by Nick Hatty

     Jennifer Hodge loves planting and working in her garden. She spends all day outside in her own backyard just watering, planting, and staring at all of her lovely flowers. It is her favorite thing to do during the hot, summer days.

Her garden is beautiful and nearly takes up the entire backyard. Jenny's friends and people who would just be walking by would always comment on how lovely her yard looks. She doesn't know why she loves gardening so much. After all it is work, but she just loves doing it.

Every once in a while a quick breeze will blow by, and it reminds her about how much she loves living in Montana. To Jenny, it is one of the most beautiful places she had ever been. Though she hasn't been to too many places. As far as she can remember just Georgia, A couple vacations to Florida, and one time Louisiana.

Jenny was raised in Georgia. She had a nice family; no brothers or sisters but she had a lot of good friends.

Jenny's dad died about seven years ago in Georgia. It still seems like yesterday to her because time flies by fast when you're old. Though she isn't really old at all. Jenny is about to make thirty-seven in a couple of days. But no matter how old of a person you put next to her she still thinks she's old.

Perhaps she just thinks that because she is always gardening, and she figures that's just what old people do.

Jenny hasn't seen her mom since she went back to Georgia for her dad's funeral. She calls her mom every once in a while to ask her if she'll move to Montana, but every time her mom's reply is no, and that she is happy where she is.

     Jenny didn't meet Ryan until she went to college. They only had one class together, but that was Jenny's favorite part of the day. They were always together on the weekends going to a show or a football game. They were inseparable throughout all of college. After two years of being together, they decided to get married.

     Now they live in a nice little house in Holtan, Montana. It's a nice, little city filled with a lot of nice people. To Jenny, it is a better home than Georgia.

     It isn't a big house, but it isn't too small either. It is a beautiful Acadian. It has a master bedroom with a bathroom, two small bedrooms incase children ever come along, a kitchen, another bathroom, and a living room where Jenny and Ryan read together, and often watch television. There is a gigantic front porch with a swing and a couple of chairs; and the back porch has a table where Jenny and Ryan will occasionally have a meal after barbecuing. Gardens are all over the yards filled with Jenny's beautiful flowers.

     Ryan works in the Holtan Police Department. He doesn't make very much money, but it is enough to get around. Because he is a policeman, he has to work a lot during the week but can always find time for Jenny on the weekends. Most of the time all this consists of is barbecuing on the grill outside.

     "I think it's about time we get a new barbecue pit, honey. It's all rusted and one of the legs is broken." Ryan always finds something to complain about that is going on around the house.

     "Well then why don't you go buy one?"

     "I would love to buy another one sweetie, but we just can't afford it right now." Money has always been a problem. Jenny and Ryan are not exactly poor, but were never considered as the rich type.

     Ryan and Jenny had Ernie over for the barbecue that afternoon. Ernie has known both Ryan and Jenny throughout college and is a very good friend. Now he is a police officer just like Ryan and works at the police department.

Ernie is always hanging around the Hodge's house. He's practically family to them and a very generous friend.

Ernie is a big man, bigger than Ryan that is. He is tall as well as muscular. He never really made good grades in college but he is a great policeman.

     "Sorry if the pork chops are a little burnt. Our barbecue pit is a piece of junk." Ryan will always deny that the way the food comes out has anything to do with his cooking.

     "They taste fine to me sweetie." Jenny said though she knew she was lying. The meat was burnt to a crisp.

     "So Ryan, have you decided what to get your wife for her birthday yet?"

     "I don't know. Any suggestions?"

     "I told you already," Jenny interrupted, "all I want is some more plants." Of course that's not all she really wants. What she really wants is some jewelry and a lot of fine clothes. She just doesn't want Ryan to feel like he has to spend a lot of money on her. Jenny knows that they can save the money and use it for bills or something important.

     After they ate, Ernie decided that he had intruded long enough for one day and left.

     "See you tomorrow Ryan, bright and early."

     "Right, see you later." Ryan and Jenny sat together in the living room reading magazines. They often do this activity before they go to bed because reading makes one very tired. Ryan is reading some sort of summertime magazine that came in the mail earlier that day and Jenny is reading a magazine about gardening. The television is on at the time so that if anything comes on interesting, they will quit their reading and watch whatever it is that struck their curiosity.

     "Look honey, this is what we need right here." Ryan held up his magazine and flipped it around so that Jenny could see it. It is a picture of a very large and expensive barbecue pit that's advertisement takes up the entire page.

     "Wow. Looks good sweetie. How much is it?" Jenny asked as she looked back down at her magazine to continue reading.

     "It says it's about two hundred and fifty bucks." Ryan said in a low, sad voice that meant they weren't going to get it. Jenny knew that they do not make enough money to waste on a two hundred and fifty-dollar barbecue pit.

As Jenny reads her magazine she can hear the news reporter in the background on television saying something about Holtan, Montana.

     "There is a serial killer on the loose in Holtan, Montana who has already killed three people. All of the victims were above the age of thirty, and killed in their own homes. The killer, whom police have not figured out the identity of yet, is believed to be a middle-aged, Caucasian man. He has strangled all of the victims, and takes nothing but their money. It appears he is breaking into their houses by the front door. So far, the police have yet to find a single finger print. At this time, this is all we have to report on this matter."

     Jenny looked across the room to Ryan, who is also watching the news. "Ryan, did you know about this?"

     "Well I knew bits and pieces of it."

     "Why didn't you tell me about it?"

     "Well I didn't even know this much about it." He said as he pointed to the television. "I wasn't assigned to this case. I think Ernie was though."

     "Ryan, three people are dead!"

     "I know. It's terrible. Isn't it?" Jenny just tried to forget about what she just heard and continued reading her magazine. She cannot believe that something like this is going on in her own, little town. Good thing she does not know the three that are dead. She thought to herself. That would be really scary.

Later that evening before Jenny climbed into bed, she was sure to lock all the doors and windows in the entire house. As she fell asleep she thought about all the poor people who were killed due to the serial killer. How frightening it all seemed to Jenny, since she spends most of her days at home alone. She meditated on this matter for a while until finally she fell asleep to the sounds of Ryan snoring.

The following morning Ryan woke up Jenny before he left for work.

     "I'm going to be a little late this evening coming home from work. Is that alright with you?"

     "That's fine, honey." Jenny said in a tired, groggy voice and put a pillow over her head to go back to sleep. She is too tired and it is to early for her to care to ask why he is going to be late.

Later that morning, Jenny got up and made some toast with butter, and a lot of strawberry jelly. She poured herself a cup of hot coffee and sat down in the living room to eat her breakfast in front of the television.

She clicked on the news to see if there is anything new to be heard about the serial killer. To her surprise there is more.

"Last night there has been two more deaths due to the violent serial killer. And again he has taken nothing but the victim's money. The police still have no idea who could be behind all this."

Jenny immediately remembered that she is alone in her house, and she can't hear anything. Everything is perfectly quiet. If she could hear the dishwasher running or a lawn mower in the yard she probably wouldn't be so scared. But since she can't hear anything going on, she is afraid. This is because if all of a sudden she hears a noise, she will be scared, because she won't know what it is.

Jenny got up off the couch and ran for the phone on the counter in the kitchen. She felt a sudden need to call Ryan.


"Hi Ryan, it's me. Guess what? Two more people are dead."

"Yea, so I heard."

"Well, I am really scared about this."

"Look, don't get upset honey. You have nothing to worry about. Trust me."

After a while of talking, Ryan finally convinced Jenny that everything is all right.

Jenny hung up the phone and came to her senses. She realized that she doesn't have anything to worry about, and she is just overreacting the whole thing. These kind of things happen all the time. There is no reason why she should be making a fuss of it, Jenny thought to herself.

After she finished breakfast, she did a little grocery shopping at the supermarket. She bought everything necessary to cook spaghetti for tonight's dinner.

Later in the day, she cleaned the house and did some laundry. Then she started cooking the spaghetti so that it will be done by the time Ryan gets home from work.

When it was done she set it on the table and wondered where Ryan is. She sat down on the couch for about twenty minutes and started to get worried. Finally, she remembered that Ryan told her he is going to be late coming home. She slapped herself on the head and thought how stupid she is. She clicked on the television and decided to watch it until her husband gets home.

     After about half an hour passed by Jenny heard Ryan pulling up in the driveway. It's about time, she thought to herself.

     She opened up the door and stepped outside to greet him. She walked up to the front of his car slowly and with a big smile on her face. She is so happy to see him that she doesn't care about the dinner. Jenny gave Ryan a huge hug there on the driveway.

     Ryan pulled away from her and opened the back door of the car.

     "Surprise!" He shouted with a big smile on his face. Jenny looked in the car and saw lots of flowers in big pots.

     "Oh my!" Jenny said in amazement. She gave Ryan another huge hug.

     "I thought they could be considered as an early birthday present." Ryan said.

"And look there's something else." He opened the trunk and pulled out a brand new barbecue pit that is just like the one in the magazine.

     "Wow Ryan. This is amazing. How on earth did you afford all of this?" But Ryan did not answer her. So naturally Jenny thought that he did not hear her and asked again.

"I got a raise today." He finally said.

"Wow sweetie, that's great. Thank you so much." She said as she kissed him lightly on the lips. "You couldn't have gotten me anything I like more." She kissed him again as they went inside to eat dinner.

Later that night as both Jenny and Ryan lay in bed, Ryan said,

"How would you like to take a nice vacation this summer? Perhaps a cruise or something?"

     "I don't think we can afford something like that, honey." She said as though he was crazy.

     "Well, we can now."

     "Ryan, how big of a raise did you get?" Ryan hesitated once again and then said,

     "Well, you know dear just a regular raise I guess, but we can afford stuff like that now. We're not so poor as we were before." Ryan was talking like he had no worries about anything. "Hey, tomorrow why don't you go shopping for yourself? I can give you some money. I'm sorry I won't be able to take the day off for your birthday, but the department wants us all at work because of this serial killer thing that's happening."

Jenny spent the rest of the night lying awake puzzled about Ryan. How big of a raise did Ryan get, and why will he not tell her? How much can he be making? After all he is only a policeman. She contemplated all of these facts in her head carefully and fell asleep with a confused look on her face.

Jenny spent the entire afternoon the following day gardening and planting all her new plants. She thought it must be a sin to have so much fun, but after all it is her birthday. People should be allowed to sin on their birthdays.

     Well, all that gardening gave Jenny a lot of time to think, about Ryan that is. Why has he been acting so weird lately? No raise can possibly be big enough to afford all this. After all, Jenny bought about six new outfits of clothing this morning. Since when does Ryan just have all of this money lying around?

     Later in the afternoon before Ryan got home, Jenny was listening to the radio while she did some cleaning in the kitchen. Of course the radio has nothing to offer but more bad news about the serial killer, who ever he was. Why is Ryan not taking the serial killer seriously, and acting like there is nothing wrong at all? In fact, Jenny thought to herself, every time she brings the subject up Ryan quickly starts talking about something else. Why? Is he trying to hide something? What if Ryan is theNo! She knocked the idea right out of her head just as quickly as it came. She started laughing at how she can think up such a silly idea. But she can't just give up thinking about it.

"In fact," she said aloud, "I can remember him getting up several times the past few nights out of bed. And just how can he have all this money?" As she thought about it more and more it seemed as though everything about her husband and the serial killer was plugging together.

     "Wait a minute. Ryan is not the kind of guy to go around strangling people for money. He is too sweet a person." Jenny thought these things out loud. She tried not to believe that Ryan can be the serial killer, but she can't completely deny the facts.

     After a long, delicious dinner of some of the best Chinese food, cake, and ice cream, Ryan and Jenny sat at the dinner table and drank some coffee.

     "So, aren't you going to ask me?" Ryan asked.

     "Ask you what?"

     "What I got you for your birthday."

     "Oh, what?"

Ryan pulled out a little, skinny box about as long as his hand. It is covered in velvet and he opened it for her. There inside the box is the most beautiful necklace Jenny has ever seen. It is gold with three white jewels in the middle.

     "Oh my, Ryan that is beautiful." Jenny said with her hand over her mouth and her eyes wide open in awe. She is looking at something that she has dreamed about for as long as she can remember.

     "Come on, let me put it on you." Ryan stood up and walked behind her as she sat on her chair. He put the necklace in front of her and wrapped it around her neck. He pulled the necklace rather tight in order to clip the ends together. Suddenly, all of Jenny's thoughts of Ryan being the serial killer were pounding her in the head. Her heart started beating faster in her chest. Then, she suddenly heard a snap. She jerked her head away in one quick reflex.

     "Sorry, did I pinch your skin?"

     "No. Sorry, I'm fine."

     "Well, happy birthday sweetie." Ryan said as he bent over and kissed his wife on the top of her head. "Would you like another drink?" Ryan asked as he went to the coffeepot to pour himself another cup of coffee. Jenny did not answer. Her hands are shaking from the thought that Ryan might try to kill her.

     "How did you afford this?"

     "I told you I got a raise."

     "Yes, but is that all?" Ryan nodded his head as he sipped his coffee. "Are you sure?"

     "Of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

As much as her mind wanted to doubt him he still sounded sincere.

Jenny sat there and realized how weird she has been acting. She must be wrong about him. Where would she get such an idea?

The next morning she ate breakfast in front of the television, where she heard even more terrible news. But this time she is not scared because the past night she had forced herself to believe that Ryan cannot be the serial killer. Until she heard:

"Police have reason to suspect that one of their own may be the actual serial killer. They believe that it is someone from the inside. The reason behind all of this is that large sums of money have been stolen from the police departments own personal bank accounts, and one of the officers is now dead."

"Oh no!" Jenny dropped her fork halfway to her mouth. "Oh no!" she said again. Just then the phone rang. It scared Jenny so bad she dropped her plate of food on the ground. She ran to the phone and answered it.

"Hi honey, I was just calling to let you know I am going to be real late coming home tonight. They're going to need me for this serial killer thing going on. Ok?"

"Uh . . .ok. Yea, that's fine." Jenny said in a voice so shaky that she knows Ryan can tell that she is scared.

     "Are you ok?"


     "Ok, well I guess that's it. I love you. B . . . oh wait, I forgot I wanted to ask you have you been watching television?"

     "Uh . . .no. Why? Should I?"

     "No." Ryan said. Then realizing his mistake of making it sound to obvious that he does not want her to watch television, he quickly corrected himself. "Well I don't care. Well, what I mean is you don't have to. Bye."

Jenny just stood there so shocked that she couldn't even hang up the phone. She is certain now. There is no question or doubt. Ryan has to be the serial killer. She began weeping and screaming. She doesn't know what to do. Who can she call?

     "Ernie". She said out loud to herself. "I'll call Ernie." She reached to dial the phone and she had to redial several times because her hands are so shaky.

"Ernie, I need to talk to you about something serious."

     "Ok, I'm listening."

"Do you think that Ryan might be the serial killer?" Jenny can hear Ernie laughing over the phone. This frustrates Jenny that Ernie is not taking her seriously. So she starts screaming at him. "I'm serious Ernie!"

     "So am I, Jenny. You and I both know that Ryan is a great man and would never even think of doing something like that. Trust me, you have nothing to worry about."

     "No Ernie, trust me. Listen to what I have to say."

     "Ok, I guess if you think you have valuable information to the serial killer case, then I better hear it." So Jenny told him her story. She told him about everything that went on with Ryan and her, the past couple of days. She told him about the necklace and the barbecue pit, about the money and everything that she has been hearing on the television.

     "And he said he isn't going to be home till very late tonight." After all that talking, Ernie was shocked.

"Alright, don't you worry. You just stay at home. Don't worry about Ryan he is not going to hurt you because he loves you too much. Don't worry about anything. I have everything under control. Trust me, I'm a policeman."

Jenny spent the rest of the afternoon trying to convince herself that everything is going to turn out all right.

When it got dark she clicked on the television and started watching the news. Well, not really. She is watching the television but she isn't paying any attention to it. She can't stop thinking about what is going to happen tonight if Ryan comes home. Will he try to hurt her? Will he tell her anything? Will he leave? Jenny contemplated all the facts in her head that afternoon, and hoped she would figure out what to do.

It's 9:00pm and Jenny has heard nothing of Ryan or Ernie. She has gotten no phone calls. Jenny figures the best thing to do is to just wait in bed upstairs. So she lies down and tries reading a magazine. Then she remembers the gun. They keep a gun in the house for emergencies. It is under the mattress. If worse comes too worse she will use that. Jenny isn't even sure if she knows how to shoot a gun but she thought she could at least scare Ryan with it.

Jenny laid a bit, then what she knew was going to happen, happened. Ryan had come home. She had heard the door handle on the front door of the house jiggle. She immediately jumped out of bed and flicked the light switch. She was trying not to panic so she dialed "911."

"911 emergency response?"

"Hi, I have someone in my house that I think is going to try to hurt me."

"Your address?" Jenny gave them her address and hung up the phone. She is trying to stay as calm as she possibly can.

Jenny reached under the mattress and pulled out the gun. She doesn't have any idea what kind of gun it is or how to use it. It is just a little pistol.

She clicked off the lamp and waited a minute in her room. She can still hear the door handle jiggling. She held up the gun in front of her pointing it away from herself.

Suddenly, the noise stopped. Jenny heard nothing. She walked slowly towards her bedroom door and opened it enough to stick out her head. She looked down the silenced hallway, and she saw nothing in the dim light.

Jenny stepped outside her bedroom and walked towards the stairs very cautiously. When she reached them, she peered down into the living room and though it is dark she can still see a little due to the light coming in from the window.

     Jenny saw no movement in the living room and she heard nothing. So she made her way down the stairs very slowly. When she reached the end she walked ever so carefully towards the kitchen still holding her gun out in front of her with very firm and long arms.

     As she made her way along the living room she suddenly heard the front door handle jiggle right next to her. Jenny screamed so loud that it scared herself. She turned sharply towards the door pointing her gun at it.

     "Don't come in!" She screamed out.

     "I have a gun!" But the door handle is still jerking around as if someone is trying to unlock it. Jenny's heart is beating in her chest so hard that she thought it was going to pop out. She started moving back away from the door until she bumped into the back of the couch. The doorknob turned and the door opened up a crack very slowly.

"Jenny?" Ryan's quiet and calm voice called out as he peeked in the house and stuck his head in from the doorway.

"Don't come in Ryan!" Jenny screamed out as she waved the gun towards Ryan's head. Ryan opened the door all the way and stepped in. He is in his police uniform, and is holding his gun with both hands aiming it down at the ground in front of him.

     "Jenny it's ok, just come here and you'll be alright."

"Get back Ryan. I will shoot you!" Jenny said in a shaky, weary voice as she had tears running down her face.

     "It's ok, just come here."

     "Don't think I won't Ryan!" She raised the gun towards Ryan. "Don't take another step!"

     "Calm down Jenny." Ryan said as he stepped forward and grabbed her arm. Immediately Jenny had to react. Sweat and tears dripped down her face. She has a million thoughts rush through her mind as she pulls the trigger. The gunshot was so loud she screamed at what she has done.

     She heard his body hit the floor as she stared out the doorway. She dropped the gun and didn't move at all. Jenny is in such shock that she just stood there and stared out the doorway. Jenny never looked down at Ryan, just outside right in front of her. It is so dark outside she can't see anything but Ryan's lights on his cop car that is parked in the street.

     Jenny just stared at his lights blinking, wondering why he would turn them on. Then it hit her. Ryan had not come to kill her. Ryan came to rescue her. He was responding to Jenny's 911 emergency call.

     "Oh my! What have I done?"

Suddenly she felt the warmth of someone's breath on the back of her neck.

     "Well, well, well. How very unpredictable this all turned out. I think you handled it very well Mrs. Jennifer Hodge. Thanks for the help."

Jenny was paralyzed with shock as she felt Ernie's big, strong hands grab hold of her neck.

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