“Damn it,” Sal grunted as he leaned over and picked something up off of the chair he had just occupied. “What is it, boss?” Eddie, Sal’s understudy of sorts, a lanky kid with knobby knees and shaggy hair looked over at his idol with a look of concerned inquiry. “It’s nothing, kid. Go get the car,” Sal quickly pocketed the small item he had found before tossing a jumble of keys at Eddie.
Walking out of the greasy spoon he and Eddie used as a kind of home base during investigations, Sal fingered the item in his pocket nervously but didn’t dare the risk of examining it in the stale afternoon sunlight. He didn’t need to see it; he had every detail of that tiny disc embedded in his memory. Every groove, every rounded peak and shallow valley of the reliefs imprinted on its surface were as familiar to him as his own pock-marked face. He had spent the better part of his sleuthing career, over three decades, in search of an item, such as the one he now possessed, convinced it was the missing link that could unlock a thirty-five-year-old double homicide that had gone cold… and had become his obsession.
The Bluebell Murders, the moniker, a reference to the dozens of bluebells that littered the crime scene- gathered by the victims prior to their savage death, had haunted Sal since the case, already five years cold, was dropped onto his desk. Intended as a routine case study for the eager rookie police officer, Sal poured over the report, memorizing every detail. Soon, he could think of nothing else. Maybe it was the victims, two 20-year-old twin girls from a small town outside of Flint, Michigan, that had mesmerized him. Maybe it was the thrill of hunting down some faceless lowlife who was conveniently forgotten as other solvable cases poured in.
If you ask me though, it was the hunch Sal felt, deep in his polyester-covered gut, that the Bluebell Murders were a piece of a much larger puzzle. A puzzle he was determined to solve, hell or high water. But, like so many other cold cases, most of the last thirty years of Sal’s ‘investigation’ had been little more than a trickle and primarily a enduring drought… no high water in sight.
Until six months ago.
While working another case with Eddie, Sal had gotten a break. A photograph, from the original case file of the Bluebell Murders, one that he was exceedingly familiar with, had been tucked under his “Go Away” doormat one evening. A section of the photograph had been circled with a red grease pencil near the left arm of one of the victims. Peering intently at the space indicated, Sal had brought the photo almost to the tip of his nose when he saw it… there, as plain as a prayer wafer, just inches from the girls’ fingertips was a small, circular coin. A dime. How had he missed that?
At first glance the dime seemed to be nothing more than change that had sprung free from one of the victims’ pockets during the melee leading to their butchery. But upon closer inspection, Sal noticed the coloring of the coin was a little off. He had rushed to the nearest photo shop and had the teenager behind the counter enhance the image, focusing on the ten cent piece. And then it hit him. The seemingly innocuous coin was in fact something much more… it was a calling-card.
Sal had heard whispers and tall tales when he had been on the force of a sociopath, who took particular delight in randomly torturing and psychologically terrorizing his victims, sometimes leaving them alive but usually not, that had eluded the law for over forty years. The number of victims in his wake was in the high 90’s and officials had only recently started to connect all of his crimes about five years ago. The connection came when a pair of fresh eyes had asked about a rusty-colored smudge on one of the more recent victim’s hands. The poor girl had been clenching something at the time of her murder and a search was immediately conducted to discover what that item might have been. They soon discovered it. An ordinary dime, minted in 1964 and dyed a slight rust-color, had been logged with the rest of the victim’s personal property. Working backwards, the police soon discovered identical dimes, at 27 other homicide scenes and 8 attempted homicide scenes. The number soon grew.
And now, two more senseless deaths could be added to that macabre tally. Sal had worked tirelessly since that day of discovery six months ago and he could feel the gap closing. Then, three weeks ago, he had attracted the wrong kind of attention. The first dime had appeared on the window ledge above his kitchen sink- someone had been inside his home. A warning. The second warning had appeared a week ago, in the pocket of a pair of freshly dry-cleaned trousers. It’s dull, rusty patina transforming Roosevelt’s once stately visage into a bizarre death mask.
Sal felt a chill course through his body. “They’re just dimes,” he mumbled without conviction, hoping to force any thought of the ominous dimes (including the one he now worriedly rubbed between his thumb and forefinger) as he waited for Eddie to bring around his sedan.
“Hey Boss!” Sal snapped his head up and saw that his sidekick was patiently waiting for him to climb in the driver’s seat, having already moved to the passenger side of the idling car. “You’ll never believe what I heard over the scanner,” Eddie asked, oblivious to his boss’ detached demeanor as Sal climbed inside and eased the car into drive. “Some doofus is going postal over at the treasury building, screaming about needing fifty 1964 dimes or some such nonsense and waving a machete around. They’re calling in SWAT and everything for this lunatic. Must be a full moon or somethi- WHOA!” Eddie screeched, gripping the dashboard as Sal suddenly pulled a U-turn in the middle of the street and was now booking it in the opposite direction.
“That asshole is mine!” Sal bellowed as he pushed the sedan to its capacity. Screeching to a stop in front of the treasury, Sal leapt from the car and dashed inside, oblivious to curious absence of any city police or SWAT team that should already be flanking the building. Entering the treasury, Sal assessed his surroundings with his pistol at the ready by his side. Something was wrong. Everyone seemed to be calm, orderly, even business-as-usual… that is until he had entered. Now people were screaming, falling to the ground, some were covering their heads with their hands and even pleading with him not to hurt them.
“Oh God,” Sal whispered to himself. They thought he was the lunatic!
“Sal, come on out. We know you don’t want to hurt anyone. Just come out and we can talk,” it was the police negotiator, Daniel, a nice guy if Sal remembered correctly, coaxed over a loud speaker.
“What is going on?!?!” Sal almost screamed as panic washed over him. Trying to stay calm, he moved towards the front of the treasury building, and slowly walked outside. Reaching the steps leading down to the street, the very same steps he had catapulted up only a few minutes ago, Sal put his hands up in the air. Facing about twenty drawn weapons, all aimed at him, Sal slowly held out his own firearm and as he began to place it on the ground in front him, he heard a voice in the distance yell, “Watch out! He’s got another gun!”.
After the dust settled and the area had been taped off, the forensics team slowly processed the scene. Working around the left side of the body, one of the newer members asked, “What do you make of this, Valerie?” as he pointed at something that had fallen out of the suspects’ pocket. Squinting at the rust-tinged dime, Valerie, a senior member of the team, shrugged her shoulders and gave her standard reply for questions like that, “bag it”.
“Ma’am? Can I get the check, please?” Eddie wiped his mouth and pushed back the half-eaten plate of blueberry pancakes. “Can’t finish that, sweetheart?” the waitress had returned with his bill and was smiling good-naturedly at him and started to clear the table. “Ah, can’t… I’ve got to meet my father in a few minutes. I have some good news to give him that can’t wait,” Eddie returned the smile. Tossing some bills and a few coins on the table, Eddie waved a casual ‘goodbye’ to his long time waitress and left his favorite greasy spoon.
Shaking her head at the ‘urgency of youth’ the waitress collected the money from the table. Pushing it around in her hand she paused over a dirty-looking dime, “That’s strange, I didn’t think dimes could rust,” she said before tossing the coin in the “March of Dimes” collection box on the diner counter and headed back to the kitchen.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: While writing this, I consumed an entire container of blueberries, hence the blueberry pancakes. Considering my usual eating habits, I’m quite proud that my compulsory eating was at least something healthy and not, let’s say, a box of JuJuBees (like last week). Sigh, I really am growing up…mom would be so proud.
TWO: Do you ever have those days when certain mundane objects suddenly hold additional meaning? No? Ok, well I guess it’s just me and my craziness, but today I swear that dimes were following me. First, on my way to lunch, a student stops me in front of the vending machine and asks if I have a dime I could spare. After spending about five minutes digging to the bottom of my black hole of a purse, I produced the desired coin and went merrily on my way. Then, at the restaurant, as I was ordering, I look down on the counter, and what do you know? A neat stack of dimes, sitting quietly, as if they were waiting to assist any needy patron wishing to make correct change. I don’t know why these two incidents are significant, but for whatever reason, my brain decided that they were. I may never discover why I felt this way, but I like to imagine that somehow, my awareness of our country’s smallest coin has created some kind of chain reaction… you know the whole ‘if a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil a hurricane something, something, something”. Later, at home, as I was coming back inside from throwing my clothes in the wash, something caught my eye. Taking a few very dramatic steps backwards, I willed it to be a dime. For some reason it was important that it was a dime that had caught my attention. Looking down, at the top of the dryer where I know it’s probably been sitting contentedly for months, was… a penny.
Ha! Psych yo mind, it WAS a dime!
Love & Squirrels.