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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Crime/Gangster · #2316533
A famous detective's assistant has hidden talents. (WC 1980)
Serial Assistant

by Damon Nomad

          The deputy chief of police scanned the faces of the city's homicide detectives gathered in the briefing room. "This comes straight from the mayor's office. No complaints or arguments about Detective Chase coming here." There were a few groans. "I've heard the same stories as you. That he can be arrogant and rude." He waved a finger around the room. "Keep your feelings to yourselves. He's the best serial killer investigator in the state bureau. Maybe in the country."
          He gestured to Lieutenant Louise Landry to take over. The middle-aged woman commanded the respect of everyone in the room. "It will be me and detectives Spalding and Hobbs working directly with Chase and his assistant. Everything is set up in the large conference room at the end of the side corridor. Everyone else is off this case as of now. If we need you to run something down, we will ask."
          Less than an hour later, Landry watched as Carter Chase breezed into the conference room. She figured he was just about the same age as her. The famed serial solver looked just like he did on television news. An expensive gray suit, polished leather loafers, and a luxury watch. He inherited money and liked to show it. He flashed his pearly white teeth as he ran a hand through his wavy blond hair.
          "Landry, Spalding, Hobbs." He pointed at each of them as he said their names. "I know the names and faces of everyone in this unit. Eidetic memory." He had a Chesire's Cat grin as he spoke in a softer voice. "I know my reputation, but I understand this is a team." He winked with a nod. "I'm calling the shots, for now."
          A stocky woman came through the doorway just behind Chase. She was wearing an old but neat and clean black pantsuit. Her short black-gray hair was neatly tied back in a ponytail. She clutched a thick leather-bound notebook to her chest and made eye contact with them but didn't speak. She was Chase's shadow, his personal investigative assistant who helped him on every case. Looked to be five years older than him.
          Chase gestured at her. "This is Darlene, she's ruthlessly efficient. She keeps track of the schedule, takes notes, and keeps the files in order. He added with a bit of a smirk, "Also takes care of coffee and meals." He gestured at a chair, "Set up there, Darlene."
          He nodded at the boxes of case files on the table. "Let's get to work."
          Late that afternoon, Chase wrapped up a summary of the files Landry and her team had collected on two homicides in the last two years. Darlene scribbled away as Chase talked. "These two homicides have the distinct signature of the Smiley Face Killer. I suspected he would take on an acolyte once he was in prison, definitely a woman. He taught her well."
          Chase leaned forward in his seat. "Looks like we caught a break with this first killing. A different chemical composition of the marker used to draw the smiley face on the body. Not from the old ones that SFK bought years ago. We might find some other mistakes."
          Landry jumped in, "We need to review the visitor logs. SFK's been in prison for nearly three years now. That's a logical place to start."
          Chase nodded in agreement, "He's way too smart for that, I suspect a more elaborate means of communication. But your people should chase that down. We need to cover all the bases."
          Darlene put a fresh cup of coffee in front of Chase. "Working through dinner today, boss?"
          "No. Let's not push too hard the first day. Make sure the paperwork is squared away before you leave."
          Landry queried, "He get a lot of visitors?"
          "Oh yeah. He's allowed one a week. People are lined up to get in and lots of women. A wealthy and charismatic guy with a hold over a lot of people. We've interviewed him four times a year. He's been relatively direct with us. Except for unsolved cases, that's what I've been after."
          "What kind of profile are we looking for in a disciple of SFK?"
          "Smart, quiet type that operates under the radar. Neat and tidy but not a flashy dresser. Willing to slavishly take orders."
          A week later, Louise finished summarizing the status of the lead on the marker. "The feds came through with distribution data." She gestured at Pauline Spalding and Tom Hobbs. "Hobbs and Spalding did a lot of leg work to chase this down the last few days. Only five shops sold these markers in the time frame of interest. In two cities, both within a two-hour drive."
          Chase nodded his satisfaction. "Good job. Let's get customer lists, credit card receipts, and surveillance video." He pointed at Louise. "You know the drill, Landry. Task outside resources to chase it down. I want to keep the team together here."
          Chase tapped on his coffee cup. "Darlene, fresh pot. Let's do a working dinner."
          Darlene headed towards the coffee pot. "Yes, boss. What's the feel in the room for dinner?"
          Hobbs and Spalding answered in unison, "Golden Dragon."
          Chase leaned back in his seat when they were finished eating. "Darlene, get those notes emailed to everyone first thing in the morning."
          "You got it." She moved around the room, cleaning up the mess from dinner.
          Chase shook a finger in the air. "We have the partial print on the victim's locket but it's not enough for a database query. We get this list of people who bought these markers and then we get their prints. Line up an expert to get a match on the partial. I feel it, we are close to getting her."
          He grimaced as he leaned back in his seat. "SFK has likely told her where more bodies are hidden. Killings he has never admitted to but I suspect his involvement. This is big, we need this room on lockdown."
          Louise nodded in agreement. "Yeah, we can handle that. Post a uniformed officer just down the hall. Twelve-hour shifts, six to six. Only this team comes in and out until we have the customer list. I'll handpick a small team of officers to execute an arrest warrant, once we have the ID."
          Days later, the door to the conference room opened and Darlene came through with boxes from the gourmet burger shop. She had a sort of picnic basket with her as well. It was nearly seven and they were expecting an email with a list of customers who purchased the markers. It was due in another thirty minutes.
          Tom Hobbs helped hand out the meals. "What's in the basket, Darlene?"
          "Dessert, a surprise. Tonight's a big night." She paused a moment. "Eat while it's hot. I ate at the shop."
          Chase answered his mobile phone just as he prepared to dig into his burger. He gasped, "What time?" He paused a moment. "We are going to want to know more about the guy who did it." He laid the phone down. "Someone stabbed SFK during dinner, he's dead."
          "Sounds like someone is cleaning up loose ends." Darlene said matter-of-factly as she stood in the corner.
          The detectives stared at her; she had hardly spoken a word since the team had been together. Nothing beyond answering Chase's commands and taking care of grunt work and errands.
          Chase nodded at Darlene. "You have a theory you want to share?" He smirked with a quiet chuckle and took a bite of his burger.
          The rest of them dug into their meals as Darlene answered, "You've got the power dynamic wrong. This woman is not a slavish assistant. She's taking over from where SFK left off." She waved a hand at the detectives. "She knows you're getting close and didn't want him alive to identify her."
          Hobbs paused between bites. "That's an interesting idea. Except, how would she know we're close? We've kept this in our circle and none of us are talking to anyone."
          Darlene nodded in agreement. "There's another possibility."
          The discussion was interrupted when their workstations chimed with the arrival of emails. Louise was the first to click. "We've got it. Names and contact details for twenty-five people." She quickly scanned through the summary list of names. Her eyes went wide open as she looked up from her laptop.
          PFFT. A shot struck Louise in the forehead and she slumped over on her computer. The other detectives knew the sound of a silenced gunshot, but they were momentarily stunned. Darlene expertly and efficiently dispatched the other three with the pistol she had hidden in the dessert basket. None of them had even drawn their weapon.
          She whispered in a cool detached voice, "That's the other possibility. The killer has been in the room with you the whole time."
          She smiled as she stared at Chase's corpse. She took great pleasure operating under his nose for years and exchanging notes with SFK during their interviews in prison. Darlene had been helping SFK long before he was caught. She convinced him that she was a loyal servant. He underestimated her just like Chase.
          She heard the uniformed officer knock on the door. "Is everything okay in there?"
          Darlene's voice was calm. "We could use your help. Detective Landry slipped and fell." She knew the officer was the only other person on the floor.
          She shot the young man as he opened the door and pulled his body in the rest of the way.
          She used the three detective's mobile phones and her intel about their personal life to send text messages to family and friends. Big break in case tonight. Will be out of touch till morning. No message was needed for Carter Chase. He was staying at the same hotel as her and she knew he didn't have anyone waiting for him back home.
          Darlene spent the next few hours systematically and thoroughly obliviating the digital trail of their investigation. She wiped their hard drives and gathered up the hard copies of critical documents.
          She put a sign on the door as she left. DO NOT DISTURB.
          A year later, Darlene stared out the window of a beachfront condo on the West Coast. She sipped a cup of coffee as she listened to another cable news story about the daring killings and her escape. One-year anniversary stories about the killing of the four detectives and uniformed officer. They talked about theories that she had also been responsible for the homicides the team was investigating. Maybe even connected to the Smiley Face Killer. None of that had been proven. The on-air expert speculated that she had escaped and was laying low overseas.
          She turned off the TV, showered, and got dressed. She studied her face in the mirror as she put on makeup. She had drained several accounts where SFK had stashed money. More than enough for a new life, nose, and chin. She had also lost weight and gone blond. She grabbed her purse and headed out to catch a cab, she had an appointment downtown in an hour. She didn't want to be late.
          She sat calmly in the waiting room until she heard her name called, "Ms. Rita Flanders."
          She took her seat across the table from the two homicide detectives. "Good morning, detectives."
          The senior detective spoke first, "Ms. Flanders . . ."
          She interrupted, "Just Rita, sir."
          "Okay, Rita. You understand we are a serial killer investigative unit. We cover the state and it's a stressful and ugly business."
          "I understand, sir."
          "The job is not glamorous. Filing, taking notes, answering the phones, taking care of our schedules." He paused a moment. "Even making us coffee and taking care of meals."
          Rita smiled, "Sounds perfect to me, sir."

Word Count: 1980
Prompt: Write a story where a sidekick/supporting character steals the show away from the main protagonist.

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