Gazebo – A Francine Non-Adventure

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I waited in Kowalski’s patrol car for an hour while more police showed up to “take charge” of the scene. Then Kowalski took me back to the station where I waited another two hours at my desk for Detective Karter. He came in, glanced at me and hurried past into an office. Ten minutes later he came out and approached me.

He opened his mouth to speak but I cut him off. “Detective Karter, can I get pictures of the circle? I recognized some of the symbols but I’d like to try to find the rest.”

“Ms. Espinosa, your help has been invaluable but we no longer require it.” He sounded apologetic.

“What does that mean?”

He sighed heavily. “It has been made clear to me that no one outside the police force is to be working on this case.”

“You’re shutting me out?”

“I pulled a lot of strings to bring you on in the first place. It was a desperation move on a case that had dead-ended. Now that there are new leads and evidence–”

“That I found.”

He held his hands up. “I know. If it was up to me, you’d already have those photos but it’s not up to me.”

“Now what?” I asked.

“I need you to leave. If you have any more insights, you have my number but I can’t share any more details of the case with you.”

I had wanted to study the circle to know exactly what we were dealing with but my hand was being forced. “Detective Karter, you have to destroy or damage the circle.”

“I can’t destroy evidence,” he said.

“If the killer manages to finish their spell–“

“Nothing is going to happen because magic doesn’t exist.” I watched his face shift from apologetic to suspicious. “How did you find the circle again?” He was close to accusing me of being involved with the killer and I didn’t really blame him. I was spouting off about magic and spells.

I took a calming breath and said, “I looked at the files and found a pattern in where the victims lived. Officer Kowalski and I went to one of the victim’s home and I tripped over the loose rug. That’s all.”

He stared at me before gesturing toward the front. “Thank you, Ms. Espinosa, but we will take it from here.”


Later that evening I sat thumbing through a magic reference book. The book was just a book, not a magical book. Those I had burned and buried. I was looking for more info on magic circles. There was a surprisingly lot of magic systems that used circles for various rituals. They had differing structures but it was easy to find several that used the cardinal directions in setup for the main ritual or spell. The killer had to have a place for the final part of their spell and it had to be in the center of the victim’s homes.

Using the map app on my phone I pinned the victims’ homes and eyeballed the center point to be near the duck pond in Creekside Park. I gathered some supplies from around my apartment in one of those reusable grocery bags and headed to the park. Twenty minutes later I was wandering through the park toward the approximate center of the four ritual circles. A quick walk around the pond didn’t turn anything up. I checked the map again.

My location looked to be dead center. I zoomed in until the pond’s bean shape filled the screen. A smaller circle popped into view inside the pond. The gazebo. Except as I looked across the pond I didn’t see it. The duck pond gazebo had been closed for repairs after a big storm last year but I couldn’t remember hearing about it being demolished. The bridge to the gazebo remained with a heavy chain across its opening. I stepped over it and started walking across.

A few boards creaked and wobbled but otherwise, the bridge felt solid. At the end was just water. I stared at the end of the bridge for a couple of minutes. The last board was only half as wide and the railing didn’t end in a post instead just hanging in space. I steeled myself and stepped forward off the end of the bridge. My vision blurred and static filled my ears. Then I was inside the gazebo. Magic. That seemed to confirm whether or not the circles would work.

Outside, under the full moon and light from nearby street lights, I hadn’t had much trouble seeing but in the shade of the gazebo’s roof, I found myself in the dark. I pulled a flashlight out of my bag and swept it across the floor. The circle I had found in the apartment had been four to five feet across. The one carved into the gazebo’s floor was at least twice as wide and as jammed packed with sigils, glyphs, runes, and words written in languages I didn’t know. The was no blood traced over the carvings.

The killer hadn’t finished their ritual. Ok, now I just needed to find a place to hide nearby so I – Wait, wait, no. What was I thinking?! I’m not going to play into the plot. I’m not.

I swung the beam of my flashlight behind me, checking for the killer. No one was there. Right, the killer is on track to kill tomorrow so I have most of a day to do something but first things first. I pulled out a box of salt from my bag and popped out the spout. I started at the door and poured a line of salt around the inside of the gazebo. Salt was good protection against a general number of evil things. It probably wouldn’t keep the killer out but it might disrupt the magics they were using. Blood magic tended to be evil.

Once the salt circle was done, I carefully stepped over it back onto the bridge. The gazebo remained visible. Either my stepping through it or the salt had broken the spell hiding it. Hopefully, it wouldn’t scare off the killer when they returned. I left the park and headed home.

I didn’t think Detective Karter would listen to me so I called Kowalski.

“Hello is this Officer Kowalski?”

“Yo, Kowalski here.”

“I … You answer the phone with yo?”

“Who is this?”

“Sorry, it’s Francine Espinosa. The consultant.”

“Oh hey, what can I do for you? I heard you had been taken off the case?”

“Yes but I think I have a lead for you. The center point of the four victim’s homes is in Creekside Park. I think you should check out the gazebo in the duck pond.”

“Have you been out there?”

“No. I just looked at a map. If the killer thinks they’re doing magic then it makes sense that they’ll want to finish their ritual.”

“I’ll pass this along to Detective Karter.”

“Don’t tell him I told you. Tell him you thought of it.”

“Ah… sure.”

“Thank you. Bye.”

“See ya.”

A few days later I read about an attempted murder in Creekside Park. The papers reported that there were occult connections but a lot of the details were being withheld by the police. Kowalski called to tell me my tip had been good. They found the circle, staked it out and grabbed the killer when he showed up dragging a homeless man to the gazebo. It’s unclear if he will be officially connected to the first four murders.

Not a completely satisfying conclusion but better than trying to fight some magic powered killer in the park. The ghost in the park across the street has started calling my name again. I’m thinking of walking over for a chat.

Author’s Note: So, this is the end of the story started in “The Alibi” which was meant to be a one off story.

“The Non-Adventures of Francine” was conceived as a series of very short stories about Francine avoiding story plots. The first three stories followed this format. It was while writing “The Scrapbook” that I had the idea of continuing the story from “The Alibi” the previous story.

I’m currently thinking of using “The Non-Adventures of Francine” as the title story of my next e-book.

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The Scene – A Francine Non-Adventure

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We went to the last victim’s apartment. The apartment manager let us in. The door was clean of any signs or police tape.

“Have you been inside since … the police came by?” I asked the manager.

“Uh, I let Rob’s sister in and gave her a key so she could get his stuff out,” he said.

I looked at Kowalski. “Shouldn’t the apartment be locked down while the investigation is ongoing?”

“Why? It’s not a crime scene. The officers who checked it out didn’t see anything out of place. So what are looking for?”

“I don’t know. The killer chose the victim based on where he lived. There must be something special about the apartment or maybe the building. The killer could have drawn his square anywhere but he chose this place.”

“What if it’s random?” Kowalski asked.

“Then we have no chance at predicting where he will kill next and I’ve wasted the last week of my life on a pointless task,” I said.

“A lot of police work is pointless tasks.”

“That’s not how things work around me.”

“What makes you special?”

“Nothing.” I was a girl detective as a teen and now I’m a character trying to avoid plot hooks. I turned away from him and started walking around the apartment looking at the walls and shelves for a clue. Rob had been the man found in my apartment. Pictures of him with family and friends dotted the walls.

In the living room, I examined his DVD collection. Action, horror, and martial arts movies dominated but I noticed a shelf near the floor with romantic comedies. Nothing jumped out at me as strange or out of place. I turned to walk into the kitchen and stumbled as my foot caught on something. The carpet had a loose flap in the middle of the room. I crouched down, pulled the carpet up and felt a chill run up my spine. The third act twist had just shown up.

Kowalski leaned over the sofa and asked me, “What did you find?” I yanked the carpet up and to the side, exposing the floor. Underneath the rug was a series of circles, one inside the next. Between the circles, symbols, glyphs, runes, sigils, and other things I couldn’t identify were carved into the wood. A dark brown substance was smeared, tracing every line, on all of them. Kowalski stared at it all with mixed horror and puzzlement playing across his face. I probably didn’t have to tell him the brown smears were most likely blood either the victim’s or the killer’s or both. “What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a magic circle meant to draw energies from the victim and give power to the killer.”

“And how do you know that?” he asked. His eyes narrowed and his posture shifted.

“I took a few classes on myths, magic, and religions. This rune represents power. This symbol means power and this one is life. It’s all jumbled up from like five different systems. The killer probably just copied it out of a book.” Kowalski relaxed as I rambled about the circle. I had actually learned most of what I knew when magic beings started appearing around me. Several days of hard studying at the public library had given me enough knowledge to mostly avoid getting involved with anything supernatural up til now.

This jumbled as it was might still work. The normal rules didn’t apply around me. I had seen portals to other worlds, wizard duels in alleyways, magic rings(I knew they were magic because they glowed), and ghosts in numerous locations. I had even seen a circle like this but simpler and made of stones. That one I had disarmed by kicking the stones and running away. This one, one of four, might be harder to dispel. I reached to touch one of the symbols.

“Stop! Don’t touch that,” Kowalski shouted. “This is a crime scene now. We need to get out and call CSI to come examine the floor.” He grabbed my arm and gently guided me out of the apartment.

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Kowalski – A Francine Non-Adventure

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Now that I was engaged with the plot, it slowed to a crawl as I spent the next week reviewing the police’s files on the murder victims. Hours every day reading reports, looking at photos, and making notes that were little more than a list of questions without answers. In a tv show or novel, this would have been a montage or just a few sentences at the beginning of a chapter and not days of my life.

“Hello,” an officer said as he passed my desk. I watched Officer Kowalski fill a paper cup from the water cooler. It was across from the spare desk Detective Karter had found for me. Kowalski stood out as the only patrol cop I saw on a regular basis. Maybe it was just a coincidence he was always scheduled when I was in the station. That didn’t explain why I saw him several times during the day when he should have been out patrolling the streets. Most of the police people seemed content to ignore me. Kowalski said hello every time he passed my desk.

“Hey Kowalski,” I said. He turned to face me. “What do you think of this case?” I gestured at the reports and photos spread across the desk.

“I don’t really know much about it. Serial killer. Four victims, that we know of, unrelated. Kills every two weeks. Fakes the crime scene.”

“So, you’re all caught up. He’s scheduled to kill again tonight. I’m supposed to catch this guy.”

“It’s not your fault this guy’s out there killing people.”

“I know that but I’m the observant outside who cracks the case wide open. At least I thought I was.”

“This isn’t tv. Police work is hours of talking to people, finding evidence, putting together timelines.”

“I know that and I’ve put in the time. I’ve been reading these reports and looking at these photos for days and I have nothing to show for it.”

“I’m sure we’ll catch this guy. These guys always think they’re so smart but they always mess up somehow.”

“We got nothing right now. The crime scenes are fake. The “murder weapon” from each murder isn’t even the murder weapon. The victims didn’t live in the same neighborhood. One lived up here,” I touched the map in the approximate location of the first victim, “Another lived over here, the third lived across the city here.” I paused with my finger on the third victim’s home. “And the last lived here.”

I stared at the invisible points where my finger had touched the map. I pulled out the victims’ files and began marking the exact addresses of their homes. Using the edge of a folder, I drew straight lines between them. They made a perfect square. “How did I miss that?” I said out loud.

“Miss what?” Kowalski asked.

“The victims’ homes make a square on the map. They aren’t random. He chose these four men because of where they lived. But why?”

“I don’t know,” Kowalski said looking at the map, “They line up with the cardinal directions, too.”


He pointed to the compass on the map and back at the square I drew. “North, south, east, west.” I flipped through the victim’s files. The police had checked the victims’ homes but nothing of note had been found. They didn’t know the locations were significant.

“We need to go to one of the victims’ homes.” I stood up and started gathering my things.

“Hold up, I thought you were a consultant. You can’t just go investigating on your own.”

“I’m not. You’re going to go with me.”

“I am?” Kowalski asked.

“Yes. I need a police escort and you don’t seem to be doing anything right now. Are you doing anything?”

“I have … paperwork,” he said uncertainly.

“Of course, you’ve been hanging around doing nothing. You’re my cop buddy.”

“I’m your what now?”

“Never mind that. We need to get going. I should have figured out the victims’ homes thing days ago.” Kowalski stared at me like I had grown a second head. “Look, I’m here to look at the evidence with fresh eyes but there’s no evidence from the victims’ homes because no one thought to look for any. The only way I can look at the evidence is to go to one of their homes myself. And you are going to take me.”

“I can’t just take you to a random location to look for … for clues.”

I paused putting on my sweater. Was I looking for clues? Was I too caught up in the crime thriller plot? I had said I would stay in the precinct where I was safe. It wasn’t like the killer would be waiting for me at one of the victims’ homes, would he? No, even that would be too coincidental. I was stalled working with just the police files. I had to do something to move the plot forward before he killed again.

“Call Detective Karter and tell him I’ve got a lead but I need to go to one of the victims’ homes.”

Kowalski stared at me. I waved him to the phone on the desk. He sighed and picked up the phone. After a short conversation, he hung up and said, “Get your stuff we’re going a field trip.”

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The Consultant – A Francine Non-Adventure

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“Detective Karter, thank you for seeing me,” I said. I had shown up at the precinct and asked to see the detective, a few minutes later he walked out holding a file folder.

“Sure, what can I do for you?” He had the same leather jacket, unshaved, rumpled look from the first time we met even though it was barely past noon.

“There’s something I noticed the night of … the night I found the body in my living room. The victim was killed by a single cut across his neck. Arterial blood spray was found on the wall along with a smeared handprint presumably from the victim trying to catch himself as he fell dying.”

“You got all that from the few seconds you saw the body when you found it?”

“I had to walk past it to retrieve my medicine and the coroner was talking about the crime scene with someone.” The coroner had been fairly loud and loose-lipped about the body’s condition.

“We’ve already reconstructed the series of events,” he said unimpressed.

“Did you notice the blood spray overlaps the handprint?”

He frowned for a second before opening the folder he was carrying. How convenient that he just happened to be walking around with the relevant folder. He shuffled through some papers and photos until he found what he was looking for and stopped staring at the photo. He eyes widened and he looked at me.

“How did you see that?” he asked.

“I’m really observant.” He let out a short loud barking laugh. “And I have a little experience with investigation.”

“Do you know what this means?” He closed the folder

“The crime scene was staged and the victim was killed somewhere else,” I said.

“Yeah.” He seemed to zone out for a second staring over my head mumbling to himself, “Probably all of them were staged.” There had been more murders like the one I found in my living room. Murders the detective thought were connected.

“A serial killer,” I said aloud. My speaking snapped the detective back into the moment. His head darted back and forth looking around the room. He grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall into a meeting room. Once the door was shut he began to pace.

“We think there have been four murders, including the one you found. The crime scenes are virtually identical, which would make sense if they’re staged.”

“How long has this been going on?”

“Six weeks since the first murder. Two weeks since we started thinking it might be a serial killer. Four days since we all but confirmed it. He kills every two weeks. We’ve been keeping it quiet because we have almost nothing to go on except the crime scenes. Now we don’t even have the real crime scenes just the fake ones the killer gave us.” He stopped leaned over the table head down.

“Well I think I’ll be going now,” I said. He head snapped up.

“Wait, I could use some fresh eyes on this. You said you’ve done investigative work before? Were you a P.I.?”

“Not exactly.” Girl detective was kind of hard to put on a resume.

“Doesn’t matter. I can get you clearance as a consultant. Strictly in-house. You wouldn’t have to go to crime scenes or hit the streets.” That I knew was a lie. I’m sure the detective believed what he was saying but I knew how these kinds of stories went. First I’m just working at a desk until a hot lead comes in. We rush to follow the lead and blammo! we’re in a shootout with the suspect. After that, I’m basically his sidekick following him around giving him insight into crimes he otherwise couldn’t solve. No thank you.

“I would rather not get more involved,” I said waving away his offer. It was better this way I would go back to my normal life and this killer would be caught in due time even without my help. I turned, grabbed the doorknob, and a thought passed through my mind. The killer always returns to the scene of the crime. It’s a silly cliché but silly clichés held more weight in my world than others. I could return home but that didn’t mean the killer would come after me there for whatever reason. Was this a buddy cop show or a crime thriller? Could I choose?

I turned back to Detective Karter and said, “You know, I think I can help you.”

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