[Excerpt from Red Is for Rage
Book II in The Color of Evil trilogy
FREE on Kindle June 26-June 30]

Red Is for Rage

By Connie (Corcoran) Wilson

Chapter One

CherryWood Lane, Cedar Falls, Iowa, August 28, 2004

She stood there on the driveway, white nightgown soaked with blood, clutching the 38-caliber revolver, body shaking uncontrollably. Some of the viscous, red liquid dripped from the handle of the small silver gun. Drop by grisly drop, the blood splattered to the pavement below. Sarah Eisenstadt, still clutching the gun tightly, did not notice. She existed in an entirely different dimension—somewhere not of this Earth. Oblivious. Unstable. Out-of-it.

Andrea SanGiovanni was at home next door. It was 4:30 p.m. on a sweltering late August day. Normally, Andrea did not stop by her new house on CherryWood Lane, next door to the Eisenstadts at this time of day. Andrea had answered a frantic after-school phone call from her daughter, Jenny.

“Mom! I need my new tennies for cheerleading tryouts. They’re at home in my closet. Please, please run them over here quick!”

“Which ones, Honey? You’ve got about ten pair of tennis shoes in that closet.”

“The pink ones with the white laces, Mom. You know. The new ones.”

Andrea agreed to make the run and now she was a witness to one of the worst of many gruesome crimes in Cedar Falls, Iowa; the locals would talk about this day for years to come.

School started in three days. Andrea had a good feeling about Jenny’s upcoming senior year, especially after all the trouble last year. Greg’s death had been awful. Such a gruesome death! Michael Clay (aka Pogo) had murdered Gregory Tuttle and dismembered his corpse. Andrea felt sick to her stomach every time she remembered how Greg’s corpse had been found. But their marriage was in trouble when he died. That much Andrea knew, because she had been through the death of a marriage before, with Jenny’s father. It felt as though you were trying to pinpoint a problem, but you knew it was a problem that was bigger than a pinpoint. You could search for the cause forever. It wouldn’t bring back the good feelings that had existed when the marriage began. It’s hard to undo damage, once it’s done. Andrea didn’t know the specifics of how her second marriage would have ended, had Greg not been murdered in such a heinous fashion, but she was pretty sure that it would have ended…sooner rather than later. She recognized that old familiar feeling. It was only a matter of time.

Following Greg’s death, the police demolished the SanGiovannis’ house. They were attempting to flush out Pogo, the killer-on-the-loose holed up in the SanGiovannis’ attic with automatic weapons. It had been a year of lows, with no highs. There was no joke in that statement, just rueful realization that she was glad that year was behind them.

After their house was demolished by the city, Jenny had moved to Boulder to her father and stepmother’s house, to finish out the rest of the school year. The entire town had been traumatized by the crimes of Pogo the escaped Killer Clown. Charlie Chandler’s wife Cassie was one of the victims. Charlie’s daughter Belinda was almost his next victim. She owed her life to Andrea SanGiovanni’s calm thinking and bravery in a hostage situation.

Since Jenny left for Boulder, Andrea had seen little of her youngest child. Only at Christmas had Jenny revisited Cedar Falls, the scene of so many crimes and so many unhappy memories. Jenny stayed at the Holiday Inn then, since Andrea had not yet finalized the deal on their new house. Christmas came and went too quickly.

Andrea was anxious to make the new house on CherryWood Lane into a new start for both of them. It would just be the two of them now. Cynthia, Jenny’s older sister, had lost her mother as live-in roommate in her small one-bedroom apartment. Cynthia loved her mom, but she was glad to regain control of her small place.

The report of Sarah’s revolver was muffled. Within the SanGiovannis’ new house, at first, Andrea thought it was a car backfiring. Only when Sarah emerged from the house and half-tottered, half-stumbled down the driveway did Andrea, sitting at her own kitchen table having a quick cup of coffee, look out her kitchen window onto a tragedy unfolding. Andrea saw her next-door neighbor, clad only in a white nightgown, covered in blood. Andrea’s mind went blank with shock.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Andrea rarely used profanity of any kind, but the words just tumbled out of her as she jumped to her feet in alarm.

On the driveway, Sarah Eisenstadt appeared to be having some sort of seizure. An epileptic seizure, maybe? Andrea had not known her new neighbor suffered from this ailment, but she had had a cousin who occasionally suffered this ailment. Although still on her feet, Sarah’s slender frame was shaking violently. Her salt-and-pepper gray hair, usually pulled back in a tidy bun, was disheveled. Eyes wide. Wild. Staring into space blankly.

Later, Andrea would ask herself why she had run outside and approached the obviously deranged woman. Why had Andrea not feared for her own safety? Someone said to her, “You always do well under pressure, Andrea. Remember how you saved Belinda Chandler’s life when Pogo had you both hostage in the Heights?”

Andrea had demurred. She gave full credit for their rescue to Alex and Roberto Jimenez, who had actually chased the psychopathic killer from the house.

But it was true. Andrea always reacted with courage under fire. She displayed total disregard for her own safety in moments of crisis. Andrea had saved Belinda Chandler’s life by remaining “calm, cool and collected” in the face of a convicted killer with a knife. Pogo had taken them both hostage. Andrea hadn’t hesitated then. Andrea wouldn’t hesitate now.

Later, when asked to describe what was going through her mind when she saw Sarah Eisenstadt on the driveway, Andrea said, “It was as though a Guardol Shield, like in those old commercials, a clear plastic bubble, came down around me. I was just operating in the zone. I could see what was happening as though I were outside myself. It’s hard to explain. It’s almost an out-of-body experience. I just knew I had to do something, so I ran outside.”

Andrea approached the stricken woman on her driveway. “Sarah! Sarah! What is it? What’s the matter?” Andrea reached for Sarah’s arm, but Sarah pulled back, like an animal that expects a blow. Sarah was still shaking violently and making a mewling sound.

“I killed them. I killed them both.” Sarah’s voice was hoarse. Coarse. Whispery.

Sarah was talking to herself. Her words were just barely audible. A monotone. Emotionless. She made no eye contact with Andrea.

“Killed who? Who did you kill? Should I call 911? Is it a break-in ?” Andrea was quickly surveying Sarah’s upper torso, trying to determine if the bloodstains you could see everywhere on her white nightgown were Sarah’s. So much blood! If it was Sarah’s blood, where was the wound?

Sometimes, Andrea felt that her hopes that Jenny would go into nursing came from Andrea’s own secret desire to be a doctor or nurse. She had always been interested in helping people who were sick or suffering. If anyone had a sore throat in the SanGiovanni household, Andrea would soon be swabbing the affected area with Mercurochrome. She splinted the occasional dislocated finger. Andrea simply had a feeling for all things medical. Like many mothers, she assumed that her daughter shared her talent and enthusiasm. She would learn differently.

Andrea was still clutching Jenny’s new pink Reeboks, her fingers twisting the white laces tightly. She had been about to leave for the high school when the shots rang out.

“They were disobedient. Mouthy. They wouldn’t listen to me. They wouldn’t do as they were told.”

Sarah was in some sort of thick fog. Her comments were barely audible. Fragmented. Slurred. Indecipherable. Andrea wondered if Sarah had taken some sort of drug.

“Who? Who did you shoot?” Andrea was becoming more agitated, while Sarah seemed calmer— but less lucid— with every passing moment.

“The children…”

“Zoe and Rachel…?” Andrea felt a sense of dread as she uttered the girls’ names.

“They had to be reprimanded. I am their mother. They need to mind me. They need to do as they are told.”

Andrea had moved into the Cape Cod house next door to Dr. Abraham and Sarah Eisenstadt after the trouble in Harvest Home. Police searched through the rubble of their old house for days looking for the body of Michael Clay (Pogo, the Killer Clown). His corpse was never found. Andrea collected $350,000 from the city on her claim that the house had been worth more than that. The city, like all cities, was none too prompt or eager to pay. But pay they did.

For a period of time Andrea lived with her oldest daughter, Cynthia, in her one-bedroom apartment near Cynthia’s job at Layne’s Insurance. Living in her daughter’s tiny place was never meant to be a long-term solution. After all, Jenny would be coming back from Boulder to complete her senior year at Sky High. She wanted to graduate with her old classmates.

“We need a new house,” Andrea told Cynthia. “I’m a realtor. I’ll find us a good one, just as soon as the city coughs up the money they owe us.” She had been close to a deal at Christmas, and she encouraged Jenny to follow her original plan in returning to Cedar Falls for her senior year.

The city had paid up and Andrea had found a smaller house in an older neighborhood.

“It will be perfect!” she thought.

The pleasant Cape Cod-style home next door to Dr. Abraham Eisenstadt, his wife Sarah, and their two teen-aged daughters, Rachel, 16, and Zoe, 13, was much smaller than the big house in Harvest Homes. But it was just Andrea and Jenny now. Frank was in college full-time, living in the dorm, and Cynthia was on her own. Andrea was shocked to realize that her nuclear family was slowly dispersing, ultimately leaving her by herself. Once, their home had been filled with five people, three of them noisy children. Now, it was just Andrea and Jenny. Soon, Andrea would be all alone. If either of the older kids came to stay overnight, there was a dormer attic guest room that ran the length of the house. It had two double beds in it, and, if Frank and Cynthia wanted to stay overnight, it was do-able.

Andrea had been working to make the smaller Cape Cod house as homey as possible before Jenny’s return. She took possession of the cozy bungalow in July. At Christmas, Andrea and Jenny and Frank and Cynthia exchanged presents in Cynthia’s crowded one-bedroom apartment. They ate at a local restaurant because Cynthia’s kitchen was so small. No one felt like trying to cook a big meal with all the trimmings in Cynthia’s poorly-equipped kitchen. Cynthia, herself, rarely cooked, typical of the younger generation.

Andrea hadn’t really had time to get close to her neighbors, yet. Like many in this town, it felt as though people weren’t really interested in getting to know you. You existed side-by-side with strangers in a neighborhood. You never really knew them. They never knew you. Not really. You never really talked to them about anything more important than the weather.

This was the first time that Andrea had ever seen Sarah Eisenstadt dressed in anything other than a professional outfit—either a dress or a business suit. Today, Sarah had on a white flowing nightgown, even though it was 4:30 p.m. She looked disheveled, distraught, and unwell.

“They had to be stopped. They wouldn’t listen to me. They had to be disciplined. You understand, don’t you? They had to pay.”

With those words, Sarah turned to Andrea. Her eyes begged for confirmation. Searching. Pleading for understanding.

Andrea finally realized that Sarah was still clutching the pistol, which was smeared with blood.

Is that Sarah’s blood? Or someone else’s?

Andrea approached Sarah speaking in a low, controlled voice—the voice you would use to speak to a small child or an animal.

“Give me the gun, Sarah.” Andrea reached for the 38-caliber revolver. Sarah held it out. She dropped it when her arm began shaking like a tree branch in a strong wind. Sarah relinquished the weapon almost gratefully.

As she picked up the gun from the driveway, Andrea thought, immediately, of fingerprints. That issue was always front and center on every television cop show. In spite of that, Andrea realized that getting this weapon out of the hands of this obviously distraught woman should be her top priority.

“Is anyone inside hurt, Sarah?”

No answer.

Andrea pulled her cell phone from her pocket. She dialed 911. “229 Freeborn Avenue and CherryWood Lane. Please hurry.”

During her brief conversation with the female dispatch officer, Andrea kept watching Sarah. Sarah didn’t move, other than the uncontrollable shaking. She didn’t make a sound. She didn’t cry. She had the emotional reactions of a zombie or of someone heavily sedated. Sarah was obviously not in any condition to talk, walk or answer questions rationally. She had a gun. And the gun had been fired recently. The odor of cordite pervaded the air.

Still trying to question Sarah Eisenstadt, Andrea asked, “Where are Zoe and Rachel? Are they okay? Are they home yet?”

Rachel was sixteen, slightly younger than Jenny. She was a bright-eyed, intelligent young girl who played the cello in the school orchestra. When Andrea and Jenny heard Rachel practicing, it was as though an angel were serenading them.

Zoe, thirteen, was the baby of the family. Only an eighth-grader, she was a joyful, spirited child, but sometimes pensive. She had large, dark, expressive eyes. Both girls were brunettes with long hair to their waists. The girls were popular at school and active in many extra-curricular activities. They would grow up to be beautiful women, like their mother. Abraham Eisenstadt, the town psychiatrist, was a doting father and justifiably proud of his two dark-haired beauties. Three dark-haired beauties, if you ignored the salt-and-pepper strands of gray in their mother’s hair, which had seemed to be increasing the last few months. Sarah was much grayer now than she had been at Christmas, when Andrea had visited the neighborhood to check on this property. She had seen the family exiting their vehicle on the driveway, returning from synagogue. This was the same driveway and almost the same spot that she had last seen Sarah Eisenstadt, looking wan and stressed both times.

But the girls’ behavior at home was not as perfect as their behavior in the classroom. Rachel, in particular, often mouthed off to her mom over her mother’s rules. Rachel didn’t like being ordered about. She would often refuse to do whatever her mother asked. Rachel and Sarah had had many screaming matches over Rachel’s interest in boys or Rachel’s choice of boyfriends.

“You can’t go out with Aaron Elgin. That’s final!”

“Why not?” Rachel had asked her mother.

“Well, for one thing, he’s too old for you. And there are other reasons.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are other reasons. You always have your reasons. But it’s just not fair. You’re always interfering in my life.” Rachel’s tone conveyed her frustration and anger. She stormed off to her room after that particular exchange.

In Rachel, Sarah saw reflected her own youthful beauty, which was now fading. Sarah was simultaneously proud and envious. Her own life was very dull. An introvert, she rarely left the house for anything other than a meeting with Abraham. She seemed to have no female friends.

Dr. Abraham Eisenstadt had become increasingly busy in the small town, especially after the opening of the new psychiatric wing at Shady Oaks. While he was a devoted husband and father, their marriage had slowly evolved into a brother-sister relationship. Recently, the two were often at odds over Sarah’s disciplining of the girls, which Abraham felt was overly harsh.

“Ease up on Rachel,” Abe told Sarah in their last conversation about discipline. “Don’t be such a shrew.”

“Oh, so now I’m a shrew? You didn’t used to think I was a shrew.” When Sarah said this, defiance blazed from her eyes. The conversation about Zoe had not gone much better.

On the driveway, in the heat of this hot August moment, Andrea had filled in her own explanation of what must have occurred. Intruders must have broken into the Eisenstadt house. Sarah shot the strangers who threatened her children. After all, what mother wouldn’t lay down their own life to protect their child? Sarah was now in shock over the violence. Sarah had always seemed as though she were wound a bit too tightly. She must have snapped after shooting the men.

The garage door was down. Andrea couldn’t see the body lying on the garage floor. All Andrea was aware of at this moment was Sarah, alone on the driveway. Shaking. Muttering. Covered in blood. Repeating, over and over, “Everyone must pay.”

Andrea did not want to enter the house alone. What if the people Sarah shot are still inside? What if they’re only wounded? What if they shoot at me? I should wait for the police to arrive.

Meanwhile, Sarah kept muttering in an almost unintelligible voice, a half-whisper. “They didn’t listen to me. They didn’t respect me. They had to be stopped. Sooner or later they had to pay. We all must pay. One way or another, we all have to pay. Now I’ll pay for killing them. But it had to be done.”

This is not helpful, Andrea thought. I’ve got to find out if the girls are okay. If I put the garage door up, maybe I can call to them to see if they’re inside. Maybe they’re being held hostage, like Belinda and I were by Pogo.

Since Andrea had just heard on the radio in her kitchen that Pogo had escaped again, she even had a momentary flashback. Perhaps this was caused by the very same psychopath who had threatened her life. Now on the loose again, he had attacked her neighbors. Andrea knew that was probably wrong, since Pogo had escaped in Brownsville, Texas, only within the last twenty-four hours, but Andrea wasn’t thinking as clearly as usual.

I hope the cops hurry up!

While waiting for help to arrive, Andrea cautiously reached for the handle at the bottom of the garage door. She wasn’t certain if it would manually open the door. Sometimes, a garage door can be opened either manually or electronically, by use of a transponder. Sometimes, the door only responds to the electronic signal. Andrea grasped the metal handle and jerked the door upwards.

The door was heavy. At first, it wouldn’t budge. Then Andrea realized that if she threw all her strength behind it, she could override the electronic opener and gain entrance to the interior of the garage.

Where are the girls now? Andrea thought, with growing anxiety, as she prepared to yank on the handle with all her strength one more time. Are they safe?