Harassing phone calls from a killer terrify journalist, Susan Weston after her first big byline.
Detective David Morgan investigates the calls and the fact Susan’s bracelet was found at the murder scene. Sparks fly between them in more ways than one.
To make matters worse, someone is leaving roses in front of Susan’s door. Is she being stalked by a killer?
Georgie Porgie pudding and pie kissed the girls and made them cry — now it’s time to die.
He released his hands from the victim’s neck, and the lifeless body slumped to the ground. He stood back, and stared at it in disgust.
“You thought you were so cool, didn’t you, George? Playing all the girls like that. You could’ve had anyone you wanted, but you weren’t satisfied with one. You wanted them all. Then you broke their hearts and left everyone else to pick up the pieces.”
He stooped down, lifted George’s head, and propped it against a rock, then pulled a tube of lipstick from his pocket and smeared it across the victim’s mouth. How many times had he seen George wipe off his lips coming out of the locker room? “You won’t wipe it off this time, Buddy.”
He stuffed a paper into George’s hand and tightened his fingers around it. “You don’t look too cool now.” He laughed and pulled a container of pudding and a strawberry pie out of his knapsack, opened them, and dumped them over George’s head. The gooey mixture ran down George’s face.
He licked his lips. “You poor, pathetic bastard.”
Gathering up his knapsack, he took one last look at the body, then turned and ran from the park. His job was done.
Susan propped the News Gazette on the counter and focused on the headline. ‘Georgie Porgie, Pudding and Die’ by Susan Weston, it blared at her. Her headline. Her story. She’d done it. Finally got her headline. She drummed her hands on the counter and did a little dance step. She swore if her grin got any wider her face would crack. .”Susan Weston, journalist!” she shouted. God, she wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
The phone rang, startling her. “Who the heck is calling at this hour? “ She grabbed the phone. “Hello.” Bella rubbed against her legs, waiting to be fed. “Hello?” Susan grabbed the box of kitty food, filled the bowl, and set it on the floor.
“Hello,” she repeated, ready to hang up if no one answered this time.
The evil, raspy voice on the other end sent goose-bumps up her spine. “Who is this?” she whispered.
The voice mumbled something she could barely hear.
“Strawberries? What are you talking about?”
“Just for you,” the garbled voice continued.
“I can’t hear you. Who is this?” What kind of sick joke is this?
She caught the words, “loved your headline,” more garbled words, and “Watch for Jack be nimble.” Then the phone line went dead.
Susan grabbed the counter to steady herself. Her hand trembled, and she stared at the phone. She dropped the receiver back into its cradle as if it was on fire. But she couldn’t stop the trembling. Her stomach churned. Nausea filled her throat. What was wrong with her? Just someone playing a sick joke. This wasn’t her first crank call, why react like this? Maybe because none of the others had sounded like this.
He said he liked her story. That shouldn’t bother her. Something about that voice, so harsh, so evil. It gnawed at her. The hair prickled on the back of her neck. Something about it seemed familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it.
After pouring a cup of coffee, she read the story under the headline aloud, trying to keep her mind off the phone call. “Police are investigating the death of thirty-one year old George Lucas, whose body was found last night in Lagoon Park near his west side home.” The sound of her shaky voice surprised her.
What was the matter with her? “Get a grip, girl.”
Must be the effect of seeing the lifeless body. The way George Lucas’s eyes stared into space. What was he thinking when he looked into his killer’s eyes? The distant street lamp didn’t help. It cast an eerie shadow on the victim. His face frozen in terror, lips parted in a silent scream, and his head tilted to one side as if it was too heavy for his neck. The way one hand clutched at his throat and the other gripped the note, fingers frozen around it, sent icy chills through her, even now. She shuddered.
Thank God there wasn’t any blood, since the image would forever be embedded in her mind. Susan rubbed her arms to warm them.
Picking up the paper, she continued to read. “The coroner will determine the cause of death, but early reports indicate that Mr. Lucas was strangled. Lipstick was smeared across the victim’s mouth, and he clasped the nursery rhyme, ‘Georgie Porgie,’ in his hand. The teen who discovered the body reported seeing a man carrying a bag and wearing a gray shirt running from the park moments before. Police have no suspects at this time.”
Bella brushed against her legs, jumped on the counter, and snuggled against her.
Susan’s heart pounded. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. So much for the thrill of seeing her name on the front page. The image of the body filled her mind. Her hands trembled while she held the paper and reread the headline with her name below it. It was exactly as she had written it — not one word changed, short and to the point.
George Lucas lived in her neighborhood. She’d seen him a few times in Meliti’s Market talking to old Mrs. Meliti. Although they never spoke, they had nodded and smiled hello. Nice-looking guy, about her age. What a shock seeing him dead. Another shiver shook her body. Seeing a dead body was bad enough, but knowing the victim threw her for a loop. Made it personal.
Arriving only a few minutes before the police showed up and ordered her to leave, not that they had to tell her twice, she had viewed the crime scene and then skedaddled lickety-split. She knew enough about crime scenes to maintain a distance, knew if she got too close, she’d compromise the scene, maybe even leave trace evidence of herself behind. She didn’t need that. But she’d been close enough to read that paper in his hand, a nursery rhyme. She’d seen every gory detail.
The nursery rhyme letters, cut out from newspapers and magazines, and bowl of chocolate pudding and the strawberry pie that had been dumped on the victim’s head would stay in her memory for a long time. Of course, the police requested that information not be printed.
Requested, hell. Demanded was more like it, but Susan understood. Those were facts only the killer knew, and it prevented crank confessions. Couldn’t give the public too much information. After waiting behind the crime scene tape long enough to hear the possible cause of death, she hurried home to write her story before the deadline.
Susan walked around the kitchen. To sweeten the deal, her colleagues hadn’t shown up until well after they’d taped off the crime scene, hadn’t seen what she’d seen. So Ernie printed her story. Her first big byline! Even that cocky reporter, Dan Hill, hadn’t beat her out this time.
Staring at the large headline, she sipped her coffee. The words from the phone call rambled around in her mind.
“Strawberries. The voice on the phone said something about strawberries. Strawberry Pie dumped over the victim’s head.” Her voice cracked at the memory.
Only the killer knew about the pie. Her body shook. Had she been talking to the killer? What else had the caller said? Jack be nimble. Another nursery rhyme.
Grabbing the counter to steady herself, she repeated part of the nursery rhyme “Jack be nimble…”
Her mind raced. She pushed away from the counter and paced the kitchen, trying to remember the rest of the rhyme.
“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candlestick. That’s it!”
What the heck did it mean? Was he going to kill again? Was there a serial killer out there?
She grabbed the phone and dialed the police department. Maybe it was nothing, but she needed to report it. Something didn’t sit right.
Susan showered while she waited for Detective David Morgan. The Desk Sergeant had connected them when she explained the strange phone call. Detective Morgan of Homicide, in charge of the case, told her he’d come by within the hour to take her statement. Just what she needed, a detective coming here. Why couldn’t he take her statement over the phone? Yeah, right. She knew better than that. That wasn’t the way it worked.
A few minutes later, someone pounded on the door. “Hold on, I’m coming.” Good grief, couldn’t they knock like ordinary people. Scared the bejeebers out of me.” Susan opened the door a crack. How the heck did he get past the security door?
“Detective Morgan.” He flashed his badge. “You called me.”
Susan pushed the chain aside and opened the door. He brushed past her and walked into her apartment.
Taken aback by the tall, strikingly handsome man and his rude entry, she caught her breath. Here was Rhett Butler, from Gone with the Wind, reincarnated. He towered over her five-foot-eight height. Yet, she wanted to wipe the cocky grin off his face. Now she knew how Scarlett felt the first time she met Rhett.
But darn it, what gave him the right to burst in here like that? His coppery brown eyes twinkled with a hint of mischief, mesmerizing her. What a hunk of a man. Too bad rudeness got the better of him. The citrusy scent of his after-shave tickled her nostrils. His unruly, silky, black hair begged her to push it back in place. She resisted the urge to run her fingers through it.
Good lord, she needed to get a hold of herself; he was just a man. Oh, but what a man, not to mention, a cop. Susan fidgeted with her coffee cup, sipped occasionally, and paced while he questioned her in a quiet, but firm voice.
She stopped pacing and studied him, guessed him to be a few years older than her, maybe 35. Just because he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring didn’t mean he wasn’t married. Shaking the thoughts from her mind, she tried to concentrate on the phone call. “I could hardly hear him.”
A quivering sensation ran through her when she stared into the detective’s eyes. This man had the power to seduce her with just a look. “He sounded all garbled, like he was talking through water, or something.” Even her voice trembled.