Looking For Beta Readers

I have a new short story I wrote for a contest. Take a read and let me know what you think.

The Case of the Rose Petal Killer: A Dirk Randolph Mystery


Rich Allan

When the phone rang I knew it would be Captain Moran. The news guys had played up the murder as the lead story on all three local TV stations less than twelve hours ago. The anchors in their white shirts, sports coats, and fraternity ties all punched up the same words: Gruesome, Blood Everywhere, Rose Petal Killer Strikes Again.

All of San Francisco had been on edge since the first murder occurred two months ago, a young professional woman, brunette, 26 years of age, was found in front of her apartment, still in her Acura, keys in her hand, driver’s seat laid back, fully dressed in a pants suit, stabbed multiple times in the heart, with red rose petals sprinkled liberally over her face and body. A thorough check of the car and the seat control had yielded no prints, no DNA.

When the second murder happened with the same basic m.o., the media jumped on it and branded the perp as the Rose Petal Killer. Only this time the young woman was blonde and found in Golden Gate Park, several miles from the first murder, dressed in jogging bra and shorts, covered in yellow roses, lying on her back, displayed on a wooden bench for all to see.

Neither woman had been sexually assaulted or touched, except by the piercing of the heart with a four-inch blade. No evidence had been recovered at the scene by the squint squad who had gone over the bodies looking for things like skin fragments under the fingernails and examining all the other areas the serial killer might have touched, assuming the same guy did both women. I also had a suspicion the ladies must have known the guy, were surprised by the attack, and never had a chance to fight back.

I answered the phone. “Captain.”

“Dirk, how did you know it was me? I know you’re too cheap to pay for caller i.d.”

“I watch the news. You still at the scene?”

“Yeah. So get your ass over here, detective, and solve this thing.”

“You want to tell me the address?”

“Sorry, 845 Mason Street.”

“High rent district.”

“Right across the street from the Mark Hopkins.”

“On my way.”

I walked down three flights, exited my humble apartment, and headed toward the bus stop on Dolores Ave., after stopping off at Whole Foods to get that first cup of java. It’s not a bad neighborhood and the best I can afford on a cop’s salary. I don’t own a car because it’s expensive and I hate driving and especially parking on hills, which is basically the whole city. Sure it’s inconvenient but I don’t care and if I have to go out of the metro area I can always grab an unmarked car at the station or catch a ride with a black & white. I could have called for a ride today but figured, hey, it’s a body; Mrs. O’Connell wasn’t going anywhere soon.

*   *   *

I checked out the colorful townhome in front of me, three stories high, contrasting painted wooden scrolling decorations at each level under six-by-five picture window; part of a string of houses connected like paper dolls all the way to the corner. The structure sat in perpetual shadows, dwarfed by the giant hotel across the street, like living on the dark side of the moon. Hard to believe a place like this with no yard, no garage, and no parking could set you back three to four million bucks.

I wondered if the 19 floors, 400 room, historic, hundred-year-old Mark Hopkins was there when they originally built this house, stealing their view of the city and the bay. Probably not, but wouldn’t you be pissed if it happened to you?

Cops had the placed taped off, but I ducked under and asked a uniformed patrolman for Captain Moran. He told me the third-floor bedroom, in front of the house. Great. More stairs to climb. No chance this old home has an elevator. I make the ascent and reach the crime scene. The coroner and the squints are all doing their thing, taking photos, swabbing for DNA and dusting for prints. There on the blood-stained sheet, naked, spread eagle and covered in white roses was a very dead Mrs. O’Connell, early thirties, not bad looking and pardon the crude expression, built like a brick house.

The Captain spotted me. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I took the scenic route.”

“When are you going to get a car?”

“When are you going to give me a raise?”

“You know I can assign you an unmarked vehicle on a permanent basis.”

“I got no place to park. Is there a Mr. O’Connell?”

“He’s sitting in the upstairs parlor being watched by one of our guys. He’s the one who found her.”

“You talk to him yet?”

“Saved him for you. He seems pretty shook up.”

“Any kids around?”

“Nope, second marriage for both.”

I left the gang to finish up and went to look for Mr. O’Connell. I found him sitting on a French style sofa, the kind with the curved arms; he was all bent over, elbows on his knees, holding his head with both hands. The patrolman greeted me when I walked into the room and the victim’s husband partially sat up. He had been crying and looked a little pale.

“How are you doing, Mr. O’Connell?”

“My wife is dead.”

“Yes, I know. Sorry for your loss. Mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Who would do something like this? Did you see her?”

“How long have you been married, Mr. O’Connell?”

“Call me, John.” The middle-aged man with dark curly hair wiped his eyes with the back of his shirt, a custom job that matched the Armani suit coat lying beside him on the sofa. “About two years now. She worked with me at my company, Wright Brothers Air Freight.”

“The one by the airport?”

“That’s right.”

“Sorry to ask this, but was this a happy marriage?”

“I loved Shirley,” he protested, almost too over the top. “We dated almost two years before I proposed.”

“Were you still married to your first wife at the time?”

“What does that have to do with it?”

“Women get jealous.”

“Ann? Do this? Not a chance. She was getting hers on the side too…with another woman. She was happy to take half my money and go live on a beach somewhere. Besides, did you see all those roses? This had to be that serial killer.”

“Coroner estimates death at three a.m.; can I ask where you were at that time of night?”

“I was at the airport. We had a very important overnight shipment to get out and I wanted to supervise the loading personally. My manager, David Burns, can verify it.”

“Thank you, John. One final question, did Shirley have anyone in her life that she didn’t get along with a co-worker, a neighbor, a relative?”

“Shirley retired after we got married so I didn’t see her much during the day, except for a few lunches when I could get away. I’m not sure what she did, although she mentioned taking some type of exercise class…yoga, Zumba, no wait, I remember, it was kickboxing. She said she could work out her frustrations, build up her confidence, and lose weight at the same time. Shirley always worried about her looks, no matter how many times I told her she was beautiful.”

John started to weep. I again expressed my condolences after finding out from him that Shirley had an office in the house with a computer where she kept her calendar, checked emails, ordered stuff online, etc. I found her office and her Apple laptop and flipped up the lid…password protected of course…but searching through her purse turned up a “Just for Kicks” business card at a nearby address. I called the lab guys to break into the laptop and get me a copy of Shirley’s schedule for the past two months. I then told the Captain what I had found and that I was going to check out a lead at a place called “Just for Kicks.”

*   *   *

The owner, Diane, turned out to be an ex-Marine who ran the place with her wife Joyce, who acted as a receptionist and kept the books, while Diane taught all the classes. I watch her work out a group of six women, all shapes and sizes, while they took turns kicking the crap out of a punching bag that looked a lot like a man. Feeling a little intimidated, I managed to question each one about Shirley and got the same profile from each…nice lady, very friendly, they all liked to hang out together, do lunch, go to matinees, exchange gifts for birthdays and so forth. I asked Joyce for a list of all their members and while I was waiting, noticed on the counter a stack of postcards with a big red heart promising to find prospective clients their true love. The Internet address read www.pinkcupid.com. I stuck one in my jacket pocket.

*   *   *

Back at my desk at the station, I pulled up the site and read the pitch, a dating app exclusively for women. Brandy, another detective, caught me checking out some of the profiles and photos. “Hey, Dirk, forget it, you’re barking up the wrong tree. These ladies prefer mates on my side of the road.”

“Then you can help me out. They won’t give out any names or contact information unless you join and fill out a profile. I want you to sign up and look for a Shirley O’Connell. ”

After reimbursing Brandy the $25 to join, I went down to the computer guy to see how he was coming along. He had cracked the code, her birthday, and showed me the appointment calendar. What caught my eye was a series of three lunches with the same woman, Jane Hanson, including a rendezvous at Top of the Mark the day before the murder.

I found Brandy talking on her phone. “Yes, I’d love to…your apartment…today at 1 pm…sure.”

“What the hell, Brandy,” I said, “Who was that?”

“Jane Hanson. She pinged almost immediately after I set up my profile and wanted to meet. Here’s the interesting part, she shows up as a possible match on Shirley’s profile, as well as Debbie and Sally.”

“Our first two victims; you got an address?” Brandy nodded. “Let’s roll.”

*   *   *

We knocked on the door of apartment 17D in the Mission District.

“Who is it?” A smoky woman’s voice rang out.

“It’s me, Brandy.”

Jane, a wiry, model-tall, comely lady, dress in a see-through blouse and slacks, cautiously opened the door. “A girl can’t be too careful these days.” Seeing me she tried to slam the door shut, but I got my shoe stuck in the opening. Not easy. This was a strong, military-fit lady.

I flashed my badge. “Detectives Randolph and Peron. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”

We were reluctantly invited into the living room, nicely furnished, with a still-life painting over the mantle, a potted plant in the corner, matched set of easy chairs, and an antique mahogany table with a large vase filled with flowers. I felt like Perry Mason solving the mystery at the last minute as Jane’s hateful, hurt eyes flicked back and forth between Brandy and the vase. “You lied to me,” Jane said, and then turned to me…waiting for the accusation to fall…because when I saw the bouquet of seven roses, I knew exactly who had murdered Mrs. O’Connell. And so did Jane.

New Fiction in the New Year

Follow the comic adventures of Eli “I’m not supposed to be here” Jones as he is drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Will he and the cast of characters he meets survive? Will the Army survive Eli?

Here is what the reviewers have said:

“If you enjoyed the movie “Stripes” then you will love the humor of this book.”

“Reading this is like being 17 again and having to face the issue of being drafted into the Vietnam war. It’s funny and insightful at the same time. It was like my own history—being naive and then finding yourself thrown into an adult world of the military during a troubled time in our history.”

“Despite his mantra of “I’m not supposed to be here,” Eli quickly adapts, making many new friends, including the cuddly Harry Horowitz, oil-rich Tex, hometown buddy Steve, the Professor, All-American college running back Sam, and the lovely Army Nurse Sara. They help Eli cope with the insane Battalion Commander (and Sara’s Dad), Colonel Clark, as well as overcome his bully Drill Sergeant “Must kill Eli” Wolinski.

Eli’s adventures continue through advanced infantry training at Fort “Lost in the Woods,” Missouri, as well as Infantry Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia, where he meets up with “Mad Dog” Drummond, whose sole purpose in life is to make the candidates as miserable as himself. Eli keeps his wits about him while trying to survive everything from nude fire drills, a snake-charming stripper – Miss Tiger Tactics, Ranger training, wandering brass pickers and alligators in a Georgia swamp, to being buried alive in a Vietnamese P.O.W. camp simulation.”

“Veterans will enjoy the tale as well as they relive the military insanity and the very real dangerous situations men have to face in both training and combat. Something for the ladies as well, as we meet the lovely Army nurse Sara, and fellow lifeguard, Karen, who both fall in love with Eli and helps him out of several jams.”

Something for the ladies as well, as we meet the lovely Army nurse Sara, and fellow lifeguard, Karen, who both fall in love with Eli and helps him out of several jams.”

Click on the link below and take a peek at this tall tale with the Amazon “look inside” feature.