Ricochet Mystery Short Fiction By Trelana Daniel

Ricochet: Mystery Short Fiction By Trelana Daniel

Trelana Daniel, author of “Ricochet”, earned an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2020.  She has previously published short fiction in “Half Hour to Kill.”

*****

Geneva Lake rippled as the rain trickled down from the tranquil grey skies and disrupted its glasslike surface. Looking out of the entrance to my family’s summer home, I stood quietly trying to translate the language of the frogs echoing down the waterfront. Crossing one arm in front of my body, I tapped my toes to the rhythm of the frogs’ chants.

It was perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps my runaway imagination, but I heard the frogs working together to croak Led Zeppelin’s aggressive beats of “Kashmir.” The hot green tea from my favorite earth-colored ceramic mug tasted of cranberries and dirt. Rain began to pour harder onto the sidewalk creating pools of puddles. Perfect circles rippled through the puddles as lightning streaked across the sky. I jumped back when the vibration of thunder shook at my feet.

The hot green tea from my favorite earth-colored ceramic mug tasted of cranberries and dirt.

“Cassie, come inside before you get struck by lightning,” my mom said. She called from the cover of the four-season porch ten steps away from where I stood.  Her voice sounded distant- like an echo. “And move that brown package that is at your feet. It’s too close to the window.”

“Better struck by lightning than by fragments of ricocheted bullets,” I replied. Looking down, I saw the small package she’d asked me to move wrapped in non-descript brown paper. It seemed out of place. “What is in the box?” I asked.

“Now Cassie, I know we had ourselves a scare back in Chicago, but it’s not healthy to hold onto that fear,” my mom said. “It’ll paralyze you to think that way. Besides, ricocheted bullets have a less likely chance of killing you than bullets fired straight into your chest.”

As I let her words nestle like nettles inside my brain, I pondered the reality that my mom lives in denial of most things. She denies that her eyesight has worsened over the past year while she squints into books instead of using the readers sitting on her nightstand. She denies that she loves tomato-and-basil flavored Wheat Thins, though they were sitting next to her as she sat on the porch. But worst of all, she denies that the condo we live in when not at the summer home is located in a neighborhood with a skyrocketing crime rate.

Lincoln Park had been a haven for me until three months ago when a random drive-by shooting left our living room window shattered. The Chicago Police Department said the window was shattered from a ricochet of a bullet. CPD proved lazy and wrote off the incident as an accident, which means no further investigation into the cause of the shooting. Mom seemed to think it a reasonable explanation. After the window was repaired, she decided not to worry about the shooting while I bought a handgun and started staying up nights to watch over the neighborhood.

“What is in the box?” I asked again.  I picked up the box to move it out of the rain.

She replied with a shrug and a wink. This was her typical way of letting me know it was none of my business or she didn’t care enough about me to tell me the truth.  Either seemed plausible. I grabbed the keys dangling on the porch and opened the outside door. “I’m going to town to get a drink,” I said.

“Have fun, sweetie,” Mom replied. “Don’t forget about the curfew.”

I stopped in the doorway. “Why is there a curfew?” I asked. “I’m twenty-four years old.”

“There was something on the news about it,” Mom said. “I didn’t pay attention to the details.”

Walking out of the door, I felt a chill in the air that was growing as the rain started to pound harder on the pavement. The little brown box happened its way into my raincoat as I wondered what I had taken out of the house. There was no telling if it was safe to drive with it in my possession. My steps quickened.

Skippers Bar’s pink neon lights shimmered on the wet pavement making the parking lot glow with a faint red hue.  It was less crowded than usual for a Friday evening but still carried that familiar smell of stale beer mixed with spring lake water.  The bartenders were the same as I remembered from last year, and I was thankful to have the same familiar faces to look forward to when I was back in William’s Bay, Wisconsin. The barkeep had grown his beard to an unruly length. He always remembered my affinity for whiskey sours. I shuddered that he also might remember the terrible stories I shouldn’t have told about my disagreements with my mother.

“Hey Goose,” I said to the bartender. “Why is it so dead in here tonight?”

“Cassie, how the hell are you?” Goose responded. He reached over the bar to give me a high five. “Did you get into town recently?”

“I got in a few days ago,” I said. “I’ve been too lazy to leave the house.”

“I don’t blame you,” Goose replied. “The kidnappings have been so scary. People have been staying home, or they’re just not coming to the lake because of it.  I hope sales pick up soon.”

“Kidnappings?” I asked. Suddenly, I wondered if my handgun was in my purse.

Goose leaned in and started to talk softer. “Have you not heard of all the weird shit that has been going on this summer?”

“Like what?” I  asked. Goose handed me a whiskey sour as I scooted closer. Goose was always good for a fun story.  Once he told me a story about twins that disappeared for three full nights only to be found with chocolate all over their faces and bellies plump from indulging on too much sugar. They had been hiding in a room under the barn right outside their family’s home living off candy bars, after deciding to run away when their mom had banned them from snack food before dinner one evening.

“The kidnappings started about a month ago,” Goose said. “My neighbor, Jana, got this phone call from some lady asking her to meet her husband at the Tuckanow County Bridge with a tire iron, because his tire was flat. His phone had died so this stranger said she was calling for him. Jana told her two teenage kids where she was going and went to meet her husband at the bridge.  Later that night, the husband shows up at home without his wife which is when the kids asked him about the phone call. He said he never made the phone call.”

“That is weird. How did he fix the tire without the tire iron from his wife?” I asked

“That’s the thing,” Goose said. “He never had a flat tire. He called the cops to tell them about the bogus phone call his wife received, but they never did figure out who actually called her that night.”

“Disturbing,” I said.

“That isn’t the half of it,” Goose continued. “She hasn’t been seen since and there have been five more abductions reported on the news over the past four weeks. It seems someone new goes missing every week.”

“Is there a pattern to the disappearances?” I asked. “Or maybe a link between the victims?”

“Nothing,” Goose said. “At least, nothing that the news has been reporting. They’ve only released the names of two of the five people, so I’m not even sure who all has been kidnapped.”

“So you think they were kidnapped?” I asked.

“Why? What do you think?” Goose asked.  He took a sip of seltzer from a glass just under the bar. “Do you think they were killed?”

“I mean, if they haven’t been found yet, and it’s been a month,” I said. “All the crime shows say if they’re missing more than 48 hours you should just assume they are dead.”

“So you think it’s a serial killer,” Goose said. They both shook their head with disappointment.

As I finished drinking my whiskey sour, I stared up at the TV behind the bar to watch the local news. A huge story making the headlines was a rich man attempting to set up colonization on the moon.  The dream of being in the vacuum of space where bullets had no velocity was a personal dream of mine.  I desperately wished I could afford to take a shuttle to the moon while also hoping I could find out more about this serial killer. The news was proving useless.

I pushed my empty drink back to Goose’s side of the bar. “I’m going to head back to the lake house,” I said.  Reaching into my pocket to get some loose cash, I felt the mysterious, brown box blocking me from reaching the money. I pulled it out and grabbed the cash underneath to leave out on the bar. “If I’m not back here tomorrow night, I’ve been abducted. Make sure to call the cops.”

I pushed my empty drink back to Goose’s side of the bar. “I’m going to head back to the lake house,”

Goose winked and gave me a thumbs up.

Not far from Skippers Bar was a sleepy, lakeside resort called “The Abbey.” The quaint, cottage-like resort kept its twinkle lights up all year round. Along with a posh spa that always smelled of gin and jasmine, there was a small beach next to the property that was open to the public during the summer. With the rain having recently stopped, I decided to go to the beach and absorb the crisp cool air into my lungs. Serial killers be damned. Being cooped up in the lake house with my mom was the worst, and I didn’t want to stop my tradition of going to the beach after drinking some cheap whiskey from Skipper’s Bar. I scoped out the parking lot looking for cars or people that might be out there to make sure I was alone. The yellow-tinted sand on the beach was vacant -so I took off my clothes for a skinny dip.

Walking into the water, it felt like a thousand sharp needles shooting through my legs and into my spine. The water was frigid this time of the season having just thawed from the abundance of Wisconsin’s winter ice.  Taking a soothing icy, cold lake bath made me feel refreshed and renewed. I plunged myself into the water headfirst to wash away the winter blues. A flood of memories began floating out of my head. The disappointing dates and unreliable friends were melting from my memory as the pins and needles came to distract me. I embraced the sharp pain for as long as I could.

Afterward, I found myself walking naked along the dimly lit beach to enjoy the frigid air. The clothes I had worn were draped in my left hand as the wet, cold sand seeped between my toes. In yoga, the trainers tell you to let go of all the stress while you breathe deeply, but it was proving difficult when I swore I saw a serial killer’s shadow in every dark turn. Maybe it was Goose’s story about the disappearing wife and the tire iron that made the beach untenable, but it helped me decide to leave.

As I wrapped up my naked bits in the towel that smelled of stale spruce-scented air freshener, I noticed an old, white car parked at the other end of the beach parking lot.  I crouched behind my front tire and found a small rock to throw out into the openness to see if it would stir anything or anyone. After throwing the rock, I listened intently without moving for two minutes. It was the slowest two minutes of the evening- nothing but waves stirred in the night.  I moved from behind my tire and started scurrying as fast as possible to the driver’s side door while watching the mystery car.

When I reached the driver’s side door, I looked into the backseat to make sure no one was waiting to kill me like they do in all the scary movies. It was empty. I slid into the car while holding my breath. As I started my engine, I inhaled deeply to help calm my nerves.  I drove as fast as I could on the winding roads weaving through the small town and back to my family home.

After a few miles of being on the road, my paranoia began to vanish until I saw the red and blue flashing lights lit up behind me. My pulse quickened as I pulled out my insurance card and driver’s license while simultaneously pulling over – a trick I had developed from the numerous times I’d been pulled over for broken tail lights and speeding.  I held my breath hoping to suffocate my paranoia as the officer approached.

He rapped on the car window with his flashlight, shining it into the vehicle. “License and Insurance,” he said. I exhaled as I rolled down my window.

As I handed the documents over to the officer, my mother’s mysterious brown box fell out of my pocket and into the passenger’s seat. My heart sped faster as I worked to keep his attention. “I’m sorry. Was I speeding officer?” I asked.

“I didn’t pull you over for speeding Ms.–,” the officer said. He looked down at the driver’s license carefully. “Ms. Krimsaw.”

“Then why?” I asked.

“Do you realize there is a curfew in this town?”

“I heard about it, but I didn’t remember what time.”

“It’s past time,” the officer said.

“Actually, I was just headed home,” I said. “I was driving so fast ‘cause I got creeped out at the beach by an old white car that had pulled up in the parking lot.”

“Old white car?” the officer asked. “Did you see the license plates?”

I thought carefully. “No sir,” I replied.

The officer made an announcement on his radio, but I couldn’t hear what he said as he muffled his words with his hand. As he reached for his wallet, I flinched and closed my eyes. I realized when I opened my eyes that he had pulled out a business card to hand to me along with my documents.

“Get home and give me a call if you notice anything out of the ordinary again,”
he said. “I’m Officer Gale.”

“I will do that sir,” I said.  I rolled up the window as I sped away toward the lake house and put the small mysterious brown box back into my pocket. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my mom about all the weird stuff happening. This ordinarily lazy town has turned into a creepy small-time village.

From the parking area of our summer home, I walked down the sidewalk and up to the front steps hoping to see mom’s smiling face on the front porch.  The front door was wide open, but mom was not where she was when I left the house.  I pulled the brown box out of my pocket and almost set it down on the porch but decided to keep it close to me.

“Mom,” I called out.  The kitchen, mom’s favorite destination when reading fantasy novels, was empty. Mom’s tea mug was sitting on the counter along with the book she was reading earlier in the evening. The flowery ceramic tea mug was cold to the touch.   It was late enough to think that mom had gone to sleep, but I wanted to check to make sure she was safe. After walking up the stairs and listening to dead silence through her door, I lightly rapped with three knocks.

“Mom,” I said. I cracked the door to look inside. “Mom, I have to tell you about the stuff going on in town.”

Hearing no response, I flipped on the light.  I walked over to the bed to rip off the mountain of duvet covers, but it only unveiled two pillows that mocked mom’s silhouette. My heart raced as I ricocheted from room to room.

“MOM,” I said.   “Mom, I need to see you, it’s important.”

Nothing stirred in the house. My breath quickened.

The bathroom. The rubber duckies I played with as a child sat undisturbed on the tub. Mom’s heart medication pills sat next to a burnt-out light bulb that lay on the vanity.

The attic. Holiday decorations hid in a corner. Cobwebs surrounded a nearby tote containing half-eaten blankets from the moths hiding away inside.

The Den. My pretend dance studio as a child. A record player with a layer of dust sat in the far edge of the room and splinters came from the edges of the wood floor.

“MOM,” I yelled.  “This is serious.”

Silence.

My ears ached for a sound. I looked in every nook and cranny of the house’s incredibly dark corners. At that instant, I was afraid of the dark.

I ran down to the water. Flushed with memories of my mother dancing at midnight in her bathing suit with green floaties on her arm, I kneeled.

“Mom,” I whispered.  The pier was quiet. I found myself wishing for the sound of the bullfrogs to return. A waft of the newly applied paint from the deck filled my lungs. I stared into the darkness of the water which seemed safer than walking around on a creaky pier where anyone could grab me.

* RING *

The phone startled me, and I jumped into the air.  The cover of night had been shattered as the vulnerability of this moment became painfully apparent.

* RING *

I fumbled as I found my phone ringing in my pocket.  It was a call from my mother’s cell phone.

“Mom?” I said.

“Hello.” It was a male voice on the other end. My throat tightened as I curled tightly in a ball on the pier- wondering if being small was a superpower.

“Who is this?” I asked after an eternity of silence.

“Cassie, this is Officer Gale,” he said.

“Officer Gale, the one that pulled me over earlier tonight?” I asked.

“Yes, I- I suppose that was me,” he stuttered.

“Why are you calling? Why do you have my mom’s phone?” I asked.

“Cassie, you were the last phone call on this phone,” he said.  “Is this your mom’s phone? We found it over here on the beach near the white car you told us about.”

“The beach I was at earlier?” I asked.

“Yes, I came to check it out after you mentioned it. I found a few things that were strange when I arrived,” he said.

“What strange things?” I asked. Feeling the threat was far away, I stood and started walking back toward the house.

“Well,” Officer Gale started. “I think you should come over here -to the beach.  There are a few things that aren’t adding up, and I need to ask you some questions.”

“Is my mom okay?” I asked. My voice cracked.

“Just come to the beach,” he said. “We can work everything out when you get here.”

I hung up the phone. Walking as fast as I could from the pier to my car, I realigned the package I had put into my pocket while trying to find my keys and held onto it for a moment to ground myself. My mind was racing.  When I reached my car, I threw the package in the passenger seat and sped off as fast as I could through the small town’s side streets to get to the beach.  The trees were dark tonight. Every shadow made from the streetlamps hitting the bark added depth to the already deeply entrenched world around me. I would give anything to go back to the dull life with my mom that I had before I had gone to the bar tonight.

When I arrived at the beach, the only two cars in the lot were a police cruiser and the old white car that had been parked there earlier in the night. I turned off my headlights looking around for any sign of people.  There was no Officer Gale. No one sitting in the white car. Worst of all- no sign of my mom. I cautiously opened my car door and looked over at the small mysterious brown package in the passenger seat. Craving that grounded feeling, I put it back in my pocket.

I hid behind the big rock and maintained a low stance to avoid being seen before I could get a better grasp on the situation. This solid formation was keeping me company in the loneliest place I had ever been. I hooked my arms to the rock and peered around it in all directions.

“Cassie,” said a male voice behind me. I was startled and let out a scream. It was Officer Gale.

Letting go of the rock, I turned around.  He was holding a phone in his hand.  There was sand up and down his trousers.

“Is that my mother’s phone?” I asked.

“I suppose it is,” he said. “Come down here with me on the beach, I need to show you something.”

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Is it my mom?”

Officer Gale looked over at me with a pensive voice. “Well, nothing is specifically WRONG,” he said. “I- I just think it’d be easier to show you.”

“So, she isn’t down there lying dead on the beach?” I asked.

“No, not dead,” Officer Gale replied.

“Is she hurt?” I asked.

“I think it would be easier to just show you.” He began walking away from me toward the water. There was blood splatter on the back of his trousers. I moved back toward the rock.

* BANG *

A gunshot rang through the air as my mom’s voice screeched. She was yelling words that I couldn’t understand.

One sentence she said registered in my brain. “Get down now, Cassie,” she said. A bullet ricocheted from the rock and grazed my cheek.  “I said get down. He’s the kidnapper.”

I got down as I tried to avoid getting hit in the crossfire as the Officer raised his gun. He fired two shots into the dark as my mother sprinted out toward the dark waters.  “MOM,” I said.

“I’m not the kidnapper,” Officer Gale said in response. He shot a third bullet. My mother yelled out in pain.

“Don’t hurt my mom,” I said.  Protecting her seemed the only thing important to do. I felt powerless- as powerless as I felt when the bullets came into our Chicago home from the neighborhood shootings.

The officer ran behind me. He didn’t hold me as a human shield. He just slid behind the rock. I could see him grimace in pain. “Come out now and I won’t have to kill you,” he said.

Another bullet rang out. Officer Gale wailed as he fell to the ground holding his leg.  Looking around frantically, I yelled out, “MOM.”

She ran out from the darkness of the beach. Holding me close, she raised her gun to the officer. I looked away.

* BANG *

I rubbed my eyes trying to wipe away the tears. “He said he wasn’t the kidnapper,” I said. Noticing my breath was shallow, I began to intentionally breath slower, counting along the way. In – One, Two, Three.

“Of course, he was,” she replied. “Why else would he hide behind you like that?”

In- One, Two, Three. I grimaced at the word “was.”

I nodded reluctantly.  Reaching my hand into my pocket, I felt the little brown mysterious package. As I pulled it out, I accidentally dropped it next to the officer’s body. I bent down to pick it up, but my mother grabbed my hand and held it to hers.

“Is that the package from the patio?” she asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

“Leave it,” she said.

“But-” I said.

“It’s perfect,” she said. “It’ll prove that he’s the kidnapper.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “You told me you didn’t know why there was a curfew. How would you know this box has anything to do a kidnapping?”

“It has a missing person’s wedding ring in it,” she replied. “Jana was her name, I believe.”

“Was?” I asked.

“Oh, she’s not alive my dear,” mom replied.  “None of them are.”

I dropped my mother’s hand.  In-One, Two, Three.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed “Ricochet”, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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