Maggie had a headache and her heart was hurting. She had spent the afternoon visiting her best friends’ families. She loved them all and felt loved by them, but she also carried their grief and their worries that she would be next. Why? Why was this happening? She had no clue. She pulled into the small parking lot of the police station and got out of her car. One more thing to do today, then she could go home and collapse.
Molly met Maggie in the lobby after she was rung in by the receptionist. “Come back to my office,” she said. “We can talk there.”
Maggie nodded and followed the detective down the hall to a small and dreary office. “Not very stylish,” Maggie explained, “but I get by.”
Maggie decided to take control of the interview. “Why were they killed? They were my best friends since kindergarten. What is happening? Do you know anything about the killings?”
“We know that each of them was killed with a knife and there was a lot of blood on scene. We think the killer collected their blood. The killer has left very little evidence, but there may be a clue at the scene of Skye’s murder. We’re working on that. We’ve interviewed teachers, neighbors, parents, friends; anyone and everyone who knew them. No one has any idea why they were killed. Mrs. Jensen told me you were good friends with them; one of five forever friends.”
“We were friends since the first day we met,” Maggie said with a sigh. “We’ve shared everything with each other. Forever friends.”
“Can you think of anything that would link you all together with someone who would want to kill you?” Molly asked.
“Maggie leaned on her elbows and put her hands over her face. “No. I don’t know why anyone would want to kill them.”
Molly glanced down at her notes. “There’s a police report from (need[KG1] year) that states you and your friends saw something in the wood nearby. You followed a classmate and saw some sort of ritual.”
Maggie looked through her fingers. “I had forgotten about that. It was Kestrel. Do you think she’s involved in this? I haven’t thought about her for years. I don’t even know what happened to her after she was taken away by the police.”
“We don’t know,” Molly replied, “but we’re following up on every detail. Please call me if you think of anything; remember anything.”
[KG1]Decide how old they are now and how old they were when they made the report about Kestrel
Detective Molly Burns sat at her desk rubbing her eyes. Everyone else had gone home, but she couldn’t get this case off her mind. It was her first murder case. As a newly promoted detective, and a woman, Molly was determined to solve it. There was a pattern. There was always a pattern to serial killings. She just had to find it.
She stared at the bulletin board with the photos of the four victims. Push pins marked the places where their bodies were found. They were all local. They went to school together. They probably knew each other. But, why were they killed? And, more importantly, how many more would be murdered?
Those women weren’t random victims. Something tied them together. Molly felt it in her bones. She was also sure they knew their killer. All she had to do was figure out the tie and she’d find the killer. Molly was pretty sure the killer was a woman; another feeling in her bones. Molly trusted her bones. She hoped the blood the officers found on the sidewalk a few yards away from the most recent victim belonged to the killer. She hoped they would find a DNA match with someone in their database, but she knew it was a long shot.
Mrs. Jensen offered Molly an armful of ripe tomatoes. Their spicy, warm scent made Molly’s mouth water. “You’ll be doing me a favor, my dear,” Mrs. Jensen said, “by taking these tomatoes. I have too many to use.” Mrs. Jensen had retired from teaching at Valley Vista School after 30 years. Now she spent her time babying her plants.
Molly was interviewing everyone she could find who worked at the school when the murdered women were there. Mrs. Jensen remembered them. “They were nice girls, always kind to others, and always laughing. There was a fifth friend. Her name was Maggie. Those girls were never out of each other’s sight. They were such good friends.”
Molly heart beat faster as she jotted down Maggie’s name in her notebook. “Another potential victim,” she thought.
Later that afternoon, Molly tracked Maggie down and made an appointment to talk with her in person. “I can come to Petaluma,” Maggie told the detective. “I want to visit my best friends’ families. I’ll stop by the police station afterwards.”
Satisfied with her phone call; Molly reviewed the officers’ notes from each killing. “There’s always blood, but the killer is meticulous,” she said to herself. “She doesn’t leave clues. No fingerprints. The only shoe prints are from hospital style booties. What is she doing with the blood? Is it some sort of ritual?” Then she re-read the notes from the most recent killing. A neighbor insisted that she saw two great horned owls and a peregrine falcon attack a woman getting into her car. It sounded crazy, but something made Molly look at the description the neighbor gave of the woman being attacked. Could she be the killer? Molly pushed a new pin into the bulletin board where the bird attack took place and added the description the neighbor had given. Maybe it was a clue.
I played Reverse Mouse Jenga yesterday. It’s a game I made up to take my mind off of what I was really doing. The point of Reverse Mouse Jenga is to gently manipulate a pile of frozen mice until you find the keystone mouse. The one, that, once dislodged, causes all the other frozen mice to separate so they can be weighted and sorted into gallon-sized zip lock bags to be fed to the raptors living at the bird rescue center.
These mice didn’t run away. Or, if they did, they didn’t run fast enough. Now they’re bird food.
Frozen, dead mice stink. They stink even more when thawed. I wear gloves when I sort mice, but the gloves don’t help much. I wear Eau de Dead Mouse for the rest of the day after I sort mice. Cats love me.
I avoid handling the resident raptors on mouse-sorting day. I don’t want them to find the scent of dead mice so irresistible that they take a bite out of my ungloved hand.
A glove is only worn on the left hand when handling raptors. Raptors stand on a handler’s left fist and the glove protects the handler’s fist from their talons as well as providing a surface for the bird to grip and balance. The other hand needs to be ungloved so the handler can jess the bird and tie off the leash.
My ungloved hand is vulnerable, and raptors have very sharp beaks. I am not a mouse. And I can’t run away.
Maggie jolted awake when the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac and the pilot started to bring the behemoth to a stop. Maggie envisioned him slamming on the brakes and gripping the steering wheel hard to keep from fishtailing down the runway. Actually, she didn’t know if planes had brakes or steering wheels. And, she didn’t care, as long as they got her where she needed to go safely.
Rolling her shoulders and stretching to ease the cramps in her lower back from slouching in the uncomfortable seat for hours, Maggie yawned. “How did I manage to sleep in this seat anyway?” she asked herself. She was exhausted after two months of trekking in Nepal. Climbing Mt. Everest was on her bucket list. Now she could say that she had stood on top of the world and looked down.
Winding her way to the luggage carousels, Maggie ordered up an Uber to take her home. “A hot shower, a glass of wine, and my own bed,” she thought. “Heaven.”
Forty minutes later, she turned the key in her lock and sighed. Her apartment was spotless, her plants had been watered, and fresh flowers were on the table next to today’s newspaper. She picked up the note from her neighbors:
Welcome home, world traveler. We took care of your place while you were standing on top of the world. There is a rotisserie chicken in the fridge along with some veggies and a bottle of your favorite chardonnay. Tonight, enjoy a bubble bath in that big soaking tub of yours. Tomorrow, we’ll bring over a wheelbarrow of mail and a pizza. We want to hear all about your trip. You know we live vicariously through your adventures.
Love, Damon and Jon
Smiling, Maggie opened the wine and poured a glass. She looked down at the newspaper and her world shattered.
Splashed across the top of the front page were photos of her four best friends since kindergarten. They met on their first day at Valley Vista School in Petaluma when they discovered they each had the same pink, sparkly backpack. Maggie was the only one who moved away, but she was in San Francisco, close enough to meet for dinner or to see a show, which they did at least once a month. Now they were dead.
Maggie’s legs gave out and she sat, hard, on a kitchen chair. She couldn’t stop staring at the photos.
Stormi. Victim One. Found in a pool of blood in her kitchen. A cup of cold coffee on the table. Stabbed through the ribs.
Jess. Victim Two. Found laying on a sidewalk along B Street, her tights and shoes splattered with blood. Stabbed through the ribs while on her morning run.
Peri. Victim Three. Found at the top of the rise in Penry Park, her throat slit, the grass stained red around her body.
Skye. Victim Four. Found on the sidewalk outside her house with her head bashed in. A small pinprick wound in her neck oozed blood. Police had found more spatters of blood a few feet away.
The article continued with theories and speculation about the killer’s motives and how victims were selected. The last paragraph summarized an interview with one of Skye’s neighbors, an old woman ranting about seeing two great horned owls and a peregrine falcon attacking a tall, slim woman with short, dark hair as she tried to get into her car. “Those birds were watching that woman,” she insisted. “Then they attacked. I’m telling you; it wasn’t normal. Those birds knew something.”
“Crazy,” Maggie decided.
Victim Four was late for work. She ran out the door, bending down to pick up the newspaper from the sidewalk on her way to her car. Then she was on the ground as Kestrel swung a length a piece of pipe against the back of her head. She felt like she was floating when Kestrel knelt and pierced her neck with a knife, holding a vial up to the wound to collect the blood. Then it was dark.
Kestrel collected the blood and turned to stride back towards her car parked down the block. Four down, she thought. This is so easy. The police would be expecting lots of blood from the media’s favorite serial killer. Not this time.
Kestrel heard a whoosh of wings. She had time to throw her arms over her head before two Great Horned Owls and a Peregrine Falcon attacked, swooping down from the sky, screaming, talons spread. Three sets of talons scraped her scalp before the birds wheeled away, turned, and came back for another run. Kestrel ran, too. Towards her car. She fumbled the keys as the birds attacked again. Drops of blood spattered on the sidewalk. Kestrel threw herself into the car and slammed the door shut. She didn’t see her own blood on the sidewalk as she drove away.
There is a special significance to being in the middle. Number three of five. A perfect symmetry.
Kestrel thought about symmetry as she meticulously planned her next killing. How should she honor this middle victim? There had to be blood, so it would be a knife. And, it wouldn’t be the kitchen like Victim One. Nor on a sidewalk like Victim Two. Victim Three didn’t go out for early morning jogs. Neither does Victim Two any longer, Kestrel thought with a smirk.
Kestrel had killed her first two victims in the morning. This one would be at night, under a full moon. Full of ritual. Of light turned dark. And book-ended by two more morning killings. A perfect symmetry.
The morning of the full moon brought freezing fog and mist. Drops of water clung to bare branches of trees, looking like precious jewels. Victim Three gazed out the window, admiring the beauty of the frosty landscape from beneath the warm blankets on her bed. A snatch of a dream, a nightmare full of terror and blood, lingered at the edges of her consciousness. The dream seemed important, but she couldn’t quite capture its wispy threads. An owl hooted, its eerie call breaking the silence of the morning. Another answered.
Kestrel finished breaking down a pomegranate. Her kitchen was spattered with red juice. Her sink covered with pips. Like blood. Splatter and gore and those bright beautiful red drops. She licked her lips and wondered what fresh blood tasted like. Maybe next time, she thought.
Victim Three was glad her day was done. Everything she had done had gone wrong and taken longer than it should. She hated having to re-do her work. But, she had done that today. What is it, she thought, about a full moon that makes people so crazy?
Victim Three loved the full moon. She liked to think the cold white light shone a blessing down on her. Deep in thought, she pulled her scarf closer around her neck as she detoured through the park. The moon was just starting to peek over the hills. Victim Three wanted to watch it rise from her favorite place in the park; a small clearing with a perfect view of the sky. She didn’t notice the woman sitting on a bench next to the path.
Kestrel waited until the full moon was high in the sky. I’ll let Victim Three perform her silly ritual, raising her arms high, her face towards the moon. It won’t do her any good.
When the time was right, Kestrel stood up and crept silently towards the clearing. She kept to the shadows even though she knew Victim Three didn’t see her or hear her. Kestrel approached from behind, her knife in her right hand, ready. Victim Three sensed movement and turned just as Kestrel struck, her knife piercing into Victim Three’s carotid artery. Like Victim One, Victim Three saw the face of her killer.
Blood spurted over Kestrel’s hands. Pressing her wet palms to her cheeks, Kestrel drew in the tang of Victim Three’s blood. I have enough, she though, for my plans, and turned to walk back home.
Another bird rose into the sky to circle with the others. Watching, always watching.