In The Shadow of the Clocktower
By Elizabeth Cutright
© 2012 The Daily Creative Writer
A shining beacon and popular tourist attraction during the day, the Santa Barbara Courthouse can seem melancholy, almost ominous at dusk. As lawyers, clerks, defendants and investigators pack up their work day and head on home, shadows soak out across the lawn and the wind rattles the trees, whispering secrets and confessions over spiral staircases and tiled floors.
A few feet away from the steps leading to the clocktower elevator, Dani Pale – a 30-something writer/poet still growing accustomed to her three year stint covering local crime for an online news stringer – leaned against the cool adobe walls and gazed out at the darkening courtyard.
“Did you hear about the commotion last night?”Stu Micheals, private investigator and lifetime friend huffed as he stepped down onto the garden’s spongy, drought resistant lawn.
“Heard something on your radio monitor again?” Dani couldn’t help but grin at her friend. Five years into retirement, and he still monitored the radio dispatch at home – living vicariously through the exploits of the voices crackling though his laptop every evening.
“They found another body down at the Eastside railroad tracks. Cops are heading out to the Westside this morning to apprehend the suspect.”
“Well Stu, most people around here believe the source of all there problems starts on the streets west of town.”
“Sounds like you have your doubts.”
The piercing call of a cell phone cracked across the courtyard. Stu nodded apologetically as he answered the call. She waived off, heading across the fading patches of sunlight littering the lawn of the city’s famous sunken gardens.
What had initially appealed to Dani about this journalistic gig was the promise of solving mysteries. She’d report the facts – the who,what,when,where,why’s of it all – and blaze the trail to the final truth of the matter. Questions would be answered. Motives explained. The good guys would, ultimately, win.
Now she realized the inevitability of human nature contained, at its core, a secret she could not crack. The constant litany of assaults, rapes and murders perpetuated by the same stereotypes she’d fought so hard to ignore instilled a heavy, burdensome, cynicism. The arrest of a down-and-out inhabitant from the seedier part of town was one of the inevitabilities Dani had begun to anticipate the way a sailor balances on the ship’s deck waiting for the swell of the ocean underfoot.
But inevitabilities don’t solve cases.
She went over the body count in her head: A young college coed, a well-liked Restaurant owner, and now this third – so far anonymous – victim. The ongoing saga of three murders in almost as many months rattled the city’s inhabitants. Murder did not make sense when it arrived like an shrouded ghoul just blocks away from the white sand beaches stretching out to the azure waves of the Pacific. Lulled by sand, surf, sun, many of the city’s “upstanding citizens” would gratefully receive the official police statement that a suspect had been apprehended. Especially when that suspect lacked influence and prestige…and came from a place most people ignored as they raced down the highway in their air conditioned, high-performance vehicles.
But paradise and perfection are drawn to each other, each milking existence and relevance from the other’s polarized charge. These murders were not simply the end result of a life full of bad choices made under the canopy of dismal circumstance . The killings represented a much grander crime. And even before the police made their morning press junket, Dani knew the suspect was still at large. The murders would continue because the killer was using carnage to make a statement about money and influence. About love and loss. About how these 4 sibling influences tightly gripped the puppet strings of the beach side city she loved.
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