Short Stories

This blog is the home of some old short stories I'd written five or six years ago for "challenges" (contests) at the Writers BBS. In such challenges, someone else sets the topic, genre, word length limit, and time in which to complete the story.

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Location: California, United States

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

In the Space Needle, No One Can Hear You Scream

This story was written for a Mystery Challenge on the subject of well known sites

As the elevator flew upward to the Seattle Space Needle's SkyCity restaurant, 500 ft above, I shook raindrops from my umbrella and repositioned the heavy Sig Sauer holstered under my evening gown's jacket. The elevator doors opened on the large revolving chamber where my partner, Special Agent Sam Reynolds, and his fiance, Nina, were celebrating their engagement. My heart sank as I spotted the two of them surrounded by well-wishers. Once again, I cursed my shyness - I'd never had the courage to tell Sam I loved him and now it was too late. Pasting a rictus-like grin on my face, I walked up and congratulated them.

* * * * *

The dinner party had been a success, despite the storm raging outside, but wallowing in regrets, I'd hardly noticed the weather or my crab cakes. I sighed as Sam rose, lifting a flute of champagne in a toast to Nina. As she also stood, raising her glass, a bolt of lightning so intense as to be visible in the brightly lit room, struck the Needle and the lights flickered and died.

The dark room was then re-illuminated by one lightning bolt after another. In strobe-like flashes that turned each moment into eerie still photos, I saw Nina's brother, Ernest, thrust his steak knife into her heart. Shocked into immobility, I watched disjointed clips of him running for the door of the restaurant's kitchen, saw Sam lower Nina to the floor with a look of disbelief.

Guests, as they realized what had happened, ran through the dim room for elevators as dead as the lights and others tried unsuccessfully to open windows 500 feet above the ground to cry for help. I ignored them and bent over Sam as he tried to bring Nina back with CPR.

"She's gone, Sam, there's nothing we can do for her," I said softly, touching his arm.

Devastated, Sam didn't look up, didn't speak, just shook off my hand and continued his futile efforts. He was beyond my reach, so I pulled out my weapon and ran after Nina's brother as quickly as my heels and the room's dimness allowed. Ernest was waiting for me just inside the door to the huge darkened kitchen. As I slowed to a stalk, my pistol held out in front of me, he surprised me, hitting me in the face with a pan. I went down, tasting blood.

* * * * *

"Diane, are you all right?" Sam helped me up. I'd only been stunned and was soon able to join him in searching the cavernous kitchen with his flashlight. I wanted to say something about Nina but the expression on his face said no. Instead I asked about Ernest.

"Do you have any idea why Nina's brother would want to kill her?"

He answered grimly, "Let's catch the son of a bitch first and profile him later, OK?"

After fifteen minutes, all we'd found was an open air-return vent in the ceiling, the cover hanging down, a chair standing underneath. As Sam took off his jacket and checked the clip in his Sig, I tried to reason with him. "This is a little too convenient."

"We can't afford to pass it up. He's not in the kitchen and as far as I know, there's no other exit from the restaurant save the elevators." Standing on the chair, Sam pulled himself up into the vent's opening. His voice reverberated hollowly as he called back to me, "The shaft seems level for about 20 feet, then it goes vertically down ... way down. There's a metal access ladder attached to one side, probably for maintenance."

"See any sign of Ernest?"

"No, but this flashlight only reaches so far and ..."

Worried, I interrupted. "One of the guests must have a cell phone ... we can call the field office, have men waiting for him at the bottom of the shaft." I heard Sam crawling back towards me.

"The cell phone's a good idea ... make that call. And try to calm the guests."

"And you?"

Even in the dimness, I could see Sam's eyes darken. "I want to ... have to ... be the one to find Ernest, Diane."

I finally agreed and he disappeared again into the dark void of the air vent. Holstering my weapon, I walked towards the kitchen's door and then stopped, hearing a strange sound. It was coming from above, ... not from the direction in which Sam had gone but from outside.

Following the sound, I located a door, hidden by a sharp turn in the back of the darkened kitchen ... it led to an outside staircase. I pushed the door open and was hit by cold wind-driven rain. The stairway apparently existed for emergencies and was surrounded by a wire cage for safety. I heard the noise again and looked up. Someone was pushing open a door from the staircase into the observation deck twenty feet above the restaurant ... Ernest.

* * * * *

Ernest had locked that door behind him and I'd had to destroy the lock with my pistol. The element of surprise gone, I circled the observation deck, 520 feet above ground, buffeted by wind and rain. As I searched, I wondered how he planned to escape and then, moments later, I found both him and the answer to my question. Ernest was perched precariously on the railing, a parachute strapped to his back. I advanced slowly, my weapon raised. "Why did you kill Nina?" I demanded.

He looked at me thoughtfully as he tightened his harness. "Maybe you, of all people, will understand. Nina and I were lovers. Then Sam came along and ruined everything. To have your love go unreturned is very painful, isn't it, Diane? How grateful you must be that I got rid Nina. Do you think Sam will turn to you now?"

He took the opportunity of my shocked reaction to jump unhindered over the edge. I ran to the railing and, staring down through the rain, saw him swaying just below, his harness caught on some protuberance. Holstering my gun, I reached down, tried to drag him back, all the while telling myself that he was wrong about me.

Ernest suddenly reached up and grabbed my wrist as he began to free the harness. "Come with me, Diane. This shute's only big enough for one person, but maybe I deserve to die now that I've killed Nina. And as for you, Sam will never love you, no matter how long you wait ... you should join me."

As I watched, transfixed, the parachute began to slide off the obstruction. I tried to reach my weapon with my free hand, tried to wriggle out of his grip, but it was hopeless. As the harness came free and I felt myself being pulled over the railing, a gunshot roared and a strong hand dragged me back ... Sam.

* * * * *

As we rode down from the observation deck in a now working elevator, Sam explained. "I was just starting down the vertical ventilation shaft when I heard your weapon's discharge, thought you might need help."

I gazed at him doubtfully. "When you reached the observation deck ... did you hear what ... what Ernest said about ..." My voice failed.

Eyes haunted, Sam looked away for a moment. Then he gently pulled me close. "No, I didn't hear a thing."