Joel hustled over to the coffee shop on the corner the next block over. Finding an unoccupied corner table, he slid into the small booth seat, then pulled his tablet, cell phone, and notepad from his vest’s inside pockets.

            Turning on his tablet, he flipped the pages of his notepad until he found the notes he’d hurriedly jotted. The first thing he had to do was transcribe what he’d written. Otherwise, he might not be able to read his own writing after a few hours. It was his one true curse, not having legible handwriting. Not even printing helped. He’d lost count of how many times his friends had teased him about his poor skill, often commenting that doctors probably couldn’t read his chicken scratch.

            As he typed in his comments, he read them aloud to himself under his breath. Sometimes in his search for a good idea, he often likened his hunt for unusual tidbits to that of a newspaper reporter or detective searching for clues. Yes, he was the first to admit that it was an offbeat way of coming up with plot lines for his next big venture, but it worked for him.

            And, as people often admittedly remarked, truth could be stranger than fiction.

            “So far we have three murders, all possibly done by the same killer, who they refer to as The Bleeder. Throats are slashed…” He paused. “Were there any other wounds or signs of a struggle?” It would also be interesting to know how the victims were built. Were they thin and strung-out? Or were they built like WWF wrestlers?

            Another thought struck him. The police were working on the assumption that a single person was responsible for these attacks. “But what if there’s more than one perp? Hmm.”

            He went online to search for Ernest “Rambo” Sinclair. The third photo that came up on his tablet was a muscular, heavy-set man. Although it was only a shoulder and head shot, the man’s tats were clearly visible. Especially the word Rambo etched across the guy’s forehead in some sort of fancy font.

            Joel reached for his pen when he noticed the trembling in his hand. He needed an infusion of protein, and quickly, before dizziness set in. Reaching inside his vest, he pulled a protein bar from the pocket where he kept his emergency stash, tore off the wrapper, and took a big bite.

            “Who are you?”

            Startled, Joel glanced up to see the brunette from the crime scenes. Her sudden appearance left him momentarily dumbfounded. The woman moved closer, almost to where he could touch her if he reached out. Their proximity didn’t seem to bother her as her eyes narrowed slightly.

            “What were you doing at those crime scenes?” she asked in a no-nonsense tone.

            He swallowed what was in his mouth as he transferred the bar to his other hand and held out his right to gesture to the chair on the other side of the table.

            “Please. Have a seat.”

            The woman sat, her green-gray eyes never leaving his face. At some point he saw her nostrils flair, as if she was detecting an odor coming from him. Joel did a quick mental rehash of that morning and verified that, yes, he’d used deodorant.

            “Well? I’m waiting,” she persisted. She had an odd accent. Not French or British, but definitely European. Fortunately it wasn’t so thick as to keep her from being understood.

            Who are you? Her first question was “Who are you?”

            He stuck his hand out again, this time to shake hers. “My name’s Joel Powers. Who are you?”

            The woman glanced at his hand but chose to ignore it. “What were you doing at those crime scenes, Mr. Powers?”

            He figured there was no sense in being evasive. “I’m an independent film producer. Specifically horror films.”

            She blinked in surprise. “Horror films?”

            “And I’m an author. Or plan to be. Soon. I have a couple of books partially written, but I can’t seem to find the impetus to finish them. So I follow the cops to get some ideas I can incorporate into my work.”

            “So you produce movies and books, or hope to someday.” Her hands remained under the table where he couldn’t see them, much less check to see if there was a ring on the left one.

            He gave her a modest smile. “Actually, I’ve already produced two independent films. Cold Case Massacre and The Remnants of Aimee. Massacre is currently doing the indie film fests. I’m hoping a big name company picks it up. Aimee went straight to VOD. Do you watch horror films?”

            Her confusion was evident. “What is VOD?”

            “Video On Demand. It means it’s not showing at a local theatre. You have to download or rent it off the internet.”

            The woman shook her head. “So what you’re telling me is you make your living making horror films, and you chase the police to give you ideas which you can develop into other projects.”

            He brightened. “Exactly!”

            A wall seemed to slam down over her countenance. “I strongly suggest you cease pursuing this particular case, Mr. Powers.”

            His reaction was immediate, and he countered with a brusque remark that matched hers. “I know my rights, Miss… Should I call you Orrora?”

            As shock came over her face, he continued. “I know my rights. As long as I don’t directly interfere with the case or the people investigating it, and as long as I don’t use the names of the perps or victims in my work without proper authorization, I can tag along where I damn please.”

            Orrora gave him another scathing look. He half-expected her to retort, when she took another deep breath and briefly held it.

            “Mr. Powers—”

            “Since I already know your name, why don’t you call me Joel?”

            “Mr. Powers, I am telling you this for your own good. Drop this case. Go chase another investigation, but leave this one be.”

            Joel almost chuckled. Didn’t she realize that the more she persisted, the more determined he’d become? Opening his mouth to respond, her next words left him flabbergasted.

            “The last thing I want to do is walk in and discover that the next victim we’ve found is you.”