As the cabbie stopped in front of the only house on the street, something didn’t feel right to her. A faded, almost falling over “For Sale” sign and foot-tall grass indicated it had probably been vacant since Hurricane Floyd basically wiped out that side of Greenville. She remembered that the caller’s voice had seemed vaguely familiar, but had been too soft to identify. Maybe she’d misunderstood the address, or, more likely, a robber was waiting behind that big untrimmed bush on the corner. She wished she’d listened to her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s advice about picking up fares in remote places.
Shivering, she reached to put the gear shift back into “D.”
Just as her hand touched the lever, her work cell phone rang, making her flinch. A chill ran through her before she looked at the number. She smiled and threw her hands up at her vivid imagination. It was the guy who’d called earlier, probably wondering why it was taking so long for her to arrive. Now she was glad she hadn’t paid attention to her husband’s words.
As she put the phone to her ear, the same voice very clearly this time said, “Bye-bye, sweetheart!” Before she could say a word, a high-velocity bullet pierced her cell phone and slammed into her skull.
Jackie Braun fell over dead, with the horror of knowing who had brought her to that place at that time frozen into what was left of her face.
A thousand yards away, beside the low brick wall he’d rested his rifle on for the shot, Joe Braun’s steeled jaw relaxed in the darkness, a slight smile at the corner of his mouth. His very meticulous plan to lure his wife to that isolated spot had paid off. There would be no splitting of their estate after all. With a pair of binoculars he confirmed that the scene revealed no outward sign that anything untoward had occurred. It seemed to be just a cab idling, as planned.
He’d warned his wife many times not to keep her window rolled down while driving and to not pick up fares in dangerous areas, but her stupid refusal to heed his warnings just to make a few dollars had played right into his hands. There were no shards of glass to let anyone passing by know that anything was amiss. With no occupied houses or any other place where someone else might be at this time of night, it was as if the shot had never been fired. The German extended-barrel flash suppressor and his self-made silencer had done their jobs.
As planned, he’d have plenty of time to set the scene up to make it look like a robbery gone bad. Murderers were usually caught through some simple avoidable mistake as he’d seen so often on television’s The First 48, but he would be so meticulous that it couldn’t conceivably happen to him. Methodically following his “Plan of Action” list to avoid missing any small detail that could trip him up, he immersed the untraceable pre-paid cell phone in a small plastic container full of rubbing alcohol, then dropped it into the deep water-filled rotten cavity of an old oak tree.
He wouldn’t be caught by re-using the phone that he’d set his wife up for the kill with, giving the dumb cops a reason to wonder why that same number appeared on the other phones he needed to call. He’d automatically be the prime suspect and a good alibi would be needed to avert suspicion. The oak tree itself had been the inspiration of his whole plot.
The previous week, he’d seen the house for sale and thought of buying it to live in after his divorce. As a tree lover, he’d immediately spotted the dying oak down the street and walked over to examine it. The deep cavity had reminded him of when he was a boy and had disposed of a blank pistol he’d shoplifted in a similar hole. That night the whole concept had burst into his brain in a dream. He’d never let Jackie have the lake house he loved so much. The ambush was the answer he’d sought, although the weapon involved obviously couldn’t be a pistol.
A call with another untraceable phone went to his top-secret workplace, which was sequestered from prying eyes at the Voice of America transmitter site near Black Jack. He had programmed that phone after everyone else had left work so that it would forward the call to a device at his home. He had invented it himself so that he could remotely control almost everything there. Joe tapped two buttons on the phone that made his radio play so loudly that his only neighbor across the lake had to hear it. On yet another pre-paid phone, he placed his next call to that neighbor.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t come to my get-together because you’re ill, Dick,” he said, without a hint of anything out of the ordinary. “I’m getting it ready over here to try to patch things up with Jackie with this party and I wanted to make sure the music’s not too much for you.”
“It is a bit on the loud side,” his neighbor replied, as Joe had hoped he would. “You know how the water carries sound.”
“Right, right!” said Joe, smiling. “I’ll just turn it down a notch. Go to bed early and rest. Maybe we can get together tomorrow and catch a couple of bass since you’re there alone this weekend.”
“Thanks, that sounds good. You’re so thoughtful. I don’t know why your wife doesn’t appreciate you more.”
“Oh, I think she’s finally seen what kind of guy I really am,” Joe said, barely keeping his sarcasm in check. “Anyway, let me cut this volume, and I’ll be seeing you tomorrow, maybe.”
Through the other phone, Joe lowered the sound of the radio at his house, then turned on his exterior floodlights by remote control just for good measure. On his last “casual drop-by” to Dick’s to obtain some of his cigarette butts, he’d also unobtrusively ensured that his neighbor was one of those rare individuals who didn’t have Caller ID; so the stupid detectives wouldn’t be able to discover that the call hadn’t come from his home phone. In the same manner as before, he disposed of his pre-paid phone.
Joe knew those calls hadn't created an airtight alibi, but he wasn’t done. Using his wife’s personal cell phone that he’d palmed from her purse while he’d so “graciously” rummaged through it to find her a tissue as they were working out a settlement at her divorce lawyer’s office, he placed his final call, this one to his regular cell phone he’d deliberately left at home. After it came on, he tapped two buttons on the forwarded line which allowed his cell phone to answer without going to voice mail, making it seem as if he were at home answering his wife’s call from the cab. He waited long enough to make it appear a conversation had occurred for when detectives inevitably looked at his phone record. He’d tell the cops she had called to discuss the two of them getting back together and to see if anything was needed for their reconciliation party. They probably wouldn’t be smart enough to check what tower the calls had come from, though, so he’d have to suggest it himself. Likely they couldn’t find a square cannonball if it dropped into their squad car through the windshield. Seemingly being at home for that call from her cab would make them look in another direction for a suspect, for sure.
How utterly clever he was!
With that phone disposed of, Joe took a moment to reflect how ironic it was that his bolt-action Mauser with the Nazi swastika carved into its stock would be the instrument of his freedom in 2012. When he’d been mailing it one piece at a time to his parent’s home near Fort Bragg during the post-war occupation of Germany to get around laws banning the possession of German weapons, he’d never dreamed that its untraceability would serve him so well.
Such an old weapon performing as advertised: highly accurate up to 1,000 yards, capable of penetrating armor. Passing through a cell phone was not nearly that tough, and the round was enhanced, of course, by modern technology that only a true genius like himself could have dreamed up--a tiny microchip he’d implanted in its 4.40 steel-jacketed lead bullet before replacing it in the casing. Too bad it hadn’t been feasible to use the Mauser’s 12-inch bayonet, though.
Up close and personal would have been a nice touch.
His work at the Precision Weapons Warfare Laboratory had paid off in a way the U.S. Army never had planned. Only the smartest mind, he was certain, could have ever figured out a way for a bullet to use a cell phone’s GPS unit to home in on. His co-workers had laughed at him for many months as he’d labored in secret to perfect his idea.
Jackie had laughed at him, too, for complaining about how she was always gabbing away on her cell phone, but wouldn’t talk to him when he was standing right next to her.
“Let’em all laugh, now,” he said as he slowly worked the bolt so he could remove the casing, which he placed in his pocket. He slid the gun into a large piece of PVC pipe he’d previously buried in a sandbox, having left one end open. Methodically he covered the open end and smoothed the sand over the pipe to hide it.
Checking all around for unplanned visitors, he calmly walked across Oak Street to the taxi and opened the rear door. Reaching over the seat, he used a mini-sledge hammer he’d brought with him to smash at the steel lock-box that held the cab’s receipts. After inflicting a couple of obvious dents in it, the handle of the hammer broke where he’d deliberately weakened it earlier that day.
Unexpectedly, the heavy steel head bounced back and smashed against his right wrist, leaving a mark and making him wince as he hoped he wouldn’t have to explain it later. He picked up his wife’s pocketbook and scattered the contents in the back seat, removing the cash and credit cards, then tossing her wallet onto the sidewalk, letting some of her personal effects fall to the curb around it.
Ducking down as the headlights of a car appeared, he had a just a moment of apprehension, but the car passed harmlessly by. He laughed at the mere idea that anything could go wrong with his clever plan. The other members of his East Carolina University MENSA club would be so proud of him now! Not for what he’d done, of course, but for how he’d done it.
Yet another superior stroke of cunning struck him to help seal the deal. He broke the flip top off his wife’s cell phone and left it on the floor of the rear seat, then reached back over the front seat and turned the steering wheel to the left in the direction of a side street, being extremely careful not to disturb the body or to get any blood on the head-to-toe rain suit he was wearing.
Joe listened for the sound of traffic, then got out and ran down the road in the opposite direction the taxi was facing. He threw the shell casing onto the street to make it seem that was where the shot had originated. To draw attention to it, he tossed the key pad portion of her cell phone on the sidewalk nearby.
Sauntering back to the cab, he reached through the driver’s window and put the gear shift into “D.” The car inched to the left - though not nearly as forcefully as his wife had complained it would when she didn’t keep her foot on the brake.
Just another one of her gross exaggerations.
Now it would seem to the doddering servants of the law that she’d been hailed for a ride. As she’d started to turn around, she’d been shot, then robbed. The killer had only taken his wife’s cash and credit cards due to the locked box and the broken hammer. With his wife having had her window rolled down, no glass was on the street to give away its exact location at the time of the shooting.
How absolutely ideal!
Joe congratulated himself on picking a perfect spot for a perfect murder. Calmly walking back across the street to where he’d parked his brand-spanking-new Cadillac, he took off his gloves, boots, and raincoat, carefully placing them into a plastic bag. He had to cross the Tar River to get back home, and one quick toss in the moonless night would eliminate any evidence that might be on them. Jackie’s credit cards would be deposited in a high-crime area on North Greene Street where they would surely be picked up and used by someone who’d find themselves unwitting murder suspects when nabbed by the police, who were so good at solving simple crimes where a store’s cameras would hand them their suspect.
Well-satisfied, he got behind the wheel and started the engine. My, how that engine hummed! What a marvelous instrument panel, with all the latest technical advances. Everything monitored to prevent any problems. The ultimate in safety. The latest in navigation. Everything a genius like himself deserved.
Smiling with complete contentment, he was already contemplating the fun he would have, acting the role of the bereaved husband.
“Who could have done this to such an intelligent, beautiful, warm-hearted woman?” he pictured himself moaning to the television news reporters. Everyone would be so sympathetic to him over his "tragic" loss. He'd even practiced the actor's art of crying on cue to seal the deal.
Timing was of the essence, though, and he needed to get back home soon enough to greet his guests and firm up his alibi that he’d been home preparing for a party. With his mind still on the brilliance of his planning, he pulled onto the street and turned to go past his greatest accomplishment. Then his brand-spanking new Cadillac,with all the latest safety gadgets one could imagine, was promptly rammed by the old cab that had suddenly leapt forward just like his wife had constantly said it would.
“This is Janis from Onstar,” a voice said after the Cadillac’s air bag deployed. “We recognize that you’ve been in an accident. The authorities have been notified of your location and help is on the way.”
“Just like in the commercial,” Joe said, chuckling as he thumbed through his dog-eared copy of Technology Today magazine and waited for the police to arrive.