A Nice Jagged Edge An Atticus & Rosemary Mystery Thriller Series Short Story Prequel (A Private Investigator Mystery Crime Thriller Series, Book 2), p.1
Cover Art by Najla Qamber of Qamber Designs
Copyright 2013- Carlyle Clark
All rights reserved.
© Carlyle Clark, 2013
Table of Contents
WHAT DO YOU do when you can't trust your own brain? And since when did Rosemary hallucinate? Well, not exactly hallucinate. That’s when you see or hear things that aren't real. The noise she just heard had sounded real as real could be. Then again, what would a hallucinatory noise sound like other than a real sound? In this case, Rosemary’s stress frazzled brain had simply bamboozled her into thinking she’d heard the sound of a suction cup being attached to a window in the kitchen, maybe the window on the back door. Absurd. She refused to check out a yet another noise that was either the normal creak of the cabin or natural noise from the woods outside. Seriously, she was joining the army in war time, heck, double wartime, Iraq and Afghanistan both. She couldn’t be alone jumping up to check every sound. If she was going to be all chickeny-scared when there was nothing to fear, how was she going to be brave in hostile countries with the very real daily threats of suicide bombers, snipers, and ambush? The last thing she wanted to do was be an embarrassment to all the brave women in uniform, the embodiment of the chauvinistic stereotype of the weak-kneed woman.
No. She was just stressed out and that was making her mind recreate the sounds from a movie she’d watched last week about a master cat burglar who had to be as quiet as, well, a cat. Instead of breaking a window, he’d performed a series of precise techniques that began with attaching a suction cup to glass. It wasn’t even well acted or the least bit scary. When had she become so impressionable? She was just jumpy. That’s all. Who wouldn’t be after that ridiculous fight she’d had with Mama?
When Rosemary had mentioned that she planned to join the Army, Mama was catapulted to new heights of melodrama. Her helmet-like perm jiggling with passions, she’d grabbed her own blouse and ripped it open, sending pearly buttons skittering every which way. “Why do it slowly?” Mama had wailed. “Just go ahead and rip out my heart.”
Now all Rosemary wanted to do was relax. She had taken this weekend to steel herself far away from the stress of family and the bustle of San Diego, in her Aunt's hideaway mountain cabin in Bishop, California, recover from winter finals, and get back to nature like people said. Never mind the question as to how could she be getting back to nature when she’d never actually been in nature? Not unless you counted jogging down the well-maintained hiking trails of San Diego’s Balboa Park nature. That she did religiously as well as aerobic kickboxing and a little weight lifting. Not too much of that though; she just wanted to stay toned, not get all bulky like those body builder women with muscles bursting out everywhere so they looked like popcorn kernels. Nope, she wanted to stay fit but also stay feminine, keeping her brown hair long and wearing pretty girly things whenever possible. That had been enough to satisfy Mama until Rosemary hit her twenties; then began Mama’s incessant clamoring for a son-in-law and grand babies. None of Mama’s wildest plans for Rosemary had ever involved military service.
Though Mama was the stoutest of patriots, her love of country stopped well short of sending her only daughter into the churning madness of war. An attempt to control Rosemary would be one thing, but the fear in Mama’s eyes was steadily weakening Rosemary’s resolve. Maybe she was right. Rosemary had never been particularly brave; then again she’d never had the opportunity to do anything courageous. She snorted. She couldn’t even sit in a cabin alone without inventing a host of horrors in her head. What if she crumbled into a cringing crying coward at the first sign of battle? What if she got badly hurt or even killed? Could she put Mama through that so soon after losing Papa to a stroke? Every moment she was gone Mama would be wondering if their daughter had died a grisly death in some sand-choked country, a death that would leave Mama alone with Rosemary’s only sibling, Johnny, whose gangsta ways were sure to bring Mama only more grief.
There it was again, that shlup like sound, as though another cup had been attached or the first repositioned. It must be the volcanic pressure on her overburdened brain. She’d slagged a synapse or something, making her hallucinate about suction cups and windows. Nothing to worry about. If someone had actually attached a suction cup to the kitchen window, by now he would have moved to the next step. There would be the faint a nails-on-chalkboard screech of a glasscutter circling the suction cup.
Exactly like the sound she was hearing now.
But of course she had to be mishearing that also. Just an exceptionally vivid figment of her imagination. Moments passed in silence. Ah. Nothing to worry about. See? She could lean back, breathe in the crisp pine scented air, kick up her feet, and stop psyching herself into a heart attack at twenty-five because by this time in the movie the burglar had begun step three. He used the suction cup to ever so quietly ease that little circle of glass out. Removing that little circle made a tiny scraping sound that she would have heard by now.
She listened with elephant ears, her neck muscles tight with the strain as though craning her neck might actually make her hear better. A full minute crawled by; it couldn't have taken this long. Time to relax her zinging nerves, get the heartbeat back under a bazillion a minute, and shrug with a rueful grin at her own paranoia. Maybe have a healthy salad, or better yet, screw it, this was a big weekend, time to live a little and have some nice buttery popcor-
Sweet baby Christ in a car seat. This could not be happening. Her imagination was doing a bad Stephen King impersonation. Bullshit; it was doing a freaking fantastic impersonation. But it was still okay. This was just in her mind, right? Messing with her like she messed with it; all that fretting and studying and okay, all right, staying out all night partying and trying to ride it all out on caffeine. Withstanding Mama’s fear and fury took a lot out of her too, and let’s face it, she was afraid of the Army. But here now was a chance to conquer fear, and all she had to do was nothing. Just don’t give in to her imagination and pop up for the sixty-seventh time to check on something that was nothing.
A decent chunk of time passed. No new auditory hallucinations. The whole silly burglar bit had to be just her boggled brain backfiring. If it weren't, there'd have been a click representing the sound of a hand that had reached through the newly cut ring in the pane of the kitchen door window and was unlocking said door. If she heard a sound like that, then it would be time to go ape shit, wet the panties, cut some deals with God, start eating righ-
Okay, now’s not the time to freak out. Well, actually, there'd never been a better time in the history of the whole goddamned world to freak out, but she didn't have to freak out because this wasn't happening. No. No. No. This was just God giving a good Catholic girl the ultimate test of her self-confidence. Things like this happen in crappy made-for-TV movies about cat burglars or on the news, far away, to other people. Not her. And here was proof. She hadn’t heard the slight whine the kitchen door makes when it's opened. It should have only taken like two seconds fro
God Almighty! Someone was for-frigging-real breaking into the cabin. Good job, Rosemary. Way to go girl! If, instead of the denial dance, she had trusted and acted on her instinct she would have run into the kitchen when she heard the first suction cup. The good old kitchen with all those edgy sharp things called knives, which now had become the proverbial double-edge sword, because not only did she not have them, he did. Some sort of cabin-crashing kook who breaks stealthily into obviously inhabited, remote cabins late at night. Gee, that shouldn't be a problem. No problem at all. Except for, you know, besides the knives, the kitchen is where the cabin phone is, and your purse with cell phone, too. How's that for a Catholic girl’s unholy-trinity?
Time to kick it into overdrive and “be all you can be!” Because continuing to do nothing would earn her back-of-the-milk-carton immortality. Unfortunately her options were like a platter full of shit sandwiches because she was: (A) out in the middle of the friggin’ boonies alone, unarmed and without a phone, (B) dressed only in her silky white jammies and though they were comfy-comfy, if she tried to run for it they weren’t going to cut-it-cut-it outside in forty-five degree weather, (C) scared shitless of going outside where he was at the moment anyway, (D) equally as terrified to stay inside where he would be in a moment, (E) frozen with fear so she wouldn’t be able to act on any plan she came up with anyway.
Of course, all that was before the creaks.
There’d been no creaks in the movie, just the silent padding of the burglar across the carpeted floor toward the glittering diamond necklace in the spot-lighted display case. The floor of the cabin wasn’t carpeted, it was wood, well-kept up, but weather warps wood no matter what you do. So, if the intruder was, even now, tiptoeing across warped boards, the sound would have been creaks.
She tried to ignore the quivering in her bowels. This was no damn burglar hoping to sneak in, snatch her valuables, and scamper into the night. Oh no, it was only ten o’clock at night, not two in the morning, and she had all the curtains open, the windows blazing with light while she stupidly (in hindsight) lounged in plain view on the sofa. He wasn’t going to settle for petty cash, or an iPhone, or a laptop. No, sirree. He was looking to have him the whole enchilada, the good ‘ol grin-and-grunt as her ever-classy brother Johnny called it. Oh, and maybe a little murder and shallow grave on the side, thank you very much.
Whoever was breaking in was too eager even to wait for her to go to sleep for the extra edge of surprise. Or, worse, maybe he figured he don’t need no stinkin’ extra edge. Maybe he knew he didn’t need one.
Thuds followed the creaks. No mistaking them. They sounded exactly like what they were—the rapid footsteps of someone big who had decided it was time to stop the cat burglar bullshit and get this show on the road!
Rosemary erupted out of her chair, flinging it over backward. Her elbow grazed a lamp. Both objects tumbled toward the door to the kitchen, and she was flying! Bounding over the couch, skidding to a stop, shoving off the wall, and heading for the front door just as the kitchen door exploded open.
In the doorway stood six feet plus of potbelly, beard and beady little eyes all wrapped up in a survivalist freak’s wet-dream of an outfit. Camouflage from neck to knee, bulging around his bulbous middle, tight across his thick arms and thighs. A sheathed knife the size of a damn machete was strapped to one of those telephone pole thighs while the lense cap end of flashlight poked from a pocket on the outside of his other thigh. Of course, he wore big, black, kick-ass combat boots, perfect for the psycho on the go. Her gaze flicked back to his face and her heart skipped with recognition. The friendly attendant at the gas station who helped her decipher the directions to her aunt’s cabin! Leave it to her to literally give a maniac a map where murder marks the spot.
Worse, than the fact that he was huge and armed and eager, despite his ungainly appearance he could move.
He was faster than she would have dreamed possible for a fat slob like him. Both the lamp and overturned chair were in his way. One or the other of them should have sent him sprawling across the floor like a deranged hippo on a slip-and-slide. Instead, he skittered around them both with dancing-bear grace, barely losing a step on her in their race out the front door.
That step was crucial.
That step meant that when she grabbed the white porch gate, he was three steps behind her, not two. When she swung the waist-high wooden picket gate back behind her while vaulting off the porch, he was two steps behind her, not one. So, instead of the gate banging off his knee and whipping back open, it whanged shut and locked. The snick of the drop-latch to her ear was like the twang of an angel's harp.
Going too fast to stop he did the only thing he could, attempted to leap over the fence from impossibly close, nearly clearing it beer-belly and all, but he didn’t.
He ate shit, his boot cracking into the gate, sending him somersaulting. Once again he displayed that freakish agility, turning his wild fall into a controlled tuck and roll and springing to his feet to continue the chase. Or at least he would have continued the chase if he hadn’t collided with an apple tree. A sapling, actually. Not big enough to injure him but plenty supple enough to bend with his weight and then snap straight again, flinging him away like an angler would an unwanted fish.
God bless you, Johnny Appleseed, Rosemary thought, witnessing the beautiful disaster over her shoulder. Then she turned it on, cutting back and forth like a kick returner dodging tacklers in the open field, churning through knee-high horsetail weeds, leaping ferns, weaving through jack pines. She hit the hill, arms and legs churning, lungs burning, and sprinted to a cluster of boulders.
Behind the boulders she collapsed in a gasping heap for a second, only to leap up before she regained her breath and her wits because the reason she’d been running like a maniac was because a maniac was chasing her. A maniac who, as far as she knew, had leapt to his feet right after playing apple-tree-ass-over-kettle and was, at this very moment, right friggin’ behind her! She leapt whirling to land in a squat ready for fight or flight to see neither was needed. He wasn’t behind her poised to attack. He was doing something even scarier.
Rosemary thrust her face through the branches and leaves of a dogwood wedged between two of the boulders, earning a deep scratch along her neck that stung when sweat seeped into it. She peered down the hill studying her would-be murderer under the brilliant light of the full moon. Why tonight of all nights did it have to be so damn bright? Then again, maybe that was to her advantage because she didn’t have a flashlight, unlike fat bastard.
Face downward, the cone of illumination from his flashlight like a finger sweeping an essay before a set inquisitive eyes, he zigzagged through brush, skirted pines, rounded boulders, all the while striding toward the hill where she watched. An awful realization slithered into her mind. He was following her exact trail. Unbelievable. Just her luck. Anyone else gets your plain old garden-variety rape-murderer. Not Rosemary Sanchez. She gets goddamn Geronimo after her ass.
A bumper sticker she’d once seen popped into her mind: You can run. But you’ll just die tired. She started to giggle. Then stopped. Oh boy, it was bad enough to giggle at all at a time like this, but that giggle hadn’t been right. Hysteria edged that giggle. Tugged at it. C’mon on over the edge. . . Nah, that would be silly. No need to go into hysterics just because you’re minutes away from rape, torture, and death. Get hysterical and you'll just die tired. Bang! On came another round of mad giggling that took all of her self-control to clamp down on.
Up swelled fury. All this because some jackball can’t pony up the dinero to buy a hooker or a shrink? A guy so bloated he probably can’t even swim in the ocean without watching out for harpoons? She chuckled. The chuckle was different f
She looked back over the hill with eyes that no longer sought escape but confrontation. He did not have a gun. He didn’t even have his knife out. Bastard thought he wouldn’t need it. Her lips drew back from her teeth in a snarl. She studied her back trail, spotted a dogwood thick with leaves he would have to pass close by. Time for a certain fat, sloppy, psycho to learn that he’d picked the wrong bitch to fuck with.
She scanned the ground for a good weapon, ideally a straight heavy branch with the shape and heft of a softball bat, or a nice jagged edge like a spear. No such luck. All she could find was a rock—one that was a hell of a lot smaller than she would have preferred, but it did fit nicely into her hand. Very nicely.
She scurried over to the dogwood, squatting behind it just as Fatboy waddled into view, following her trail like a bloated bloodhound. He duck-walked toward her, head alternately tilting up to scan ahead, then down to study the tracks.
When he was just past the tree-like shrub Rosemary was hiding behind, Fatboy's face scrunched in puzzlement. With his back to her, he knelt and examined the ground.
She burst out of the bushes like a lion with a wounded water buffalo in sight, screeching like an eagle enraged.
She was fifteen seconds away from helplessness.
Rosemary’s rock-fist was, as they said in war movies, cocked and locked.
She was one minute and twenty-seven seconds from being pinned on her back.
Her first hint that all was not well came when he turned around. She’d expected, hoped, friggin' prayed, to see his eyes widen deliciously in shock and horror. No dice. They crinkled. The corners of his mouth quirked into a smirk.
In one minute and thirty-three seconds Rosemary would be mounted.
Fatboy, sporting the shit-eating grin of a man who knows a joke and it’s on you, spun to face her. So confident he didn’t even bother to try and draw the knife at his belt.
In one minute and forty-six seconds Rosemary would suffer his kiss.
Nobody could have reacted that fast. He’d begun spinning around almost before she came out of the bushes. As if he’d known she was there. Jesus that was it. He must have seen her through the bushes. Silky white jammies don’t make for good camouflage unless you're on the North Pole. That was why he’d stalled when it had been obvious which way she must have gone. He’d been trying to figure out how he was going to get to her, and now she was going to him!
In one minute fifty-eight seconds her pajama bottoms would be ripped open by a groping hand, frenzied with perverted lust.
Ambushed during her own ambush. Figured. What the hell had she been doing thinking she was war-time army material? Damn. Damn. Damn.
In two minute and thirteen seconds he would be in her mouth.
Screw it, she figured might as well give it her best, but now she moved like a woman who knows she has no future.
In three minutes and nineteen seconds it would all be over for Rosemary
She tried a feint with her rockless left hand but it was so worthless he ignored it. She put all she had into her rock-fist, let fly, hoped for a miracle.
No miracles in Mudville today. The rock-fist was an un-funny joke. Never had a chance.
Fatboy blocked it with an arrogant ease, his palm thwapping onto her wrist, his dirty, sweaty fingers like the tentacle of a squid. He sneered into her face, clearly wanting to savor the despair he hungered to see in her eyes.
That meant he never saw Rosemary’s foot rocketing up from the ground. A kick she knew was hopeless, until it whammed home, that is - flush in Fatboy’s groin.
Rosemary gaped. It worked. It friggin’ worked. She’d never skip another aerobic kickboxing class again! Crap. Now what should she do? Stay calm and think it through. She had at least a few seconds. She’d seen hundreds of men take it in the tackle in the movies and television. They invariably crumpled to the ground, helpless. And it was mostly men who wrote that stuff, so they would know, right?
Except in real life kicking some crazy bastard—probably supercharged on weed and meth—in his dangly bits might not immediately turn him into a comedic figure, balled in the fetal position, writhing and whimpering. Instead he might have a little something left for a would-be Lady Bruce Lee. He might just reach all the way back to freakin’ Florida then bring his fist ripping cross-country to California, and slam a wrecking-ball right into your solar plexus. Like he did. Rosemary folded up like a laptop.
God! God it hurt! Rosemary was certain the son of a bitch’s fist had gone clean through her stomach, bounced off her spine, and played bumper cars with her organs. Now she was in the fetal position rolling around and there wasn’t a damn thing comedic about it. Jesus H. Christ it hurt! She’d never known pain like this existed. They both were flopping around on the ground in silent, screaming agony. But even with her mind nearly non-functional from the pain Rosemary knew that if she didn’t get up first it was over.
But she just. . . couldn’t.
He could, and he did. Then he got back down - on top of Rosemary. He forced her onto her back, keeping his face averted until he covered her eyes with a sweaty palm. He kissed her cheeks, gently at first, then harder, his thin lips punching her cheeks like a buzzard’s beak. He wedged her legs apart with his own. His arm slithered between them, his fingers like the flickering tongue of a python as his hand slid inside her jammie bottoms.
She whipped her legs up around the middle of his back, hooking her ankles, and squeezed him as tight as she could. He was left leaning forward with one arm trapped between their bodies, the other thick wet palm on her face. She batted the hand off her face, wrapped her arms around the back of his neck, interlocked her fingers, and yanked him down where she could go straight vampire on his ass.
Rosemary didn’t just bite Fatboy’s neck; she ravaged it. In moments, she left behind vampire and went full fucking wolf-woman, grinding her teeth deep into his neck, thrashing her head back and forth like the footage she'd seen of Great Whites tearing chunks of meat from a dead whale, which was what she planned on turning Fatboy into.
Screaming, he bucked free of her grip on his neck and leaned away just before she got some good jugular action. Still, she managed to take a sizable bloody chunk out of his neck. He slapped a hand to his wound, his face a mask of astonished wonder, and, incredibly, outrage. “You crazy fucking bitch!”
He was calling her crazy? She needed him close again because she' realized something wonderful. Words flowed out of her mouth before she thought of them, “Hey, Fatboy, I can’t tell from the taste. What kind of a whale are you? Humpback or baleen?”
“You fucking whore!” Fatboy’s screamed, lunging for her throat.
To Rosemary, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to smash her fist into his jaw. The one that still held the rock she'd never dropped. Then she arched her back, squirmed, squiggled, and kicked that dazed fat bastard the hell off. Rosemary was all over him A whirlwind of fists, knees, elbows, feet and even gave him little bit more of the old chompers because she was going to finish this son of a bitch for good. Before he had a chance to get that knife out of that big ass sheath.
Suddenly it was over. He was on his hands and knees slumped half into the bushes, dazed, beaten. Rosemary stood over him, drawing great ragged breaths, her mind, empty of the all-consuming rage, was calm, cool. She stooped down and snatched the knife out of its sheath on his belt.
Fatboy looked up at her, croaked, “Please.”
Rosemary stared down at him, beaten and helpless, the knife cold and heavy in her hand, and thought, I can definitely handle the Army, and hell, maybe even Mama.