logo1Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

tbjfwBlood Sacrifice

By Michael E. Petrie



Late afternoon, and former East Coaster Duncan Oliver gazed out his office window watching the sun descend behind a towering office building across the street. Seven stories below people moved hastily, purposefully, as they went about the business of everyday life. Duncan loved his business and the new life he’d created for himself a decade ago on the Left Coast.  Duncan and his business partner, Cyrus, had taken a struggling business and turned it around. The flush of success was intoxicating.

Above all, though, he loved Annie; his only daughter. Since the divorce he’d watched her grow up here, a few weeks at a time each winter and two months every summer.  Annie had matured into a fine young woman, notwithstanding the stress of growing up in a divided family. God, he loved his daughter so.  For twenty-one years Annie had remained the finest thing in his life.  He would do absolutely anything to protect her from harm.

Music from the office stereo system wafted almost imperceptibly through the airwaves and Duncan found himself absently humming along with singer Phil Collins.  I can feel it coming in the air tonight – Oh Lord, Collins sang.  Duncan sighed heavily.  “Oh Lord indeed,” he responded audibly, “I most surely can feel it coming in the air tonight!”

Exiting his office and moving his way down the outer hallway, Duncan felt the gun in the pocket of his suit jacket. It felt heavy and lethal. A few offices down the hall, Duncan came to a stop.  The name stenciled on the glass door read CYRUS FRANKS. A tap on the glass caused Cyrus to look up from his computer.  Surprised and annoyed at this intrusion, he stood up while motioning Duncan to enter. Opening the door, Duncan’s heart was suddenly racing, sweat dripped from his forehead, even the pits of his suit jacket were visibly damp.

“Look,” Cyrus said, trying not to vent his impatience too harshly.  “I’m knee deep in this deal and need to work out the rough edges before going home. So, make this quick.  I don’t have all day.”

Those were the last words Cyrus Franks ever spoke.  The glint of a gun barrel caught his eye – it was the second to last thing Cyrus Franks would ever see. There was a loud, percussive pop, a spume of red. In the time it takes to pull a trigger, a bullet smashed into Cyrus’s skull, taking his nose, an eye and much of his face with it.  Before the darkness of eternity descended over him, Cyrus – looking downward with the single good eye still attached to its socket – watched his own blood spilling onto his Gucci loafers.

Duncan stood there, watching his business partner bleeding on the floor. Movement out the corner of his eye caused the shooter to pivot. A lawyer who officed directly across the hall was making a run at Duncan, a bright  red tie whipping over the runner’s shoulder as he prepared to tackle Duncan to the ground. Turning to face the lawyer with a steely stare and pointing the gun in his direction brought the runner to an abrupt halt. Duncan then, calmly, put the gun to his own temple and pulled the trigger again. The lawyer fell in a heap on the floor, as if it had been he who was shot. Through the office stereo system, another song with the pulsating drum beat and voice of Phil Collins kept hammering over and over the final refrain: No more, no more, no more, no more ....


Monday morning. A bright, sunny San Diego day; 82 degrees with sunlight sparkling like diamonds off the Pacific as I cruised my way to work. The sort of day with inherent temptations to play hooky; the sort of day that makes a body just so glad to be alive!

Walking through the office door bearing my name, Law Office of Reade Goldfarb, the phone was ringing so I snatched it up.  The voice, instantly familiar, belonging to a young girl I’d known all her life. “Annie!  Long time no hear.  How’s your dad?”

Silence at the other end.  Then I heard sobbing.

“Annie?  What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t believe my ears as she spoke. Her father, my life-long friend, had killed himself. My knees went weak, I sat down abruptly.  As if to counter the tragedy, an arbitrary thought flashed across my mind: four years ago, nearly to the day, was one of the happiest days of my life; my wedding day. Duncan Oliver was giving a congratulatory speech, his words filled with well-wishing and humor.  Duncan had a way of making people smile and laugh.  He had the charisma of a politician.  And now, abruptly, he was gone.

Speaking with Annie was a sorrow-filled experience, my heart breaking even as I did my best to console.

“Daddy left me a letter.  He said to call you, Mr. Goldfarb, that you’d know how to handle things,” she sobbed. Besides being a close family friend, I was the family attorney.

The tragic events involving Duncan Oliver, my good friend since our days at University High School, more than thirty years ago, was all over the news.  But I’d been out of town and not read the papers.  At the bottom of a stack of mail on my desk was the North County Times, the front page story read like a pulp murder mystery:


Duncan Oliver had murdered his business partner, then turned the murder weapon on himself.  The article ended with, “Police are investigating for motive.”

The news story defied everything I ever thought I knew about Duncan Oliver.  Duncan had never been prone to violence ... never.  Not back in high school when hormone-rabid teenage boys will oftentimes use force to claim turf or fight over females; and not even, years later, when he discovered his wife – Annie’s mom – with another man; when she trotted out the door to be with her lover, taking baby Ann with her.  Not even when served with divorce papers – he came to me, then, in need of legal advice, looking like a whipped puppy ... but not a hostile word did he utter.  That Duncan Oliver could kill both himself and another was completely unimaginable.

So unimaginable, in fact, that the next day I drove up to Riverside County for a chat with the investigating police detective assigned to Duncan’s case.

“Case closed,” he told me.  “This was a murder/suicide with an eye witness to the entire thing. The witness is a lawyer no less.”

I stopped by the lawyers’ office, the lawyer who’d witnessed the shooting.  He did not seem at all pleased to see me.  Perhaps he was just tired of talking about what must have been a truly horrific ordeal for him, or maybe it was something more; the way I was given the bum-rush out of his office caused me to wonder if he had something to hide.

Two days later, Duncan’s funeral was attended by a small group of friends and family.  Just like me, no one could come to grips with the violent manner in which this gentle man’s life ended.  “It just doesn’t make sense,” one mourner told me.  “Even though Cyrus might’a stole from the company, no way Duncan would’a killed somebody over money.  The almighty dollar was never all that important to Duncan.” I completely concurred, though had no idea Duncan’s partner might be stealing money. So, now there was motive.

There was one rather odd attendee.  A solitary figure of substantial physical stature, clad in blue-jeans and a too snug tee-shirt stretched over a buttery belly. A huge white bulbous nose with red veins centered in his severely pock-marked flesh made his visage unfriendly, almost menacing.  At no point in the ceremony had he come by to condole Annie, and now his was one of the only heads not bowed as prayers were being recited.  In fact, my scrutiny of him, I noticed, was being returned with an arrogant stare.  Beyond arrogant, almost challenging somehow.  It was a downright evil look.

I caught his eyes and held them, but he never blinked.  If looks could kill I was being bludgeoned to death. It was unnerving and caused a slight shiver up my spine.

With the ceremony’s end, we all drove in procession away from the gravesite. As the little cortege proceeded along the sloping tree-lined cemetery road, it was pretty hard not to notice a mud-spattered white, late model Dodge Ram pick-up truck, riding high and stretching longer than even the limo in which family rode.  As we rounded a gentle curving ben d I looked back and could plainly make out the features of the driver through the enormous windshield.  It was the man with the large nose who’d been giving me such a stink-eye earlier.  The shiver re-emerged along my spinal column.

But upon exiting the cemetery and turning left onto the highway, the pick-up turned right, in the opposite direction.  The huge truck quickly dwindling into nothingness in my rear view mirror, I felt silly for my paranoia and decided it must have been the eerie setting itself - a funeral, standing amongst a vast orchard of headstones - that caused my fervid imagination to get the better of me.  Likely the fellow hadn’t been staring at me at all, much less evilly.  I laughed at my foolishness, while taking another check in the rear-view just to be sure.

The entire drive home I was preoccupied with thoughts of my old friend Duncan and the suspicious way he’d died; trying to make some sense of it.  I was approaching my garage, pushing the button on my car’s viser and the overhead door began opening, when a glimpse in the rear view caused me to gasp.  The mud-splattered truck was right behind me!

The same large, menacing, pock-marked fellow from the funeral was getting out of the truck and shambling in my direction.  I quickly pulled into the garage, hoping to close the door and shut him out, but he was already inside with me, opening my car door and yanking me out of my seat with pasty white meat-hook hands that were ripping my shirt.

Raising me to where I was poised on my toes like a ballet dancer, pulling me so close that I could feel his breath in my face and practically see the blood coursing through the veins in his wide flaring nostrils, I heard his guttural bellow escape from behind tobacco-stained clenched teeth.  “You little lawyer puke!  You think yer so smart?  Well, you ain’t!  Yer buddy killed his partner over money, then killed hisself.  Ain’t nothin’ more to it. Now keep yer nose outa other folks business if ya know what’s good fer ya.”

With that, he turned and strode out the garage.

It’s been a couple months now since Duncan’s funeral and my encounter with the tough dude in the big white truck.  I filed a police report, but without the license number of the truck there was little they could do.  I still have no idea why he chose to attack me. And I’m loathe to admit it, but maybe the goon was right.  My friend killed himself and shot his partner over money.  I thought I knew Duncan better than that, but how well do we ever truly know anyone?


Probate was opened on Duncan’s estate.   Union Bank in Temecula contacted me as probate attorney about a safe deposit box they have in Duncan’s name. Temecula? Really? Why would Duncan have a safe deposit box in po-dunk Temecula? Way out in wine country, nearly an hour’s drive from Duncan’s office. So I made the drive up here. Fifty minutes north of San Diego on the 15 freeway.  I don’t know if what I just found is more disturbing or relieving, but the answers to all my questions about Duncan’s death are right here in that little tin box; in an unmailed letter addressed to me.

Reade old friend,

If you’re reading this you know what I’ve done. I just want to explain myself.  Explain it to you, old chum, the only person I can trust with this information.

About a year ago, Cyrus, my partner, hooked up with an investor to infuse some much needed cash into our business.  I never met this investor, Cy handled all dealings with him. But it was, apparently, a lot of money changing hands. What I didn’t realize is that half the money Cy was receiving never made it into our coffers.  Seems my partner had a bad gambling habit. Sure, I always knew he loved to gamble ... indeed, this trait made him a pretty aggressive businessman. But I never realized what a dangerous and devious addiction it was. He was taking large amounts of cash from this investor and gambling away portions of it at the various local casinos like Pechanga & Pala – a few trips to Vegas, too.  The investor finally got wise to it and demanded the money back.  Cyrus told him there was nothing he could do – he’d lost the money gambling.  He offered to pay it all back in payments, but that would take years and the investor was not interested in a long-term payment plan.

That’s when the investor finally made contact with me.  What I learned is that this was not just any investor – this guy was Mob!  I’m going to tell you his name, but you cannot reveal it to a soul – consider it attorney/client privilege or just old fashioned loyalty to a friend, whichever works better for you.

His name is Anthony Brucolli.  You may have heard of him.  But, if not, trust me on this, Brucolli is a big-time hood. Brucolli threatened to kill both Cyrus and me if we did not come up with the money immediately.

I don’t take well to threats, so told Brucolli to go screw himself.  Reade, that turned out to be a big mistake.  A few days later Brucolli sent over one of his thugs – a big guy with a red-veined nose and driving a white truck.  This guy related a new message: Brucolli no longer wanted to kill me or Cyrus .... he was going to kill my daughter Annie instead!

I contacted Brucolli and pleaded with him to leave Annie alone, that, somehow, I’d get him the money.  That’s when I was dealt the most crushing blow of all.  Brucolli no longer wanted the money, he wanted to set an example – someone had to die!

But, he gave me one grizzly option.  He said if I killed Cyrus myself, then he would leave Annie alone – but only if I do it in a way that does not implicate Brucolli in any way.  Reade, I want you to know, I have no choice in this.  I must protect Annie. I’ve even convinced myself that my scumbag partner deserves to die.  But if I’m a killer, then I deserve to die too.

Reade, I hope I can trust you on this.  What I want is for you to someday let Annie know the truth about what I’ve done.  BUT, you can only tell her years from now; after Brucolli has died of old age or whatever it is that finally claims him. Otherwise, if word gets out and the police tie him to this in any way, I fear he will have Annie killed.  Please Reade, as my friend, honor my wishes on this.


I’ve decided to leave the letter locked in the bank vault . . . where it will remain until the time is right.



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