The fire burned slowly. The deep, intelligent sound of his voice filled the room and swirled around Nancy’s brain. She closed her eyes and envisioned the overweight figure with reddish brown hair point police in the opposite direction. She had already listened to this podcast when it first come out. But now that they had caught him, the elusive and mysterious murderer, Nancy wanted to revisit it.
She had listened to hundreds of podcasts. Notebooks filled with each gory, dehumanizing detail were jammed between great works of fiction and fluffy crafting-crime mysteries. This notebook was specific to not only the killer, but to this particular podcast. There were at least a dozen other notebooks all featuring his symbolic calling card. Nancy balanced the notebook on her chair and flipped to her own drawing of the suspect. On her lap, the apprehended accused stared up at her from her tablet.
Nancy had determined his name three years before podcasts had been a thing. Long before true crime and internet sleuths were all the rage. Nancy had identified almost every serial killer she had read about. To date, she had unofficially closed hundreds of cold cases. All of the answers were right there in the clues.
The kettle whistled from the kitchen. Pressing pause, Nancy stood up and walked into the kitchen. Her peacock blue tea pot had a low whistle. The same noise sung from a far off train. She thought of the book she had read not too long ago. The one written by a sports fan and possibly his daughter. Nancy hadn’t solved that one, nor had she been very interested in it. It had traced the presumed steps of a man who murdered families based on their proximity to the train. Nancy looked over her shoulder as her tea steeped.
From what she could see of her living room through the narrow archway into the kitchen it looked like cover to a murder mystery book. Something like and fictional, something between a beach read and a nightmare maker. Dark green velvet curtains blocked out the time of day. Bookshelves packed with notebooks, biographies, and fiction lined the walls. The glow from the fireplace illuminated the high back chairs on opposite sides of the window. Her comfy chair cast a large shadow over the area rug.
It was in that same chair that Nancy had solved her murder. It had been an unsolved case in a neighboring town. The case had been cold for eighteen years. Sitting in that chair, on her father’s lap she had gotten the final clue she needed. It had been two years later, after her father’s passing that she unpacked her case files, curled up in that same chair and for the first time put the pieces in the correct order. Double checking her work, she assembled a folder complete with an intro, an index, and even an appendix and mailed it to the town’s police department. Her father was dead, turning him in could only provide closure for the relatives of the four families he murdered.
Her tea was almost ready. The herbal smells wafted up toward her nose and mingled with the smell of the fire. From the cabinet above the stove, Nancy grabbed a plastic container of cookies. Taking two out, Nancy put them on a small dessert plate. The cinnamon from the cookie elevated the already aromatic air. Nancy smiled putting the rest of the homemade cookies away, and returned to the living room.
Next to the chair there was an old fashioned, ornate end table. Putting her tea on a coaster, she placed the plate of cookies onto the newspaper. The bastard had died before the trail had truly even begun. At least that’s what the paper had said. Stopped taking his medications and croaked. One of California’s most prolific offenders had been caught officially through DNA testing. Never mind the years of sleuthing from real detectives to online sleuths. A used tissue is what did him in. Nancy rolled her eyes. She hadn’t uncovered his name, but his crime had been solved by Nancy years ago. Former police, fired or kicked off, hometown, actual physical description. All things she had in her notebooks years and years ago. She had been missing a name.
Nancy had learned the hard way that even with a name, pride was an ugly beast. Much worse than any of the graphic and unthinkable evils her murderers commited. A homebody, a woman, the daughter of a murderer – she couldn’t have solved it, not if real police hadn’t. She smiled at her phone before hitting play to return to her podcast.
The familiar lettering filled her screen. Nancy had become well acquainted with over the course of her investigation. Back then, when she was first delving into things, she had still been leaving the house to go to work. She had made it through the company meeting. Mostly everyone was planning on getting dinner together, but she needed to get home. She had plans, she was on the brink of solving a cipher. Her boss, with whom she was closest, asked her one last time to come to dinner with them. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but Donald and Bettye are already at my house. They’re waiting for me.” She had blurted it out before she had thought about what she was saying. From then it became easy. “Dinner with Josh,” she’d say. “Getting a drink with Joe.”
Nancy was sure that her co-workers either thought she was a floozy or full of shit. Either way, the names of the killers became her escapes. Her plans preventing her from making new ones. As her focus increased, and her efforts to leave the house lessened. After a conversation with her boss she was cleared to work from home.
Settling back into her chair she pressed play. The sounds of the host wrapped around her like a warm blanket. The chilling music woven with the steam from the tea trailed up her nostrils filling Nancy with a comforting sense of dread. She closed her eyes as she listened to the familiar words. Perhaps they would do a follow up episode, a special. Nancy had long finished her tea and cookies. Her podcast was playing to an empty room. As she slept, she dreamt of her own killings and what facts would be misrepresented, the quirks they would get right, but mostly of whether or not they would ever catch her without her help.