By Ryan P. Casey

Alan did not realize it had fallen out until he opened the scrapbook. The convulsions were in full force now, wracking his body so he could barely pour hot water into the mug without splashing it all over the counter. His hand trembled as it transported sugar from the bag, spilling sweet crystals everywhere; his knee bounced to a beat playing somewhere in his head; and his mouth worked as if he were reciting under his breath a prayer he knew by heart. So focused was he in his task that the mug became supersaturated with sugar and overflowed. The tea was too hot, too sweet for his liking, but it would have to do. He had to take control, stop the spasms, and think clearly: how was he going to get it back?

The excitement of a pretty girl always did this to him, but even more so when she became a victim. The minute his eyes had fallen on her two days before, the tics had started. His leg jiggled as he sat on the bench, pretending to enjoy the spring morning with his newspaper and coffee. She came around the corner in a leisurely jog, and as he looked up at her, time seemed to melt before his eyes, as in some sappy schoolboy fantasy, as if she were going to run through a cornfield in slow motion into his arms while a Tchaikovsky score led into the dramatic kiss. Not a cursory glance she did bestow upon him as she went by, focused on her breathing and her pulse and the music playing on her iPod. He knew as he watched her cute, tight butt sashay down the pavement that she would come around again. He just knew.

She was so light on her feet, bouncing on the pathway, that he did not even hear her before she rounded the tree the next day. His knee was yielding to a pulse of its own now, and he was compulsively moistening his lips as he watched her move toward him. There seemed to be only two people in the park then — or maybe it was just his imagination. He stood up and blocked her path. She was so lost in her exercise regimen that she did not register his presence until she had almost literally run into him.

"Sorry," she mumbled, stumbling and moving around him.

He moved in front of her again and smiled, like a father about to tell his daughter how proud he is of her report card. "I think you're beautiful," he told her.

She pulled an earphone out of one ear and frowned. "Do I know you?"

"Can I take you for coffee? Doesn't have to be now, we can do it anytime."

Her mouth moved, but no words came out. She looked around quickly, then back at him. "I'm sorry, I really don't...I have to go."

How remarkably clear her eyes were, those deep turquoise pools you could dive into and find yourself sinking, sinking...

"What's your name?" he asked gently, as if she were a wandering toddler.

"I have to go," she repeated, more firmly this time, and put her earphone back in.

It was not just her unabashed rejection that angered him. She had not even done him the simple courtesy of looking him in the eye. If she had, she would have noticed the right one twitching madly. Maybe it would have prompted her to bolt in the other direction, to scream for help, anything. But they had all tried to run, they had all tried to scream, hadn't they? Some had even tried to kick, bite, or spit. Strong though this girl was, anger and rejection were greater impetuses. Alan knocked her to the ground. His hands operated as if by the whim of a pugnacious puppeteer, pummeling her pretty face and chest with a force of which he did not even know himself to be capable. When the strings were released, or more likely had snapped, he was paroxysmal and she lay as still as the scenery around her.

In the scuffle, her necklace had broken. The thin gold pendant lay in two pieces next to her head. He picked it up delicately, an erection throbbing so hard against his jeans it was almost painful. This would be the memento he would put in the book.

But now that he was back in his own home, relaxing, breathing, with the scrapbook in his lap opened to an empty page, he reached into his pocket and produced nothing but a tuft of lint. He was sure it had gone into that pocket. He was right handed, he had picked up both pieces with his right hand, and he distinctly remembered slipping them into the right jacket pocket. As he had walked home, he had felt the cold metal against his still shaking hands. Why weren't they there now? Had he moved them? A search of all his pockets, right and left, jacket and jeans, produced nothing save for an expired MetroCard.

Alan could feel the tea coursing through his body and calming him down, but he was still quivering. That necklace had his prints on it. He had to have lost it somewhere in the park or near the bus stop, and if the police found it, it wouldn't be very hard for them to figure out that it must be related to the dead body in the vicinity. With all the technology they had at their disposal, they could be banging on his door any minute now, ready to seize him and his house and his things and —

And his scrapbook. He had a pearl from his first victim, a lock of hair from the second, a ribbon from the third, all neatly in place in the book he had created with what little creative skill he possessed in order to preserve mementos from the relationships he had begun and violently, regretfully ended.

Here, next to another nameless girl's pendant, was an empty page to which he had planned on adding the necklace. He had to. He had to remember.

Cushions on the floor. Carpets overturned. Pockets turned inside out. Alan did everything but rip up the linoleum, on the off chance that the necklace halves had slithered underneath it. He found them nowhere. Cleaning usually presented itself as an undesirable chore, but one fails to realize until sprucing up one's home just how much worthless junk and paraphernalia has coated shelves and tables and bureaus and countertops as thickly as dust. What was he planning to do with old movie ticket stubs? Why had he discarded with Christmas tree ornaments an instruction manual in poorly translated English for a surround sound stereo system? Where had he even bought that light-up pen emblazoned with the Zoloft logo? He didn't remember being depressed, never mind wanting huge speakers or going to the movies recently.

At least he knew the necklace was outside. It was a comforting thought for about thirty seconds, until he realized that tearing up his own apartment in search of a souvenir was not as big an issue as, say, bulldozing public property with the same purpose in mind. The damn thing could have fallen into the sewer, could have become a beggar's bounty, could even be wallowing in a steaming mound of horse feces with a crowd of famished flies.

But what could he do? Buy a metal detector and retrace his steps, sure, but the area would be swarming with cops by now; he had not bothered to conceal the body very much this time, just laid it under the bridge running over the stream. Surely the next jogger to go by, or businessman on his way to work, or an insomniac out for his —

Shoot. Wait. What was that?

He paused and stood still and held his breath, every hair on his body at attention. A ringing in his ears he had not noticed before seemed prominent. He tried to tune it out as he listened carefully for what he thought he had heard: three sharp raps. Knuckles on a door. His door.

There was nothing, just a distant clattering sound, something with the pipes in the building or a toilet flushing or something like that. He could swear he heard three taps, though. Just to be sure, to ease whatever was niggling at the back of his mind, he went to the door and peered through the peephole. Nothing but a fishbowl perspective of the hallway, ugly maroon carpet and beige walls and the door of apartment four seventeen, the seven hanging by a nail. Nobody in sight. Which did not mean they weren't waiting around the corner, waiting for him to walk out so they could tackle him and beat him with those sticks, like you see every now and then on the news, some cop goes freaking berserk and beats the crap out of the guy, just wails on him, he could do that, you know, just jump out of nowhere, out of freaking nowhere and BAM!, just start wailing...

Where did a person go about getting a metal detector, anyway? Did they sell them at Home Depot, that kind of place? Could you walk in and ask for one and not have somebody look at you like you were some destitute loner going to the beach at sunset to find old coins or soda can tabs? Alan had no idea.

He made a note to look into it, but the safest thing in the meantime seemed to be to stay indoors and try not to think about the necklace or the police or just what was under the linoleum, anyway.

* * *

Days passed and the phone did not ring, the door was silent, the hallway was empty every time he peeked out. Surely they would have come for him by now, had they found the necklace. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? If they hadn't found it, who was he, one man with contact lenses, to think that he could? Unlike them, however, he knew exactly what he was looking for.

The day was as it had been when he had killed her: brisk and sunny, the kind that makes you wonder whether or not you are going to need a jacket. Alan wore a windbreaker to the park. People were going about their morning routines — jogging, reading the paper, walking the dog — without any idea, or perhaps without any care, that a young woman had been killed there just days before. Or that he had killed her. Other women like her who hadn't heard or who were undeterred were out and about. They were brave, women these days; they took self-defense classes and carried mace and bore this sense of empowerment that they thought could make them invincible. Maybe some of them. But not the ones who rejected him.

He tried to act as casually as possible and blend in with everybody else. No matter how hard you try to fit in somewhere, you always end up feeling awkward. Alan felt awkward. He wondered if he looked awkward. It was as he was walking around, looking for the crime scene tape or chalk outline that he had imagined would still be there, that he saw it:

FOUND: Very Nice Lucky Brand Necklace — Gold with Shamrock Charm — Broken in Half But Still Good Condition. Found in Peterson Park on Thursday, May 27 around 2 p.m. near Fountain. Call Ellie at (555) 114-1990.

It was a crude handmade sign, but the penmanship was quite nice and there was a decent digital picture of the necklace, just as he had remembered it. What were the odds of somebody else finding it? Seeing nobody around, he tore the sign from the tree and crumpled it up and stuffed it in his pocket. If anybody made the connection between the necklace and the body that had been discovered nearby on the same day, he could be screwed. He had to get in touch with this Ellie and somehow convince her to give the necklace back to him. First, though, he had to find her other posters and get rid of them.

She had only pinned up a few more, tacked them to various trees along the path around the park. At least, those were all that he could find. Nobody seemed to notice that he was taking them down. How willingly naïve people were, yielding to whatever made the most sense in their heads. If the thought even crossed their minds that he was in an effort to conceal evidence and avoid discovery as a murderer, they quickly banished it and assumed that he had put up the signs himself and was taking them down, or he was a park official in the midst of aesthetic maintenance.

He was hoping Ellie would be just as naïve to whatever cover story he fabricated for her. Why would he be calling to retrieve a missing necklace? Was it his girlfriend's? His mother's? Why wasn't she calling herself? What did it matter that she got the necklace back? How had she lost it in the first place? Had the clasp broken? Had she been carrying it in her pocket?

Like a chess player prescient of his opponent's next moves, Alan walked home waging a debate in his own mind, crafting possible excuses to give Ellie and figuring out how to embellish them based on how he thought she would counter. He was not good at thinking on his feet; too often his impulses, as violent as they could be, took over. He had to have everything planned out if he was going to do this right without making her suspicious.

The number he had practically memorized by now. He punched it into his phone with ease and waited through three rings before somebody picked up on the other end.

"Hello?" asked a shrill voice.

"Hi, is this Ellie?"

"Yes." Instantly guarded, suspicious.

"I saw your name on the ads you posted in the park," he said to assuage her. "This is embarrassing, but...well, it's my girlfriend's necklace you found. Damn clasp's always breaking, you know, and we came home from our walk the other day and she's been freaking out about it ever since. I saw your posters today and I thought I could come pick it up, get it fixed and polished for her, surprise her with it when she gets home."

"I'm afraid it's more than the clasp," she said. Still cagey. "It's like it snapped, the whole thing, like she really dropped it or something. Are you sure it's hers?"

Her voice was young, high-pitched, precise. A well-educated young woman, he guessed, exactly the kind who would be enough of a Good Samaritan to put up posters rather than just get the necklace fixed and wear it herself.

"I'd recognize it anywhere. I bought it for her for her birthday."

"I see." Unconvinced. "Thing is, you're not the first person to call. I've actually had a few people who've said it's theirs, and then they've come to see it and realized they made a mistake. You'll understand if I tell you to double check that she didn't lose it somewhere else, maybe, or it went through the washing machine."

"I'll check again, just to make sure," he said.

"Okay. How did she lose it, anyway? It just fell off and she didn't even notice?" Doubtful.

"Yeah," he said wearily, as though he was used to his girlfriend's habitual negligence when it came to her jewelry. "I just buy the stuff, I couldn't tell you what she does with it."

If she had chuckled, even laughed through her nose, he didn't hear it. "Well, you are welcome to come over this afternoon if you're sure it's hers." Her tone implied that she did not think his certainty was worth anything. "I live at 12 Putney Lane. You know where that is? I'll be here until about four. Who shall I be expecting?"

"Alan," he said.

"Alan," she said. Expecting a surname.

"Yes," he said. Not giving one.

"Very well, Alan. Maybe I will see you this afternoon."

"Maybe you will, Ellie. Thank you."

"Have a good day."

* * *

Number twelve, it turned out, was a split family apartment. The name 'Ellie Sherman' was printed on a small card above the bell for 12A. He pushed it and heard a rather unpleasant buzz behind the door, which soon swung open to reveal the owner of the voice he had heard on the phone just a few hours before: tall, willowy, and smartly dressed, with severe features. Her hooked nose was redolent of a wicked witch in a fairy tale; Alan made a mental note not to take any offers of fruit from her. A lawyer or a marketing executive, she must be, judging from the frown lines etched into her face and the crisp outfit she wore, a pen placed unconsciously behind her ear. His charade was not going to fool her unless he was careful about everything he said.

"Alan?" she asked crisply.

"That's me."

"You're the second person to come by today," she said as she led the way inside, toward the necklace, which lay on her coffee table. "Seems some people thought they could just claim the necklace without actually proving it's theirs."

"Some people," Alan said, shaking his head at the criminals of the world.

"Tell me about it. Is this your girlfriend's?"

He looked at it and knew instantly that it had been hers. Whatever her name had been. It was the necklace that had been on her neck, that had broken in the scuffle, that he had picked up from the pavement and put in his pocket and lost somewhere between her body and the bus stop.

"Definitely," he said. "Thank God you found it. I swear she would've gone nuts eventually, and she's already torn our house apart."

Ellie's smile was not of genuine appreciation or amusement, but the kind that you give when you know should be smiling but don't actually find the situation funny or touching.

"It was really generous of you to even put those posters up in the first place," Alan went on. "Most people probably would have just taken her necklace and kept it for themselves."

"You're so right," she said. "I'm just glad I could help. Too many people don't do the right thing, you know? Your girlfriend is lucky you're such a nice guy. What's her name?"

"Kristen," Alan said automatically. It was a detail he had planned.

Ellie frowned.

"What's the matter?"

"I don't think this is her necklace, then," she said.

"What do you mean? Do you know her?"

She pointed out engraved initials on the back of the shamrock charm: RMB.

"Oh, that's right," Alan improvised. "She had those put on there in memory of her grandmother."

She looked sharply at him, no doubt attempting to discern whether he was quick on his feet or actually telling the truth.

"Rosemary Baker," he fudged.

"I think it would be best for your girlfriend to claim this herself," she said.

"I would hate for somebody else to try to claim it," Alan said. "This necklace means a lot to her."

"I'll hold onto it for now," she said, "but I really think she should get it. I mean, you can still take credit for getting in touch with me and everything, which is great, understand."

"I'd really like to get this back to her as soon as I can," he pressed. "As you can tell, it has quite a lot of sentimental value to her and she's been worried sick about it."

"I understand, I see what kind of a position I'm in. I want to make sure it gets back to the right person."

"Which it will if you give it to me," he continued. "It was a birthday present last year and I saved up a lot of money for it and she —"

"Wait, wait." She held up a hand, half of the necklace dangling between her thumb and palm. "You bought it for her last year?"

"Yes, it was her thirtieth birthday and I wanted to give —"

"You couldn't have bought this a year ago," she said, waving the necklace. "It's a new design; it just came out a few months ago."

His foot began to tap a steady beat. "I bought it last year."

She tugged on the chain that was around her neck, which he had not even noticed, and pulled out a similar Lucky Brand necklace, this one with a teddy bear charm.

"I know what I'm talking about," she said. "I think you can leave now, whoever you are."

Alan's breathing quickened, his tapping rhythm speeding up. "I need that necklace, please."

"I asked you to leave. Now."

He hardly realized what was happening before she was on all fours and his fists were beating her head, neck and back with such force that she collapsed, choking and crying, into a ball on the floor. Her refusal to do as he asked had ignited his rage, and the fuse burned long and slowly as he continued to kick and punch her like some of kind of remote control robot toy whose battery gradually slows and finally stops working.

Blood was smeared on his fists, on the floor, on the edge of the coffee table. It was matted in her hair and her clothes and the fibers of her formerly brilliant white carpet. The two halves of the necklace had fallen instantly from her hands and were just a few feet away, just as he had found them by the body of their dead owner. His jeans were spattered with scarlet, but he was not worried about them. Anybody he passed on the way home would be too naïve to think he had just killed a woman in cold blood. He had been painting, they would say. He had been slurping spaghetti. Whatever satisfied their consciences.

He wiped his hands on a dishtowel, which he used to cover his hands so he would not get blood on Ellie's cabinets and drawers, which he raided until he found a Ziploc bag in which he could keep the necklace safe until he got home and could add it to the scrapbook. He was determined not to lose it this time.

Back in the living room, he double checked that he had not left anything else behind, had not touched anything that would give him away. He put the dishtowel in his back pocket. So invested was he in making sure he was not leaving any traces of his presence in the house that he did not hear the approaching footsteps outside until he had crossed back into the living room, opened the front door, and came face to face with a beautiful young woman.

"Hello," she said pleasantly, if a little uncertainly. "Is Ellie here?" She saw the necklace in the bag in his hand. "Oh, that's funny, that's what I'm here about, I thought —"

Her eyes had wandered past him and into the apartment, falling on Ellie's body just beyond the doorway. They flickered, struggling to register, and then widened.

He saw the understanding in those eyes.

Her hand went instinctively to the cell phone in her pocket, but she could not make herself pull it out.

He looked at her really for the first time, taking in those frightened eyes, the lithe body, the pretty face.

His right eye began a maddening twitch.

Ryan Casey is an undergraduate journalism student and professional tap dancer at New York University with a passion for mysteries and creative writing. His first published short mystery story "Mean Aunt Sue" appeared on omdb! in June, 2011.

Copyright 2012 Ryan P. Casey. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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