An excerpt from the novel:  i, Jessica - Iron Horse Mysteries , by M. L. Lambert

Chapter 17 - Jessica 

“LOVE EACH OTHER, EVERY DAY,” I told Suzy and Emiliano, after I went to booth 3 and told them to go to the apartment without me. I said that Tony would pick me up in about an hour.

“Call me on my cell if he doesn't come promptly,” Suzy replied. “We'll come get you. In the meantime, we'll be taking your advice.” I smiled at her; I hope it was more convincing than I was feeling.

I was still shaken by the events of the day. First, there was the stress of finding the cash to get the walk-in fridge serviced. Then there was the dead fetus in the compressor cabinet. Then, there was the death of little Stephano. And the day was ending with Gina in the hospital. I went to the office and collapsed in the chair.

I didn't have enough energy to do anything constructive. I had visions of Dante's Inferno in my head. We had covered that story in the third year of my literature courses back at the University of Illinois. Dante described Hell as being nine circles of suffering from various mis-deeds on the earth. Those visions matched my day perfectly.

My mind went blank for a while. I must have nodded off.

I awoke with a start. I looked at my watch; it was half past 9. I looked around to check my surroundings; I was relieved to discover that I was still in the office at the Iron Horse and not in the Inferno. And Tony was coming to pick me up. Soon, I hoped.

I looked around the office. I saw the three boxes that Emiliano had brought into the office from the walk-in fridge. The top one was a shipping box for wine which was sealed with brown plastic tape. There were no markings on the box other than the label of the wine manufacturer. I decided to see what was inside the box and why it had been stored in the fridge. I went to the kitchen and grabbed one of Chung's many knives that he always kept ready for use.

I opened the wine box. It was full of large books with heavy green paper covers. The top book had a label on the cover: E-Z Book System. There was a blank space on the cover with a handwritten entry of 1999. On the first page of the book there was a title and short paragraph of explanation.

                            California Restaurant Association E-Z Bookkeeping System

                          Provided to members of the C. R. A. for efficient financial management of  the    dynamic food services business.

                 For training on this system call the Association Headquarters at:  1-800-EAT-WELL

                                                                 Copyright 1980, C. R. A.

I flipped through the top book and the book underneath, which was for year 1998. They each had various sections showing monthly entries for revenues, food supply bills, beverage bills and so forth. Most of the pages had handwritten entries of numbers and column totals. There was no indication of who had filled out the books. I put that box on the floor and looked at the second box in the pile.

It was sealed and looked like it had been shipped via the Post Office. There were several stamped markings on the box labeling it as Parcel Post. It had a postage meter label with a postmark of Grass Valley, California dated Feb. 26, 1982.  It was addressed to Johnny Colombo at 45 Maiden Lane in San Francisco. That was the address for the Iron Horse. I lifted the box, which was about 20 pounds, and put it on the floor.

I wasn't sure what to do with the box. It was addressed to Mr. C. so it might be something personal. After a second look, I could see that there were two different kinds of sealing tape on the box top. I concluded that it must have been opened, and then re-sealed and stored in the fridge. I wondered if it had been in the fridge all those years.

I decided to open the box. I rationalized that Mr. Colombo was dead and I was now a manager taking his place. I cut both layers of sealing tape and opened the box. Inside was a dark red and black vinyl bag with a zipper on the top and two looped handles. It looked like the bowling ball bag that my dad had back home when I was a kid.

I took hold of the handles on the vinyl bag and tried to lift it out of the box. It would not come loose. There was a dark maroon stain on the bottom of the box that looked like dried red wine or grape juice. The vinyl bag was apparently stuck in that residue.

I turned the box over and cut the bottom flaps open. Then I pushed the bag from the bottom; it came loose. I picked up the box and the vinyl bag came tumbling out on the floor.

I unzipped the bag. There was something round, like a bowling ball, wrapped up in black cloth. I had to tug at the cloth wrapping to get it off the object. When I got the object half way unwrapped, I could see what it was.

It was a human head. All dried out. Like a mummy's head. It looked like a female.

I screamed.

I don't know what happened the rest of that night. 



 End of Chapter 17 from the book i, Jessica - Iron Horse Mysteries

Copyright by M. L. Lambert, 2016