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The Impressionists Murders
By William Sargent
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 William Sargent
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFriday June 6th 2003 Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
Omar Abuo lay face down, watching his brother's blood pool and commingle with water from the sprinkler system, then snake an eerie trail to the drainage grate a few feet away. Through one eye he could see the fireworks display streaming over the stadium walls in a luminous cascade of plumes and brilliant fire bursts, reds, blues and greens. The sound of each burst echoed off the buildings and parking garages surrounding Minute Maid Park.
He struggled with the tightly wrapped duct tape around his wrists, ankles and mouth, but it was no use. He watched the killer drag his brother's lifeless body into the darkness and stay there for what seemed like an eternity. How long before he would come for him? It was only a matter of time, he thought. What was he doing to Youssef's body? If he could only see; if he could only turn himself in that direction; it seemed hopeless.
He wanted so desperately to touch Youssef's hand one last time in a venial attempt to somehow explain how this had happened and that it wasn't his fault. He knew that if he could just talk to Youssef he could make him understand.
As tears spilled from his eyes, his mind raced with thoughts and scenes from the past. The most vivid and daunting were the warnings from his mother that slashed at his heart like a serpent. She had spent more than two days pleading with her two young sons not to go to America. "What's wrong with the universities in Alexandria and Cairo?" she asked repeatedly. "You're unprepared for the decadent life styles that the Americans live," she reasoned. When all else failed she warned them, "There will be consequences and retributions from God for your refusal to listen to the voice of wisdom and reason."
He should have known that her words would someday become the nails in his coffin. Suddenly, without warning, the killer was on him, turning him over. For the first time he could see the killer's face. His body was covered in Youssef's blood, but what was the man wearing? It looked like a jumpsuit of some sort made of clear plastic. The killer grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket lifting his torso off the concrete. Just as his head involuntarily arched backward from its own weight, the killer swung the curved blade weapon cutting his throat just as he had Youssef's.
For a moment there was a sound like air escaping from a congealed or bubbling liquid. Aside from that, the only recognizable anomaly was an involuntary twitching of his left eyelid. He could feel the killer removing the duct tape from his ankles and wrists and for a fraction of a second he wanted to command his brain to react, to kick, or to attack his killer with his freed hands. He could do neither. The last clear thought that his mind registered was a lament that he hadn't listened to his mother. He closed his eyes and quietly died.
When the fireworks display was over, a bank of lights on the north side of Minute Maid Park came on, lighting the walkways and the concrete sidewalks along Crawford Street. It would take another eight minutes for the crowd to spill out of the stadium and into the surrounding streets and find the slain bodies of Youssef and Omar Abuo.
* * *
Richey Sneed snorted his last two lines of cocaine off a mirror from his wife's handbag. Beverly Sneed had gone into a Stop-And-Go to use the restroom and pick up a couple bottles of cheap wine from the cooler. She gave the attendant her last twenty dollars to pay for the wine and a package of Marlboro Lights, then staggered out the door and headed for the van where Richey was waiting.
"Hey genius," she started. "You got any bright ideas on where our next money is coming from? And don't even think about me turning tricks for it, cause I just got my period, and I ain't doing it tonight," she snarled through the open window.
Richey Sneed hadn't heard a word she said. The buzz from the coke had taken him out of any meaningful reality and dropped him in a place where nothing else mattered, and common audible sounds didn't exist anymore. Beverly unscrewed the cap from one of the bottles of Boone's Farm and turned it up. When she set the bottle in her lap, it was half-empty. She looked at it listlessly, lit a cigarette, and punched her husband in the stomach.
"Wake up Richey. You lousy piece of ...," she stopped in mid-sentence when she noticed the mirror from her purse in his lap.
"I do not believe this." She frowned and punched him again. "You snorted the last of the coke, didn't you? I don't believe you did that, Richey. What about me? Do you ever think about me? Where's mine? Wake up, Richey."
She licked her index finger and ran it across the face of the mirror then stuck it in her mouth. It wasn't enough, the kick wasn't there and she needed a bump. She punched Richey again and took another shot of Boone's Farm then flipped her cigarette out the open window, wiping at the corner of her mouth with the back of her hand.
"Wake up Richey," she yelled. Before she realized what she was doing she poured some of the wine over his head and watched it spill over his face and onto his chest. His eyes opened with a venomous glare. It was a mistake and she knew it instantly. He slapped the bottle out of her hand then slapped her face. Her reactions were too slow to see the coming blows. She tried to slide out of the seat and into the back of the van but he stayed on top of her, slapping her again and again. She held her hands in front of her face, pleading with him to stop, but it only made him more violent and aggressive.
When she finally slid her way to the back of the van with nowhere else to go, he put his hands around her neck and began choking her. Her body was heaving and slithering from side-to-side across the floor of the van like a wounded animal. He ripped open her blouse exposing her breasts and lacy white bra. Suddenly her defensive posture changed and she smiled a devil's smile. Then before he knew what she was doing she drew him close and kissed him hard on the lips.
"Come on baby, you want to rape me? Do it, do it now," she taunted him, knowing that the coke he had just snorted would yield him impotent and unable to perform.
He leaned back away from her, still holding her blouse in his hands. He wiped the sweat and wine from his forehead while releasing her and falling against the wall of the van. He lay dazed and unmoving, unable to form a coherent thought, ashamed of his wrath and violence against his wife.
"It's okay baby. I know you didn't mean it, I know you'd never hurt me. I shouldn't have poured the wine on you. We just need to get some money, that's all, so we can have a little party. You got to think, baby. Where are we going to come up with enough money to last us for a while? Think Richey, think," she coaxed him.
He wiped at his face with the palms of his hands then ran his fingers through his hair. The coke was still zapping him. He shook his head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs and bring himself out of the stupor.
After several moments he sat up on the floor of the van and wiped his eyes with a paper towel he found on the top of a tool tray. He blinked several times then looked at her as thoughtfully as his brain would allow.
"I know where to get the money," he said, blowing his nose on the paper towel. "I know where we can get all the money we'll need for a long time to come." He watched her face in the dim light as a trickle of blood moved from the corner of her mouth onto her chin. He ran a thumb across her face smearing the blood, then pulled her to him and kissed her softly on the lips before letting her go.
At that moment two teenage boys in a purple Dodge Avenger convertible pulled into the parking lot and circled the gas pumps before parking a few spaces from the van. The top was down on the convertible and a song was playing loudly on the stereo. It was an old song by the Eagles, "Life in the Fast Lane". Richey Sneed listened to the lyrics for a moment then looked at his wife, a smile covering his face.
"Ain't it hell living in the fast lane?" he said. "Now let's go get that money."
* * *
Redhawk Simmons was a man with a vile and pernicious past. His Chiricahua Apache ancestry could be traced to Cochise, one of the most legendary of all the Apache. He seemed to wear his abhorrent nature like an inexorable badge of honor. In and out of one prison after another, his last stint landed him in Huntsville, Texas, serving a twenty-year stretch for manslaughter. One more brush with the law and he'd be locked up for good, he told himself.
But with prison overcrowding in Texas as bad as it had ever been, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel when he was offered parole. He served ten years of his sentence and was released to a halfway house in Houston. Upon arriving at the halfway house a thought crossed his mind about taking a path that many of his ancestors had taken when the Calvary or Texas Rangers were on their heels and head straight for the border of Mexico just a few hours away. But for reasons he was never fully understood, he decided to give the halfway house a chance and forget about Mexico at least for a while. The only problem he could see now would be staying out of the local bars, and away from the troubles that always seemed to track him down like a fugitive.
Over the next two years he worked at menial jobs, none lasting more than a few months at a time. But in January of 2002, he got a job with the Alabama Coushatta tribe just outside of Livingston, making hunting knives for sale in the tourist shops on the reservation. It was the only thing in his life he had ever been good at. And because of his heritage and ties to western folklore and the mystic persona of Cochise, the sales of his custom knives soared over night, and the money began pouring in.
In January of 2003, The Houston Chronicle ran an article on the Coushatta Tribe, about their struggles with the State legislature, which for years had denied the tribe's requests to reopen the casino they had built on the reservation just outside of Livingston. The article didn't do a thing to help re-open the casino, but it showed a number of photographs of products sold by the Tribe. Among them was a set of engraved Bowie knives, made by Redhawk Simmons that would later be adapted for national sales to knife collectors from Maine to California.
The recognition Simmons received from the newspaper article and later on from the Internet, took the small knife making operation to heights that no one on the reservation could believe. The phones never stopped ringing with new orders. And it seemed as if no price was too much for one of his custom-made knives. What had started out as a struggle for survival had turned into an overnight success!
When Simmons first began working in the tiny shop behind the main showroom, he offered knife sharpening as one of his services to help pay the bills. Hunters would come from all over east Texas to have Simmons hone a razor-sharp edge on their favorite skinning knife. But now because of the influx of orders for his custom-made knives, he was seriously considering curtailing or discontinuing the service of knife sharpening altogether.
Simmons had always been the consummate loner, never socializing or dating much. But now it wasn't just the Indian population that called him by name or looked on him with the reverence and attention he knew so little about. For the first time in his life, rich, white men were calling him Mr. Simmons or Mr. Redhawk, and waiting hours to speak with him or have him show them one of his knives.
Everyone seemed to know about his being an ancestor of Cochise, and the legends that followed his name. People clambered for his autograph on something he had made or sharpened, almost as if he were a rock star. He soaked it all in and began to recognize the same customers buying his products over and over, even becoming friends with many of them, which seemed odd and a little disconcerting at times, given his previous history with strangers.
But of all the customers whom he became acquainted with in his newfound popularity and trade, one troubled him more than all the rest.
The man came in every few weeks and always with the same knife. It had an unusual curved blade, sharpened on both sides like a dagger or sword. The man rarely spoke, and almost never stayed in the store while Simmons sharpened his knife. He just appeared, collected a claim-check, and quickly left the store. A few days later he'd reappear to retrieve his knife. He always paid in cash and never left an address or phone number where he could be reached.
No one had ever had such a negative affect on Simmons, not even when he was in prison. It was like dealing with the Devil himself, Simmons had told one of the workers at the store. Anytime the man brought the knife in, Simmons sharpened it as quickly as he could so that he would be done when the strange man came back for it. He wanted the knife and the man out of his presence and out of the store as quickly as possible. It was a sensation Simmons had never dealt with before, on any level, adversarial or otherwise. It was pure unadulterated fear, and it shook him to the core of his being.
* * *
Nizar Kheif inhaled the aroma of the flowering citrus groves that flourished along the Awwali River, lingering as long as he could in the place where he'd grown up as a child. But as the sun began to rise, and the sounds of night faded, he pulled on his backpack and headed for Beirut. Before the sun set that evening he boarded a plane for New York City. A day later his journey would end in Houston. Over the next five years he would attend the University of Houston, earning a degree with honors in structural engineering.
After graduation, and the termination of his educational visa, he was offered a position with Brown and Root; an engineering and construction company based in Houston. And, because of the nature of the project he was assigned to, he was granted a work visa and later, an opportunity to apply for citizenship.
The project would allow him to work with people from the Texas Highway Department, The Department of Transportation, and the Army Corp of Engineers, in the design and construction of several major bridges spanning the Houston Ship Channel. Over the next twelve years his dedication to the project gained him recognition as far away as Austin and the Governor's mansion. Governor Ann Richards had sent him a letter personally acknowledging his perseverance and dedication to the projects, and the State's appreciation for his service.
Kheif also received letters of recommendation for his citizenship. With the right people pulling the right strings, he was a United States Citizen before the project reached the halfway point of completion. It was all he needed to send for Marta and begin planning the wedding he had waited for most of his life.
Over the next ten years Kheif and Marta had three children and bought a home in Pasadena which was close enough to the last bridge of the project that would span the ship channel on Highway 146, near Laporte. It was one of the largest suspension bridges in the southwest and brought Kheif even more notoriety and a hefty raise in pay.
Kheif was good with money and, although conservative, he managed to build a sizable portfolio with stocks and cash holdings in excess of two hundred thousand dollars by the end of 1999. It was just enough to capture another of his dreams he'd had since he was a young boy growing up on the Syrian border. He wanted to own his own business.
In May of 2000, he purchased a convenience store in northeast Houston, on Aldine Mail Route, across from a Library and Aldine High School. He moved his family from Pasadena into a rent house behind the store and he and Marta started to work. In the months ahead, they transformed the rundown location into a clean and viable place of business. They called it The Pit Stop.
Operating the convenience store was a lot harder than Kheif had expected, and the money didn't come as easily as he thought it would. There was always something broken or in need of repair and every penny they made had to be plowed back into the store to keep it clean and looking presentable. And, to complicate matters, the long hours and lack of money were draining on the marriage. With Marta working days and Kheif working until midnight every night, they had little time for each other and almost none for the children.
Things had deteriorated to the point that in October of 2002, he entertained selling the place to an investor and going back into the engineering business. But someone suggested that he start cashing payroll checks for the hundreds of workers from the nearby factories. After several meetings with his bank and attorneys, he pledged the last of his stock portfolio for a sizeable loan, and went into the check cashing business.
Excerpted from The Impressionists Murders by William Sargent Copyright © 2012 by William Sargent. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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