we met before?"
She stopped and told him, "Who knows, you cops all look alike to me."
Seeing her walk away, Detective Douglas yelled out, "I never got your name."
The woman turned and glared at him. "Why, what do you need that for?"
The detective took a step back. "My book work. Any information I find out has to include a source. Without it, it's just hearsay."
In a raised voice, the woman answered back, "Well consider it as hearsay."
"I know where you live and It won't take me long to find out your name."
The defiant woman waved her arm in the air and replied, "Good luck with that."
Within a few minutes the detective got a text back, 'No one is registered at that address or anywhere else in that local area, except for a Dr. Deathridge and a Mrs. Green. In fact, technically, the town itself doesn't actually exist.'
As he leaned against the back door of the book store, he shook his head. "What is going on with this place?"