Tuesday, February 14, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Thirteen

The following blog entry is one chapter in “Broken Hearted Killers,” a serial novella written by 16 Writers Who Kill. To read the complete story, please begin with Chapter One, published on the WWK blog on February 2, 2023.

By Kathleen Rockwood

The street up ahead was deserted. The leaves remaining on the trees moved restlessly, casting a muted, shifting glow from the streetlights.

Helen’s breath was coming harder, drowning out the sound of the footsteps behind her. Unable to keep up the pace she’d set, she slowed.

A hand grabbed her arm. Tight.

Startled, she let out a shriek.

“Hush up,” a man’s voice hissed in her ear. His grip tightened. “And don’t turn around.”

Petrified, she stood still.

“Where’s Ashley?” he asked.

Helen could hardly gasp out the word. “Ashley?”

“Yeah. You went into the bookstore. So did she. With the kids. Then she left. Without the kids. I waited. She didn’t come back. The store’s closed and dark now.”

Helen swallowed hard. “What do you want?”

The man shook her arm. “I want to know what happened to Ashley. And the kids.”

“She picked them up. From the service entry off the alley.”

The man’s grasp weakened. “Oh,” was all he said.

He turned and strode away.

Helen turned around, but all she could see was the back of a man with a hoodie pulled over his head and his hands shoved in his pockets.

Shivering, she hurried home.

As she opened the door, the phone rang. Her voice was high and strangled as she answered. “Hello?”

“Helen? It’s Nella. You sound upset. Are you all right?”

“Yes. I just had a scare….” Helen’s words petered out.

“I’ll be right there.”

Nella hung up before Helen could protest.

She set about making a pot of tea to calm herself and heated up some scones to share with Nella. She set the table, adding marmalade and lemon curd for the scones.

When she sat down with a cup, though, her hand trembled too much to hold it.

Opening the door with her key, Nella came dashing in and gave her a hug. “What happened?”

Much to her dismay, Helen started crying as she described the incident.

“We should call Detective Torres,” Nella said.

“How about Gus, instead?” Helen countered. “He’ll know if we need to call Detective Torres.”

“Okay.” Nella stepped away to make the call on her phone, which seemed to take a long time.

Helen didn’t even try to listen. She closed her eyes and concentrated on slowing her breathing to ease the tightness in her chest and throat.

“He didn’t answer, so I left a message, telling him about the young man who accosted you,” Nella said, pouring herself a cup of tea.

She set the cup down on the table. “There’s something I probably should have told you sooner. But I’d promised not to be the one to reveal it. And it seemed so unbelievable, I wanted to double-check what I could myself. Now, though, I think it’s important for everyone to know.”

Helen sat silently, staring at the scones.

Nella took a deep breath. “Charles Fairweather approached me a few days ago. He said he was planning to retire but was representing a few old clients to finish things up. One was my biological mother.”

Helen reached toward her teacup but stopped. Her hand still trembled.

“She had given me up for adoption at birth,” Nella continued. “And I had a twin, who was placed separately.”

Focusing her thoughts and glancing up, Helen was disconcerted to see Nella blink back tears.

“Did he tell you the name of your biological mother?” Helen held her breath.

“No! He said he had to speak with her first. And now, if he doesn’t regain consciousness, I may never know the truth! He asked me not to say anything, but everything’s changed.”

Willing her own tremors away, Helen reached out and covered Nella’s hand with her own.

“And….” Nella’s voice trailed off as she tried to clear her throat. “I finally get a chance to find out who my birth mother is, and the opportunity is snatched away.”

Helen got up and put her arm around Nella’s quaking shoulders as her friend tried to swallow her sobs.

“Now I may never find out! Or meet my twin.”

After a few minutes, Nella took a paper napkin and swiped at her eyes. “Sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” Helen assured her.

“What makes it worse,” Nella said, “is that the baby nurse who handed me to my adoptive parents was your neighbor, Renee Peabody. She knew this all the time and never said anything.”

Helen gave her another hug. “Back then, adoptions were almost always secret. She probably felt like she had an obligation to keep quiet.”

“I suppose.” Nella blew her nose on the napkin. “If Gus got my message, he should be here any time. By the way, he told me something interesting.”

“What was that?”

“He said Ashley’s ex-husband didn’t report back to prison.”

Helen was confused. “Report back to prison?”

“Yes. He’s supposed to be paroled soon, so he’s been on a work-release program. Where he goes out to work during the day and reports back to the prison at night. He didn’t come back a few nights ago, and he hasn’t been seen since. So, there’s an arrest warrant out for him.”

“Really.” Helen wondered if that didn’t have something to do with the scary man who was looking for Ashley.

“And,” Nella sniffed hard, “his job was in a hobby shop that specializes in model trains.”

Helen tsked. “Everywhere we look it’s model trains.” She lifted the teacup to her lips and sipped, feeling a vague frisson of fear.

# # #

KM Rockwood draws on a varied background for stories, including as a laborer in steel fabrication and glass making, and supervising an inmate work crew in the library of a large state prison, and work as a special education teacher in correctional institutions, inner city and alternative public schools. In her work, she tries to give a voice to those who live on the edge of our society. Published works include the Jesse Damon Crime Novel series (Wildside Press) and numerous short stories. Website: kmrockwood.com



  1. Suspects, and more suspects! Who could the killer be? Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. And the plot thickens and twists and turns!

  3. “Everywhere we look it’s model trains.” I love that line.

  4. Oh man, this had my heart racing! More twists, more twists....

  5. So much happening. Will the murders ever be solved?

  6. More clues! More red herrings! And where will the model trains take us?

  7. More twists. I do think Helen should have called the detective, especially after she couldn't reach Gus. Scary hooded guy!!

  8. Excellent chapter, Kathleen. We can always rely on your knowledge from working with prisoners to add details related to prisoner plot points.