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Warning Signal

by John E. LaCarna

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

Yes, it was the only way. I had really known it for some time, and so had Ligeia. I had brought up the possibility of legal challenges with the money issue, but those things drag on forever, and besides, that idea missed the point: his personal control over Ligeia. She was scared to death of the man. He’d haunt us the rest of our lives. No, the only solution was to kill him. So, my Guardian Devil had shown me the right path after all.

In the days that followed, I questioned Ligeia for details of Percival Stoop’s life, his habits, and the layout of his mansion. She gave the information eagerly, a bright gleam of hope in her eyes as we conspired to murder her stepfather.

Several circumstances stood out and coalesced to form the basis of a plan:

Stoop had a gun collection that included not only flintlocks and the like, but a number of usable WWII .45's by the various companies that manufactured them during that period: Colt, Singer Sewing Machine, Remington Rand, and others.

“He keeps his collection in gun cabinets built like big safes. They’re locked except when he putters with them or shows them to others. He doesn’t know it, but I’ve found out the combinations.

“For protection, he keeps a loaded double-barrel shotgun under his bed.”

Furthermore, the mansion’s sophisticated security system was connected directly to the police station. It had been activated twice. Once, for an intruder trying to break in. Stoop had rushed to the window the burglar was entering and blasted at him with the shotgun. The wounded man was caught by the police.

The other occasion was a false alarm. Both times the police took 20 minutes to arrive at the scene. Stoop had timed them, and he complained they had taken too long.

Another useful circumstance was that the next door neighbor, old Mrs.Winthrop, took her German Shepherd on a 10-pm stroll seven days a week. She passed down the sidewalk bordering the iron fence on the east side of the mansion. “Never misses,” Ligeia said.

Finally, Ligeia told me that Stoop regularly employed college students on weekends to organize and catalog his vast mess of a book collection. They stayed in one of the guest rooms and were expected to work Fridays straight through Sundays with two six-hour sleep breaks. The task overwhelmed most, and they soon either quit or were fired. None were scheduled for the coming weekend.

As Ligeia related these circumstances, I saw the way, brilliantly, to the solution to our problem. “Eureka! We’ve got all the elements of the perfect crime, and I see how to put them together. I’ve got it!” I laughed triumphantly. “I’ve got it!”

She laughed with me, or rather at me. “My Lord! You are insane! Stark, raving, mad!”

“Enough madness!” I said. “Let’s get down to method.”

Timing would be crucial. Each step had to be taken without a wasted second.

We would do the deed the following Friday night. While Stoop was gone to his office during the day, Ligeia would remove the shells from his shotgun, and keep them in the pocket of her housecoat. Then she would take one of the .45's with its military holster and belt from his collection, steal a black sweatsuit, ski mask, knit cap and a pair of gloves from his closets, and bring them all to me.

I would give her an overnight bag packed with my clothes and toilet articles. Then, back in the mansion, Ligeia would rumple the bed in a guestroom, and unpack my bag.

Stoop would be back at 6 pm. Ligeia would have to tolerate his abuse only a few hours more — until 10 pm. That’s when, dressed in my prey’s sweatsuit and ski mask, and packing his pistol, now loaded, I would climb over the fence, making sure the old lady with the dog spotted me.

I would rush to the house, grab a stone from the patio, smash a pane on the French door to the study, unlatch it, and enter. The alarm would ring bloody murder. From that point, we’d have 20 minutes to get everything done.

In five minutes, Stoop would come charging into the study — 15 minutes left. He’d try to shoot me with the empty shotgun, and I’d shoot him dead with the .45 auto. Then we’d load the shotgun and blast the wall by the doors I’d entered through. Ten minutes left.

I’d get out of my burglar’s outfit, and give it to Ligeia along with the .45. She would replace the pistol, belt and holster among the others in Stoop’s collection, lock the cabinet, and hang his clothes back in his closets.

Simultaneously, I would change into my pyjamas, and arrange some of his books and notes like I had been working on them. This would take us five minutes, giving five minutes grace before the cops arrived.

When the SWAT team came storming into the place, Ligeia would be crying hysterically, and I’d be standing there in my p. j.’s, a student worker, with the most confused, out-of-it look imaginable.

After that, everything would fall into place automatically. Mrs. Winthrop, who would have called 911 on her cell phone as fast as her 80-year-old fingers could move, would testify to seeing an intruder go over the fence, and the physical evidence would tell the story of a shootout between Stoop and a burglar, which Stoop lost. The police would comb the area, searching for the burglar, and failing to find him, would write off the killing as another unsolved crime.

* * *

So there I was, Friday night, in my burglar outfit, packing Stoop’s prize Singer Sewing Machine .45. I hid behind a tree across the street from the mansion and waited for the old lady to walk her dog. I knew Ligeia had prepared everything. We were ready to go.

Then, there they were, Mother Goose and Grimm, coming down the street right on schedule. I waited until she was sure to see me, then ran across the street to the iron-barred fence. I jumped up and grabbed the top strut between the spiked posts, and... and... hung there. I hung there, trying to pull myself up!

Dammit, what’s the matter? I useta could do a dozen chin-ups easy when I was fifteen! I dropped to the ground again and sprang up as high as I could. I got one arm over the top, the edge of the iron strut cutting into my armpit, and tried to kick my legs up.

All of a sudden, I felt an excruciating pain in my right foot, and heard a commotion below. “Get him, boy! Tear him up! Get him, Oscar!” It was the old witch with the hound of Hell! The goddamn dog’s teeth were clamped onto my foot like a bear trap.

Pain and fright propelled me over the fence. I landed on the hard brick surface on the other side, and lay dazed as that monster of a mutt barked and snapped at me through the bars, and the old harridan kept hollering “Get him, Oscar! Get him, boy!”

Then I saw that Oscar had torn off one of my Reeboks, and the sock with it, and to top it off, my sweatsuit bottom was hanging from the spiked post at the top of the fence. I was sitting there in my Fruit of the Looms and sweatshirt with one shoe and one bloody bare foot.

But the old woman was already on her cell phone. Time’s a-wastin’! At least the gun belt with the holster was still around my waist. I limped over the grounds to the house in my drawers, my right foot bare and dog-bit. I was bruised all over, and my skull was cracked — at least it sure the hell felt like it.

I lifted a stone over my head and heaved it against the French doors. It bounced off and landed on my good foot. I hollered bloody hell, and now both feet wounded, I collapsed on the patio. The alarm was splitting the air.

Frantically, from my knees, I pounded the glass repeatedly with the stone until I busted a hole to reach through and unlatch the door. I crawled inside, looked up and there was Stoop trying to shoot me with the empty shotgun. He gave up and used it as a club, smashing the stock against my skull. I grabbed at the .45 as he battered me with the shotgun.

The pistol caught in the holster. I tried to jerk it out and KA-BAM — the big toe of my bare foot disappeared. I screamed and flopped around like a landed trout, spraying blood in every direction. The pistol flew into a corner of the room. Stoop cracked me with the shotgun again and again.

Then, as though through a bloody haze, I saw Ligeia walk into the room! Or was it Ligeia’s mother? The woman in the nightgown and house coat looked like an older Ligeia. But Ligeia’s mother — in fact, both parents — were dead. Had the beating I’d taken distorted my vision?

“Amy, you’d better get out of here, dear,” Stoop said. “This isn’t for your little eyes.”

The aged Ligeia walked to where the .45 lay, picked it up, and with a two-handed grip, shot Stoop three times in the belly. As he dropped, she burst out laughing. And it wasn’t a little-girl laugh this time. “I’ve never seen anybody look so completely dumbstruck,” she said.

One of Stoop’s feet was twitching. “Humm, still kickin’,” Ligeia said, and pumped the last four rounds into his torso.

I watched with frozen fascination as Ligeia picked up the shotgun, broke it open, took two shells from her housecoat, inserted them into the chambers, snapped the gun shut, and slowly, deliberately, pointed it at my head.

“Ligeia, what are you doing?” I shouted. “Your stepfather’s dead! You’re free! We can be together!”

She laughed at me down the gun barrel. “First of all, Ferdie dear, my name’s not Ligeia. That was for your benefit. It’s Amy Stoop. And that poor little fool’s not my stepfather, he’s my husband... or he was! I’m now a grievin’ widow. And, Baby,” she cackled, “I ain’t no nineteen, I’m forty-two. You’ve never seen me in the light, with or without that teeny-bopper makeup, have you Ferdie?”

I shook my head, dully. “You’re forty-two? And Stoop was your husband?”

She laughed again — her new, derisive, bitch-laughter. “Yeah, and Percy wasn’t any cockamamie warlock, and he never killed my parents. My Mama’s the old lady who tends bar at Shorty’s, and Papa’s a retired truck driver. They’re alive and healthy and they never had any friggin’ fortune. Percy inherited all that money from his side of the family.

“Yeah, I’m free, all right, Sonny Boy. Free from that poor little fool of a husband, and now I’ve got all his money, not just some piddlin’ alimony. And I’m free to be with Shorty.”

“Shorty!” I gasped.

“We planned it together, Shorty and me. I told him what kind of idiot we needed, somebody dumb enough to fall for a wacky set-up, and he told me you fit the bill. We set you up with my ‘young-stuff’ looks, and that Poe name, and that occult crap, and that business about the fortune all tailored to your interests and needs.

“I picked you up and made you think you picked me up. I fed you that murder plan and made you believe you thought of it. It turned out, Ferdie, you were almost too damn dumb — so bumbling, you nearly screwed the whole thing up.” Again, the ugly laugh.

“You’re Curley, Larry, and Moe all rolled up into one. But all’s well that ends well.”

Outside, sirens wailed and flashing lights blazed. “Uh, oh, time’s up! Bye, bye, Klutz,” she said, aiming the shotgun. Then the world disappeared in a fiery blast!

I’m floating, floating, floating in blackness. Pain in my feet, pain in my head, pain all over. I hear something in the distance... somebody crying... Ligeia crying. Another voice, a man, says “Come away, Mrs. Stoop. I know it’s terrible for you now. But you did the right thing. You did all you could.”

Ligeia’s crying fades away, and then another man says “Too bad about Mr. Stoop, but at least the killer got his due. Look at that son-of-a-bitch! He’s still breathing, ain’t he?” The first male voice says “Yeah, but she got him. Both barrels in the face. He won’t make it to the hospital. Good riddance!”

Now — this is strange — I’m walking, hobbling along. I’m... I’m on the campus, searching, searching for somebody. Then I see him... I see me! I’m headed toward Shorty’s. Oh, my God, I’ve got to warn him! I’ve got to stop me!

I grab him, and he yells “Get away from me, you damn lunatic! I don’t have anything to give you. I’m as broke as you are!” and he shoves me away.

Oh, no, he doesn’t understand! Time’s running out. I’ve got to warn him before it’s too late! I try to tell him, but the damn klutz can’t understand. I try to cry out “Stay away! Stay away from Shorty’s! Stay away from her!” But no words come out. I have no tongue, I have no mouth, I have no face. I can only shriek.

Copyright © 2009 by John E. LaCarna

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