What If Social Media Turns Murderous?

scared female teenager with computer laptop suffering cyberbullying harassment

Social media use has become so ubiquitous that it’s no wonder mystery plots are mining social networking for clues, motives and even psychological weaponry.

follow meOne example is the Social Media Murders Series by Angela Clarke, starting with Follow Me. If you think social media feeds fame monsters, you’ll appreciate a plot in which recent graduate Freddie, who is trying to get her journalism career started via online contacts and posts, bumps into old friend Nasreen, now a police officer, and seeks a scoop by following her to a crime scene where a dead man lies slumped over his computer. Social media-savvy Freddie realizes the victim was a troll and finds the Twitter account of the “Hashtag Murderer,” who takes credit for the murder and posts cryptic clues to the next target, titillating press and public. Freddie and Nasreen are soon in the crosshairs as they race to catch the fame-crazed killer.

other twinOr, maybe you fear that some folks in your social network of “friends” are playing unfriendly games.Then you won’t find any comfort in The Other Twin by L.V. Hay. In the British thriller, Poppy returns home after her sister India dies from a fall off a railway bridge and hacks into her sister’s laptop seeking the truth about her death. Poppy finds a social media world where resentments are played out online, identities are made and remade, and secrets outnumber truths.



mercedesNow if you’re a person who feels vulnerable to online-savvy miscreants, join tech-impaired, retired Detective Bill Hodges of Mr. Mercedes, the first entry in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges Trilogy. In an unsolved case at the end of Hodges’ career, the “Mercedes Killer” used a stolen Mercedes to mow down a crowd of people waiting outside a job fair. Miserable in retirement, Hodges is jolted back to life by taunting messages from the killer and drawn into a cat-and-mouse game on an anonymous social media chat site, leading to a race to stop a psychopath.


secretsMaybe you’re worried social posts are attracting undesirable followers who’ll try to move from virtual to actual contact. Then you’ll be terrified by The Secrets She Keeps from Michael Robotham. Unwed and pregnant Agatha, who works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store, is fascinated by chic customer Meghan, who writes a droll parenting blog and boasts two perfect children and a happy marriage. When Agatha learns her blog idol is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she approaches the unsuspecting Meghan and sets something terrible in motion.


youOr test your social nerves with Caroline Kepnes’ novel You. Beautiful Guinevere Beck shops in a New York bookstore where smitten employee Joe “Googles” the name on her credit card. Joe soon finds all he needs to know from her public Facebook account and constant Tweets. He begins to orchestrate meetings and events designed to push her into his arms, and removes any obstacles to his passion–even if it means murder.

For thrillers featuring social media, check out https://strandmag.com/seven-thrillers-featuring-social-media/


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Just the Facts, Mam! Murder by the Numbers

TS-462193457 Crime Scene tape

By Katherine Sharma

Murder mysteries are fiction. The reality of murder is both more mundane and more inexplicably tragic. If you want to write a murder tale that accurately reflects crime data, you will describe a handgun homicide involving two male friends engaged in an argument that escalated. It would be more interesting if that argument involved a tabloid-favored motive, but conflicts over romance, money and drug/alcohol-fueled temper rarely lead to deadly consequences as it turns out.

Here are the statistics about real homicides: FBI data shows about 69% of 2013 murders involved firearms, mainly handguns. In contrast, knives/cutting instruments accounted for 12%, blunt objects 3.5%, and strangulation less than 1%. As for who is most likely to end up a murder victim, FBI 2013 data shows that 77.7 % of murder victims were male and 51.7% were black (compared to 45.7% white). And when it comes to the killers, where gender was known, 89.3% were male, and where race was known, 53.6% were black and 43.9% white.

TS-78395301 Man with Gun

Although mass killings rose in 2015, one-to-one murder is still the norm, with nearly 47% of homicides single victim/single offender situations. And while people worry about evil serial killers, they should be paying attention to the people at the kitchen table. In incidents of murder for which the relationship of murder victim and offender were known, 55.9 % were killed by someone they knew (acquaintance, neighbor, friend, boyfriend), and 24.9% were slain by family members.

For a fiction writer looking for a realistic motive, here’s the scoop: Of the murders for which the circumstances of the crimes were known, 24.4 % of murders occurred during the commission of a felony (rape, robbery, burglary, drug deal), and 39.6% involved “arguments.” Digging into those personal conflicts, you find the cliché motives of murder fiction are rare: Love triangles accounted for just 1% of homicides, 2.3% involved an argument over money or property, and 2.6% involved a fight fueled by drugs or alcohol.

If you want to go deeper into the numbers, see https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2013/crime-in-the-u.s.-2013/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expandhomicidemain_final


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Some Murder Mysteries Inspire Historic Change

dead woman in red dress

By Katherine Sharma

In a previous post, I talked about the new fascination with “true crime,” and I think it’s only fair here to acknowledge the positive side to our lurid interest. Some murders not only inspire fictional bestsellers and highly rated television shows, they generate lasting legal and social change. For example, the public outcry after the 1964 New York murder of Kitty Genovese, stabbed to death in front of her apartment while 37 witnesses watched and did not intervene or call police, led to the development of the current 911 system.

After the 1981 Florida abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, his parents John and Reve Walsh established the pioneer Adam Walsh Outreach Center for Missing Children, launching a national movement that led to the Missing Children’s Act to add missing children to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database in 1982 and creation of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 1984.

When 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from her home in Petaluma, CA, in 1993, and later found murdered by a parolee with a history of abducting and raping women, public outrage backed a “three strikes” ballot initiative mandating an automatic 25 years to life sentence for three-time felons. The California’s state legislature was inspired to pass a three-strikes version of its own, and by 1999, 24 states as well as the federal government had enacted some type of three-strikes law.

TS-501893232 Murder 1

But here’s a favorite history-making murder: In 1799, Gulielma “Elma” Sands left her Manhattan boarding house and vanished, until her body turned up in the Manhattan Well. Amid wide publicity, fellow boarder and lover Levi Weeks was put on trial for the crime. It was not only New York’s first scandalous murder mystery, it was the first “dream team” defense: Levi’s well-off brother hired two founding fathers, former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and future Vice President Aaron Burr, along with future Supreme Court Justice Harry Livingston to defend Levi. The defense created a reasonable doubt strategy–presenting alternative suspects and theories (including suicide), attacking the victim’s character, establishing Levi’s alibi and planting doubts about prosecution witnesses–that would inspire future defense lawyers. And it was the young nation’s first recorded criminal trial, as the court clerk transcribed into the wee hours, when exhausted jurors decided “not guilty.”

To read about more surprising murders that made history, go to http://listverse.com/2015/03/22/10-murder-mysteries-that-made-history/


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

I Love A Murderer


How could a man so right for me in every way have done something so wrong?

I gazed at Carter as he dozed in front of the muted television set. He’d told me more in the last few hours than I could possibly take in, and I was glad enough that his medicine had finally made him nod off. Taking hold of his hand, I faced the truth: I loved a murderer. And as much as I didn’t want to, this realization forced me to face another truth—about my mother.

I’d taken on the private nursing job as a way to make money while I sent my resume to hospitals, doctor’s offices, and clinics. I never believed that I’d become involved with my patient. After all, he’d been badly wounded, and he’d killed a man.

Carter had seemed so hard, so indifferent, and so closed off that I’d told myself not to think of him as a man. But that was easier said than done. Even though I was tempted at times to show my impatience with his cynical attitude, I knew that he was becoming special to me. Now I sat next to him still shocked by the revelations that he’d finally allowed to pour out.

Before she died, my mother told me that there are no coincidences in life. Now, I wondered. Was I somehow destined to meet and fall in love this man who didn’t want anything but the skill that I brought to him as a nurse? In the two months that I’d been Carter’s live-in nurse, my pity had turned into something stronger. A poet once proclaimed that pity and love were close kin, and I sure believed it.

I hadn’t found much time for love in my twenty-six years. My father left when I was twelve, leaving Mama to raise five kids by herself. We’d scraped by, though. Sometimes I’d sacrifice lunch in order to buy school supplies and I seldom spent money on movies or even a Coke and hamburger. My lack of fast food funds probably helped me to maintain my lean figure, which was the envy of some of my fellow nurses in training. My mind only thought of necessities, and I didn’t expect to find love.

Carter Lee wasn’t the lovable type, either. He was almost forty, had never married, and seldom smiled. He was also withdrawn and tight lipped. He’d been injured in a terrible encounter, one that he’d steadfastly refused to talk about—until this afternoon. Now, as he slept, Carter looked utterly vulnerable.

I remembered how the previous nurse had whispered the word “murderer” in the most melodramatic way. The situation wasn’t ideal, but I needed a job, and I was sure that I could handle any patient for a few months. She explained that Carter’s fiancée had been killed by her ex-husband and that the man had also shot Carter. Semi-conscious, he’d shot back and killed the man. ThinkstockPhotos-177417670

The trauma had left Carter damaged both physically and emotionally. A string of surgeries and weekly physical therapy was repairing the physical damage. His face now looked almost normal and his body was healing. The most recent surgery had involved taking bone from his hip, and he was in a wheelchair as a result.

I absentmindedly picked up one of the seashells from Carter’s bookcase as my eyes started to wander around the room. His house was by far the most comfortable place that I’d ever lived—many times larger than the apartment I’d shared with my mother and siblings. Compared to the one room I lived in on my own, it was a palace. My mother had insisted that I finish high school, even when I was working too many hours at the local burger joint and could hardly keep my eyes open in class. After high school, I worked as a clerk and stayed with my younger brothers and sisters while Mama worked nights cleaning the hospital. Still, over a couple of years, I’d managed to earn almost a year of community college credits. My prospects of continuing on and getting a nursing degree became far less promising when my mother’s health failed that January four years earlier. I had to take care of the homemaking and pay the bills in her absence.

After that came what seemed like a series of coincidences. Uncle Nico, Mom’s brother, offered to take the three youngest children to live with him and his wife, Rosalie, in California. Their youngest was almost seventeen, and they told us that they needed more children to fill the empty nest that would soon be upon them. Even though they’d miss us, Chrissy, Mikey, and Gail were happy to leave snowy Chicago, and looked forward to life on the sunny West coast. Wade, next in age to me, decided to move in with his girlfriend, Adele. They shared her tiny apartment, and would probably get married soon, he’d told me.

Late one night, after Mama dragged herself home from work, she called me into the kitchen. Her face was sickly gray but also somehow vividly alive. She handed me an envelope stuffed with money.

“Take it,” she whispered. “And don’t ever ask where I got it. I want you to promise me that you’ll go to nursing school.”

“But, Mama,” I started. I’d never seen so much money before and for a wild moment I wondered if Mama had sold the children! “How? Did Uncle Nico—”

“Please, Naomi. Promise me you’ll go to school and become a nurse. You must!” Mama’s tone was fierce and her face was determined. She looked tired and old, even though she was barely in her forties.

“Yes, I promise,” I said. “You know that it’s what I want more than anything in the world, but—”

“There is enough here, with luck and no frills, for you to make it. My little Naomi, you’ve had too few frills in life, but someday, a fine man will come along and give you all that you want.”

I didn’t have time to think about some fine man, especially since none of the boys who wanted to date me fit into that category. They were too much like my brother Wade—willing to settle for jobs that provided enough money for beer, rent, and car payments.

I tried to make Mama tell me more about the money, but she wouldn’t say anything more. I couldn’t imagine that she’d borrow such a large sum, so I asked her outright if Uncle Nico had paid my mother in exchange for my siblings going to live with him. Mama swore that was not the case. “The children deserve a chance for a better life,” she said. She looked awfully pale.

“Well, where did you get it?” I asked. “It’s a big coincidence that you suddenly have so much money.”

Mama sat quietly and then said, “There are no coincidences.” She wouldn’t meet my eyes.

Two days later, she collapsed at work and passed away. Uncle Nico couldn’t afford to come fly back and bring the children, so he sent a big wreath. He also invited me to come to California to live, but I knew that I never would.

Carter looked surprisingly peaceful with his head forward on his chest. The gentle sounds that he made told me that he was fully asleep. I was glad that I’d kept after him and tried so hard to get him to talk to me.


My curiosity amazed and even scared me a little. I’d always kept a comfortable distance from others. Now, I was more curious than a child with a new kitten. I felt somehow bound to Carter and I wanted to hold, cuddle, and comfort him. But, did I dare love him?

A few hours earlier, as I sat near him, I wondered what I could do to help. He looked startled when he saw my warm gaze and my face flushed with embarrassment. He instantly averted his eyes—shy and a little irate.

“I felt a kindness hovering over my sleep,” he mumbled, slightly confused. “I moved further in the re-visioning this time, Naomi.”

I knew all about his nightmares. He dreamt that blood rushed over him like a flood.

“The blood receded a little,” he said. “This time, I got to the surface without that gurgling, smothering sensation. I even felt a slight sense of hope.”

“I’ll get you some hot tea.” The words were innocent enough, but still I felt like I’d been caught in some erotic daydream.

“Thanks,” he muttered. He sounded sullen and bewildered. I looked in the mirror as I slipped from the room and noticed that Carter was watching me. That was something that he’d never done before.

While he sipped his tea and I munched on a piece of shortbread, I tried again to encourage him to talk.

“Carter, as your nurse—” I was less tentative in my tone than I’d been on other occasions. “I believe you need to heal emotionally as well as physically. You—”

“I know what you mean,” he interrupted. “My body may be your business, but my mind sure as hell isn’t!” As he said it, his eyes met mine and he flushed. Talking about his body seemed to make him aware of its needs and responses. He’d never blushed before, even as I’d tended to his most intimate needs. I was always careful not to overstep the boundaries of a proper employee-employer relationship, and I never dressed provocatively or lounged carelessly in his presence. I knew he respected me for my business-like attitude, and it made my attention to his body less frustrating for the both of us.

“It should be someone else’s business, then,” I replied. “You’ve refused to go back to counseling and you’re—”

Again, Carter surprised me by interrupting, “Exactly what do you want to know?”

My professionalism slipped a little as my eyes misted at his abrupt, angry tone. But then I realized that his question was a first step, and maybe even a real breakthrough.

“All I know is that your fiancée was killed and you were shot. Can you tell me about her?”

Carter’s face couldn’t show much expression because of his recent surgery, but his eyes took on an emptiness that I’d come to recognize. He leaned back and with an effort, said, “Chloe was—she was my first love. I was in my mid-thirties when I met her. I somehow got through my teenage years without that great tumble into first love.”

He paused, as if surprised at his own confession.

“Chloe worked for a competitor. We met at one of those business seminars. She needed a friend, and gradually, she told me about her jealous ex-husband, Lance. She’d taken her little girl, Yvette, and moved to Chicago to get away from him, but he followed them.

Quietly, Carter recounted the horror of that day: He’d driven Chloe to visit a friend in her old apartment building. The friend was supposed to be home early, but wasn’t there when they arrived. When Lance showed up unexpectedly, Carter had left the apartment to avoid a confrontation. He walked to a neighborhood bakery to give them some time to talk things over. As Carter walked back through the parking lot, he saw Lance near his car. Lance said something like, “I’ve shot that no good whore and you’re gonna be next—then Yvette.”

Carter swallowed with difficulty. Perspiration was beginning to appear on his forehead. “I clearly remember him saying, ‘I came to get more bullets. If I can’t have her, nobody is going to.’ I stood there in shock. He shot me point blank in the face.” He gestured to the side of his face that had been shattered.

“Then things are blurry,” he continued after a few moments. “I guess he thought I was dead. Anyway, he headed back into the building.” I wiped his forehead with a tissue.

“I pulled myself up and reached into the glove compartment for my own pistol. I’d never used it before. But then Lance turned and saw me. He fired again, hitting me in the shoulder. He walked away because he thought for sure that he’d finished me off. The rest is still—it’s still hazy.”

More perspiration dampened Carter’s forehead. I wanted to wipe his face again, but it would’ve interrupted his story.

“Somehow, I got to the apartment just as he was aiming at his own child. Chloe was on the floor, all bloody, and Yvette was hugging her and crying. I fired one bullet. I didn’t know that I’d killed him—I just knew that he fell. I kicked his gun away, I think, and then collapsed. The next thing I remember I was in the hospital, full of wires and pins.”


Carter told me that Yvette had run from the apartment to get help. Paramedics were on the scene within minutes. Yvette now lived with her grandparents who were grateful to him for saving her life. Since they wanted the child to put the whole episode behind her, they’d moved to another state.

“And so I lived,” he stated flatly. “Here I am, the product of amazing medical technology.”

I’d always kept my emotions under control, but I couldn’t stop the silent tears that flowed down my face. I wanted to toss my professionalism to the curb and go to my patient. I wanted to take his hand and tell him—what? Should I tell him that I was falling in love with him?

“For God’s sake,” Carter said, “control yourself. You work in the medical field. Surely you’ve seen and heard worse.” His abruptness told me that he didn’t want my pity.

“I can’t say anything to make it different—or better,” I murmured, “but I wish I could.” We sat in silence for a long time. The next time I looked at Carter, he was far away.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” I finally asked.

“Telling you all of this has helped,” he admitted. “But yes, there’s more. I dream most nights about the shooting. I keep seeing all that blood.”

I’d heard his wild bellows in the night. After the first time he’d told me not to come to his room, not to wake him, because he always needed to finish the dream—no matter how bad it was.

“What I don’t dream about is what happened to the ring.”

“The ring?”

Carter closed his eyes and seemed to force his body to relax. He breathed deeply. “You know, Naomi, I didn’t grow up in a big house like this. I worked hard to get off the streets. I started Servcomatic and worked eighteen-hour days to keep the business going. I didn’t have any time for love or for women. But the one thing that I coveted was a gold ring. When I was eight, a rich man had come to talk to us kids at the Y. He wore a big gold ring, and I guess after that, I thought a gold ring would mean that ’d made it. It would mean that I was successful. When I was thirty-five, I bought the ring.”

I sucked in my breath, but he didn’t notice.

“Soon after that I met Chloe. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I thought the ring had brought me luck. With Chloe, I had everything a man could want.” Carter paused, and his voice was hard, flinty. “Then she was killed and—” his voice broke, “and the ring disappeared.”


“By the time I got to the hospital, it was gone. For days I assumed that they’d put it in a safe place, but it was just gone. No one remembered a ring, not the nurses, doctors, or paramedics.”

His anguish drew me to his side. I took his hand and placed my cheek against the “good” side of his face. He remained still, and did not draw back.

“I dream about the blood, Naomi, but I can’t see the ring. It’s gone and I think—” Carter swallowed hard again. I knew that he was telling me something that he’d never told anyone else. “I think I can almost understand, well at least I can accept the shooting. But to steal a dying man’s ring? That just about killed my faith in human beings. I never thought that I deserved Chloe; she was a gift. But that ring I’d worked for; I’d earned it.”

He looked deep into my eyes. “It felt like the gods had deserted me.”

“No, Carter, that’s not true. You’re not alone. I’m here.” I said gently, remembering my mother’s face on that cold day. I knew it in my soul, but still needed to be certain. “Tell me more about that day.”

“What else do you want to know?”

“Where exactly did it happen? And when?”

“A suburb north of here. It was about four years ago in January. Why?”

Carter reached out to me. It was the touch of a hurting man, not the touch of a patient. His hand was warm and I held it against my lips. He didn’t pull away. He was beginning to heal.

“No reason,” I told him.

He was exhausted from talking and his eyes started to close. I knew that I should leave the room to think, but instead I just sat there and gazed at him. I wondered if I would ever be able to tell him why I knew exactly when he’d lost his ring. Maybe when he was stronger I’d tell him about the money that my mother had given me—the money that I’d used to fulfill my dream of becoming a nurse. But then again, maybe I’d never tell him. The only thing that I was sure of was that I’d be his last love, and it was the ring—not coincidence—that had brought us together.

New Mysteries to Add to Your Holiday Reading

146068575cropBy Katherine Sharma
‘Tis the season to stock up on mystery novels for vacation reading. Here are a few highlights of my shopping list for anyone planning to cozy up with a good read for the holidays. At the top of my agenda is the best seller The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. The story is set in 1922 London, still reeling from World War I, where an impoverished widow and her spinster daughter live alone in their genteel villa and have been forced to take in lodgers. The arrival of a modern young tenant couple of the “clerk class,” disturbs their lives unexpectedly and profoundly, including a steamy lesbian love affair and a shocking murder. The tale has garnered reviews such as “a tour de force” from The Wall Street Journal, “unputdownable” from The Washington Post and “volcanically sexy, sizzingly smart, plenty bloody and just plain irresistible” from USA Today. Meanwhile, why not try out some debut authors to refresh the genre? For example, Shovel Ready, a debut novel from New York Times Magazine culture editor Adam Sternbergh, is set in a near-future New York City after the explosion of a dirty bomb has driven all but the very rich and very poor out of the city. It’s the perfect dystopian hunting ground for the cynical Spademan, a New Jersey garbageman turned hit man (turned anti-hero). In contrast, M.P. Cooley’s Ice Shear is a debut with a conventional small-town setting, but her single-mom cop is a refreshing change from hard-boiled bachelor/bachelorette detectives. June Lyons is a former FBI agent who left the Bureau to care for a terminally ill husband. Three years after her husband’s death, Lyons is a cop in her upstate New York hometown, where she and her daughter live with her father, the retired local police chief. When Lyons finds a body impaled on Hudson River ice, a body that turns out to be the daughter of a local congresswoman, the political implications bring in the FBI–and Lyons’ past with agents who doubt her abilities. Likable mom Lyons soon proves she’s tough enough to handle an investigation loaded with surprise twists and gory deaths. No one does mysteries quite like the British, of course. So check out Precious Thing, a debut novel by Colette McBeth, a former BBC crime reporter. The story centers on Rachel and Clara, who met in high school when Rachel was the shy, awkward new girl and beautiful Clara was the popular one. The two disparate teens formed a deep bond that helped Rachel survive her mother’s alcoholism and school bullies. They lost touch after high school, but they’ve reconnected in their late twenties–only now Rachel is a television journalist with an apartment and a boyfriend and Clara’s life is the one spiraling out of control. When Rachel’s news editor assigns her to cover a police press conference, she is shocked to learn that Clara has been reported missing. Is it abduction, suicide or something else? McBeth’s tale twists around stalkers, secrets, betrayals and CCTV images. To add more to your new-mystery reading list, take a look at the 2015 Edgar Award submissions (not to be confused with nominations or finalists) and then check out relevant reviews: http://mysterywriters.org/edgars/currentsubmissions/#novel


Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

Guns N’ Exes

I never got along with his ex, but I didn’t know that murder was on the agenda

It all started when my friend, Reagan Dunlap, showed me the two bullets. The brass casings seemed to be staring at me, daring me to pick them up. An icy chill still runs through me when I think about it. I remember every word as if it were tape-recorded.

At the time I didn’t think Reagan and I were serious . . . definitely not ready-to-get-married serious. We had good times together, though. He would think of offbeat things for us to do. At noon, he would pick me up from work with a bucket of chicken and we would go to the park for lunch. On weekends, we would go to outdoor flea markets or walk on the overpass and watch the traffic down below. It was exciting to see the cars speeding past, sort of like watching a train, wondering where everyone was going.

We didn’t do anything terribly abnormal or expensive, but different from the usual bar scene that I was used to. I don’t want anyone to think I hung around nightclubs, getting drunk and picking up men. But at my age, I had been around.

Sometimes he would take me to his house and we would sit outside in the shade, drinking lemonade and talking. We had some really interesting conversations; he knows an incredible amount of trivia. I would tease him about going on a quiz show. He would shake his head and grin. “I don’t like to be in the spotlight,” he would say.

Reagan—I still don’t know if he was named after the president or not—never wants any recognition, although he does have the personality of a diplomat. Reagan isn’t what you would call handsome or rich, but he was a lot of fun to be with. Sometimes that means more than money. Tall, dark, and handsome is overrated; it doesn’t make any difference if you’re not a good person. He’s always kind and usually very jovial. He could take a joke with the best of them, but never played a cruel prank on anyone—none that I know of, anyway.

On a Saturday afternoon, the phone rang. “Hello?” I answered.

“Can you come over? We need to talk,” Reagan said.

“Is something wrong?”

“I’d rather tell you in person.” The line went dead.

All sorts of things ran through my head as I tied my shoes. I was reasonably sure he didn’t plan on proposing, but that left a wide range of options open. He didn’t appear to be sick the last time I saw him, so that was out.

Fortunately he only lived a few blocks away, so the time to worry was short. I parked across the street and knocked on the front door.

He jerked it open and pulled me inside. “Did anyone see you? Were you followed?”

“What are you talking about? What does it matter who saw me?” I responded.

“Okay, have you noticed anything different around your apartment?” He was grim.

“No, nothing to be alarmed about, anyway. I live in a secure building and it’s really a pretty safe neighborhood.”

“I’m not so sure how safe it is. Have you seen a blue car following you when you go some place—any place? Have you been getting any calls and when you answer, no one is there?”

“Well, there always are a lot of hang-ups, but I don’t know if there’s been any more than usual. And now that you mention it, there has been a dark blue car in the alley across from my place. You know, when I look out that picture window, I can see it. I thought it was a strange place to park, but people do weird things. Once I thought I caught a glimpse of something shining, as if someone was watching through binoculars or signaling with a mirror, but that was such a bizarre idea that I thought no more about it. Why? What’s going on?”

“Do you remember the other day when we went to the park and there was a car parked across the street when we left? Was it the same car you saw?” He looked worried.

“I don’t know. I don’t remember that car at the park and I’ve never gotten a good look at the car in the alley. Now tell me what’s going on!” I was getting irate at all the secrecy.

He took a deep breath. “Do you remember me telling you about Vickie, the girl I used to go out with?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I don’t care about your old girlfriends. You don’t ask me about my past, and I won’t ask you. What you did in the past is your business. Isn’t that what we agreed on?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s what we agreed on, but things have taken a turn for the worse. Vickie came over this morning.”

“And the problem is—?”

He took two cartridges out of his pocket. “Do you know what these are?”

“Bullets for a gun of some kind.”

“They’re cartridges for a .45 caliber handgun. That’s a real heavy-duty gun; you could put a horse down with a gun that big. Vickie came over this morning and laid these on the table. She said, ‘One is for you and the other one is for her. I’ve been watching her apartment and I know every time you take her out. It was me across the driveway from the park that day. If you want to live, and more importantly, if you want her to live, you’ll stop seeing her.’”

He stood the bullets on their ends on the table. “You know she meant you, don’t you? So I guess it’s your call. What do you want to do?”

The two bullets sat on the table, the brass shell cases looking ominous, threatening deadly accomplishments—pretty menacing for inanimate objects, if you ask me. One toppled, fell, and rolled a short distance, coming to rest against the saltshaker. I watched, transfixed, trying desperately to still my erratic pulse.

He could have told me seven things and this wouldn’t be what I would have expected. I sat there staring at the bullets, tongue-tied, blank—and I admit, very shaken. I was too stunned to speak. Dark fear, stark and vivid, surged through me, as if it had a will of its own.

When I could catch my breath I asked, “What do you have in mind? What do you want to do?”

“We—or I should say, you—could go to the police, I suppose.” He sighed.

“She hasn’t done anything to me. She hasn’t even spoken to me, so how could that be considered a threat? She hasn’t even done anything to you. She could say it was a joke—a tasteless prank, but nevertheless a prank. All she has done is make a bizarre warning that no one, no law enforcement agency, will take seriously,” I said. I took a deep breath; I was beginning to feel a little better. Looking at the problem from an outsider’s viewpoint, I was able to calm myself.

“Maybe I should go try to talk to her,” I said. I looked at him; there was something in his eyes I couldn’t read. Is it fear?

“I don’t think that would be a good idea. You don’t know what she’s capable of. I don’t know what she’s capable of. I never thought she would do something like this.” He picked up the bullets, juggling them from hand to hand.

“Well, then why did you call me over here? Are you trying to scare me or something?” I was getting mad, now that the initial shock was over.

“I wanted to warn you. I thought you should be aware of what’s going on. This way you can take certain precautions,” he said.

“Such as? What measures do you think I should take? Keep a lookout over my shoulder? Hire a bodyguard? I’m not going to hide huddled in the fetal position in the corner of the couch and be paranoid all the time. You keep saying you don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do about a crazed woman? You think I should go to the police, but I don’t have anything to go to the police about. You’re holding some bullets, but all I have is your word. They won’t believe that. It’s not enough!” I was fuming at this point.

“Hey, don’t take it out on me! I’m trying to help you, warn you,” Reagan said.

“What in the world did you do to the girl? Did you promise to marry her, and then take her to Mexico and back out? What? How serious were you two?” I asked.

“Well, yeah—I did ask her to get married, but I realized in time that it would have been a mistake and I thought she agreed it would be wrong. I thought she understood. We weren’t really right for each other. I need my freedom and she needs to be smothered—and I mean with a big, fluffy pillow.” He smiled at the thought. Then he asked, “That’s not a good reason to threaten someone, is it?”

“Don’t ask me what a good reason is. I can’t think of a good enough excuse to try to kill or hurt another person. Boy, I sound like a regular do-gooder, don’t I?” I simpered, “Please, Miss Vickie, don’t hurt me,” as I danced around the room, waving my arms. I was trying to bring some levity to the situation. “And this Vickie girl only had two bullets; she must think she has an expert shot,” I said.

“The kitchen is fifteen feet across. She doesn’t have to be too terribly good. She could close her eyes and hit one or both of us at that distance,” Reagan answered.

“She would have to get us in the room at the same time.”

“I told you she was watching you. She probably knows you’re here right now.” Reagan looked around, as if she was peeking in the window.

I couldn’t help myself; I looked over my shoulder. “I think we have to confront her. Call her and have her meet us some place. Pick out a neutral spot, where we can all be comfortable. Then you’ll tell her it’s time to move on. Get a job. Get a life of her own and stop trying to live someone else’s. I feel reasonably sure that we can reason with her, make her understand. I don’t want to live in fear that some crazy woman is going to jump out from behind a bush and attack. How old is she, anyway?” I asked.

“What does her age matter? You can be out of your mind at any age,” he said rather brusquely.

“I don’t know if it makes any difference at all, but if she is going through some kind of life change, it might explain it,” I said.

“She’s a little younger, but she always said age is just a number. What mattered to me then was how old we were in life experience, and I bought into that. It made me feel good to be with a younger woman. People looked at me as if I was ‘the man’ because such a young, pretty woman was interested in me. So part of this is my fault. I found out later that what she was interested in was what I could do for her.” He shook his head.

“She’s young and pretty and evidently crazy about you. So what are you doing with me?” I didn’t mean to sound resentful, but that’s the way it came out of my mouth.

“Don’t start that now. Yes, she’s younger, yes, she’s prettier, yes, she’s thinner—but no, she is not as smart or funny or as much fun to be with as you are. She has the personality of a doorknob and now I believe, she’s about fourteen cents short of a dollar. I don’t think she has ever read a book all the way through. She’s only interested in clothes and shopping and stuff like that. It’s hard to carry on an intelligent conversation with her. When I found that out, I decided not to see her anymore. Now are you satisfied?” He was shouting by then.

“It sounds like you’re the one who’s crazy. Why would you give up a woman like that? She’s what every man wants, isn’t she?” I asked.

“I thought so for a while, but I swear, there is nothing for someone like you to be jealous over. The best part about you is that I believe you to be sane. Now don’t prove me wrong.” He smiled.

I took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s get to the problem at hand. Make that call.”

“Now? You want me to make the call now?”

“Sure, why not? Let’s get it over with. Then we can all get on with our lives.” I was feeling smug.

I went in the next room so he could talk in private. I didn’t want to hear him sweet-talking her. I kept telling myself we were friends, but this situation put a new light on our relationship. I was feeling protective of him. I could hear his muted voice coming from the kitchen.

He came in the living room, where I was waiting. “She wants to meet in one hour. She said to be sure you came along. She wants to meet at the overpass. She said it’s out in the open and neutral ground and there usually isn’t very many people around. Does that sound right to you?” he asked.

“You took her there, too?”

“Stop it! It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“You’re right; I’m sorry. Come on, lets go. We sure don’t want to be late.” I picked up my purse, fumbling with the strap in my nervousness.

“It’s a ten-minute drive; there’s no hurry,” he said.

“Did she say anything else?” I asked.

“Like what?

“Like why she is doing this? Like why she is even meeting us? Like why she wants me there? Did she want you to bring the bullets or does she have more? And I’m sure she wants you there so she can use her womanly wiles to get you to like her again.” I know I sounded bitchy.

“No, she didn’t say any of those things.” He picked up his keys. “We might as well go get it over with.”

There was a blue car parked near the stairs when we got to the spot underneath the overpass. Looking up, I could see a figure leaning over the rail.

Reagan got out, and pulling up every bit of nerve I could manage, I followed him. The steps seemed to be miles high. With legs made of lead, I started the climb. The wind picked up as we got higher, blowing my hair in my eyes. I pulled my jacket around me tighter.

I could hear someone screaming. The words seemed to float away in the wind before they got to my ears. I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. Reagan was right behind me, with a determined look on his face.

When we got to the top he put his arm around me. With a straight face, he asked her, “What do you want, Vickie? Why are you doing these things? Can’t you leave us alone?”

She was standing there flawlessly groomed, as if she had stepped out of a fashion magazine. She was a tall, willowy brunette, nothing out of place, impervious to air currents—except her face was distorted with rage, perfectly-manicured nails extended in talons. “You know what I want. If I can’t have you—no one else will, either.” She reached in her handbag.

I caught the gleam of metal as she brought out her hand from the folds of her coat.

“Vickie, that’s not the way it works. You can’t make someone like you.” Reagan pushed me behind him and stepped toward her at the same time she reached for the gun.

She twisted away—and pulled the trigger.

The shot went wild, hitting one of the uprights of the bridge on the overpass, the sound ricocheting back to us.

“I’ve got plenty of bullets left! I loaded the clip before I came. I won’t miss the next time!” Vickie screamed, her features twisted in anger.

Cars were speeding along underneath us. The sound must not have traveled downward, as no one stopped, or as far as I could tell, even slowed down to look up.

She went into a crouch and turned toward me, her arms outstretched, her fingers forming claws. “It’s you! It’s all your fault! You don’t love him! I’ll fix you good! You won’t look so good when I’m through with you!” she screeched.

I was too stunned to speak. She was in no condition to reason with, anyway.

“You don’t mean that. You don’t know what you’re saying.” Reagan tried to placate her.

“Yes, I do. I know exactly what I’m saying. You think I’m crazy, don’t you? Well, I’ll show you how crazy I am.” She leveled the gun again, this time pointing it directly at me.

Reagan motioned for me to get behind him. “If you want to shoot her, you’ll have to shoot me first,” he said.

“If that’s the way you want it—then that’s the way it will be. I might as well shoot you, too,” she answered. She turned the gun toward him—and pulled the trigger.

I heard a grunt—and then Reagan fell to the ground. Blood oozed out of his shoulder, staining his jacket.

Vickie cried, “Oh, Reagan—I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean to. . . .”

That was when I made an ideal football tackle. I dove right into her midsection. There was a “whoof” sound as air left her body.

She teetered, trying to regain her balance, in the process dropping the gun, which fell in a perfect arc over the rail. She tried to reach for it, but lost her footing. As she righted herself and stood up, she was close to the railing. That’s when she leaned over and reeled. She grabbed at empty air, as if she was trying to catch a bird.

Then, completely losing her footing—she fell headfirst into the traffic below.

I do believe she jumped, but I can’t be sure.

I could hear cars screeching to a stop and a woman screaming her lungs out. It was several minutes before I realized that the maniacal sound was coming from me. Looking down, I saw her mangled body—and so, so much blood. Her clothes were torn and twisted, her bloodied legs tangled in her coat.

I turned away and got sick, leaning over the wrought iron rail. I didn’t care at that point if there was anyone standing underneath me.

When I was finished, I ran to Reagan to see if he was breathing. His pulse was faint, but there was nothing I could do until the medics got there. I could hear a siren in the distance, hoping it was for us, that someone called 911. I knelt beside him, crying uncontrollably.

The trial starts tomorrow; they waited until Reagan got out of the hospital. My only defense is that I never meant to hurt anyone.