First Page: A CIRCLE OF MURDERS
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He was dead. The son of a bitch was finally dead. How ironic, sixteen year old Sarra Gray thought, that the top of the Christmas tree lay within reach of his one outstretched arm, the hand reaching for the white tree top angel just inches from his fingers. Maybe he was reaching for salvation, she thought bitterly. But, only the devil would want Homer James.
Two men had entered the apartment and faced Homer. POP came from the gun in the killer’s hand.
That was the only sound that she had heard from her hiding place behind the partially closed bedroom door. Through the crack, she had watched as Homer drop to the floor, his knees buckling first, the rest of his body twisting to fall backwards onto the beige carpet. While the killers ransacked the living room, she had rushed silently to hide behind the false wall in the closet where Homer hid his safe. There was nothing she could do but breathe as quietly as possible and pray the men did not find her. If they did, they would kill her too.
Immediately after closing the door to her hiding place, she heard them enter the bedroom. Thump! Thump! Drawers, jerked from the dresser, hit the floor. The sound of ripping fabric was easily heard behind the thin plaster wall. She held her breath, terrified that if she could hear them, they might hear her as well. Then, they were in the closet. Voices muttered low, indistinguishable words. The noise of hangers raking back and forth along the rod was far too close. Sarra prayed and waited in terror to be discovered.
Suddenly, everything went silent. Not a whisper, not a sound did she hear to indicate the men had left the room. Nor did a door slam to let her know they were gone from the apartment. There was only the absolute quiet. Still trembling with fear, she waited two hours before daring to emerge and peek into the other room. They were definitely gone. Hurriedly, she returned to the closet and grabbed a bag from the floor. Slipping behind the wall, she worked the carefully learned combination. Into the bag, she dumped the numerous stacks of one-hundred dollar bills, a stack of computer video discs, several ledger books plus two large brown envelopes, contents unknown. Even though the bag was heavy, she picked it up and returned to the living room.
Outside, the wind howled and whipped sheets of snow into dancing dervishes across the penthouse balcony. Lamps, toppled from end tables, cast bright yellow oblong shapes across the floor. Slashed sofa cushions were tossed in a heap before the balcony doors. Books with ripped pages and bindings were everywhere. Jerked from wall hooks, the back paper covers of the paintings had been slashed open. Sculptures had been broken and tossed in pieces to land on any available surface.
Homer lay just as he had fallen. A dark red stain had spread across the front of his white shirt and oozed in a widening circle beneath his body. The crotch of his gray trousers was stained by urine and his bare feet looked pale next to the beige carpet.
She wasn’t sorry he was dead. She knew all too well how he took people and twisted them into monsters, trapped them and drained them of all hope, then tossed them out like garbage. “That bullet deserved a better target, you bastard,” she hissed. “You got an easy death.”
She had to get out of the apartment. From what she could discern, it was only a matter of time before the killers returned to find what they were looking for. Hurrying across the butchered living room, she stopped a moment to stare down at the body, stunned that she felt so little grief for the man. She did not consider herself a cold hearted person and expected to feel something other than jubilation at his death. After all, he had saved her from her father. But, she felt nothing. Not even a twinge of regret.
The odor of blood, sharp and coppery, mixed with the smell of evacuated bowels and bladder emanating from the body, made her gag. Nauseated and repulsed, she crouched down and forced herself to search Homer’s pockets for the car keys. She hated to touch his body, but she had to have those keys. There would be two sets, one for the Mercedes and one for the old Chevy. Cringing, she reached into Homer’s right trouser pocket. Luck was with her. The key ring was in the first pocket she explored. Pulling them out, she flinched as the jingle of the keys sounded abrasively loud in the quiet room. She clasped them tightly, then hastened to the front door and set the tattered blue flight bag on the floor.
Quickly, she jerked a jacket off a hanger from the coat closet. Her hands shook so much she almost dropped the old Navy pea coat, but snatched it in midair and slipped her arms into the sleeves. She pulled a black knit cap down over her ears and made sure every long strand of dark hair was tucked securely beneath it. At this late hour, it would be bitterly cold and her clothes were not the warmest. But, there was no way she was going back into that mangled bedroom to search for heavier clothing. What she was wearing would have to do. Time was too short.
A red angora scarf wrapped around her lower face and neck for added protection against the frigid night air, she stuffed the bottom of the gray wool sweater she wore into the top of her jeans and tugged the thick coat closer, buttoning it over the scarf. Lastly, she put on her leather gloves, thankful for the cashmere lining. Apprehensive, she cracked the apartment door, glanced up and down the long corridor then sighed with relief. It was empty.