“Thanks so much for tuning in you wonderful people, so happy to be spending my time with you all. This is your fave radio DJ Master Risk with all the news you need in your life. We’ll jump right back into the music after my recap of the craziness that sunny LA has been under.”
The hum of the Wrangler’s stereo was the only thing overpowering the thudding sounds of suburban roads that needed more work than the city could afford, Lucy attempting her best to navigate over potholes and broken speed bumps, all while not knowing where she was.
She was on her third try of finding the correct house in the unfamiliar part of the city, turned around with a dead cell phone laying on its side in the cup holders. Lucy knew she was out of her league, but her heart was in the right place.
The writer swore as she drove, taking the same turn she had a plethora of times. “I can’t believe I didn’t charge my phone,” she grumbled irritatedly, skimming the wheel around and she violently stopped her car on the side of the street she’d attempted to go down more than four times in the last fifteen minutes.
“Have we got a new Lonnie Franklin Jr. on our hands? Alleged killer and for sure kidnapper Neil Hunter still resides in LA County Jail as he awaits…well, who the hell knows what he’s await. The FBI have been seemingly having an interesting time with the case so far as they investigate deeper into Hunter-”
Lucy reached out with a snap of her wrist, turning off the radio as fast as she possibly could. No matter how many times she thought she could manage to listen to the station, their godforsaken host would be on his allotted ten minute tangent of disgusting gossip and chatter that didn’t matter in the slightest to the world.
Beyond annoyed and frustrated with the simple fact she’d not thought of charging her lifeline, Lucy ran a heavy hand through her hair. “I could’ve sworn it was around here.” Blood rushed in her ears, pounding away years of her life as she fell into a panic, forcing her eyes shut.
She was trying to make things right, and she couldn’t even do that.
A crumpled fist hit the steering wheel with mock force, the ability to be angry fleeting from Lucy. Her entire body jolted as a knock sounded on the passenger’s window, wide eyes soon finding a confused figure leaning in. “Oh, God,” she muttered, rolling the window down. “Hi-”
A woman in a slimming wrap dress stood at the curb, neat eyebrows slightly furrowing. Dark hair fell down over her shoulders, green eyes evaluating Lucy in an instant. “Are you the journalist?”
Lucy’s eyes flickered up to the two story colonial behind the brunette, Soo in large letters across the top of the front door. “Yes, yeah I’m the journalist.”
“You’re earlier than I expected but you’re welcome to come in.”
“Thank you very much,” Lucy hastily replied, unintentionally taking on the cover of a journalist she’d never planned on being.
She was a writer, so how much of a stretch could a journalist be?
“Renee,” Eliza’s mother said as she held out her hand to Lucy, the author meeting her around the front of the Jeep. “My husband Ryung is at work so he unfortunately won’t be able to join us, but Eliza and myself are available to answer anything you need.”
Lucy was well in over her head, the information swirling as she attempted to remember how to speak. “Of course, thank you. I’m Stella, Deveraux,” she said in hidden panic. “I do apologize, the original journalist wasn’t able to make it, but I assure I’m caught up enough to write this piece effectively.”
Renee softly nodded, it not a bother to her. “Most people seem to be caught up. Not necessarily with the right information, but they like to think they know what happened to Eliza.”
“And that’s what I’m here for, to make sure people have the right information.” Lucy gripping her shoulder bag fiercely out of sheer nerves, barely having the mindset to grab it from her passenger’s seat before joining Renee on the walk up to the Soo home. “How is she?”
Renee, finely aged and a prominent Los Angeles attorney, made an internal noise as she stopped short of the front door, a hand lingering on the handle. “She’s adjusting. It’s hard, but she’s trying.”
“I understand, absolutely. I’m very happy she’s willing to speak with me. On top of the horrors she must’ve been subjected to, the publicity can’t be much easier to handle.” Lucy could still hear her own pulse in her ears, surprised she could even manage a human response, much less keep a cover that had been thrust upon her.
“You seem much different than the others that have asked, I truly appreciate that.” Renee opened to door, motioning for Lucy to go inside. “Make yourself at home. I’ll go get Eliza.”
Lucy only nodded as she looked around the foyer, still clutching her bag like her life depended on it.
The warmth of the home was touched with Korean artifacts, every room with a piece of culture waiting to tell its story. Family pictures lined from the foyer all the way to the stairs and up to the second floor beyond Lucy’s view, all of the images lacking at least five years in time.
For Eliza to go from a life so calm and safe to the confines of Hunter’s basement subjected to God knows what, was horrifying.
And it was Lucy’s fault.
Lucy’s eye twitched, turning her head towards the new voice as she covered her folly. Her greeting caught in her throat, eyes falling across a face only seen in blurred pictures on the news.
A willowy figure emerged from the depths of the first level, nervous hands fiddling in front of her as she walked forward. Dark hair that had not once been cut while in Hunter’s hands now resided at her shoulders, hesitant brown eyes attempting to convey a happiness she was struggling to find. She wore a neatly fitted blouse and slim jeans, years of bruises whispering at her forearms, a dent visible at her ankle where the denim stopped.
And with her past life still lingering, Eliza Soo still managed to smile.
Lucy’s voice was lost within her thoughts and self hatred, watching Eliza like she was the most beautiful thing on the planet. If she could survive all she had been through, then she truly was. “Hi,” she said tightly, giving as much as smile as she could.
Renee surfaced from behind Eliza before Lucy could get out anything else, unaware of the shift in the air. “Could I get you anything to drink, Miss Deveraux? I just freshly brewed some iced tea if you’re interested.”
“That would be fantastic, thank you,” Lucy replied almost immediately, relieved. “And please, call me Stella.”
Eliza’s eyes seemed to twinkle as her mother left once again, “Like Stella Saint Laurens, the author?”
Lucy’s eyebrows raised softly in reaction, “Who?”
“You’ve never heard of her?” questioned Eliza with mild surprise. “She’s a crime thriller writer. She’s amazing.”
Tell her. Tell her. Tell her.
“I’ll have to look her up,” Lucy said in reply, forcing away the pinpricks threatening at the back of her eyes, mocking her inability to open up. “Eliza, you’re seventeen, aren’t you?”
Eliza nodded lightly, despite a look in her eyes revealing a girl who had been through so much more than seventeen years of life.
It seemed more like a hundred, torturous lives rolled into one, thrown at Eliza without her wanting.
The teen motioned towards the sun room as she heard the shuffling of ice in filled glasses, “How about we sit?”
With a heart still banging on the ribs encasing it, Lucy followed willingly and took an armchair across from the suede sofa Eliza had reserved for Renee and herself. In a soft moment of panic, she remembered the fact that she wasn’t supposed to be there to just talk.
Renee joined the two in the sunroom with a tray of teas in hand, ice rattling softly as she carefully set it on the coffee table situated between the mock journalist and the mother daughter duo. She sighed softly as she sat down next to Eliza, crossing her legs neatly.
“So,” she rambled as she dug through her bag for her leather bound journal, it a graduation gift from Stanford from close family friends, “where would you like to start? I want to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.”
“As long as I’m not there,” said Eliza, “then it’s okay. Wherever you want is fine.”
However, Lucy realized she had no clue what her “article” was supposed to be about, or what the hell she was supposed to ask.
“Where, uh,” Lucy swallowed a little harshly, “where were you when Neil Hunter took you?”
“I was walking home from my dance class,” Eliza began, comforted by Renee’s hand on her thigh. “It was our last rehearsal before the spring recital. The studio is only a few of blocks away, so the walk was never an issue. I’d done it for three years and nothing was ever out of the ordinary.”
“You may have passed the studio on your way in,” explained Renee. “She was one of the best dancers there.”
Eliza only rolled her eyes lightly, “I was terrible. I hadn’t started early enough for it to be natural, but I loved it anyway. Mom told me at the start of the year that she and Dad wouldn’t be able to drive me because of work, but I told her I could walk. It was worth it.”
“Did you feel as if you were being followed in the days before he took you?” Lucy’s eyes flickered between the two, aware of how blunt she seemed to be. “I’m sorry, I don’t-”
“No,” Eliza shook her head, “you’re okay. It’s all right. But I didn’t notice until my walk to the studio. I would get off the bus at my house, change and then walk over. It was an off wind, y’know? It was like my body knew something was wrong, but I just wasn’t listening.”
Lucy’s mind whirred at an unlawful speed, dissecting how soon after Emily’s death Hunter went searching for another girl to take. She wanted to know if it was impulsive; if he had truly tried not to take another but collapsed under the weight of his dark desires.
“Mrs. Soo, if I may ask, how soon after she was taken did you know she was gone?” questioned Lucy, head tilted toward Renee as she scribbled notes without looking.
“Well,” thought Renee, “Liza’s dance class ended at about 4, but I didn’t get off of work until 5. Ryung was in San Francisco on a business trip, so I had asked our neighbor to check on her after the class. Denine, who lives just to the right of us, didn’t see her at the normal time so she walked toward the studio. Her instructor told Denine that Eliza had already left, which is where her panic started. She went back to the house and used our spare key to get in. When she couldn’t find her, she called me, but,” she hesitated in buried guilt, “I was with a client at my firm and I didn’t answer. When she couldn’t reach me or Ryung, she called the police. It was about 5:00 pm when they got to the house, and a little after that when a deputy came to the firm to get me.”
Lucy nodded as she noted the time, already having remembered the date of the report.
March 8th, 2013
Two weeks after Emily Morrison was murdered.
“And Eliza, what was the first night like?”
Eliza watched Lucy carefully, able to sense that there was something off about the woman questioning her. However, she still trusted her. “It was…calm.”
And with that, even Renee seemed surprised.
“He told me that Mom wanted me to stay with him, that she decided to go spend the night with my father in San Francisco. He said he worked with her at the office, that I’d met him before.”
Lucy hid the sense of sickness that crossed her for Hunter’s tactics, forcing on the conversation. “And had you?”
Eliza shook her head, “I’d been to multiple office parties at the firm, I just, he looked like he could be a lawyer. He was even wearing a tie.” She tucked a short wave of mousy brown hair behind her ear, it lacking any piercings. “That first night, he let me stay upstairs. He even made dinner for me and set up the couch for me to sleep on. He told me my mom would come pick me up in the morning.”
“So you felt comfortable around him, that first night,” reiterated Lucy, mildly questioning in attempt to get a recourse.
“Comfortable enough to not think,” Eliza quietly replied. “When I woke up, I was in the basement, a chain on my leg and no way to get out.”
Renee silently squeezed Eliza’s knee, her own eyes brimming with tears as she herself relived the terror those first 24 hours had brought her.
“How did you react?” Lucy asked, her voice cracking halfway through.
“I, I think I screamed until I nearly passed out,” she said, the moment visible in her eyes. “Even when he came downstairs, I kept yelling.”
But the walls are soundproof, Lucy thought as she kept her mouth closed, eyes on the seventeen year old.
“I found out that it was useless. The walls were soundproof.” Eliza took a deep breath, pushing herself to keep going. “Neil didn’t talk until the second day, even when I was yelling.” She scoffed lightly, “His first words that day were asking me how I slept.”
“Did he ever tell you why?”
Eliza didn’t have a straight response, lifting her shoulders in a shrug. “A lot of things he would do didn’t make sense. Neither did a lot of the things he said.”
Lucy’s brows softly furrowed, “Can you think of an example?”
“He said ‘she’ll have to do’ at least twice a day,” said Eliza, the echo of his voice still in the back of her head, ringing as clear as the day around him.
She’s not Karen, but she’ll have to do.
“Was it just that?” asked Lucy, clearing her throat.
Eliza hesitated in a moment of thought, “I think he said she’s not, uh…it was a woman’s name.”
Lucy nodded, “So, it was something like, ‘She’s not Karen, but she’ll do,’ yeah?”
The teenager’s entire body stiffened at the words with such efficiency that Renee even pulled her hand away in surprise.
“How did you know that?”
Renee quickly looked between Lucy and her daughter, “What do you mean?”
“That’s the name. That’s exactly what he said,” Eliza hastily said. “How did you know that name?”
Lucy stumbled to find a response, “I - it’s a common name. I, I work next to a Karen. I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m so sorry.”
“I think we should maybe stop the interview,” Renee suggested as she nervously stood, the tea untouched by all three. “It might be too soon to do this.”
The author quickly rose, nodding, “Of course, I understand.” She crammed her journal and pen back into her bag, heart skidding in her chest as she followed Renee out of the sunroom. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
Renee held up a soft hand as she opened the front door, “Please, you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just all still very vivid for her. I’ll see if maybe she would be willing to have you come back another time.”
Lucy only agreed, letting out a heavy breath as she left the home, nearly running back to her Jeep. Her body was flooded with guilt, it tearing at her insides and dismantling her sanity. “Why did I say that?” she scolded in a hush voice, shutting herself into her car as she tossed her bag into the passenger’s seat violently. She swore both to herself and at herself, palms covering her face in grief with an inability to collect peace of mind.
A heavy knuckle on the window forced Lucy out of her fixed state, Eliza lingering the same way her mother had at the writer’s arrival.
Lucy quickly lowered the window, brushing her hair out of her face. “I’m leaving, I sorry-”
“You’re not really a reporter, are you?” Eliza asked without hesitation, resting her hands on the ledge of the passenger’s window.
“Let’s just say that whoever shows up in the next half hour may or may be here to interview you,” replied Lucy with a giving sigh, unable to hold the facade any longer.
Eliza watched Lucy tepidly, brown eyes scouring the writer for any hints. “Why did you come here.”
Lucy swallowed her own pride, meeting her gaze. “I wanted to apologize.”
The teen’s expression shifted immediately, confusion lingering in every feature. “What?”
“I’m sorry that this happened to you, beyond words that I can reach for, which is pretty impressive being a writer and I just, I needed to come see you. I needed to know that he didn’t get away with everything he did to Emily.” Lucy could barely hear her own words, blood rushing violently in her ears. “I needed this, and I hate myself for it.”
Eliza eyes widened as Lucy spoke, alarmed by the tear falling down the stranger’s cheek. “I - I don’t understand what you’re saying to me.”
Lucy hastily ran a hand under her eyes, grabbing her bag and opening it without a word. “I was going to leave this in your mailbox. I wasn’t even going to come to the door, but given the fact I made a fool of myself already, I can just give it to you in person.” Shaky hands pulled free a white envelope, Lucy scribbling her phone number on the back. “If you want an explanation, you can call me, but I completely understand if I’m too frightening to talk to again. Just, whatever’s inside, it’s for you, and it’s the least I can do.”
Eliza hesitantly reached for the outstretched envelope, her mind racing a mile a minute. Beginnings of sentences tried to come out, but she could muster no response. She blinked wildly, flipping the envelope in hand. “Will you at least tell me your real name?”
“It’s Lucy,” she said, one hand turning white on the steering wheel and the other ridding anymore tears from falling. “Can I ask you one more thing?”
The brunette gave a mild shrug, beyond sure of what to say in the moment.
“How did you get out of the house?”
“I faked an injury,” Eliza softly said, able to sense her own eyes about to water. “I managed to knock him out and unlock my anklet. I ran upstairs and right out the front door.”
Lucy only smile through stained cheeks, “I’m glad you didn’t go out the window.”
Another salty tear fell down Lucy’s cheek, the author quickly pushing it away as she shifting her Jeep into gear. She left the Soo property, Eliza stunned watching as she drove off, unsure of what to think of the world.
At the first stoplight she came to, she immediately pulled out her phone.
And without a hello, the familiar voice came across the line.
“I need to see him,” Lucy said as clear as day. “I need to see Hunter.”