BLOOD ON THE ROCKS - DOROTHY FRANCIS
The state park beach is a dangerous place for my kind of activity. Security guards patrol every inch of it on foot, on bicycle, and in cars, but eluding them adds to the adrenaline rush I feel at Mission Accomplished time. Piss on security guards. Forget them. I love sun and sand, waves and swimmers, and a tradewind to keep things cool.
Paradise. That’s what the locals call the Florida Keys. Down here, unpleasant incidents may be withheld from the front page of the local newspapers. Such news items might damage the all-important tourist trade. Look for crime articles, if you must, back on pages 9 or 10. I do hope you’ll look for them. A big part of my fun stems from seeing my name in print – Vampire Killer Strikes Again.
I saw this old bitch headed toward me before she saw me. See ’em first. That’s my motto. Being the first observer always gives me a big advantage. That way, I’m fully primed and on top of the scene while my victim still basks in a state of relaxation. My victims never realize they’re my intended prey until it’s too late. This old broad is in her late sixties, I’d guess, and fairly well preserved. Her blue tank style swimming suit reveals tits and ass that still could turn heads. High-top wading shoes hide her ankles, but not her shapely legs, and her wrinkles don’t show until you get up closer.
A warning buzz in the back of my mind told me I needed to take special care with this one. I could tell she wasn’t some wimpy old grandma in tennis shoes carrying treats for the grand kiddies in a bag slung over her arm. Not this one. She was going to be fun to do.
My anger would give me extra strength if I needed it to overpower her because somewhere on this stretch of beach I’d lost my gold chain and medallion. I hated that, made me boiling mad. I’d bought it just before I’d been kicked out of the army. It had an enameled red, white, and blue diamond-shaped border with the words land, sea, and air engraved in gold. It also had a cross in the center, but I didn’t care about that part of it. The part I valued was my personal logo engraved on the back, my initials inside a noose. Maybe this old broad had found my medallion. I’d seen her kind on the beach lots of times – an amateur treasure hunter. Maybe I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.
A black cable connected the old biddy’s headphones to the green and white metal detecrtor she carried. Around her waist, she wore a wide belt that held the usual treasure hunter’s paraphernalia – steel probes, plastic container for trash, 2 digging trowels, small leather bag to hold the day’s finds. This victim promised to be trickier than the usual read-a-book-and-play-bridge types that find their way to the Keys. She offered me a challenge and some fun. Lots of fun.
I saw this guy shaded by a palm tree and sitting in a rusty pickup truck as he smoked a cigarette. He sat with one door open, feet resting on the narrow running board. Muscular. Dark-haired. Handsome. Did I imagine that he smiled at me? Well, I certainly knew better than to smile back or talk to any strange man on the beach.
Suddenly, hairs prickled on the back of my neck and alarms clanged in my head. I’d pulled a dumb stunt in staying here so long, but I had been getting ‘search’ signals and I’d just found an old class ring buried deep in the sand. I could make out a date on it and the name of a school. I was thinking that maybe I could return the ring to its owner when I noticed that there were no more swimmers on the beach. Then I’d looked at the parking lot and seen the man. My ancient red caddy was the only vehicle in the graveled lot except for his truck. Deep in my gut, I knew that man was waiting for me.
State parks in the Keys close at sundown and the sun was about to disappear over the horizon. Down here, people enjoy little twilight; darkness shrouds the land soon after the sun sets. I stopped for a moment, pretending to adjust my headphones, pretending not to see the guy in the truck. Run? No. No safe place to run to.
A bathhouse stood to my right, but if I ran in there, I’d be trapped and out of sight. The guy could break down the stall door and get at me. No. I saw no safe place to run to. Besides, I didn’t want to appear scared. I wanted to look strong and totally in control of this situation. And I thought of a plan.
I walked on, sidestepping the larger rocks scattered around the parking lot, then I paused again and hung my earphones around my neck. I unplugged the headset cable from the detector, slipping the end of it into my left pocket so I wouldn't trip over it. Carrying my detector in my left hand, I reached into my other pocket and felt the steel coolness of my car keys. I fingered them until I felt the one that fit the trunk lock.
I decided to approach the Caddy rapidly, casually unlock the trunk and unload my gear before I unlocked the car, slid onto the driver’s seat, and closed and locked the door. Then I’d burn rubber getting out of there. I’d run the guy down if he tried to stop me.
My plan failed from the get-go.
“Miss,” the man said. “My watch has stopped. Could you tell me the time?”
An old ploy, I thought, but no point in antagonizing him unless I had to. All the time I was trying to turn my arm and look at my watch, I was also unlocking the car trunk.
“Six-ten.” I placed my detector in the trunk, jerked off the headphones and tossed them in, too. Forget the tool belt. Not time to fumble with buckles now.
“Find anything good today?” The guy casually stepped from his running board to the ground, his face in such deep shadows I couldn’t read his expression.
“Not much.” I kept my cool although the guy had stepped closer and was now almost blocking my car door on the driver’s side. “I never find much of value.” Was he planning to rob me, I wondered. Maybe I could make a deal with him, give him my treasure pouch if he’d just go away.
“I lost a medallion on a gold chain,” he said. “Any chance that you might have found it? I’d be willing to give you a reward, ma’am.” He stepped even closer to me and I stepped back, keeping my gaze riveted on his face.
Damn! I knew his medallion was in my treasure bag. It had been my best find until the class ring. Now what? Open my bag, fling the medallion at him and take off? Now he stood blocking my car door and I sensed that he wanted something more than his chain and medallion. To open the treasure bag, I’d have to lower my gaze. What if he read that as a sign of weakness and chose that moment to lunge at me?
A leather thong attached the treasure bag to my utility belt, but the leather was soft. A strong jerk would pull it free. Then what? Not only would he know I had his medallion, he’d also think I was trying to steal it from him. If I could get into my car, it would offer momentary safety until I could fling his medallion to him through the window.
“Please stand aside so I get into my car,” I said coldly. “I didn’t find your medallion and chain.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
He stepped so close that I smelled the stench of beer of his breath, the stench of cigarette on his clothes. I always wore a referee’s whistle around my neck hidden under my shirt in case I need to call for help. The sound of the whistle might startle him for a moment, but there was nobody around to help me. I made another plan.
I jerked the treasure bag from my belt and flung it as far as I could, thinking the guy would chase it and I could enter my car. Wrong. He didn’t budge. Now I knew for sure that he wanted more than his medallion and my found coins. He gloated at me.
“Do you know that the police have a list of twenty-nine people – all last seen in the Florida Keys?” he asked.
I refused to answer. “Let me in my car, please.”
“You can forget about your car, you bitch. You’re going to be number thirty on that police list. Way back on page ten in the paper, a few people may read about a broad last seen at the beach. You and me are going to have some fun. You’ve probably read about me – The Vampire.”
“You'll never get by with this.” I vowed to keep him talking. Of course I’d read that name. Hadn’t everyone? How many women had he murdered? And why hadn’t the cops been able to catch him? “How did you get that name?” Talk. Talk. Talk.
He chuckled. “The cops nicknamed me.” I heard braggadocio in his tone. “At one murder scene, I killed woman while she was alone having a drink on her patio. Some of her blood dripped onto the ice cubes in her drink glass. Blood on the rocks, the cops called it.” His voice rang with pride. “They called me The Vampire Killer.”
“My husband is expecting me home. He knows exactly where I intended to hunt this afternoon. He’ll have the police out here in no time at all.”
“We’ll both be long gone from here by then. Oh, your car will still be here. They’ll fool around with it looking for clues for a long time. Was it rape? Robbery? Or did she leave with someone willingly? I like to imagine all the questions.
“My truck will be gone from this beach. We’ll be elsewhere and we’ll be very busy. I have a camping permit at the campground. Fellow campers will think nothing of seeing me and my truck arriving home later tonight.”
He stepped closer and grabbed my wrist. I jerked free and ran. But soon he overtook me, twisting my left arm behind my back until I thought it might break. I screamed in pain, but I knew nobody was around to hear me.
“Not so fast, you old turd. We haven't gotten to the fun part yet.”
“Look, mister.” I begged. “You kill me and you’ll be in big trouble. There’ll be a body to hide. There’ll be...”
“Don’t worry, doll. I know a special place to hide bodies. There are so many bones in that special spot that the police will never get them all sorted out.”
Now I could smell a sour odor wafting form him, a stench I’d never smelled before. I sensed that he was about to act. Did he have a gun? A knife? In a quick maneuver, he slipped a noose over my head and around my neck. Slowly, he began to tighten it. I felt it tug against my windpipe and heat surged through my body.
“And where is this boneyard?” I gasped, struggled. Talk. Talk. There was still time to keep him talking if I could gasp air into my lungs and force words out. Maybe.
He laughed. “The boneyard’s no secret. It’s on Big Pine Key. You know, the island where the miniature Key deer live on a national refuge. Dozens of those critters get killed on Highway One every year. The refuge people dump deer bodies in a special secret place I’ve discovered. A very unpleasant place. Stinks to high heaven. But the buzzards led me to it, and one more body there won’t be noticed.”
He pulled the noose tighter around my neck. As I stumbled over a rock and fell back against him, he lost his balance for a moment. In that split second, I yanked my steel probe from my utility belt. Wrenching free, I plunged the probe deep into his neck.
For a moment, he looked totally surprised before he fell, spilling his blood on the rocks of the parking lot. I left his body where it lay and drove away quickly.
Steel Probe Sally. That’s my handle. I chuckled, glad that the police didn’t seem to realize that women can be serial murderers, too.
BIO: Dorothy Francis has been writing mystery short stories and novels since the earth’s crust cooled. Born and raised in the Midwest and still live there.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago