Seth stuffed the slip of paper in the front pocket of his jeans before flushing an empty toilet and stepping out of the bathroom. With Melanie home, he figured she’d most likely be monitoring his every move. How do I keep her from noticing that I’ve left, he wondered. As his brain churned with possibilities, he was disrupted by a high-pitched scream.
“Sorry, Mel! I thought I’d changed my ringtone,” Seth shouted as he ran to his phone.
“It’s mine, actually. I did it as a prank to tease the ladies at work.” She replied, laughing as she responded to her text.
A repetitive stream of screams followed as text messages were exchanged. Baffled, Seth shook his head and retreated to his writing room to work, and think. After the fifteenth scream, his nerves were frazzled.
“Okay, I get it! The ringtone is annoying. Please turn it off!” he bellowed. “I’m trying to work!”
“What crawled up your butt and died? I’m the one who’s sick, remember?”
Squelching the overwhelming urge to strangle her, he shuffled out of his office, smiling. He planted a kiss on her cheek and half-heartedly apologized.
“I should be taking care of you … that’s what you’d do for me. How about a nice bowl of soup and a cup of hot tea— extra honey and lemon?”
Pleased that he was making amends, Melanie smiled and nodded.
“That sounds lovely, sweetheart. Thank you.”
Seth gave a mockingly grandiose bow before disappearing into the kitchen. With less than an hour to go until he was supposed to meet Kim, he needed to act fast. Mel can’t know what I’m up to … I need to be certain that she won’t interfere. While the kettle simmered, he looked around to see what might help him.
“How ‘bout I bring you some Nyquil so you can get some rest, Mel?” He called from the kitchen.
“No, it’s too early for Nyquil, Hon, but thanks. I’ll wait until bedtime for that.”
Damn! What am I supposed to do now? Hmm … wait a sec. Benadryl, yes! That will work. He opened the capsules and dumped the powder into her tea then masked it with an overload of honey and lemon. More went into her soup until she had enough medication in there to sedate an elephant. Seth only hoped that the medication would take effect fast enough to get out on time. Her items were loaded onto a tray with extra napkins, and a bottle of multi-symptom cold syrup.
Smiling, Melanie took a sip of her tea. Her nose wrinkled slightly and she coughed but she swallowed. She tried to put the tray aside but Seth wouldn’t let her. Using the same routine she always used on him, he insisted that she needed plenty of fluids to kick whatever bug was running rampant in her system. Her own words, coming back at her, added insult to injury, especially when everything seemed to taste funny. When she commented, Seth was prepared.
“Babe, I’m sure it’s just because you’re sick. You know how you always get that icky taste in your mouth when you’re sick. C’mon now, be a good girl. Drink all your tea and eat your soup first and I’ll give you a little treat. Okay? I just want my baby to feel better.”
The last sentence was uttered in baby speak, the kind of voice that made Seth want to gag but he was running out of time. Once every last drop was gone, Melanie handed over her tray. He sprinted off to get the treat he’d promised. In the small refrigerator in his office, he’d been storing a gift he’d won at Melanie’s last work Christmas party: chocolate liqueur bottles filled with an assortment of alcohol. He unwrapped two in her favorite flavors and brought them out. She’d practically inhaled them so all he had to do was wait until it to kicked in. Within the hour, Melanie was completely unconscious. He knew because he’d alluded to certain acts he’d like her to perform and she did not respond. He pulled the covers over her, set the home security alarm, and jumped into his vehicle.
“Damn! I’m late,” he growled as he dialed the phone. “C’mon Kim, please answer... please!”
Angela heard the thud of his footsteps. Every time she heard him descending the stairs her heart fluttered like a fly trapped in a spider’s web. Each step closer could be heralding of her death. He flicked on the light leaving her temporarily blinded but she did her best not to let her terror show.
“Well, Angela, I hate to say it but it seems there is very little drive to find you at all, let alone alive. I’ve had my ear to the ground, so to speak, but there’s nothing brewing. Sounds to me like your friends have given you up for dead. I want to remind them that you’re still around because, personally, I think it is a shame that they’ve just moved on and forgot all about you.”
“What if they’ve figured out that you’re the guilty one? Obviously, they’d be keeping you in the dark. I wouldn’t count my friends out. Kim wouldn’t—”
“Wake up and smell the coffee,” he interrupted. “No one is coming for you. I’m the only one who cares that you’re here!”
He stalked to his workbench and fumbled with some of his tools. Against her will, Angela could feel the salt sting of tears welling in her eyes. She’d vowed to remain strong but the prospect of being hacked to bits was drawing closer to a reality. Please, someone find me, she silently pleaded. A series of clicks preceded a strange hissing sound that seemed amplified in the tiny room. Straining against the restraints, Angela lifted her head only to see him heating a blade in the flame of a kitchen blowtorch.
“I’ll warn you now; the blade is so hot that as it slices through your flesh, you’ll hear it sizzle like a fajita. Every time I go to Chili’s I think of the many pets I’ve had in this room. It makes my mouth water every time I think about it.”
“I wish you’d let me help you,” Angela pleaded. “If you leave me unharmed I can testify that you’re not of sound mind. I mean, clearly, you need some psychiatric help.”
“Nice try,” he scoffed, dropping the blade to address her claim. “I do not need help. What I do need is to get on with my work. After that crack … perhaps I should stop and have a little snack first before I really get to work on you. I’ll need to grab a platter but don’t worry, Angela. I’ll be back.”
Seth had raced across town but managed to get stuck behind every single slow driver along the way. By the time he pulled into the lot where he was supposed to meet Kim, it was empty. He slammed the gear shift into park and hopped out, hoping to spot his friend nearby. Frustration and worry over Kim’s safety gnawed at Seth’s insides as his inner voice launched a tirade. Damn, she’d be stubborn enough to go off and embark on her plan without me. I sent her a text that was running late. Why couldn’t she just wait a few more minutes? He jogged up one street and down another but there was still no sign of her. Seeing no other choice, Seth cupped his hands around his mouth.
“KIM!” He screamed at the top of his voice. “KI-IM!”
His shouts echoed up and down the street. Just as he was about to yell again his pocket vibrated. Crap, I’ll bet Melanie woke up, he thought while reaching for his phone. The message read, ‘Are you nuts? Shut up and get back in your car before you ruin everything. The phone number wasn’t Kim’s. In fact, it wasn’t a number Seth recognized at all. His mind reeled, wondering who had messaged him. He looked around one more time before retreating to the safety of his vehicle. Jamming the key into the ignition, he started the engine and backed out of the lot.
“For a writer, you are dumber than a bag of rocks, Seth. Geez, why not hire a skywriter next time to broadcast it some more? Maybe, take out a billboard. Good thing I anticipated your lack of street smarts. Drive to the end of the block and hang a right.”
Seth had nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard a voice and then a head popped up from the back seat.
“Holy crap, Kim! Where the hell did you come from?”
“Did you really think I was stupid enough to drive my car out here? Whose car is this? I’ve never seen you drive this before.”
“I took Melanie’s car. Bill knows my car. He followed me when I left the coffee shop.”
“Damn, that’s not good.” Kim muttered. “I wonder how deep this perversion of power runs.”
Seth tried to pry for more information but Kim was lost in thought. When they reached a secluded neighborhood, she ordered her chauffeur to turn around at the cul-de-sac and park on the street in front of the second house.
“Where are we?”
“Really? You don’t know whose house this is?” She asked.
“Oh God, is it Bill’s house? I really don’t want it to be him.”
“No, it’s not Bill’s house … it’s much, much, worse. It’s Agent Dictator’s house. This house that we’re parked in front of belongs to some friends of mine: Daryl and Beth Dixon. Dick lives over there," She said, pointing. "I want you to go knock on Dick’s door. Tell him you had dropped in to visit your friends, they weren’t home and now your car won’t start. I need him distracted so I can get inside. I believe Angela is still alive and we’re going to save her!”
Despite Seth’s belief that her plan was foolhardy and dangerous, he understood her passion. He, too, believed Angela was still alive but letting Kim fall into a killer’s hands seemed too dangerous.
“Kim … why in God’s name, would I let you go into the house of a killer? Not that I don’t think you can take care of yourself but let’s think this through for a second. One, I’m guessing Dick already knows that you and his neighbors are friends. If I show up at his house, he’s going to suspect something is up. Two, even though Dick isn’t a prime physical specimen, I am pretty sure he could overpower you. This is not a sexist statement. He towers over you, sweetie. Yes, you’re a total badass but he’s got the weight and the reach to take you down. So, let’s revise your plan just a little. You go to the door and I’ll break in. It makes sense. Besides, if Angela is in there but injured she’ll need to be carried. I should do that.”
“Why? Because you’re a man?” Kim snapped.
“The fact that I’m a man is only relevant because I am taller and I have more muscle mass that you do. Besides, I can’t bear the thought of you getting trapped in there. You’re young, beautiful, and you have so much to live for. If I live, my wife is going to kill me anyway. I doped her with Benadryl so I could get out of the house without her knowing.”
Seth chuckled, hoping to lighten the mood and to his relief, Kim joined him. She agreed to his modified plan with the understanding that if Agent Dictator grew suspicious she was to call 911 immediately. Kim handed him a pair of latex gloves and waited as he pulled on his black, hooded sweatshirt.
The sun was dipping below the horizon as Seth ducked behind a cluster of trees and cut through some back yards to the hedges surrounding the agent’s property. Taking a deep breath, Kim walked to Dick’s front door and rang the bell.
Angela groaned when her captor returned. She’d assumed he was going to fix a sandwich or something while he was upstairs but, instead, he brought down an empty platter. The pungent scent of charcoal clung to his clothes. It was then that she realized his ‘little snack’ was going to come from her own body. To torment her further, he stood over her, sharpening his knives. Again, the blowtorch’s hiss filled her ears. The sound seemed to grow louder and louder until she was ready to scream.
BZZZZZ, BZZZZZZ, BZZZZZ, a new sound drowned out the flame’s whirring. She craned her neck to see what he was doing. With the touch of a button, a monitor came to life. A blurry figure was standing close to the camera. Each time the specter-like figure raised his or her hand, the buzzing sound repeated. Her captor muttered an oath before jamming a rag into her mouth and slapping a layer of duct tape over the gag. Angela’s heart sank. She wouldn’t be able to scream for help. As he stomped upstairs to answer the bell, Angela’s will to live slowly withered. It’s no use. No one is going to save you. The cavalry isn’t going to swoop in at the last second and rescue you. What makes you think you’re different? You’re going to end up just like the rest of his victims, the devil on her shoulder insisted.
Seth peered from behind the shrubbery waiting for Kim to walk past with Dick by her side. The eerie feeling that someone was watching him made his skin crawl. Every rustle of wind through the leaves or snap of a twig from the neighbor’s cat prowling for prey made Seth jump. I can’t believe I’m doing this. What was I thinking? I must have lost my mind, he silently berated himself as he crouched down lower. Kim walked by, chatting with Dick. That was his cue to get moving. With his heart in his throat, Seth sprinted to the back door. He froze for a second to look around. He was certain he’d heard footfalls behind him.
“Here goes nothing,” he muttered.
His latex gloved hand reached out for the door knob. A searing pain hit his temple then everything went black.
Angela could hear dull thuds and a strange scratching sound. To her, it sounded like a body being dragged across the floor. The terror had reached a fever pitch unlike anything she’d ever experienced. She’d always been a fan of horror movies but the fear of being butchered alive had overwhelmed her. It had always been easy to say ‘it’s just a movie’ before but this time she’d landed in a real life horror and there was no director to shout, ‘cut’ before the bad guy came back.
When he did return, Angela’s captor was laughing. The cruel, heartless, sound made her stomach turn. He was accompanied by more of the same dragging, scraping sound.
“Well, my dear, it appears I was wrong. Someone did miss you. She tried to pretend that she was having car trouble. Pathetic, really.” He sneered.
A moment later, he threw Kim’s body down onto the stained cot where he’d slaughtered Jill. Angela tried to scream but her gag kept her quiet. The gash on Kim’s forehead had unleashed a river of blood. Though she tried to remind herself that head wounds bled worse than any other, Angela feared for her dear friend’s life. She thrashed against her restraints praying for a miracle but doubting that it would come. Within seconds, Kim was tied to the cot, he was gloating, and Angela’s face was streaked with tears.
“What are you crying about? You should be glad. Now you won’t die alone. Funny thing is, I had planned to pin the guilt on Kim but she gift-wrapped a patsy for me. She arrived in …” he had to pause he was laughing so hard. “She came in Melanie’s vehicle which means Seth is going to rot in prison. Well, he’ll rot until they fry his ass. Thank you, sweetheart.”
He leaned down and kissed Kim’s bloody cheek then licked his lips. A deranged smile split his face. He seemed so gleeful that he practically skipped to his workbench and for the third time the torch was lit.
“This time,” he sang, “there will be no interruptions. Now, I can ensure my work will carry on after Seth is behind bars.”
Agent Dictator turned with his knife raised high. Laughing manically, he stepped toward Angela. Drool poured from his gaping mouth and dribbled down his chin. In his mind, he was already tasting the succulent flesh of the ladies who had always snubbed him. Mock me, will you? Just as the blade came closer Angela closed her eyes.
Certain she must be dead; Angela breathed a sigh of relief. At least it didn’t hurt, she’d silently consoled herself. While she didn’t feel pain, there was a heavy weight pressing down on her chest. Her ears felt like they needed to pop; enveloped in a high pitched whine. Only when she felt something shaking her did she open her eyes. A bright light blinded her at first but there were faces hovering over her.
“Angela! Can you hear me? Can you speak?” One of the shadowy faces asked.
Her ears popped and the muffled silence gave way to shouts and frantic voices barking into radios.
“Angela, can you hear me?” The voice seemed to be two hundred decibels too loud.
The weight on her arms and legs lifted and only then did she recognize the voice. Bewildered, she looked around and the crime scene investigators were milling around. Bill was standing over her, smiling. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around her. Kim was being patched up by the EMTs and so was Seth. Dick was cuffed: both hands and feet, to the litter as they wheeled him out. Bill helped Angela sit up and she threw her arms around him, pulling him into a bear hug.
“Thank you,” she sobbed. “I was beginning to think … I-I was so af-f-f- afraid I was going
“Shhh, it’s all over now. You’re safe. Kim and Seth will be just fine. I figure the minor injuries they’ve sustained will be punishment enough for ignoring my orders to leave this to the professionals. Dick got Kim, slammed her head against the hood of the car while he was supposedly helping her get the engine running. I guess I was a little overzealous when I took Seth out. I cracked him upside the head with a pretty heavy branch. We’d been watching Agent Dick for some time now and I couldn’t have Seth messing up our investigation. I had a suspicion you were here but I couldn’t get anything solid until we saw him dragging Kim back inside but we can give you all the details later. For now, we need to take you over to the hospital to get checked out and then I’ll need a statement from you, okay?”
The ‘Angels of Death’ and Seth were big news over the next few months. They made the rounds of nightly news interviews, local paper features, and even talk shows. To protect his friends from legal ramifications, Bill stretched the truth and said that Kim and Seth were part of the sting. The media circus following Agent Dictator’s trial was the truth behind made-for-TV, late night movies ‘based on a true story’.
Months later, Seth received a letter with the state penitentiary return address on the envelope. Inside, he found a letter from Dick Dictator asking him to visit. Melanie flatly refused to hear any discussion on the subject but, eventually, the curiosity had gotten the better of him. After the scanning and instructions on what would and would not be permitted inside the visiting room, Seth was led to a bank of phones with bulletproof glass between him and the prisoners. Dick took his seat and lifted the phone. He motioned for Seth to do the same.
“Hello, Seth. I wanted to see how dedicated you are to your craft. I have a great idea for a story … you should write about me!”