Two weeks had passed since Ethan identified the perverted sociopath, that by his certainty, was the co-conspirator behind Thomas’s vile crimes. He had been planning to deal with Bill. Best case scenario, he would capture Bill, torture him for information about all his crimes and accomplices, then dispatch him without anyone ever batting an eye at his disappearance. But in the worst-case scenario, nothing would go right and Ethan would end up dead or imprisoned.
After how easily he had manipulated the truth to make himself appear innocent of any wrongdoing, he was confident that only the best case scenario would play out. As long as Bill was alive, Renee would not be safe, nor any child that could become a victim at the hands of the repulsive deviant. His connections in the world of child exploitation were probably far reaching.
Ethan walked through the mall, visiting a sporting goods and home improvement department for the items on his shopping list, paying only with cash to avoid leaving a paper trail in case he ever became a suspect. He purchased a winter ski mask, gloves, and coat at the sporting goods store, then duct tape, pliers, and a hammer at the hardware store.
While walking back to the other end of the mall where his car was parked, he watched children that ran down the halls and played at the indoor playground where his own daughter had nearly been abducted. They were all mirthful and full of life, completely unaware of their surroundings. He could not shake the suspicion that one or more individuals in the mall may be admiring the children in an inappropriate manner. It disgusted him to imagine how many men could have had sexual desires for his own daughter, whether it be doctors, teachers, or any profession that allowed regular access to children.
What he had learned during his time working in social services was that there were many pedophiles walking around whom had not been convicted of a crime. Some may have committed atrocities that had not been reported, while many just hadn’t acted on their sexual musings. The smart thing for them to do would be to seek help by talking to a psychologist who might be able to help keep their desires at bay.
In any case, he had witnessed and learned too much about the atrocities that were committed in his hometown alone, to not be weary and skeptical about every stranger that surrounded him. Knowledge of the real dangers that lurked in the dark was both beneficial and distressing inside information that only police officers, doctors, social workers, psychologists, and priests were privy to. These were the careers that required separating work from personal feelings, yet was nearly impossible to accomplish.
He couldn’t help but feel like an outlaw knowing that he was about to commit a crime, and no one was the wiser. The idea that his own desire to cause Bill pain and suffering had manifested due to Bill’s crimes, absolved him of any wrongdoing. The biggest difference between right and wrong being that Bill was deserving of his punishment.
Bill had clearly lived his whole life without repercussions, but that was about to change. Ethan needed to be the one that would make Bill realize God had no intention of allowing him to go unpunished. What force other than God could have presented Ethan with such an opportunity as being the only one privy to Bill’s involvement with Thomas?
Stepping outside into the sunlight, he slid his sunglasses off the top of his head, down over his straining eyes. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was close to noon. He had planned on being home in a few hours to maintain the impression that he was supposedly just running to the office to finish some paperwork on a Sunday morning.
Climbing into the Escape, he pulled his phone out of his back pocket before sitting down. He pulled up a Department of Motor Vehicles records website so that he could search for Bill’s address using the license plate number he had written down. He had to purchase a membership to do so, but it was well worth it. The search gave him the address, criminal record, vehicle information, and name of the owner. However, the name associated with the vehicle was Roger, not Bill or Sam.
He rubbed his forehead with his hand, confused by trying to keep track of Roger’s many alias’. Of course, he should have known the guy was too smart to use a real name when committing a crime. Ethan did not underestimate Roger’s cunning, but appreciated the fact that he was able to make the connection before anyone else. Roger was smart and covered his tracks well. As is the case with most prosecuted criminals, their own desires and impulses eventually effectuated their downfall.
Ethan immediately drove to Roger’s address. He found himself speeding due to the excitement of discovering the lion’s den. However, his excitement fizzled away as he approached the three-storied apartment building that Roger lived in. While anticlimactic compared to the dingy and ominous structure he pictured Roger living in, a temporary living space made more sense, allowing Roger to move around freely when looking for fresh prey.
He sat in his car waiting, parked across the street from the apartment complex, watching for the predator that was oblivious to his current position in the food chain. Scanning the parking lot, it wasn’t long before he spotted Roger’s red truck. He wanted to leave a note on his windshield, letting Roger know that his time was up, but the element of surprise was more important that stroking his own ego.
Alone with his thoughts, he began to question himself, considering that his vigilante plan may be suited more for a movie than real life. He wasn’t just defending himself anymore. This was an act of premeditated murder. He pictured himself behind steel bars, surrounded by criminals in orange jump suits while Maria and Renee were at home, devastated that they wouldn’t see him again for many years. Was inflicting a punishment of personal vengeance worth the consequences?
After five minutes of anxiety filled introspection, he decided to call Chase. Surely, Roger would be sentenced to death or life in prison for his crimes. Ultimately, fear of the consequences drove him to pull out his phone along with Chase’s card.
Ethan dialed Chase’s number, only to be sent directly to voice mail. “Agent Ramsey, this is Ethan Harper. I think I found the man that you’re looking for. You know, the online pedophile that might be connected to Thomas. Please get back to me as soon as possible so we can talk.”
As soon as he ended the call to Chase and reached for the ignition to start the car, Roger exited his apartment, as if God was urging him to continue on his path of vengeance. He noted that Roger walked out of apartment number 113 on the second floor. Seeing the bastard’s face in person, knowing the things the creep had done and imagining Renee locked away in a dungeon, his vengeful emotions came flooding back. Why not at least follow him and see what he’s up to?
Ethan ducked down low as Roger walked down the staircase and toward his truck with text books under his arm, unaware that Ethan’s eyes followed him with every step he took. Once in his truck, he drove out of the parking lot and down the road, driving past the Escape.
As soon as the truck passed his vehicle, Ethan sat up and started the car, quickly making a U-turn to begin his pursuit.
Roger traveled fifteen miles, all of which Ethan made sure to keep at least two cars length between their vehicles, before pulling into the parking lot of an elementary school where he parked his truck.
Ethan parked across the street once again, spying on Roger as he walked through the gate surrounding the school and disappeared among the buildings. Looking around, Ethan realized that the rest of the parking lot was empty and that Roger was alone.
The parking lot was large with roof coverings over a majority of the parking spaces. Roger’s truck was parked far enough away from the road to obscure any clear visibility that witnesses might have. Several trees were scattered around the parking lot to aid in concealment as well.
Disgusted and shocked at Roger’s profession, Ethan understood why he had chosen a teaching career. No better job for a pedophile than one where he is constantly surrounded by children on a daily basis. He could bond with and study each child that he designated as a possible victim.
Ethan’s heart began to pound as he made the decision that there would be no better time to attack than now. Adrenaline kicked in once he opened the door and grabbed the gym bag that concealed his tools. He hastily locked the car and jogged across the street, continuing through the school parking lot. He determined that hiding against the building Roger had to walk past to leave would be a good spot for an ambush.
He crept up toward the wall, making sure that Roger wasn’t already walking out. The warmth of the sun bathed wall heated his back as he leaned against it. He pulled the ski mask out of his bag and slid it over his head. The wool caused his sweaty face to itch. Then, he slipped the jacket and gloves on, gripping the hammer like a vice in his right hand.
Standing in wait, praying to God for strength and support in being successful with his endeavor for the good of all children, his undershirt and mask started to dampen with perspiration. Not just from wearing winter clothes in seventy-degree heat, but also from the adrenaline that coursed through his veins. The same adrenaline that allowed him to kill Marcus and Thomas.
Every second that passed, waiting became more difficult. The anticipation overwhelmed him. He had reached a point where there was no coming back from. He was fully prepared to do what was necessary, despite any negative outcome. His actions would benefit mankind.
A door slammed shut. Footsteps echoed through the corridors and grew louder as they neared him. He took a deep breath, squeezing the hammer until his fingers hurt. Before Roger walked into view, he was so close that Ethan could smell his turpentine-scented aftershave.
An image of a young girl’s terrified face at the moment that Roger’s aftershave entered her nostrils—cementing the fragrance in her memory as a symbol of rape and fear—popped into his head. He was not going to be lenient to Roger.
Roger took three steps past the wall before Ethan’s hammer came down on the side of his head. Roger’s body fell instantly to the ground—papers fanning out in front of his collapsing body. His body was motionless and sprawled out on the cement, blood seeping from his head and soaking a few of the papers that he rested on.
Ethan took a moment to admire what he had done, while at the same time hoping he didn’t kill the man. Then, he took his jacket off to place over Roger’s head. He didn’t want blood painting the cement with evidence of a crime scene. Becoming winded while dragging Roger to the truck, his biggest regret was not working out before the attack.
After placing Roger into the passenger seat of the truck, he ran over to collect all the papers that were dropped. He shoved them into his gym bag and inspected the ground where Roger fell. He was delighted that not a single drop of blood landed on the concrete, renewing his confidence in the mission.
Keeping his gloves on, but removing the ski mask, he wrapped Roger’s hands and ankles together with duct tape, then slowly drove away. Fortune was in his favor as there were no witnesses within view. After turning out of the parking lot, his plan concluded. He didn’t think about where he would take Roger, as he didn’t even plan for where the attack would take place. The spontaneity of the moment distracted him from the finer details.
Driving aimlessly down the road, he spotted an abandoned building in an old shopping center that was deserted. He drove into the alley behind the building, out of sight from the road.
Ethan got out of the truck and scouted the building for an entrance. He was parked next to a smaller structure without windows, possibly a storage building attached to the main store. Peering through the boarded-up windows of the store, he saw tattered blankets and trash littered throughout as if homeless people were squatting there, but no one was currently present.
A rusty padlock kept the storage building’s door sealed. He effortlessly broke the lock with one solid swing of his hammer. Inside, he found some old wooden pallets, empty storage shelves, cardboard boxes, and a few folded metal chairs leaning against the wall. He opened one of the chairs and placed it in the center of the room.
Walking back to the truck, he pulled the ski mask out of his pocket and slipped it back on. Upon opening the passenger side door, Roger began moving again, spitting blood out that had run down the side of his face and into his mouth. He struggled to lift his head, looking to see who stood above him. “Who the fuck are you? What do you want?” Roger said in a demanding tone.
Ethan placed duct tape over Roger’s mouth and tugged on Roger’s shirt with one hand, allowing his bound body to fall onto the asphalt. Roger grunted as his back slapped against the ground. Swinging the gym bag over his shoulder, Ethan dragged Roger into the building. Along the way, Roger’s shirt rolled up, exposing his bare flesh to the hot, jagged asphalt.
Ethan struggled to lift Roger’s entire body of the ground to sit him down on the chair. After Ethan backed away, Roger attempted to free his hands and feet, but didn’t struggle so much that he fell off the chair. To prevent any further movement, Ethan used more duct tape to affix him to the chair.
The door was left open as it was the only light entering the building. Ethan stood before Roger, holding the hammer and pliers in his hands. “I’m going to take the tape off your mouth. If you scream, I’m going to put the tape back on and administer severe pain. If you don’t tell me what I want to know, then I’ll place the tape back over your mouth and administer severe pain. It’s a rather simple concept,” Ethan said, his voice stern and threatening. “Nod your head if you understand.”
Roger nodded his bloody head, so Ethan pulled the tape off his mouth violently. “Fuck you! That hurt like hell. Who the hell are you? What did I do to you?”
Ethan stared into Roger’s eyes, conveying to him how much he was despised. “It’s not me that you did something to. I’m here because of what you did to Kathy, the little girl you had kidnapped to be your plaything. And that poor fifteen-year-old you paid to have sex with. And honestly, any other child whose life you’ve destroyed. How many have there been, exactly?”
Roger stared right back at Ethan, displaying little evidence of fear. Roger spit blood on Ethan’s shirt. “Oh, shit. You’re that social worker that killed poor Thomas. I saw you on the news. You really ruined my plans that day, too. You have no idea how I desperately longed to slip my cock in that beautiful—”
A solid thud sound followed Ethan’s fist as it connected with the side of Roger’s jaw.
Roger spit out fresh blood. “—mouth. She had an adorable mouth. That’s just the beginning, though. I haven’t even started talking about her tight—”
The sound of a nut shell being cracked open interrupted Roger the second time, the source being a hammer slamming against his kneecap.
“—fuck! You son of a bitch. Her tight pussy. I haven’t stopped thinking about that sweet little pussy since the moment I laid eyes on her.”
Fiery rage took hold of Ethan. He didn’t hesitate to place tape back over Roger’s mouth and grab the index finger of Roger’s right hand with the pliers. He held Roger’s finger out by clamping the pliers down on the base knuckle, squeezing them as hard as he could to prevent Roger from pulling his hand away, and then placing it down on the stack of wooden pallets next to them. Holding Roger’s finger out with pliers in one hand, he swiftly swung the hammer with his other hand.
The hammer head crushing Roger’s finger against the wooden pallets produced a cracking sound much like the one Roger’s kneecap had made. Roger’s scream was muffled by the duct tape. He screamed in three bursts, then began gasping for air to catch his breath.
Ethan let him suffer for a moment, then ripped the tape off his mouth again. “I would suggest you keep your fucking mouth shut unless you decide to carefully answer my questions. Trust me, I would take pleasure from doing this all day long, you piece of shit.”
“Ah . . . ah . . . okay.” Roger looked down at his throbbing, red finger. It had already begun to swell twice its normal size and was not as straight as it used to be. “I don’t have an exact count of how many anymore. I kept track when I started, but I lost track.”
“Bullshit! That’s exactly what guys like you do. How many innocent children have you taken advantage of?”
“Look, I don’t keep mementos of all the children, just the special ones. I don’t have an exact count anymore. In the ballpark of about thirty, I suppose.”
Ethan punched him again, this time straight toward his mouth. He could feel Roger’s lips split open as they were compressed against teeth. The pressure from Ethan’s fist was like the pressure from an over inflated balloon, bursting to release air it could not contain. The difference being that Roger’s lips released blood that began trailing down his chin.
“You fuckin asked!” Roger said, snarling like a perturbed dog.
“I know I did. Let’s continue. Are you attracted to boys and girls? What crimes have you committed? ”
“I might be a sick bastard, but I’m not like those Catholic priests. I’m only attracted to girls, dickhead. As for the latter question, you don’t really think I’d confess my crimes to you, do you?”
“If you don’t tell me, then I’m going to make you suffer more. When I’ve entertained myself long enough, then I’ll kill you,” Ethan said, giving him a look of assurance.
“I’m not fucking stupid, Ethan. You broke the law when you murdered Thomas, and you’re going way beyond the law right now. You have every intention of murdering me. Hell, I should be asking you about your crimes. We have more in common than you think.”
Ethan stepped closer to Roger, grabbing his broken finger with the pliers again. Roger moaned in agony. “You’re right. I plan to kill you. My crimes, they’re not crimes at all. I’m doing what’s best for the children. The world won’t miss Thomas . . . or you. God has been behind me every step of the way. That’s the difference.”
“I’m not sure the courts will see it quite like that, Ethan. At best, that might help you plead insanity. Having conversations with God is not considered all that sane. If you don’t let me go, you’ll regret it.”
Ethan laughed in Roger’s face. “Ha, you’ve got me all wrong. I have zero regrets. You know why? Because my actions are justified. Now, I’m going to use the pliers on your teeth if you don’t answer my questions.”
“Fine. There was this dramatic teen a few years ago. You know the type, those kids that listen to Punk music and feel sorry for themselves. She put up a hell of a fight, so I was forced to kill her. I hid her body and no one is the wiser. She was sporting that whole teen-angst, Goth look, so they figure she ran away. Then, there was this other little girl, and I mean little. She was about six I think. Anyway, her mother caught us together, so I made her watch. Actually, come to think of it, I made her join in. Taught them both how to treat a man.”
Ethan couldn’t listen to Roger’s stories anymore. He wanted to be pushed over the edge and that’s exactly where he found himself. He placed Roger’s taped hands on the pallet, then commenced repeatedly hammering away at them. Swing after swing, one cracked bone after the next.
Roger bellowed as his hands were pulverized by the hammer. By the time Ethan had finished wielding the hammer, the tape holding his hands had been shredded apart, allowing him to fall off his chair. He shielded his hands by tucking them into his abdomen.
Exhausted and mentally shaken, Ethan crouched down near Roger. “What else do I call you? Any other alias’ other than Bill, Sam, or Roger.”
Roger looked up at Ethan, grinding his teeth together as he dealt with the pain in his hands. “I use Jason every now and then, too. You should consider yourself lucky, Ethan, because everyone else knows me by only one name.”
Looking into Roger’s vindictive eyes, while portraying a mutual feeling with his own stare, Ethan stood up, casting a shadow over Roger as his body blocked the light from the doorway. “My last question. Where did you hide the body of that girl you murdered? And I want the location of any other bodies you may have hidden.”
Before Roger could answer, a long shadow cast into the room. The shadow was a silhouette of another person standing in the doorway. As Ethan turned around to see who it was, the individual quickly ran away.
Leaving Roger suffering on the floor, Ethan ran out of the shed in hot pursuit. The man was most likely homeless, evidenced by his unkempt hair, weathered and dingy clothing, and the pungent odor that Ethan inhaled while giving chase.
The vagrant retreated to the large building where Ethan ended his pursuit. “You stay the hell out of here! If you’re smart, you’ll keep your mouth shut, or I’ll do the same to you, buddy!”
Time was short. Maria had expected Ethan home hours ago and he had attracted too much attention in the abandoned shopping center. He decided to bring an end to the interrogation while marching back into the storage room. Unsuspectingly, a metal chair slapped against Ethan’s head, knocking him off his feet.
“Ah! Shit!” Roger screamed, dropping the chair as the vibration from hitting Ethan excruciatingly rattled the broken bones in his hands. Ignoring the pain, Roger kicked Ethan several times in the stomach while he lay in a compromising position on the floor. “You fucked up big time, Ethan. You should have stayed away from Thomas, and you sure as shit shouldn’t have come after me. I’m not going to kill you now. No. I have a much better way of making you suffer. I’m going to make you wish you were dead. You should have just called the police,” Roger said.
Ethan looked up, now in the same position he had had Roger in, only to see Roger’s foot swinging toward his face before becoming unconscious.
Roger ran out of the building and carefully climbed into his truck, using the index and middle fingers on his left hand as they were the only bones still intact. He gripped the steering wheel with those same fingers, turning the key with his right hand’s thumb and pinky.
Once Ethan regained consciousness, squinting his eyes as they opened due to a splitting headache, he nervously looked around the room for any sign of Roger. Relieved that Roger had left, Ethan noticed the taste of blood in his mouth; that or Roger had shoved a penny down his throat while he was unconscious.
Ethan reached up and felt his swollen, left cheek. Touching it sent a jolt of pain straight to his pounding headache. He hoped that his cheek wasn’t fractured. Even his eye socket throbbed, so he assumed that it was probably turning black and blue.
He rose to his feet and walked out of the dark room, into the vanishing sunlight. He had lost track of time during the whole confrontation. The afternoon was almost over and Maria was surely going to have a lot of questions.
Looking over to see that the truck was gone, Ethan accepted that he would have to walk back to his car down the street. His car was a good mile and a half away, which he was in no shape to jog. The walk would allow him another hour to invent a believable excuse.