Sunday, March 27, 2016

April 2016, UCO Reporter Newspaper.

I think I’m a serial killer
By Jody Lebel

I’m not entirely sure, at least not 100%, and I don’t have any real proof or anything, but I’m pretty sure I killed a couple of magazine editors.  Don’t believe it?  There are dead people and I’m involved.  In some states that’s enough probable cause to get me an orange jumpsuit.  I don’t look good in orange.  I don’t know what room the deaths occurred in, or whether they were done in by a rope, a knife, or a candlestick, but they’re dead nonetheless.  These days, every time a police cruiser drives down my street, I flatten myself against the wall and do a slitty-eyed peek from behind closed blinds convinced that it’s a homicide detective hunting me down. 

How did I get into this mess you might be asking? In addition to being the author of several romantic/suspense novels, I also write short mystery stories for fiction magazines.  This whole thing started when I finished what I would call a killer story (no pun intended) and I began looking for the perfect magazine to submit it to.  Anyone who knows me knows what a control freak I am and that I own a voluminous book that lists every current magazine and its editor in the world.  I stayed up nights into the wee hours, bleary eyed but determined, to find the lucky recipient who would get to buy my story.  Like a rat on a Cheetos, I devoured the listings, ran one hi-lighter bone dry, and fattened the book with hundreds of neon green Post-its to the point of tearing the binding.  I became so obsessed in locating the perfect editor that I transferred the information to a computer spreadsheet with a color-coded, intertwining, cross referencing, alphabetic and numeric system.  This editor must be a person with a good track record and someone who would appreciate my dark humor.  A fuddy-duddy editor would never do.  Uh-uh.  I needed someone who enjoyed laughing until they got a stitch in their side and didn’t mind spitting out coffee when they read my witty story.  I especially kept an eye out for editors who claimed to ‘love innovative material’ and those who delighted in finding ‘gold’ in their slush pile.

Initially I had toyed with the idea of sending the story out willy-nilly to everyone. Caution, meet wind. Let the chips fall where they may. I envisioned voluminous bags of mail, being dragged to my door by a weary mailman, filled with options and offers and perhaps even some unabashed begging.  I had planned to throw them all over the floor and roll in them with childlike delight.  But a niggling little voice in my head began to give me worries.  What if someone stole my prize-winning (I’m sure) story?  What if it got in the hands of some unscrupulous editor who sold it to Russia and I never saw a dime?  Or a ruble for that matter.  So I wisely decided to submit to only the top two qualified, meticulously honest, most revered, unfuddy-duddy editors I could find and let them fight it out. 

I used premium bond paper (with a watermark), wrote a perfect introduction letter that in itself should be in a writing museum somewhere, had a friend do the addresses in calligraphy, and took the packets to the post office where I made the clerk stamp them ‘first class’ and ‘do not bend’.  I gave them a kiss (something I always do when I send off work even though it makes everyone around me back one step away), sang a quick version of Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys (don’t laugh, I implore Rhonda’s help a lot and she comes through for me), and sent my babies on their way.

Then I went home to await the responses that would thrust me into the world of fame and fortune.  I truly expected a fast turnaround but after a few days of waiting and no fat contract, I figured the editors were struck dumb with my fabulous material and were at this moment imploring the editors-in-chief to pay me double the normal royalty. 

Finally, ten days later I received my first reply.  It was my original package, a bit worn around the edges from its travels much to my dismay, and across the front of it in large red letters it said DECEASED.  I was shocked.  My first reply and she keeled over just looking at my envelope.  Rhonda, what did you do?  I would just have to wait for the second editor to respond. But when I didn’t hear from her, and after scanning the obituaries just to be sure, I decided my envelope must have gotten lost in the mail (curse you, Haverhill branch).  I decided to try again and this time I’d mail them at a luckier post office.  I went back to my super-duper organized list and chose editors number three and four.  This time I kissed the envelopes while I was still in my car and I sang to Rhonda under my breath.
A week later, one of the envelopes was returned unopened.  Across the front was stamped, once again, DECEASED.  What?! I had managed to murder another editor.  I cried to my mother, in the true spirit of an only child who thinks the world revolves around her, “Why is this happening to me?” To which she replied, “I think we’re out of peanut butter.”  Mom’s not really with it.

I was on a killing spree but darn it I couldn’t just let my superb story suffer. I sent it out to the next ten editors on my spreadsheet, disturbed to see I was now getting into the B-listers.  No responses.  Puzzled and beginning to experience a little panic that I might be jinxed for killing those women, I sent it out to any person who was in the mystery/thriller field in any capacity.  If you were a janitor at the publishing house, you may have gotten one of my packets.  I was in such a frenzy that I may have posted it to the same magazines more than once. In fact I’m sure of it.  The publishing industry is a small, tight community. Word must have leaked about the two dead bodies because I started receiving strange replies like “we have put you on a no-fly list; do not submit anything to our magazine again or we will assume it contains anthrax and report you to the authorities” or “please do not contact our magazine again, or our sister magazine, or any company remotely involved with us within a 50-mile radius.  Also note we have Caller ID and a sample of your DNA from the envelope.” 

Hmmmph. They don’t scare me.  But I would like to clear the air and officially go on record saying I had nothing directly to do with the demise of the first two editors, and as far as I know Rhonda does not have a rap sheet.  However, if you are a magazine editor and you do find a submission from me on your desk, you might consider having someone else open it.  You know, just in case Rhonda’s got an itchy trigger finger or something.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Woman's World magazine - February 14, 2013

"Fishing for a Date"
      by Jody Lebel

      Good looking men don't show up on your lawn every day.  And to find one poking around at a yard sale?  Even more rare.  That alone made him interesting, but his dark eyes and nice smile would have made most women look twice.  The tackle box with its worn edges and trays of fishing gear had caught his eye.  She watched amused as he pushed the hooks around with a cautious finger. Karen would have pegged him more of a reader than a sportsman. He seemed familiar but she couldn't place him.   

     Karen loved tag sales and thought having her own would be fun but as the late autumn sun baked everyone and everything, and strangers pawed through her possessions demanding price cuts, she vowed to never do it again.  At least the garage clutter was gone.

     The man picked up the box and strode directly to her. "You have this marked at five dollars?"  His voice was deep and pleasant. 

     "Yes," she replied, steeling herself for the inevitable haggling.    

     He handed her a five-dollar bill.  "I can work with that."

     Pleased, Karen thanked him, then pointed to the box.  "You like to fish?"

     "Oh, no, this is for my nephew. He'll love going through all this – um – stuff."  He wrinkled his nose and made a little face.  "I don’t even know the names of the things in here," he admitted.

     He didn't seem in any hurry to leave even after Karen bagged up his purchase.  His attempt to engage her in small talk warmed her heart and she was enjoying herself until he was nudged aside by a woman who wanted to check the plug on a toaster.  By the time Karen finished helping her, he was gone. She hadn't even gotten his name.  Too bad.  It had been a long time since she had been in the company of a nice man.

         She closed the sale early and went inside to cool down and put up her feet.  When her husband had died last year after a long illness, she hadn't had the heart or the strength to get rid of his things.  Now that she was ready, she wished she had just called the Salvation Army.

      A sharp knock on her door startled her. When she saw the man who bought the tackle box on her steps she was pleased until she realized he had it tucked under his arm.  Her smile faded.  Oh, no, now people were returning things?  Just great.  Reluctant to let a stranger inside her house she invited him to sit on the porch, and a moment later she brought out a pitcher of iced tea. 

     "I'm Dan Wright," he said, extending his hand.  "I'm the new pharmacist in town."

    That's where she had seen him.

   "And I wanted to ask about this fishing box and the contents."    

   "My late husband spotted it on top of a trash can on the side of the road and couldn't resist bringing it home.  He used to do that a lot."  She gestured to her yard sale with a wry smile.  "That's how I ended up with all this."

     "This was mixed in with the lures."  He opened his palm to show her a class ring, small in size, with a red stone.  The markings indicated it came from one of the regional high schools. "Does this happen to belong to you?"

    Karen shook her head. "That's not mine."  She loved that he had returned the ring.  Most people would have kept it.

     "The year is on the side there."   

     She took a better look.  "And there are some initials inside, see?" 

    He held it up to the light and turned it this way and that.  He rubbed the band with the edge of his shirt.  "It looks like I.S.W."  He tipped the ring towards her.  "You know with that bit of information I bet we could find the owner."

    She considered the possibility. "I suppose we could look at old yearbooks, try to match the initials."

    "Yes," he brightened.  "Tomorrow, if you're free, would you care to take a drive to the main library over in Brighton?  I hear they have all kinds of reference books there."

     "All right."  His enthusiasm was catching and she found herself intrigued. By the ring and by him.

      "This afternoon I was fishing for a way to ask you out, maybe for coffee or something."  He hesitated then stammered out quickly, "It's been a while since I've dated.  I may be a little rusty."

     She passed the pitcher of iced tea and settled back in the wicker chair.  The setting sun made the orange and yellow leaves on her trees glow.  A late hummingbird visited her feeder. 
     "I can work with that," she smiled.

Woman's World magazine - December 31, 2012

by Jody Lebel

Beth studied the black smudges on the pads of her fingers.
"We'll be done in a few minutes." The crime scene tech gently rolled her index finger from side to side on the screen."Just relax and let me do the moving."

Being fingerprinted was a new experience. One she hoped to never repeat. "What is this for again?"
"Those are what are called elimination prints. Once we have yours, we can concentrate on any others we find."

That had come from the detective who appeared in her doorway. She took in the crisp fold of his suit and his gold badge dangling on a chain around his neck.He held a cloth grocery sack away fromhis body as a green substance oozed through the bottom and trickled on the stoop. 
"I’m Detective Kevin Stone. Is this yours?"

"Yes, when I opened the front door and saw the mess I guess I dropped it."
"Smells like pistachio."

The tech passed her a lemon scented wipe to clean her hands. "That was my ice cream."
The detective turned to the young patrol officer who was making an inventory of stolen items. "Add a container of ice cream," he ordered in a stern voice.

Seeing as how she was standing ankle deep in a jumble of her belongings, that unexpected bit of humour took Beth by surprise. But for her it was the perfect thing for him to do.  She felt her tension begin to drain. Waggling a finger at the list she added, "Anddon't forget the container of whipped cream in there, too."
Detective Stone peeked into the bag. "That fiend," he hotly declared before breaking into a teasing smile.He headed to the kitchen.  "I do realize this is serious," he assured her, depositing the sloppy mess in the sink. "But you looked like you were going to have a meltdown there for a moment."

Beth and the detective studied the list of missing property together.  "I don't care so much about the television or laptop, those things can be replaced," she said."But the silver frame?  That belonged to my grandmother."
"We'll do our best to find this guy," the detectiveassured her.  Crime was rare in her part of town. He glanced around at the disarray, much of it now also covered with black dust from the crime scene unit.

"Do you think it was random?" she asked, arms folded tightly over her chest. "I mean do you think he'll be back?"
Detective Stone put a warm, reassuring hand on her arm."It's only a burglary. This guy wanted quick things to sell. He struck while you weren't home, he won't be back."

His confident manner was soothing and for the first time since she walked through her door she wasn't frightened. "Okay," she nodded, her voice stronger.
"I’ll leave you to clean up," he said, moving toward the front door. "You've got good deadbolts; keep them latched even when you're home."

Beth glanced at the pamphlet one of the officers had handed her, an organized list of things for the victim to do. "I'll get that window boarded up right away," she said.  That simple task gave her a sense of empowerment.
"We'll be in touch as soon as we know something."

Although Beth had lived by herself for years, when thedoor shut behind him she became acutely aware of just how alone she was. She could use a man like the sensitive detective in her life.  Too bad she had to meet him by being robbed.
Several hours workreturned everything to normal, but jangled nerves refused to be swept away as easily. At midnight she found herself on the couchin the darkened living room staring where the television used to be. "I'm sorry, gram," she whispered. 

A few days later a knock on her front door brought Beth to the peephole. Pleased to see Detective Stone she gave her hair a quick fluff and licked her lips. A rush of heat warmed her cheeks. As she swung open the door her heart fluttered at the sight of her precious silver frame.Or maybe it was at the sight of him.
"We got our man," he grinned. "He tried to pawn everything down at Royal Pawn. Your other items will be returned as soon as we process them, but I figured you'd like this right away."

"Thank you," she whispered, holding the frame gently against her heart. "I didn't think I'd ever see it again."
"You can thank me with a spoon," he said, a twinkle in his blue eyes.


He whipped out a box of pistachio ice cream from behind his back. As her face lit up he said, "I told you he wouldn't be back. I never said I wouldn't."