A serial killer finally captures Ms. Right
Photo courtesy of Heather Backus
Rebecca Lynn Black, of the Troutdale Blacks, had not been the traditional debutante. She’d worn green and red wooly socks with the formal white gown at her coming-out party. Only two years later, at the age of twenty, she inherited nearly eighty million dollars when her equally adventurous father died in a helicopter crash in Ethiopia while helping Doctors Without Borders. That had been in 1975. Ten years later, Reba lived in an upscale but unpretentious neighborhood near the Historic Columbia River Highway.
She’d returned from Mexico the night before and hadn’t slept much when the ringer woke her, and she picked up her Princess phone without taking off her sleep mask.
“This had better be you calling so damned early, Michael.”
“Good morning, Becca-cakes,” he said in his always cheery, singsong voice. “How was the adventure.”
“Good. Come over for coffee, and I’ll fill you in.”
“Three shakes of a lamb’s tail. Got fixins’?”
“I do,” said Reba. “Jameson’s and Bailey’s.”
“Well, the joe is nearly done, so come on down.”
Reba slid the mask up onto her head and took a deep breath. “Mmmm, I smell it. Thanks. How long have you been here?”
“A couple of hours.”
“See you in a sec.”
Michael Tedesco had been Reba’s best friend since they were toddlers. Their fathers had been business partners; they’d lived in the same neighborhoods and gone to the same schools for the first twenty years of their lives. For the past ten years, they’d lived two homes away from one another.
Reba plopped into her chair at the kitchen table where Michael had already made her Irish coffee. Neither said a word until she’d drunk half hers, an ages-old tradition between them. Reba would always speak first.
“How’s it working out with Glenn?” she asked.
“Sent him packing,” said Michael.
“Really? I thought you two were clicking. What happened?”
“Caught him rummaging through my desk — red-handed as it gets, with the money in his greedy fucking fist.”
“You’re the most generous person I’ve ever known,” said Reba. “Why the hell would a guy…”
“It’s not like it hasn’t happened to you, sweets,” Michael cut her off. “Stephen was ripping you off less than a year ago — last summer, as a fact.”
“Yeah. I know,” Reba shook her head. “Just hard to figure. Well, we’ve got each other, right?”
The two old friends sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Michael refilled their cups, and Reba stood up to stretch. “What’s on this weekend?” she asked, touching her toes, legs straight.
“Renaissance fair, baby. You down?”
“I’m traveled out. Think I’ll hang by the pool and binge with Blockbusters. Take pics, though.”
“Oh, yeah. You know I always do. You’re getting old, Rebecca. I remember when you could go 24/7 for weeks on end.”
“Yeah, well, this one was a real clusterfuck, toots.”
Reba told her tale of hitchhiking to Mexico to get a real taco, and Michael went into specifics of sending Glenn back to Mississippi. After he’d gone home, she went for her daily run.
Despite being wrong some forty-two times and killing all of his prospective brides, Terry had decided Rebecca Black would make the perfect wife. He was sure she’d fall in love with him at first sight and that they’d live happily ever after. After stalking her for six weeks, one thing was apparent; this beauty was unpredictable.
The one frequent activity was her jogs. She’d take the same two-mile route, which included a three-quarter-mile stretch down an alley. Terry had waited there every day for the past week, but his woman hadn’t come. Now, he sighted her in his rearview mirror. Trucker III, his gigantic pet rat, scampered into the big pocket when his master clapped twice, and Terry opened the side door of the stolen Suburban.
Taking Rebecca Black was a simple maneuver as she cooperated in every way. He’d bound and gagged her in the usual two minutes and driven for less than half an hour before pulling into a secluded area about a mile from the Columbia Gorge bridge.
“Hey, man! Road trip? Cool,” she exclaimed when Terry removed the gag. Then, she didn’t stop talking for the next ten minutes, which delighted Terry. He couldn’t begin to reason why, but he felt he could trust her and removed the bindings on her hands sooner than he had any of the others.
One final test.
The woman’s eyes opened wide, and she screamed with delight when Terry clapped once, and Trucker poked his head from the pocket.
“Oh, my God! She’s beautiful,” Rebecca Black snatched the enormous rat and hugged it.
“He’s a boy,” said Terry.
“I’ll say,” she said, holding the huge rodent above her head. “He’s got the biggest balls of any rat I’ve ever seen — and his fur is so soft.”
Trucker seemed to take to the woman as readily as she had to him, giving her a lick on the chin — the woman belly-laughed.
“Looks like we’re headed north, Man. I love it up here. What’s your name? What’s your sign? I’m a Libra.”
“Roger,” said Terry. “What sign?”
“I’m Reba, Roger; born October tenth, in ’55.” she extended her hand, and Terry shook it. “Astrological sign, you know? What’s your birthday?”
“Uh — it’s July the fourteenth,” Terry lied. He’d never known his birthday.
“Typical Cancerian — a man of few words, eh? Well, I can talk for two; least that’s what everybody says. Where we going, Roger?”
“Oh, great. I love the sound this time of year. You got friends up there?”
“I met a woman on a bus in San Francisco,” Terry said. “She said to look her up and gave me a card.”
Terry handed the card to Reba.
“Sounds like a plan to me,” she said. Rebecca’s smile was relaxed and friendly, putting Terry at ease and making him feel his heart was melting.
Oh, yeah. This is the one, for sure.
Reba began to talk again and kept it up for over an hour until she fell asleep in the passenger seat.
“Reba. Wake up,” Terry shook her shoulder.
“What’s happening, man?” she asked.
“I’m having trouble finding the ferry.”
Reba began to direct Terry on the Seattle streets as though she’d lived there all her life.
“Pull in here,” she suddenly said.
“What’s this?” he asked, parking the Suburban and looking up at the tall building.
“Sax, dude. I’m not going to the sound dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. Come on. You look like you could use some threads, too. Let’s go shopping.”
Terry had no qualms about going into the public department store with Reba. He’d always been extra-cautious with his women, at least in the early going, but this one was different. It was only intuition, but he felt comfortable with the bubbly chatterbox of a woman.
With seven suitcases and clothing to fill all of them, Reba took her driver’s license and a credit card from a business card sized, leather folder she carried in a pocket of her shorts. With help from a store employee, they stowed the full luggage in the back of the Suburban and were on the first ferry within the next hour.
Marnie Russell had just tended her horses and stepped through the kitchen door to the ringing phone.
“This is Roger, Marnie. We met on a tour bus in Frisco. You gave me your card and said to look you up if I got to the sound.”
“I remember! You wore a peacoat and had a big pet rat.”
“Right. I’m on Water Street in Port Townsend at the Shell station.”
“Give me twenty minutes, Roger. I’ll lead you in; there are a few turns, and people get lost the first time.”
Marnie hung up before Roger could say another word, trotted to her garage, and jumped into her one-year-old Mercedes 450SEL pickup. Twenty minutes later, she pulled into the service station.
Next door, in a small café, the three sat down for pie and to become acquainted.
“Roger tells me you and he met on a bus ride in the city,” said Reba.
“We did,” Marnie replied. “We went to Tommy’s Joynt after that and had buffalo stew. I was attracted to him, but we parted as friends, and I gave him my card.”
“She told me to look her up if I was ever in ‘God’s country,’” Terry interjected. “From what I’ve seen so far, you were right, Marnie. It’s beautiful here.”
“We’ve met, Marnie,” said Reba.
“I thought that was you, Rebecca. The yacht club in Menlo Park?”
“Also at the Taylor parties in Hillsborough a couple of times. Were those as much of a drag for you as they were for me?”
“They were,” said Marnie. “Father made me go to ‘keep up appearances.’ I never knew what he meant by that. He’d give me fifty bucks to dress up and accompany him and Mother. What do you say we take this back to the house?”
“Is there a mechanic in town?” Roger asked.
“I have a friend down the street who does some backyard work,” Marnie gestured to the west, down the street. “Gary’s not in town, but we can leave your vehicle at his place. I know he just finished my friend Todd’s sports car, so there’s an empty stall.”
“You wouldn’t mind giving us a ride to your house?” Roger asked.
“Not at all,” said Marnie, reaching out to pat Terry’s wrist. “It’s two minutes away, let’s go.”
After storing the Suburban, they moved the luggage into the bed of the truck and crammed into the cab. Marnie burned rubber on takeoff, and after speeding for three miles, turned onto a dirt road and slowed down.
Terry clapped, and Trucker came out to sit on his shoulder.
Marnie nearly swerved off the one-lane drive when she saw him.
“Holy shit! I forgot about the rat. He looks bigger than three years ago.”
“He’s a different rat,” said Terry. “But I call him the same name. He’s Trucker III. Rats usually only live for three or four years.”
For the next fifteen minutes, Reba and Marnie gabbed back and forth as Terry reveled in it.
Marnie pulled into her garage, and the three ambled into a mudroom off the massive country-style kitchen. Marnie asked about drinks, and when Reba said, “beer,” Terry bristled but tried hard not to let it show.
“How about you,” Marnie asked, looking at him.
“Do you have orange juice?” said Terry.
Marnie took out a water glass and filled it from a pitcher in the refrigerator.
All of this is too good to be true. You have to bend some rules here, Terry. Maybe become a decent human being — manage a contribution to society?
Terry’s hopes were genuine, but knew in his black heart it was probably a pipe dream.
Marnie produced a deck of cards. “Cut-throat spades,” she asked.
Terry felt the flush in his neck and face. Marnie must have noticed his confusion.
“We’ll teach you, Roger,” she laughed.
The girls continued their free and easy banter, and Terry contributed a couple of Janice’s stories. They were lies, but the women didn’t seem to notice.
Around midnight, Marnie told Terry and Reba she was calling it a night.
“There’s eight bedrooms and eight baths here,” she announced. “You two make whatever living arrangements you like, and I’ll see you in the morning.
The two thanked her and moved to a porch outside to talk.
“Roger,” said Reba. “Would you get my coat? I marked the suitcase by leaving a robe belt sticking out.”
“Sure thing, babe,” said Terry. He brought two pieces of luggage in, opened one, took Reba’s coat to her, and took the rest of the suitcases into the house before joining her in the porch swing.
“You know, Roger, I’m not an idiot,” said Reba. “I realize you’ve probably done some bad things.”
Terry opened his mouth, but Reba placed two fingers to his lips.
“I like you, Roger. I don’t know why, but I do. I’m willing to be your partner for as long as we enjoy one another’s company, but there’s a string attached.”
Terry was interested. More than anything, he wanted a successful relationship. In his mind, treating a woman well would make up for how Father had treated Mommy. He was all ears as Reba continued.
“I can’t allow another person to manipulate me; I’ve got to be in charge, sweetheart. Now, if you stick it out with me, we’ll travel to far off island paradises and the four corners of the world. And one of these days, I’ll explain why I’m willing to do it. I can’t talk about that right now, though.
Reba paused to allow what she’d said sink in.
After a long moment, she said, “Deal?”
Roger nodded. “I’m a screwed-up person, Reba. I do mean well and can only ask for a chance to prove it. I won’t talk about my past, and I’ll treat you like the queen of the world. I am willing to let you call all the shots, and I look forward to the things you can teach me.
“Okay, then,” said Reba. “Let’s get some sleep and start fresh tomorrow.
For the next month, Marnie introduced her new friends to the few people with whom she associated. Every day was full of activities, and parties at various homes and public places in Seattle became the norm. Trucker became a favorite of all the friends and had free range in Marnie’s sprawling farmhouse. He remained next to the baseboards, unless someone called him, making clean up a cinch with a vacuum cleaner and a small wet mop. Every room had either hardwood floors or tiles, with area rugs in their centers.
Although all of Marnie’s friends drank alcohol, none became sloppy. Slowly, Terry became accustomed to seeing people drink socially. He never cared to partake, though.
Eventually, Reba was ready to go home, and as he’d promised, Terry submitted to her every whim.
Three days before they planned to go to Portland, Terry asked for a word with Marnie.
“I can’t say why, but I need to dump the van, Marnie. Can you help with that?
“We’ll get it done tonight, honey,” she said.
That night, Gary came over to the farmhouse half an hour after dark. Terry rode with him to the shop; they picked up the van and drove both vehicles to a secluded boat ramp. There, Terry put the Suburban’s automatic transmission into Drive, stepped away from the door, and watched as it floated a short distance before sinking below the surface at the end of the ramp.
Marnie cried when it was time to say, ‘goodbye.’
“Don’t mind me,” she said. “I always get emotional at times like this.
Terry and Reba caught a ferry to Seattle and called a taxi. Reba directed the driver to a bank where she showed her credentials and transferred money into an account she’d opened. From there, the cab took them to a Cadillac dealership, where she bought a new Escalade, and they began the drive back to Portland.
Roger Lee Southerland
Michael Tedesco met the two weary travelers in Reba’s kitchen, and she went upstairs for a nap. Terry sat at the table with a fresh cup of coffee on a coaster before him.
“Reba says you two are hitting it off big time, Roger. Travel plans, huh?”
“Yeah. How much has she told you about me?”
“Nothing. She says you need I.D., and I know people who do that. I don’t ask questions when it comes to Reba. She’s my best friend, and I’d die for her.”
“That’s pretty much what she said,” Roger fingered a bead of sweat from his brow. “So, what’s next, Michael?”
“First, I need a pic of you for the driver’s license and passport. Step over here.”
Michael had nailed a blue board to the kitchen door, and he positioned Terry to stand in front of it. Unpacking a sophisticated-looking camera from a locked case, he then took a dozen photos, both front-on, and profile.
“That’s it, Roger,” said Michael. “My people work with the FBI and CIA. They do this for me under the table for a price. It’s a side-business for them. You’ll not only have I.D.; legally, you’ll be the person on the documents. It’s like when people go into witness protection. Your name will be Roger, but we have to wait and see what your last name will be.”
Terry nodded, but he didn’t understand any of it. Within three weeks, he had the official papers and a new name. He’d be Roger Lee Southerland from then on.
“Hello, Mr. Southerland,” Reba said, stepping from the master bath. The bruising from her recent eye-tuck surgery had disappeared, and she looked a decade younger than her thirty-two years. The sleek, navy-blue gown by Prada only added to her elegant appearance.
Roger looked dashing in his newly tailored bespoke, but she had to chuckle when his jaw dropped.
“You look beautiful, Reba,” he said.
“Thank you, darling. Not so bad yourself. How does Paris sound?”
“Whatever suits you just tickles me plumb to death,” Roger parroted a character in the book he was reading, Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion.
Reba laughed. “Okay, then, hillbilly. We leave a week from Tuesday.”
The staff had decorated rooms 52 and 54, on the top floor of the Hotel Saint-Germain, in Roger’s preferred earth-tones. Reba, a frequent guest, had requested the change of décor. Fresh-cut roses and complimentary champagne awaited them on a silver cart, inside the door.
“How are you feeling, babe?” Reba asked.
“A little tired. That was a long flight. I’m up for whatever you have in mind, though.”
“Nah. Not today. We’ll rest up, and I’ll show you the sights starting tomorrow. Let’s order some movies and room service tonight.”
“Sounds good. Come here, you.” Roger crooked his finger, and Reba plopped onto the couch next to him.
“Maybe, tonight, you can show me more of what you like in bed,” he said.
Reba stood, spread Roger’s legs, and sat between them with her back to him. She guided his hand under her dress and inside her panties.
“You already know all there is to know, honey. That button is the only thing you need to know. Work that with your hand and tongue; you’ll pleasure me like that.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with what I’m unable to do?” Roger asked.
Reba chuckled and nodded her head. “Yes, Roger. Listen, I’ve never placed sex at the top of my list in the first place. I’ve been with as many women as men in my adult life. I’ve had just as much fun with Michael as with any lover, and he’s gay.”
“Of course. You didn’t notice?”
“No. I mean, he didn’t try anything with me.”
Reba stood, straightened her dress, and walked to the serving tray.
“I’m going to have a glass of this ice-cold wine, babe. You want anything while I’m up?”
“Coming right up. I had the mini-bar stocked for you.”
Paris was one of Reba’s favorite spots on Earth, and she’d made many friends there over the years. For the next two months, she and Roger attended parties, saw all the sights on the tourist route, and occasionally made love in a manner that satisfied them both.
They continued the routine in Italy, Japan, and Australia. Roger conquered his aversion to cold weather to the point of snow skiing in the mountains outside Melbourne in July of ’86.
By that Autumn, both were tired of jet-setting and decided to return to the states. Before going home to Portland, Reba suggested Aspen as a destination for a week or so. It was another of her preferred locales.
Two weeks later, they were back in Troutdale. Reba, consistently an early riser, was still in bed at ten in the morning when Roger brought breakfast to her. He set the tray on the bedside table and waited for his love to awaken.
After another hour, Reba opened her eyes and smiled.
“Good morning, lover,” she said.
“Almost afternoon,” said Roger.
“Yeah,” said Reba. “I guess it’s time I told you what’s going on with me.”
It shouldn’t have been a total surprise. He’d noticed the frequent doctor’s appointments had increased on Reba’s wall calendar. Those and her noticeable weight loss, along with her change of sleeping habits, were clues that Reba was not well, but he seemed oblivious.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Two years ago, the doctors said I’d be lucky to lead a normal life for another eighteen months. It looks like I’ve outlasted their prognosis.”
Roger began to tremble as the meaning of Reba’s words sank in.
Reba took Roger’s hand and patted it.
“You’ll be fine, sweetheart. I’m leaving everything I’ve got to you in my will. You’ll be rich.”
“I don’t care about money, Reba. I care about you.”
“I know. The thing is like the Stones said, we can’t always get what we want, right? Now listen, Roger, I want you to promise me you’ll stay straight. There’s no reason in the world for you to go back to the way you were. Women will be clamoring for you and your wealth, you know.”
“Stop. Please tell me this is a test or something. You can’t die. I’ll never make it without you.”
“Yes, you will. Just promise me so I can go in peace. I love you, Roger. I can’t bear to think of you leading a less than righteous life.”
Roger gave his word, and for the next six months, he waited on Reba hand and foot. She eventually became weak as leukemia metastasized and spread throughout her organs, and Roger would carry her to the bathroom for necessities and bathing. Daily, he held his love in his arms while reading to her. He spoon-fed her every meal until one morning when she didn’t wake up.
After Reba died, Roger fell into a funk. Michael Tedesco had handled the funeral arrangements, and once it was all over, the former Terry Pinkard barely remembered the events at the gravesite: standing for the rest of the day and into the night before calling a cab to take him home. Once there, Michael waited for him in Reba’s kitchen.
“Here, Roger,” he said and handed him a manila envelope.
“It’s three safe deposit box keys, a power of attorney giving you possession of them and Reba’s will. She left you everything. You’re worth nearly a hundred million dollars, Roger.”
“Oh, God. I don’t want it. I can’t believe she’s gone, Michael. How will I live through this?”
“You will. Reba told me about your promise to her. Why don’t you think about how you’ll keep it?”
Michael helped Roger transfer all Reba’s property to his name with the aid of two lawyers. For the next month, Roger spent most of his time at the gravesite at River View Cemetery, overlooking the Willamette River in Portland. At times, it seemed Reba was there in the flesh as Roger had realistic conversations concerning what he’d do. In one fantasy, Reba told him he should go to Miami. He owned an apartment in South Beach there. She suggested he take advantage of the robust night-life, and that he should meet some new people.
It took three weeks for Roger to drive the Escalade to Florida. Some days he’d barely cover two hundred miles; other times, he wouldn’t drive at all but lay in bed and watch TV. Once he arrived in Miami, he rarely left his apartment except to eat for the first month. For another three months, he gave ordinary life an earnest attempt by attending church and going out to clubs. He made a few friends but always felt something was missing.
As Roger left a restaurant, he remembered leaving his cellular brick on the table and turned to go back in. When he did, he bumped into a woman who’d walked out behind him and begged her pardon. When Roger looked into her eyes, he instantly became thunderstruck. Thinking she looked like Reba, he was oblivious that the shape of her mouth and nose resembled his mother’s. A few seconds after she drove away, he backed out of his parking space at the restaurant and followed her home.