Lina restarts the crime on her TKnC debut...
Marsha Cleland, an overweight forty-seven year old mother of four, walked into a dilapidated entrance of a city-subsidized apartment building that smelled of disinfectant, cat urine and marijuana. In her oversized backpack she carried her daughter’s white tutu for the afternoon ballet class, her son’s homework she forgot to unload last night, a bag of ice to save her from a heat stroke on the desiccated roof and a Tanaka M700 Police Gas Sniper Rifle.
Marsha had found the Tanaka in an online store called Airsoft while surfing the net on her oldest son’s computer. It was expensive, but she deemed it worthy of the price. She settled on the M700 for many reasons, but primarily for the noise level. All gas rifles were quiet, but the M700 was advertised as soundless and that was what Marsha needed, even though she lived in a loud neighborhood, where trains thundered by, trucks rumbled on and off the highway ramps, and gangs of boisterous teenagers swarmed the streets, bored with themselves and looking for adventures.
It was a blue collar neighborhood gone downhill in the recent years of the financial upheaval, devoid of parkland, playgrounds or baseball fields. The neighborhood’s only green vegetation was the long strip of land bordering the railroad tracks where the forty-foot tall trees spread their mighty limbs far and wide. They silenced the trains, cut the wind and dust, and hid the old grandmas in folding chairs under their branches while their grandkids played hide and seek among the trunks. Old men shuffled cards beneath the trees. Moms sashayed back and forth with their strollers. Families barbequed. Even teenagers hung out there at night, their ears plugged with white buttons of iPod headphones. Until recently.
The railroad company, tired of pruning branches every spring and removing dead wood off the tracks after every storm, resolved to cut the trees altogether. And they did, disregarding the neighborhood’s protests. They cut every single tree, even those far away from the tracks, spraying the stumps with plant killers leaving behind death and destruction worse than a forest fire. Marsha lived around the corner in a small ranch house, her backyard facing what used to be woods for fifty years. Only two weeks ago the huge sprawling oaks still knocked into her windows, their leaves softly rustling at night as if singing nature’s lullaby. Now the trains roared by her backyard so loudly her children woke up screaming all the time.
Marsha had called the railroad’s chief engineer. She called the EPA. She wrote to her congressman. She emailed Sierra Club and the news. Other people complained too, yet nothing happened. Marsha’s neighborhood wasn’t high enough on anybody’s political radar. Registered inside some computer system, Marsha’s neighbors’ complaints lay dormant like dead weight, deader than the trunks of their once cherished trees. Grandmas cursed and grandkids threw stones at the tree-cutters, but Marsha took it a step further. She spent a week researching rifles on the web and she bought the Tanaka. When words failed, guns had to be drawn.
Marsha pulled a screwdriver out of her pocket and slipped it between the building’s front door and the doorjamb, trying to pry it open. That door had been glitchy ever since two years ago when the police tampered with it to arrest a sex offender. Every kid picked it after that. She also knew that the padlock on the roof door was only for show because the building’s teens turned the rooftop into their private quarters in the evenings, but during the day, especially in the middle of summer, it was scorching like a desert and just as empty.
“There you go,” Marsha uttered satisfyingly as the lock gave to her screwdriver. “I can only hope the rest of this goes as easy.”
Once on the roof, Marsha settled behind a huge silvery air-conditioner box and unloaded her new and shiny M700. She mounted the bipod on the front swing swivel as the user manual instructed, lowered her face down onto the cheekrest and peered into the sight, surveying the dead yellow stumps of her beloved trees. Sprayed with potent chemicals, designed to kill any new growth while slowly destroying the roots, those stumps would never produce new trees. The tracks were forlorn and dejected. The heat emanating from the brown stone wall that supported the metal rails was cooking the last bits of vegetation left alive.
The black tarp of the roof was cooking Martha too, seeping through her clothing and burning her T-shirt into her flesh. She rose from the black surface, took a few ice cubes from her bag and smeared them over her face and stomach. She munched on a cube and felt better. Until her quarry arrived she would have to sit on her backpack so that her bum wouldn’t fry. She wished she could cry, but her body had forgotten how to make tears. The last of them she used up while her husband died in her arms, the truck that killed him still rambling away, knocking down the street lamps. The drunk driver thought he was still on the highway for he never slowed down after he got off. He never got caught either.
Marsha checked her time. It was ten to three. According to the schedule she found on the Internet, a committee lead by her quarry was supposed to arrive at the site by three p.m. to examine their environmental achievements. Marsha did not consider herself a highly educated person, but even she knew how important trees were for people. She read about global warming in her kids’ textbooks. She knew about the greenhouse effect – and she was feeling it right now, under her bum. The heat was starting to penetrate the backpack fabric.
“Oh my,” Marsha mumbled to herself. Lines crossed her forehead. “What are we going to do? Where can we go?”
The trees were the only thing that made her neighborhood livable. Now, that one couldn’t even talk and be heard when the trains passed, the area would go downhill fast. Anyone who could afford it, would run for it. Junkies and drug dealers would move in, turning the place into their crime playground. And she still had four children to raise, to put through high school and college while she had no money to go anywhere.
Marsha saw a group of people walking along the tracks and dove down to the side to see them clearly. They were the railroad employees, dressed in simple clothes or uniforms. Amongst them was the chief engineer who she knew had sanctioned the killing. Marsha wasn’t interested in the workers. They were the executioners who had no choice in the matter. She was after the man who had given the order and signed the paper.
“There you are, honey,” she whispered softly as if she was about to kiss her youngest daughter good night. “Oh, and don’t you look fancy!”
He was easy to spot. In fact he couldn’t have been easier to identify if he had a name tag. The only man in a suit and tie, he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the railroad workmen clad in bright yellow vests and hardhats. He was a perfectly clear unobstructed target also for there was not a single tree left to obscure Marsha’s view. All he had to do was to step within Marsha’s crosshairs and stay there for just a few seconds.
“Bet your house is in a quiet cul-de-sac with a perfect lawn and an expensive landscape,” Marsha growled, her eyes glaring as she maneuvered her weapon. “Maybe even a pool in the back. Well, that’s about to end.”
Marsha lowered her face down onto the cheekrest and cocked her weapon. A little button on the back of the bolt popped up indicating that the gun was now off safety and she squinted to bring the crosshairs into focus. She knew she was only going to get one shot. Getting a second chance for this was unfathomable.
The rifle’s site magnified Marsha’s prey so well she felt the man was standing right next to her on the smoldering roof. Marsha could even see his tie – purple silk with maroon geometric figures woven over it. From what she had seen in the window display of the Tie Rack, which she passed by when she went to work downtown, that was the latest fashion. She was very tempted to move the site up a notch to see the asshole’s arrogant face for a minute before his execution, but decided against it. She had an excellent shot, her target was momentarily stationary so wasting time would be unwise. She carefully adjusted the cross-hairs over the stretch of the purple silk, a woven maroon square shimmering right in the intersection, and squeezed the trigger.
Tanaka M700 kept its promise. Even Marsha heard nothing more than a whispery rustle. She felt the shot, but her ears registered no sound waves. Her quarry never knew what hit him, but it knocked the life out of him so fast he was dead before his twitching body hit the stony ground. He never comprehended that his body had developed another hole Mother Nature did not intend for him to have. Well, Mother Nature did not intend to have her wonderful trees destroyed.
Marsha lifted her head off the cheekrest and surveyed the scene. The man was on the ground, surrounded by his crew as clueless to what happened as he had been. They must’ve seen the blood on his shirt for they were now looking up and about, trying to figure out where the shot came from. Now she had to get out of there faster than the trains that roared past her backyard, loud, offensive and abominable. Yes, she had to vanish and find a good place to get rid of the rifle.
Marsha shoved the Tanaka into her big backpack, careful not to rip the tutu or crumble the pages covered with her son’s handwritten notes. Hiding behind chimneys, air-conditioner pipes and other strange roof constructions, she crawled over to the door. She slipped inside, took the stairs all the way down and left the building unnoticed.
She walked along the street, once lush with green and now bare and barren, relishing the commotion on the tracks, drinking in every detail of the havoc she wreaked like a drug-addict sucking on a pipe. The yellow-jacketed crew swarmed over the fallen man like a bunch of bees over their dead queen. They frantically spat into their chirping radios. In the distance, Marsha heard the sirens wailing – the police and paramedics were on the way. They didn’t yet know they had nowhere to rush because the man’s only destination was the morgue’s freezer.
“Rest in peace,” Marsha murmured viciously, her black eyes glowing in sinister satisfaction. “Maybe some kind soul will plant a tree over your grave. That one you won’t be able to cut.”
She fixed the backpack and quickened her pace. She had a jam-packed afternoon ahead of her. Bobby’s afterschool care ended in fifteen minutes. Sami’s ballet class was in half an hour. Then she had to get home in time to make dinner because Julia was now working in a pet store after school and couldn’t help her. Rick used to, but he now spent all his time at ROTC hoping for a college scholarship.
Marsha didn’t feel sorry for the man. Not a frigging bit. He took down the neighborhood’s trees. He deserved to be taken down with them. She did feel sorry for her new shiny rifle she had to ditch, because it was a waste of a good solid weapon she could absolutely trust. Tanaka M700 guaranteed a perfect takedown.
My previous works appeared in Murder New York Style, four Deadly Ink anthologies and an e-zine Voices from the Garage. I am a recipient of two Writer’s Digest Fiction Awards, the second one for an excerpt from my most recently finished novel, Death by Scheherazade’s Veil, a belly dance mystery. I won The Deadly Ink Short Story Competition 2008 and was a finalist at The SleuthFest 2009 and Reading Writers Contest 2010. My story, Believe, will appear in the December issue of Beat to a Pulp. I also write travel pieces for www.destinationagency.com and theater reviews for www.stageandcinema.com and the www.happiestmedium.com