The rain hadn’t let up, continuing to pour down on Chase’s car. Ethan sat in the back seat, his hands cuffed behind his back, looking out the window as Maria and Owen were questioned by police officers. Chase sat in the front seat, glancing in the rear-view mirror at his suspect. “What have you told the officers that arrived so far?”
“I told them I was waiting for you and that I wasn’t going to give any statements to them. So they put me in handcuffs in the back of their cruiser until you arrived,” Ethan said.
“What are your wife and coworker telling them right now?”
“They’re just saying how some stranger called me and threatened my family. No specifics.”
Chase slowly nodded. “Well, would you like to tell me what’s really going on then, and perhaps why you drove a car through a brick wall?
“I’m sorry that I lied to you. No offense, but I thought that it would be best if I handled this guy on my own. I found Roger, the accomplice that helped Thomas kidnap Kathy. He was one of the men that her mom dated for a short time, one of the men that you said you had looked into. He’s got several different names by the way. Sarah knew him as Bill.”
Chase reached up and adjusted the rear-view mirror to see Ethan better. “How did you put that together? I couldn’t find anything in the background check for that guy,” Chase said at a loss.
“I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I witnessed a man leaving Hannah’s house the day that I found her daughter. You know, that degenerate mother who pimped out her daughter? Well, I wrote down his license plate number so that I could give it to police, but I forgot to during all the drama with Hannah. After that incident, I visited Sarah because I was curious about her ex-boyfriends. I figured one of them had to be connected to Thomas. Why else pick Kathy for kidnapping? As luck would have it, I recognized Roger as the guy leaving Hannah’s house.”
“You should have called me, Ethan. I could have caught this guy and put him away.”
“I did call you. I wanted to tell you, but when I saw Roger in person, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to make him suffer for everything he’s done. Look, I know I put you in a difficult position, but—”
“I’m not in a difficult position,” Chase said, cutting Ethan off. He turned around to look Ethan in the face. “That child raping bastard is on the loose. You obstructed justice, but at the same time, you also helped me advance my investigation by identifying this son of a bitch. I’ve been trying to catch this guy longer than you, Ethan. I know what he’s capable of, so trust me when I say that he disgusts me as much as you.”
“But I attacked a man and held him hostage,” Ethan said. “I’ve become a vigilante.”
“And the last time I checked, no one has filed charges against you.”
Chase got out of the car and opened the rear door, helping lift Ethan out of the car. He stood close to Ethan and spoke softly over his shoulder. “I’m really saving your ass here, so you owe me big time. The only thing that I ask is that you never step outside of the law again. You have to follow the law and the procedures required to do your job. If you step out of line like that again, I can’t help you . . . nor would I.”
The rain fell lightly in the soft breeze, enough to dampen Ethan’s hair and what little hair Chase had around the sides of his head. Most of the raindrops bounced and rolled off the top of his smooth head. He turned Ethan around to unlock his handcuffs.
“You’re responsible for the deaths of two men. I don’t care if they really are accidents or not, but if they aren’t, I suggest you find a new career. This can’t go on,” Chase said.
“What’s the next move, Agent Ramsey?”
“You are going to stay out of it for one thing. I’m going to broadcast Sarah’s picture of Roger all over the national news. If he has any other victims, which I would bet my life on, they’ll see that he is being hunted for crimes of child exploitation and come forward because they aren’t alone. At the very least, we’ll get parents calling in concerned that he was around their children. We’re going to smoke him out of any place he could possibly hide.”
Ethan rubbed his wrists, realizing that handcuffs were quite uncomfortable. He thanked God for keeping him out of them long term. “He’s probably going to come after me again.”
Pointing at the police cars in Ethan’s driveway, Chase smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure there’s a patrol car in front of your house for at least the next couple of nights. I’m pretty confident we’ll catch this asshole within forty-eight hours of plastering his picture all over television and the internet.”
“You’ll keep me updated with any information that comes in, won’t you? Personal courtesy and all.”
Chase shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll let you know what I can. I’ll be in touch. Stay out of trouble. Take a few days off work, and this time that’s not a suggestion.”
As Chase walked back to his car, Maria walked up behind Ethan and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Is everything going to be alright, honey? I’m not going to visit you in prison?”
Turning around to hold her head in his hands, he gave Maria a passionate kiss. Feeling her soft lips against his and their tongues intertwining, he regretted not being passionate more often. He would have beaten himself up over that regret while stuck in a prison cell.
Ethan ended the kiss, allowing themselves a moment to breathe. “Everything is going to be better than alright. I can’t stop saying how sorry I am for not being the husband that I always should have been. I’m an idiot.”
Looking up at him, Maria’s eyes became glassy, displaying both fear and sadness. “I know why you’ve been distant. I can only imagine how hard it has been to keep all your true emotions bottled up. We’ll get through this. All that matters is that we have each other. Your daughter and I need you more than ever.”
“I know everything’s going to be alright. I won’t let Roger hurt us.”
They both turned around when hearing Renee giggle to see Owen tickling her. Ethan walked over and patted Owen on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get her fixed up. In the meantime, I’ll take you home in Maria’s car. I can go get the new tires for my Escape alone.”
One of Owen’s eyebrows raised in response to his plan. “Dude, I’ll help you with the tires. You need a driver for both cars, anyway.”
“Thanks, buddy. I didn’t want to ask after what I just put you through.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It was pretty exciting after the fact, plus you’re paying for the damage. The fact that I didn’t have to pay to have those dents in the front bumper fixed is a bonus,” Owen said.
“Glad I could help. I’ll give Lin a call and let her know the situation. She’s probably wondering where the hell we’re at.”
“You’re kidding, right? Lin trusts us not to be slacking off. I’d bet she’s not worried at all, not to mention you’re her pride and joy,” Owen said, laughing out loud obnoxiously.
“Keep it down!” Ethan said, holding his cell phone to his ear, “It’s ringing.”
“Ethan, is there a problem?” Lin said.
“Hi, Lin. A man connected to Thomas threatened my family, so I had Owen rush me home. I already talked with the police, so everything is under control. I just need to ask for a few days off, after all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Ethan. It seems like everyone is out to get you. Anything I can do to help?” Lin said.
“I wish you could, trust me. The time off will give me some time to think, anyway.”
“Take however much time you need. I’ll put Owen on your cases until you return. Don’t forget that I’m here to help if you need it. Please be careful.”
“Thank you, Lin. I’ll keep you posted on what’s going on,” Ethan said. By the sound of her voice, he assumed that she had finally realized how much stress he’d been under.
Cognizant of the fact that his own choices and actions were responsible for his current predicament, there was no question that being surrounded by so many disturbed individuals was also fate. He never stopped believing that God had guided him down the treacherous path that he had walked, and that he was the only one in a position to save children from such demons.
Watching Renee laugh with Owen, and taken aback by Maria’s beauty as she stood in the rouge light cast by the sun setting, he officially determined that his time as a social worker for Child and Family Services would soon be ending.
“All right, buddy. Let’s go get some tires before it gets dark,” Ethan said.
Before he could get into the car, his phone rang. The caller was unknown, so he knew exactly who it was. He answered the phone lividly. “You sick motherfucker! I told you not to go near my family. I’m not afraid of your bullshit anymore. You’re going down. I’m talking life imprisonment, but hopefully the death penalty.”
“So, you found the balls to confess your sins after all? That was a terrible mistake. I was hoping we could settle this like men discreetly, but now I am forced to jump directly to my last resort. No matter what you may be thinking, I can promise you, this is the hard way,” Roger said in a menacing tone before hanging up.
An eerie chill ran through his body. He had no idea what to expect, but had confidence that Chase would catch the man before he could do any more harm. Just in case, he decided that they would stay in a hotel for a few nights so that Roger would have a more difficult time finding them.
Climbing into the Escape, Owen looked over at Ethan. “Are you okay, man?”
“Yeah, we’ll be fine. It was that bastard again trying to threaten me. He has no idea how big the manhunt is going to be for his ass. They’ll catch him,” Ethan said, partially doubting his own assurance.
Maria and Ethan sat on their living room couch, Renee laying across their laps sound asleep. The television’s volume was barely audible, only heard in complete silence. Closing in on eleven o’clock, their television show was about to end on a season finale cliffhanger, at which time Renee began snoring, overwhelming the volume of the TV.
“Maria, could you turn the volume up just a little bit? We’re going to miss the ending,” Ethan whispered.
“Uh, I thought you had the remote,” she whispered back.
To his dismay, the control was still on the entertainment center. Luckily, the show cut to a final commercial break. Slowly lifting Renee’s head off his lap, being careful not to wake her, he tiptoed over to the television and raised the volume.
A news alert came on between commercials with Roger’s picture displayed across the screen. “There’s that son of a bitch,” he whispered to Maria.
“That’s the guy you told me about? He looks so normal.”
“That’s the problem with reality. Movies have you believe that all the creeps have some physical deformity and are social pariahs. Not the truth most of the time.”
Looking into Roger’s eyes once again, he wished the worst punishment he could imagine for the man. Earlier in the day Roger had had the upper hand, knowing that Ethan would be reluctant to involve law enforcement. Now, a manhunt was in full effect. With Roger’s phone and digital accounts being tracked, there was nowhere to run. He prayed that Roger hadn’t left the country already.
Quietly walking back to the couch, the ring tone on his cell phone began echoing through the living room; an annoying cacophony of drums and symbols, chosen to ensure that a call or text would not go unnoticed.
He swiftly ran into the kitchen to grab his phone from the counter. “Hello, this is Ethan.”
“This is Agent Ramsey. I’m sorry for calling so late, but I wanted to let you know that we searched Roger’s apartment. His computer was missing, but it didn’t look like he took much else. We’ll be keeping eyes on the apartment in case he returns. We also received two reports about him. One mother from Oregon is concerned because her daughter disappeared during the time that she dated Roger, whom she knew by the name Jason. And another woman claims that her fourteen-year-old daughter hasn’t been the same since she dated a man named Bill, around the time the girl was only eight years old.”
“Wow. That’s great news . . . I mean, not that there’s other victims, but that you’ve got quite the case to bury this asshole,” he said, forgetting to whisper.
“Shh,” Maria hissed over her finger at him, having forgotten that his daughter was sound asleep.
“Sorry,” Ethan silently mouthed.
“It shouldn’t be long before we catch this guy,” Chase said.
“I appreciate the update. I’m glad my efforts can bring some form of solace to his victims.”
“I’ll be in touch. Have a nice evening, Ethan.”
“You too, Mr. Ramsey.”
After ending the call, Ethan placed his phone on vibrate to avoid any further interruptions. Turning back to the television, he was disappointed to see the show’s credits. “How did it end?”
Maria shrugged her shoulders. “I was focused on your conversation. Maybe someone will decide we should upgrade to an actual DVR cable box. Every other civilized American has one, probably for situations a lot like this one.”
Ethan raised an eyebrow while frowning to let her know how unimpressed he was by her sarcastic remarks. “You know, there was a time when I found you being a smart-ass amusing. I guess it’s been a while since then.”