First Chapter of Death Rules the Night
A Dan and Rivka Murder Mystery by Larry and Rosemary Mild

Chapter 1

Split Seconds

May 8th, 1989

The worst thing about accidents and missteps is that we don’t know when or how to anticipate them. If we were able to see the when and how, we might learn to avoid them altogether. But alas, we are only human and can neither choose nor recognize those ill-fated moments when it isn’t safe to let our guards down. A near-miss might cause us to reflect on our whole lives. A direct hit might do the same. Two truck drivers, Tom Dwyer and Frank Mulhaney, will learn this the hard way and react differently to its twenty-year consequences.

At 5:45 a.m. Tom Dwyer and his wife, Laura, were eating breakfast at their tiny Formica kitchen table. Laura had an unremarkable round face, a thick mass of light brown hair, and rimless bifocals. Today, the thirty-nine-year-old woman wore a tan cardigan sweater over a brown print dress. She worked for the telephone company in bill adjustments.

Tom drove a truck for a fast-growing package delivery service based in Baltimore, Maryland. A towering muscular man with clean-shaven gray cheeks, he wore his company's dark blue slacks and chambray shirt with "Tom" emblazoned across one pocket. He ate his usual Raisin Bran cereal with milk and a packet of artificial sweetener. He held a spoon in one hand and a folded newspaper in the other, while Laura nibbled away at a buttered English muffin. Wielding a pencil in her free hand, she worked at completing a shopping list.

"Where are you off to this morning, dear?" she asked.

"Let's see, today's Tuesday. I'll be learning the Annapolis route with some guy named Frank." He finished his cereal and pushed his bowl toward the center of the table.

"Will you be late tonight?" Laura took the last bite of her muffin, picked up his bowl and her plate, and placed them in the dishwasher.

"Don’t think so, hon," he said as he put the paper down and got up from the table. He collected his uniform coat and cap from the hall and left for work.

"Bye, see you tonight."

"Bye," she called from behind the bathroom door.

* * * * 

By 9:45 the two drivers were completing their fifth delivery of the morning. Their Express Package Delivery truck sat idling next to the curb at 2320 Slate Street, a deserted one-way thoroughfare close to downtown Annapolis, Maryland. Tom Dwyer, an experienced driver just riding along to learn the more efficient delivery routes, carried a cardboard carton upstairs to an apartment in the adjacent building. Obtaining a signature of receipt, he returned to the truck and climbed in the cab beside the driver.

Frank Mulhaney, a hefty driver with twelve years on this job, had waited behind the wheel. As soon as Tom slammed his door shut, Frank released the emergency brake and lightly tapped the gas pedal. The truck pulled away from the curb and rolled slowly toward the red traffic light at the corner.

In the parking spaces across the street and to the left of the moving truck were six vehicles—a pickup truck, a line of four sedans, and an unmarked white panel truck.

"Where to next?" asked Tom.

Frank gazed up at the traffic light, just turning green, and then down at his delivery list to see his next address. It only took that split second for him to look at the rectangular metallic box holding the packing lists with the addresses, but it would turn out to be the most terrible split second of his life. As his vehicle rolled abreast of the panel truck, Frank returned his attention to the windshield once more and gasped.

"Look out," shouted Tom.

Bigger than life, Frank saw a woman with outstretched arms and legs plow into their truck's windshield. He instantly panicked. His foot briefly mis-hit the accelerator before jamming down on the intended brakes. Too late. The woman’s body slid underneath the truck frame. The heavy box truck did come to a stop, but not before the drivers felt the tires thump-a-thump in the road below. Frank applied the emergency hand brake as a matter of habit. He sat shaking for a few seconds, then flung the door open, slid off the seat, and slammed his extra-wide shoes down onto the macadam street.

Tom heaved his six-foot-hree body down from the passenger side of the cab and hurried around to join Frank on the other side of the truck. He could feel his heart thumping at a painful rate. His mind was still fixated on the woman's distorted face as she appeared through the windshield.

Kneeling down, the two men discovered the woman's battered body lying beneath the cab of the truck. There was no way Frank could move their truck without further mutilating the body, so the two men reached underneath the truck, grabbed the woman under her arms, and dragged her to the opposite sidewalk.

The green lightweight coat on the blonde twenty-something victim had fallen open, revealing a pink housedress with a gray diagonal tire track drawn across its middle. One pink slipper dangled from her left foot. The other was surely still under the truck.

Once they had hauled the woman from the street to the sidewalk, Frank's thick fingers felt her carotid artery. Feeling no signs of life there, he stood up straight, shook his head, then began scanning his environs for anyone else who might have observed the accident scene. No one. Not a soul in sight. Like a child who'd sent an errant baseball through a neighbor's window, Frank felt a new wave of panic wash over him, as he bolted for the cab and climbed in, slamming the door behind him.

"You can't leave her lying there like this," shouted Tom.

"I can't' You just watch me," answered Frank. "Get in quick before someone sees us."

"Shouldn't we call it in63;"

"Not unless you want to lose your license," said Frank. "I need mine to make a living."

Tom reluctantly climbed up into the cab and pulled his door shut. Frank released the emergency hand brake and drove off.

* * * * 

At 9:15 that same morning—a very different breakfast scene. Budreau Atkins sat down at the kitchen table in his Annapolis apartment. The lanky thirty-two-year old sometimes went by the nickname Buddy, but mostly everyone who knew him called him Muddy. That name stuck because of the many shady deals and troubles he got himself into. Muddy's large nose tapered to high cheekbones and hollow hawkish eyes. Powerful allergies laid claim to his sinuses that morning and, by painful association, his poor temperament as well.

Anne, Muddy's wife of eight years, stood in front of the gas range in her faded, thin housedress—one hand holding an iron skillet handle. The three eggs in the skillet sizzled and popped from the excess butter under heat.

"Aren't them damn eggs done yet?" he demanded. "What's taking so long?"

"Coming right up, dear." Anne half-flipped the pan over a large dinner plate and slid the contents onto it. She carried the plate to the table and set it down in front of him. "There!"

Muddy picked up a fork, dug in, and conveyed several bitefuls to his mouth before carping, "These blasted eggs are runny again. You know how I hate runny eggs."

"I know," she said. "But you're always so impatient. You hurried me up."

"Don't you go blaming your incompetence on me, woman."

Anne thought seriously about beaning him with the skillet she was rinsing in the sink, but pure reason stopped her. "Why are you starting up with me this morning I didn't do anything to you."

Muddy ignored her question. "Did you pick up my dress shirts from the cleaners like I told you?"

"No, I'll get them first thing."

"You dunce, can't you do anything the first time like I tell you? "

Anne approached him, arms folded across her chest. "I'm your wife, not your damn slave. Treat me with some respect. Just because your sisters were so cruel to you growing up, doesn't mean you have to take it out on me."

His chair made a scraping sound on the floor as he pushed it back and stood to face her. A half-dozen seconds passed before he slapped her hard on the right cheek, stunning her, knocking her a step aside. "You dumb bitch! I ought to throw you out on your ear."

Anne, a 110-pound lefty, responded defiantly with a loud stinging slap to his right cheek. Muddy made a fist and jabbed it deep into her stomach. The blow sent her across the room onto her backside. Facing him, her eyes glazed with surprise followed by pure anger. Then fear set in. She wriggled her way across the floor to the nearest corner and cowered there.

Muddy looked down on her with a sneer and said, "You dumb bitch! I'm not through with you yet."

"You sonofabitch," she cried. "One of these days I'm leaving you for good and I ain't coming back."

"Go ahead, leave. Ain't no one here gonna miss you anyway."

She stumbled out the door and slammed it behind her.

* * * * 

&At 7:45 that same evening Tom Dwyer walked in the door and went directly to his favorite recliner, without even announcing his arrival. He and Frank had driven through all the rest of their deliveries like automatons, neither one speaking his troubled mind. Now he sat there sulking in silence, rehashing his dark day in the dimness of his own living room.

"I thought you weren’t going to be late, dear," Laura called from the kitchen. When she heard no response, Laura went to see for herself why. She perceived something was awry with her husband, who usually came home in a reasonably pleasant mood.

quot;Why are you sitting there in the dark?quot; she asked. She entered the living room and flipped the light switch to ON. As soon as she saw him sitting there, she knew for sure something was eating at him. quot;What's wrong, dear. Your face is as white as my dish towel.quot;

"Today we accidentally murdered someone, a woman," he muttered with his eyes turned down.

“Murdered?” she repeated. “A woman?”

quot;quot;Yes! Somebody's wife, maybe, or somebody's mother,quot; he whined.

quot;Where? How?quot;

quot;Annapolis…we ran her over with the company truck.quot;

quot;We? Who was driving?quot;


quot;Are you sure she's dead?quot; Laura asked. quot;Maybe she's still alive. Did you stop and check?quot;

quot;Of course we did. We both checked for her life signs. There just weren't any.quot;

quot;So how is that murder?quot; she asked. quot;It sounds more like an accident to me.quot;

quot;But we drove off without getting any help.quot;

quot;You left the scene?quot; Laura asked slowly, as though she didn't want to hear the answer.

quot;Yeah. There weren't any witnesses, so Frank panicked and took off.quot;

quot;Tom, why are you so sure of that? No witnesses, I mean.quot;

quot;Damn it, Laura, it was a deserted side street. I looked it up and down. I even looked at the windows in all the next-door houses. There was no one about. I didn't want to leave without calling the police and an ambulance, but Frank insisted. He was worried about losing his license.quot;

quot;Have you any idea who she was? Did you look in her purse?quot;

quot;No, I didn't! Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any purse.quot;

quot;None? What kind of a woman leaves the house without her purse?quot;

quot;It could have been under the truck. I didn't look there.quot;

quot;Come, let's have a bite to eat. Your supper's getting cold. We'll talk more later.quot;

quot;I don't feel like eating anything,quot; he said.

quot;Come to the table anyway,quot; she coaxed. quot;Maybe you’ll change your mind.quot; Laura sat across from him at the supper table with hardly a word said by either one. She ate slowly and sparingly, looking up at him periodically, her mouth parting as though she intended to say something, but she never did.

Tom tried to eat several times, but whatever reached his mouth seemed both tasteless and intolerable. The distorted woman's face stuck relentlessly in his mind. Whenever he saw Laura raise her head to speak, he didn't know whether it would be to admonish him or comfort him. Ultimately, she did neither. He was left to deal with his own conscience.

What scarce sleep Tom had that night came with repeated nightmares of the same accident scene—the frightening flash image of the outstretched woman in the windshield in that horrifying instant before she fell beneath the wheels of Frank's rolling truck. The thump-a-thump sound and smell of the braking tires, the hammer pounding against his chest, and the dominating fear hovering over him. It took possession of him and his life. He was no better than Frank—they had both left the scene of the crime. The future held little or no relief, for he was to be plagued with endless nights full of that awful lifeless image. And, of course he could seek no help, nor could he tell a soul beyond Laura.

The next few mornings they rushed to search the local newspapers for coverage of the accident. The Baltimore Sun carried no mention of an Annapolis hit-and-run, and the Annapolis Journal-Gazette over several days mentioned two similar incidents with few details: different locations and both at night. These items only added to the couple's consternation.

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